She walked to him, taking his outstretched hand. It was warm and black as midnight. He smiled. He had teeth like a cat.
“Where are we going?” she asked him.
“Here,” he said.
She looked at him oddly, not comprehending. “But you said,—” she began, and the rest of her words dissipated like breath in chill air, unspoken. She looked around her. There was nothing. Nothing for miles and miles and miles. They were standing in a field, flat as a table but for the low grass.
The Ferali gazed at her for a time, and she gazed back. He was tall, dressed in black clothing that seemed to flow about him. He wore a headpiece of wrapped cloth, an attached veil hanging loose from its right side. She caught herself gazing into his eyes. Green, like her own, but glowing softly like a firefly’s. He smiled, and she shook her head as if waking from a reverie and looked down. On his feet, she saw, he wore pointed black shoes. “I’m sorry. I just—”
“It’s all right, Aleah,” he said—his voice warm and resonant, almost musical, neither low nor high in pitch—and his smile widened, “but you are here for a reason, and we need to attend to it now.”
“All right,” she said, feeling suddenly very young.
“Look over there in the sky.” He extended a long arm and pointed to a patch of midnight blue sky, spangled and dusted and peppered with stars. Instinctively, she looked for a moment across the vastness of the firmament. Runner Moon was no longer visible. Could it have set already? It was no slow traveler, but it was not yet done with its journey when she laid eyes on the cat outside her window. “Look,” he said, a hint of emphasis in his voice, and she did.
For a moment she saw nothing, but soon enough she saw a movement. A point of light, drifting. A star, she thought, was moving through the firmament among the other stars. Then she saw that this was not so. It was coming closer, closer and closer to Tharia. It was like a comet! It moved along a huge arc through the sky, and behind it she could just begin to make out a faint blue tail of light, oddly segmented. The segments of light moved like the marching legs of a millipede. She stared in fascination. The comet was not a comet. As it drew closer she saw that it had lights that moved around it in patterns. It appeared to grow bigger and bigger, and its blue tail shortened and became paler. Then suddenly—it plunged toward the ground. There was a flash, and Aleah threw her arm across her eyes. Then all went dark.
She closed her mouth, which had dropped open in surprise, as if ready to cry out. The Ferali was looking at her again. “Watch, now,” he said. “There, in the distance. See.”
She looked. There was a space now where the ground was heaved up in a circle like a ring of low mountains, and in the middle of the circle was a dome of rock rising above them—or what looked like rock, anyway, but smooth and windowed with a thousand windows. She narrowed her eyes, and then she realized that there were birds flying from its windows here and there. Many birds. Countless numbers of them. Like starlings, they were, only they were the size of people! Flocks of them flying off in many directions at great speed, turning together as one in elaborate patterns, and then returning. The sky flickered with the brightest violet lightning, and all the birds were gone again. She saw that the dome was now coming apart, disintegrating as she watched, caving into itself and disappearing bit by bit. Days and nights were passing as it disappeared. Still Moon moved faster than Runner Moon. Runner Moon became a solid streak of light across the sky that drifted to and fro across the heavens as Still Moon blurred with motion. A forest grew up around them, hiding the place where the giant comet-that-was-not-a-comet had fallen and come to rest.
“What am I seeing?” she asked, her voice sounding far away to her own ears.
“History,” he said. “It is important to you to know it, though no one in your life so far will have any knowledge of it.” He turned her to look at him, his hands on her shoulders. “You must choose carefully with whom you will share this knowledge, Aleah. Be sure of anyone before you utter a word of it.”
“Why are you telling me all this? Why are you showing me this? Why did you come to me? Why does it feel like I always expected something like this to happen?” She felt overwhelmed, even upset. Emotions welled up inside of her, unbidden. “I don’t understand any of this!”
He did not dismiss her or seek to quiet her. He nodded, said, “I am telling you because you should know. I am showing you because you will remember. I could not tell you if I did not come to you. I cannot answer your final question, because that answer is yours alone. When you have it, you will understand.”
She felt overwhelmed. It seemed so simple, yet some part of her wondered now what it was she’d chosen to do in the middle of the night. Why was she here? She struggled to take it all in, and instead she found herself already retreating from what she’d seen. She wanted to go home, and this left her feeling foolish and immature. She didn’t really want to go home. She took a deep breath and brought her focus back to the moment. “This is crazy,” she said.
He stepped back from her and tilted his head a little, then smiled. “Yes. Crazy,” he said. “But less crazy than so much else, you’ll find.”
She smiled back at him, then lowered her head in contemplation of this strange turn of fate.
After a moment, he spoke to her. “Take this, Aleah. It is the gift of E’nelKo. That is me, my name. This is my gift to you.”
She looked up and into his eyes, then at his outstretched hand, which held within its open palm a strange, glowing pendant on a platinum chain. Bravely, she took it, and for a heartbeat she felt her eyes warm within her head, saw their glow upon his skin. “Oh,” was all she could say.
She woke as if from a dream, still dressed and back in her bed. For all she had seen the night before, even more had entered her mind as she slept. She looked around her room. Everything looked the same, yet everything was different. She rose and opened the simple little wooden box in which she kept her most special treasures: sea shells, sand dollars, dried flowers, glass beads, and now, she saw, the pendant on its chain. She was almost surprised that she was not surprised, yet she felt now like nothing would ever surprise her again. She gazed at the pendant and saw deep within it a faint light. She heard E’nelKo’s voice in her head: “You will know when its purpose is fulfilled, its destiny reached.”
