Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright images and words
Eolas and Laoch make their way into the strangely exotic world of Espera, a world where females walk alone, where mystery awaits and great hope lives in the hearts of its inhabitants-as well as in those of their neighbors……
Eolas was the first to approach the formal assembly of females which had gathered near the entrance to the little village. The clearing had nearly two hands’ worth of huts of fairly good size each; and he had never before seen so many humans! It was overwhelmingly exciting and yet daunting. He doubted he would have felt as comfortable had their males been present-and also in such number. ‘Where are they?’, he wondered to himself.
He tried to size up the assemblage of lovely creatures shuffling in the lineup along the the edge of the village road. His eye was drawn to a particular female, more rotund and not as supple, who stood prominently before the others, her forbearance indicating she was different-more-in some way. From her formal dress, Eolas deduced she must be their leader and adviser-perhaps a Sorceress, much as Naofa was. This very dark-skinned female had a welcoming smile and a stately air about her, attributes that their own friend possessed.
Loach had similar impressions. He observed that all the females in the assembly were of like stature and build but for minor differences and unique facial features. None shied away as the males approached their unprotected village. He looked around, wondering himself where the males of this tribe were as the cycle of the sun was so close to ending. He felt surely it would fall before proper greetings had been exchanged.
Eolas stepped forward, his hands extended in upturned fashion, indicating his openness to friendship. He hoped their leader understood this gesture. Instantly she smiled a broad, white grin and stepped forward, imitating the open hand gesture.
Although her meaning eluded him, Eolas knew things would unfold accordingly, and he nodded towards Laoch, “We come at the urging of the Creators in the name of Eternity. We are ready to serve your tribe in our quest to unite all life on Domhan for the continuation of Love upon its face.” He bowed his head in respectful deference to the Spirit Mother. She nodded in return, pride and joy surging within her heart.
The females in the background were shifting and shuffling, tired of waiting, as they curiously scrutinized the males who stood before them. They looked them over, head to toe and back with keen interest. Their occasional giggles and soft whispers stirred something in Laoch-something he could not identify or be certain that he was comfortable with. Never before had a male ventured across their borders. Laoch grew more nervous under this scrutiny and blurted out, unceremoniously, “Where are your males?!”
Eolas shot him a look which called for temperance, a look which The Warrior ignored in his desire to erase the discomfort he felt. “Do they hunt after dark then?” he demanded. “Who protects your borders while they are away?”
Eolas already knew the folly of Laoch’s questions, for he could see that clearly these females were independent and physically capable. They were tanned and muscular, albeit extremely lovely, indicating they spent a lot of their lives doing heavy work and likely hunting. The leather straps slung across the shoulders of those who flanked both ends of the assembly implied they were primary hunters in the tribe. Just as Eolas and Laoch had done, their leather quivers hung across their backs, out of plain sight, but remained at the ready should there be any need.
There was one female who stood slightly behind Mother Palabra, and yet apart from the main group. She had been silent throughout their exchange while her gaze never faltered, her own scrutiny intent, her focus unwavering. Eolas could tell that she was entranced with Laoch; and the Hunter admired her confident demeanor when she finally stepped forward. She, too, was a hunter, he surmised. Too tall, too light footed, and too sure to not be such; and yet the tunic she wore was not made for hunting and was very different from what the others were wearing. It was made of a light, soft leather that hung close to her softly curved body. Her straight, coarse dark hair framed her face, hanging nearly to her waist. With delicate white flower sprigs tucked randomly into the strands, she gave the impression of being both strength and tenderness in a single body.
This image stirred something within Laoch; and it was he who moved to extend a hand, suddenly forgetting his urgency. “Greetings, my name is Laoch; and this Hunter is Eolas.” He gestured toward the mildly amused Hunter. “May I ask again, are there males among your tribe?” His voice was decidedly more tempered.
Ella felt a weakness in her thighs as she tried to stand before this male, so close that she could smell his sweat and feel his warm breath. She did not like the sense of the strange weakness; but she thrilled to the feeling of excitement that surged upward through her body.
“We were told to remain alone in our walk until the Light Ones arrived to join the separate halves of our people.”
Laoch was confused but Eolas’ brain was already turning the pages of a book yet to be written. Now he understood why Naofa had supplied him with some of the last fruit of the Tree of Creation. She had also taken some with her when she and Eagna left the land of cliffs.
“He is so different,” she thought. His skin so dark, his eyes so brilliant. He was built like a Warrior; but with those blue eyes…she wished she could look into them again, but she dared not. She couldn’t. Not yet.
