The CRAAAACK of the shattering vase echoed off the walls of the tiny house. Near the shards on the stone floor, a boy stood frozen.
“Baranthet, what’s that?” Grandmother’s voice came around the corner a bit before she did, wobbling slightly to avoid too much pressure on her hip.
“I’m sorry,” the boy mumbled, “I was trying to get the maps down and…”
Grandmother stopped in front of the vase’s remains. “Oh, this old thing? Don’t worry. Auntie Nashan got it for me before I moved here to the city all those years ago, but honestly, it’s a bit flashy, and I’ve never known quite where to put it. Still, she said it was something to—” Grandmother stopped as her eyes fell on four pieces of clay, or perhaps they were stone, or perhaps they were bone, lying among what was once a rather gaudy vase, “—something to remember home by.”
Grandmother picked up one of the stones, rolling it around in her hand as she rolled some memories around in her head. “Baranthet, if you clean this up and wash up, I’ll tell you a story, one my grandmother once told me. The Wardens of the Wild.”
The boy’s eyes widened. He knew every one of Grandmother’s stories—The Tale of the Liar King, The Queen of Bees, The Whispering Parrot—but he didn’t know this one. In a blink, the vase was tidied, his face was clean, and he was under the covers.
The curtains blew in the warm autumn air.
“Once, epochs and days ago, there was a young elephant. She was quite small for an elephant (though this meant she was still quite large for any other animal), and so she usually played with the other animals of the plains and grasslands and forests, those that scamper through the brush and chase through the trees, like the elk or the hooplamander or the wolf. She enjoyed nothing more than sweet tree fruits, like papayas—”
“But they have so many seeds!”
“—like mangos,” Grandmother pivoted, smooth as a maple seed in freefall. “And she shared them with her smaller friends. But one day, there were no mangos to be found. The little elephant and her friends grew hungrier, and they searched far and wide, until eventually they found where all the food had gone. A greedy sloth had taken them all.”
“No matter how much the little elephant asked, the greedy sloth wouldn’t give the food back, and he was a very big sloth, like you hear about from the merchants sometimes up in the Kaava Lands, the ones as big as a house, and the little elephant was very little. She decided to ask an even bigger animal for help, the biggest one, the Warden of Forests and Meadows, for it is the duty of a warden to advise the creatures under their charge and settle their disputes.
“But the Warden of Forests and Meadows saw something in the little elephant. Rather than settle the problem himself, which he could have done easily, he asked the little elephant why she had come to him. ‘Why, because you’re the biggest creature around,’ she said. And so the warden responded, ‘Then surely all you need to do is become even bigger than I am.
“The little elephant didn’t know how to do that, but she thought and thought, and she had an idea. She waited until evening, when the sun was very tired and near the horizon, and she went to the greedy sloth’s den. She flared up her ears, and stuck out her trunk, and bellowed with all her might. And even though the elephant was very little, her sunset shadow was bigger than any other creature, even the warden. The greedy sloth took one look at it, and seeing such a big creature, he ran away so fast that he left all the delicious food behind, and the little elephant and her friends never went hungry again.
“And ever since that day, after every Migration, the Warden of Forests and Meadows has always been a clever sort, one who always thinks around a problem rather than barreling through it. Remember, Baranthet, that the animals of nature are far from dumb beasts, but are just as clever as us, and often more so.”
The boy, transfixed, nodded so hard his eyelids started to droop. “Wait, what’s the Migration? And there were four tiles, does that mean there’s four wardens?” His voice was sleepy as he tried to get a peep at the remaining tiles (to no avail; they had disappeared to wherever it is that grandmothers keep such things from prying eyes). But Grandmother had already placed a dollop of honey in the blown-glass jar near the bed, and the firebugs in it had already begun to softly glow, as they would until Baranthet was safely asleep. She moved to the door.
“That, my little explorer, is a story for another day.”
About The Author
For the next chapter in Grandmother’s story, click here.
Grandmother’s Story, Part 1: Of Forests and Meadows
Monday, May 8th, 2023