Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
While Naofa and Eagna deal with their surprise visitors, the strange males from unknown lands, Eolas and Laoch continue their journey to reach the source of the endless smoke. And at its source are those who wait…….
Eolas and Laoch kept a keen eye on the swirls of gray-black smoke that rose ever upward in the clear sky over the horizon. The spirals rose steadily by light of day and grew faint near sunset; but as soon as first light appeared, the billowing began again. But throughout the night a single, silvery thread floated up into the dark. Although mysterious, its constant appearance made navigation into the unknown regions that much easier.
As soon as they left the company of the females, Eolas was overcome by an emptiness he never thought possible. How could one being bring such a sense of completeness to another; and however would he be able to withstand this feeling, intensified, when a new life joined them?
‘Surely there is nothing to fear if these tribes were put on our world to help and protect Foirfeachta and its family,’ Eolas surmised. Even as he wondered, he knew they must connect with these humans to let them know who it was they were supporting. And this meeting would happen before the sun set on their journey. Eventually the travelers stopped for food, sitting in silence as they ate, enjoying the last bits of dried meat they carried. While they rested, Laoch spoke for the first time all morning.
Eolas was thoughtful for a moment but his reply was simple and honest. “Well, of course we are friends, all are friends on Domhan. But it would be good to let them see we are worthy friends-strong in body and mind..and able to defend our world if necessary.” He gripped his bow and smiled knowingly at Laoch. The latter nodded in agreement, eying their ample cache of weapons and hunting tools. There was another bundled gift; but this treasure would remain safely beneath the animal skins on their sled until the moment was right. Neither wanted their arrival to be seen as any kind of threat, although they wondered what was waiting for them at the source of that endless smoke.
“Shall we make the last leg of our journey then?” Eolas got to his feet and began kicking the dirt and grasses where they had lain, working to erase obvious of traces of their having been there. They hadn’t bothered with a fire in this arid place and had eaten from their stores of dried meat. The land was flat and grassy, with but a few scattered trees; but they could see in the distance, closer to the smoke, the edge of a woods. So far they hadn’t found a river branch or creek; and both were glad of having filled their deerskin flasks before leaving the last resting ground. As they secured the last of their things and shouldered their bows, Laoch and Eolas headed once again in the direction of the gray tendrils which were already making their sacrificial climb to the sun. Both were glad for having slept soundly, a sleep with no dreams.
Laoch clung tightly to his white stone, especially at night, with the other stones never far from his body, safely stowed in a tethered pouch hanging at his side. The Warrior was comforted by the weight of it as it thumped his leg when he walked, the contents making quiet, clicking noises. It helped to keep his mind focused somehow. The sun was already high and they needed to make good time. They looked up at the same moment, giving a nod to the Vulture that had been with them since they first awoke and that now circled high above their heads, hanging easily on the currents. It never moved too far ahead nor trailed far behind the Hunter and Warrior; and by this they were encouraged.
Ella del Arco, She of the Bow, was the young female who awaited entrance to the hut of the Spirit Mother, the one who was created as the Keeper of all things remembered and the Seer of things which may come. She was known among their tribe as La Palabra-The Word. She was to walk as one in her life, with no mate or companion save the birds which visited her regularly. The cooing gray and white ones were always at her window as she sat in quiet meditation, and these times were observed with the positions of the sun. When she communed with Spirit she was never to be disturbed. In this way she was able to continue her understanding of the Way of Light.
Ella watched the sun rise in the sky above the edge of the trees which lined their village, waiting for the exact moment that she could approach La Palabra with her news. When she finished her own morning meditations, the young female saw the great scavenger bird circling in the distant sky. As it continued its circling motion, it moved toward the village- nearer and nearer; and she was certain this was the day they had been waiting for.
Buried deep in her thoughts, Ella nearly fell from the steps when the ornate door suddenly opened. Before her was La Palabra who, thankfully, extended a quick hand to steady her visitor. She smiled, and stepped back, permitting entrance to the daydreaming Ella.
La Palabra’s dwelling was a simple living space; and Ella felt instantly at peace when she was in the Mother’s presence. There was always a small fire burning in her little stone pit even though it was never cold in their village; and she ate relatively little that was brought from a hunt. There were whispers among the other females that perhaps she was not really flesh and blood at all but merely Great Spirit, walking in the guise of a human. Ella always tried to stop this kind of idle gossip for she had been in counsel with La Palabra many times. She knew the wise female to be completely human; for it seemed that whatever it was that she did eat often left her with the foul gases which her body was eager to be rid of, no matter who was with her. This thought brought a smile to play at the corners of Ella’s mouth; but she instantly felt ashamed for the thought. La Palabra winked at her.
