Excerpt from Part Three, The Dragon’s Lair:
“With feelings of exhilaration, both Len and Charlie rounded up Larry, Buddy, and Sir Charles and headed up the Pee Dee at full speed to Tega Cay to meet Raissa the great artist and writer. Sir Charles had rummaged the unbelievers’ packs and found the vile of Strong Ink that they had taken from Pola the storyteller. Tonight, the children would once again hear the stories; the ones that start with Legend has it… and their imaginations will grow, and they will carry these stories with them for a lifetime.”
The Catawba River Tega Cay
The sun was shining brightly as our mixed group of Writers, Poets and Storytellers made our way down the Catawba River. The sky was a brilliant blue and reflected on the waters as we ran hard and fast upriver. Len was quiet as he navigated the river, pondering the things that could go wrong. Charlie Walker’s eyes scanned the murky banks feeling that we were safe but not letting his guard down except to pet Buddy. Hours ago we were trapped in the swamp in fear that the unbelievers had finally captured us.
In truth, we had the advantage even though we were outnumbered. We grew up in these swamps and rivers; we knew the folklore of the dark water and the kinship of the creatures that roamed and lived there. We all felt the relief and were deep in our thoughts as we still had miles to go and the sun was starting to dip low toward the horizon.
I gazed back toward the black water swamps and in the distance saw a glimmer floating on the water. As the image became clearer it was Pola. It was as if she were floating just above the water. She smiled and said “do not be afraid. It is said that the spirits of the waters protect the storytellers and inspire their stories.” She was reaching out to me holding her medicine pouch. Without me reaching out to her it was suddenly in my hand along with another white owl feather for Buddy to replace the ones the unbelievers had taken from him. She spoke in a clipped tone as if fading and said, “hurry now onto your next quest.”
“You have completed the first quest and now you must trust the Catawba water spirits to take you safely to Raissa the Artist and keeper of the ink. Worry not about me as I am partly here and partly behind the veil. I will always be near you, trust this even when you cannot see me. Raissa will share the secrets of the living ink. Her paintings come to life and share their knowledge with the believers.” Then she was gone, and a darkness fell upon the river.
We all kept close throughout the night realizing that this battered, cold and hungry crew were the last hope for the Storytellers. One by one we drifted off to sleep until only Len and Buddy guided us toward the coming dawn. The first rays of the sun burst upon the river gifting us with dazzling lights and bird songs. There in the distance on a raised knoll was Tega Cay, home of the legendary Artist and Storyteller Raissa, creator of the living paintings. Even from here, you could see the gardens and fountains all tucked under the ancient oaks.
You could see her standing on the dock waiting as if she knew we had arrived. One by one we unloaded our gear and humbly greeted her. She spoke in soft tones saying, “Welcome, come with me to my studio, breakfast is waiting, and I have stories to tell.”
Chapter 2 by Raissa Urdiales
One by one, the weary travelers made their way from the lake and up the stairs to Raissa’s home. They looked exhausted but seemed to brighten as they walked by the fountain through the colorful garden protected by the ancient oak trees.
She welcomed each with a small bag that contained fresh clothes, fluffy towels, and some of the essentials for bringing them back to feeling human. Breakfast was almost ready, and she inquired if they wanted to clean up first before sitting down for the meal. They all agreed they were too hungry to wait.
Raissa welcomed them to the dining room lined with floor to ceiling windows that looked out into the garden. The large bright and welcoming teakwood table situated in the middle of the room. In the middle of the table sat a vase filled with freshly cut daffodils, a pitcher of freshly pressed orange juice, and apple fritters dusted with brown sugar. Raissa went to the kitchen, came back with a hearty plate of potato pancakes, and freshly prepared applesauce, bacon, and scrambled eggs.
She welcomed each to take a seat and said, “I hope you are hungry, I have once again made enough for an army. Please find a place at the table, and I will tell you the story of the magic paints passed down through generations for thousands of years.” They all scurried to the table, sat down, and quickly loaded their plates. They joined in grace, giving thanks for their escape from the non-believers and bringing them safely to Raissa’s garden and the bountiful feast before them. Then they dove into the meal, barely taking a breath between bites.
Raissa began. “Long ago and for many generations, the secret of the magic paints have been hidden. They were used around the world for thousands of years and once plentiful. The great painters of the day knew of their secrets and learned how to harvest their colors. They originated from many secret gardens around the world. They required tending daily and protection from those trying to collect its beauty too soon or worse yet try to destroy them.
Summer delivers blossoming rose bushes with pinks like the blush of a child’s cheeks, peaches like the ocean’s coral, and yellows as bright as the sun.
The garden colors change with each passing season. As new colors appear and reach maturity, I learned to harvest the color and formulate the magic paint. I learned to leave some past growth to protect and nourish the new season of color and learned the different season’s harvest. In winter months, the garden filled with the intense violets and shades of icy-blue to velvety-greens from the kale and pansies. The holly bushes and evergreens’ trimmed the yard accented by burgundy-red berries where cardinals frequently perch. The cheerful sunny-yellow daffodils emerge in the spring, and the grape hyacinth and red tulips blanket the hillside. The flowering bushes begin to wake to push buds that welcome the sweet petals of yellow honeysuckle, creamy gardenia, and pink and white crepe myrtle. Summer delivers blossoming rose bushes with pinks like the blush of a child’s cheeks, peaches like the ocean’s coral, and yellows as bright as the sun. As fall approaches, the colors turn to deep earthy reds blending with rusty-oranges, sprinkled with mustard-yellow, all set against the crisp, clear blue skies. I have learned the key to harvesting at just the right time to capture just the right hues.
It was a gift that I learned from the many days helping my mother tend to her garden. She expressed the importance of bending back the greens of the daffodils to replenish the bulb below. I learned of the sedum that grows through the summer. It attracts magnificent butterflies and hummingbirds to its brightly colored cauliflower-shaped lavender domes in the fall. Some sedum stalks harvested and some remain to protect the ground from the harsh winter. I learned much about tending the garden bringing the ripened flowers into my mother. She would use the secret recipe and make the magical paint. The magic colors were a reflection of nature itself. Over the years, people began to try to create paint using other techniques. Still, they never could achieve the colors produced when created from life. The variation of color that exists in every unique thing in the garden.
You see, no two colors will ever be precisely the same. Each is unique, and each has its own tone that makes it different. Great artists learned over the years with each season, new colors would emerge from the plentiful gardens. As more and more people got away from the open countryside and moved to cities, the paint started to disappear. So did the vibrant paintings it created.
Artists would search for the magical paint, with many claiming theirs possessed the charm, but when the artists used them, they could tell it did not. The garden you just walked through is one of the last gardens where magical paint is harvested. I am one of the few remaining people that know how to make the magic paint from the flowers that bloom each season. I have been searching for someone to teach, so the enchanted colors will not be lost forever. I could never have children and need assistance to find someone to pass the secret formula on to.”
With that, Raissa sat quietly and looked across the table. All the men who had been so hungry had stopped eating, and she thought she saw a tear form in Larry’s eye. She desperately wanted to save the magical paint and hoped these men were here to help her.
Coming soon: The Legend Of The Dark Stone