She took the pendant and hung it about her neck. It softly glowed, then faded. As the morning light grew in her room, so did a new sense. She needed today to go to the District of Secrets, though not to visit her brother (who had been gone some while at the tower this time). Instead, she would go to the Flowers Gate, and thence to the quiet and welcoming glade of the goddess, Kairdwenne, Mother of Cauldrons, Healer of All Wounds. She felt the calling clearly now, as one feels and recognizes sunlight on skin even with eyes closed. She wondered if that’s how it had felt to Shaw. Then a question occurred to her. Had he also been visited? Had he gone to see something in the middle of some night? And then she knew with an uncanny certainty that he hadn’t. For some reason that felt sad to her. Sure, they did not share everything, yet this was significant, truly. Something she wished they might share. But they didn’t. Couldn’t.
Aleah’s mother looked at her and smiled as a tear slid down her cheek. “It’s all right, Mom,” she said, “I’ll not be long gone, and I’ll visit more than Shaw, I bet!” That made her mother laugh softly. They stood together at the tall gateway in the shadow of the tower. Beyond it tall trees reached upward nearly a hundred feet, and birdsong seemed to garland the air itself, beautiful and intricate. A breath of fragrant air washed over them and a bell softly chimed in the distance, from somewhere within Kairdwenne’s glade. “I need to go, now,” she said.
“I know, Aleah. Go. I’ll be no farther than home.”
Her lower lip trembled, her vision blurred, and she threw her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be home soon. I promise. I love you.”
“I love you, daughter. Be well. Learn. Grow. I’m so proud of you.” She put her hands on Aleah’s arms and stepped back from her. “Look at you! You’re growing up before my eyes. It’s as if you were a child only yesterday.”
She walked along the wide path and into the woods. Soon enough it turned and she lost sight of the gate. She could feel her mother walking home, and some part of her ached crazily, as if desperate to follow her there. Beyond it, though, was the feeling that pulled her on. She felt the pendant under her blouse. Destiny or the path of her choosing? They felt like one and the same to her as she walked.
“Welcome,” a voice said. She looked up and saw a woman standing before her, dressed in a wrap all in hues of yellow that seemed as varied as sunlight itself. To her amazement, Aleah realized that this was no ordinary woman. She was a Shalaumair! A Green elf! “You are…?”
“Aleah. An aspirant, Priestess,” Aleah answered.
“Well then, Aleah,” she said and bowed, one hand extended and the other brushing toward herself. “Come. The Lady gathers all. My name is Ji-Swu, from Krîsh, which is in Sabon. Do you know of it?”
“I… I don’t,” she said. Ji-Swu smiled enigmatically, turned, and beckoned Aleah to follow her.
“You shall learn of it,” she said as they walked. “Much of our healing art comes from there, and its knowledge contains history. Kairdwenne’s cauldron is the world. It is a very big cauldron, and its contents are made from many ingredients.”
Ji-Swu looked at her appraisingly. “Should you decide to stay on, you shall be under my tutelage. This means that you shall serve as my handmaiden for a time. Do you accept such an idea?”
Aleah did not know what to think. “I will serve you?”
“You shall serve Kairdwenne only. Your efforts in life are prayers to Kairdwenne. Your sense of purpose is a meditation on impermanence. Your education is a communion with Kairdwenne. Your own healing is silent contemplation, while the healing you do for others is the joyful expression of gratefulness.”
They continued on for awhile in silence. Finally, Aleah said, “I will serve.”
“Good. Then you shall heal.”
One week later, Aleah sat on a cushion in a small conical tent, a fire burning in a ring of stones in the center, smoke rising up and through the hole in the ceiling. She gazed into the flames and breathed slowly and steadily, each breath measured and consciously registered. Across from her, on the other side of the fire, she imagined seeing herself watching her imagine herself. She watched herself rise and move to the fire. She looked into her own eyes and extended her hand, cautiously yet defiantly. In her mind, somewhere far away, some part of her cried out, “No! Stop!” She did not. She put her hand in the fire. The pain blossomed in dreadful red flowers of barbed electricity, and she wanted to cry out for what she had watched happen. Her pain was her pain. The burning was her burning. Only, this was not true, she realized. She looked at her hand. The smoke that rose up from it was sickly sweet smelling. The sight of her hand was harrowing. Yet, in actuality, she felt nothing but the love of healing flowing through her. She saw herself stand and raise her burned hand to the light falling through the hole and the smoke. Green tendrils of light grew up around her like vines as orchids of grace bloomed from them and then fell away. Her hand glowed like Still Moon at full light, first green, then blue, then a pearlescent silver. She gazed at her own hand. No trace of the fire’s damage remained.
In Krîsh, there was a sage who sought to obtain the favor of a fire god, with whom he had fallen in love. The sage gave countless burned offerings to this god, but the god did not notice the sage’s efforts. The god, who was named Arku, was very lonely, but he spent all his time in volcanos, dreaming of the sun, for he was bound to Tharia by the force of his desire to live and consume, and the sun was an immeasurable distance away. His desire was so great, that he overlooked the insignificant offerings of mortals, instead devoting himself exclusively to the sun. “Come, o you great eternal sun, and consume my burning heart with abandon! Let me burn within you forever!” Such was the passionate prayer of this god to the sun. Blind to all but the sun, he did not notice any of the offerings of the heartsick sage.
One day the sage, despairing of love’s cruelty, had a sudden insight. What if the gift was not a burned offering, but an offering that could never be burnt? It just so happened that a visitor to Krîsh knew of just the right thing. On hearing the sage despair of finding such a gift, the visitor said, “I beg your pardon, but I know the gift you seek!”
Thus it was that the sage was soon climbing down into a great volcanic vent, there to find and pick the legendary Blossom of Melted Fire. A gift so rare that Arku could not but notice.
“That is, of course, the flower that makes our most potent healing potion,” Ji-Swu said to Aleah.
“But what happened to the sage? Did—“
Ji-Swu shook her head. “Sadly, someone has awakened you. Look….”
To be continued.
Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.