Co-Author, Marsha Steed
Darkness falls upon a distant quiet town as the mist from the river rolls in, obscuring the view of any who traverse the lonely roads. One such figure walks with head bent against the sharp, stinging winds that gust about them, causing their tattered cloak to whip behind furiously, catching on a bramble and causing the person to look back in irritation. A distant howling mingles with the voice of the wind as it pushes the mist further into town; all become invisible. Those who feel the tendrils of the encompassing mist, cower into hovels and homes.
As the figure passes an alley, a withered hand reaches out from the darkness and grabs upon the neck of the figure's cloak, pulling just enough to stop them. The figure whirls around, and the hood falls, sapphire eyes blaze forth upon the rude halting. Standing there is an old woman, her thin bony fingers raised to her lips, quieting any response from the traveler and beckons to be followed into the recesses of the alley, out of the wind and slightly clearer of mist.
Upon seeing the face before her... the stranger, follows the old woman, without another question, pulling the hood back over deep ebony hair. As they near the back of the alley, a door, hidden from normal view, opens with a soft grinding and the old woman steps through, expecting to be followed further. The strange woman does indeed follow, shrouding her eyes from any that think to look upon them.
Once inside, the sudden warmth chases out the chill in their bones. The old woman motions the traveler to sit by the fire where upon cooks a small flank of mutton. "Hungry?" she asks in a craggy voice.
"You know it is so." A voice, soft and haggard, escapes the woman's lips.
Smiling inwardly as she keeps her features expressionless, the old woman moves closer to the hearth. Taking a finely carved flint knife she cuts off a piece of meat, puts it upon a platter along side a hunk of soft, yellow cheese and small mound of bread. Hands, once soft and unused to work, now belabored with calluses, reach out to take the offering. As the platter passes between them the old woman takes hold of the traveler's right hand, staring longingly at the ring upon her little finger. The nails of the old woman, cut into the softened flesh, three thin droplets of blood, rise to the surface, the traveler keeps her eyes veiled, and awaits release.
After a brief moment of admiration, she relinquishes the hand and smiles. Her hand freed, the stranger silently devours the meal with earnest haste. Finally, when the last morsel falls from fork to tongue, she looks up, leaning back on the small plank that lends itself for a chair.
"Tell me what it is you seek." Speaks the old woman, her voice soft, yet strong and demanding.
"I would have your name first." The woman demands in return, her eyes blaze in defiance.
The old woman pours a goblet of sweet fruit juice, far from fermentation, but thirst quenching and smiles as she sets it before the woman. "Kristal." Her voice all but sings the name.
Momentarily surprised by the lilting of the name as it crosses the small space between them, the woman halts in her reply. She gazes at Kristal, wondering just who she is before clearing her throat as she replies.
"I seek what my mother before me sought, and she before her. Is it to be found?"
Looking away but a moment, Kristal ponders the question. "Not in this place, child, nor any other you would travel to." She then takes a stick and absently begins to poke at the embers.
"Then, the seeking shall take my last breath, and my every step, for I shall not rest until it is found, and safely guarded." The woman pushes the now empty plate away, reaches for and drains the new wine.
Looking at her askance, Kristal rises and moves to the back of her hole, for it is nothing more than that, and retrieves a dark green cloak, the color of pine needles.
"Give me thy cloak and take this in its stead."
Without further bidding, the woman unclasps the raggedy velvet piece, the material worn thin in the shoulders and elbows, hands it to Kristal, and takes the soft green, wrapping it around her sunken shoulders.
"This cloak will aid you in your quest, but be wary... it will only be of help when the need is most urgent and for the most good." Kristal warns cryptically. "May thy great grandmothers guide you on your quest. Listen to their voices and that of the Goddess' for only they will lead you upon the correct path. Listen to the earth, for it will bring thee peace when most you need it. Listen to the waters for they are your life’s blood and look continually to the skies for your every direction." Slowly Kristal turns back to the fire, her admonishments clearly a dismissal.
Standing, the woman walks through the door, nary a thanks on her lips, or a comment further. The door closes silently behind her, as she steps again into the misty nether lands of the path her feet must trod.
Letting out a heavy sigh as the woman leaves, Kristal’s heart falls but a little as she sees in her mind the trials that will face the little one.
"Marta," she speaks as if to the ceiling, though her eyes look beyond. "Guide thy chosen, let not her feet leave the path you have set for her." She leans against the wall, her chestnut eyes closing, her mind drifting, searching...
The woman steps out of the alley and onto the street, the fierce winds having died down to a mere breeze. Once more her journey awaits that which her ancestor's have sought. Each adding their mark upon the search and easing her way to the finding.
