Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
copyright words and images
Cheryl KP 2015
While the mysteries of the Jinetes are revealing themselves to the Hunter Eolas, the small group of awkward travelers is nearing the cave dwelling village home of Rith and Carraig. Join the Sorceress as she makes her way into the land of caves and the magic it holds for her there….
“There!” cried Carraig, jumping to attention, straightening his slumped shoulders, and showing the first signs of real life within himself since they had begun the last part of their journey. The food supplies gone, he was more than eager to return to his homeland and his beloved companion, as well as the meal he was certain would be waiting for him-all of them-there. Naofa was able to make out some small figures up ahead, tiny specks atop a grassy hillside. At first glance the figures appeared to be merely gliding across the ground, so small were they and so tall the grasses. Naofa was once again walking in her female human form, having made the change when last they stopped for a cool drink. She was careful to disappear from the line of sight of her traveling companions before shedding her soft white fur. Now she towered over their short forms as they plodded onward.
The golden tiger departed when Naofa made her change, returning to its own family until it would be needed again. Naofa picked a few of its golden hairs from her tunic and gave a quiet thanks to Spirit for their safe journey thus far. A soft cooing overhead drew her attention and she peered up to see a couple of white doves that were nesting there. A smile crept across her face to think of the gifts that were so abundant in their world. The sound of sudden shouting pulled her from her peaceful thoughts. The small specks had taken the form of humans who were fast approaching the meadow beneath the hills.
Rith walked faster while Carraig broke into a full out sideways trot, soon leaving his friend and the Sorceress behind. He looked thoroughly comical as he waved both arms and ran at the same time. Naofa hadn’t believed he was capable of this much excitement-or speed.
“Othar! Othar! We are returned! And we have the Sorc…I mean, one of the Light Ones with us!” He shot an apologetic glance back over his shoulder, having caught his error. They were within earshot of the others who had been approaching with similar zeal; and although Naofa heard lots of excited chatter, she couldn’t make out a single word they were saying. There was a lot of pointing and scurrying about while a few of the males made their way across the open field that was the only thing which remained between them. Behind the onlookers lay only rolling hills with no sign of living. Was this their homeland? Naofa didn’t think it looked very inhabitable and wondered how so many of them could exist together in such a place. The first greeters quickly reached the little band, breathless and smiling. Naofa was not certain what she expected, but what she experienced was instant comfort and delight to be in the company of these new humans. Certainly, she thought, Carraig could not be a typical representative of his tribe. Without inhibition Rith and Carraig enthusiastically embraced the others warmly, their affection and camaraderie plainly obvious.
“Brothers!” exclaimed Rith. “How good it is to see you. Here here now. There is someone we would like you to meet.” He turned to Carraig, anticipating the usual interruption of the conversation; but his traveling companion had darted across the field to throw himself into the embrace of a female making her way down the hillside with the others. She couldn’t be certain; but Naofa thought she saw him bury his face in her bosom, shaking. “What an odd mix of emotions,” she thought; but it lifted her soul to see this soft side of her new acquaintance. She smiled warmly at the males who came to welcome them, extending her hand in friendship. The first to gently take her hand was about the same height as Rith although perhaps not as robust. All of them had pale blue eyes and fair skin, and their hair varied from dark to light brown. She gazed at the male who held her hand, trying to look into his very pale, blue eyes, noting they seemed pale as her opal stone, but he kept his gaze directed at a place just above her shoulder. He seemed unwilling to meet her gaze directly.
“You are the Sorceress, Naofa!,” he interrupted. “I would know you anywhere.” She flushed as he squeezed her hand, bowed his head and pressed a soft kiss into her hot skin. She wanted to grab it away and tell him not to do it ever again, but something stopped her. She did not want to insult these new friends in any way. And she wondered why he was so certain of her identity when they had certainly never met before and he hadn’t even looked directly at her face. Still, it felt good to be treated so kindly.
Lifting his face from her hand, he continued, his voice distant and solemn, “Your coming was prophesied on our Sacred Walls in the room of Knowledge. My name is Fhaireoir. I am The Watcher. Fhair is how I am called by my companions. I track the unfolding of our lives within the Great Room of Knowledge.” Naofa’s senses tingled, her mind fully at attention, this being the main reason for her visit. She had to make sense of so many visions and dreams revealing themselves of late and to understand the connections that were implied among the tribes. Her greatest hope, however, was to discover some sign that her visions were merely the imaginings of a fearful mind. Reclaiming her hand from the blue eyed Watcher, she felt comfortable enough to question him, revealing her desire. “Your Sacred Room is one of the reasons I am here. When can we visit it...together?” she asked, forgetting to return the niceties of introduction. This did not seem to phase the male who eagerly nodded his assent.
