Chapter 2: “Seek the Path”

With my heart, not my eyes, Chindren recalled as he stared out among the trees, that was what she had said. He stood in the center of the small clearing not far from the cliff where the great bear had spoken to him. Despite her warning, he felt as though he could not simply leave her body out here in the open, and so had spent the past hour covering her with pine boughs he gathered from the surrounding area. He had scouted out the area first to make sure there were no other search parties in the immediate vicinity, and convinced that he was safe enough for the time being, had spent the rest of the time preparing a proper grave.

But now that he was finished and had paid his final respects to his unexpected new friend, he stood bewildered, staring out at but not seeing the trees that surrounded him, trying to figure out what it was the bear had meant. If anything, her speech had only left him more confused than he had been to start. At the time, he had been so overwhelmed with emotion at having to lose such a noble new friend that her words had barely registered, but burying her had given him a chance to mull over what she and the dying man had said.

Even so, he could not make heads nor tails of it.

The man had called him a “heretic,” which he still didn’t know the meaning of, but the way the man had spat the word out could not mean it was a good thing. He had also mentioned Chindren’s father. Chindren knew nothing of his father—could this man have known him? If so, Chindren wasn’t sure he wanted anything to do with him. The bear had called him “Windrider,” which though he liked the sound of it, still meant nothing to him.

Worst of all, Chindren could not imagine who would be after him, or why. The thought gave him a shiver up his spine. These men were not sent by my uncle to bring me home, he pondered, they were sent to kill me. But why? And by whom? I have harmed no one in my life.

Seek the path, she had said. Seek the path indeed. This, on top of everything else, frustrated him the most. He could see no path anywhere out of here, nor could he feel it with his heart as she had instructed him, so he stood in this clearing, frustrated and confused, trying to find a path that could not be seen with the eyes. Tired, Chindren made his way to the large rock in the center of the glade where his pack rested and clambered up to sit atop it. The recent excitement and horror had succeeded in taking his mind of his hunger, but now that things had calmed down he had become all too aware of it again.

He pulled the cheese he had been saving out of his pack, unwrapped it from its oilcloth, and began to nibble on it. The sun was now heavy in the western sky, and cast the clearing in long shadows. Chindren would have to find a place to camp for the night, hidden path or no hidden path. He began to pick up small pebbles that lay in crevices in the boulder and flick them off into the grass of the clearing. He did this several times as he continued to ponder the meaning of the bear’s message, when one of the pebbles made a strange sound as it hit the ground. He looked up to see where it had landed, which he judged to be somewhere near the far side of the clearing, but he could see nothing particularly interesting about the spot from where he sat, and so got up to investigate.

He wrapped up the rest of the cheese and stuffed it into his coat pocket, then walked over to the patch of ground where he estimated the pebble had landed, knelt down and began searching through the grass for the foreign object, but could find nothing at all but dirt, grass and the gnarled roots of nearby trees. Then he found it: a dirty old piece of broken glass. Glass was something only the wealthy had in Willowbrook, but a shard like this would not fetch much. He was about to leave it be, but decided one never knows when something might come in handy, and so fetched it up into his pocket instead.

As he stood, he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of profound serenity. This startled him to no small degree because he had never before felt such a strong feeling come over him so suddenly, and seemingly of its own accord. It was almost as though he was communing with some vast intelligence unapparent to him, yet there were no animals or beings nearby save for a few birds and squirrels scattered throughout the trees, and they were not paying him any mind. Chindren stopped and slowly breathed in the soft scents of the forest—the grass, the earth, trees, flowers and moss, and found the whole mix most intoxicating. He had always loved the forest for its peacefulness, but this was something entirely new to him. It was almost as if the very forest were alive and speaking to him.

The more he focused on the feeling, the more he was sure there was something more, something deeper than just a feeling of peace. The serenity was like but a droning chord beneath an intricate song, and as he focused on it, he began to feel as though he could start to unravel those deeper melodies.

The trees were talking to one another.

He didn’t know how it could be, but somehow these trees were able to communicate. It was not with words, or even with feelings that were easily translated into words as with his bear friend; this was a different form of communication altogether. It was a surreal blending of sound and smell combined with an overriding feeling of peace and serenity. The thoughts were not short and quick like those of man or beast, but slow and continuous, and he got the distinct impression ancient. But it was more than just a feeling; there was a certain wisdom about it. The trees knew things, saw things he couldn’t see.

