Tuesday, 2 April 2019

A Ferry Story.

.............upon a ..........

The track falls through the forest to the river.

There is no bridge.

To cross to the village you must call the ferryman who, most days, sits on the bank below the church.

He may choose to ignore you.

Or he may look at you and wait.

He is waiting for a sign; a gesture of greeting.

Even then he will wait.

If you sit down by the willow that leans out across the water he will stand and step into his boat. 

If you continue to stand, he will remain seated. 

He does not need your money; he is paid by the village to keep it safe.

There are only two ways into the village, across the river at this point or along the mountain road to the north that crosses the ridge and then settles into the narrow valley that leads to the church. The ferryman’s brother waits on this road; to pass him you must pay tribute or be prepared to fight; his reputation is fierce.

The ferryman does not use strength; he relies on guile.

Using a long pole fashioned from the willow tree where you sit he pushes his boat out into the water.

Halfway he stops and looks at you again.

His green eyes match the waters of the river, here at its deepest point.

If you remain seated at this point he will turn round and return to his spot beside the church wall; if you rise and hold his gaze he will continue.

When he reaches the point where the leaves of the willow touch the surface of the water he will stop once more, using his pole to anchor himself in the shallows – too far for you to wade.

He will ask you what you need.

You should tell him.

He will also ask you your name.

You should tell him this.

Then he will name a price.

It may be gold, it maybe a chicken – he alone will decide.

He may ask only for a promise.

Then you can trade.

After that he will push the boat to the shore, invite and help you to step in, collect the gold, or chicken or promise and take you safely to the village side.

For gold or chicken the return is guaranteed; for the promise you will have to speak again.

Do not lie to the ferryman, the waters are deep midway and his green eyes will not weep if you slip at this point.

Do not leave the boat without giving him something.

With gold and a chicken, a hand-shake is enough; if you are travelling on a promise he will ask for your knife.

Be careful not to refuse; the ferryman looks old but he is faster than any man you will ever meet.

And the water never forgets.

 formerly published in The Archives.

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