by K Griffin ©
Focus is the key. Look within until you find the
Darkness where your thoughts cast no shadow"
extract from 'The Ancient Book of the Magi'
Perhaps it was his leaving that woke her. Whatever the reason, Chrys woke as the first rays of the winter sun began to lighten the morning sky.
She looked around the room for some sign of the strange night she had spent. A small pile of silver lay on the shelf. In some circumstances, money left at her bedside might have been an insult, but she knew the intentions behind this gift were pure. She carefully put the coins into her belt, one coin into each compartment, so the jingling would not attract attention.
She'd seen him stare at her clothing last night, but she'd not bothered to explain. She knew that the blue gown and silver belt had surprised him. Though dirty and a little ragged, they still hinted at a strange past. The blue gown spoke of riches, since it was a rare fabric and an expensive dye. The silver girdle hinted at magic, especially when a silver dagger hung from it. He might have been even more curious, if he'd know of the many secret compartments hidden in the girdle. Chrys suspected that they once housed potions and pills, but now she simply used them to hold her few coins. She'd worn these clothes since the day she woke, alone and confused, in this strange land. She wore them to remind herself that she had forgotten.
Her one concession was the thick woollen cloak that hid her from prying eyes. She wrapped the cloak around her now, pulled up the hood and slipped out of the room. She paused at the top of the stairs listening. There was no noise from below. Relieved that she did not have to face any smirks or taunts, she quietly made her way down the stairs and out of the Tavern.
It had been too dark to see much beyond the lights of the buildings when she had arrived the previous evening. Now the morning half-light made everything grey. She surveyed the washed out landscape. This little cluster of buildings was really no more than a frontier outpost.
The south road held no attraction since she'd just come from that direction. Westward, a winding track seemed to head towards the dark Forest she could see in the distance. The North Road, the one she had planned to follow, looked easier, but Skye had mentioned that he would take the North Road. She knew their paths would cross again one day, but she didn't want it to appear as though she was following him. Something told her it was too soon yet.
Chrys knew that some mysterious force was drawing her northwards. She felt its tug as she headed down the West track. It was not displeased or impatient with her delay, it was just reminding her that eventually she had to choose the cold North Road. It was impossible not to notice that the further north she went, the colder and more barren it became.
Even here, as she followed the west path, she noticed sparkles of ice in the grass. It was an unnatural cold that seemed to hold the lands and its grip tightened with each step north. A tiny snowdrop flower caught her eye and she bent and plucked it without thinking. She regretted the action immediately though. It was an unnecessary shortening of an already short life.
Luckily she reached the woods before the sun rose too high in the sky. It was an anomaly of the strange cold that whilst the land felt frozen, the sun still shone. It made travelling difficult because the water holes and streams were often frozen. Drinking water was becoming a scarce commodity.
The woods made a shady change. The canopy closed over her head protecting her from the sun as it climbed higher in the sky. Giant old trees bordered the path, but the cold had touched even them. Chrys noticed the brown, which tipped each leaf. She should have felt better for entering the pleasant cool of the forest but a strange humming unsettled her nerves.
She stopped and tried to identify the source of the humming. Whenever she tried to concentrate upon the noise however, the hum rose in frequency. She closed her eyes and almost doubled over as the pain knifed through her. Shocked, she opened her eyes. The hum was some form of creature in pain, but it was an alien pain from an ancient being. A being who was definitely not human or elf or any of the other races she had encountered. It explained why she hadn't recognised it. Chrys called softly "Can I help?"
There was no answer, but again the hum intensified. She caught a flicker of movement to her left. As she carefully scanned the forest to her left, there was a flicker of movement to her right. Puzzled, she slowly turned full circle but could see nothing. Tiny rustles of movement started all around her. She had no choice but to continue, warily. The peace she'd felt on entering the dim green world of the forest had left her. Green had always seemed to heal and sooth, but the screams she sensed within the humming, counteracted any benefits.
