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Chapter One

The last shining rays of the sun hallow the little cabin with a soft, fleecy mantle of gold. The air, suffused with sparkling motes of light, hums with the thick, lazy peace of maple syrup, each minute like a drop of sweetness. No ripples disturb the glassy stillness pooling in the darkening corners of this forgotten niche of the world. Shadows cast by the pale picket fence in the westering sun stand as silent sentinels, guarding the tranquility that is brown as the earth itself. An old, weathered boulder rests in the grass at one end of the garden. He is the master: grand and majestic, benevolent and kind, like an old emperor who has ruled so long that he and his subjects have become fused into one will. The sternness of his beaten brow reflects ages of experience, deep wells of wisdom.

Next to the boulder sits one who might be stone himself. His face is as craggy and expressionless as that of the old emperor of the garden. His hair might be moss, or a strange, hardy grass that clings tenaciously to even the hardest rock. As still as the silence around him, the young man is a part of the garden even as the grass, the shadows, and the light are. He sees not the shy blossoms suspended motionless in the verge; he sees not the jeweled gleams of light on the loch in the valley; he sees not the music of the gentle turf, nor the laughter of the rolling hills. He is all these things.

As the sun finally set behind the ridge, the spell broke. The young man started, and shook himself back to the present. He stood, legs creaking with reluctance, as the silence faded and ordinary night noises began to hold sway. Only a light rustling wind and the chirp of a solitary cricket heralded the darkness. With a last look at the now deep blue loch, far down the hillside, the young man turned back to his cabin.

Inside, a fire burned cheerily in the small stove, and a tea kettle whistled softly, like the hoot of an owl. The man wrapped his hand in a towel and lifted the kettle from the stove, careful not to burn his hand. The warmth penetrated through almost immediately, but it was a pleasant feeling, like that of waking up late on a rainy day and seeing a gray blanket enveloping the world. The loudest sound in the room was that of the hot water being poured into an expectant tea cup. Steam curled up, making strange twisted shapes that teased the imagination. The young man smiled. “A ship with three masts,” he said, and took a sip of his tea.

He had come here, to this secluded cabin in the highlands of Scotland, to experience the silence. Having grown weary of the bustle of cities, of the harsh catcalls and screeches of modern life, he had followed his animal instinct, and it had led him here, to the falcon’s nest in the rocky crags. Cynical and disillusioned, he fled from the sophistication and egotism of the world back to the timeless, all-knowing and overwhelming bosom of nature. Perhaps the bubble of hidden streams in the moors would soothe away the pangs of radio babble and automobile engines; perhaps the deep loch would swallow the memories of friends dead, friends sacrificed to the bang and clatter of war.

He took another sip of tea. It burned his tongue. He grimaced, and turned on the radio. There was a news report on a local scandal playing. He turned it off, and set the teacup down. Outside, the crickets chirped their song as they always have, oblivious to the world of men.

The air in the room was heavy and hot. Sleep pressed on the young man’s eyelids. Sleep wrestled him to the ground like a gladiator in the arena. The smoky smell of burning wood irritated his eyes, and it was soothing to close them. He could see the glow of the fire behind his eyelids. It reminded him of the setting sun. His head nodded once, twice, and dropped to his breast.

Even through the bleary haze of the dream, he could hear the crickets chirping. He knew it was a dream from the beginning, because of the fire. It was the radio that was burning now. It burnt without heat, and he was not alarmed. He could smell it, but the smell was distant, and unimportant. He watched as the metal melted, the fine, complicated wires inside turning to liquid and oozing in strange patterns across the table. He watched, and made no move.
“What do you want?”
He turned around.
She was brilliant, shining and white like the moon. Her hair flowed down her back in a golden waterfall. Her eyes were clear and deep as the loch, deeper, older . . . her voice was the merry tinkling of bells, the solemn hymn of a funeral, the fierce cry of a hawk.
“What do you want?”
He could not speak.
“What do you want, John?”
The sound of his own name freed his tongue.
“I . . .” He did not know. “Who are you?” he asked instead.
She smiled at him, sadly and gaily at once.
“You know who I am.”
He wanted to laugh and weep at the sound of her voice. But he did not know.
“No,” he said, “I do not.”
“I will show you.”
She raised her hand.
“Don’t go!” he cried.
But she was gone.
“Don’t go!” he cried again, his voice anguished. “Don’t go!”

With a start, he awoke. He was standing in the doorway of the cabin, facing the night. The pale light of the moon covered the world in a mysterious holiness. The moon. The lady. He stepped out into the night.

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