Image Courtesy of Jeremy Ricketts at Unsplash.com
Cropped by Erin Penn
Joelie cinched the saddle girdle tighter, letting the town’s mayor attempt to make him change his mind. You would think after raising her from birth, she would know only one person got him to change him mind about anything. Finally he interrupted, “Jillie, hon, your mom ain’t goin’ to last through winter and I can’t stop that. Travel may end it sooner, but she will see something she wants to see.”
“Dad, she is barely conscious. She isn’t going to notice anything, and it’s a full day’s travel even with my horse.” The five foot nothing blond dynamo argued. “Shouldn’t mother die in the comfort of her own bed?”
Satisfied the horse was ready and everything was packed for the journey, the old farmer went into his one-room house. “Your mom has never been one to choose comfort.” He sat in a chair to change his boots and add a second pair of socks.
“At least let me see if the priest from Riding-in-the-Mud can help give travel ease.” The young woman trailed her father into her childhood home.
Joelie stood, pulling on a traveling cloak. “Magic helped the first year, but now the Tester has placed this challenge before us. We can do this on our own.” Touching the pile of skin and bones swathed in blankets, Joelie stroked his wife’s cheek. “Sarah, time to go.”
Her blue eyes focused on his for the first time in days, reassuring him that the love of his life was still with him and he was doing the right thing. Picking up the blankets and padding, he carried the precious bundle out. Despite her having been several inches taller than him and outweighing him most of their joint lives, the last two winters of illness had taken their toll and now she was lighter than a grain sack.
Two days of frozen purgatory guiding a horse through his normal, slightly illegal, hunting grounds finally ended. He had never been one to understand how the King could own the entire forest. He was pretty sure the White Stag ruled it.
Jolie had wrapped Sarah tightly during the day and provided her his heat at night. He wanted to carry her during the day as well, or ride the horse and provide her needed warmth, but he needed to break the trail for the horse and he fell too many times.
The horse went to the edge of the water without prompting and Jolie started pulling what was left of his wife down. He heard a whisper and leaned closer in. “Are we there?”
Seeing clear eyes and ruby checks, Jolie gave thanks to the Tester for giving him a final moment with her. “Aye, we have arrived.”
Twenty years ago, she had laid into him during one of their few arguments, saying he did not have a romantic bone in his body. Sarah had just finished a round of afternoon sickness, since morning sickness was not enough for his exceptional wife, and the additional weight at six months on her swelling feet looked painful even to him after spending the day in the field. It took time to get her to this location then, but never did she ever question his romance again. Partially because if she did, he would have dragged her the long hike there and back to revisit this place.
Sitting on the edge of a boulder half-in and half-out of the waterfall pool, he settled his forty-year old woman in his lap and let her look around. A magical spring feed the creek a little further up. The water stayed a constant fifty degrees, creating a pool warm in winter and cool in summer. The steam rising from the waterfall coated the branches nearby with crystal ice. A few flashsprite made the glade their home during the winter, and danced among the branches setting off rainbows of color. The Valley-Home water lily floated pure white from a dozen different locations in the perfect blue of the pool. Green grass grew at the edge of the pool, where the warm water pushed back the hoar frost.
Valley-Home lilies could never be moved from their home water pool. He tried for years to transplant some from the spring to the irrigation pond in the north fields until Sarah had requested he “stop killing the flowers, you fool. I can remember their scent just fine.”
Joelie held Sarah, rotating her head from where it rested on his shoulder throughout the day and sunset so she could see everything. He feed her bits of trail meat after chewing it soft. At night the flashsprites danced faster among the ice, snow, and blue water. The world was a blaze of color and the jasmine-like scent of the Valley-Home released at full strength just before the white flowers closed for the night. Sometime after sunset Sarah slipped away.
(Words 814; first published 6/19/2016)