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The White Pebbled Road

By Emily Tyler-Slade


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This short story was written by Emily Tyler-Slade, who is a resident at
the Ame Prison for the Criminally Insane. Since her incarceration, she
has learned book binding and printing techniques. She was a librarian
before entering Ame, and now runs the prison library. Her personal time
is devoted to writing and her subjects are varied; all are dedicated to the memory of her mother. Whilst here, Emmy has contributed several stories, notably, 'Larf is Lark a Box o' Chocolates.'
This interesting work may be found at the AuthorMe site,
If you would care to support Emmy and other inmates, a donation would
be gratefully appreciated.
This may be sent to the Director of Ame, Mister Bruce Cook. Care of

The white-pebbled road.
The white-pebbled road.
The white-pebbled road.
The white-pebbled road.
'You must be a warrior,' said the child kneeling at the edge of the
white-pebbled road.
The warrior regarded her from his lofty seat astride the barded mount.
'And you must be a waif of the wayside. Would you care to travel the
white-pebbled road?'
'Indeed I would, however I am young and alone. I have no sustenance, no
provender, and worst of all, no protector.'
The warrior lifted the visor of his helm and she saw his steely-blue
eyes turn toward the road and back again.

'I shall be your protector for as far as I am to travel. Do not fear
for lack of bread and water child, that shall be obtained along the
What say you? Dare you this day to begin the journey?'
She raised her face to meet his stare, her sea-blue eyes mirroring his.
'Shall you lift me up and set me before you?'
'That I so shall do,' said the warrior, leaning down and extending his
mailed arm to catch hold of her.
When she was comfortably settled and the horse began to clop along the
white-pebbled road she asked,
'Is it a long journey?'
'Oh yes,' said the warrior, 'all the way from daylight to dusk, from
high tide to low, moonlight to sunlight to starlight, sowing to
reaping,season to season, over the distant, lavender-pale hills.'
For a long time they travelled in silence, only the clip-clop of the
horse's hooves disturbing the peace of the morning.
At nightfall, they came to running water, a chattering brook that
flowed beside the white-pebbled road, and there halted to slake thirst and
cleanse themselves. Downstream, the child bathed and completed her
toilet as best she could. The warrior watered his steed and, free of
raiment, refreshed his own body.

