The night was chilly and damp. The sunset was long past and the moon was well past full, barely enough to send a glint of silver across the waters of the bay. The tide was high and the water slapped against the piling of the quay, pushed by a slight chill breeze. It felt lonely and empty out here tonight. The vigor of the day was gone, and the magic of the sunset, leaving a dark and empty night. I shivered, both from the chill and the emptiness. I walked softly down the docks, afraid to make too much noise; this seemed to be the sort of night where you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself. It might be the unwanted kind. Finally I came to where the barges were lined up, the ferry women waiting to take their charges to the Isle of Ancestors. This was my destination tonight.
The Song of the Deep was the first in line, so I didn’t have to go looking. The ferry woman herself was unrecognizable, wrapped in a cloak as black as the sky was tonight. I stepped in and sat on the bench. Wordlessly, the ferry woman handed me a cloak much like her own. Gladly I wrapped it around myself, warmth against the damp chill wind off the water, and we began the journey to the Isle of Ancestors.
I was nervous about this and huddled inside the cloak still shivering, although no longer from the weather. I wasn’t sure what I was going to ask, or who I would see. I probably wouldn’t even recognize whoever it was. I didn’t even know why I was so nervous. Finally I shook myself, took several deep breaths and concentrated on the sound the barge made as it went through the water. I just tried to stay in the moment and my nerves calmed.
Before I thought it possible, the barge was grinding up on the shore of the island.I stood up and stepped onto the wet sand. I could see a grove of apple trees before me, and crossed the beach towards it. It was shining silver in the moonlight, and a small path wound away under the trees.
The night did not feel empty here; it was thick with my ancestors who were clustered, waiting. Only one would come to meet with me, but they were all curious and gathered here to see me, the person I had become, and the person I had the potential to be. Their presence warmed me.
As I walked the white ribbon of path, the crushed shells that formed it crunched under my feet and the apple leaves above me whispered to each other. A branch reached down and stroked my hair as I passed. The spirits drifted away, one by one, until I was left with the sense of just one accompanying me; it felt almost as if I were being led by the hand as though I were a little child. I treasured this feeling until I came to the mound and the door and then the loving spirit left me. I must enter alone. The torches at the entrance were the first light other than the moon that I had seen all night, and they hurt my eyes.
I entered into the corridor. It smelled of earth and damp and a little bit of growing things- a bit musty, but not unpleasant. I could hear my footsteps echoing in the space. The red glow at the far end which had seemed so far away when I entered was right in front of me sooner than I expected. My stomach was all butterflies again and my palms were sweaty. I felt like I was a little girl again, standing in the hall at school for misbehaving and afraid the headmaster would come by and question me.
I took a deep breath and stepped into the room. I could see someone standing with their back to me. Remembering my instructions, I walked clockwise around the hearth and sat on the bench across from my ancestor. I asked my question, received the answer and a small gift, and then was questioned in turn. The question gave me food for thought for a long time to come.
I reached into my pocket and found a small box in it. I gave my gift, a small piece of myself with my love in it. Then I smiled and thanked my ancestor for the time and the pleasure of the meeting and walked the rest of the way around and left.
The walk back to the barge was silent, except for my feet crunching the shells under foot. My ancestors still pressed close around me and gave me a feeling of being held and loved. It was with sadness that I left them when I reached the beach where the barge was waiting for me. The ferry woman, wrapped in her black cloak, was silent as we made our way back to Duwamish. I was silent, too, for my meeting had given me much to ponder.
When we reached the bay, the sun was just sending pink streaks onto the horizon, and as I stepped out onto the quay, it edged into the sky. I handed the ferry woman back the cloak she had given me to wear, and, breaking the silence for the first time, thanked her. She smiled, her weathered face crackling into happy lines, and said she could tell things had gone well. I fingered the new token I carried in my pocket and said that yes, things had gone well.