The Sweetness of Fruit Jam

Naomi grows up in Greyhaven, an ancient holding situated deep in the Heartwood forest. She is unaware of the real reason why her mother cannot be with her father in Greyhaven. She lives with her grandmother because her father is often absent from  Greyhaven destroying military shipping moving north towards Saitadi on the River Lorne. Only the great Sage Leandra knows that this bright and imaginative little girl will one day be present at a pivotal moment in history when she will either save the  land she loves from evil or fail and her people will be plunged into darkness and despair. Here, Naomi remembers an incident from her childhood that was to make an important impression on her.

The Sweetness of Fruit Jam

As a child growing up in Greyhaven, I was not aware of much of the world outside of that faraway place called Big Springs. Big Springs was less than a morning’s walk through the hills to the west of the Lord Gilbert’s Manor House. Beyond Big Springs, a fabulous city called Drieven was at the edge of everything I knew or imagined.

Each Moon’s Day, the day when the moon disappeared between us and the sun, when it began its slow growth from narrow crescent to full, round disk, my grandmother would take me to listen to the Holding’s Sage who told us a homily that taught the lesson of G’rama she chose to give us. This is where I heard about the man who lived at the edge of the Forest where the Heartwood trees held dominion.

Moon’s Day was always special because it is the beginning of a short holiday where the people of the Holding can rest, gather together to put on a little fair, and even walk to Big Springs to sell surplus vegetables they may have raised. The lesson at this Moon’s Day was really about what we should pay the most attention to. The Sage explained, “A wise person knows that it is not the sugar one adds to the jar of jam, but the sweetness of the fruit that is real.”

I go to Cook, my good friend in the kitchen, to ask her about this message, and she directs me to a man who lived at the edge of the forest.

Cook is a plain-spoken woman. She says, “You can trust this man, though as far as I’m concerned, he speaks in silly riddles. All I know is that he furnishes our kitchen with the best berry jams in this part of Lunaria.”

So, I ask my Uncle Eberson, who is not really my Uncle but is the ruler of Greyhaven while Lord Gilbert is away, if I might pay this man at the edge of the forest a visit. I should mention that Captain Eberson is the one who keeps me and my grandmother safe while my father is away at war and my mother is on some mission in a place called Ranaputkin.

“Of course,” Paul says, his eyes twinkling as they always do when he knows something that he wants me to learn, but wants this learning to be from my own experience. “Just be careful,” he tells me.

So, early the next morning, there not being a schooling day for four days after each Moon’s Day, I set out in the direction I was given. I walk past the paddock where the livestock of the Holding is kept during breeding season and wave at a boy who is my age and the son of Benderson, the current Master of Stables.

“Where are you off to, Mistress Naomi?” Darion asks me.

I mumble something about going to see the man at the edge of the woods about his jams and preserves.

Darion laughs. “I will give you a piece of advice. That old man is crazy. You’ll never get anything out of him except a lot of funny words that no one understands.”

I am a little hurt. I’ve always found Darion more polite in his attitude towards the people on the Holding. Even if he is an important person because he stands to inherit the position of Master of Stables from his father, he does not have a reason to act so stuck up.

So, I say something polite. “Have a good morning,” and I continue on my way, not wanting to pick a fight.

Late Spring brings fine weather to Greyhaven, and the day is clear and warm. I follow the river Songris a short way upstream from our village, and then I turn north on the main path that skirts the edge of the forest. At this time of year, the river is alive with fish feeding among the grasses at the edge of the bank, and there are many wading birds that wait for fish to come close and furnish them an easy meal. On shore, there are other creatures who wait for an unwary bird to walk ashore, and there are yet others who wait on them to become careless. I understood and appreciated all of this because Paul Eberson had taken me on walks near the edge of the forest and told me of the ways of the life sheltered among the giant Heartwood trees. He’s even promised me that someday he will take me for walks in the forest, and perhaps I will learn to talk with the trees—they have much to say, he has told me.

But today I walk to the road that leaves the immediate area of the Holding. The way continues north to where the edge of the forests meet the River Lorne. Uncle Paul says that if one crosses the Lorne at that point, they will enter the edge of the Dark Forest where someone called One Mother is said to rule. That is all I know. My grandmother, who is wise, has told me that the story of One Mother is not a tale for children.

