Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright photos and written work
As Eolas and Laoch make the final journey into the unexplored land where the strange and endless smoke spirals up towards the heavens; the females of Espera prepare for their arrival, unaware of just who is coming. Meanwhile, the Sorceress and Eagna find themselves entertaining the curious males from the land of caves, searching souls who will reveal their own secrets before the sun sets on Domhan again; but the knowledge will only add to the mystery that is unfolding on their peaceful world….
Out of the Caves
Rith and Carraig slowed down as the group neared Eagna’s home, coming to a standstill near the edge of the porch, their eyes wide with wonder. They had never seen such a thing. Naofa and Eagna exchanged curious glances, amused by the sight of them standing just shy of the porch, their mouths agape and heads cocked to the side. They began to converse in conspiratorial whispers, pointing and making small, whistling noises as they surveyed the dwelling and pointing at the rooftop, then the windows, before finally dropping to their knees for a peek under the porch! After a few moments of this scrutiny, Eagna nudged the mesmerized Sorceress, nodding to the pair, who continued to mutter and shake their heads in amazement.
“Well then, shall we go inside?,” asked Eagna as she skirted the males and gingerly mounted the steps. Her lilting voice broke the spell of awe that had befallen the pair; and they cautiously crept up the steps after the lovely female who lived in such a magnificent home. “Dear Mother please help me not to laugh,” Eagna whispered a prayer as she stepped across the porch and dropped the freshly picked herbs in her storage bin.. As she stepped through the doorway, Eagna felt the warm sun as it filtered through the window and struck her face; and so, too, was her heart struck with its warmth as a deep loneliness for Eolas enveloped her soul. She slipped her fingers across her belly and smiled, offering a silent prayer to Spirit for the safe travels and success of their journey..
Naofa nearly ran over the new arrivals who had once again come to a halt just outside the entrance, frozen in a state of uncertainty. Their eyes were wide and their mouths hung open as though they wanted to speak but the words could not find their way out. “Why do you hesitate?” she asked. Feeling mischievous, she added dryly, “There is nothing to fear. We had roasted cave dweller for our meal just last night!” Rith gasped and looked at Carraig in terror; but the gruff one knew a teasing word when he heard it. He rolled his eyes and started up the steps, followed by a slightly wary Rith who looked back at the Sorceress. Try as she might, she could not hide the devilish glee that covered her face, assuring him they were safe.
Once inside, Carraig was eager to explain their hesitation. “Please forgive us, Sorceress, for we are ground dwellers and have never seen a place such as this-rising above the ground and sitting in the Light of day! And on top of that we have never been in the presence of…”(he looked furtively at Rith)..”the presence of a Sorcere..” Naofa cut his words in mid sentence.
“Please do not continue to address me in this way. It is most important that…my gifts..remain known to but few. These things work for the good of Domhan and the Family in the Garden.” She paused to look at the male who stared back, sizing her up with more than a small amount of confusion in his eyes. She held out her hand and he hesitantly offered a chubby fist, which she grasped, crouching to meet him eye to eye. She chose her words carefully. “Carraig. We…whom you call Light Ones…were born on Domhan with a purpose, just as you and your companions have been. If it became common knowledge among all humans exactly who I am at this point, there is the possibility that the thought of darkness might seek control of the gifts that I possess for its own purpose. Every living soul is vulnerable to its influence. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
Dawning shone on his face, her words settling into understanding, and his pride dissolved beneath the touch of her hand. Carraig nodded solemnly and Naofa peeked around his broad shoulders at Rith who still stood, hesitant, in the doorway. Eagna walked over and relieved him of the spoils of their hunting that now lay at his feet. Naofa opened her mouth to repeat her request to the portly male standing there; but his round head already bobbed up and down, an affirmation that he, too, understood her words. Her misty gray eyes, like vast pools of comfort, encouraged him to speak.
Naofa laughed and drew him inside. “Please, come now and sit. Eagna will prepare the food you have hunted. Once we have filled our stomachs, we can talk of what has been as well as what may come to be.” As if in affirmation, Carraig’s stomach growled a resounding “yes”, causing them all to laugh, easing the tension.
Naofa stepped outside for extra stools from the porch. The males exchanged glances, huge grins now spread across their faces as they relaxed and appreciated their surroundings. It was bright! And warm-so full of color and light. How different was this place from their cave dwelling. It wasn’t that they were unhappy in their own world. There was a reason for their being born there, and they knew it. Spending their days in the depths, bringing out the rocks from within the stony hills and storing them within the caves was not a bad life. Their land had plenty of animals to hunt and eat, there was a beautiful lake nearby full of fish, and their beds were warmed at night by companions. But the sensation they were experiencing in the brilliance of color and light in the above-the-ground home was new and exciting.
