A Gleam of Hope.
Eyla crouched in the dense undergrowth of the Hurfed Wood. In front of her was a clearing. Moonlight streamed thick and heavy into the clearing. The ferns and grasses tickled her and sharp twigs dug into the soles of her feet. The plants were wet with dew and where she brushed them; the moisture stuck to her skin. She squinted into the darkness surrounding the clearing. She could hardly see anything. She twisted her mouth and bit her lip. It seemed safe but one could never be sure. It was in a clearing just like this that she met one of the most deadly creatures of the Wood. But it was far more dangerous to go around the clearing. The strap of her satchel dug deep into her shoulder. She reached out and tried to shift the strap to a more comfortable position, it did not work. Sighing she left it alone and decided to risk all and plunge ahead. It may not be the wisest of choices but the encounter with the Boa still fresh in her mind and she wanted to have space to maneuver in case anything came out of these shadows.
She clenched her jaw, snorted and dashed across. Darkness exploded into silver light and then into darkness again as she plunged into the Wood beyond. She did not pause until her way was no longer highlighted by the moonlight. She crashed through trees; the branches wiping her and leaving nasty little red lines where her blood leaked through. Suddenly she tripped over a log that she did not see and went sprawling onto the floor. She rolled over and over and finally hit a tree. She lay there absorbing the pain; trying to get her breath back. Her lungs felt empty. She twisted and lay on her back. Her hand clutched her side. ‘That was stupid’ she said to herself, ‘you should have been more careful. Fear makes you do stupid things.’ She took a deep breath and leapt up. Her ribs felt like they were broken. Every breath was a sharp stab of pain. She felt around, found the satchel and slung it over her shoulder. She only had this night to get back to the village to complete this test. She looked around. She had no idea where she was. Anger welled in her chest. “You are such a fool Eyla!” she chided herself, as anger changed into unwelcome panic. She fought down the desire to cry. The wood was terribly silent. Eyla swallowed and then quite suddenly she heard a sound that was not of the forest. Her muscles tensed and the strained her ears and finally she recognized the sound; it was the faint gurgling of the Egren River.
“Yes!” she exclaimed and darted off in the direction of the gurgling. Trees loomed before her and she dodged them easily now that she was not running in fear. Then she slowed down to a walk when the moonlight highlighted the Tent Village of Livtr through the thick trunks of the trees. There were many of the villagers standing about. Others were gathering wood into a huge pile. That was for her. As soon as she emerged from the wood, a fire would be set to celebrate the completion of her task. This was the last test in one of the five levels of berserker training. As soon as she stepped out she would become a Berserker Hishta, the rank just below the highest rank. She took a deep breath as she drew to the edge of the wood. There she stopped and fixed her hair and smoothed her clothes. They were dirty beyond comparison and torn in so many places but the heavy satchel on her shoulder pushed aside very feeling of shame. She had done it.
She breathed out and stepped out of the Wood. Suddenly a huge roar filled her ears. She smiled and looked away, momentarily shy at the applause. Then she un-slung the satchel and walked into the village. Berserkers of all ages and were cheering her as she strode up to them. Her heart filled with pride and love for her people. As she passed the pile of wood, it suddenly flared up as a torch was thrown onto it. She stood before the villagers. Everyone fell silent. There was a moment of complete silence and the air was tense then in a quick motion. Eyla thrust the bag up and screamed. A second later everyone followed and the village rang with the voices of the people. Afterward there was chaos and Eyla was surrounded by people touching her and congratulation her. She smiled and shouted back at everyone. She made her way to the Elder’s Tent and once inside they sorted out the contents of the bag to make sure that she had gotten all the required items. Then with a smile they performed the Blessings of Ranvarid. Then she was led out of the Elder’s Tent and presented to the people. There was more cheering and she was pulled into a dance by a few of the younger Berserkers. She laughed and capered around and sometime in the midst of everything she finally slipped away and ran off to her tent.
Around her began to grow lighter as the sun turned the black sky into a dull blue. The path was deserted with everyone being higher up the village. She ran; the soft grass feeling good to her feet. She suddenly felt like laughing and she smiled broadly. Then she jumped high into the air and whooped and danced around in circles. She had never felt so happy in a long time. Her tent loomed up. Smoke was pouring out the hole in the roof. She stopped running and slowly walked up to the tent. She then lifted the cloth silently and slipped inside. It was warm. Eyla stood a bit enjoying the heat then she knelt in front of the fire. Beside her sat a woman whose back was turned to her.
“You should not be kneeling Eyla,” the woman said, “You have passed beyond that now.” The woman turned to face her. Soriah’s eyes were pure white like a sheep’s wool. Soriah fixed her gaze on Eyla. Eyla smiled and sat on the ground.
“I take that you have succeeded?” Soriah asked.
“Yes,” Eyla said. Soriah sighed and smiled. She rose and reached out her hand. Eyla reached up and took it. The blind woman drew her close with sudden strength and embraced her.
“Well done,” she whispered. Eyla swallowed the lump of tears. This meant more to her than all the cheers of the village. Soriah had not been allowed to come to the ceremony because she was not of Berserker blood but Soriah had been her mother after her real mother had died. There had been and never will be a better person to guide. For Eyla, Soriah was all she had. And only for her would she ever give her life. No one meant more. Soriah pushed her away. “I will release you to go back to the celebrations for a bit, but I have something far more important to show you now.” Eyla nodded. Soriah slipped out of the tent and Eyla followed her. They strode out of the village and began to make their way toward the east. Eyla was confused.
“Soriah, where are we heading?” she asked.
“Remember the story I told you about the battle of Cysia?” Soriah asked “Yes,’Eyla replied.
“That story is true, every bit of it.” said Soriah.
“I know,” Eyla said. Soriah stopped. They were standing at the banks of the Egren River. The gurgling from the forest was now a roar loud enough to blot out most sound. Eyla could see the ripples of the water in the morning twilight. She wondered what could be down there.
“The land is cursed Eyla,” Soriah said suddenly, “the trees are not as green as they used to be, the grass grown thinner each year.” She paused and continued, “Legend has it that the curse of the land will be lifted when a certain Griffin is born.”
“Griffin?”Eyla asked, her heart racing as a feeling of dread came upon her, “aren’t’ they all dead?”
“No,’ Soriah said, “No not all. There are a few that still survived, despite the fact that Lyficen searched them out mercilessly.”
“What does this have to do with us?” asked Eyla after having thought for a while.
Soriah raised her hand to the east. “Because my dear we are about to see legend fulfilled.” Eyla snapped her head around and looked. The land was the same. She looked across the river and saw the grasses sway in the night breeze.
“Soriah,” she began and then stopped. There was a particular star that was glowing quite bright. She frowned. That was not so before. Then suddenly it flared. She stepped back as if struck. That was no star! It was moving. She watched as the object began to get brighter and brighter and till it was an almost blinding streak of molten sliver with a white tail of light following it. Eyla watched with her mouth open and her heart thumping. The star flew silently and fell to the earth a graceful spiral. She was breathing hard.
“Soriah,” she said breathlessly, “where did it fall?”
“I know not,”Soriah replied. She too sounded breathless. “But I hope that Lyficen’s eyes were blinded to it. That star means his death.” Eyla looked back to where the star had fallen. They stood there for a while.
“Well there is nothing that we can do now, but remember. And maybe when the time comes…” Soriah trailed off and turned to take Eyla’s hand. “Come my dear, let us go back. You have celebrating to do.”
When they arrived the celebrations were in full swing and Eyla joined in whole heartedly. But all the while her mind was with the star that had fallen in the forest.