"It has been a long time, old man, since we were here," my grandfather said quietly as he passed his hands over the stones. "but the quiet is deeper now."
"They are not here."
"Who do you mean," I asked, still struggling to deal with the presence of this unseen someone.
No answer came back, only the fading of my voice.
"I believe he is speaking of the Greyfriars."
"The brothers who prayed behind these walls and who tapped these maple trees for syrup in the winter days. They were many back then, before the night when the owls had called them all by name."
"They all died, Grandfather?" I asked while the first real shimmer of fear passed through my soul. "What happened?"
"We never knew. One night they went into the maples and they never returned. All that was left, ashes in the fireplaces, melted candles in the windows, and ... unfinished prayers in their prayerbooks."
"When did this happen? Where did they go?"
My grandfather refused to answer, but the old man in the oak chose to do so. "Into the memory of the maples."
"Grandfather, take me home!"
Pulling me into his barrel-chest, he almost weeped into my ear, "Be brave, young soul. We still have a ways to go. And you will make it home, but on this night of forever, you will make it home by another way. For no one can return over the frozen river once it has been crossed."
The Old Man Oak spoke. "We must follow the wall, past the shadow of the tower, to the covered bridges."
"Is it far, Old Man?" But it was my grandfather who answered, "It is not far in distance, but it is far in time and courage."
And so we walked with right hands touching the grey stone until the wall gave way to the round of the tower and then beyond to where the shadow would have been. And then back into the maples, first a few and then many. It was there that I first heard the owls.
They say that owls fly in silence, but I heard them, far-off wisps in the wind, and then approaching nearer and nearer. I could feel them move the mist; I could feel them make a breeze of the cold.
"Grandfather, why are there so many owls in the night?"
"Can you not hear the owls approaching?"
"We must keep moving. The first bridge is not far, just beyond the Miller's Well."
But I stopped. I now felt that all was still again, just frozen silence. No wind. No whispering wings. Then once more the soft footsteps of my grandfather's boots upon the snow, walking further on.
I then thought a thought that seemed to be thought in the voice of the Old Oak. "The monks sound as owls approaching. Be thankful. They are here to watch over you."