We left Tanelorn far too soon for me, but he said that there were some things he needed to do and that I would never learn how to be a true Ridge Walker sitting in the city. I'm not sure how long we were there, no more than a couple of days, but now that I think about it I don't think I met any other kids. I wish I had noted that and asked him about it then. I did later but by then of course it was too late. It's not like it would have changed anything though. I knew right from the start this was what I was born to do.
We stopped mid morning and sat by a mountain lake. He told me it was Lake Blanche. He pointed out the twin peaks that were casting their shadows towards the lake and told me they were called The Brothers. I'm embarrassed to say I only listened to half of what he told me. In my defense I can only say I was twelve and concentrating on anything for any length of time was nigh beyond me, unless my dad was standing over me with a switch in hand. Then I could summon marvelous concentration, but Ridge Walker was not the sort to force me to do anything.
"Jimbo," he said and whistled a high note to punctuate his desire to get my attention.
"Yes," I said looking up from the apple I had been devouring.
"Come here, I want to show you something." With that he took me and walked down to the edge of the lake. "I brought you to this lake for a reason." As he talked we both looked into the water. "I know you weren't really listening when I told you about the names of everything but I need you to pay close attention because this is important."
He had this way of getting my attention when he wanted that was like nothing I could ever have imagined. His voice took on this lyrical quality that penetrated clear down into my soul, faster and better than any sermon by Pastor Brown at the Congregational church on Sunday morning. I studied the water as he talked and I noticed something that took my breath away. The water began to rise and take on the form of a person. The air itself began to tingle around me and I felt every bit as afraid as I did the time I stood at great granny Wallace's bedside the night she died.
"This lake is special, Jimbo," he began, "because anyone who has any desire at all to become a Ridge Walker at some point or other ends up at this lake. Now because I have taken you on as my apprentice I have brought you here, but it really doesn't matter because sooner or later you would be standing right here on this spot. It's also special because it is one of the few spots where Talithia will appear to those who supplicate her. I know what you're thinking Jimbo, who's Talithia?"
He was right, I was thinking that, and a whole lot of other things and I started to clear my throat to start asking every one of them but his firm grip on my shoulder stopped me. It was stronger than Grampa Elliott's and he was as strong as a horse in spite of his great age. That and the fact that the person was starting to look like a woman, prettier than anything I had ever seen.
"Talithia," he continued, "Is the person we sing to. She is a personage of divine power. If our song is strong and our heart is pure she will take us where ever and when ever we want to go. All she asks in return is that we worship her." He went on and yeah my mind started to wander a bit. If you make me tell you the truth I will admit that once I saw her face all thought left me. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. All I could do was look at her. When I saw her look down at me and smile I knew I wanted nothing more than to sit at her feet for the rest of my life.
"So are you ready for the test Jimbo?"
Yeah that startled me! "Huh?"
She spoke to me, saving me from a greater embarrassment. Her voice sounded like rushing water. It was far more musical than anything I had heard come out of his mouth. "The test, Chalmers James Wallace, is a simple one."
Hearing Her call me by my real name touched me deeply and I couldn't really tell you why. Maybe it was hearing it from Her lips. Maybe it was the fact that She knew my name. I don't know, but I can tell you this, She had my full attention.
"I am going to send you to a place far away. You must find your way back here to this lake. The only way this can be done is if you supplicate me through song. The only way I will hear and answer the song of those who would be a Ridge Walker is if their heart is single to me. Are you ready?"
Let me tell you speaking anything other than my love for that woman was hard but I knew I was about to have something truly frightening happen to me so I raised my voice, trying to be as nice as I could.
"What do I sing?"
"It doesn't matter."
"It doesn't matter?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Then what does?"
"As I have told you," She said kindly. My first and remaining memory of Her was how kind She was. She was infinite kindness. "Your heart must be single to me when you sing."
I was about to ask what that meant but She didn't give me the chance.
"Your questions are unnecessary. If you have it within you to become a Ridge Walker this task will be easy. If you do not, no amount of training will make a difference."
"What happens if I can't do it?"
"Then you will find yourself back in Winslow just outside the Bloody Bucket, where your journey began."
"How long do I have?"
"Time is not a factor in this test, Chalmers James Wallace."
I was about to ask what that meant but She reached out Her hand and touched my forehead and everything changed.