It seems like it's been quite a while since I've been properly in the swing. So much going on. With Efan's exams right around the corner things are settling for me, if not for him so I hope things will fall into a pattern again. Anyway, here's the next step in our boys' journey. We're teetering on the brink of being thrown in at the deep end. Enjoy the peace while you can.
Without the comforting presence of Malik and Tian, I don’t think I would be able to walk these woods. The trees watch me, the plants talk to each other and I know I catch my name more than once. Even the birds swoop and hover all around me. The wood is alive and I get the impression that without my guardians I would be swallowed whole and lost forever.
The path is pleasant enough, clear of obstruction, to the fore and above, so it is bathed in unobstructed sunlight. It’s uncomfortable to note that the sun is on a rapid decline and it will surely be nightfall by the time we return from whenever we are going. I don’t want to think about that. Malik tells me it’s not far but he’s been saying that for a while and it’s clear Tian is unsettled too. He doesn’t really know where we’re going either. Am I crazy for putting my trust in an overgrown kitten.
I find myself fondly petting Malik’s head, memories of my mother’s kittens floating through my mind. It’s a shock to remember that, unlike those kittens, one swipe of a paw, one nick from a tooth would bring unbearable agony and probably death. Malik is no kitten.
“We are here,” Malik purrs inside my head, and I look around, confused. Nothing has changed. We’re still on the path, walking through the same scenery. There’s no side-path, no clearing. In fact, the road ahead seems to be blocked by a tree-fall. The thought of plunging into the undergrowth, searching for a way around, is not a welcoming one.
“The road’s blocked. Can’t we just go back?”
Tian’s fingers close around mine. His hand is so warm. Or is mine cold? “Are you afraid?”
I straighten my spine and glare at him. “No, of course not. I trust you, and Malik. I’m just…. It’s going to start getting dark soon. Should we really be wandering around in the woods? We might get lost.”
Tian laughs and it annoys me. How dare he mock my discomfiture. He might be used to wandering wild in the wood, but he should know I am not.
As if sensing my mood, Tian stops laughing and lays his arm across my shoulders, drawing me in to the warmth of his side.
“I’ve spent almost all my life wandering this wood, or others like it. I know every path, every glade. I will not lead you into danger. I swear it. Light or dark, I will always keep you on a safe path. Do you trust me?”
I can’t help a nervous glance around. It seems as if the whole wood – plants, animals and especially the trees – have paused and are awaiting my response. One old tree close-by creaks as it bends toward us. I could swear craggy brows are drawn together in a frown. I swallow and drag my eyes back to Tian’s. I nod slowly, unable to trust my voice not to betray my lie.
Tian sees, of course he does, and he smiles gently. “Maybe we should break you in gradually. Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.”
I have to wonder whether those friends have roots.
The crack of wood has me jumping half out of my skin. I whirl to find the trees lying across our path are moving. In moments, trunks that had been leaning drunkenly, barring our way, become rod-straight, with the bearing of soldiers. Tree soldiers? Here, I would believe anything.
A shadow passes over me as we pass through a dappled gateway. I glance up to find the tree gazing back through large, moss-green eyes. I freeze, but Tian urges me forward.
Dragging my eyes from the tree, I freeze again, for a different reason.
We are in a clearing filled with life, but such life as I have never seen. The dominant colours are red, pink and purple. Just ahead, the path forks. The right fork circles a clear pool, fed by a waterfall tumbling from a sheer cliff. The pool teems with life, from darting surface skimmers to what can only - from the bright flash of scales, the laughter and the vivid tangle of floating hair - be merfolk.
While I gaze, stupefied, Tian draws me away along the left-hand path. This passes beneath a curtain of willows into another world of peace and serenity, cut off from the vibrant one we’d just left.
Overhanging branches cut out much of the sun, creating a cool, green arbour. Just ahead, the road widens to circle another, much smaller pool fed from the mouths of stone lions; one on either side. Beside the lion, with one hand on its head are two statues that rise at least eight foot high. On the left is a horned man, on the right a lovely woman. In the centre, at the far side of the water is a stone chair, or throne. Someone sits on it, gazing calmly into the mirror pool. As we approach, she raises her head and smiles. I have seen her before.
As I stare, open mouthed, the woman rises and hurries around the path to greet us. Her touch is warm and friendly – on my skin and my mind. Her embrace is coming home. Her kiss on my cheek intoxicates me and I smile, returning the hug, a sudden rush of joy bursts forth as laughter from my lips. Tian laughs in his turn, and Malik purrs and falls to the ground, rolling in the grass. The Lady laughs as she kneels to scratch his belly.
When she rises, she holds out her hands. “Come, my children. We must talk, but first let us feast. All of us are excited and we cannot deny your brothers and sisters the opportunity to break bread with you.”
Brothers and sisters? Initial shock gives way to understanding when I realize she speaks metaphorically not literally – I hope. There are only so many shocks I can take.
Now check out the rest of the flashers this week