Contemplating what lays ahead, she leaves the town’s border and enters the surrounding woods. Her toe suddenly hits a hard round object and she curses beneath her breath. Protruding from the ground is a silver ball, or so it seems. She leans for the retrieval, fingers grasping at the mist softened earth for release. The ball does not easily lift, appearing to be attached to something beneath the earth. Now on her knee's, she digs more intently at the ground, parts giving way, others, remaining stubbornly in place. She tugs mightily on the ball, fingertips grasping under each smooth surface until the cross bar of a hilt can be felt. She pulls.
Slowly the hidden dagger rises from the confines of the earth, softly shimmering in the dim light that penetrates the mist. She shakes off the remaining bits and pieces of dirt and dust. Holding the weapon to the thin sliver of moon light that filters through the living branches above her, she sees upon the center of the hilt's cross bar a single image. A lone pine with a star behind it... the dagger is silver, from hilt to blade.
She looks around briefly, but knows that the weapon was made for her. She pulls from within her newly acquired cloak the only adornment she carries, a small burlap sack. Reaching inside, she pulls forth an etched crystal with the same image of a pine and star.
"Starpine." She whispers into the dank loneliness of the woods. "Felinia Starpine." At the soft speaking of the name, the dagger softly shimmers, a single mystical note escapes in confirmation.
Still no smile upon her lips, though no longer parched at the ministrations of the mysterious Kristal, she is far from the softness of a woman's flesh; she puts the dagger out of sight, into a sheath, that has been empty for generations. Always has it been worn by the women of Starpine. It slips into the holder, with an ease that belies the shaking of her hands. In the distance the lone wolf's howl repeats, calling... the mist begins to rise with the approaching dawn.
The woman searches for shelter, the day's light, distasteful to her scorched and wind torn clothing that lays hidden beneath the mysterious green cloak she now wears. On a gentle rise, stands the wolf who called. The purest white with eyes of unusual emerald, watching the woman intently. A small cavern, just to the left of the path, looms ahead. Its deep darkness, comforting and soothing, in its veil, beckons to her. Finding herself weary with the prospect of rest ahead, she trudges into the cave and collapses upon a pile of straw left there by another traveler.
Sleep overtakes her quickly so she does not hear nor sense the presence of the wolf as he enters. His eyes, kind and knowledgeable, look upon her with understanding. He turns and pads to the entrance where he lies down, his head upon his forepaws and closes his eyes as if to sleep. Yet his keen sense of hearing remains on the alert for danger that may approach from within a mile of the makeshift camp. Together, yet apart, do they sleep as the sun rises to awaken those that made their slumber during the night.
* * * *
Whistling through the valley, the zephyr brings with it the freshness of spring, caressing every living thing with a loving touch. The rays of the morning sun penetrate the branches of the apple tree to fall upon the still form of a young maiden who lies sleeping on the soft earth below. Her countenance is peaceful as she dreams of lakes and streams; of the colorful sunsets that form a backdrop to the mountains; of the woodlands that are plentiful and the many creatures who call them home. She dreams of her land, her life, her home. The breezes gently whip up her golden hair so that it falls upon her face, outlining her cheeks. Her soft pink lips curl into a delicate smile, one filled with love for what she dreams of. Her hands, softly clasped together, lay across her bosom, to rise and fall with each slow intake of breath.
Nearby, amongst a patch of lavender wildflowers, is a colorful butterfly, flitting about in its search of nectar. A wisp of air catches it and guides it over to hover above the maiden's face. It softly lands tickling the girl’s nose. Her eyelids flutter open in surprise revealing eyes of the deepest violet; amethysts. She giggles as the butterfly flits away then rises into a sitting position, looking about as her eyes adjust to the light.
Gracefully she rises from the earth and begins a stroll through the meadow, occasionally reaching out to touch the soft petals of a lily, orchid, or rose. Even the small pansies, dandelions, and daisies do not escape her notice. Her walk leads her to the small wooden bridge that fords the stream and ends upon the path. She stops at the center of the bridge and leans over the railing to peer down into the depths of the water as the waves tumble past, shimmering like jewels in the morning sun. Gazing briefly at her reflection, the elfin maid smiles as she sees the wound upon her cheek is now merely a soft scar. The memory of obtaining such is also faded, willing to be forgotten upon such a wondrous morning.
Looking past her mirror image, the stones at the bottom of the stream capture her attention as their crystalline features sparkle and glitter. She raises her head, allowing her eyes to follow the stream on its course, watching it bend and twist until it empties into the lake. She gazes upon the waters of the lake for a time, then turns from it, stepping from the bridge and walking the path that leads to the shore. Her feet tread lightly, as if walking on air, making not a sound.
Creating a rushing harmony to the rhythmic melody of the water tripping over stones in the stream are the leaves of the trees, that o’er hang the path. They ripple and sway in unison with the waves in a dance of nature. The rushes that encircle the lake come alive with activity as the newly hatched babies of the numerous birds make their way from their individual nests to take their first swim. Ducklings, goslings, loons, and even swans decorate the surface of the water with their unsurpassed beauty. They sing a song of life, of new and rebirth, felt in every droplet, whisper, and pebble of the water, wind, and earth.
