Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright images and words
As Naofa, Rith, Carraig and a fearsome friend make their way to the homeland of the strange humans who stumbled upon the Sorceress during a moment of indulgent reverie, Hunter and Warrior cross the woods into Jinetes to meet the neighbors of Espera and to find the source of the mysterious smoke that marked the skies as a beacon to guide them into destiny.
“But night always swallows up the daylight,” murmured Ar’tine as he watched Eagna enviously, so peaceful beside the creek. He tossed a black stone at the image of her, aiming for her heart, and watched the ripples shatter the happy image. Quietly he surveyed his own world. Indeed there was no comfort on his creation, but he cared not. There was so much more in the magnificent, glorious power that defined it. In the right moment they would all see it; for deep within the shadows of the cave slept his most magnificent creation since As’me. Quietly she slept within the dank walls that dripped glassy tears for the embryonic treasure resting safely within its womb. Ar’tine could call it into being with but a whisper…
A Warrior’s Home
As the cheering faded, the animals calmed down and began happily munching the tall grasses. The crowd of eager faces thinned out, creating a path for Eolas and Laoch to pass. Slowly they made their way through the tangle of bodies, their noses burning from the acrid smells of smoke and sweat. When they made their way through, to the open meadow, their welcome continued. Approaching from the other side was a rider, sitting proudly on the back of the grandest animal in the herd. He was perched squarely on the creature’s bare back, holding onto its sides tightly with his muscular legs, and appeared to control it with careful movements. He came to a stop in front of the tribe that had once again formed a tight ring around Laoch and Eolas. At this close distance, the Hunter could see he also guided the animal with a tether wrapped around its neck. The stoic figure dismounted the animal’s silky broad back and offered the ends of the tether to Laoch. It was then that Eolas first saw it. The male bore on his chest the very same image as that of Laoch! The Warrior didn’t notice this, so taken by surprise by the gesture of their host, and looked quickly at Eolas for approval. He didn’t wait for a response as his instincts came alive and he reached out to take the leather straps.
The hunter standing before Laoch was taller by far than his guest, but the awe and admiration apparent in his dark eyes was undeniable. He handed the tethers to the Warrior, nodding, and clapped the bare arm of the recipient with his free hand. Loach smiled in humble appreciation. He was honest, if nothing else, and asked what seemed an obvious question for one in his position. “What is this beast called?”
The hunter looked stunned for a moment, then he began to chuckle. When Laoch remained unmoved, it dawned on him that the Warrior was completely serious; and he flung his head back, letting go a hearty laugh. Again he clapped Loach on the arm. “This gift for you, Light One, is our finest horse. It has been mine since we began our walk in this world. He steps true on the land, can journey far into the hills without the need to rest, and is as a bird across the fields when he runs. He is called Thunder; for when we ride, the sound of his hooves can be heard beyond the farthest ridge.” He turned and gestured toward the low mountains that surrounded their land.
An acute awareness was awakened within Laoch at the sight of his own tattoo glaring back at him from the chest of this male he had only just met as dawning stirred within the Warrior. The markings on the male’s chest, the gift in his hand…the smile and show of admiration. This male of Jinetes, this great Hunter, somehow considered him, Laoch, great among the Light Ones. But for what reason?
He remained speechless as the dawning stirred darker emotions within his Warrior’s heart. When he found his voice again, his words were not the words one would expect to hear after receiving such a gift. His body grew taut, his nostrils flared, and Laoch shoved his forefinger square in the center of the painted eyes on the Horseman’s chest. Glaring fearlessly up into the black eyes of the stranger he demanded, “Why do you paint the sign of the Dark One upon your chest? Why do you honor Him in this way?” His voice began to rise and shake with the rage that was building in his own chest. He turned to accusation in his desperate attempt to understand. “Perhaps you were awaiting his arrival-instead of ours!” Eolas tried to stop Laoch with a hand on his arm, but the Warrior shrugged it off, jerking away from him, and battled on against an invisible enemy.
Suddenly he saw the others as if for the first time, but what he saw was not the pained, confused expressions they wore. Instead he was overwhelmed by the images glaring at him from the chest of every male in the tribe. They all bore the same cursed red eyes-the taunting gaze of his soul’s torturer! Pounding his fist against his own chest, his voice rising with agitation, Laoch began to berate them all for this horror.
