The Wish Weaver
By Dash Hoffman
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The Stranger's Tale
The day burned away quickly as all the friends did their chores and one by one reached the late afternoon when they were free to do as they liked. They all met up at the water well in the center of town, as they often did, so that they could spend time together.
Hanne was braiding Padma’s long dark hair as Carmo and Petia played cat’s cradle with a length of string. Amias whittled away at a piece of wood, carving it into an arrow for his bow. They chatted idly amongst themselves as they waited for Evren, who came strolling down the lane to them with a smile and a wave of his hand.
When Evren reached them, everyone looked up at him and Carmo brightened and grinned with enthusiasm.
“I was waiting until we were all here before I told any of you. I heard father talking to Anna, the innkeeper from the inn, this afternoon. She was telling him about the stranger that arrived today. They get travelers at the inn all the time, but she said this one was different. She said she’d never seen anyone like him before. She thinks he’s some kind of warrior or knight.” Carmo’s eyes were alight with admiration.
All of the friends perked up at the story he shared with them, all of them staring at him with curiosity.
“Have you seen him?” Petia asked, leaning closer to him.
“What does he look like?” Evren intoned interestedly.
“Where is he from?” Hanne chimed in with an eager smile.
Carmo only shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know. I only heard them talking about him for a moment.”
Padma’s mouth curled up at the sides and she eyed the rest of them with excitement. “We know he’s at the inn, so let’s go have a look! Maybe we’ll see him!”
The idea took no further encouragement. All of the friends stood up and hurried together toward the inn at the south edge of the village. They rarely went there as it wasn’t in a direction any of them would normally go during their day, and their favorite spots to spend time with one another were at the east side of the village nearer the river.
When they arrived at the inn, they all slowed their running to a walking pace and Petia worked to catch up with them. Their eyes were all turned toward the big old wooden structure with rooms for travelers on the second floor and a dining hall and pub on the first floor. Off to the right side of the main building was a stable for horses and carriages, and to the left of the building, opening from wide sliding doors from the dining hall and pub, was a garden with wooden tables and benches.
There didn’t seem to be anyone around that they could see, and they stopped short outside of the inn, looking up at it hesitantly.
“Do you suppose he’s in there?” Hanne asked quietly, gazing at the windows of the rooms above the dining hall and not seeing any with candlelight glowing from them.
“Well he must be,” Padma stated flatly, placing her hands on her hips, “so let’s go ask.” She marched into the front door of the inn then, and the others stared after her in surprise and then followed along behind her with Amias taking up the last behind Petia.
They stopped at the bar where the innkeeper, Anna, was pouring a tall glass of beer. She looked down at them and gave them a friendly nod. “Hello you lot. What are you doing about here this afternoon?”
The friends exchanged uncertain glances with one another and Evren lifted his chin and spoke with shallow confidence. “Hello Anna. We were wondering if we could sit and have some tea here.”
Though every one of the friends was surprised, none of them looked it and all of them kept their watch on Anna, who was more than a little bemused.
“You want tea?” She asked, humoring them. None of them had ever set so much as a foot in the inn before, unless they were running a quick errand for one of the adults in the village.
“Yes, please.” Padma jumped in, looking and sounding every bit as if she meant it.
Anna’s brows furrowed as she considered the request and then she sighed and nodded. “All right. Fine. Would you like tea inside here in the dining room or outside by the fire?”
It was then that Petia tugged hard at Hanne’s sleeve and Hanne tried to ignore her as she paid attention to what was going on before her, but Petia only tugged harder and then finally nudged her sister’s foot.
Hanne turned sharply toward her younger sister with an exasperated look. “What is it?”
Petia subtly jerked her head toward the fire pit outside in the garden and Hanne looked up, her mouth falling open in surprise. There by the fire pit was a big man; the biggest she had ever seen, wearing a dark black coat and a wide brimmed black hat that was tugged low over his face. She could see that he had darker skin and black hair that was long and hung down his back and the sides of his obscured face, almost to his elbows.
“Inside, thank you.” Evren replied to Anna.
“Outside, please.” Hanne answered swiftly, speaking over the last of Evren’s words. He turned to her with a questioning look only to see over her shoulder what it was that had captured her attention.
Anna frowned at them. “Well which is it? Inside or outside?”
“Outside.” They all answered, having looked over and seen the stranger at the fire pit.
Anna followed their gaze and sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Now, I’ve got a guest out there. Don’t you lot go bothering him and needling him with questions. You have your tea on your own, do you hear me?” Her voice was menacing.
Every one of them turned their faces back to her. “Yes missus.” They answered her.
She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she walked toward the stove and the kettle. “Off you go then. Go and sit at a table there and don’t bother him.”
Padma and Evren walked out of the dining hall first, through the wide-open doors and into the garden, and the others followed them. Together they sat at a table near the stranger, all of them sneaking glances at him while trying not to stare. He did not look up at them.
