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   Chapter 4 Keeper of the Crossroads

Keeper of the Crossroads By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 9339

Updated: 2018-03-13 10:50


Chapter 4

"These are the tracks we are following today, " Albe said bending low to the ground. He pointed with a gnarled hand to a small trail of imprints on the ground. "What do these look like to you?" The old man turned piercing green eyes on Jamie and Jamie realized for the first time that he and Albe had the same eyes. "Focus boy, what do you see." Jamie turned his eyes to the ground and focused on the trail of tracks.

"It's a bird, " he said, looking at the shape of the tracks. "A small one." He and Albe had tracked a heron one afternoon and the bird's tracks had been much bigger.

"And what type of bird?" Albe asked. Jamie remembered Albe had never been one for generalities. Jamie looked again and sorted through the images Albe had shown him in the books.

"A wren?" he guessed. Albe looked pleased.

"A wren, " he repeated. "Now tell me do these tracks look odd to you?" Jamie looked back at the tracks. They looked like the wren tracks in the books and charts Albe had shown him but often times when Albe said to look and see what was odd he didn't actually mean just the thing he was looking at. Albe tended to take a more holistic view of things. Jamie sat back a little and looked around the little trail of tracks he was supposed to be focusing on. Albe didn't say a word just watched his great nephew figure out the puzzle he had left him. There were other tracks in the dirt. There had been a rain recently and the number of tracks was not really surprising.

"They all seem to be going the same way, " Jamie muttered. "Instead of milling around or crossing paths." Albe smiled.

"And, " he prompted. Jamie continued to look. The one set of tracks he was focused on were deeper than the other tracks. Jamie bent closer. They were noticeably lower in the dirt. Jamie placed a hand on the ground. The dirt didn't feel wetter in the area with deeper tracks than the area without the deeper tracks. Jamie sat back on his heels.

"Those tracks are deeper." Albe smiled in full and Jamie had figured he had gotten what Albe was asking.

"And what does that tell you?" Jamie thought about it a second, but it really wasn't much of a puzzle.

"That the wren that made these tracks was heavier than the other wrens, " He ventured the obvious answer.

"Exactly, " Albe said triumphantly. "Now what would make a bird heavier?"

"Well I suppose it could be a really fat wren, " Jamie said. He was favored with a wry smile. "Or it could be carrying eggs." Jamie guessed. Jamie was a little unsure about the process of bird's laying eggs, but he figured they had to be formed before they came out and those eggs had to be a little heavy. Albe's eyebrow shot up in surprise and he laughed a loud belly laugh that rocked him back on his heels.

"Yes I suppose it could be at that, " He admitted. "I have to remember to use my natural senses more often after all they are the better ones. I supposed that is a reminder to me as well that things aren't always as they seem. Come let's go see what we can see. And find out exactly why this bird's feet were heavier. Perhaps we will find a fat wren after all."

Albe shook his head and laughed again more to himself this time. Jamie didn't quite get the joke, but that was okay. He didn't feel like he was left out but more that he had surprised Albe in a good way which was something that made him smile. After all Albe had been around a long time and was very hard to surprise.

The two of them followed the bird tracks to a small stand of trees set in a clearing. There birds twittered overhead. To Jamie's surprise they didn't scatter like they did when he walked in the woods alone. Instead the chirping increased as they got closer. Albe smiled when they found a nest and he helped Jamie onto a protruding rock to look into the nest.

"Hold your breath when you do, " Albe cautioned. "And don't touch anything. We don't want to scare anyone off." Jamie peered into the nest and to his surprise there were four eggs in the nest. Sitting next to them was a small woman with wings, barely weighing more than the eggs herself.

"A fairy, " Jamie whispered, tilting his head down, even in his surprise to make certain that his breath did not waft over the eggs as Albe had cautioned. The fairy heard his voice and sprung up, a small sword in her hand.