The maiden, caught up in the song, begins to dance upon the shore, spinning in circles then weaving in patterns that honor the course of the streams and rivers that pock this valley. Her partner is the wind; it encompasses every part of her, from her head, to her outstretched hands, and down to her bare sandy feet. It holds her, caresses her, and loves her. Her heart, beats in concert with the song of nature, her soul climbing to incredible heights with each note as it rings forth. The exhilaration, the joy, the ecstasy wrapping tenderly about her so that she feels completely whole and free. Free to experience all that she was meant to, to be everything she sees within herself, and to love beyond thoughts, words, or touch; no limits, no boundaries, no end...
Thrillingly exhausted, Sharaya collapses upon the soft sandy shore, joyous strains of laughter escaping her lips as she lies upon her back. Footfalls nearby turn her head in time for her to look upon a soft pair of rainbow eyes, distinct and unique to the face behind them and her family.
"Good morning, Sharaya." Speaks a gentle voice, the words lilting across the meadow as they fall tenderly upon Sharaya's ears bringing a smile to her delicate features.
"Oh! Most splendid indeed Rose." Sharaya replies while watching the lady descend gracefully to the earth.
Rose smiles upon her friend and sister then turns slightly from her to gaze out across the meadow and mountains that surround them. Her eyes take on a far away look before the smile upon her lips meets is mirrored in them.
"What has hold of thy thoughts today, my sister?" queries Sharaya, her amethyst eyes sparkling radiantly as she sees the look of pure contentment upon Rose’s delicate face.
"My sweet, sweet friend..." Rose replies. "Merely the whisperings that I have sent out upon the winds which echo back to me."
"And what do your whisperings echo of?" Sharaya questions gently as she runs her fingers through the fine sand, drawing spiral circles that connect in a chain.
"Of a life touched... and a harvest of emotions." Rose replies thoughtfully, the feelings brought to her by watching Sharaya's dance still sweet and ever new upon her heart.
"I trust the harvest is a bounty of sweetness and succulent desires." Sharaya avers, her eyes twinkling in the soft sunlight as it filters through the canopy above them.
"Aye... that it is, an unexpected path, but nay undesirable." The dew, nestled comfortably in the cradle of the mother leaves, sparkles as each fingertip of the sunbeams reach across the infinity to brush against them. They glisten like jewels freshly born of the earth. A sweet scented breeze flits about them, wrapping them in a cooling, comforting embrace, welcoming them to a new day full of hope and wonder. "Are we not blessed?" Rose asks quietly. "Here we find a touch..." she reaches out and takes Sharaya's hand, holding it in a tender, sisterly grasp. "…and then share it, and find it is not weakened in the meeting, but drawn upon the canvas of eternities."
Sharaya’s eyes shine with a renewed strength and determination; a desire to enjoy thoroughly all that is offered her. "Aye, a painting that shall never fade but grow brighter and newer with each touch of the Sun."
"Of course," says Rose, "for ‘tis a painting, that shall never be completed. A brilliant green of everlasting here, a soft blue of coolness and parting there, a radiant glow of summer’s oranges and the soft pastels of tender moments."
Sharaya looks deeply into her friend's rainbow eyes, seeing within them an endless expanse of possibilities and horizons. "As well as the dancing reds and gold of excitement and discovery."
"Aye." Replies Rose. "But let us not forget the contrasting blacks and grays, for surely they shall come again, but now... know we their place in the whole?"
Sharaya nods pensively. "They encircle each frame, every outline, giving definition and solidity to each moment, each gentle touch." As she speaks, Sharaya takes her hand from Rose's grasp and lays it tenderly upon her sister's cheek.
Rose, in turn, covers the hand with her own, knowing that in the connection, they are manifesting support and strength. "Beyond... there are whites of purity, of complete sure knowledge, these too we shall share usually only after the blackest blacks have made their presence known."
"And in those times of deepest black is it not good to have faithful and loyal friends to turn to? People to rely upon for a kind word when the world would offer no such comfort?" asks Sharaya, her mind whirling from the new found insights her connection with nature is bringing to her.
Smiling, her eyes full of love Rose takes the hand still resting upon her cheek, which shall know much diversity on the paths yet to come, and places a sealing kiss upon each finger.
"For the Black times; for the brilliance of the Whites; for the sharing of passions in every hue of red, yellow and orange; for the softness of the blues and greens; for always, as the colors of our lives shall be ordered and patterned after the rainbow. As we touch one another from afar, and from near... throughout this sphere and that to come."
Each tender kiss sends waves of confirmation, of trust to Sharaya’s tender heart where they are welcomed openly. "May we forever view the changing scenes together and with others whom we love and care for."