“It was clever of you to say we were here for tea.” Hanne gave Evren a smile.
He shrugged as if it was nothing while simultaneously looking quite pleased with himself. “I had to think of something. I don’t think Anna would have let us in otherwise. It was quite clever of me if I do say so myself.”
They all looked over their shoulders at the stranger who continued to hold his mug of beer in his hand and contemplate it without raising his head.
“He’s very big, don’t you think?” Evren said, peering at the stranger closely. “He’s not heavy… but he’s big. Like a soldier.”
“Like a warrior.” Carmo added, looking from the stranger back to Evren.
“I wish I looked like that.” Evren sighed plaintively.
The stranger raised his head slowly then, looking up at them with a pair of piercing dark eyes. They were warm and mysterious. The man’s face was strong and solid, as if he had been chiseled out of dark marble. His eyes met Evren’s and he shared a look with him until Evren look away, breathless and trembling.
“Here’s your tea.” Anna said, and all the friends jumped, for they had been so wrapped up in the stranger that they had not even noticed her coming with a tray for them.
She set their cups around them and they shared glances with each other. She poured their tea for them and then set the teapot in the center of the table along with some toast and biscuits.
“Innkeeper.” A deep voice sounded, and all the children looked up to see the stranger standing beside their table. “Please put their refreshment on my bill.”
Anna looked up at the stranger who towered over her, seeming to fill all of the sky behind him. She nodded. “Yes, I’ll do that. Shall I send them inside? Would you prefer privacy?”
He gave his head a shake. “I’d prefer to join them, if I may.” He turned his dark eyes from her to them, looking briefly at each of them.
His gaze was fathoms deep and there was something peculiar about it, but there was a welcoming kindness in his smile.
The friends all gave each other a quick look and nodded to one another, moving aside so that there was room for him to sit between Hanne and Carmo, who was dwarfed by the great man.
The stranger set his mug of ale on the table before him and all their eyes locked on him. Anna only gave them a puzzled frown before turning and walking away.
“Thank you for letting me join you. I’m glad for your company.” He reached up and pushed his wide brimmed black hat backward some, revealing most of his face. He was strikingly handsome in a noble way, but there was something about him that seemed different than anyone they had ever seen before.
“I am Nassim.” He told them, looking from each of them to the next.
“I’m Hanne, and this is my sister Petia.” Hanne replied in a soft voice, gazing up at the man near her. “This is Padma and Evren, that’s Amias, and that’s Carmo.” She introduced them all and they didn’t bother to hide the fascination on their faces.
“Where are you from?” Evren asked, folding his hands around his teacup and speaking with a near breathless tone.
Nassim’s voice remained level. “I come from very far away. Farther than you can see on a clear day.”
“Where are you going?” Petia asked, her fingers on her lower lip as she gave him a shy smile.
He smiled back at her and leaned his forearms on the table. “I’m going a long way, far up into the Kamala mountains.” He narrowed his eyes a little as if he was peering to see as far as he could. “You see that peak?” He pointed to one mountain peak that was higher than the rest near it, looming up behind them far into the reaches of the sky.
All of the children turned and raised their eyes to the mountains behind them. “Yes?” Petia asked curiously. “Is that where you’re going?”
“It is. It’s quite a long way to go.” He answered, reaching for his ale and taking a long drink of it.
“Why are you going up there?” Carmo asked in puzzlement. “I don’t think there’s anything up there.”
A smile spread over Nassim’s face and he lowered his eyes from the mountain peak back down to the gazes of the children around him. “Oh, there’s something up there; something very special.”
“What is it?” Padma asked, watching him in fascination.
He waved his hand in the air dismissively. “Oh, nothing that would interest any of you. You have good lives here. You have no need of anything outside of your pretty lives and your village. It would be nothing at all to you.”
Evren’s brow furrowed. “I have interests outside of the village. Please, Sir. Tell us what it is!” His curiosity, like that of his friends, was piqued. Amias simply sat still, listening and watching. He had not said a word, and he continued to do no more than listen.
Nassim leaned closer to them, closing the circle of their heads as if he were imparting a great secret to them. “Well, if you are so interested to know then I shall tell you, but you must not tell anyone else.”
“Oh, we swear! We wouldn’t!” Hanne promised with wide, serious eyes.
The afternoon light had faded by then and the sky began to grow darker as the stars came out. The flames near them in the firepit crackled and sparked, glowing bright orange and casting strange shadows around them in the fading light.
The man spoke in his deep, low tone. “I am going there to find the Wish Weaver.”
All of the children stared at him in silence for a moment, but then finally Padma spoke. “Who is the Wish Weaver?”
The stranger looked mildly surprised. “Have you never heard of her?”
