Even Blue-Eyes was still sleeping, when I felt the tapping on my shoulder. It was the Willow Woman, re-bundled in her coat of furs.
"Time to wake, Young Pilgrim. We have somewhere to be."
It took a couple of vigorous rubbings of my eyes and a lengthy stretch before I felt the sleep begin to leave me. Miss Willow slid me my boots. Then she had me stand and turn about so that she draped over my shoulders a bulky dark green and black sweater, thick, heavy wool, knit tight. The knitting was done so as to have the appearance of an evergreen forest in a background of night. I was more buried in the sweater than dressed in it, almost overburdened with the weight of its warmth.
By now Squire had his eyes open. Then Miss Willow hushed me with her finger to her mouth while guiding me out the back door. It was at that moment that Squire made his own decision to tag along.
The outside was cold, cold, freeze-you-stone-dead cold. The cold air bit your cheeks and froze your breath while it was still on your lips. As Granddad would sometimes say, "It was fierce cold."
I had expected to walk into last hours of the night, but the blackness had already begun to grey into the first mist of morning.
On this journey, Squire followed, Miss Willow set the course as she walked with quick energy, numbering her strides with the reaches of her shoulder high walking stick, maintaining enough pace to cause her long fur coat to be always a flapping shadow ever so slightly behind her. I had to work to keep up and if her expression were any indication, I was left with little choice but to do so.
The mist seemed to fold around us as we walked, hiding whatever there was out there in the thick, dim greyness. I thought I heard the sound of a brook nearby, and every now and then, a faint caw from high above us. But all along I heard the crunch of a layer of ice beneath our feet, as if we were walking on frozen dew.
There came a point where Miss Willow began to slow. Before us appeared a wooden footbridge, a rather small but substantial footbridge, a bridge for people walking but not for motorcars or wagons. It crossed a wide, trickling stream, half-frozen, half-melted. It took us into a far-stretching field, a field growing larger and larger as the mist began to rise. Here and there the remains of war poked up through the snow, broken down wagons and rusted cannons resting skewed in their rotting wooden livery. Then beyond the last cannon, a regiment of snow draped white crosses, crosses by the thousands.
Miss Willow said nothing, simply gazed across it all and once in a long while, bow her head as if to gaze across her own reverent resting place. Squire looked about in all directions, somehow with a quiet unease. I was somewhere in between the soul of the Willow Woman and the soul of my blue-eyed dog. After a time, during one of her deeper silent gazes, she whispered so as I might overhear, "Sometimes in the silence, you can still hear the faint echo of the fading cannonade."
I listened for what she had heard.
After awhile I did hear it; I could even smell the distant smoke of an ended war that had left its memory in the wind.
We sat upon an abandoned woodpile and she taught me of the Northern Wars, and how they had been fought so that they might never have to be fought again. And I thought it very strange to think that we have to fight wars to end the wars we have already begun.
We stayed there many hours speaking of what goes on in souls both young and old. We stayed until there was no more mist. We stayed until the sunshine sparkled the snowy field. We stayed until the cold was not quite so deathly cold. We stayed until we heard no more cannonade.
Then we went home.