As he stood there transfixed, he realized his eyes were closed yet he was still sensing the forest around him. He could feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun upon his face, offset by the cool breeze that blew gently across the glade, rustling the grass and the leaves of the immense trees before him. He could almost sense every tree, every branch. He felt as though he knew exactly where they were, even with his eyes shut. He turned his body away from the sun, and felt its rays penetrating him, casting right through him and sending a tingling sensation throughout his body. He held out his arms and smiled, reveling in this profoundly new experience.

In his mind’s eye he began to see ethereal forms take shape, coalescing out of the fog of his thoughts. Each tree, each plant had its own distinct feeling that before had been mixed in a jumble of sensations all felt at once; but they now began to separate themselves until he could actually begin to see individual living forms in his mind. He was amazed to discover they looked nothing like they did to his eyes. They were beautiful. Iridescent lines of pulsating light traveled along flowing, sinuous forms, glowing brightly with the light of life that endowed them. It was as though he were looking right through the trees, seeing every vein of sap as a trickling thread of light that traveled upwards from the tree trunks and branched out hundreds of times to reach each leaf and then back again. The lines shifted and swayed in the breeze, shimmering and glinting like crystal as the glowing beads of luminescence danced along their length.

He looked down and was startled to discover he could see right through the ground to the network of roots below his feet, and was amazed at how far they extended, intertwining with one another and creating a veritable mesh beneath the surface of the earth.

Between the forms, clouds of soft light billowed and shifted through the invisible air, drifting to and fro on the breeze and filling the empty spaces with a substance that became so apparent, so dense, that it felt as though he were swimming through a sea of light, with each plant or creature a glowing beacon in an underwater world.

He could sense the breeze flowing through the trees in currents and eddies. Whereas before, he had been blind to the wind, he could now see its effect, twisting and swirling like dust in a tempest. As he watched, the currents of wind began to take on a distinct colour and form all its own, carrying upon its wing the scent and message of plants and trees hundreds of miles away, all merging with those here and continuing onward.

Chindren began to notice that the wind was taking a distinct path through the trees, almost as though it knew where it was going, or was being somehow directed. It had all looked the same to him with his eyes open, but he could now clearly detect an order—a direction—to the energies that flowed around him.

He had found the hidden path.

* * *

When he opened his eyes, the shock of the real world coming back to him was so startling he lost his balance and fell backwards onto the soft grass. He stared up at the deep blue sky with its cirrus clouds skirting its farthest heights, catching his breath, then broke out laughing. The whole experience had been so unexpected, so exhilarating, that for a moment the joy of having discovered this new ability overpowered the negative emotions that had up until recently been plaguing him. It was good to laugh again, he thought, as he sprawled his arms out to his sides and simply enjoyed the soft ground and bright, clear sky.

But dusk was not far away, and he had better get moving if he expected to be anywhere else but here when he set up camp for the night. He was also incredibly hungry, but he loathed the idea of having to hunt for food. However, if it came down to survival, he knew he may have to. He thought back to the bush of small red berries he’d seen earlier, but still couldn’t recall why it had stood out to him. He was certain the berries were poisonous. He had learned from a close call at a young age not to eat the berries of the forest, but something still tugged at his consciousness from the recesses of his mind. Perhaps he would take a sprig if he encountered the plant again, but was not prepared to backtrack this late in the day.

When he finally sat up, he became suddenly apprehensive: there was not a sound to be heard amid the trees. It was as though every animal had suddenly become silent. No birds chirped; no squirrels chattered. He could not even hear any crickets or clatterbugs. Only the faint wind rustling through the trees made any sound at all. Something was wrong; Chindren could feel it. His cheerful mood slipped from him like water on a gooseback. The wind turned suddenly cold, sending a chill to Chindren’s bones. He jumped to his feet. The wind also began to strengthen, until Chindren’s hair was flapping about his face. In the distance, Chindren could hear it begin to moan. A storm was coming; a big one.

