Chapter Six: Whispers and Dreams
As soon as they entered the trees, the light seemed to vanish as if it had never been. Shadows flitted in and out of Adesina’s vision, and incoherent whispers sounded in her ears. Ravi appeared at her side, his golden eyes like a beacon in the dark.
“Dismount your horse, Ma’eve. Walk beside me with your hand on my back.”
Adesina followed his instructions, moving stiffly to keep herself from trembling. As soon as she touched him she felt a strange comfort warm her body.
“Tell your companion to follow you.”
She beckoned to her former teacher. “Follow me, Kendan, I know the way.”
In spite of the perplexed look on his face, Kendan did not question her. He climbed down, took the reins of both horses, and reached over to take Adesina’s hand.
She felt a thrill shoot up her arm. She looked into his powerful eyes and saw a strength of emotion that she had never seen before. She lowered her eyes shyly, but didn’t pull away.
Ravi began to move forward quickly, as if they were walking along the most brightly lit path. Adesina buried her fingers in his thick silky fur, and tried to move with equal confidence. Kendan led the riding horses along, and the packhorses followed obediently.
The whispers grew louder and more understandable the farther into the forest they walked. The voices were chaotic, each speaking over the others, and they all spoke in tones of poignant longing.
“Never to be found...”
“...to the advent...”
“...of this people yet not of this people...”
“Fear, like a caged beast...”
“...stands on the threshold.”
“...will lead my chosen...”
“...waiting to be set free.”
Adesina had never been superstitious, but these disembodied voices struck her with deep terror. “What is it?” she asked their guide in a shaking voice.
Ravi’s response was firm and soothing. “Do not be afraid, Ma’eve. They cannot hurt you.”
The young woman wondered if Kendan was hearing the same things she was. She looked back at him and saw him pale with fear. He clutched at her hand, muttering at the voices he heard. “No, you are wrong. I am not.”
Adesina put aside her own fear and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Kendan?”
Ravi glanced back. “He cannot hear you. He hears only the voices in his soul.”
“The voices in his soul?” asked Adesina.
Ravi nodded. “In truth, this forest is silent. The only sound most people hear comes from inside themselves. This is a magical place that gives voice to one’s innermost soul.”
They walked for several minutes more without speaking. Bit by bit, Adesina took strength from Ravi’s confidence and slowly put her alarm behind her. She was still far from being comfortable, but her anxiety became more manageable. She began looking for things to talk about, just to keep her mind preoccupied.
“You said there was something in this forest for me.”
“What is it?” she asked.
Ravi shook his head. “That is not for me to reveal.”
Adesina pursed her lips in irritation. “What is the use of having a prophetic companion if I still have to find everything out on my own?”
A deep melodious chuckle rumbled in Ravi’s chest. “Yes, I would imagine that could be rather frustrating.”
She rolled her eyes. “Rather.”
Time seemed to lose meaning as they walked through the black forest. When Ravi said it was time to sleep, Adesina found a small clearing where they could set up camp. She let go of Kendan’s hand as she set to work.
He was still quite pale and a bit unresponsive. She had to ask him to build a fire a couple of times before he nodded in understanding. His face was covered with a sheen of sweat and he was shaking badly, but he set to work immediately.
Adesina took care of the horses and made sure that they were well tied to a tree. After everything was set up in the camp, she made a simple meal of bread and soup. When a bowl was offered to Kendan, he sipped it slowly and distractedly, still muttering under his breath. Adesina, who was famished, got a bowl of her own and sat down next to him.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
After a heavy pause, he shook his head. “How can you stand it?” he said in a strangled voice. “The voices...”
She shuddered slightly. “I know. I do not like them either.”
“You seem so calm,” he whispered.
Her glance turned to Ravi, who laid down next to her with the softest hint of a purr. He sensed what she was thinking and shook his head. “I cannot take credit for that.”
Kendan’s tortured eyes fixed on hers. “They know things about me...things I wanted to forget. My parents...” His gaze jerked to rest on the fire. “I saw them die when I was only a child.”
Adesina suddenly felt a pity for her former Shar that she had never experienced before. The whispers that followed her were disjointed puzzles that filled her with apprehension. The voices he heard, however, made him relive his darkest memories.
She wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and encouraged him to rest. He obeyed and fell asleep quickly, due to the fatigue of his high emotions. Adesina tucked her knees under her chin and studied the feline face of their guide.
“Will he be all right?”
Ravi looked unconcerned. “That really depends on him. If he chooses, he will be fine.”
She sighed in aggravation. “What does that mean?”
“It means that he has more control over what happens to him here than he realizes.”
Adesina still didn’t understand, and it was apparent by the blank expression on her face.
Ravi paused for a moment as he searched for the right words. “You were afraid when we first entered this forest, but you did not allow yourself to be overcome by the fear. Kendan is choosing to be swallowed up by the darkness he has experienced rather than letting it go.”
She bit her lip as she turned this over in her mind. “What can I do to help him?”
“Nothing,” the Rashad replied. “It is something he has to learn to do for himself.”
The young Shimat was not willing to give up so easily. “How much longer until we are out of this forest?”
“A day or so.”
She nodded in relief. “Then we will just have to travel as quickly as possible.”
Aside from her concerns for Kendan, the constant whispering was really starting to get to Adesina. Ravi seemed to sense this and began sing softly. It was not in any language that Adesina recognized, but she focused on the soothing sound.