“Come in child.” She motioned for Ella to sit. “What amuses you so?,” she asked and raised a thick eyebrow in an attempt to look severe, although the corners of her own mouth betrayed her amusement.” Nothing was secreted from the Mother. She moved to tend to the fire where a bowl of flower tea hung simmering. It smelled delightfully rich in her home, full of the scent of fresh herbs and lavender tea. A cool breeze blew through the window, rustling the dried herbs on the table, sending a few drifting to the floor. The only window in the place faced the rising sun so that Palabra could greet each morning with prayer and meditation. Now Ella recognized the sweet fragrance of flowers and fresh grass blowing in, mingled with the smells of the next meal being prepared in the common.
Shards of bright light streamed through the opening, striking crystal stones Palabra had hanging above the opening, creating a miraculous rainbow dance across the floor. The Mother had a simple bed, barely off the floor, with a single mat in front of the window where she sat each morning to begin her communion. She had few possessions and most of the place was bare, save a few shelves, lined with wooden containers. Within these treasure boxes were her store of herbs, seeds and liquors, all used in their ceremonies. It was always fresh and cool within these walls, no matter how hot outside of them. There was a low, three-legged stool near the window and a short table where Palabra took her meals. Ella sat beside the stool, pulling her knees up in front of her and wrapping her arms loosely around them.
Ella’s jaw fell open involuntarily, and the Mother smiled, offering her a cup of the hot brew as she sank down to sit on the stool. “I have seen the White Dove at my window for two cycles; and she refuses to venture beyond that tree,” she said, pointing to a tall river moss that stood like a silent watcher behind her dwelling. It was no more than ten strides away from her window. “She cooed into the night and woke me before the sun this day. The Light Ones will arrive today… most certainly.”
As she sipped her tea, appreciating its deep sweetness, Ella took a deep breath and let out a dreamy sigh before she realized it. Embarrassed by her own bold nature, she quickly tried to cover it, “I..am very relieved..to know The Light Ones will be among us. We have heard of their Wisdom and Knowledge since we came into being; and now we..”
La Palabra tossed her head back and laughed, slapping her knee, and pointing a long, accusing finger at Ella, “And now all of you will be able to mingle with the males beyond the woods, finding companions for your empty beds and eager hearts.” She laughed again, causing Ella to blush crimson.
La Palabra leaned in so that she could place a broad, flat hand upon the bare knee of her nervous visitor. “Never be ashamed of that which has been gifted by Spirit,” she said in a hushed voice. She leaned back and spread her hands, bringing them between the sunlight and rainbow dance on the floor. She smiled at Ella. “Bring it into the Light, honor it and be true to it, in the same way you are true with your spear and bow. Do you think a mate any less a prize than a loping deer or scurrying rabbit? There is no Fear in perfect Love. And so it shall be written.”
Ella tipped her cup, finishing the last sip of tea, the dregs strong and bitter on her tongue. She put the empty vessel on the table. “Thank you Mother. I will make certain all is ready for the arrival of our guests. Will they all be coming?” she ventured.
La Palabra lifted her chin towards Ella, pushed her way up from her small stool and shrugged. “Do you think I have a crystal to see the future?” She laughed and placed a hand on Ella’s shoulder. The gesture was comforting although the young female was always mildly frustrated by the Mother’s sense of humor. Of course they all knew she could see things. But what, and when, was always the Mother’s own secret.
“Does it matter which beings of Light should join us? They are all with us, every moment,” she said with certainty, spreading her arms. Of course Ella understood her words and felt foolish for questioning; but she knew the others were going to ask her. Perhaps she could repeat La Palabra’s words and they might be humbled enough to busy themselves with preparations rather than focus on their anticipation. It was prophesied for them to wait for the arrival of the Light Ones before mingling with their neighbors, a tribe of male Horsemen and stone builders who were just as eager as they were to be introduced. Long had the inhabitants of Espera been stealing glances at them as they stalked prey in the woods that lay between the villages.
There was another fire pit for preparing meals and teas; and this fire was left to smolder when not in use. Ella sent a few of the others to gather the freshest nuts, fruits and leafy greens for their guests’ first meal in Espera. With things being tended to and meats hanging in the smoking room to dry, Ella decided to slip into her own hut to freshen up. The eager female wanted to be at her best when she met the Light Ones, whichever ones did indeed come.