Chrys spent the next hours of her journey, pretending she was alone. She simply followed the faint path, hoping that her shadowers would allow the pretence to continue. Each time she attempted to stop and rest, the hum intensified and the rustling movements around her became more obvious. Once or twice she thought she glimpsed a large animal gliding from one shadow to the next. By now she was regretting the foolish pride that had made her wander from her path. She was caught in this strangeness solely because she hadn't wanted to look like she was following Skye.
She was tired, hungry and thirsty when she finally stumbled upon a clearing. Strangely, the hum stopped as soon as she stepped clear of the trees. Now that she could finally see the position of the sun again, she realised that she had been walking most of the day. She sank thankfully down onto the soft grass and was finally able to concentrate on the situation. The pale sunlight reflected off the trees that surrounded the clearing and coloured it in soft green hues.
Chrys looked at the forest. The strange pain was strong in her memory. Now she could let the green heal and soothe as it was meant to. She let the green flow over her and gently wash away the memory of the pain. She felt the hum lessen in her memory until it faded completely. Chrys sent silent thanks to the forest for its healing hues, then decided that it deserved more than silent thanks. She stood, refreshed, and walked to the nearest tree. She rested her hands on the trunk and looked up at the towering branches. Chrys smiled to herself at her foolishness then whispered "Thankyou, my friend".
Touching the tree seemed to create a link. Chrys had felt this strange form of communication before and she assumed she was feeling the force of nature. This time however, she felt the echo of the humming scream. Without thinking she drew again on the cool green light and allowed it to wash away the screams. She felt the pain recede.
A voice behind her spoke sharply, "That's not possible!"
Chrys spun around in confusion. She'd been sure she was alone. Now a tall lean figure stood halfway across the clearing. He seemed to be wholly clothed in fur pelts and a gigantic wolf paw hung from his belt. Chrys doubted he wore it for luck, since even at this distance she could see the gleaming claws. The man wielded no weapon at the moment though, he simply leaned on the long gnarled staff that he held and studied her.
Chrys must have looked puzzled, because he repeated, "That's not possible. Not even the Guardians have been able to heal Yang'grir. Yet you do."
He looked at her warily, then said "By what power? Who is your God?"
Chrys shook her head in confusion "I have no power."
She saw the hope die in him and he nodded. He said, softly "They told me you would come. They told me what you could do. And they told me not to ask you, because you would not yet be ready." He sighed and continued slowly, "But when you healed Yang'grir, I had to ask. I dared to hope that you would help."
Chrys forgot she was alone and forgot that this man had strange and dangerous weapons. She felt the frustration boil over inside her. She wanted to shake him to his senses. She stepped forward and said vehemently, "Its not me! I have no power. Its not me you're waiting for!" The implied accusation that she could help, but wouldn't, angered her.
He stopped leaning on the staff and before she realised what he was doing, he used it to flip her cloak open. Momentarily, he rested the staff against the tattoo that was now exposed to his view. She felt the walls in her mind tremble. His voice was cold and harsh now, as he said "Don't treat me like a fool, m'lady. I see the power pathways in you. I see the mark that He put on you. He marks all his students thus. And you know that none survive to leave with that mark. Failure with Him, means death."
He saw her confusion mount. He studied her carefully. Slowly, disbelievingly, the words came out and he said "You really don't know what I'm talking about?"
Chrys shook her head.
Chrys sighed. "Not from the first word you spoke" she replied, "Every word you speak, just raises more questions ...What is Yang'grir? What is a Guardian? Who is they? Who is He? What does this mark mean?"
He shook his head sadly. "Many of your questions, I may not answer. Many, I cannot answer" he said. "Come though, and rest. Yang'grir's pain is too much for me here. Come and we will talk about what we can."
It was only then, that Chrys noticed the caves behind him. Again, she could have sworn that they had not been there before. It was almost as though him speaking of them, made them a reality for her. She felt a strange tingling as she followed him into the mouth of the cave. From outside the cave had looked dark and forbidding. Once inside though, it seemed to be filled with a soft light.