Five faces around him shook an answer of no, and Amias stayed still and watched the man. “No, we haven’t.” Petia answered for them.
Nassim nodded slowly. “Then I shall tell you. The Wish Weaver is an old woman who lives up at the peak on the other side of Stargazer Lake. She is special… she has magic. People who go to see her ask her to weave their wishes and dreams into reality, and she does. I am going to seek her out so that she will weave my wishes into reality. I want very much for them to come true.”
“A woman who weaves wishes into being?” Padma asked in breathless wonder. “At what cost?”
“At no cost. It is what she does.” Nassim reassured her. “But it’s a very long way to go. It’s dangerous.”
“But you get whatever you wish for, no matter what it is?” Evren asked anxiously, his eyes big with wonder and hope.
“If you get to her, yes.” Nassim nodded, tipping his ale back and swallowing much of it. “There’s a trail that starts off up the Kamalas and it’s just outside of this village, across the ford on the mountain river. From there it’s quite a journey straight up the mountain to the very top.”
He stood up then and set his tankard down heavily on the thick wood. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone going who didn’t have tremendous courage and experience in the forest. They might not make it back, but if they did…” He trailed off eyeing all of them seriously, “their wishes would be woven into being.”
Nassim walked toward the wide-open door then, heading back into the inn, but he turned and looked over his shoulder once at them, his dark eyes shining as brightly as the stars above. “I wish you well, all of you.” His tone was earnest. Then he rounded a corner and disappeared, leaving them at their table with their tea.
There was silence around the table for a long moment as the group of friends looked around at one another.
“We should go.” Evren said quietly, with shallow breath and a pounding heart.
“We have no business going.” Amias stated flatly as he reached for his tea. “We do not know if the traveler is telling us the truth, and even if there is a Wish Weaver up at the top of the mountain, no one does anything without cost.”
“But we could have our wishes granted to us if she’s there!” Padma’s voice was strong. “Imagine… if it’s true… if we could go up there and find her, if we could have any wish we wanted come true!” She shook her head and stared at the peak far up behind the village. “Just… imagine.”
“I could wish my Gran well.” Carmo whispered as he too stared up at the lofty peak.
“I could wish to be wealthy and beautiful; strong like Nassim.” Evren spoke as if he were in a trance just thinking about it.
“What would you wish for?” Petia turned to Hanne and asked, though she looked as if she already knew the answer.
Hanne sighed and her shoulders slumped slightly. “I would wish for someone special to love me.”
Hanne looked at Padma. “What about you? What would you wish for?”
Padma’s face darkened as she looked down at the table. “I would wish for the past to be different.”
Evren turned to Amias. “Amias, what would you wish for?”
Amias shook his head. “There is nothing I would wish for. All of our successes, all of our happiness, all of that comes into being because we make it so. It doesn’t matter if there’s an old woman weaving wishes into reality at the top of the mountain peak or not; no one does anything without a price. We should earn what we desire and if it does not come to us then it is not meant for us.”
His friends stared at him. Padma frowned at him. “There’s nothing that you would wish for? Given anything your heart desires?”
Amias considered it for a moment and let out a sigh. “If I was being selfish I would wish for my father to return, but I don’t want him to come back unless it’s his choice, not my wish. I would only want him here if he was here by his own accord, because it was what he wanted, not because it’s what I would want.”
Carmo gave him a heartfelt smile. “I understand. I hope he comes back soon too.”
Evren straightened his shoulders. “Well, I think it would be worth the journey. I have wishes and I would want them to come true if there was any way to make that happen. Now we know there’s a way. I think we should go. I think that we should all go together.” He looked around the table at the others who stared back at him in wonder.
“It’s so far, do you think we could make it?” Hanne asked hesitantly.
“We’d be together. It’s much closer to us than it is to Nassim; he came much further than we would go. I think we should do it.” Evren was sounding even more sure of his proposition.
“I want to go.” Padma agreed firmly as she pressed her lips into a thin line.
“Me too.” Hanne added, looking at Padma and then Evren.
Petia gasped in horror. “We can’t go all the way up there! Mama would never let us!”
“You wouldn’t be going, Petia. You’d have to stay here in the village. It’s much too dangerous.” Hanne cast a sympathetic but unwavering look to her sister.
“It’s much too dangerous for all of you. You shouldn’t go.” Amias told them in a warning tone. “I know it sounds like an easy fix and a wonderful thing, but go home and sleep on it. Sense will come to you in the morning.”
The others didn’t say anything, they only finished their tea as each of them focused their thoughts on what it would be like to have their wishes granted freely to them. The group left the inn and bid each other a good night as they all went to their homes, their minds so wrapped up in wishes that the ideas invaded their dreams. All but Amias. He went home and looked up at the stars, knowing that his father was somewhere beneath them, and hoping that someday they would see each other again.