“Of course. I will bring you to the Room of Knowledge when the sun rises again. Now it is drawing too near to its setting, and the skies will open up soon.” He pointed to the sky in the distance from where they had come. Sure enough, blue had faded to gray and it was scattered with angry clouds. “We should hurry back to the cover of our caves. The females have prepared a special meal for you and our returning friends.” He gestured toward the hills and turned to lead the way, quickly catching up to Carraig and his mate, glowing in their happy reunion. They all fell in step as they made their way to the grassy slope of the hillside.
With a quick nod of his head to the other male, Fhair continued. “And this friend is Gaire. He seems never to sour. His laughter can be heard throughout the village, and he is always quick with a word to lighten our load. Laughter always eases the work that must be done. When he spins a story, even such as Carraig there cannot hold onto a grudge.” He chuckled and glanced at Carraig who was not even listening to this exchange, so enthralled by his female companion he could see nothing but her. She trotted along beside him, smoothing his hair, picking prickly pods from his tunic and fussing over him in general. Gaire shoved a pudgy hand in Naofa’s direction, and she grasped it warmly.
“Pleased to meet you, Ma’am. Never mind Carraig.” He nodded to the pair, their heads together, speaking in low whispers. “The only thing greater than the hole in his stomach is the chain around his heart.” He winked at Naofa. “It’s lucky for the hungry fellow that his tender spot happens to be the best cook in the village.” Gaire tossed his head back and laughed, the sound of it filling the air-and the Sorceress’s heart-with music.
‘Perhaps there will be more of interest in this place than just the interpretation of the prophecy’, she thought. It would be good to have a bit of distraction from the things that troubled the Sorceress’s heart.
When they reached the foot of the hills, Naofa saw natural stone steps rising up through the tall grass. With little humans both leading and following behind, she ascended the hill, step by step, and appreciated the cool breeze that caressed her warm face as she mounted the last one to stand upon the crest. Once steady, she looked out over the land and gasped, thrilled by the sight. From where she stood she could see endlessly in all directions. On the far horizon she caught the glint of her beloved ocean, just a shadow that might otherwise have appeared to be a low hanging cloud. But she knew what it was. Her waters always called to her. The Sorceress remained perfectly still as she allowed the damp air to caress her hair and renew her energy. She closed her eyes and began slowly breathing in and out, a moment’s meditation before entering this strange, new land. The eager villagers looked on in awed silence.
No one moved a muscle when she stepped into their village. Every soul was speechless, awaiting her first words. Naofa looked around at all the faces in astonished wonder. There were so many of them! Having known only a small band of souls such as their own, she had not been accustomed to so much human energy. It was both exhilarating and draining at once. Each face conveyed a different expression, and the auras fairly danced around their bodies. For a moment the Sorceress was blinded, yet aware of their obvious anticipation for what she had to say, Naofa regained her senses and organized her thoughts quickly. Unwilling for them to view her as something greater than themselves, she gestured Rith forward, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Rith, would you please offer me an introduction to your village folk? I cannot promise to remember each and every name in this moment; but I will commit your faces and words to my heart forever.” As she smiled and gestured across the crowd, the spell of silence was broken, and each soul slowly approached the Sorceress, the wonder of the Light Ones, to be met and blessed by The Promise they had grown to count on. In turn, each was received warmly by Naofa who thought every member of this tribe was lovely, humble and sincere. She also noticed that the females seemed slightly taller than their male counterparts, and their skin had less of a pale color to it. Not tanned like Eolas or Laoch, but rather sun-kissed. She learned that the females did not enter into the mines below but instead stayed near the surface of the caves, tending to their homes, gathering supplies, and foraging for food while their companions worked dawn to dusk, unearthing stones. After collecting, they told Naofa, these stones were then moved to holds and “worked” in other caves.
A tempting aroma wafted its way to her nostrils then, awakening ignored hunger pangs that suddenly rumbled like thunder in her stomach. Noafa clutched her abdomen, slightly embarrassed by its cries; but Carraig jumped at the chance to urge the village in the direction of the meal he knew was waiting.
“Shall we see what our lovely companions have prepared for us to eat?”, he said, pushing past the others and tugging Othar who stumbled along behind. They all followed the little trail together, spreading out when it appeared to end. Where the trail ran out, there was a wall of rock to one side and a straight drop on the other. Here it became a narrow foot path that circled around the wall. With Rith and Fhair leading, they carefully skirted the face of the rock and went down more stone steps to where loomed the heart of their land. In the gentle slope of the hillside, Naofa witnessed a most delightful scene. There was a tree lined clearing interspersed with flowering bushes, brilliant with so many colors among them! They filled the air with a wonderful scent that was mingled with the aroma of simmering fresh herbs. She recognized those of lavender and sage immediately. A stone encircled fire pit was the obvious center of the clearing, but she saw no table set for eating. The fire pit was crowded with meat and fish laden poles, the air over it heavy with smoke. Directly on the fire below these poles were large stone bowls full of bubbling roots and herbs, where liquid fat was caught as it dripped from the roasting animals, filling the air with savory temptation.
