Mother came to the bed. “Why aren't you asleep yet?”
“I can't sleep,” said Mik, throwing back his thin summer blanket. “Why do I have to spend the whole summer at the ranch?”
“We’ve talked about this already, Mik, you and your father and I. You’re ten years old now, and you need to do more things than help me with the bakery. Three years will go by before you know it, and then you’ll be an apprentice. Boys who know how to do more things have the best chances.”
“I know that, Mother. But Aunt Morcati… scares me.” He hesitated, his eyes growing wide in the dim candlelight. “Some of the other boys say she’s part goblin!”
Mother chuckled. “Think about it, Mik. Your aunt is your father’s sister. So if she’s part goblin, so is he! And you’d be part goblin too! Do you think that?”
Mik gave a nervous laugh. “That makes sense. But I’m still scared about this.”
“That’s natural—new things are often frightening.” Mother sighed. “Maybe this will help. After tonight, you’ll be too big for bedtime stories, but tonight? One last time.” She began:
• • •
|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
“I seek only supper and a bed,” he told the servant who let him in. “I will gladly pay for your master’s trouble.”
But when the chief saw the traveler, he shouted at his servant. “Sh’ow! Why did you let that dark giant in? He could plunder my house! Get him out, before I throw you into the rain with him!” The traveler, seeing he was unwelcome, turned and departed.
Next, he knocked on the door of a merchant. The merchant said, “You devil, you will surely knife me in my sleep and carry off my daughters,” and slammed the door.
Then the traveller went to the house of a poor man. “All I seek is supper and a bed,” he said. “I will gladly pay you for your trouble.”
The poor man feared the strange man’s size and outlandish dress, yet he said, “Come in, then. We have little food and no spare bed, but it is not right to turn folk away on such a night.”
They sat down to the table. The poor man and his wife thought, “We will all go to bed a little hungry tonight,” but somehow there was enough for all to eat their fill. The traveler was well-spoken, and complimented his hosts on their fine cooking. Soon, they were all at ease.
After supper, the poor man offered the traveller his chair, and the children sat before him. “A story?” they begged. “Tell us about the Southern Ocean!”
The traveller smiled, and sat on the floor with the children. He thrilled them with the most outlandish tales, which may have after all been stories of his everyday life. The family cat curled up on the stranger’s lap and slept as he told his stories. He refused to allow his hosts to give up their beds, but unrolled a straw mat and slept before the fire.
In the morning, the small breakfast again proved more than enough for all. Then the traveler took his leave, saying, “I shall speak of you to my family when I return home, of your hospitality and friendship offered to strangers.” The poor man and his wife bowed and bid him to stay with them again should he ever return, for they had truly enjoyed his visit.
From that day on, the poor man’s garden was the envy of the village. And no matter how little the wife had to cook, there was always plenty of food on the table. In time, the poor man’s children grew up; one became an innkeeper and the other a storyteller, and they prospered as well as anyone can in a small village. For you see, the stranger was a messenger of the gods, and the gods bless all who show favor to the messengers among us.
• • •
“Do you understand why I told you this story?” Mother asked.
“I think so,” said Mik. “I don’t have to be scared of everything different, right?”
“You’re a bright lad. You won’t have to be a roustabout like your father, unless you find you like the work. But sometimes, I feel like your destiny is far beyond Lacota. Good night, son. Sleep well.”
Mik did indeed sleep. That night, for the first time, he dreamed of flying over a vast winter landscape.