setting stones

Tonight I’ll be on that hill ‘cause I can’t stop,
 I’ll be on that hill with everything I’ve got, 
Where life’s on the line, where dreams are found and lost, 
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost. 

Darkness on the Edge of Town.
-Bruce Springsteen 1978 

A quiet yet persistent knocking woke me from yet another dreamless sleep. Forcing my old, aching joints out of bed I pulled my robes around me and started out of my bed chamber and as quickly as I could manage towards my chamber door. 

'Yes, yes, I’m coming. Be patient with an old man.' Aged fingers struggled with the door mechanism until eventually I was met with a young girl with elfin features and short dark hair. 

'Are you ready for our walk, Grandfather?' Phrased as a question the glint in her eyes told me that she would only accept one particular answer. 

'Do you enjoy bothering an old man at this time of the day, hmm?' Just what time of the day was it? I’d lost all sense of time recently and I used to place so much importance in it. 

'It’s nearly midday, Grandfather and you promised me a walk outside the city.' There was going to be no putting her off it would seem. 

'Very well, child, wait here will I gather myself together.' So persistent, just like her Grandmother. My eyes lingered on a single white flower in the corner of my chambers as I slowly changed into my walking robes and walked back over to the door to collect my walking staff as quickly as my aching legs would allow. The door opened easier this time to reveal my visitor exactly where I had left her, I offered her my arm and we set off through the sterile and polished corridors. How claustrophobic they seemed now.

We walked in a comfortable silence at first, although I could tell from the way she kept glancing at me that she had a question she could barely contain. "Well, child, what is it you wish to ask?" 

'When were you last outside, Grandfather?'

'Not for many years. There is hardly any call these days for many of us dwelling within these walls to venture out. Even less for someone of my standing. I must confess I am quite unsure what to make of your fascination with the idea.'

'Grandmother said you hardly spent any time indoors when you were my age.'

'Your Grandmother often spoke of things she should not have. 'How I miss that about her.'

'She had no business telling you of that.'

'Your identification please, Sir.' So caught up in old memories was I that I had failed to realise we had reached our destination, blocked by a serious looking young man with a head of curly blond hair. 

'Yes, yes, of course.' I looked through my robes for my identification. 'Here we are.'

'I’m very sorry, Sir. If I had realised I would not have stopped you.'

'Not at all, young man. You were merely doing your job. Now if you’ll excuse us?'

'Of course, Sir.' He fumbled with the door controls and eventually let us out into the fresh air.'

'Oh Grandfather!' My companion exclaimed as she took in the view 'It’s wonderful.' 

'Well, let’s get this over with.' I took her arm again and we set off across the field of red grass that surrounded the city and towards the snow capped mountains. 'You’ll not be happy to you’ve viewed our home from one of those damned mountains I’d imagine.'

We didn’t speak much as we walked that morning. My Granddaughter was too busy delighting in all the sights that had been denied her growing up in the citadel and I was too lost in memories of the last time I had ventured outside. Eventually we had to stop at the base of one of the mountains as my health would let me continue no further, my hearts drumming hard against my chest. 

'Will you play for me, Grandfather?'

'I’m sorry?' I pretended not to hear, even as I knew exactly what it was she was asking for.
'Will you play your recorder for me as you did when I was a child?'

'You are still a child.' I replied, even as I grasped my recorder beneath my robes. 

'Oh, Grandfather. Please won’t you play?'

'Very well, but only to keep you quiet.' I put the instrument to my lips and began to play. As I slowly lost myself in the music I let myself be carried back to simpler times, when the wonder of outside was enough to satisfy my wanderlust. But these memories were bittersweet, I could not think back to them without also thinking of the loss that had sent me running back to the citadel. I don’t know how long I played for but when I finally stopped I became aware of my Granddaughter staring at me intently. I turned my head, wiping away a solitary tear as I did so.

'Why are you always so sad, Grandfather?'

'I’ve lived a long life, child. I do not always need a reason.' The lie sat uneasy on my lips. 'Now why don’t you go and explore for a short while and let an old man catch his breath, hmm?' Without another word she stood up, kissed me on the cheek and ran off to explore this strange new world she found herself in.

It wasn’t new to me though. I knew exactly where I was. I don’t know if it was chance that had brought me here today or some subconscious impulse, but I knew what I would find when I turned round. The drumming in my chest due to anticipation rather than ill health. 

I sat on my rock for a long time gripping my recorder tightly, working up the courage to turn around. When I eventually did I found the cavern entrance I had been expecting. Sighing I pushed myself to my feet and walked slowly over to the mouth of the cavern and into long ago. 

The cavern was significantly smaller than I remembered it. The ancient walls crawling with age and damp seemed claustrophobic and oppressive to me now where before I felt swallowed by the seemingly endless depths. Centuries had passed since I had followed my young friend down into the depths, centuries in which I had tried not to think about what we had found within. A shiver ran down my spine as I thought again of the implications of this second visit, yet I had no real choice. Not really. 

Here I was, about to shoulder the responsibility of decisions made hundreds of years previously. It had to be my shoulders that this weight fell onto, there was no-one else.
Not now.