Okay, for those of you who know me, you know I have been working on a book for awhile now. I am in the process of reworking it and this is a recent chapter. The entire original book can be found in chapters on my other blog Tropicalaffair.me. Just type in Forever Never in the search bar for the posts if you are interested.
Meanwhile, if you have time, I would appreciate a quick read of this chapter, which is actually the second in the reworking. Let me know what you think. The first chapter is also on Tropical Affair and is called The Traveler.
I hope you all have a wonderful Father’s Day.
Emerald Waves and Crystal Caves
“We’re getting close. The wind carries strange smells,” Guia observed, the matter-of-factness in his voice disguising the questions in his mind. The Guide for this tribe of horsemen known as the Jinetes never allowed fear to invade his thoughts. He thought it neither practical nor wise, although in recent days it was becoming more difficult to stave it off.
The Warrior riding beside him reined his horse and cocked his head, listening. “Do you hear that? The sound like thunder…it is just as Eolas described it to me. The voice of the sea.” Loach took a deep breath, filling his lungs, the smell of salt heavy on the chilly morning breeze. He nodded. “Yes, we are nearly there now. Let’s just hope we were led to the right place. The great sea borders much of Domhan and we have little time to spare. This needs to be Athas Anam.”
Loach looked nervously over his shoulder, knowing the rest of the tribe had become restless as they passed through the desolate lands that lay between their home and the promise of salvation for it. He had listened to their grumbling and whispers for days.
“There should be a valley just over that rise,” he continued. “We will make camp there and tend to the horses before beginning any search.” He nodded his head and clicked his horse onward, summoning the others to follow. “Good news, my friends!” He called back over his shoulder. “We have nearly finished our journey!” Then he murmured to himself. “Now the quest begins.”
“You must finish your work first,” Naofa admonished. The absolute authority in her voice did not betray the tenderness in her heart; but a keen eye would easily see the gleam of adoration she felt for the child who wriggled on his stool by the table. Her love for him was immeasurable and generous, although she had no intention of allowing him to escape the task of sorting and bundling herbs. They were necessary for her teas and ceremony. This had become his primary morning chore, one that he routinely performed without complaint. Naofa was ready to guide her son in accepting the gifts that were his birthright, those powers she herself had been blessed with. So much had been revealed to her about this power since she retreated to the caves of her homeland, forced into seclusion in the wake of upheaval on their world. They had all been thrust into forward motion since the Devastation, and she had borne her journey alone, devoting every spare moment to understanding the strange and frightening truths her soul had been secreting.
“Not so tightly, son, you want to lay them close together but not twist or bind them. They won’t crack if you take your time to do it right.” Naofa raised an eyebrow and tilted her chin up in the way she always did when he was trying her resolve. The impatient child saw an angry ocean swell in her gray eyes whenever she was agitated, and thus he never liked to agitate her. Naofa had to control what she revealed to her son, with so much for his young mind to grasp. Uncertainty and doubt often invaded her thoughts; and time was robbing him of the carefree life she would have envisioned for them both. There was no way to know when he would begin to ask questions, meet other humans-families-but not like them, and certainly not like the first family of their world, once so perfect and happy… Agean knew nothing of Forfeichta; and the Sorceress thought him spared to not know such loss as they had suffered.
It had been she who presided over the Circle of Light that helped to ease the pain of the first Mother of Domhan when she bore a son, not once, but on two occasions. How sharp the contrast had been as she found herself suddenly carrying and delivering her own miracle child but born into such a different and desolate world. She carried her secret utterly alone, retreating into the sea caves to bear the burden without aid or comfort from the same friends she had so recently stood beside in battle. How could she have called upon them, how could she have faced them without answers, without explanation, without…honor? Here now was her own precious treasure, who from the moment he slipped from within her body, clung tightly to her and suckled at her breast with such vigor that all pain and loneliness melted into a mother’s love. How quickly he had grown and learned to imitate her manner, so eager to be her student; however, in recent times the young child seemed ever eager to be out of her sight. Naofa well understood his desire to explore the beaches, the hills and caves that surrounded them, running free from her watchful gaze. He had come by his independence honestly; and how quickly she learned that the hardest part of being his mother was denying him the things which he desired the most. She could not deny his cleverness. In just six revolutions of the star legend across the sky he had learned to count, to make drawings of the plants and animals that he saw, and to brew simple teas just the way his mother instructed. Naofa thought how proud Eagna would have been of him and how happy for her friend’s blessing. She wondered about Saol and her father and how they were faring without…
“Please, Na, I want to collect seaweed for the meal before the sun bakes it into the sand!” Jostled from her bittersweet reverie, Naofa turned her attention back to the clever child who plotted an early release from his task.