La Palabra followed Eolas’ gaze to the fires burning beyond the outer edges of the village and answered the unspoken questions of both males with one reply. “There, in the land of Jinetes, await our companions, our hopes, and the future of our tribe. We were told not to mingle with them until the day of Unity arrived, when the Light Ones would sanctify our joining to fulfill our purpose in existence. We in Espera are all hunters. We care for ourselves and for one another, although all are eager to find companions among those who camp near our village. Such was decreed at the time of our birth.” She nodded, her feathered adornment bobbing in colorful agreement.
Ella lifted her arm, pointing to the smoke spirals that moved slowly upward into the skies. They seemed never to stop, although they were barely discernible in the night sky. Turning to the center of the village, she motioned for the others to make way as she walked through, leading the trio of La Palabra, Eolas and Laoch to the base of the great stone pit standing there. In the well-used stone edifice there burned a constant slow fire that sent up fragrant gray billows. The two outsiders had seen this smoke trail rising and assumed it originated from the same source as the others. Both had questions in the forefront of their thoughts regarding the males that were to be involved in this unification process; but for now they were content to be given a tour of the village of Espera.
Ella continued to lead the way with the visitors following closely, taking in all that she pointed out. Each hut was raised off the ground and set upon stones. Dried grass, mud and water reed had been used for the walls; and there were floors of wood. Each hut had several beds signifying that these females shared living spaces.
Eolas knew there would have to be adjustments to this communal living once the pairing of companions had begun. He remembered the taste of the fruit and its effect upon an awakening creative union. That was one experience that wouldn’t bear sharing as a tribe. He smiled to himself, remembering his recent days with Eagna, and he felt a pang of sadness at not having seen her lovely face in what seemed so many cycles now. He prayed she, Naofa, and his unborn child were safely home. These thoughts were broken as they neared the hut of La Palabra. Ella did not offer a tour of the inside although she did step up to run her fingers reverently across the etching on the door. She was about to explain its history to the males, but La Palabra held up her hand. She pointed to the ornate figure on the door’s face and stretched her fingers up towards Eolas’ headdress. The she smiled and nodded, indicating that he was already a part of the knowledge shared in the revelation upon the door. She looked first at the image there and back at the striking Huntsman, and said simply. “My place of dwelling is open to you at any time while you are here with us. We will talk of the things of Spirit before you leave.” She waved back toward the center of the village. “You must be hungry after your journey. We have food prepared!”
Eolas marveled at the likeness carved with such care on the face of the door. He, too, knew it was a part of this unfolding life that had so recently begun to speed up. La Palabra turned and led them across the dirt path to a larger building, similar to the huts but with only a sinlge window that he could see from where they approached. The doorway was wider than those on the dwellings; and closer inspection revealed the dark forms of those who were making preparations within. They passed a fire pit near the entry where various meats, fish and roots were bubbling and roasting. Ah! The wider entrance would accomodate some of the large cooking vessels they were using. As they neared the entrance he could see a long, low table with grass mats all around. The aromas in the air enticed the weary travelers, their quiet hunger quickly encouraged by the aroma. Those who were tending to the food preparations looked up now and then to nod and shyly smile, but none was so bold as to address the visitors in any other way. If only the pair could have heard how their hearts pounded at the thought of the joining when they would no longer walk alone. Having these strong, handsome males in their presence only fueled their excitement.
While similar in appearance, each female seemed to have her own special uniqueness. All of them wore leather tunics; but Laoch noted that the decorations on some were more elaborate than others. Some had necklaces of leatherette strung with teeth, while others had belts with the dried feet of small animals tied into the ends.
Suddenly Laoch had a vision of Naofa, remembering how tall and lovely she was when she moved in their circle of ceremony. He shook his head to clear the memory, not certain why it had presented itself there to begin with.
Everyone gathered around the long table, with Mother Palabra at the head position and the visitors standing to either side of her. The food looked and smelled wonderful to both Laoch and Eolas; and they were ravenous after the long, final walk into Espera. Not a soul seated themselves upon their mats, but remained standing quietly as La Palabra lifted her arms and tilted her noble chin upward towards a small opening in the roof of the hut. Bright shards of light filtered through the small space, falling across her face and highlighting the lines of her sun-baked skin. This seemed to illuminate her very essence as she spoke to the Eternal Realm.
All eyes were on the visitors; and Eolas suddenly realized that they must be waiting for the males to lead the way. With a quick glance at a confused but hunger-stricken Laoch, he turned to La Palabra who wore a toothy grin and nodded briskly, causing her adornments to bobble up and down comically. This was all Eolas needed to reach out and take a large portion of smoked rabbit. Following his lead, Laoch didn’t hesitate to take his own rather large portion along with the flat rounds of ground, baked grains that was a new delight for him. With all eyes upon them still, they ate heartily, ending the spell of silence that had been cast over the female tongues. It was as if the floodgates to life in this village had been opened as they took their portions and feasted, chattering among themselves about the things to come.
