Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
A Warrior’s Welcome
As Naofa, Rith and Carraig prepared to leave Eagna to make their way into the rocky land of caves, so Eolas and Laoch were readying themselves to venture into the neighboring village. After bundling together gifts of herbs, roots, and baked grain flats, they were prepared to meet the males of Jinetes. It seemed the females of Espera were all too eager to help them pack and could not be rid of them quickly enough, for they had their own preparations to tend to for the coming ceremony. Already floral circlets could be seen hanging above doorways; and the heady scent of exotic herbs bubbling on the fires was making Laoch dizzy. He would be glad to be away from this for awhile. His own thoughts had become rather muddy since he met Ella, finding himself suddenly drawn into the heart of her tribe.
La Palabra did not see the males off on their trek; but Ella happily volunteered to escort them to the edge of the forest where she pointed out the trail, its path well worn by the travel of busy feet between the two villages. Ella told them that the Spirit Mother was meditating in preparation for her role in the night’s ceremony. But nothing would have kept the beautiful female from being with them until the very last moment before they left the village, so strong was her attraction to Laoch. Willowy, dark, and soft spoken, she was a prime catch among the females who waited to be paired with a life partner. It did not escape Laoch’s attention that on this morning she had tied her long black hair to the side, tucking in a large, white flower. It’s fragrance was intoxicating; and with every step she took beside him the scent wafted into his nostrils until he thought he might go mad from it. His salvation lay in the short walk to the start of the trail for it was there that they parted ways.
Eolas thanked Ella for the warm reception her tribe had offered and for accompanying them as far as she did. He held her hand and earnestly promised to fulfill their role in the prophecy as well as they understood it. Laoch couldn’t find the words to speak while they were in the presence of Eolas, for he felt such a contradiction in his soul. One part of him longed to dash off into the woods, to take his mark on the nearest wild creature and drop it, clinging to his sense of self. Still, the part deep within wanted to drown in the scent of the female who kept pace so closely with him, losing all thought to that glorious poison. Instead, he gently took the bundles she carried for them and added them to his load. He gave her a quick smile but turned away as soon as their eyes met.
Eolas shook his head in wonder and amusement as they headed off on the trail, disappearing behind the rising brush that led into the deep woods separating the villages of the Ready and the Willing.
Ella turned back towards Espera, her heart pounding like a drum, trying to tame a longing that rose from deep within her body. Was it connected to Laoch? How could this be? This Warrior was not of the tribe of Jinetes. What would La Palabra say? As she made her way through the underbrush, she absentmindedly twirled the ends of her hair around her finger, humming softly to herself.
Back in the village, she joined in the preparations along with the others, listening only half-heartedly to their incessant chatter about the ceremony.
As La Palabra’s helper, Ella was in charge of gathering herbs as part of her regular routine. Now it would be her place to keep the pots full of what would be needed during ceremony for their drink, for filling the smudging pots and the special blend for the smoking pipe. It was a process she knew well and her Mother trusted her fully. When all bowls, pouches and boxes were full, Ella made her way to the dwelling where La Palabra had been in seclusion since they parted the night before. When she neared the ornate door, she could smell the strong aroma of sage and lemongrass seeping beneath it and filtering through the cracks in the walls and floors. She heard the hoarse voice of her Mother drifting through the window in low tones as she offered prayers of blessing for their ceremony. Her voice was the call of presence to the Eternal Ones.
Eolas and Loach made their way through the dense brush that bordered the deep woods without speaking to one another. They welcomed this silence for awhile. Why do these females seem to talk so much? Laoch wondered. They were a mystery, he decided; and he felt ill equipped to solve it. The Warrior did not yet comprehend the depth of his newly awakened connection to the Huntress of Espera and what that would mean for his future.
Eolas was thinking of only one female and he would gladly listen to her without end once they were reunited. He smiled to himself as he thought of her hair, her graceful movement, and of their child forming within her strong body. He had to shake his head to clear the thought; for it was too precious to be on the fringe of his mind. Soon he would be with Eagna once more.
Laoch grabbed Eolas by the arm, loosing him from the call of home and hearth. They stopped dead in their tracks. Eolas nodded as the Warrior put his free hand to his ear. What had he heard that the Hunter was too engrossed to be aware of? Neither moved a muscle, and within a few seconds they heard the sound again. Could it be voices? If so, they were muffled and they couldn’t be certain. Yet. Eolas withdrew his stone dagger and pointed it toward the direction of the sound.
Laoch shifted his bundles so that his right arm cradled his quiver of arrows while his bow was secured on the opposite side. They continued on, slashing through the woods, squinting as their surroundings become darker and denserwith each few steps. The trees began to tower above them so high that they nearly blocked the sunlight splintering through in opportunistic shards just bright enough to light the path. The voices drifted over their heads again and Eolas motioned to his friend to change their direction. Within moments they stumbled into the open, finding themselves on a new path, wide and strewn with grasses. It was well worn and looked to have been heavily traveled. They squatted in the soft dirt where there appeared to be fresh tracks. The rains came often enough in this place for the ground to take a print but not so muddy as to be washed away. These tracks were not like anything either of them had seen before. They appeared in pairs but the distance between each pair indicated the animal must be quite large. Eolas intimated this by spreading his hands wide and giving his most impressed expression. The prints were deeper than those of the deer or wild boar, again a sign of its great girth.