Gazing through the open window as he worked quickly, Agean imagined himself expertly scaling the steep, grassy hillside to the crest where he would stand victorious over a rich green valley filled with magical treasures. Or maybe he would venture into the dense woods that lined the hilltop as far as the eye could see in the other direction. Both tempting adventures were strictly forbidden; but the child felt his will was strong enough to convince his mother to relent on this day. It would be the very day he showed Na how brave, how strong, how smart he was. If he had truly been as wise as he imagined, he would have realized the Sorceress would never be influenced by a deception, albeit she was duly amused by his cunning. Sadly, that trait would serve him well in certain situations that she would not allow herself to acknowledge yet.
“The sooner you finish binding those herbs, the sooner you will be out in the fresh air with the sand beneath your impatient feet.” Naofa saw the longing in his eyes and smiled, giving him a quick wink in spite of the noncommital answer she gave. That meant she wasn’t agitated. His heart beat happily and his fingers worked faster than ever-but carefully.
With their camp nearly made, the horses grazed contentedly on the green hillside of a lush, beautiful valley, Laoch allowed himself to draw in deep, long breaths of fresh, salt air. The damp breezes brushed over his parched skin, stinging it in places where there were fresh cuts. They had come so far, trudging through many barren, charred and rocky lands as they made their way to the promise of miracles, of aid and what he hoped would be salvation for his Warrior’s soul.
“We are ready to begin the search when you give the word.” Guia handed Laoch a strip of dried meat, precious last bits of their store; but the latter pushed his friend’s hand back, shaking his head. He nodded in the direction of the Huntsmen who were busily putting up poles and stretching skins across them, making fires in a circle around their camp, and gathering any edibles they could find growing along the hillside.
“Give them my measure. They will need it. We should take a well deserved rest. At sunrise we will pair off and begin the search.” Laoch held his breath, waiting for the inevitable question, the one Guia hadn’t asked yet and for which he was not even sure he had an answer. Their eyes locked and in them Guia saw the Warrior’s unspoken request-
‘Not now. I am too weary.’ The Guide for the tribe of Jinetes touched his friend’s shoulder and forced the dried sustenance into his hand.
“What good will you be to any of us if you lose your strength? Eat.” Guia’s word was final as he held his hands up, turned and went back to work with the others.
The smokey meat was chewy but tasted good to the Warrior. He savored it as he sat on the hillside watching a line of ants trudging over the terrain with loads of debris on their backs. His eyes followed the tiny line to a small mound with a hole on top and absentmindedly observed them filing down into it. He felt a sudden burning and looked down to find small bodies covering his legs, where bright red whelps began to rise. He swiped the attackers, brushing them from his burning skin. A sudden rage filled his chest and he jumped to his feet. He strode quickly to the mound, raised his leg and brought the heavy foot of destiny down upon it and kicked until their work was but dust, watching the ants scatter in confusion.
“Welcome to my world, red demons,” he hissed. In his usual way, he felt instant remorse for his temper and surveyed the tiny devastation he caused. Oddly enough the ants quickly recovered and had already started rebuilding that mound, grain by grain. Some carried the dead while others worked on. All things seemed perpetual. Was this the way Artine felt about his own actions?
“No!” he grunted angrily. Artine felt nothing, cared for nothing and deserved nothing. Laoch had convinced himself long ago that the dark God was at the heart of all things gone wrong on Domhan and vowed he would not rest until Artine was made sorry for it. He tramped down the hillside, his legs on fire, and ignored the small voice of doubt that questioned whether such a thing were even possible.