“I’m curious,” Naofa said as she pulled her stool close to the table and sat down. She carefully crossed her hands in her lap and tilted her head, surveying the strange pair. “Have none of your tribe ventured beyond your caves before now?” Carraig and Rith looked at each other, then back at the Sorceress and shook their heads in unison. No. “And what was it that brought you to venture out now?”
They fidgeted on their stools and exchanged furtive looks, then looked nervously down at their hands, fingers tapping on the table. This time it was the coarse voice of Rith that spoke up. “Well…we were told to wait for the sign before seeking counsel with the Light Ones..and,” but before he could finish, Carraig broke in as seemed to be the pattern with them.
“Yep, we were told there would be a sign. And there was. It was a dream of his“, he said with a bit of disdain and poked his friend in the ribs. “But he ignored it, didn’t tell no one about it.”
Looking pained and guilty, Rith added, defensively, “Well, we weren’t told it would be a dream. How did I know it wasn’t just some bad food or my mind playing tricks, I ask you?” He spread his hands in exasperation and shrugged.
“Well, Rith, let’s start with the first dream, the one you didn’t share right away. What happened in this dream?” Eagna put cups in front of them, each filled with her special herb tea. It had a pleasant aroma and she knew that chamomile would help the situation. The aromatic steam rose into their nostrils, bringing a welcome feeling of calm.
“May I…first, if it please you?” asked Rith, grasping his cup and holding it up, seeking approval from Naofa.
“By all means, go ahead. Enjoy your tea. We are not in a hurry.” (She lied. She seemed to be in a perpetual hurry to glean information lately.) “The drink will do you good. We have all had quite a morning,” she said as she reached up to take her own cup from Eagna. It did smell wonderful and, smiling at Rith, she took a drink first, just to let the curious fellows know it was safe to ingest. As soon as she swallowed, they eagerly lifted their cups and quickly downed the soothing liquid.
How could she make them relax? “You may call me Naofa, for that is my given name. Agreed?” They nodded, and she noted they soon stopped fidgeting. “Are you ready to continue with your story, Rith? I’m eager to hear about your dream.” Naofa smiled as warmly as she could, while Rith pushed his cup to the center of the table, feeling the warm effect of its contents rippling through his body. He glanced across the table at the strong, lovely female who only a short while ago was a mere fish in the water. Her long, dark locks were twisted on top of her head, but rebel strands had escaped the knot and played in wisps about her cheeks. In that moment he was delighted to watch them dancing in the breezes that came through the window. Then his eyes met hers and he was quickly drawn into the gray, hypnotic pools of the ocean depths. He took a deep breath and began in a whisper; but as the story unfolded his voice grew stronger and louder.
Naofa agreed, “Indeed it is true, so please be yourself. You are among friends.” She winked at Eagna who buried her face in her cup to stifle a giggle but her laugh went into the tea, sending bubbles up around the edges and dribbles spilling over the sides. She quickly excused herself to get a cloth.
Rith was relieved they were so understanding.. “Anyway, I went up thinking I would catch a short sleep then go back down to finish out the work with the others. But when I lay down, my head felt as heavy and black as a load of the rock we carry up out of the caves. Then it came. The dream, I mean-only I didn’t know it was a dream.” Naofa leaned in and rested her chin in her hands, mere inches from Rith’s face. It made him nervous and excited at the same moment. “Well…I was all of a sudden walking down a long stretch in one of the caves, though I can’t say as I could ever take you there, for surely it does not exist in the caves we know. But there it was and there I was and there was a faint light off in the dark; and I could-now don’t you laugh-I could hear a voice inside my head.”
Naofa instinctively stiffened, shifting uneasily on her stool. (Voices in dreams had recently shown themselves to not be a good thing.)
“It was a soft voice,” continued Rith. “And as gentle as the wind; but behind the softness was real strength, like a thunderstorm. You could tell it. I wasn’t afraid, but I wanted to know who was speaking to me. She, for surely it was a she, told me to come to the Light. She said she needed me to do something for Domhan, that it was time. I thought at first my feet would not move, but I forced them on with my head; and the closer I got to that Light, the brighter it glowed and the warmer it seemed with the voice still calling, still promising… then something inside me…” He thumped his chest in the center. “…something inside here…exploded! Then I felt pulled by that light. I wanted to see it up close, to be in it, as soon as I could.”
