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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Through the Great Forest - III

There is no good in the river that runs dry.

Nathan pushed forward to walk beside his mother.

"I don't understand what you're looking for. Nothing's changed for the last five hours."

"Plenty has changed, but you look with a city man's eyes, not the eyes of one born of the Great Forest."

"Mother, ever since we entered the forest, you've been speaking like those crazy shamans who come from the rural parts to persuade the king's people to leave the city. I mean no disrespect, but what has happened to you?"

"When one is away from one's life for too long, he begins to forget what should never be forgotten. I had a good life in the city with your father, but the old ways are the ones that protect us from what lies beyond the Great Forest. And those ways are the ones which we must now cling to."

"I've seen the maps, Mother, and there's nothing on the other side. It's just mountains and glaciers for miles and miles until you get to the pole, and then it changes to a snow prairie."

"No man has ever returned as himself after entering those mountains, and none has gone from one side to the other."

"Of course, you can't go into the mountains and not be changed! You'd have to be terribly dense not to come away with a better perspective on the world. They say that the world from the top of mountains makes you forget the folly of mankind and remember the world when it was new created. Dame Hilde said all of the great writers had been to the mountains, and that was where the learned to write."

"My son, you think yourself wise when you are a fool. Listen." Maura's hand silenced the angry thought about to spill from her sons lips, and Nathan cocked his head, certain he would hear no sound.

He saw rather than heard. A beast with mud matted fur stepped into view. Standing on two legs, it was easily half again Maura's height. It snarled, but Nathan was certain it was not looking at them. When the animal lunged forward on four legs, it missed them by yards. As Nathan swung around to see where the beast had gone, he immediately wished he had not. This time the beast was closer, and was looking almost directly at them. If it rushed forward a second time, Nathan and his mother would not survive. He could just see his mother out of the corner of his eye, but he dared not speak. He watched in horror as she darted forward, attracting the beast's next assault.

"Mother!" he screamed. The beast stopped in midstride, spinning toward his voice as if to attack and then fell onto its face. Nathan's knees wobbled as he watched his mother leap onto the beast's back, stabbing it with a dagger as she came down.

A thousand questions raced through Nathan's mind, but none took form until his mother's hand took his arm and began leading him away.

"Nathan, I did not want you to see what the Mountains Beyond hold for those who travel them, but now you have seen, and now you must know that there are beasts more fell and more dangerous than the one you just killed, but none are more powerful than you. This is true of every beast and every man - we stand over the beasts, though the beasts wish to stand over us."

Nathan could only mouth a silent "What?" as she continued. "Had I raised you in the village, you would know all that you must know, but now you must learn it at a time when the knowing of it must be written in your very flesh. You must learn to watch and to listen. The beast you slayed was a Daemon-Wolf, it hunts by movement and by sound. That is how one must defeat it - using its strength and its weakness against it. You did this without knowing, but you must learn so that you may do as you know - then you will be able to defend yourself and protect the Great Forest."

Nathan regained his tongue and blurted, "Mother, I did nothing to that beast! You stabbed it, you led it away, you killed it! I had nothing to do with it! I want nothing to do with it! I don't belong in this place!"

"All mankind belongs in this place, many have wandered far from it's borders, but all must return whether they acknowledge it or no. You will learn. You must learn. If you do not, you cannot live, and you will instead be born into the Mountains Beyond in the bellies of the daemons."

Nathan fell silent, falling behind his mother, giving her the lead and keeping his thoughts to himself.

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