“Here, Na, all finished!” Naofa turned and nearly knocked Agean over, not realizing he had come upon her so closely. Beaming, he held up the finished bundles of herbs. The pungent scent of lavender wafted into her nostrils, filling her heart with an aching joy that nearly took her breath away. It was always unexpected and always had the same effect. Composing herself, the Sorceress took the bowl from her son’s small hands, her fingers brushing across the rough surface and caressing the imprints of she who crafted it. How small the finger marks were, how like their creator. The same lump was making its way from her gut to her throat in that familiar way, but reprieve came in the form of an impatient child.
“Can I go out now? Please, Na, I’m going to miss the great white fish and the seagulls; and the best shells are just being washed up. Na…..”
Naofa put the bowl of herbs aside and placed a hand gently over Agean’s mouth as she ran her free hand through his dark curls. “If you will be silent for a moment little one, we will get you ready to go out.” Her thoughts retraced the short story of his life as she pulled him to her.
Hopeful that her being with child was a miracle from Eternity, she ignored her fears of mystical meddling; and the Sorceress would have been more certain of such a miracle had it not been for the dream…..if not for her visions and the cruel hand of Artine in their lives. She could have found solace and comfort in that bright hope. But from the moment Agean arrived, his tiny head was covered in thick, black curls and his skin turned dark as soon as he spent time in the sun. Naofa’s worst fears simmered beneath the surface of her consciousness but the possibility was too big, too unbelievable to accept; so she pushed it down again and again with her fading hope. It was only the gray blue eyes looking back at her every day that marked him as her own. Time would reveal what other parts of her were born with him.
Agean pulled away from her grasp and began gathering things for his adventure-a leather pouch for collecting treasures, his favorite stick for digging and poking, the small leather shoes that he had helped his mother to make. In mere moments he was standing in the doorway, the midday sun gleaming across the smooth stones that led to their little home. The filtered light created a halo of color around his head and the vision seemed a premonition. The room suddenly swelled and shrank at the same time and Naofa felt she was falling into an abyss. Once again, it was the child who pulled her back to herself.
“Now I’m ready, Na! I promise to be safe and come back before the sun falls into the sea.” The child ran over to give his mother a quick hug, but she grabbed him by the shoulder before he could dash away. She took a meager selection of fruits from the window and lay them on a piece of cloth, adding a handful of nuts from a bowl on the table. She wrapped them gently and tied the bundle with vine. Naofa grabbed a flask from the wall and filled it from the bucket of fresh water, plugging the opening with a perfectly carved bit of driftwood. She slung the pouch over his shoulder and secured it in place, then handed him the snack.
“Now you are ready.” He grinned up at the towering form of Love above him and squeezed her legs. In the next instant he was beyond the door and out of sight.
“Before the sun falls…,” she called after the shadow child.
Agean was content for a time to run along the shore where he collected prime seaweed for his mother’s fish stew and then on to his favorite pastime… searching for treasures-those things he alone coveted. The tiny curled shells that he strung on vines and gave to Na hung in every corner of their tiny home. The sand crawlers with their shell homes on their backs delighted the child; and he giggled as he scrambled along behind them, kicking up the sand as he went and squealing with delight when they narrowly escaped his clutches, disappearing into their hidey holes. Now and then he came across the grand treasure, that spiny pink wonder, almost as large as his head; and when he held it close to his face, Agean could hear the ocean waves rolling from within its smooth interior. He had often asked Na what miracle this was that a shell could hold the whole of the sea within. She always put her hand on his head, smiled and stared into the distance before giving her answer, and it was always the same.
“The shell does not hold the sea in its walls, my son. It holds her within its heart. For all of its life it has listened to her song, felt her caress and known her beauty. What you hear is the shell’s sweet memory, and she shares it with you so that you can understand the wonders of her Mistress. Close your eyes as you listen and you will understand her enormity.”
Despite his best efforts and highest hopes, the child found no such treasure on this day. He stopped, stuffed a few grainy shells inside his pouch and looked at the sun above, now nearly straight over his head. Feeling the pull of its limits on his adventure he turned his eyes to the rocky Cliffs that led to a different adventure. Emerald colored grass began where they ended, like a cooling beacon they called to his soul. Higher up he tried to count the trees that dotted the horizon but there were too many. How he longed to wander those mysterious woods, but his Mother’s warnings always kept him firmly attached to the shore.
