A Country Rag--Rivers Side

A Country Rag Rivers Side

by Jeannette Harris

(Midi below: Jazz Grace)

"Children's Hour (Rule the Sky)"

Once upon a time there was a prince. He was very tall, very blond, very good, very handsome. (Well, he had a large chin really but nobody noticed unless they'd known him a long time.) His name was Frederick; friends called him Free. Free charmed the old folks and children with song. He danced in village streets with strangers and gave gifts for no reason. He climbed the castle walls just for fun on sunny days, planted pansies in neighbors' yards when no one was looking, left trinkets wrapped with red paper hearts in the mailboxes of young girls, hid gilt-edged swords in the saddles of horses the young men rode to distant cities in search of trade.

Then one day Julia came to town in a white carriage drawn by two gleaming-black quarter horses. The surry was decked and draped with garlands of yellow daisies. The doors handles were made of gold, and roses, white and red, edged the open windows. Jewel (that's what everyone called her) held the reins gently, talked with her steeds, Rola and Piet, in a low murmur as their hooves tapped in sync on cobblestones that led past the butcher's, the baker's, and the candy store. They stopped, as she asked, by the creek that lay low in the bank of Queen Anne's Lace and a creamy profusion of violet hearts. Jewel opened the right door and stepped carefully, holding layers of satin skirts over her knees until she was safely on the grass. She kicked off silk slippers and buried her toes in green warmed to moist coolness on this early spring day. Pulling her dress like a fan, she sank down by sweet running water, watching for tadpoles and minnows. Rola and Piet nibbled on lace and violets. From the weeping arms of a willow, bluebirds and robins fed on early leaves.

Free had heard the horses' bells and stood now on the East balcony wondering which young villager hid beneath the curving brim of a straw-and-ribbon hat nodding ever so slowly by Solitude Run. He whistled to the horses, hoping she and they would look up, but none did, absorbed in their musings and meals. He frowned and turned to the door. Maybe he'd just walk down, wander by, check the steeds for shoeing, leave a trinket on the carriage seat.

"What are the horses' names?" Free wore leather soleless boots and she hadn't heard him approach.

Jewel turned slightly and looked up. Then up further.

"Oh," her eyes widened, then her gaze receded to a faraway place. "Rola and Piet."

"Ah. What does that mean?"

"Rola is for my father. His name was Roland. Piet is for prayer."

Free stroked Piet, scratched behind his ear, as the horse whinnied and gentled to the touch in a widening silence.

"And what happened to your father?" Free asked finally.

"He was killed," Jewel answered softly. She ran fingers of her left hand through the carpet of purple and white ground covers. "It was an accident."

'Has it been long?' Free questioned carefully.


"The carriage is new." Free remarked.

"It's a present from my aunt. For my eighteenth birthday."

"And when was that?" Free smiled.

"Yesterday." Jewel grinned. "I'm allowed to travel alone now. But not too far."

"Where are you from?"

"Scaliae, over the mountain."

Suddenly, Free put the story together. Not many young women had carriages, even less ones as ornate, or horses as proud.

"Your uncle is regent?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

"We've met. I'm Frederick, Prince of Shiilre."

Jewel smiled and picked a violet to taste a spice of spring.

"And you're Julia?"

She nodded, as Free recalled her father's death. Perhaps it had not been long ago, but Jewel had been three, four at most, when Roland fell, screaming to stars and tumbling through sky from an invention he'd believed with his diehard inventor's heart would fly from castle to castle, borne on winds, held by hope high between earth and a canopy of clouds and light.

"His soul still flies." Julia heard Free's thoughts. "He's not here, but he is not gone."

Free remembered the search for broken piles of bone and flesh, shreds of a dreamer streaming on limbs, gravity-bound, found in a dusky plain south of Scaliae, near the sea. They buried Roland there, where salt breezes cooled the ground, listened for the sound of spirits winding visions for wandering minds -- new ways to see, new waves to ride.

"Your father was a fine man."

"I think someday we will fly."

For my (recently deceased) father -- a World War II USAF veteran and part-time resident of the southern Appalachian mountains, for Hank -- a Vietnam War Navy aircraft carrier veteran and ACR's CCC, and for the daughters of kings.

. . . . . ' ' . . . . .

Graphic: c. NASA, gas vapors from a star.

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Jeannette Harris, May 1999, September 2010. All rights reserved.