This is a short story I wrote a while back. Each day I'll put another part on the blog until it's complete. I hope you enjoy the story... Anny Cook
The learning tree was old. The sea captain who brought it to America from China in 1837 told his young daughter that it was over a thousand years old. Carved of pale lavender jade with minuscule birds perched on its twisty limbs, it stood exactly six inches from the base to the very top tiny leaves. Its value was beyond price. And the very first time I ever saw it, it was sitting on Aunt Jimaileen's front hall table.
As a small girl, I wasn't allowed to touch the learning tree; naturally, that made it twice as fascinating. For hours I would sit on the hall bench staring at it, dreaming all of the dreams younglings dream.
"Why is it called the learning tree?" I asked Aunt Jimaileen one day.
She shot a stern look at me over the top of her bifocals. "Because that is it's name. Something that old should always have a name."
"But why is it called that?" I persisted.
"Aunt Jimaileen sighed. "You are the most curious child, Benjalynne. Where do all of your questions come from?"
I shrugged. Who knew where questions came from? They just popped into my mind sometimes--usually when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else. Abruptly, another thought occurred to me. "Don't you know why it's called the learning tree?"
Well! Aunt Jimaileen reared back and stared at me as though I had suddenly grown two horns. "What do you mean, having the audacity to say something like that to me!" she demanded with outrage.
Feeling very small, I hung my head, and worried the floral pattern of the hall rug with the toe of my scuffed Buster Browns. "Sorry, Aunt Jimaileen," I muttered very, very softly, thinking that now I would never find out about the learning tree.
Evidently, my genuine sorrow touched a chord in her tough old scrawny chest. She inhaled deeply, wrapped the learning tree in the scarlet silk scarf it rested on, lifted it with trembling fingers and carried it into the parlor. "Come along, now," she commanded firmly. Seating herself in the old bentwood rocker, she nodded toward the hard horsehair sofa. "Sit."
Tucking my red plaid skirt beneath my shaking legs, I perched on the edge of the sofa carefully crossing my ankles to give my best impression of a young lady. Aunt Jimaileen set great store on being lady-like.
Patiently, I watched her rock silently, cradling the learning tree in her bony lap. She leaned her head against the high rocker back, pushing her fluffy white bun askew. Having never seen her hair worn any other way, I idly wondered how long it really was. Her eyes were closed. I considered the possibility that she might have fallen asleep, but rejected it when slow tears trickled down her face. I jumped up, alarm sweeping through me. Aunt Jimaileen never cried except at funerals. "What's wrong?" Even to my ears, my voice sounded quavery.
Her dark eyes popped open and she sighed, but she made no attempt to wipe the tears away. "Benjalynne, sit down. I'll tell you the legend of the learning tree now. I was waiting for you to grow up more… You'll just have to grow up faster than I planned."
"This is the legend of the learning tree."
Far away, in old China, Jade Carver sought out a poor magician. "Wise One," he said, "I wish to know my future. I must plan for the well-being of my family and ancestors."
Wise One studied the jade carver kneeling before him. Jade Carver sat in a humble pose, but something in his posture disturbed the magician. There was a hint of assurance or even arrogance that negated the humble image. Wise One puttered around his small fire, brewing tea, setting out the teacups, while he considered the possible reasons for Jade Carver's visit. "Why is it so important to know the future?" he asked curiously. "Every man must plan for the well-being of his family, and none know the future."
Wise One felt the wave of impatience radiating from the carver as he replied shortly, "Yes, yes--but I have a thriving business and so must plan more carefully than a poor man."
While drinking his tea, Wise One thought about the various options open to him. Finally, he said, "Telling the future is very hard. It will require a great effort and much work for me to cast the appropriate spell…"
"I will pay! What do you wish?"
"Hmm." Wise One stroked his long white beard. "I must have something precious to cast the spell with. You are a carver of jade; find a perfect piece of jade, pale in color, and carve a tree from it. When you are finished, bring it to me."
"But that will take many months!" Jade Carver cried.
Wise One shrugged. "Even so, I must have it for the spell. Perhaps knowing the future isn't as important as you have suggested…"
Jade Carver cringed. "No, no. I must have the spell. I will do as you have asked and bring you the jade tree when it is complete."
Nodding slowly, Wise One agreed, "When it is finished, come to see me again."
Please return tomorrow for Part Two. In the meantime, Kelly has the Saga today at www.kkirch.blogspot.com and Amarinda has guest author Barbara at www.amarindajones.blogspot.com Blessings on your day.