It was late summer, the time of year when the zephyr glided down from the mountains with the faint scent of honeyed wildflowers, that the boy appeared.
The ferryman had paused for his midday meal at the river’s edge. When he looked up into the youthful face, the smoked trout and new potatoes were momentarily forgotten. His brow furrowed deep for a moment as he trawled his memory.
He knew the lad.
A year ago, the ferryman guessed, a year ago — or more. Hair the color of Autumn flame, questions that had tumbled over one another with eager thirst, feet that he’d thought would fair launch off the sturdy bottom of his weathered boat. The memory was dim, but he knew these green eyes for the star-like wonder that had suddenly filled them. This boy had fallen silent halfway through his river-trip, as if he were satisfied to discover things for himself, as if he hardly dared believe the scope of the adventure before him.
Now he stood before him, a grin playing across his ruddy cheeks.
The ferryman urged him to stay, holding out his lunch in welcome, but the boy was bound for other destinations before nightfall. He had only come to thank the man who had ushered him safely across the river. With a merry, firm grasp of hands, the youth pulled him close in a strong embrace — the ferryman caught a hint of sweet grass and other fragrant, fleeting things — and he was gone.
The scent remained with the ferryman long into the evening.
He ate his supper cold by the hearth-fire, tasting very little. The blithe flames popped and crackled, beckoning him with flickering arms to its blazing circle of warmth, then weakened to embers, and finally faded to silent gray ash.
In the morning, he set out.
Continued in Part 3.