The Gods of Evergreen
The Journey Home
The Journey Home
The journey to the Wide Highway was all but uneventful: they took turns carrying Marie when she grew tired, and told each other their stories along the way. Johnny had brought with him only enough food for himself, and Kata had none, but spring brought everything to life and they ate well by hunting and foraging along the way.
A cold snap and snowstorm met them the day they reached the Wide Highway. Johnny again called upon the dwellers in the ruins, and again they answered. They were astonished to see Kata and Marie, but quickly brought all three inside to share their fire.
“It is our custom to ask the names of those strangers we take in,” the old woman told Kata from her seat close to the fire. “You have given us your birth names, Kata and Marie — what of your family name?”
Kata stood in their midst, her voice bitter. “I have no family name,” she said. “The name I was born with has no meaning, the last of my family was taken by the sickness that ravaged our people last year. The family of my husband has rejected me and thrown me into the wide world to live or die as the gods see fit, and I will not honor them by claiming or even speaking that name.”
No one said anything for a long minute. Finally, the old woman spoke again: “Then you shall have a new name. Our friend Johnny brought you back from the abode of the gods, so we name you Godsgift.”
Kata’s eyes grew wide. “An auspicious name, Honored Mother. I accept it with gratitude.”
The snow fell, then gave way to wind then quiet. They filled the time with stories and songs. Marie nestled wide-eyed in Johnny’s lap, watching all the strange new people, until she fell asleep. The next morning dawned cold but sunny, and they continued their journey west. Two days later, they reached Johnny’s village. His friends and neighbors were overjoyed to see him alive — and even more so for his companions.
It was as Johnny said: Kata and Marie found welcome and a home in his village. Philip’s grandmother, the widow Cerise, was a stubbornly independent but kindly old woman; she gave them the run of her house. Philip himself gave Johnny a place to stay for the few days it took for the village to rebuild his house. They used what they could of his old house and added new lumber where needed. His new place was different, a little smaller, but Johnny was pleased as it did not remind him so much of his lost family.
Now you might expect that Johnny married Kata and adopted Marie as his own daughter — indeed, most of the village expected it — but it was not to be. Johnny mourned his own wife and daughter for the appropriate time, and Kata married the strong, quiet Philip during the High Summer festival (to Johnny’s delight, and the delight of all their friends).
Then when Rosa Falconer came of age over the following winter, she made her intentions clear. She began by bringing Johnny hot meals a few times a week, then helped where she could with his winter wheat. In between, she tidied up his house, giving the empty spaces an appraising eye when she thought Johnny wasn’t watching. Over the winter, she made herself a part of Johnny’s life, and as spring approached he began to look forward to her frequent visits. Then, the day before the sun rose over Mount Evergreen, while Rosa was occupied elsewhere, Johnny paid a visit to her parents Martin and Francesca.
“I’m concerned for Rosa,” Johnny told them. “I have grown fond of her, but are there no young men of age for her to choose from?”
“Of course there are,” Francesca laughed. “But she has chosen whom she has chosen. She’s always been headstrong that way.”
“She would have pursued you last summer, after your friends were wed,” said Martin. “But I did make her wait until she came of age.” He smiled and shook his head. “Her first visit to you was the very day.”
“She’s sixteen. I’m twenty-two. You have no objections?”
“We have long admired you, Johnny,” said Martin. “You have always lived out the beliefs of our people. She could do much worse in life. Make her your new wife, with our blessing.”
“And bless us in return with many grandchildren!” Francesca grinned, and both men blushed. And so Johnny and Rosa announced their engagement, to great rejoicing among the village. They were married after storm season passed.
In the years following, Kata and Philip had another daughter, whom they named Sara, and then a son, Jamin. Johnny and Rosa had two sons (Sal and Little Johnny) and two daughters (Kata and Little Rosa). All of the children, including Marie, grew tall and strong.
But Marie Godsgift could often be found standing in the road at the eastern edge of town on clear days, looking toward Mount Evergreen, seeing something that nobody else could. And the Prophets Who Watch the World looked back and smiled, until the day Marie came of age and left her home to join them on the mountain.