Quite joyfully, Digaba stacked pebbles and rocks upon one another, building a low wall like the ones he'd spied from beyond the range of the forest. Of course, he could not build one three feet high when he himself measured only two, but his enthusiasm wasn't dissuaded.
A great collection of rocks sat near his bare feet, dutifully gathered upon his decision, and he rummaged through them every few moments for the next perfectly-shaped stone for his purpose. The wall held itself together through balance and weight alone.
As his worksong reached its climax, the rock he'd next chosen suddenly slipped from his excited grip. He immediately jumped back to spare his toes and watched with disappointment as it shattered against the others.
The area fell quiet as his song was silenced, and he sighed and tutted to himself as he looked down at it. It had been such a perfect rock.
He bent down and lifted the pieces, rotating them so they might fit together again. If he could position it just so, it could still work.
His brown, lichen-speckled brow furrowed, however, when he found a smooth protrusion in one of the fragments, and though it was clear which piece it connected to for the impression, the matter was suddenly forgotten.
He placed down the other shattered pieces and peered down at it. It seemed, if such a thing could be, to be a rock within a rock. It had a shape too specific for chance, a water-smoothed finish - it even had a slightly different colouration. But it was encased in more stone.
His gaze dropped back to the pile of rocks. Setting the first aside carefully, he picked up another and dropped it upon the others. Excitedly, he lifted each fragment and analysed their every side, expecting to see more concealed stones, but there was nothing to find in this one, nor the next, nor the one after that.
Before too long he'd broken most of his rocks and his task lay forgotten, so focused he was on the rock within a rock, but he discovered no more. Every other stone was just that: a stone.
He sat upon the pile of shattered pebbles and stared down at his finding. How had the rock gotten trapped inside another? Rocks didn't eat anything, as far as he knew, let alone other rocks, and he couldn't understand why anyone would wish to hide it. Hiding a rock within a rock and then amongst other rocks would make it very difficult to recover...
There was only one thing for it: take it to the owless. She'll know what it is.
Digaba rushed through the forest, the stone clutched tightly to his chest as he wove and wended his way amongst the trees towards the ancient giant oak where the owless resided. He slowed as he neared, peering up at it in awe as he often did and feeling far smaller and insignificant than the guardian of the forest should.
He took a deep breath to whistle out an arrival tune for her attention, but hesitated when he considered that, at this time of the day, she would be sleeping.
He sighed in defeat. It could wait.
"Young Digaba," a voice hooted from above, stilling him before he could even complete a turn to head back in the direction he'd come from, and he spun right the way around again. A tawny form appeared at a large, knotted hole high up in the trunk, its black eyes peering out from the darkness and down towards him. There was age and wisdom within them, as well as interest.
The owl stepped out into the light and with a sweep of her wonderful wings, landed upon the lowest branch of her tree. "What is it you have there?"
Digaba extended his skinny arms and presented the rock towards her.
She leaned forwards and cocked her head, staring at it for a long, studious moment, then perched straight again, inclining her ruffled head. "You possess a fragment of time," she told him in a soft, rippling hoot, "a record made by the earth to mark turning points in its life - when it grew, when it changed, when it hurt, when it thrived. Written in layers like the lines in the Princess's diary. This piece in particular is a memory of a moment, the death of a creature that called this world home."
Digaba's brow rose, then dropped and knotted in distress.
"Worry not, Master Bragoh," she hooted cheerfully, "this creature and its kin lived long before your time. Neither its life nor its death were your responsibility. It was but the natural course of things." She cocked her head again. "Though I find it remarkable that you should have found such a thing here. The earth keeps them hidden in Erivana - this is a place of secrets. In the mountains you may find them more easily - the mountains themselves are pages upon pages laid bare to read - but in these lower lands, the earth does not reveal her past so willingly. Beneath your odd little feet lie countless mysteries..."
Digaba looked down towards his toes curiously, then back to the stone. A memory of the earth?
He looked back up to the owless, who stared back at him just as closely as she had the stone, bowed very low in thanks and hurried away.
He spent the next few hours searching for more, cracking so many rocks that he had found a wonderful place to do it, where a great boulder made them break more cleanly and softly than simply dropping them upon one another, but again, no matter how many shattered, he found no more.
He grew tired as the sun descended behind the mountains, blanketing the forest in dusk, and eventually gave up. He sat upon the boulder, amongst the chips and stone splinters, and pondered the single fragment of time he had stumbled across.
The earth really had done a wonderful job of hiding its history. That he could work for a whole day and find just one - just how many rocks could there possibly be to conceal things?
...Unless it was not the concealment, but the rocks themselves...or maybe he had found some more, but they'd broken just as cleanly on this supposedly perfect boulder and slipped out from his notice.
His chest fluttered.
What if he'd been destroying fragments of history? What if the rocks themselves were the history, pieces the earth had been gracious enough to share, but he'd been rummaging through, unsatisfied, trying to dig up and force to the surface that which it wished to keep hidden?
All of a sudden his hunger for more diminished. He felt awful, and as he looked around at the mess he'd made, the broken pages and memories scattered into dust, he felt only worse.
He slipped himself off of the boulder and immediately began trying to make amends, reassembling the stones with even more dedication than he had his little wall and carrying them all around, trying to find precisely where he'd found them.
But of course he could never manage.
He dropped down to the grass in defeat once the moon hung high overhead, fretting over how deeply he must have offended the earth. And he had so long been her servant, protecting her creatures, her trees, her rivers - only those within his domain, perhaps, but he'd given himself to her so completely. What must she think of him now? Nosing through her diary at things she had not allowed any others to see, kept concealed or hidden within plain sight...
Unless...everything he'd uncovered, albeit forcefully, he had been allowed to, he'd just not taken the time to appreciate it. Every rock, pebble, grain of sand, all memories of her long life but overlooked by so many - overlooked even by him. But he had realised his misake, or at least one of them, and had seen the value in her work and tried to put it back together. After all, how long had it taken her to make them? And while he had been unable to repair the rock, who or what possibly could? Once they were broken, they were broken. Revealed to the world.
The earth had the power to shift and hide parts of itself. These few stones he'd broken - for which he was still filled with regret - simply would not have been thrust up if the earth truly wanted to keep them hidden. Perhaps his rummaging and smashing was just a part of how they were supposed to be discovered, read and appreciated. For appreciate them he now did.
A smile spread across his face and he looked at the first stone he had found, bathed in silver light, turning it to marvel at its curiousness.