By the time the child returned, he had gathered a collection of wild
berries, nuts and mushrooms.
They ate in the gloaming, and slept in the shelter of a woodland copse,
the horse roaming free.
On the morrow, they again refreshed themselves, broke their fast with
fruits of the vine, and continued upon the journey.
As the midday sun hovered overhead, the warrior called his steed to a
halt. 'Here is where I must turn aside,' he said to the young girl, as
he lifted her from the saddle and set her down upon the white-pebbled
road. 'Do not weep or trouble yourself child. Though I must, of need,
leave the path, others will come along presently to provide succour for
someone such as you. Farewell on your journey.'
The warrior's steely eyes glinted. Then he folded the visor across his
face and nudged his mount.
In the warming sun of the day, rider and steed swayed over the sighing
grasses and passed away into the shimmering haze, fading like pale,
The girl lifted a hand and wiped a single glistening tear from her
cheek. The coarse feel of crude cotton caressed her skin, and she gazed
down at her sleeve in wonder.
'Girl,' said a voice, calling as if from a corner of some far-off,
bower, 'would you care to travel a distance in my palanquin?'
The girl turned and saw before her four linen-clad men standing upon
white-pebbled road, two and two paired, and between them bore they a
covered litter, and inside that reclined the figure of a woman, styled
as a princess perhaps.
'There is room enough here within for a slender girl such as you, and
these four are stout bearers at need. Come, take your ease beside me,
and for a time we shall travel the white-pebbled road together.'
The girl did as bidden, and soon she was comfortably positioned beneath
the swinging, tasselled canopy and they were on their way.
After a time of silence, whilst the girl amused herself gazing out
across wide fields at the stooks of hay and the distant azure
the woman leaned forward and lifted the lid of a box. There, covered by
sheerest gauze, was set a tray of sugared sweetmeats and sliced, ripe
fruits, pairings of cheeses and lidded cups filled with fresh goat's
'This is surely fare fit for a Queen, or a Princess at least,' said the
girl, daring to select a candied grape from the tray.
The woman laughed softly. 'That may be, as your eyes see it, yet in
truth I am neither. As the warrior is a weapon of the Emperor, so I am
servant of the Emperor.'
'You are a concubine?' said the girl, surprised.
'Not at all,' answered the woman, the smile lingering in her eyes. 'As
say, I am a servant, Hand-Maiden to the Princess. Though as you rightly
observe, I am well treated.'
Falling silent, the girl thought on this for a time, and at whiles she
asked, 'Is it to, or from, the Emperor's Palace that we travel this
'It is to,' replied the Hand-Maiden, and would say no more.
That night they rested at an Inn.
The girl was provided with a meal of groats and mare's milk, and a
pallet to lay her body when supper was done. Through the open transom
the loft, before sleep overtook her, she gazed up at the faceted stars
in the sapphire sky.
In the morning, after break fast, they resumed their travel along the
white-pebbled road. Yet it was not too long before they encountered a
tall, bamboo palisade that ran on, to one side of the roadway, into the
'Soon we must part,' said the Hand-Maiden of the Princess, 'for this is
the border of the Emperor's palace. Upon the further side lie his
inimitable gardens. There I shall come upon his daughter, walking in
that peerless place. Get yourself down from my carriage and bide a
here. Never fear, your journey is not near to completion.'
The girl got herself down and watched as the bearers bore away the
Hand-Maiden of the Emperor's daughter. In the distance she observed a
pair of gates thrown open and stern, beryl-liveried guards issuing
forth, there to oversee the entry of the traveller.
With a little sigh, the girl bent her gaze to the white-pebbled road
and prepared to set forth.
It was then that she noticed her feet, and was somewhat surprised to
that they were no longer unshod, but instead were wooden-soled and
thonged with supple hide.
Deep in thought, a tiny sound caused her to lift her head and lo! There
before her stood a donkey.
'He will bear you, lady, if you so wish it. He is steadfast and sure of
foot and gentle by nature.'
She turned her sea-blue eyes toward the voice and her gaze came to rest
on a peasant, his face shadowed by a broad-brimmed straw hat, a fishing
rod and thatched basket, carried in each hand.
'I go to the Peacock Bridge further along the white-pebbled road. The
donkey is my companion, but he will not mind over much if we become
They came to the Peacock Bridge where it arched out across the
stream that meandered along the borders of the Emperor's lands, and
there the young woman alighted, and as the sun reached its zenith so
that all shadows vanished, she lay herself down in sighing grasses and
silently watched the peasant as he plied his rod and the donkey grazed.
By even-tide, the donkey had settled and the peasant returned from the
stream bearing water in a cerulean jug. Two silvery-blue fish were
roasting on some coals.
'Are you a servant of the Emperor?' asked the young lady.
'I am an implement of the Emperor, as is my donkey,' answered the
peasant, 'and for this night's repast we shall have to bear many fish
him in payment, which is his due.
In return for our work, we are permitted to dwell in these meadows, to
till the soil and reap the harvests, to fish from the streams and
that roll out into the endless seas.'
The next day, having partaken of an early break fast of field
the donkey bore the woman further down the white-pebbled road, the
peasant walking at the little creature's side. Songbirds warbled in the
great willows along the banks where they reached down their spindly
fingers to delicately caress the waters of the stream as it grew in