“If you stay near the ocean and in the light of day, no harm will find you. There is no telling what lurks in the shadows of those woods now that our world has been touched by a darkness that refuses to share existence with the Light of Eternity.” Agean was not sure what she meant exactly, but her reverence and serious tone had kept him from disobeying…until now.
Silently he slipped up beside their home and dropped his collection of seaweed into the wooden bucket next to the door, then Agean tiptoed beyond range of the window that faced the shoreline, his heart racing with fear and excitement. As soon as he rounded the bend that obscured his mother’s view, the small child began his climb.
Scaling the shore rocks was easy. He had done it many times, imagining that when he reached the soft, green grasses he would continue upward. This time there was no pretense. He was going to the top; but he didn’t anticipate the slippery slope of his choice, both physically and mentally, until his small hands and feet groped for a solid hold on the green rock that kept him from the beginning of his victory run. Every time he reached for a solid grip, the green moss betrayed him, causing him to slip and suffer scratches to his arms and legs. Again and again he tried, even once falling back to the rocky crop below him, new terror threatening his resolve. Still, he took a few deep breaths, wiggled his fingers and toes and looked up into the bright light that now stared back at him from its prime position. He would not be stopped when he was so close. With new determination he found cracks in the rocky slope that somehow seemed to have opened up while he rested; and with a strength beyond his young age he advanced upward with lightening speed until his hands grasped the cool, gloriously strange feeling tufts of grass he had coveted from below. With a final grunt and push with his feet, Agean flung himself up and over the edge of the cliff and rolled in the blanket of green happiness. He pressed his cheeks into the prickly comfort of freedom to stifle his giggles, still uncertain how far from his mother’s keen ears he might be.
Agean finally stopped rolling and lay on his back, watching the fluff of white clouds floating overhead. He loved to do this on the beach too. His Na taught him to find the images of things in his world there. He saw fishes, shells, seaweed and all manner of creature. As he watched the clouds, they rolled, forming into a creature he had never before. It had four legs and big ears and seemed to sprint across the blue background so easily. Suddenly, a flash of lightening cracked across the blue, its light piercing the image as those its eyes were on fire! Agean gasped and sat up, rubbing his eyes. When he dared to look up again, the creature was dissolving onto the gray landscape of the sky. Rain was coming. Agean jumped up and began to climb the hill, fearful that his dream would be drowned by an afternoon shower. But he kept the vision of the creature in his mind for it seemed so quick and strong. Na spoke of such a creature although she was not eager to have Agean be near one. To the child it had become just another of her tales of dread to keep him out of the woods, for that is where they lived-and their hunger was strong.
The climb seemed short with such enthusiasm racing through his veins; and Agean quickly found himself standing on the summit of his once small world. For a moment he looked out across the vast sea, its arms reaching out to him, whispering his name. The salty air whipped through his dark hair and stung the new scratches on his skin. He winced, then knelt to pull some aromatic wildflowers from the ground to lay across the wounds, confident that Na would help him to clean them when he returned home.
He turned to look down into the valley before venturing into his cherished woods. The sight that met his eyes caused him to drop to his knees in awe-there were other humans there! He quickly counted at least fifteen before giving up. They moved around too much. Agean let his hand fall from his mouth where he had unconsciously slapped it to stifle a cry. All these humans were males like himself. There was none who looked like Na. Was this why she kept them from him? Did she know they were here? They all had dark hair just like him and yet they were different. Their skin was so dark and their clothing seemed strange. What did they have smeared on their faces? It was so hard to see and he just needed to get closer.