Or perhaps it carried a heavy load, thought Eolas. He suddenly remembered the scrolls. Were these the same animals depicted in the drawings?
(M’na could have answered the questions in his mind for she knew every creature that moved through her world. And this was one of her very favorites. So wild, yet so gentle. They defined beauty in natural life to her. And their thought so pure…)
Laoch sniffed the air and screwed up his brow. He didn’t recognize this scent. It was more pungent than most animal excrement they knew. They continued on the path, for clearly someone intended for them to follow it, moving forward in the direction of the voices. Laoch peered through the dust laden half light for any sign of movement ahead or around them. Everything was still but for the teasing breeze shivering through the branches. This time it was Eolas who grabbed his friend by the arm, just in time to avert an unpleasant disaster. The Warrior had one foot hovering above a large, steaming dung pile from whatever animal had gone before them. Both of them made a face and mock whistle for the averted unpleasntness. Skirting the pile they made their way onward as the trail began to look like an endless succession of holes and dung heaps. This meant there were more than one of these animals forging the path before them. The going was easier once they realized they were being led into the land of Jinetes. After awhile Eolas broke the long silence to speak earnestly to his friend.
“She is very lovely and has obviously felt the spark of attraction within herself. There would be nothing of harm in your fanning the flame if you feel a similar urge.” Laoch bristled, thinking he was so easily read by his friend. If Eolas could sense his interest, what about Ella? What about Mother Palabra? And what about Naofa?
What, indeed, about Naofa and why did she cloud his thoughts so much of late? Loach knew he could trust his friend so he shared what burdened his soul, “Ella is truly a beautiful female, very strong and worthy. But the prophecy dictates that the tribes are to mingle. I am from the outside.” He bent down and picked up a loose rock, tossing it into the underbrush, sending an indignant lizard scurrying up the nearest tree. He didn’t mention the Sorceress. That was too much for him to allow into his conscious thought.
Somewhere in his friend’s declaration, Eolas sensed an underlying tone of sorrow. It wasn’t only his connection to Ella which this gentle warrior questioned. It was his connection to the entire Light of Domhan.
Eolas stopped, placed his hand on Laoch’s shoulder and looked into his deeply troubled face. “That which is drawn into the Light becomes one with it. Just as that which begins in Light may be darkened without diligence to the nurturing of Spirit. We are all from One Source. For what its worth, I think you and the female would make a fine match.” Laoch felt the sincerity in his friend’s voice and saw the honesty in his smile, allowing these gifts to lift his fragile Ego. The Warrior trusted Eolas to always speak the truth. As they resumed their walk more light fell upon the path as the trees began to thin out ahead. Distinct male voices drifted down the path-followed by other sounds.
There was a heavy breathing and snorting sound coming from up ahead. Whatever was making the noise, there were more than one. They stepped up their pace, curiosity winning out over caution.
Ready to meet the new mysteries, they stepped beyond the line of trees into blinding sunlight. Shielding their eyes they fought to recover; but what their eyes could not perceive of Jinetes, their ears more than made up for. A few steps brought them into a small clearing where a great cheer went up in tones so loud that the ground quaked beneath their feet. It was a primal sound that reached a place deep within the souls of these males. It felt as return to home for Laoch. The ground began to tremble and there was a thundering all around them. As their eyeight beagn returning, they were awed by the images coming in to view. Turning full circle they realized they were completely surrounded. There, forming a tight ring around them, stood as many males as there were females in Espera, with skins as dark as the earth they stood upon and smiles on every face. The faces, painted with thick, white lines, seemed miraculous to Loach; and every male had a spear which he thrust skyward. The cheering continued in a deafening roar as the Hunter and Warrior adapted to the new stimulus.
When their vision cleared, Eolas and Laoch were finally able to see the source of the thunder that shook the ground beneath them. More than half the males sat upon broad, long legged animals-the very ones from the scrolls. Neither had seen any creature quite so magnificent.
The riders shouted and raised their spears to the sky, their animals reared up on their back legs, snorting and huffing as if showing their own tribute. Eolas couldn’t breathe for a moment, so awed by the sight that his voice caught in his throat, rendering him speechless.
Not so for Laoch. Somehow he felt he had come home. He dropped his bundles, grabbed his bow and, raising it high above his head, he began to whoop with his new friends, this tribe of Jinetes-Horsemen.
Over the tree tops of the woods, in the hopeful village of Espera, the females heard the shouts and felt the surging excitement in those cries. Once more the whispers began and laughter was their song as they continued preparations for the ceremony. Overhead the great Vulture glided on the upward breezes, observing and waiting..
to be continued…..
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas or feelings…