and flow, burbling now as if in haste to reach the aquamarine ocean.
'This is where we must say goodbye to you, oh Maiden fair. The donkey
and I go no further on the white-pebbled road, for now it leads beyond
the borders of the Emperor's lands, and since the tragedy of his
daughter's flight with her secret lover to haven across the slate-blue
waters, he bids all of his subjects remain within the boundaries here.
Take no alarm at this, and do not fret overly. You will meet a fellow
traveller soon enough.' And with those words the peasant and his
four-footed companion turned back and dwindled into the distance, the
clopping of the donkey's small hooves fading, fading along the
white-pebbled road.
She watched until she could see them no more, then reached up to adjust
the sweeping, felt brim of the eggshell-blue sunbonnet she now
perceived, with some little surprise, upon her head.
Turning about, she spied a figure strolling toward her, and heard him
whistling a merry tune as he neared, so that she was not concerned by
his jaunty appearance or the brace of daggers in his sash. When the man
drew closer, he halted and plucked a few notes upon a stringed lute
he carried. Then he said, 'A fair morning it is to meet such a comely
woman as I see before me. I and my lute here are out wandering, and
since I see that you are bound the way I have just travelled I should
glad to proceed again in that direction, if you would have me and my
music as companion.'
The woman said, by way of reply, as he fell in beside her, 'I should be
pleased to so do, except that I am told the Emperor's subjects are
forbidden from straying beyond his lands.'
'Oh that need not concern you, sweet Lady, for I consider myself not of
his subjects, I am as free to roam as the love-birds flying there upon
the horizon.' He gestured with outstretched arm to a pair of blue-birds
above the faraway tree tops, where they swept and curved gracefully in
the azure heavens. 'For as you may observe,' he continued, I am a
vagabond and my own man. A rover, if you will, who lives by his wits
wiles, and music,' he added, striking up a beguiling tune as they went
on their journey.
Later, out of curiosity, she asked of him, 'Whither would your feet
taken you and your lute if I had not chanced along the road?'
He trembled his fingers across the instrument and it rang with a faint,
delicate cadence. 'Eventually I should have found myself at the court
The Mandarin, there to tarry until his time was over. Yet it seemed
just so, to allow his grief to mourn on after the death of his daughter
and her lover at the hands of her scorned betrothed and he, her own
'Do you say to me that the Mandarin caused the death of his daughter
Princess, and her secret lover?'
'I say to you that he and his minions pursued both of them, and yea,
harried them unto their deaths, for sake of hollow honour. And further,
that those two love-birds, paired on high above, are now all that can
ever and forever be seen of such lovers.'
'You would gloat then at the demise of the Emperor?'
'I should neither gloat, nor triumph, nor affect any work that might
alter what has happened and what is bound to occur. I should merely...
attend, there to strum my lute.'
They walked all that long day until dusk began to haze the far hills
the distant mountains slowly vanished in rising powder-blue mists.
Eventually they came upon a woodcutter's hut and there decided to rest
for the evening.
'I am somewhat uneasy at the prospect of spending the whole night alone
with you,' she said, as he set a fire on the ancient hearth, where it
crackled cheerily, giving freely both flickering light and comforting
warmth. 'What if you decide to have your way with me?' she asked,
For answer, he rattled some nuts and dried apricots onto a sideboard
stepped lightly to the door.
'These few edibles will stave off the pangs of hunger and there is a
flask of water to whet your whistle,' he said as he strummed the
of the lute. 'Bolt the shutters and bar the door and lay you down
the fire. I shall keep watch outside. Mayhap, you will hear my music
through all the indigo night. And do not ponder further upon your
thoughts, for I have already had my way with you.'
So saying, he smiled and went outside, and as she lay down to sleep she
heard the soft, sad notes of his lute, falling like washed rain out of
weeping sky.
A cock crowed, once, twice, thrice, and was answered by the toll of a
distant bell: Domb... domb... doomb...
She rose from her resting place, stiff, her joints aggravated by sleep
upon a rude wooden floor. Stumbling in the gloom, she unbolted the
shutters and lifted the bar across the door. Sunlight flooded in and
when she shaded her eyes with her bonnet she spied, high in the
firmament, wheeling and turning, the pair of love-birds on the wing.
The vagabond was gone.
Without a second thought, she reached out her hand and took hold of a
mulberry walking stick propped against the wall, and began to hobble
into the morning light.
When she spied a tiny figure ahead, she already knew what to do and
to say.
'You must be a Grand Old Dame,' said the child kneeling at the edge of
the white-pebbled road.
'And you must be a waif of the wayside. Would you care to travel the
white-pebbled road?'
The white-pebbled road. Birth.
The white-pebbled road. Life.
The white-pebbled road. Death.
The white-pebbled road. Infinity.
The white-pebbled road. TIME.
Each day of my imprisonment I am reminded of The White-Pebbled Road.
Every evening as I sit at my supper, I partake from The White-Pebbled
Road and gaze long at the pair of blue-birds flying free there.
The White Pebbled Road exists, oh yes. And you also travel its length.
It is to be found on the Chinese Willow-Pattern plate.
White, threads that road through the cobalt blue of its ancient detail.
Circular, is that road and long;
all the way from daylight to dusk,
over the distant, lavender-pale hills.
Emily Tyler-Slade.



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