There are two branches of a stream that leave the forest and cross the north road before they join and circle around the holding and mix with the Songris near Big Springs. An arched stone bridge spans this stream in two graceful jumps, one across the southern branch followed by a second arch that crosses to the north road on the other side of the second branch. I cross the first, turn left and follow a path between the two branches of the stream. The path continues a short distance to the edge of the woods where the first of the Heartwood trees grow. Under their golden canopy, a modest log cabin rests in a patch of comfortable shade. Not far from the cabin, a little way into a clearing, a shed with large black kettles and smoking stone fire pits is at the center of much activity.

A group of children from the village come here to earn a little coin. Some of the children at the shed are crushing fruit and adding the pulp and juices to one of the kettles. Others are stirring, and still others are straining the liquid into large jars that will be sealed with hot wax. A grove of fruit trees occupies the other end of the clearing, fenced in by a thick tangle of berry vines heavy with rip, red fruit.

For your information, a Heartwood tree is a sight to see. Pure white bark covers its smooth trunk which soars to incredible heights capped by a glittering golden canopy. Some of these trees would need six people linked hand-in-hand to circle the trunks at their base—and some say that these are small Heartwoods.

Why are they named Heartwoods? I am told that, at the center of this forest, the first of the Heartwoods began life before the tribes arrived from the seed worlds, and that the bloodsap that flows through the veins of Ennea is pumped by these very trees whose links with all the creatures, including ourselves, bind the world of Ennea into one being. It does sound fanciful, but standing under one of these trees is a little like waiting for a giant to gather its breath slowly in preparation for speaking.

A man steps forward and comes to greet me while I stand uncertainly at the edge of the clearing.

“Greetings, Naomi,” the man stops in front of me and looks down at me. He is very tall and very thin, but when he speaks, I feel as though he’s looking straight into my eyes and is not tall at all. “What brings you here?”

If I’d been more alert, I’d have wondered how he knew my name, but instead of asking that, I act immediately to satisfy my curiosity. It seems that I often act rudely and abruptly in this way. My grandmother, Naomi Pizzar, for whom I am named, reminds me of this often enough.

And so, without even returning polite greetings to this man who lives at the edge of the woods, I plunge ahead. “Are these woods mysterious? I mean, do they hide a great secret?”

He smiles indulgently. “Perhaps that is one way to describe the forest. This forest is the archive for all things known, a Library of all the forms or Templates which have ever existed on this world. I am the Archivist who lives at the edge of this knowledge, the Greeter who meets each one who seeks to enter.”

“The world out there,” he waves his hand to the land behind me, “is a construct of all things imagined, even as you are a thing that you imagine.”

“I’m afraid that you have confused me, Archivist,” I return. “I am only a child. Can you make this clearer?”

The man, who I now doubt is a man at all, smiles patiently. “Call me Arch rather than Archivist…,” he says, continuing with a long string of syllables that I can’t follow. “The short version is only the first part of a very long name that no one cares to remember.”

I think this is sad, but I hold my tongue and congratulate myself on my restraint.

Instead, I say, “Your jams and jellies are much admired by the cooks at the Manor House. Tell me what you mean when you say that a wise person knows that it is not the sugar one adds to the jar of jam, but the sweetness of the fruit that is real.”

Arch laughs. “So, the good Sage used that in G’rama’s lessons, did she?”

He goes on before I can answer. “Since you asked, I will tell you a secret, Naomi.”

I like secrets, so I lean closer. I smell the essences of fresh-baked bread, sweet cream and fruit, of spring rains and damp evergreen needles, of the herbs in my grandmother’s garden and the earth I turn when I am rooting out the weeds.

He says, “The essence of the life of every creature is knowing what is real and what we add to make the world conform to our wishes. The fish who imagines the sweetness of the fairy shrimp and ignores the shadow of the waiting bird will be snatched.”

I am only a little girl, and I don’t grasp all the implications, but I think back to Darion’s statement about understanding the words of this man. It becomes clear to me what Darion has added and what he has ignored when he offered his advice.

Later, working with Grandmother in her herb garden, I repeat what Arch told me. She laughs, but it is the laughter of surprise and delight. “You may not completely understand these words now, Naomi, but you have been armed with a weapon that will ultimately help you defend what you love most and make your enemies tremble in fear of you.”

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