It was the most golden autumn, the leafs of the trees had an amazing shade of yellow. Even the chestnut trees, which usually are rusty had a golden hue in them. The car was sliding on the the narrow road between hills covered with thick forests, so thick that to the children they looked as if covered with velvet blankets.The road curved along a large and rapid mountain river, with greenish-blue waters. The trees most closest to the river were the ones that had the most wonderful shades of yellow, and their low branches were gently touching the water. Then the forest was continuing in a mingle of yellow and red up to the top were the conifers were evergreen as usual. Lukas, Maria and Katka were going to visit one of their favorite places: the abandoned little village in the forest. They stopped at the bottom of the hill, where a new and modern settlement had been build in the last hundred years.They parked the car and started to climb on a small path in the forest. The trees were full of yellow leafs sprayed with rain drops. The ground was covered in a carpet of leafs which crunched under their feet. Sometimes gushes of wind were blowing golden leafs which were rising in the air and dancing a strange and beautiful dance. The children laughed and started collecting huge bouquets of yellow, rusty and golden red leafs and ran through it disturbing the thick layer with their little feet.The air was filled with the autumn smells, of rain and earth and rotten plants.
Slowly they reached the small abandoned hamlet. A few old houses were spread along the hill, not more then 20, some covered already in ivy, while young trees were already starting to grow between them. Leafs were covering the earth path winding through the middle of the village and leading to the graves in the very small cemetery. Near the cemetery stood the old church. The white color of the walls started to fade and in some places orange bricks were visible. The roof was red, but the tiles were broken here and there, only the cross seemed golden and timeless. It was a late autumn afternoon and the sun was starting to set behind the hills sending his last warm rays through the trees of the forest. The leafs of the trees seemed as if lighted from inside. The large tree in front of the church was half in its shadow and the other half , in the light of the setting sun had a golden red hue around it as if taken from a picture in a fairy tale book. The village was empty for a few years since the old priest which lived his last months of his life here had died. He became priest more then 50 years ago and after a long live of activity,pain, traveling and extraordinary things returned to spend his last days in his old home and church.Maria could not understand why he would choose to spend your last days in a place like that.
The parents started to clean the small graves in the cemetery and to place lighted candles on them.
"Why do we need to come here, anyway?" she asked, thinking that she soon will have to start helping with the cleaning of the dead leafs, weed and thistles.
"Because we promised" replied the older brother.
Lukas knew the old priest when he was alive, he used to tell him stories and teach him, so he loved him and cherished the memory. He remembered the old gentle man with his kind eyes, his white curly hair and his sweet energetic voice. For Katka who was the smallest, the trip was like an adventure. But Maria was too small when the priest died and could not remember him, and the cleaning of the old abandoned village one time a year, on the All Saints day seems like nuisance to her.
"I did not promise anything" Maria answered simply and honestly.
"But you can help your parents keep a promise" her mother explain.
"Why do you bother, they are dead anyway?" here she showed the small cemetery. "They don't remember your promise."
The parents did not reply and continued with the cleaning. A gush of wind blew more yellow leafs dancing in the air. Maria was startled as she saw a young woman sitting in the line of the trees. She made a sign to her brother and sister and they all went towards her. She was tall and pale, dressed with a long dress, the color of chestnuts. The cold autumn wind was blowing her rich, golden red hair, left free to fall on her shoulders. Her eyes looked like two green lakes in the middle of a forest. In her hands she carried a basket filled with the roundest, juiciest, most colorful grapes they had ever seen. Maria made a small sign to Lukas to come with her and Katka followed also. They came in front of the lady and sat down around her.
"Who are you, beautiful lady?" asked Maria amazed.
"I am the autumn fairy, Amber.I came here, Maria, because I heard you are curious about the old priest who lived in this village."
"Yes, why did he come back here?"
"He kept a promise, but let me take you back in time to meet a little boy."
The scenery changed around them.The multicolored carpet of leafs cleared itself to reveal a narrow winding road in the middle of the little village. The ivy covering the small houses withered and fell leaving visible whitewashed walls full of red and blue and green flowers paintings on them. The orange and red brick roofs repaired themselves. There were flowers in the gardens and in the windows. The hamlet was squirming with life, laughter and conversation. The people were nicely dressed and carrying candles and flowers. The little church looked freshly painted, new and sparkling like a jewel. In the cemetery the graves were covered with flowers and lighted candles. It was All Saints Day.
The children looked around curiously seeing the dead small village alive again. From the small church suddenly came out a young boy with rich, black curly hair and dreamy eyes. It was visible on his face that he had been crying. He looked on the forest with an expression of happiness mixed with sadness and surprise. The other boys who were playing in front of the cemetery surrounded him and started laughing.
"What is happening, Andrej? Why are you crying? Are you a little girl?"
Their voices and laughter raised in the afternoon air and mingled with the cry of the birds. From the group of girls arranging flower pots in the church garden, one girl left her work, cleaned her hands and walked towards the boys.