On her table was a bowl of clean water. Ella slipped her fingers in the water and splashed handfuls of the cool liquid onto her face, letting it slide down her neck and onto her rounded form. She continued this ritual until her body was washed, then used her discarded tunic to pat dry. Her heart skipped a beat as she stroked the soft, white leather of her sacred dress; and she smoothed the lines in the tunic, touching the image and the two near perfect stones she had fastened on for the eyes. Tiger’s Eye, they called the golden stones, for their resemblance to the regal cat. She painted the image with berry juice; and the others had complimented her ability to recreate this living creature on the hide. The tunic’s pale color was a sharp contrast against her bronze skin; and when she tied the braided leather around her waist, she was easily the most physically beautiful among them.
But this was not what made her lead huntress, no. She had to fight for that title. They were nearly all skilled hunters, but it was she alone who had taken down the great black cat that stalked at night. The dark beast was determined to wipe out the small birds that had long favored the females in Espera with their tiny eggs and beautiful song. But that wasn’t what fated it. The foolish beast had killed one of their own.
La Palabra did not want this one to go on the hunt, but Preciado was eager to prove her worthiness as a hunter among her peers. The Mother always allowed the sisters their freedom to grow.
Ella could just see the whites of Preciado’s eyes there in the moonlight; and she caught her attention long enough to motion for the younger to be very still. This was needless, for the small female was frozen in place, her face filled with terror at the sight of the lumbering beast who finally showed itself. Ella could see the moonlight glinting off its smooth, black coat as it sauntered toward the clearing where the deer waited like a gift. Preciado was nearest its path; and when it walked past, she could hear its breath, smelling its wild scent. Her lungs filled with its musk and her heart filled with horror. In her panic, she forgot all instruction and made a mad dash for her spear, crunching the dry brush beneath her feet. The crackling of twigs stopped the velvety beast in its tracks and it turned slowly, shifting its attention to the trembling female. In the glint of its black eyes, the little one became entranced, turned to wood, and her mouth gaped in horror as an agonized shriek escaped from her throat.
The others jumped from their hiding places and scattered, certain that someone had met their end within the cat’s unforgiving jaws. They ran back to the safety of the village, crying to La Palabra of the “bestia Negro” which was, in truth, hungry to devour Preciado. Ella knew she must be quick, her mind racing for the tools to salvation for the little one. She picked up a loose stone and tossed it over the heads of the shivering child and her tormentor as they glared at one another. She hoped it would be enough of a distraction…the stone landed with a crack! The big cat flinched and looked towards the source of the interruption. Preciado was released for seconds; and even as Ella was motioning for the child to run to her, the brave huntress was drawing an arrow and positioning it in her bow. When the little one’s head cleared the path of her shot, she pulled back hard as the angry beast composed itself and realized its prey was on the move. Not to be cheated, it lurched for its meal, its hot breath making vapors on the chilly air, and closed in quickly upon the pair of females.
“Great Spirit, make my arrow sure, for my heart is true to save my sister.” Fervently she prayed as she released her arrow, the cat lunging forward in an attempt to get its claws into her tender skin. She stared into its hungry eyes and watched as the hunger faded to surprise when the sharp stone plunged deep into its silky, black hide. Ella’s arrow found its mark in the beast’s chest, hitting it squarely in the heart. Later they found the arrowhead buried within its red core. The cat fell mid-leap, thudding to the ground and sliding across the dewy grass, right into the stunned females. One of its flexed paws grazed the back of Preciado’s tender calf, leaving a long gash to gush red innocence as it breathed its last breath. Ella pushed the little one in the direction of the village, and Preciado broke into a wild run all the way into La Palabra’s arms. Ella knelt beside the still beast, awed by its enormity and power. She lifted a prayer to Great Spirit to accept its soul into Eternity’s bosom and to bless the taking of its Essence. Then she withdrew her stone knife and thrust it into the beast’s heart, still warm from its last beat. She looked into its eyes and watched the life leave its body forever. Its fur was velvety soft and Ella marveled that something so lovely could be so deadly.
After that night none challenged the fact that Ella was the Huntress supreme in the tribe of Espera. They all walked to the place in the woods where the cat lay; and she broke her arrow from its body before, together, they dragged it to the village common. They smoked the meat and feasted on it for many cycles, so great was its girth. The deer was released, unscathed, into the woods to be hunted in its own time and on its own path. The skin of the huge cat was offered to La Palabra as a gift of patronage but she refused, instead giving it to Ella as the Hunter; for it was she who was now one with the Spirit of the great black stalker. She was given the first taste of its meat and as had become their custom, she ate the heart, drawing in its Essence. The velvety black skin now lay upon the floor of her hut and she felt mighty strength in its presence.