Weekend Wind Down – The Portal

It wanted but ten minutes to midnight when Matthias stepped out of his door and sniffed the starlit air. His dogs, Florence and Fido, came out too and sat at his feet regarding the quiet dark landscape through round, intelligent eyes. Matthias lit up his long, clay pipe and smoked  in ruminative quiet for a moment before bending to place one hand on each soft furry head.
“I wonder how many we can expect tonight?”
By way of an answer Florence wagged her tail briefly, and Fido gave a small wuff.
Their master smiled.
“Good dogs.”
It was, he thought, a pleasant night to be standing in the well manicured grass, smoking a pipe, and listening to the small sounds of the night creatures in the trees and the crevices in the dry stone wall that surrounded his demesne.
Somewhere across the silent valley a bell rung, tolling the midnight hour with its melodious chimes. Florence and Fido stiffened, and Matthias knocked the dottle out of his pipe on a convenient stone.
He turned to watch the well-worn path that led uphill from the town and his eyes caught the gleam of a pale light coming his way. What was at first one light, became two, then three, then a dozen, until finally a score or more of the pallid glimmers progressed across the springy grass and through the tall trees to where Matthias stood.
As the first reached him, it changed from an insubstantial mote of light to the figure of an elderly man, bent and soured with age. The dogs barred his way and he looked down vaguely.
Matthias called through the open doorway.
“Who comes to meet Archibald Smith.”
A dozen or so voices replied, so the dogs parted allowing the old man to pass into his new home.
The ritual repeated for each of those who sought entry and it gladdened Matthias’ heart that all had someone to speak for them – meaning he had not any to turn away into the unforgiving sky.
He looked down at the dogs.
“Time to turn in.”
But Fido growled and Florence pointed to where one glimmer of light, paler and more frightened than any that had been before seemed to be trying to hide itself among the tall grass that bordered the wall. Matthias beckoned and it came reluctantly to where he stood beside the square of warm light that marked his door. As the light touched down in front of him it became a very old woman, a woman with no teeth and precious little hair, a woman so wrinkled and wizened and diminished by age that it was difficult to tell what she might have looked like under her loose and greyish skin. But then she looked at Matthias, and the sheer beauty of her grass-green eyes stabbed him in the breast like a sword.
“Why do you try to hide, sister. Is there no one awaiting you beyond the veil?”
“I do not know, sir doorkeeper. I only know that I tremble to think that he who was my husband may see me as I am now and regret awaiting me at the portal for sixty years.”
Matthias smiled his understanding.
“Who comes to meet Grace Sandling?”
“I do,” a great voice from beyond the doorway stirred the air and set the scent of honeysuckle tickling the noses of the dogs.
“Come forth then. It is permitted.”
A tall, strong auburn-haired figure with a neatly trimmed beard and big strong hands walked out into the night.
“My Grace,” he said tenderly and fell to his knees on the award in front of the old woman. “My Grace, come to me at last.”
The woman shook like an aspen tree in the winter and covered her face with her insubstantial hands.
“I am not as you remember me. Cruel eld has robbed me of both beauty and strength. I am ashamed to let you see me thus.”
The man reached out and removed her hands from in front of her face. He looked into her eyes.
“You are exactly as I remember you. Brave and beautiful and kind.”
He carried both her hands to his lips and as Matthias watched the years fell from her, until she stood sword-straight and as lovely as a spring morning. The man offered her his arm and they walked through the doorway together.
Matthias swallowed a lump in his throat before whistling the dogs and walking through the door with them at his heels.
The door closed behind them and the garden and the dry stone walls folded onto themselves leaving only a bare hillside in the cold moonlight.

©️Jane Jago

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