"Isn't it nice and courageous, all of you against one" she said oblivious of her own courage. "What do you have with him?"
The parish priest who saw everything and was preparing to interfere for Andrej now remained quiet in the church door and waited to see what will happen."He is crying like a little girl, Helenka?
Helenka had golden hair arranged in two braids over her shoulders. Her eyes were clear blue like the sky in spring. Now she was angry, her arms crossed over her chest and her face red.
"What does it mean, cry like a little girl? I am a girl and i don't cry."
"You are a weird girl" stated one of the boys.
"Really, Peter? Last time i saw you, you were crying like a little girl, when the teacher found you without homework."
Peter bowed his head and slowly hid behind the group of boys.
"Can't you see he is sad? That he was inside the church praying? How do you know what he is thinking about?"
The boys walked away one by one leaving Andrej alone with Helenka. She took him by the hand:
"Come, Andrej, let us go for a walk!"
The priest wanted again to say something but in the end he was silent and watched the two children walk into the woods. Lukas, Maria and Katka followed. They understood very fast that they were invisible to the people in the village. When they were alone between the trees, Helenka turned to the boy:
"Andrej, what is wrong with you? Have you seen something in the church? I can see it in your face that something extraordinary happened to you."
Andrej was quiet. Every gust of wind made yellow leafs fall over their heads. When he was able to speak Andrej did it in a whisper:
"I understood something today in the church . It was so silent and pleasant i could hear the saints speaking in the paintings. I have to become a priest."
Helenka was shocked first, then a crooked smile appeared on her face:
"And i thought you will marry me when you grow up."
Andrej looked terrified to the girl. Her face lighted up and she started to laugh with clear and beautiful peals of laughter.
"I am just teasing you, Andrej, do not worry. I am happy for you. Being a priest is a beautiful and noble thing. You have all my support."
Then she laughed again.
"You will become a famous priest or cardinal and you will run away from our small village to some very big city."
"Maybe, but even if i will be the most famous person in the world, when i grow old i will come back here."
"You say this now. You're a weird one, Andrej, you know that, Andrej, but in a good way. You know what i mean?" said Helenka and took his hand.
"Really" said the boy, who already recovered from his revelation and was now in a good mood "and can you tell me, who will you marry now, that i will become a priest."
"Maybe i will marry Peter and make a decent human being out of him."
The two children held tight hand in hand and walked together deeper and deeper into the woods. Katka, Lukas and Maria followed and saw Amber, the Autumn Fairy coming out from between the trees and explaining to the two children who she was. Then she told them that deep, deep in the middle of the forest there is a green lake ,full of water lilies. At the shore of the lake there is an angel guarding it and if you manage to find it and see the angel and you are worthy of it, he will grant you one wish. The children told the angel that they lived all their lives in the village and their parents also, but they have never heard of any lake in the forest. The fairy smiled and let them know that only certain people can see it, who are pure at heart and who believe in it. Andrej and Helenka decided to go, so they went first home and took in a small bag two beautiful cakes baked by the boys mother, a few nuts and two bottles of fresh cold water from the fountain in front of the girls' home. And so they went again hand in hand deep into the forest. Lukas, Maria and Katka followed behind very curious to see what would happen. They walked for hours and hours until they reached a beautiful clearing full of violet autumn flowers and surrounded by rusty leafed oak trees.They sat on a boulder together and being very hungry they put out the two cakes and prepared to eat. From the tall grass a small cry was heard and the children saw a small puppy, tired and hungry. Andrej looked at the poor animal and decided to give him his cake. The puppy ate hungrily and then ran away into the forest. Helenka looked at first at the running dog and then at Andrej."You had to give him the cake"
"I had to, it was hungry, I could not look at it and eat, i will be ok."
"You are hopeless, you know that" she replied smiling.Then she took out her own cake and split it with her friend. They rested for a while and then they continued their trip through the thicker and thicker trees. It was a wonderful golden afternoon, warm and with a gentle breeze. Andrej and Helenka were walking hand in hand. Lukas, Maria and Katka were walking behind them in silence, even if they knew they can't be heard or seen. A fast shower of
rain fell and they hid under an oak tree. As they were sitting there and watching a beautiful rainbow that appeared in the evening sky, a small orange squirrel came out running around the grass and dead leafs. Andrej reached into his pocket and gave her his nuts. Helenka didn't even laughed, she just split hers with Andrej. They ate and drank water and watched the little animal run up the tree with her new nut in the mouth. As the rain stopped a beautiful white dove appeared in the sky and coming down sat on the lowest branch of the tree. It gave a long cry to the children and looked at them as if it was expecting them to follow.
"Should we go after him?"asked the girl.
"I have a feeling he will lead us to the lake, otherwise we will not be able to find it."
