After enough miles we could feel every stone in our jarred bones. Bead tapestries pressed us into the warped boards underneath, hiding us from discovery while at the same time threatening to crush us with their weight. I couldn’t help but admire Mirna, lying silent beside me, not once raising a complaint over our current misfortune. She’d had to leave her home, the only place she could navigate with confidence without the benefit of sight, and take to the road as a fugitive. Alpha’s men had been far too close to finding us, and if Mirna hadn’t remembered Carastine, the bead weaver who visited Bishmasfa each year for the festival, we may not have made it past their closing net.
Carastine was a soft spoken woman with deep crinkles at the edges of her warm eyes, and bright beads spotting her thick silver braid. A small tinkling sound accompanied her movements, and rang at each jostle and jolt from her wagon’s wooden wheels over the well-traveled mountain road. Twice already she had been stopped and questioned by soldiers. We could hear canine snouts sniffing around the wagon and the men’s voices as they peered under the back cloth at her neatly locked drawers and piles of bead tapestries blanketing the floor. Dried aromatic herbs dangled overhead from the wagon’s wooden skeleton, and lay crushed beneath Carastine’s stowaways to mask our scent from Alpha’s too intelligent wolves.
I began to count stones rather than minutes or miles. Each one was a new stab of pain against sore hips and shoulder blades. We knew immediately when the wagon left the main road, rambling over softer grasses instead.
“Woah old lady,” cooed Carastine, and her mule obligingly went still.
We listened as Carastine slid from her perch and murmured to her mule, undoing straps and buckles. A few minutes later her soft footsteps rounded to the back of the wagon and the oppressive tapestries were lifted away. I had to blink against the sudden rush of light. The air on my skin felt delightfully cool.
“This is where we part,” said Carastine, extending a hand to me.
My body screamed in protest at movement, but after a few turns around the meadow I felt myself again somewhat. I guided Mirna through a few more rotations for good measure. Carastine’s mule was free of her harnesses, grazing contentedly while Carastine laid a small feast out upon a blanket. She had baskets filled with fresh breads, fruit, cheeses and meats, and smaller containers of nuts and sweets.
“Come,” she invited, waving us toward her.
“Carastine, we have little to pay you with,” protested Mirna when Carastine pressed a healthy serving of sausage into Mirna’s hand.
Carastine adjusted her loose shawl while she studied Mirna in thought. It was one of Mirna’s creations, I realized. It looked well-worn and I wondered how long the two had been trading wares. There had been a bead tapestry in Mirna’s house.
“People often ask me how I have the patience to weave beads together for hours on end,” she said, standing and retrieving a small chest from her wagon. She opened the top with a key on her necklace and retrieved what looked like the beginning of a new tapestry. She opened the drawers by degrees so I could see the various colors and began stringing them onto her tapestry one by one while she spoke. “It isn’t a matter of patience if you have the relationship with beads that I do,” she said. “See, each bead tells part of a story. A red bead holds passion. Fire and movement.” She handed a red bead to Mirna, who smiled as she turned it over between her fingertips.
“It has a notch in it,” Mirna observed, passing it to me. “Do all of your red beads have a single notch?”
“They do,” said Carastine, plucking a green bead from her trunk and handing it to Mirna. “Green is a breath of life. Hope. Nature pressing forward because that is the only thing it knows how to do.”
“Is that a circle?” smiled Mirna, tracing the bead with her expert fingertip.
“It is,” said Carastine, handing a black bead over. “Black is doubt,” she said, “fear of the unknown and adversity.”
“It’s smooth,” observed Mirna.
“White is the opposite,” continued Carastine. “Discovery. Enlightenment. Blue is passion, like water. It can be smooth and tranquil or fiercely passionate.”
“Is that why it’s only marked on one side?” asked Mirna, handing the bead back and accepting the next.
“Yellow is sunshine and blooming flowers. It is confidence and bravery.”
“Do you have such distinction for every color?” asked Mirna.
“Absolutely. What people see when they look at my tapestries is a combination of patterns and colors. They’re looking at the whole and imagining it complementing their space. My experience is entirely different. To achieve these patterns I might have a string of black, with its doubt and fear, before I have a single green bead sliding in as a beacon of hope. Two brave yellow beads dancing back and forth with three passionate red beads for me create a waltz of temper and courageous honesty. It’s a journey, bead by bead. And even if I think I know how the pattern will emerge, I find myself wholly wrapped up in the adventure.”
Carastine’s fingers worked while she spoke. She didn’t even look at the bead drawers as she drew each new bead expertly onto her string.
“You young ladies are in a run of black beads right now,” she said, “but life is full of every color. Every texture.” She handed a necklace to Mirna. It was a gradual rotation through each color. She handed one to me as well. “A reminder of how the wheel continues to turn,” she said. “I was in the middle of a string of black beads myself, several years back, when I came across a young blind woman in the Bishmasfa market. She beamed with the joys of a color I haven’t yet discovered, and she gave me the most beautiful shawl when I admitted I couldn’t afford to pay. My efforts to weave a tapestry that adequately describes that moment have given me more success than I ever could have wished.”
Mirna blushed and draped the necklace around her neck.
“I turn south here, to the next market,” said Carastine. “I recommend you two follow that ridge until you reach the ocean. The towns along the coast will treat both soldiers and wolves with suspicion and won’t hesitate to lend their help to you. We never know what will be the next bead,” she added, closing and locking her trunk, “but I’ve learned that the larger pattern turns out to be worth the journey. I have to admit some curiosity, once my life’s run its course, at seeing the pattern of my own tapestry. I think…” she smiled privately. “I suspect it’ll be beautiful.”
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!