Chrys turned slowly, taking in the vast expanse of the cave. She could see no walls at all, save the one behind her. The clearing in the forest was still visible through the opening. She laughed at herself as realisation dawned. This was no cave. The light came from the full moons straight above her head.
He looked at her and said "Many would be afraid, but not you?"
She shook her head, smiling, and said "No. I love the night. The silver light of the moons seem to shield me from harm." She laughed out loud as the light filled her. She felt stronger, felt the silver light wrap around her to keep her safe.
He sank down into the long grass. She followed his lead and found the earth warm and normal. Finally he spoke and pain filled his voice "Yang'grir is the name of the forest, but its more than a name." Chrys nodded and said softly "I felt the pain".
He seemed to forget that she listened and his words were little more than musings out loud, "Yang'grir is what the wolves name the forest sentience. It is so ancient that usually it slumbers and ignores the affairs of lesser beings, but the pain has disturbed it. The frozen earth is killing the trees. I am Guardian, appointed by the Wolf Clan to watch over the ancestral forests of our kin, the wolves. I am Guardian and even I cannot ease Yang'grir's pain". He paused in his meanderings and looked at her. His tone was harsher, almost accusing, as he said "But you could. You did. I felt you heal the pain."
She considered his words carefully and her response was also carefully phrased, intending to avoid offence, "Guardian, if I helped Yang'grir at all, then I am glad, but Yang'grir healed itself. I felt the forest's own healing green hues wash away the pain. I did nothing. I just watched till the memory of the screams was gone."
He looked at her and curiosity filled his voice as he said, "Who is your new Master child? It's a far gentler path you follow these days."
Chrys shook her head. Again her response was polite, considered and her tone very even, as she said "There is no Master. There is no magic. I know that once I controlled power. I can still feel it sometimes, but the memories are of pain and terror and other terrible things as well. I don't want the power if those memories and those actions, are part of it."
Chrys averted her gaze; a little afraid she had offended him. It was obvious that magic was his life and she was daring to deny it by refusing it.
She heard his soft words as though they floated on the night air, "Child, you have the power now and with no Master to guide you" His voice trailed off into silence. Eventually he continued, almost to himself "No wonder they fear the outcome."
Chrys look at him, waiting for him to continue. He just shook his head slowly and stood up. In more formal tones he said, "Wolf Clan respects your choices. Wolf Clan will send you a companion to aid you in your trials. Sleep here in peace as long as you need, but I must return to my duties." He bowed and stepped back into the clearing. She watched until he disappeared into the forest.
She dredged her memory for information about the Wolf Clan. During her travels she'd learned just how powerful some of the Clans were, though she'd had little contact with them. A powerful Mage had founded the Wolf Clan. The kinship with the Wolves, of which the Guardian had spoken, was closer than just a symbolic link. The founder had studied the ancient secrets of lycanthropy, but his eventual knowledge of the fabled werewolf had brought him no applause from his fellow Mages. They had cast him out. When he had still refused to cease his studies, they had combined to punish him. The punishment they chose was to lock him forever in the halfway state between human and wolf.
Saddened by their intolerance, he had simply disappeared into the ancient forests. Who, or what, he had gathered around him during his search into the secret and forbidden studies, she had no idea. She just knew that out of those studies, and his students and followers, had grown Clan Wolf. She knew little of their Gods, nor of their teachings.
She chuckled to herself as the thought crossed her mind "Maybe I better learn, if I'm to have a Wolf Clan companion." The one thing she did know, was that to offend one, was to offend all.
The Guardian had promised that she would be safe here, so she curled up in the long grass and slept. She might have need of the energy later. If a Clan felt her journey was important enough to become involved, then it was likely to be more than a personal journey of re-discovery. For a change, her dreams were peaceful as though she was indeed shielded from all harm. Her sleep was deep and refreshing.
When she awoke the Moons still shone. They were still high above her head. She wondered if time meant anything in this place. She also awoke to find a warm soft white fur pelt against her back. If she hadn't slept so deeply or if she'd thought more clearly upon waking, she might not have been so surprised when, as she got to her feet, the fur pelt also moved. With a nervous laugh, she reached a tentative hand out and softly said, "So you are my companion?".