Gently Sharaya pulls away, her eyes glittering with mirth as she rises and walks a short distance to the tallest Oak. From behind its enormous base, she brings out a basket, which clearly shows an over abundance of food inside that pushes against the lid flaps in an attempt at escape. Rose laughs at the absurdity of so much food and questions her friend. "Expecting others, dear?"
Smiling Sharaya answers, "No, just wanted to have plenty variety and enough of each. Besides, I’m hungry!"
Rose chuckles for a moment then begins to sing softly, her voice lilting and sure as it drifts over the meadow, embracing every soul. Sharaya listens quietly and loves every magical note. Soon Rose finishes as quietly as she began and conscientiously asks, "Was it awful?"
"Oh no dear!" Sharaya replies enthusiastically. "‘Twas wonderful and magical. Whether singing or speaking, you have a quality in your voice that eases the soul. Your heritage shines through and is felt by any who hear."
Rose smiles warmly. "And you, Milady, are one with a balm of Gilead."
Looking away for a moment, Sharaya softly speaks, "Perhaps at times, yet you are the same for me just as you have been recently."
Rose, gently taking Sharaya’s hand whispers, "Aye, for one another."
Agreeing wholeheartedly, for the moment accepting all and hoping for all the other times to be as sweet and precious, Sharaya looks back into Rose’s encompassing eyes. "In that case, my friend, I have a musical poem for you."
Rose smiles softly adoring her friend in this mood.
"Actually," continues Sharaya, "I guess it is more of a prose, really. Would you care to hear it?" At the asking, she lifts from the tall grass her beloved lyre, a parting gift from her brother Qucalion.
Rose nods slightly and leans upon an elbow to listen.
Softly Sharaya begins, her fingers caressing the strings lightly as her voice blends with each soft note. "Forgiving eyes of rainbows encompassing all, loving all, seeing only good; only light. Tenderly they whisper warm words to a frozen heart melting away years of ice and snow. Uncovering deep within the chasm of a tormented soul, a rich deposit of jewels, shining brilliantly for the first time as the gentle touches of the Sun's soft rays fall and caress the once hidden treasure. Bringing to life each dormant hue to breathe and sing in Glorious color and Splendor."
Rose sits listening as the words form and burst in her imaginings. "‘Twas wondrous indeed. Did you just write it?" she lovingly asks.
Sharaya answers, her cheeks blushed a soft rosy hue. "Yes and no. The music has been in my mind for some time now but the words only came to me as I fetched the basket."
"It reminds me... of the canvas we just explored." Replies Rose, her mind thinking back to a few minutes ago.
"Our talk was my inspiration as well as your gentleness and understanding." Gently Sharaya squeezes Rose’s hand, hoping to convey all her feelings for this dear woman in such a simple action.
Rose closes her eyes, half-moons of lash brush against her cheeks, and inhales deeply of the rich fragrances surrounding them as they talk. "You are such a dear," she chuckles, "and a clown at times."
"Me, a clown?" Sharaya laughs lightly, her violet windows shining radiantly in the now afternoon light.
Joining in the laughter, Rose replies, "Aye. A court jester you would be if you were to but ask."
Sharaya leans down and places a quick kiss upon Rose’s brow. "And you love me just the same when I am." She turns and skips over to a nearby lilac tree, taking from its bosom a sprig of blossoms and inhaling deeply of their sweetness.
Rose laughs merrily. "‘Tis a truth spoken, my dearest." She gathers up a blanket from the basket that now lies at her feet. She spreads it nicely amongst the daylilies, watching the woman cavort about like an adolescent girl, her eyes adoring every step, every nuance.
Sharaya, with the start of a bouquet in her tender hands, moves all around the meadow, adding to it lilies of the valley, daydream tulips, morning glories, forget-me-nots, pansies, snap dragons... her bouquet growing larger than her hands can contain. She takes them over and drops them into her friend’s arms.
"Here... hold these will you?" Without waiting for a response from Rose, she continues searching for more flowers of exquisite softness, color, and beauty. Rose laughs musically, the flowers falling all around her. She gathers them up and arranges them according to hue, a soft rainbow of color moving across a palate.
Sharaya, still gathering, sings to herself. "June bells, juniper blossoms, and then an assortment of roses. A few stems from the silver vine, its scent to tickle our noses." She takes them back and adds them with the others before descending to the earth gracefully, gathering her white skirts about her.
Rose tenderly plucks off a few fading leaves and a couple of insect freeloaders, setting them on their merry journey. Sharaya, her face shining a brilliant hue of red from her excursions, smiles softly, letting her breath come back to her lungs in short soft intakes. Rose pulls a craft of sparkling apple juice from the basket and offers it up in exchange for the array of blossoms. Sharaya gladly takes the proffered drink and sips of it lightly, savoring each delicious drop of the succulent nectar.
Rose begins to softly chuckle as a tiny squirrel edges up to the blanket. She stills, watching the curious creature. Suddenly Sharaya giggles girlishly as a trickle of juice misses her tongue and cascades down her chin.