Never before had Chindren witnessed a storm come so quickly and without warning. The sky, perfectly clear moments ago, had now begun to darken with ominous clouds, that spread visibly across the sky even as he watched it, shrouding the land in premature twilight. Chindren raced for the cover of the trees, and began desperately looking for some kind of shelter he could use to wait out the storm; but the sudden darkness made it difficult to see where he was going, let alone find shelter of any kind. He continued to run in the direction he was facing, which was roughly west, along the Northern bank of the Minnoa, but he could not make out anything in the near-darkness.

Then he remembered the bear’s message. Follow the path. It will lead you to where you need to go. Chindren closed his eyes, but his second sight did not come. Just as he opened his eyes again, his foot caught on a tree root and he flew forward, hands out to break his fall. But the ground did not come when he expected it to, and his entire world tilted and shifted as he continued to fall forward over the top of the hill he had just inadvertently discovered. His hands finally made contact with the ground, but the momentum of his body was too great and he only managed to roll over on his shoulder as he continued to bound headlong down the side of the hill. The wind was now tearing up the ground all around him and whipping dirt, twigs and leaves against his exposed skin. He had to close his eyes to protect them from the debris. As his feet came down in front of him, he bent his knees and pulled his legs close to his body as he was hurled downwards. The second time around, he was finally able to stop his somersaulting, but he continued to slide on the loose ground churned up by the storm.

He held his forearm in front of his face, trying to block the buffetting debris to catch a glimpse of where he was headed, but could make out nothing save the silhouetted tree tops against the dark sky. Suddenly the ground gave out beneath him and as he fell, he could make out the distinct rushing of the Minnoa river below him; then SPLASH! Frigid water engulfed his senses, entombing him in a sudden silence in comparison to the havoc above the surface. Chindren kicked his feet but his waterlogged boots and clothes made him feel like he was swimming in molasses. Finally he surfaced, and the rush of water and howling wind resumed their cacaphony. Chindren desperately flailed his arms out, trying to find anything grab ahold of, but there was nothing. The cold water continued to carry him downstream and he was unable to stop it.

He looked up to the sky, which was by now the only thing not completely blackened out, and could see the high ridges of the ravine to either side of him. Even if he could make it to one of the sides, there was no hope for him to climb the ledge. He would have to wait until the ground leveled out further downstream.

He continued to watch the sky, and as he did, a sudden flash of lightning lit up the area like a flash of daylight and then was gone. Had there been something in the sky? Chindren could have sworn he had seen something flying amid the chaos, like a dark speck against an even darker sky, but as he looked up now he couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was, it was big. Much bigger than a bird. The sky flashed again, but this time there was nothing.

Chindren decided to focus on staying alive, and so tilted onto his back and used his arms to keep his body afloat. He knew the river could get treacherous up ahead and didn’t want to be knocked unconcious by an invisible rock, but the water seemed to be taking him where it wanted him to go and there was not much Chindren could do about it, so he just focused on keeping his feet in front of him and his head above water. Several times he thought he saw large rocks sweep past him, nearly missing him, but in the darkness he couldn’t be sure.

Onward the river carried him.

* * *

As the coldness of the water slowly crept into his brain, Chindren’s consciousness began to drift away from him, as if taken upon its own path down the river. The roar of the water became a constant droning sound that filled Chindren’s being with its presence until it was the only thing he could sense or feel. Chindren started to feel as though he was the river, as though he were consciously controlling it, of the roar that filled him.

He fought to regain control of his mind, but it was useless. He was freezing to death. Amidst the panic and the chaos there was a certain peace. He could no longer fight it now. His mind drifted away, leaving his feeble body behind as it reached out and expanded, finally free of the confines of his corporeal form, of the ridiculousness of time and space.

He was back in Willowbrook with his aunt. But she was much older than he last remembered her. He was a man now, master of the house. He looked down at her and smiled. He remembered it all now. He had come back from his journey a hero, and the town had cheered his return. His uncle had passed away some years before his return and his aunt had been struggling to survive. Chindren could still remember the look on her face when strode through that front door.

He was so happy now. His life was finally fulfilled and he was at peace. He smiled at the townspeople as he walked leisurely down the main street. People called his name and waved at him.

Now he was a child, playing in the brambles outside of his farm home. He did not recognize this place. He was drawing in the dirt with a stick beside an old fence by a dirt road and watching the bugs as they went about their business along the sandy ground. In the distance his mother called him. It was time for lunch. He tossed the stick down and ran towards the little white house on the hill.