He looked around waiting for someone to question or ridicule, but none did. Eagna, who had been tending to the food while she was up, returned to her seat, gazing earnestly at the speaker. The Wise Female already knew what he was going to say, for Mother Spirit remained close to her daughters in Essence; and she eagerly urged him on. “Please continue Rith. What happened when you reached the Light?”
“She said, ‘It is time to come together for the good of Domhan. Go to the Light Ones. They will tell you what to do; and you will all join together to guard the life in the Garden. It is the heart of your world and must be protected.’ I couldn’t speak but I didn’t need to. I could only say, ‘Yes, Mother,’ but I don’t know why I said it. We don’t have much memory of how we came to be on Domhan but we know there is a Great Spirit that watches over us, that protects and loves us. But I don’t remember no Mother. But I said yes to that Mother, I did! And then I looked up into her great black bird eyes and they glinted gold, like the stuff in some of our rocks we drag up every day. Those eyes were smiling at me and I never wanted to leave her. But She told me to go back and tell the others it was time to find the Light Ones-you.” Rith pointed a cautious finger at Naofa and swung it over to point at Eagna. Then he looked solemnly down at the table, running his hands over the cool, hard surface. “It was with a heavy heart I turned away; and then I heard the fluttering again and all was dark. I cried out in that dream, I did, I called to that Mother, ‘Don’t leave me alone!’ And she whispered inside my head, ‘I am always with you, as all in Eternity are. Look to the skies for remembrance.’ Do you think she meant she’s one of them birds that we hear calling?” His eyes were pleading, and Naofa longed to ease his emptiness in that moment.
Rith lifted his head and continued, “When the Light was gone I started to feel lost in the dark of the great cave, not remembering which way would get me out. I heard a low growling away behind me and when I turned back to look, I saw..I saw…red eyes peering at me. Then I heard it breathing. It sounded big-and it started towards me, clawing the rocky floor as it came; and I tell you these stumpy legs couldn’t run fast enough to get me out of that place! No matter that I didn’t know where to run-I just knew I had to stay ahead of those eyes! I could hear it pant as it drew closer and closer. Then, just as I could feel It’s hot breath on my neck, I woke up, safe on my blanket. I sat up, clutching my throat, sweating like I’d been in the water. I looked around, searching for the thing that was at me, wishing I was back in the bosom of that great bird. When my eyes were back to normal, I could see the sun glowing red as it started its fall behind the hills. I heard voices talking and laughing as the others made their way up from the deep caves. The females were down below preparing the night meal.”
Rith looked at the faces of those with him at the table, noting the varied expressions upon each. Carraig looked both empathetic and disdainful at once. The Sorceress’s face showed lines of concern, her eyes shadowed in deep concentration. Eagna’s face was peaceful and lovely, broken by but a single furrow that knitted her brows together, like the one piece of gristle in a perfect stew. He knew he had to finish this part of the story. “Well, once I knew it was a dream, and realized I was still safe among my friends and mate, well…I thought they would call me mad for such a dream. I was afraid if I spoke of it, the beast in the dark would return and finally catch up to devour me.”
Naofa started, looked at Rith sideways and asked, “This beast laughed at you?” He nodded slowly, wrinkling his brow. “Yep, and it was a laugh of pure delight, like it was having fun.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and nodded agreement, so Eagna and Naofa put out the meal. The rabbits were removed from the fire, and fresh herbs mixed with the meat. Another round of water was poured; and the smells were tantalizing. Admittedly, they were all hungry; but before they began to eat, Eagna motioned for them to offer blessing and thanks for the life that was given for their own. Rith and Carraig were familiar with this ritual, for it was their custom as well.
And so it is.”
In a state of reverence and peace, they ate well. Naofa filled her bowl with fresh fruits and greens, for she did not care for the flesh of the animals. Within her mind, Eagna quietly lifted her own prayer, ‘And walk with Eolas and Laoch as they venture into the land of smoke. See them through their quest and safely home to us once more.’
As they ate, the females inquired about life among the ground dwellers and were fascinated to learn that this tribe truly had no recollection of their birth, only that they came to be there and instinctively they began to dig into the rocky hillsides of their homeland to find caverns and caves, which they knew needed to be cleared and made ready for homes, for safe hiding places. But hiding places for whom, or from what, they were not certain. Some of the caves held beautiful colored stones that, when polished, were quite lovely.