"Away human, away, " her high pitched voice shrilled. "These not be playthings for your amusement." She brandished her sword in his direction and advanced slowly. "I am warning you. I well know the use of my blade. So you had best be on your way, " She threatened him a

nd Jamie instinctively backed away realizing how close his eyes were to that tiny sword. He held his hands up in supplication.

"I was just looking, " he stammered out. Albe looked into the nest.

"Well Greas, " Albe said. "I am surprised to see you still around. But you may put your sword away. My nephew meant no harm and only peered in at my insistence." The fairy blinked her eyes at Albe

"Oh Keeper, I did not realize the boy was in your care or else I would not have dealt so harshly with him." She strutted in front of the eggs and sheathed her sword. Jamie could tell she was proud about having made him back off. Of course, he rationed if he were her size he would be pleased at backing off a predator more than 400 times his size with a toothpick and a threat. Jamie took a deep breath.

"So what is it you do here Keeper?" She asked, dismissing Jamie all together. Albe smiled.

"I am teaching, " Albe replied. The fairy looked startled and swung back around to look at Jamie. She studied him for a few moments and then took flight, circling him so she could view him from all angles. The wings looked like the finest of stained glass as the sun caught them and threw prisms of color all around.

"She's beautiful Uncle Albe, " Jamie said watching her move. The fairy's cheeks turned pink with the compliment.

"Well, " she said. "I suppose I should apologize then. I shouldn't have dealt so harshly with you, but the world itself is a harsh place for such as me."

"And it is wise to be careful, " Albe added in a polite tone. She returned to the nest and gave the eggs a once over before turning her eyes back to Albe.

"Now I would ask what it is you do here this day Greas, if I might be so bold."

"The fedan has brought forth young, " the fairy told Albe. This apparently meant more to Albe than it meant to Jamie. To him the conversation was mystifying.

"I did not realize her time was so soon." Albe eyed the eggs. "I see."

"Yes, we thought it had been taken care of, but she is leading the tovax away and I am guarding the young in her stead." The fairy puffed out her chest.

"An important task, " Albe said with respect. "Would it be possible for me to assist? I know I cannot take sides, however I take exception when it comes to the preservation of the young. And I believe I have earned this concession." The fairy looked surprised.

"And what sort of help would this be?" she asked warily.

"The tracks leading to this spot are quite evident." He replied. "If you do not need them for way finding, then perhaps when I and my young charge here leave we can make them less so." The fairy looked surprised and then relieved.

"Tracks, " she said shaking her head. Albe smiled ruefully.

"For one who dwells with wings such considerations are usually not yours." He told her. His voice was a consolation, the type Jamie got when he only got half of the puzzle right. Jamie guessed that the fairy in charge was supposed to have taken care of things like tracks. Of course what could be accomplished with one sweep of Albe's foot would be hard, laborious work for the fairy.

"If you would be so kind, " the fairy said. Albe nodded.

"Come Jamie, " he said. "It is nearing time for lunch." Albe and Jamie turned from the nest and Albe took his hand and showed him how to erase the tracks so that it looked as though neither man nor bird had passed that way. Jamie smiled, his eyes full of questions. He looked up at Albe the questions balanced on his tongue. Albe had an odd look on his face and Jamie was not sure he wanted to ask too many questions. Albe turned to him.

"You should remember both." He told him.

"Both what?" Jamie asked.

"That both the mundane and the esoteric were right this time. Never forget that because we are designed to deal with the more esoteric that it should replace the mundane. Always keep both options open. At the end of the trail you might just find a fat wren." Jamie blinked and Albe started to fade. He could clearly see sunlight falling through Albe and his hand felt more insubstantial. "My time has passed Jamie. You are the Keeper now. Have faith in yourself and you will do fine."

In his sleep Jamie rolled over. A breeze rustled the leaves above their heads in his dream and with a sigh that mimicked the wind, Albe was gone. Jamie blinked awake. He was facing the window and saw the same fairy who was in his dream. He called out her name, blinked and she was gone. Jamie was not sure if he was still dreaming. He blinked hard but nothing changed. He closed his eyes and slid back into sleep.

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