"Oops." She laughs as she wipes it off. Then turning to the squirrel she asks, "To you I am such a sight, am I not good squirrel?" The animal swishes its tail in answer and stands on its hind legs tipping its little head from side to side. Sharaya pulls from the ground near her a fallen acorn and, extending her hand, offers it to the squirrel.
"Hungry little one?" The squirrel scampers a short distance away, then stops and peers around the base of a tree. Sharaya chuckles, her voice lilting and dancing upon the breeze. "I guess not."
When Rose's voice joins the laughter, Sharaya turns her gaze to encompass her friend, drinking in Rose's presence and beauty as she feels the outpouring of love from her heart and spirit.
"Here," handing Rose the acorn, "you try."
Rose looks at the acorn, holding it in the palm of her hand, then smiles softly, replacing it in the center of Sharaya’s hand. She makes a clicking noise with her tongue and stills once more. Sharaya watches, curiously waiting as she holds very still and silent.
The squirrel looks curiously at the pair and ventures closer. It pauses, then proceeds to run up Sharaya's leg, grabbing the nut before it hurries away with its treasure. A surprised and pleased laugh breaks forth from the silence as Sharaya instinctively grabs her leg, bringing it in closer to her.
"That tickled, little one!" She calls after the squirrel. "Enjoy it!"
Together they share a moment of laughter before spreading out the assorted array of food, much of it being fruits, cheeses and bread. As they each begin to partake, a caw is heard nearby from the branches of a spruce tree. Sitting still and majestic is a large raven, its eyes showing plainly its want of a portion of their little feast.
"Looks like we are not the only ones with appetites." Speaks Rose around a mouthful of cheese. "Too bad your feathered companion is not here to ensure the raven's good behavior."
Sharaya chuckles. "I think, dear, that we would have to worry about him coaxing the raven into an alliance." Suddenly she looks about her, searching the skies. "Where is Charise anyway?"
As if in answer, a sudden flapping of wings to her right brings the arrival of the majestic red-tailed hawk Charise, as he lands expertly on one talon, his own lunch held firmly in the other.
"So it is trout you hungered for, my feathered friend." She chuckles to him. "A fine catch." His rare blue eyes blink at her with indifference though they cannot hide his mirth.
*A snack.* He speaks to her mind.
Sharaya laughs. "The first of many."
Charise squawks at her irreverence then begins to devour his ‘snack’ with a voracious appetite. Again the raven caws only to be answered by Charise's curt yet clearly commanding screech. With a tremendous burst of wings and wind, the raven takes flight towards the mountains leaving the small company to finish in silence.
Having had her fill, Sharaya gracefully wipes off the juices and crumbs from her face as Charise finishes off his meal with an audible clicking of his beak in raptor satisfaction. He hops over to a fallen log that lays just beyond the water's edge and, once settled sufficiently, lowers his head to rest it upon his cream colored chest. Soon he is dozing quietly in the warm sunlight.
Sharaya and Rose glance at each other and together cover their mouths to stifle the laughter that wishes to be released. With a jerk of her head in the direction of the mountains, Sharaya beckons Rose to join her as she rises, smoothing out her skirts as they fall, billowing in the slight breeze.
"I'm feeling a bit warm." Sharaya says when they are a safe speaking distance away. "Care to join me in a swim at the waterfall?" She asks of Rose.
Smiling Rose shakes her head. "No. I'll just watch and comment on your style of strokes." Quickly she dodges the expected playful swat Sharaya attempts to deliver. They laugh brightly, their steps light and springy as they make their way to the waterfall that lies south of the mountains and west of the forest that encircles the meadow they have been in.
* * * *
The wolf yawns as the sun reaches its zenith, the maiden still sleeping within the cave. He leaves a moment, then two... returns carrying a jackrabbit and a red fox. The rabbit he cautiously places at the girl's feet the fox he silently devours, cleaning the blood from his soft white fur. Stirring within alerts him to the woman’s awakening. He retreats just enough so his form cannot be seen, but he stays near.
The woman stretches and yawns, her head raging in pain from the long night and short slumber. Thinking nothing of her mode of dress, only of the hunger that gnaws at her gut, she looks around for something to assuage it. She notes the offering and picks it up by the ears. Using the dagger acquired last night, without question or pause, she deftly skins the beast. Striking two rocks together, she showers sparks on a pile of the fresh straw from the night before. She then lays the meat on the flames, caring nothing for the burning. After peeling off the outer layer and removing the entrails, she feasts on the breakfast, tossing unwanted bits away.
While the woman prepares and eats her meal, the wolf watches the forest intently, alert for any danger. Suddenly his ears perk at a soft sound and he quietly moves to investigate. Having found a chipmunk to play with he bats it around for a time. He pauses and sniffs the air, watching the smoke billow forth from the cave. He blinks his eyes then leaves the rodent and returns to stand at the entrance, allowing himself to be seen should the woman venture out.