Eventually, those seated next to the visitors gathered enough courage to engage them in conversation. Seated next to Eolas was a female who identified herself as Tonto, the very one who had escaped the hungry jowls of the night wolf so many cycles before, a story she was eager to share with a new friend. As he listened carefully to her story, the Hunter’s heart beat with the rhythm of her words, as his well controlled shadow of fear fought to find its way to the surface. Wolf had appeared in its menacing form in so many of their recent brushes with the Dark Essence.
Tonto was a small thing, comparatively speaking, since all of these lovely females seemed quite tall. Naofa would stand only slightly above most of them, and she was as tall as Eolas himself. While Eolas and Tonto acquainted themselves, Laoch chatted with La Palabra. The Warrior was confused that the tribes lived in such close proximity and yet none had mingled with those who were designated for their pairing. He wondered, in his innocently arrogant fashion, how they had come to know so much about hunting, building and..well… surviving-all without male companions.
In the process which had become his own world, Laoch had forgotten his Creators and that the original life on Domhan had been female. But then again, she had not built a dwelling or had the need to hunt or make weapons. So many questions were churning about in his Warrior’s head and heart that his tongue could scarcely put the words into coherent thoughts. Mother Palabra finally tossed her head back and laughed out loud at his ignorance of the obvious. Then, placing her dark, leathery hand over his, she looked him seriously in the eye. Her own eyes were as dark as the river waters and seemed as deep.
“Do you forget the purpose of the Family in the Garden? Do you not remember the question in the Thought of Mor, the Heart of Inion and the Hope of Domhan’s Mother?” She touched a finger to the center of his muscular chest. “That the place which is incomplete will find its peace in silence? We were told by the prophecy to wait until the arrival of the Light Ones before any companionship or joining could happen. No new life would be created among our tribes until such time as was deemed “safe” for our lineage. We have been content to work through our days enjoying our life, learning about this world and awaiting the day when we, too, could add to the essence of Domhan. When I had a vision of the Feathered Hunter,” she nodded towards Eolas, “I knew the time had come for the prophecy to be fulfilled.”
“If I may speak, Mother?” she glanced at La Palabra who nodded her approval, taking the opportunity to eat while Ella took up the task of explaining their life on Laoch’s world before this moment.
“When we came into being, we had only a fleeting memory of our Creators. We know there was a trinity, for it is written upon our scrolls of prophecy.” Laoch was truly confused, for he had no knowledge of any written word that had been kept.
“May we see these scrolls then?” he asked. “Perhaps it will help us to understand all that has gone before.”
Ella again sought her Mother’s approval to speak, looking to La Palabra. After the compulsory nod, she answered the Warrior, “As soon as we have finished our meal, we can go to La Palabra’s dwelling where they are kept in safety from destruction. We don’t know who made them, only that they were left to us and to those who will join us. They are our gift of prophecy and direction.” Ella smiled to herself as she pushed her uneaten food about in her bowl. She was thinking about how strong and sure this male was, and knowing how strong and competent she knew herself to be; yet there he was, not understanding this lovely parallel. Were the females in his world weak and disinterested? Surely not, for they were spoken of in the prophecy. Perhaps he thought only the Light Ones would be powerful, strong or worthy. This thought brought an angry surge upwards from her core, something she longed to disown. (The dark spaces indeed sought their own place in the consciousness.) “We are very strong in our own right,” she continued, “but in the beginning, gifts were left outside our boundaries, gifts which we soon learned came from the other tribe, the one of males which will be our companions soon. There were tools and cut wood…but it was we who built our village-and with our own hands!” She thrust her hands at his face for effect. Laoch was taken aback by her abruptness; and seeing his eyes opened wide in stunned shock seemed to calm Ella’s impetuous fire. It was a fire he would learn to appreciate in time. More calmly the young female continued. “In turn, we brought them gifts of food, things which we brought forth from the earth-roots, herbs and drinks brewed from the bark of certain trees and grasses which they could use for their ceremonies. We shared many things we made by hand. So, you see, we have known each other in important ways since the beginning of our existence here. It is only the word and physical touch that we have not shared for fear any one of us would break the promise to uphold our prophecy. Now that you have come, we will soon be able to work and live side by side.”
Eolas expressed a great desire to see these scrolls of prophecy which had been given to the female tribe. La Palabra assured him that they could return to her dwelling where the scrolls were safely stored so that he could examine them. They also made plans for Eolas and Laoch to cross the boundaries into the village of Jinetes, so that ceremony could be made for the fulfilling of the prophecy. The Hunter assured Palabra that they would leave at first light. There would be a signal sent, she said, to alert the neighboring tribe that the Light Ones had arrived. While they were gone, the females of Espera would complete preparations for the ceremony of joining.
Eolas looked around at the sea of brown, smiling faces and felt the glorious sensation of unity upon the world he had until now been only a small part. How he missed Eagna…..