“We store them in one of the caves. We been doing it since we first went in, but the dark rocks are what we gather and bring out. No one knows why we do it, we were just told to,” stated Rith.
Naofa was intrigued and simply had to ask, “Well, if you have no recollection of your birth, exactly how is it that you knew what to do? And who-or what-told you these things?”
“On that hillside was a partly covered cave. It was overgrown with grasses that hid the opening so we almost missed it. But our new eyes were sharp, and we did see it. We pulled back the grasses and vines to clear the way and opened up that cave, we did.” Rith looked proudly at Carraig and nodded before going on. “Carraig and me offered to go in first to check things out before the others followed. Since then we were called the Scouts for our tribe. Maybe we’re just too stupid not to let anyone else do it, but we’ve been that way since the beginning, by our own choice.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “We went inside this dark hole in the mountain not knowing if we were even coming back out, and we felt our way down a long tunnel. It got so hot and closed in, and we were squeezed tight in some places. Just when we thought about turning back, we saw a light ahead of us. We kept going; and the closer we got to that light, we started to feel a small breeze and could breathe again. The nearer we got to the light, it felt like a wind blowing. We filled our lungs gratefully then. We wouldn’t have wanted our first day on Domhan to be our last one too-you know?” The others nodded their agreement.
“Once we reached the light we couldn’t speak. The walls of that huge room were black and solid rock; but light was breaking in through all these little cracks above us,” he said, once again pointing his chubby finger to the ceiling. No one followed it this time. “And all the little pieces of light that slipped through those cracks made the place bright so you could see. Once our eyes got used to light again, we started to look around us. There was a wall much longer than the others, and the mouth of a tunnel going from that great room into the caverns beyond. It was on that long wall that we could see the messages they left for us, scratched across its face in the stone. We knew it was for us. Don’t ask me how. It was just in here.” He tapped his head. “We noticed the stones first, so big and bright. We saw all the figures scratched in that wall and knew which ones were us from the shapes and sizes; but the ones with the bright stones we knew were the Creators because they were much taller than the others-and they held tools in their hands. That’s how we knew to make our own tools. Below each of their feet lay our bodies, some whole and some not; for each Creator put some part of us together. Some of our eyes were open and others looked as though still asleep. All down the line they put us together. Each of the Creators gave us some part of their own essence. Our breath, our legs and arms, our eyes-every thing that makes us whole.
Rith continued the story, having finished his meat and shoved his bowl aside. He shook his head vigorously from side to side. “Oh no, Ma’am. Eagna?” She nodded her approval. “No, each was a different color. All but one was big. It was smaller and back apart from the big ones. If we can go out to the ground, I’ll show you.”
Carraig wasn’t happy about this. He was not finished with his meal, but he scooped up his bowl and followed the others out the door and down the steps. Looking around and kicking the ground with one foot, Rith searched until he found a patch of dry dirt, free of grass and rock. There he withdrew a stone knife from his waistband. Kneeling in the dirt, he began to feverishly scratch figures into the soft ground, attempting to duplicate that mural which had become their knowledge of life.
“I’ll just use these plain stones for the heads,” he muttered. “But they were each a different color, and nowhere else in all of our land have we found all the different colors of stone together but right here.” He stabbed the point of his knife right in the middle of the figures. The onlookers waited breathlessly for more.
She wanted to have a fair idea of the knowledge these people possessed before she tried to explain all the events that had played out in their lives on Domhan thus far. With this in mind, she asked if there was anything else, anything he left out of the story. Both males appeared to be in deep thought for a few moments. Finally, Rith began shaking his head slowly. “Nooo..…” but Carraig dropped to his knees on the soft dirt, sending the remainder of food in his bowl splattering in waste at his feet. He let out a hasty lament as he withdrew his own knife and began to add to each figure, even the Creators, a round circle in the center of their chest area. Then he cut a line straight down the center of the circle and moved the dirt so that one side looked darker than the other.
“Let’s go inside. We will talk some more. I have things to share; and I want very much to hear about your terrible, horrible dream- the one that urged you to seek counsel with us.”
Before they reached the steps that were now bathed in the filtered light of the setting sun, they heard something fluttering overhead. They all looked up to see the giant vulture soaring gracefully. It began to circle-once, then again and again, spiraling downward with every turn, until it was just above their heads. It circled a final time, and was low enough for Naofa to see the glint of the sun in its black eye. In this moment she heard the voice of Mor as it whispered to her soul. “You must be my voice when they can no longer hear…”