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Volume 15, Issue 1: Similitudes

Food for the Journey

Douglas Wilson

Andrew hit the water hard, his shoes happily absorbing some of the shock. For a moment he forgot the warning that Cassiodorus had given him and started to make a few strokes to get back to the surface. But then, remembering, he panicked, and began to swim downward. As he did so, the water began to get noticeably warm. He opened his eyes, and saw flickering daylight down between his feet, in front of him. Pulling harder, he came down level with the opening and swam through it. His lungs were stretched, but he did not feel concerned. As soon as he swam through the opening, a peaceful relaxation came over him, almost a laziness. But he continued to swim and after a few more seconds, his head broke the surface of a small woodland pond.

Andrew swam quickly to shore, and pulled himself out by grabbing hold of two strong tufts of grass hanging over the bank. As soon as he got out, he noticed that it was a warm summer day, wherever he was, and not at all like it had been back at the library. At the thought of the library, he started, and walked around the pond, looking for the cliff he had jumped off. The pond was in a meadow, and on one end of the meadow was a small spinney of trees. Across the meadow was grass about waist high. Andrew walked up the little hill, and then completely around it, outside the trees, looking for his cliff. The first two times around he could see nothing, but the third time, he noticed that the sky to the east (he thought it was the east) was shimmering in a strange way, the way it does when heat rises off a highway. As he stared at it, he thought he could see a mountain face in the shaking sky. But he could also see straight through it to the woods beyond. "So," Andrew thought, "I have changed worlds again. I wish I could remember the first one."
The sun was westering, and as Andrew had nothing better to do, he walked slowly across the meadow toward it. The meadow was surrounded on all sides by a thick army of trees, and Andrew did not quite know what he should do. As he walked, pushing the grass aside with his hands, he stumbled into a little clearing—a meadow within the meadow. The grass here had been cut in a large oval shape. At the center of the clearing was a large oaken table, rough hewn, with one chair beside it.
Andrew walked around the table twice, and then, considering the one chair an invitation, he sat down. As soon as he did so, a large dark raven fluttered down from the sky and perched on the far end of the table. The two were silent for a moment, looking at each other. The raven then croaked, and Andrew looked down at the table for some reason. There, in front of him, was a loaf of sweet bread and a pewter goblet. Alongside the bread were some curled strips of some kind of dried meat.
Andrew looked up again at the raven, which cocked its head to one side. Andrew took this as an invitation, and so he tore off a piece of the bread and chewed silently. It felt very good. After several pieces he was thirsty, so he picked up the goblet and drank. He did not know anything about wine, but it was an ordinary red table wine. It was right to be drinking it, and Andrew felt again as he had felt in the water. The raven croaked approvingly.
The twisted bits of meat, in contrast, were not at all appealing. But the raven cawed, and Andrew thought that if he was supposed to sit in the chair, and eat the bread, and drink the wine, then he probably ought to eat the meat too. He picked one piece of it up, and held it under his nose. It looked something like beef jerky, but with a cutting pungent smell that made him think the taste would be gamey, but not entirely unpleasant. At the same time, he would have put it down again if the smell had not made him feel like authority had fallen on him. Holding the meat, he felt like a warrior, and he concluded that to put it back down again would be cowardice.
He tore off a piece with his teeth and began to chew. As he did, he felt as though the meadow around him came into focus, as though his vision had suddently improved. The second thing he noticed was that the background sounds of the woodland birds was suddently like a great but distant chorus. He couldn't make anything out, but he felt sure it was intelligible.
Andrew was not at all surprised when the raven spoke to him. "Welcome, Andrew," he said.
Andrew nodded, and waited for a moment. Then he asked,"What was the meat that I ate?"
The raven moved down the end of the table about a half a foot. "I am surprised you do not know. They told me you were reading the right books. But if you need to be told, no more's the pity. You have eaten dragonheart."
"Where have I come?" he asked.
"You have come to Greenland," the raven said. "You have chosen well thus far and have only one choice remaining before your journey begins. As you travel, heading always west, you will discover your task as you go. Your choice now is simply to ask for a companion."
Andrew thought for a long moment, and then spoke. "I would travel with the unicorn that accompanies the great lady."
"You have indeed chosen wisely," said the raven. "He will be here in the morning. His name is Beow." And with that, the raven stretched up toward the sky with his wings, and then, with flurry, he was gone.

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