They followed the bird through a narrow winding path full of autumn violet flowers, yellow leafs and rusty chestnuts. The dove flew in front of them like a phantasm, so white and gracious and delicate. They climbed a small grassy hill and from the top of it they saw the wonderful lake, a dark blue-green color. It was surrounded by large weeping willows, whole yellow branches touching the water, it was full of white blooming water lilies, and swans were floating on it. As they sat on the shore of the lake, rested and washed their hands and faces in the clear and cold water they heard a small, painfully cry in the tall grass. They walked to it and found a red haired fox caught in a trap. Helenka cried, however Andrej stood down and started fighting with the trap to set the animal free. After a lot of trying they managed, and the boy took the fox in his arms and washed his paws in the lake.
"Why do people do this? Why do they trap things, and animals and other people? Every creature in this world must be free, free to love and live and enjoy the sun that God gave us."
The girl was very sad and she set on the ground helping Andrej. They cleaned the animal and streched it on the grass, then the boy gave it some water. However it did not look good, it was very wounded and hurting. The children understood that they will not be able to save it. As they sat down on the shore of the lake looking on the setting sun, a bright light appeared in the line of trees and started moving towards them. The children stood and waited. When it got closer to them they saw in the amazingly sparkling light a golden haired angel. Her hair was falling down her shoulders, she was dressed in a very large white robe, on which silver flowers and stars were embroidered. Two large white wings grew from her shoulders. She looked like floating and not walking.
"Good evening children!" her voice was gentle and warm.
"You are so beautiful!"exclaimed both of them.
"I have come to listen to your wish. I have seen you give your food to the hungry dog, the squarrel and helping the fox. That is why i think that you are worthy."
They were both silent and a little far away Lukas, Maria and Katka were waiting to hear their wish also. When the angel appeared they were mesmerized. Now Maria said in a very silent voice:
"I know what he will wish for, he is the nicest boy in the world."
"Yes, replied Lukas, I agree with you."
Katka remained silent and just took their hands in hers.
Andrej and Helenka didn't speak for some time, but then the girl said:
"This nis not for us to make a wish, this is test. I know what you want us to wish for, angel, but i do not have the power. I can't stop thinking of all the other things i would rather wish for. So i will let Andrej make the wish, for i know he has the power to always do the right thing."
Andrej drew a very deep breath and then told the angel:
"What is thte point of us wishing for rich things, when this animal will die. I could not live with this. I wish for it to be healthy again."
Just as he said these words the fox rose to its feet and run away into the forest.The children looked at it with a smile on their face.
"It was a test, said the angel, and you passed it, Andrej. That is why you are allowed for one more wish, just for you."
The boy though for a long time:
"I came here thinking about all kinds of material things, but now that i have to make the wish they all look like trifles to me. I wish to be free. Freedom is the most important thing in the world. I wish all my life to teach people and show people just how important freedom is, I wish to die a free man, when i am old and to return here to my village."
The angel smiled and put her hand on the boys head.
"Bless you, child, i have never heard a more beautiful wish as long as i can remember."
Then she raised his head a little and look into his eyes. She startled:
"Oh, child, what is inside your soul, what a future lies in front of you! You will be a priest and fight for freedom, people will admire you but there will be also a lot of pain. You must be brave and strong for in the end you will be blessed."
As the sun was setting down, making the forest and the lake purple the angel disappeared in that golden light. The children remained silent for a while, then Helenka asked him shyly:
"Do you still want to be a priest?"
They rushed back running to the village so as the night will not catch them in the forest. As they arrived home, both them and the other three children were exhausted. The whole village was dark by the time they got there. The windows were lighted and smoke was coming out of some chimneys. The cemetery was still full of people and the candles were making a beautiful spectacle of lights.
The image changed and they found themselves in the same village but on a bright spring day. Lukas, Maria and Katka understood fast that many years have passed since the their last visit. Helenka was now a grown up woman and was crying in front of the church. in her hands he held a letter from Andrej in her hands.
"Where is he?" asked the priest who just came out. "What are the news?"
The news were bad, Andrej had been falsely accused by people who did not like him to talk about freedom. He spend many years in prison, working and praying and never loosing his faith. The whole village prayed and hoped for him to come back.
The image changed again and the three children found themselves in the little church in the hamlet, to Peter's and Helenka's wedding. Andrej was presiding and looked really smart in his priests clothes. He spoke beautifully with his kind voice, blessing his former childhood friends.
Then they saw him getting old, fighting and speaking always and always about freedom. But he always came home and spend a few days in his village. He used to meet with his family, his old friends, talk to their children and tell beautiful stories. Then they watched him get sick and returning home and taking his place in the village cemetery.
As the images finally blurred out Lukas, Maria and Katka woke up in the evening setting sun near their parents. It was very quiet and they were silently looking at each other. Then Maria walked towards her mother:
"I will help you with the cleaning, you were right, we need to keep promises."
The mother smiled and looked at the children.
"The maybe we can go into the forest and find the magic lake."
The parents laughed and stopped for a while.
"There is no lake, children, this is just a story the old priest used to tell us when we were small. Did he tell it to you also, Lukas?"
Lukas, Maria and Katka looked at each other:
"Adults, they know nothing."