Letting the straw burn low, she does indeed exit the cave and into the freshness of the afternoon air.
The wolf watches her walk toward him, still unaware of his presence, he moves back, unwilling to cause alarm in her. Catching the movement with now sharp eyes, she notes the wolf and takes a stance, dagger poised. At her reaction he shakes his head, lays upon the earth, and rolls over offering her his throat in a sign of submission. Quickly she puts away the dagger and kneels by the animal, laughing.
"Well, you are an odd one." She says as she scratches his throat, watching his leg thump the ground in enjoyment. He playfully bats her hand away, rolls and stands, his eyes showing a glimmer of embarrassment. Shaking the dust from his coat he stares into her eyes, his emerald ones burrowing into her soul.
The woman remains crouched, watching the animal curiously, this one quite different than others she has encountered. His soul searching gaze unnerves her and she looks away before standing.
"Well... thanks for the breakfast, anyway."
The wolf blinks and shakes his head, knowing the girl has yet to understand. From within the tuft of fur surrounding his right ear a small shimmering can be briefly seen before it again is covered in white.
The woman stands back, simply watching the animal, her fingers caressing the hilt of her dagger thoughtfully. The wolf sharply whirls his head towards a nearby sound, lets go of a low growl, and charges into the brush. The woman lets out a low whistle, wondering where the animal took off to. The guttural sound of a man crying out reaches the girl's ears, the wolf howls. She warily readies herself with the dagger, pulling the cape up over her head, shrouding her slight figure. The wolf comes to the edge of the brush, looking at her, a smear of blood upon his maw. He waits as if expecting her to come to him. She does so and follows behind the animal, who because he first gave his trust... earned hers.
He leads the woman a short distance away to the fallen body of a man wholly dressed in the black of an assassin, his crossbow lies broken nearby.
Amazed at the animal's understanding, she rolls the man over, the symbol of the sun emblazoned on his breast.
"It's one of them boy." She says as she kicks some dirt over the body then pats his head gratefully, a bond struck. The wolf looks upon the man and growls. Looking to her, their eyes meeting in silent communication. He nuzzles her hand then turns back to the man and using his snout, seems to search within the confines of the man's cloak.
"Something of interest boy?" she asks, curious over his actions.
He looks up at her as if asking for her aid in the search. Complying, she kneels beside the body, thinking nothing of its humanity, no more than if it were simply a person she just ran into. The wolf paws at a vest underneath the cloak, unable to get inside it. Following his lead she reaches in, the body still warm from the draining. Her searching fingers find a stone of pale white upon a leather rope. The wolf growls and sniffs at it then shakes his head in disgust. She pats his head reassuringly.
"What's the matter boy?" she asks as she holds up the odd looking stone, it spinning on the rope. As it spins, a barely visible rune carved upon the stone catches the light of the now setting sun.
The wolf snorts at the stone but nudges it towards her when she attempts to lay it upon the ground. Not knowing why, she places the stone in her belt pouch and moves away from the body, nothing more to be gained from it. The wolf leads her towards the cave then around it, to the east circumventing a great mountain chain that stretches far to the south.
"And just where are we going?" she asks the beast not really expecting an answer. The wolf stops and looks from her to deep within the woods and back again to see if she understands. She whistles softly.
"In there?" she questions disbelieving. The wolf nods his head and begins to walk deeper into the woods.
"Well since I've nowhere else to go at the moment I'll follow." She pats her pouch absently, still curious about the stone that lies within, then begins to walk into the woods and whatever lies in wait.
* * * *
The sky is a light azure, void of clouds. It acts as a background for the myriad of birds that soar and dance upon the wind. The sparrows dart about with swift accuracy, truer acrobats cannot be found; whilst higher up, two golden eagles glide through an intricate dance, romancing each other and communing with the Sun. To the left of them, on a lower plane of air, is a trio of doves, lacing the air as if to braid it’s flowing strands. The rest of the sky is filled with larks, wrens, hawks and a number of other birds.
As the two friends reach the waterfall at the head of the stream, which leads to the lake, Sharaya pulls off her simple white dress to reveal soft cotton shirt and shorts underneath. Rose quietly sits upon the shore as Sharaya climbs to the top of the falls and then, once at the right spot, dives into the pool below. Swimming to shore Rose can see clearly upon Sharaya's face the exhilaration she experienced at the feel of free fall.
Rising out of the water Sharaya wipes her eyes clear and begins to laugh brightly. Before Rose can stop her, Sharaya shakes her head, whipping her wet hair about so that thousands of droplets splatter Rose generously. As Rose cries out in playful dismay, Sharaya turns to climb once more.