“Do you think you bear the face of honor?! Do you wish to lift the bearer of Darkness before Light to taunt it into submission? Who has taught you these things as you walk the land of your Mother,” he yelled. He became acutely aware of the stunned silence all around him as he heard his own angry voice cutting through the still air stopped as suddenly as he began. Searching the faces in the circle, he saw only confused innocence in the faces around him, each one hanging on his every word and more than a few with their heads hung low. The Warrior began to tremble, to stammer. He was ashamed of his outburst yet overwhelmed by his determination to make them understand that the thing upon his chest was a monster, something that should be destroyed, not honored. “I…I…,” he began; but couldn’t find the words he needed so desperately to make things right again. The gift-bearing Horseman moved toward him and placed his hand on the Warrior’s shoulder.
“Laoch, Warrior of Light, I am Guia. I am so-called because I am the guide for my tribe. We who are bearing the eyes of blood have chosen to stand with you as your brothers. It was prophesied that when the moment should come that you would need others to stand with you, we must be ready. We wear these marks-your marks-as a show of our allegiance to you, our brother. We mean no disrespect to the Creators who lifted us from the earth. It is because of their wisdom that we are here and ready to join you. Please accept this gift of life which I give to you now. My wish is that you find companionship and comfort in its presence as you travel from sunrise to sunset. He has not failed me in.” Guia retrieved the tethers that dangled on the ground, sending tiny dust clouds up as the horse moved nervously beside Laoch. Once more he handed them to Laoch. The Warrior, overwhelmed with gratitude and humility, dismissed the creeping hand of shame that tried to grip him and took the gift his new brother offered. Wanting desperately to redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow warriors, he boldly stepped up beside the animal and ran his hand along its silky, muscular side, feeling its energy and quickened breath. The beast snorted and flicked its head. Laoch kept stroking until the beautiful, strange creature became still, then stepped up, grasping a handful of the handsome mane flowing from its head. He placed his other hand upon the gentle curve of its back and instinctively leapt up, flinging first his body, then one leg over the animal’s back. He quickly righted himself proudly on its back, feeling the pulsing of its breathing, rubbing his bare legs over the silky hide of one so mighty as to be called Thunder. He sat there for an endless moment, feeling its warm body and trying his hand at controlling its movement with his feet and the tether. The horse started nervously beneath its new rider and for a second it appeared as though it might bolt and run. Guia motioned for Laoch to pull back on the tethers, but made no move to assist the Warrior. It was now, after all, his horse. Laoch gently pulled back on the leather straps and stroked Thunder’s neck with his free hand. Then he leaned down and whispered something into the animal’s ear. As he whispered, the horse quieted and soon the others closed in around horse and rider to continue Laoch’s training in how to handle it best. The silence was broken and the sound of excited male voices drifted into the afternoon sky.
Guia smiled and turned to Eolas, who held out his hand in greeting. “My name is Eolas. We have come to join in the ceremony that will take place at the next cycle’s end.” He paused. Guia said nothing. “The ceremony of joining with the village of Espera? I believe you have knowledge of this coming together?” he queried, still uncertain how all of this could be happening without either tribe ever communicating with one another.
The Horseman nodded and grinned. “We have long-awaited this day. Our life is full on Domhan, but will be richer with the companionship of our intended. I believe there are other reasons you have come as well?” he said with a question in his voice.
He motioned for Eolas to follow him; and as they came around a stand of trees near the edge of the woods, the Hunter got his first look at the busy village of Jinetes. Amazement could only scratch the surface of what he felt as he looked around him. There were dwellings designed like those in the village of the females, but there were strange ones as well. He had never seen anything like them. The structures were made of stone and climbed to the skies, wide at the bottom and narrowing to a soft point at the top. They seemed as hills make of rock and stone. The Hunter’s eyes followed the stones to their peaks where he finally saw the source of the signal which beckoned them to this land-those constant upward spirals of gray smoke that rose slowly, deliberately, climbing to the clouds. There were more than one of these stone hills, but not more than the fingers of his hand. Several were sending heavy billows upward while another was barely smoking. The last one was producing no smoke at all. As they walked past it, he saw several of the males filling boxes made of wood with small black objects. Their hands and arms were covered in black dust. The full boxes were being dragged away by horses who were tethered to them with leather and vine. The action was not close enough for him to make out exactly what these black stones were or why they were being moved, but maybe a closer look would answer his questions. Of that he was certain.
‘If I can just get a closer look,’ thought Eolas, and took a few steps closer to the action, but Guia stopped him.
“First, let me show you how we came to be here. Many of your questions may be answered there.” Not the least of Eolas’s questions was how in the name of Eternity these Warriors knew of Laoch’s chest markings when he had only put them there a few cycles before they began their journey. From overhead came a hoarse, cackling sound and the Hunter looked up to see the magnificent Vulture, sitting in a tree above him. He shook his head.
‘Why do I wonder anything at all?,’ he asked himself.
Why, indeed, came the Thought of Mor.
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions or ideas.
Love and Light,