Tuesday 17 May 2016

Of Ash And Dew - Four

   Finally the loose and dusty Shales gave way to dirt and mud. The earth was dry and compact, but it felt almost like sponge beneath her feet by comparison, and she breathed a sigh of relief when the damp grass cushioned her sore soles.
   She followed the small trail, worn in by animals rather than hunters, and it wended chaotically until she finally saw the rocky outcrop in this thin forest.
   She steeled herself, feeling her heart lurch in sudden fear - what if the oracle couldn't help? What if he could? What on earth did she intend to do if he gave her the information she sought? She'd barely indulged the idea. The past week had been hard going, and she couldn't afford to let herself shrink back from it now.
   Her jaw tightened and she approached the small cottage that stood amongst the rocks, determination in her step, and raised her hand to rap against the rotten old door without giving herself the opportunity to hesitate.
   But there was no answer.
   Her heart dropped.
   She raised her hand and knocked again, ignoring the doubt that was ready to creep in, but she was met only with silence once again.
   What possessed her to do it, she had little idea - perhaps it was desperation, though whether for her family or just to avoid a wasted trip, she equally had little idea. But whatever caused her to grasp and the door handle and step inside, unbidden, she did so all the same, invading the small, dark hovel.
   She'd barely taken a second step as the voice rose from her left, and she froze in fright at the sound. Her dark eyes wide, she spun to face the corner where a man stood over a fire pit, peering into a pot hung above.
   "You search for something," he continued without turning nor casting her even a cursory glance.
   "Y-yes," she dared, though she stayed where she was, "I--"
   The cloaked man took a deep breath, inhaling the smoke from the pot. A seeing brew, perhaps? "You will find it."
   Mítrei blinked. "Well, good," she began, unsure quite whether she should be pleased for the fact or curious about just exactly what he spoke of. "Where--"
   "You will possess a power of influence that hasn't been seen in a century, and with it, you will bring a great change to our world." He turned his head only a fraction, but she still couldn't see his face. "But whether it will be of good or ill is yet to be seen."
   A wary frown creased her brow as he dropped a handful of crushed, dried leaves into the pot. "But that's not what I seek--"
   "Silence, child!" Now he turned, and the dark gaze he cast upon her turned her blood to ice, his eyes far younger and more lively than the surrounding wrinkles would suggest. "Did you parents teach you no manners? Or perhaps you're impatient because you seek the facts with no desire for their context. Very well, then let me give it to you: you are not, and will never be, a hero."
   "I meant no offence," she started frantically, wondering just exactly what she'd said or done and wondering if the oracle wasn't in fact just an insane old hermit, "but I don't--"
   "Away with you!"
   "Out!" He cleared the space between them in a quick few steps, his old, tattered cloak billowing out around him, and he pushed her easily out of the door, the scent of a boar stew chasing her out as it slammed on her heels.

   I have no idea what happened. I had no chance to even ask my question, and instead he gave me words surely meant for someone else. I don't seek to be a hero, I wish only to retrieve what little my family possessed, to return my world to the closest it can be even if I can't bring my family back. And even now I feel a rage burning in my chest at myself and that crazy old man for costing me my one opportunity to learn what I need to achieve it.
   After all I went through to get here. The forest of Malíchi was worse terrain than I had expected, even aside from the spirits, and the Shales were little more than a dust bowl even despite the recent rain, winds kicking up the sands and smallest, sharpest fragments of dark rock to cut the skin and slice the lungs. And food had been scarce - the only thing that eases me is knowing that the sense of being followed that I'd experienced all the while was Tarui, who had made his way through for a similar purpose, doubting his ability to stop his tribe's attackers.
   "Prove him wrong," he'd said to me after I'd warned him of the old man's madness, and after I'd explained again that his words hadn't been for me, he'd asked if I didn't seen vengeance for my family's murder.
   "My heart does," I'd said, shamefully.
   "And your mind tells you it isn't a noble pursuit." He'd cast me a smile that I have to admit stopped my heart for a moment. "You are wise. Show me your blade."
    Just as he had the first time we'd met, he took me through the motions of attack and defence. It had helped me to clear my mind, focus my thoughts and discover just what truly lay in my heart.
   "You may not seek to be a hero, or to exact vengeance, but a hero is a matter of opinion. It is no single great deed in service to a whole people, it is only doing the right thing, whatever it might be, through whatever trials stand in the way."
   I felt a great weight behind these words he'd shared with me, and, somehow, some kind of comfort. I sought, I realised, to be a hero to my family's memory.
   And regardless of the old fool's words, I will achieve it.

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