I left Lord Axel's estate with a full belly and a heavy heart. Loaded with provisions and woolen clothing for the coming hard times of winter, I felt burdened by the task before me. The long journey to the Maple Leaf Palace would tax my survival skills and stamina to the fullest. And I still didn't know if my beloved sister, Countess RedRose, was there or if she knew where in Europe my precious daughter Julia was. As I walked the dirt path thru the woods, I spotted forest creatures busily preparing for the cold. Squirrels were finishing the last of the wild nuts and mushrooms, their cheeks bulging and their tiny jaws moving with lightning speed as they rushed to put on an extra layer of fat to sustain their long sleep. Beavers rushed to finish their lodges, carefully picking out the choicest branches for their winter homes. And the other animals worked as well, attempting to survive by doing what they could. The first few weeks were relatively peaceful as I happily communed with nature. Listening to the sparrows, finches and cardinals singing contentedly at dawn's break filled me with hope that my own future would bring joyful song as well. The larger beasts- the deer, racoons and muskrats continued to tend to their tasks, watching me warily from afar. At night, I smiled at the peaceful chirping of crickets but I shuddered at the howling of the wolves all the while understanding that they were part of God's grand design as well. As I trod through the forest primeval, I came upon a clearing. There I saw a quaint little thatched-roofed cottage, nestled alongside the banks of a quiet lake. Swans, geese and other fowl swam peacefully upon its tranquil waters. I saw smoke coming from the chimney and thought I might introduce myself to its occupants. Surely, those who lived in such a sylvan setting must be kind and friendly to strangers. But before I could approach within shouting distance of the house, a lovely young lady appeared at the door. I smiled politely and waved, hoping to forestall any suspicion on her part of my intentions. She smiled and waved as well as I approached. "Welcome Sir Trekker," she said as I approached, "I have been expecting ye." And she leaned against the doorway, arms folded with a sly grin on her face. "Thee knows me?" I asked, astonished not only that she knew my name, but also by her grace and charm for one so isolated in the woods. "Indeed I know many things, dear Trekker," she replied, enjoying my discomfiture. My name is Rosey the Soothsayer and I am reknown in this land for my insight into what is to be." My mind raced-could she know where Julia was, if my sister was at her palace, if my journey would be successful? "My daughter, my sister," I stammered, "do you know of them, Rosey the Soothsayer?" "Come inside m'lord," she whispered, taking my hand, "we should talk." Her home consisted of one cozy little room-a small kitchen with a cookpot over the fire and a bed tucked into one corner. "Yes it is small," she smiled, reading my mind, " but it is home and I have all that I need. The woods are full of my friends, the deer, muskrat, even the field mice-they all care for me as I care for them." I was intrigued by this wisp of a woman, who spoke so eloquently of her life in this part of the forest. She spoke with such love for nature that I couldn't help but admire her. But I needed to know of my daughter and sister! "Pray tell me dear Rosey," I hastened to interrupt her soliloquy, "I am fascinated by your life here and your love of nature but please tell me of my quest-will I find Julia and RedRose?" She sipped her tea delicately and pondered a moment. "You are in the midst of a dangerous journey," she replied, choosing her words carefully. I fidgetted in my chair, fearful of what bad tidings she may have forseen. "The future is not always clear, my friend," Rosey continued, "You must continue to the Maple Leaf Palace but not all of your answers will be found there. You will travel across the seas in search of your goal. And you may be surprised by what you discover. You may wish you never found some of your answers. Some of your loved ones may not be as they appear to be." I furrowed my brow and began to perspire even in the coolness of autumn's late afternoon. I watched as the shadows crept eerily across the forest floor. "What do you mean fair lady," I croaked, my stomach churning at her coming reply. "Only that you must be careful Sir Trekker," she spoke, her voice barely above a whisper. She looked directly into my eyes. "Things are not always as they seem." "But what about Julia and RedRose," I cried, tiring of her cryptic responses, "Where are they, will I find them?" She rose from her chair and cleaned her cup. Turning to me with a downcast face, she spoke her final words to me. "I'm sorry dear Trekker but I have told you all I can for now. But I will be with you on your journey. Listen for me, for I shall be at your side when you need me." "But," I started and she interrupted me. "No, Trekker, I can say no more." She ran past me, tears streaming down her lovely features and disappeared into the woods. My head fell and my shoulders sagged as I watched her vanish. Things not as they seem? I must be careful? My answers will not be found at the palace? Good God, what will happen? Why couldn't she tell me? I stared after her till long after dark, reciting every word she said and still I couldn't move. Finally exhaustion overtook me. I rolled out my blanket and fell into a fitful sleep. As usual, the welcoming chirp of the songbirds awakened me gently. But my journey was still well before me and my hopeful reverie at finding the answers turned into a disappointing tenseness. I stretched out the kinks and crunched on an unappetizing biscuit. Autumn was rapidly turning to winter as I trekked north-and I feared a mournful winter it would be.