River Mist Tales: The Meadow Cat

Come in, come in, the mist is rising from the river, but here you’ll find some warmth, some tales, so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

The chairs by the window give the best view, allow the best hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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The Meadow Cat

Ona sat tall in the creaking wooden chair, the aging cushion flattened under her slight weight, it’s woven design of oak leaves faded to a ghostly image.

Hands on her lap, she stared at the long awaited brown envelope she had placed on the bare kitchen table.

Four years ago, at the impetuous age of fourteen, Ona had written to the ageless woman who lived deep within the Forlorn Forest, offering herself as an apprentice, a helper, listing all the wild herbs Ona had studied and harvested, listing all the tinctures created, all the languages of tree and bird and wolf studied, ending with her knowledge of moon and stars.

Ona wrote of the meadow cat, the mostly white feline, intelligent and brave, a cat who knew where the chanterelles flourished in autumn, where the birch sap flowed at end of winter, where the first cress grew beside the surging waters of spring, and where the deadly nightshades bloomed under the the moon’s embrace in summer.

The meadow cat held no human bond, answered no human voice, gave no heed of the comings and goings of villager or traveler.

It was the meadow cat, accepting the name Allta from Ona, who showed the young girl where the hidden treasures of wood and meadow grew, taught Ona how much harvest was allowed, and what gift need be left in thanksgiving.

It was the meadow cat, Allta, who visited Ona in her dreams, telling her tales, revealing secrets, whispering recipes and preservation customs, and informing Ona’s decision to approach the woods woman, reminding her to do so with patience and respect.

It was Allta who counseled when Ona felt lost or confused, unsure in which world she belonged, her parent’s world of technology with its strong steel and glinting glass, mechanical and synthetic, or the woods woman’s mysterious and mythical world with its mingling of herb and tree, feather and fur.

No longer an excitable youth, the young woman sitting tall in the well-scrubbed kitchen, hands on her lap, smiled slightly, finally moving her right hand, lifting the brown envelope from the table.

Ona had never doubted the calling would come no matter how impatiently she waited, not when her schooling ended, not when her parents insisted upon college applications being sent, not even as schoolmates rushed towards jobs, towards lovers, towards expected futures.

Savoring the moment, alone in her parent’s home, Ona opened the envelope, removed the honey colored slip of paper, read the words written, by hand, in a flourishing script: “In three days time, on the eve of the full moon, follow the meadow cat.”

Placing the the note back inside its plain, stampless envelope, Ona rose, paused, looked out the window and upon seeing the meadow cat sitting at the edge of the wood, she called to Allta, “Three days, and I follow you down your path.”

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