She was absorbing all of this and wondering where they would eat when a new, pudgy hand tugged at her tunic. She looked down to see a beautiful female with eyes almost as gray as her own gazing up at her, a welcoming smile spread from round cheek to round cheek.. “Miss, my name is Si’ na fe’ara. I was made as Keeper of the Grasses. When I was born there was a mark on my shoulder that named me as she who would gather the gifts of the field and woods. I collect the herbs and roots for food, healing and our ceremony.”
The soft spoken female gently pulled the edge of her own tunic aside, revealing her bare shoulder for Naofa to see. Most certainly there was a mark there, red as blood, and at first glance it appeared to be a leaf lying gently on her skin. “Every morning I gather the grasses and roots for our meals and the herbs we use in our medicine oils. Some work for healing while others enrich our meditations. I think we may have many things to talk about,…yes?” She winked at Naofa who felt there was more implication than the obvious within her meaning. With no word of response, the Sorceress simply nodded an assent and smiled back at the female before turning away to explore the village. But Si’ na wasn’t done with her. Tugging at Naofa’s tunic again, she pushed at her body to turn away from the clearing and look behind her to the world within the hill. They had entered the clearing from behind the great rock, so thus far she had only seen what lay before her-the circle around the fire pit. As she turned and looked up, she saw the layers of life nestled into the hillside caves beside and above her. Seeing so many black holes staring out at her like eyes, she was reminded of the hives where she and Eagna collected the sweet, sticky goodness of those fierce little winged creatures with magic on their tongues and fire in their tails.
‘Alas, there are no bees near the ocean’, she mused to herself. Further study revealed that each cave had a set of steps leading to it, either carved within the rock face or made from woven vine which hung over the ledge before it; and they were all connected in the same manner. Within every entrance flickered a smaller version of the fire pit below, giving the overall impression of huge light flies hovering against a night sky. How supremely comforting and warm it all seemed to the Sorceress.
The small voice pulled her from her reverie again. “Only one thing’s missing from our lives, Miss,” said the master of herbs sorrowfully.
“And what is that?,” inquired Naofa distractedly, still trying to absorb all the details of the village.
“New LIFE…” Si’ na whispered. She reached over to tap the bundle that was slung across Naofa’s back. The Sorceress had nearly forgotten the piece of precious cargo she brought with her among the other tokens of friendship and ceremony she had packed. The fruit. But how did this one know?
As though reading her thoughts, Si’na answered her unspoken question. “Like I said, Miss, there is things we may have to talk about.” She smiled warmly and wandered off to ascend the steps to a lower cave that lay apart from the others. It was Aonair who answered her next unasked question.
“She doesn’t have a life companion either. We have work to do that requires our clearest perceptions. Companionship can drain the energy.” He tapped his chest and walked on. Were these strangely wonderful humans all so intuitive? The Sorceress wondered.
Carraig crept up beside Naofa sheepishly, visibly renewed as he approached her, hand in hand with his beloved companion. “Naofa,” he said as he bowed slightly, “this is my fair Othar, the greatest cook in all of our village.” Othar looked around nervously, not wanting to seem boastful before any of the other females. Still, her heart was glad that her companion thought so highly of her talents. Othar was a smallish female, light of skin just as the others, with raven black hair that trailed down the length of her back in a long braid. Her eyes were as blue as the rest, but her cheeks had a special pink blush to them that spoke volumes about her demeanor. Happy was the name of that glow, Naofa decided. Othar gave a quick bow to Naofa as the latter gave her hand in greeting.
Carraig blurted excitedly, “We would be honored if you would eat with us tonight…up in our dwelling.” He pointed a fat finger at one of the black eyes in the hillside. “Rith will be there too.” He turned, looking for affirmation from his friend. “I hope?” There was nervous questioning in his voice as he waited for a reply.
They all dipped water for washing from a large stone basin near the fire before each taking their fare share of the meal and making their way to their respective cave homes. Naofa noticed at this point that some of the folk moved to the far edge of the clearing and disappeared over the ridge. Rith must have seen the confusion in her eyes for yet again he had an answer even before she posed a question. “There are caves on the other side of the hill that rolls on down to the river. On the next sunrise we can take you to visit the lower caves if you wish.”
Nodding that of course she would like to see these caves, Naofa took her food and followed Carraig and Othar up to their home. This procession seemed a ceremony in itself, thought Naofa, as she was settling on her grass mat, preparing to give a quick thanks for the life given for her meal. Instead, Carraig and Othar motioned for her to listen and follow. Silence fell over everything until, from the lowest caves came the sound of soft music, played on whistling instruments like those she and her own friends used in ceremony. First one, then another was heard as each joined in, the music slowly drifting upward, their song of thanks spreading across the facade of caves that made up the village.