The gigantic white wolf nuzzled her hand, acknowledging her proffered trust. It was too dignified to wag its tail. She reminded herself that this was no lap dog.
With a last regretful look at the full moons, Chrys bade the peaceful haven goodbye. The silver light sparkled in the air, like the last remaining tendrils of her dream. She felt as though she belonged here. She took a deep breath and steeled herself. It was as though she was about to face a great ordeal, yet all she was doing was stepping back into reality. She felt the strange tingling again, then the hot sun was overhead and the cold earth was beneath her feet. She was once again in the clearing in the forest.
She knew without even looking, that she could not go back, but she had to look anyway. She slowly turned full circle, but there were no caves in this clearing. She wasn't even really sure which path would lead her back to the outpost, so when a cold nose pushed her hand, urging her towards a path, she decided to allow the Wolf to lead her.
Instead of entering the forest, the Wolf stopped at the entrance to the path. Though she walked on, the Wolf stayed at the edge of the clearing and she could feel his gaze on her back. Chrys walked back and knelt before the Wolf. She took its face in her hands and looked at it carefully. The Wolf's hot breath was full in her face and its lolling tongue did little to hide the vicious teeth. Again she reminded herself that this was no lap dog. She looked into the bright intelligent eyes and said softly "So, Wolf Clan companion, we need to find a way to communicate."
Chrys closed her eyes and concentrated deeply on the problem. She wished the Guardian had stayed long enough to introduce her to the Wolf and help her over this hurdle. She was sure that communication was possible. Strangely, when she closed her eyes, she still felt the Wolf's hot breath in her face, but the image in her mind was a kaleidoscope of colours. It seemed that as she watched, the colours coalesced, settled for a moment and then formed a new pattern.
Chrys itched to play with the patterns, to sort and rearrange them. Intuitively, she knew that the green was the influence from the forest home of the Wolf Clan whereas the silver strands were the moon goddess and her hold on these night hunters. The red, she suspected, was the blood lust of the hunt. The black was not a colour she wanted to explore yet, so she debated between the faint traces of purple and the stronger traces of yellow. Gently she touched the yellow strands with her mind and seemed to hear the Wolf, to hear Grir'Ryrf.
Suddenly she realised the path the Wolf was leading her down. With a startled gasp she broke the mental connection as well as the physical one and stepped well back watching the Wolf warily. Barely audible, she whispered, "Ryrf?"
The Wolf stood and walked towards her. She felt its assent and the pain in her broke through. She sank down onto her knees, this time in defeat. She looked at the Wolf and pain shone through the unshed tears in her eyes as she said, "You made me use it, didn't you? I don't want it. Its a terrible thing this power."
Ryrf seemed to feel the panic in her, the fear that she loosing something beyond her control. He just stood beside her and she felt the green forest hues reach out offering to soothe the panic. Chrys finally managed to regain control. She stood and looked at the Wolf bitterly. "I hate you for that", she said.
The Wolf seemed to grin knowingly at her and simply headed off down the path. Reluctantly, Chrys followed him. It seemed a longer journey back out of the forest, but that might have been because whenever the hum from Yang'grir became too loud, the Wolf demanded that she stop. If she stepped to the nearest tree and allowed the forest to wash away the memory of the tree's pain, Ryrf seemed to be satisfied. She found that if she was angry, the memory took longer to fade. She forced herself to be calm so that the gentle green hues were not disturbed by her anger. The stops were quicker that way, but she found it hard to control her anger.
The sun was setting by the time they reached the edge of the forest. Chrys was reluctant to approach a settlement, with this strange companion, so she finally spoke. In a stilted voice she said "Ryrf, I've been to this settlement. I doubt they'll welcome you."
The Wolf didn't appear to acknowledge her comments, but a little farther on, he did divert from the path. Just off the path, well hidden from any casual traveller, were some small caves. The Wolf lead the way into a dry clean den. Chrys curled up next to her companion and immediately fell asleep. She was exhausted.