Suddenly she lurches forward falling into the pool. As she breaks the surface to breathe she hears laughter from the shore. Turning, she splashes at Rose, paying her back for pushing her into the water. Holding her hands up, palms outward in a sign of surrender, Rose tries desperately to catch her breath. Sharaya swims backward towards the falls allowing her own breath to return. She stops at the edge of the falls' mist and looks back at Rose. With her auburn hair falling wistfully past her shoulders, her rainbow eyes sparkling in the sunlight Rose looks sweetly beautiful. Sharaya counts herself lucky to be blessed with such a friend. She swims back to shore and climbs out looking about for her dress, wanting to cover her wet body so as not to catch a chill in the afternoon breeze. Unable to find it, she gives up and moves to Rose's side. A soft smile alighting her face, Rose reaches towards Sharaya and wipes an errant strand of hair from her face, letting her fingers trail down her cheek, causing an involuntarily shiver in her friend. She laughs and then points to a tree branch where dangles Sharaya's white dress in the breeze. Smiling, Sharaya rises once again to retrieve it, using it to dry herself off.
Together they sit at the water's edge in silence. As Rose watches the waterfall turn to mist, Sharaya watches her, memorizing each curve of her face, every brightness and shadow that defines her features. Rose turns to face Sharaya and smiles seeing the look of love and admiration upon Sharaya's face. Reaching up she lightly strokes Sharaya's now damp hair, delighting in its softness. Sharaya in turn closes her eyes, enjoying the touch as it sooths and comforts. She then lays back upon the earth, her eyes closed in the hopes of catching a quick nap in the warm sun.
Rose lightly touches Sharaya's cheek with the back of her hand. Sharaya opens then shades her eyes to see Rose smiling down at her.
"What?" asks Sharaya.
"Nothing really." Replies Rose. "Just enjoying the moment of calm and the look of contentment upon your face."
"Is it truly such a rare sight?" Sharaya asks playfully.
"Lately, yes." Rose says softly, her fingers tracing the scar on Sharaya's face, it being nearly healed. Sharaya reaches up and lays her hand upon Rose's, gently pressing it to her.
"That is all passed us now. Let's not dig up that which is dead."
Nodding in agreement, Rose tenderly leans down and places a sisterly kiss upon Sharaya's brow.
"Never again will I do thee harm." She whispers.
"I know." Sharaya confirms. She then closes her eyes and drifts off to sleep, lulled by the rhythm of the waterfall. And Rose continues to watch her slumber for a moment before gazing up to the top of the waterfall, content to be forgiven and trusted once again.
Slowly the day begins to pass unnoticed about them.
* * * *
The deeper into the forest the two travelers go, the more eerie it becomes. Several times the woman looks behind her feeling as if eyes follow their progress, but not once does the wolf seem to notice anything unusual. Finally the silence becomes too much for the woman and she stops, sitting down upon a fallen tree.
"That's it!" she says in exasperation. "I'm not going another step I'm tired, my head is ringing with tension, and I've no water in my skin." She holds her water skin upside down to illustrate her point.
The wolf turns to face her, a look of impatience in his eyes. He lifts his snout to the breeze then walks off to her left heading north.
"Where are you going?" she calls out to him then wonders how he would answer her and feels awkward for the question. The wolf keeps walking, not seeming to care if she follows. He disappears into some underbrush and is gone for several minutes. She begins to grow nervous, the unfamiliar sounds and sights sending her thoughts deeper into her imagination than she ever before dared to go. Suddenly to her left she hears a snapping twig. Grabbing her dagger she ducks down behind the tree she was sitting on. Certain one of her mind’s creations has taken form, she sighs with considerable relief as a shimmer of white announces the wolf's return, the fur about his mouth dripping with water.
Rising from her crouched position she begins to ask, "Why didn't you… " then feels silly for asking a question of a beast with no way to answer her. Finally, after a moment of staring incredulously at the wolf, she decides to ask a question he could answer, in his way. "Will you take me back to that water source so I may refill my skin and quench my thirst?" The wolf nods, gives what looks to the woman like a grin, then turns and walks back from whence he came. Dutifully the woman follows.
After a few minutes of walking in what seems the densest part of the woods, the two immerge into an open grove. In the center, bubbling up from between two gray rocks is a very small pool of clear water, but it is enough to satisfy her as she kneels before it and drinks heavily of its cooling comfort.
Once satisfied she rises and looks at the wolf, her eyes sharp with inquiry and frustration. "Okay you, I’ve had enough of this great adventure. You may not be able to tell me just where we are going and why, but you can let me rest." She looks to the sky only to see not the light blue she expected but a dense green canopy of leaves and branches, the sunlight barely filtering through. Sighing she looks again into the deep green eyes of her furry companion. "Great. I’ve no way of telling what hour it is or what direction we are headed."
The wolf looks at her for a moment, his eyes seeming to bore into her soul, then looks about him. Sniffing the air once again he turns and begins to head back the way they had come. She stares after him, not sure if she wants to follow him further or turn back toward the village.
