Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright all content 2016
The child was completely lost in that moment, the magnitude of being without anyone he loved or counted on washing over his body. He shook as cold rain pelted his dirty skin and fell onto the ground, turning every footprint in the soft dirt into a drowning memory. Amhain looked around the clearing, searching for something familiar, hoping for a miracle. He had heard his Mother’s voice mere moments before, hadn’t he? But where was she now? She had never made it back to him. His tiny heart skipped several beats as he considered making his way back into the forest to find the Secret garden and look for M’na. But she had sworn him to stay with Fireann. He looked at the lifeless mound that was his father; and as the rain washed the dirt and ash from his body, Amhain saw those features that he had grown to love and depend on. How could he ever have thought he could be as brave or strong or wise as this father?
Amhain’s heart was reeling from so many new emotions, his mind absorbed in thought, when a sound from behind, near the forest’s edge, drew his attention from the misery threatening to engulf him. Still he remembered his warrior ways as Laoch had taught; and he turned slowly, barely moving his legs, although true terror gripped the child’s soul. The idea of a new threat loomed largely in his mind, but there was no growl, no dark whisper. What he heard was more of a snort, followed by heavy breathing; and when he heard the soft whinny that soon followed, he whirled around in the direction of the sound, certain he had heard it before. What he saw in the clearing in that instant would forever define the night of devastation in his mind as no other memory could. There in the midst of the blackest moment of his life, surrounded by falling ash and what remained of the singed forest, was the most magnificent animal he had ever seen. As the reality of pain and suffering unceremoniously invaded his young soul, Amhain stared through sheets of blinding rain at a pure white Horse, taller and wider than any that came from the land of Jinetes.
He gasped involuntarily, his small legs frozen to the spot where he stood. The horse was so beautiful, looking at him and easing his sense of loneliness instantly, that it stirred something deep within Amhain. He wept without shame, although he did not know where tears of sorrow ended and those of joy began. The child could think of nothing but that he longed to touch it; but if he approached, he feared it would run away, leaving him all alone once more. Where had it come from? The horse was much grander than the brown and gray one that Laoch and Ella rode into the Garden on that glorious morning which seemed so long ago. Even their own horses, gifts from their wonderful new friends in the land of Jinetes, were all black or brown with white spots, and none so fine as the animal that stood before him, pawing at the muddy ground with its hoof.
Amhain was suddenly aware of the silence surrounding him save the pouring rain and realized that no other creature, great or small, stirred within the blackened, charred landscape of his Mother’s world that he could see.
“Has every living thing been killed by the flying beast?” The question fell from his mouth before he thought of the absurdity of speaking to nothing that could comprehend his voice. And what had become of their own horses? Amhain, now desperate for a companion, choked back his fear and stepped toward the animal slowly, a single step at a time. His mind raced ahead and was flinging itself upon the horse’s back; but his body remained true to the way of stalking. Each step brought him closer, but soon the child realized the horse was no longer looking at him. In fact, it seemed oblivious to his existence when Amhain stepped right up beside it.
To his astonishment he realized the horse was licking the blood from his father’s face, nudging his body now as then, as it tried to clean the bruised and battered skin. The horse never noticed Amhain standing next to it, never flinched as his small hand stroked its soft, white hair. The rain slowed to a soft drizzle as he wrapped his fists around handfuls of its mane and buried his face in it, weeping bitterly onto the skin of the warm animal, and still it did not move. But when Amhain wedged his foot firmly against the animal’s flank, pulling himself up and jumping on its back, the horse tossed its head back in full awareness of the child’s presence. It reared up on its hind legs,shook its head and whinnied loudly, dropping Amhain from its slippery hide down into the sooty muck where he landed with a squishy thud. Amhain groaned in pain and shouted, angrily shamed by his failure. The sky thundered overhead with deafening voice, and the light cracked across its face as the Eternal Realm began began shedding torrents of tears again, its sorrow for Domhan reaching every smoking corner of Inion’s world.
Exhausted and afraid, Amhain turned in frustration from the animal, pulled his knees to his chest tightly, and would have sat in that mud hole of anger and self pity until the rain washed him away; for his hope was dying along with his Mother’s world. The horse snorted, shook its head, and took a few steps toward him. Lowering its head, it leaned in and nudged him gently from behind. Amhain pushed back against the animal’s nose, so the horse nudged him again. When the child refused to budge, the horse nipped him on the back of the neck, lightly but firmly.
Amhain longed to ignore the beast, angry that it had bested him; but the rain was falling so hard it was stinging his skin now. He gulped down his pride, pulled himself out of the mud and got to his feet with new determination to try once more-just once-to stay on the horse’s back. He grabbed handfuls of its wet mane and wrapped the strands around his wrists, then stood on tiptoe and leaned into its body where he could whisper into the beast’s ear. The animal seemed to respond to his words and was still. Amhain could smell the sweetness of its sweat, a smell he would never forget and that would always warm his heart. With a firm grasp he braced his foot on the animal’s side and leapt up and onto its back again, with his heart pounding, his eyes shut tightly, and his pride fully prepared to be thrown into the mud again; but the horse merely shuffled a few nervous steps back and forth as Amhain held onto its mane and leaned forward clutching its wide neck. He whispered fervently into the animal’s ear.
“Please be my friend, for I have no other. Do not leave me alone in this place. Pleeease.” His arms were so tiny next to the muscular neck of the white horse as he held on desperately.
“I don’t know what to do,” he sobbed. “They are all gone. Dead. I don’t know where to go.” He did not bother feeling ashamed, for there was none to notice. Not a soul.
(‘You are never alone, my child,’ whispered the voice of Mor. But alas, the noise in his mind was louder than that of Great Spirit in those moments.)
They sat there in the pouring rain for awhile, the child and horse; then the horse abruptly turned and galloped into the dark unknown with Amhain still clinging to its neck, his young mind never questioning or caring where they were headed. The nightmare scene faded from view, but it would be burned into Amhain’s mind and heart for all of his life. He could never erase the memory of seeing his Father’s body being washed clean by the tears of the Realm after all that he knew of their world had been reduced to ash and blood. Although it was pitch black, the moon still shone through the rain; and when he peered into the shadows of the land, there was nothing but smoke and steam rising up against the blinding rain as it extinguished the fires across Domhan. He wondered why his Mother and Father had waited so long to show him more of his world.
Amhain wiped his eyes, rubbed the snot from his nose, and beat his heels against the horse’s body angrily, causing the animal to break into a full run. No longer a child, he let his voice rise to the skies and turned his face upward. He opened his soul to the Creators, allowing the torrential rain to sting his face, washing away the tears, the blood and the smell of death as they flew across the fields, valleys and meadows. Eventually they both tired and found refuge in what remained of a woods; but neither knew where they were as they huddled together beneath a few spared trees and wearily closed their eyes to the devastation.
to be continued…..