GIFT: Willow Skye, the Gate-Keeper’s Girl By Sharon Collins

Week 8 Word: GIFT
Word Count 496
Willow Skye, the Gate-Keeper’s Girl
By Sharon Collins

Willow Skye the Gate-Keeper’s girl wasn’t his daughter. Folks ‘round here knew she didn’t belong to him, but we all pretended she did. However, whenever a stranger inquired, he’d growl the truth, “No, Willow Skye don’t belong to no one, least of all me!” The day of the festival when the last Summer-Traveler through the his gate caught sight of Willow Skye, and asked for the twenty-second time in a row, “Who do She belong to?’ was just too much. The Gate-Keeper’s eyebrows broke; the outsides just folded down. He looked straight at me and sighed, “Willow Skye don’t belong…”
After he stomped away, I wanted to kick that Summer-Traveler in his skinny behind. Sometimes I wish I had. Things haven’t been the same in our land since that day eleven summers ago. Something besides the Gate-Keeper’s eyebrows broke; we just didn’t’ know it yet.
It was the first day of August, the Summer Gift-Giving-Festival Day and the entire countryside was either floatin’ down or paddlin’ up river to the castle to offer their Summer Gifts. Gifts are small in August, what with the Hungry-Time just comin’ to an end. Summer Gift-Giving, unlike Autumn Gift-Giving, is really more for the festival fun than the festival food. Fields are just startin’ to offer up their crops and folks are just startin’ to let go of the fear that they might go hungry again come winter.
Last winter was hard, brutal in fact. Our land being so far north, has a sadly short green-season, and when the rains come like they did last summer, well to speak plain, the harvest was pitiful. We all went plenty hungry last winter. Even I learned to love turnips, and I hate turnips! I do, even with honey, which I do get once in a while, being the Bee-Keeper’s Boy. Turnips is just pain nasty! Well anyways, this ain’t my story, so back to the day the Gate-Keeper’s eyebrows broke, and got all sullen and sad and stayed that way ‘til he died.
Dozens of little boats was tied to the banks aside of the Gate-Keeper’s Cottage and loads of folks was gettin’ out and headin’ to the Summer Gift-Giving. Their dressin’-up clothes bagged and sagged in a sad sort of way, but their faces was bright and their baskets, if not bulgin’ like all hoped they’d be come Autumn, held something good to share. My nose smelled fresh-baked bannocks. My fingers itched to lift one. I heard stone jars of June-berry jam clankin’ ‘gainst crocks of sweet-cream butter. My mouth was waterin’. I watched a set of tow-headed twins splash through the shallows totin’ a willow basket half full of smooth, brown eggs. Some baskets were heavier than others, but every basket held a gift, even if it was just a wildflower poesy or a bright bit of ribbon from a winter-lost-girl-child. Sadly, folks had plenty of ribbons to spare that year, and spare ribbons are necessary on Summer Gift-Giving-Festival Day.

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