He was looking down upon his mother. She appeared to be in incredible pain. Dim candles lit the dark room. There were men here, gathered round. They too bore looks of concern. His mother screamed. The child was in distress. Chindren. She would call him Chindren, after her father.

A tall man with a long beard in a plain dark robe stretched out his arm as filaments of light like those he had seen in the forest began to emmanate from his fingertips and stretch towards her.

“Chindren!” she screamed.

Suddenly he was in a cold river, being swept downstream at an incredible pace. Somehow this was different from the other places he had been. This one was not pleasant like the others. He felt as though he had been here before.

“Chindren,” a voice echoed in his mind.

He looked up to see his mother floating before him. He smiled at her. It must be a dream, he thought: the river, the cold. He would awaken soon and be back among his friends in that peaceful world he had just left. But the figure was not smiling back at him. She looked frightened.

Chindren wanted to comfort her, to tell her everything was okay and not to fear—that he would be with her again soon; but he could not speak. Again something tugged at him from the back of his mind, a warning, perhaps. Not all was as it seemed.

This sparked the tiniest bit of concern in Chindren. He began to worry if perhaps his mother needed him to do something, but he could not figure out what that was. The figure reached out her arm to him. That was it, he thought. She wants me to take her hand. He struggled to lift his arm, which for some reason felt as though it were made of lead. Somehow he managed to reach out and take hold of her, and as he did his whole world twisted and started moving in the most peculiar way.

He noticed there was a river rushing by him. It was cold and wet and unpleasant and he wondered what on earth it was doing there. He realized he was holding onto the branch of a tree that had grown out from the shallow bank and began to pull himself up out of the cold water.

As he hung there, breathing heavily, his thoughts began to come back to him. He remembered the wind and the storm and falling into the river, and some very peculiar dreams, but he couldn’t figure out for the life of him how he had managed to grab that branch, which he now clung to for dear life.

The sky had cleared considerably and the storm had seemed to have passed, but it was now quite late and natural darkness was already close at hand. There were even a few starts beginning to show.

The banks of the river were much lower here, and as Chindren began to pull himself out by the branch of the tree, he managed to reach ahold of a clump of grassy land in his other hand. Pulling by the branch, he managed to hoist himself up so that his waist was resting on the soft bank and only his feet were dangling in the river. His limbs still felt like clubs, but were now shivering violently trying to get some feeling back in them. His whole body shook, making it hard for him to pull himself up any further, but grabbing ahold of two fists of grass, he managed to do so, rolling himself over onto the bank and out of the water.

He lay there a moment, between the bank of the river and the trunk of the tree whose limb he had used to pull himself free of the deadly river. His teeth were chattering and his whole body shook with convulsions as it tried to warm itself despite the sopping wet clothes the cool night air. He began to strip his soaking clothes off and longed for his pack with his blanket and canteen, far behind him in the glade somewhere atop the ravine. He began to search hopefully through his coat, which now lay in a sopping bundle beside him and was relieved to discover his flintstone and cheese had not fallen out in the river. He pulled out the bundle of cheese and began to devour it.

Chindren sat there, cold and naked, shivering so wildly he could barely hold the cheese to his mouth as he tore off big chunks of the hard cheese with his teeth and ate with abandon. After he devoured the cheese, he grabbed his undergarments and tried to wring them out as best he could, despite his frozen hands. When he had done all he could he laid them out to dry atop a nearby bush and went back to his things.

He picked up and shook off as much water as he could from his coat, which having been slicked with oil was at least somewhat waterproof. It was now soaked right through of course, but he turned it inside out and draped it around his shoulders as he sat in a scrunched ball, back to the tree and tried to conserve the little body heat he had left.

The minutes ticked by. Unlike while he was in the river, this time the pain did not go away. Chindren simply focused on staying conscious as he watched the silhouettes of tall stalks of cattails lean to and fro in the breeze. The night was lonesome and empty, and though his teeth were no longer chattering, every muscle in his body was painfully clenched. He sat with his arms around his legs pulled up tight against his body and his chin resting on his knees with the damp overcoat providing a small degree of insulation and protection from the breeze.

He watched the final remnants of light disappear from the sky and the stars come out to shine. There was no moon to be seen in the heavens that night.

The story continues…

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Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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