The Gate of Bells

At the northern border of a land where badgers play board games with comma-shaped stones and poems are inscribed on the very sycamores, a traveler paused at the Gate of Bells.  She wore a bow at her back, and her hair was the color of sentinel nightfall.

“Open the gate,” the traveler called.  When she looked up at the pavilions, painted in the five holy colors, she saw the silhouettes of ropes unswaying, ropes knotted, ropes without bells.

A man stood watch at the highest pavilion, eyes dark and keen beneath his helm.  “The gate will open only when the bells ring,” he said.  “As you can see, there are no bells to be had for miles around.”

“Do your people have no desire to welcome me?” she asked.  “I bring gifts from the north, stories that once belonged to you.  We have remembered them for you all these years.”

“I am sure they have grown finer in your keeping,” he said regretfully.  “But the rule is the rule and I have no authority to change it.”

“In that case, take off your helm and set it aside,” the traveler said, “so that I may look upon your face before I go.”

The man saw no harm in this, so he set his helm aside as she had asked.  He was not handsome, but his face was honest.

In no hurry at all, the traveler strung her bow and nocked an arrow fletched with gray goosefeathers.  The arrow flew straight and sweet to strike the helm; and the helm sang with the voice of a hundred bells.

The gate cracked open from top to bottom.  The traveler lowered her bow.  “Am I still welcome?” she asked.

“More than ever,” the man said, glancing at the gate, and he came down the stairs to greet her properly.

 for YKL