"Well," she softly speaks to herself, "I’ve come this far, might as well see it through." With that she slaps her lap as she rises and follows the wolf. A few more hours pass uneventfully and silent. She feels the last of her patience flee just as they step from the woods into a lush clearing. The sound of rushing water turns her gaze to a waterfall, its journey’s end making a vale of mist. She starts towards the water as if drawn to it then stops, seeing at the shore two women who seem unaware of her. Their laughter and talk warm and inviting. She looks down, expecting to find the wolf at her side and sees he has continued forward heading straight for the women, unconcerned and determined. Putting on a frown of discontent, she waits, her impatience announced by her slightly tapping foot.
* * * *
"I did not!" she shouts, her eyes alight with hidden mirth.
"Rose you did too." Sharaya confirms. "You don’t mean to, I know, but all you have to do is say hello to a fellow and he’s smitten. You are a natural born flirt, so accept it." Smiling brightly as she teases her dear friend, she looks casually towards the trees. Her smile fades a little as she sees a lone figure standing at the edge of the grove, watching them. Rose, wondering what has caught Sharaya's attention, turns also and upon seeing the figure, rises to stand next to Sharaya.
Cautiously the figure moves further into the sunlight a few paces then halts. A pure white wolf with emerald eyes, does not stop next to the figure but walks purposefully to the two women upon the shore.
*So,* he mind speaks to them both. *Have you no greeting for me?* If one were to look closely he might see a slight grin creasing the corners of the wolf's snout.
Sharaya, the first to recover descends upon the wolf, eagerly embracing him about his neck. "Anon!" she speaks excitedly. "Where have you been? It's been days since we've seen you. And who is this you have brought to us?"
*Easy child.* Anon Whiteshadow chuckles in her mind. *All your questions will be answered shortly. But first I will have my greeting from Rose.* At that he pads over to Rose who kneels upon the ground and gives him a more dignified greeting, placing her hand out to him, palm up. "Well met, mine elder." She speaks respectfully.
Sharaya laughs out. "Oh Rose. Do not go inflating his ego, ‘tis bad enough already." Whiteshadow snorts before replying. *And you, impertinent child, will never have the manners Rose has in her little finger. It would do you well to follow her example.*
"We've been through this before oh most aged one." Sharaya replies sarcastically. "And we both know that I'm not the child you would make of me for I be only a decade younger than you. Forget not that we elves live longer than you and most others."
Whiteshadow rolls his eyes, *Yes and I shall never hear the end of it until you put me in my grave. Now will you please put all antics aside and introduce yourselves to my companion.* He turns then and the women remember they have a visitor standing far off looking quite bewildered as well as irritated.
Sharaya moves toward the guest holding our her hand in formal greeting. "Please forgive our ill manners but we've not seen fur-face in many days." Behind her a clearly exasperated snort is heard. She ignores it and continues. "I am Sharaya Kai and this…" motioning to Rose, "…is Lady Chantaclair Rose. We welcome you." Standing now a few steps from the visitor Sharaya smiles, her hand still extended.
The guest slowly removes the hood of her green cloak shaking out her ebony hair, it glistening in the bright sunlight. Warily she looks upon the two women with deep sapphire eyes that have seen too much sorrow in her apparently young life. Her beauty is marked by finely chiseled cheekbones set high above a determined square jaw. Her voice as she speaks can be compared to the soft tones of a wood chime.
"I am Felinia Starpine." She offers no more than that, her trust not yet earned except by the wolf. Nor does she take Sharaya's offered hand.
Whiteshadow moves to her side and nudges her leg gently before looking from her to the offered hand. Felinia sighs and takes the hand firmly and briefly. Sharaya smiles.
"There is no need to bully her, Anon." She chuckles to the wolf. "If she be not comfortable accepting my hand it is of no concern after all we have yet to earn her trust and from the look of her it is not something she gives lightly or easily."
Felinia looks down upon the wolf, surprise in her eyes. "You have a name?" she questions. This time Rose laughs, her musical voice easing some of the tension Felinia feels. "Yes he has a name, dear." She softly speaks. "I am not surprised he did not tell you it himself for he likes to appear mysterious and strange."
Now Felinia looks to Rose, her mouth agape. "Tell me himself? You mean he can talk to me."
Sharaya glares at Whiteshadow. "You brought her here and have yet to speak to her? Thou art truly a beast and perhaps not so wise."
Suddenly Whiteshadow lowers his head and body to the ground looking properly chastised. Softly he mind speaks to all, including Felinia, *I am sorry.*
Having heard him, Felinia drops to the ground shaking her head in amazement. "I don't understand any of this." She begins to speak to herself as if the others were not present. "The old woman, Kristal, was strange enough but now all of this… I just don't know what to make of it." Slowly she puts her head in her hands, suddenly tired and terribly distraught.
End Part One