Stealthily, the child took a few tentative steps down the hillside that was farthest from the Warriors of Jinetes, being careful not to slip, all the while scanning faces and trying to absorb what he was seeing. There were glorious four legged animals with them-so tall and beautiful! As he watched, several of the males climbed onto the backs of the animals and rode them into the woods on the other side of the valley. Rode them! Agean didn’t know what he would say to these humans once he reached them. He only knew he had to be there with them. Then his eyes became focused on one particular male in the group. He was more muscular than the others, his hair dark and the set of his jaw rigid. His broad shoulders seemed like boulders and he wore a cord around his neck. Even from such a distance Agean saw there were two stones hanging from the cord, one white and one dark. He knew who this male was! His mother spoke to him of the Light Ones that had been her companions so long ago, who stood beside her during the Devastation and that she hoped were well in the dark days that followed. She spoke so lovingly of them all, especially of those who had made the great journey. When she spoke of the Warrior, her eyes glazed over and her voice was hushed, reverent. This must be him-Laoch!! Agean had to meet him, had to touch him, had to bring him home to his Na. Perhaps then her melancholy would disappear forever.
The child began making his way down the slope, his heart pounding faster, his mind envisioning the speed of the creature in the sky; and he broke into a trot. He gained speed as he descended, feeling the power surge within him like a fire, felt the earth and grass being thrown up beneath his feet. He wanted to wave but his arms felt frozen. He opened his mouth to shout out in greeting but his voice froze in his throat. Instead he heard a howling, as though it were right in his head. The Warrior and his companions looked up to see him running down the hillside and into their camp. They pointed toward Agean excitedly, but the terror in their faces was the last thing he expected to see.
Laoch heard it first. The howl of the young wolf as it bounded down the hillside was fierce, crazed and unbridled, although still immature. He quickly scanned the horizon of the cliff for its family. The Warrior knew no young one would be left alone to hunt during the day like this.
“Wolf cub! The elders will be behind it soon!” shouted one of the others, as they drew their arrows and swiftly loaded their bows. Laoch saw something flapping out behind the wolf cub as it approached and he sensed this was no ordinary cub. His heart skipped several beats in anticipation as everything around him seemed to slow down. He heard the muffled words of the others as though from far away. His mind retraced the steps of a white tiger with willowy legs and gray eyes…..
“Draw on it before it reaches us! We can deal with the elders after the sun sets.” He saw them take aim; but even as his heart spoke to him of truth, even as his lips tried to form the words ‘Stop!’, and even as he raised his arms in protest, Laoch saw several arrows fly over the meadow toward the charging cub. He watched in amazed horror as a single arrow pierced its side. The animal was now close enough for the Warrior to see into its eyes-its very blue eyes, eyes filled with fear and disappointment. The cub rolled the rest of the way into the valley near one of the fires and writhed in pain, its fierce howl fading to a whimper. Half a dozen warriors, including Laoch, ran to its side.
“Don’t touch it! Who let loose that arrow?! Did you not see it is a mere cub?”
“Where there is a cub there will be a family,” stated Guaia, matter-of-factly. “We need to eat, not be eaten.”
“By Mor, what is happening?!” exclaimed the warrior standing nearest the cub.
Laoch hurried to where he stood beside the limp form in the grass. Amazed tinged terror gripped him to see there was no wolf cub there at all, but merely a small child. He was bleeding profusely from his side where a well aimed arrow was deeply embedded. Laoch rushed to the child and knelt beside him, fear of the worst consuming his thoughts. With a lump in his throat, the Warrior gently lifted the child’s head and leaned over his face. He seemed so small in Laoch’s arms, his breaths coming in short gasps and whimpers. Agean looked up at the Warrior with admiration and whispered, “Na told me….” before passing out completely.
The Warrior pulled his tie from the tunic he wore and quickly bound the wound around the arrow before lifting the child gently and began the climb uphill, calling back over his shoulder, “Do not follow me now. I know where this child belongs and we may be closer to our destination than we knew. But this does nothing to help our quest!” As he climbed, Laoch noticed the fragments of plant fiber clinging to the child’s skin over his fresh cuts. This only served to confirm his suspicions. So many questions raced through his mind as he climbed the formidable hill to the answers. He began praying as he climbed, to a force he feared had abandoned them all. Agean blinked when the salty wet tears hit his eyelids, but he was too weak to open his eyes or to hear the prayer of the Warrior as they climbed together.
“Mor, do not forsake this child or the female who bore him. For in her lies our truest hope of finding your daughter, the Mother of Domhan. He is surely most precious to her….and to me.” Laoch had so many questions, but in those moments his mind knew only that the child must be saved.
to be continued……
copyright words and images
Cheryl K P. 2018