There was no doubt that he had the most beautiful voice she had ever heard. Its tone was rich and deep, just like when he spoke, and the notes seemed to swell up from the heart of his being. As her attention fixed on the unearthly music, she discovered that the whispering voices were dimming.
Adesina pulled a blanket around her own shoulders and curled up next to the fire. With the warmth and the soothing music, she began to doze into a peaceful sleep.
It was the sudden silence that jerked Adesina awake. She sat up and looked around, her hand resting on the throwing knives on her belt. The fire was out, but bright moonlight filtered down through the trees. Adesina frowned in confusion, wondering how the moon could be so bright now when it had been invisible only moments before.
Other concerns soon invaded her thoughts as she realized that Ravi and Kendan were nowhere to be seen. She jumped to her feet, but remained crouched, ready to defend herself. There was a soft rustling just in front of the young Shimat, and the figure of a woman moved into the moonlight.
She was arrayed in a flowing white dress that was belted with an elegant silver chain. Her thick hair fell freely down her back, occasionally tousled by a slight breeze. The tresses were jet black in color, but the locks surrounding her face were a rich chestnut.
Adesina stood slowly, not quite ready to let her guard down.
The woman beckoned for her to come closer. “Come, Ma’eve. Walk with me.”
Adesina stared at the woman in confusion. “Who are you?”
The woman smiled and began to walk away, not choosing to respond. At first, Adesina wasn’t sure what to do, but after a moment of deliberation, she followed her cautiously. They walked in silence for several feet before entering a meadow filled with thousands of flowers. The woman stooped to pick a few.
Now that she was closer, Adesina could see that the woman’s face was remarkably like her own. There were a few small differences other than the hair coloring. The woman’s eyes were a pale metallic yellow with flecks of purple, and she did not have Adesina’s light sprinkle of freckles. Overall, the woman’s face had a more delicate look to it than Adesina’s own features. Standing side by side they were almost exact in height and build. Adesina, however, had the look of more physical strength, while the woman exuded feminine grace.
The young Shimat had an indescribable feeling inflating in her chest as she studied this stranger before her. The woman knelt down among the unseasonable blossoms and indicated that Adesina should do the same. “Are these not lovely?”
“Who are you?” Adesina repeated.
The woman smiled again. It was a warm, enchanting smile. “Do you not know?”
Inexplicably, Adesina did know, but she hesitated to voice what her heart told her. “Mother?”
The woman nodded. “Sit with me, Ma’eve.”
Adesina did so numbly. “I am still asleep.”
Her mother nodded again. “Yes, you are.”
“This is only a dream,” said Adesina in disappointment.
Her mother tipped her head slightly to one side. “Are dreams not real?”
Adesina paused in uncertainty, then shrugged her shoulders as if asking to be told the answers. Her mother waved a hand as if to brush it aside. “That is for you to decide, but not in this moment. There are things we must discuss.”
Adesina felt a strange mix of apprehension and longing. “Like what?”
“You, my daughter.”
The feeling grew stronger. “What do you mean? What about me?”
Adesina’s mother’s gaze was direct, not unlike her own. “Why are you here?”
This question took the young woman by surprise. “I…am going to the High City.”
Her mother gave an encouraging nod, but said nothing. Adesina continued. “My assignment was to go there, and I shall fulfill my duty.”
The last comment brought a raised eyebrow. “Duty? And what duty is that?”
Adesina’s answer was almost automatic. “I am a Shimat. My duty is obedience to the Sharifal.”
Her mother’s sweet smile became sad. “To what end? To what extent?”
Adesina became defensive. “This is the life that you gave me. I have always done what was asked of me—far better than my peers, I might add. My entire life I have worked and struggled, all to achieve what was expected of me.”
Her mother shook her head. “It was not my choice. I knew that this was not your path.”
“Then what?” the young Shimat asked in an almost pleading voice. “What do you want of me?”
“It is not what I want that matters, dear one. Not now.”
Adesina’s frustration was spreading like a stain. “Then what does matter?”
“The answer to my question.”
Her face drew inward. “What question?”
Her mother replied patiently, “Why are you here?”
Adesina bit back an exasperated sigh. “I answered that question. I am on my way to the High City.”
There was a gentle shake of the head as the older woman leaned forward. “That is not what I meant. Why are you here in this Dream?”
“You would know better than I,” responded Adesina a bit tartly.
Her mother’s expression did not change with Adesina’s lack of manners. “You are the one who called me to this place, Ma’eve, not the other way around. Everything that happens in this forest is of one’s own making. That is the gift of its magic.”
A confused frown crossed Adesina’s face. “I do not understand.”
“You are not here because of me, I am here because of you. Why have you called me to this place?”
The young woman was speechless. “I…do not know…”
Her mother prompted her gently. “Was there something you wished to ask me or tell me?”
Adesina could do nothing but repeat herself. “I do not know.”
With an understanding nod, her mother got to her feet and began walking back towards the woods. Adesina followed; hanging on the soft-spoken words of the woman she had spent her whole life imagining.
“Do not trouble yourself, my daughter. When you find the words, I will still be here. Understanding will come in time.”
Adesina saw they were approaching her camp. “Are you leaving?”
Her mother’s smile became sad again. “It is time for you to awaken.”
“Will I see you again?”
The older woman gave her a significant look. “I have answered that question, Ma’eve.”
She felt a bit childish, but pressed on. “I just want to hear your promise.”
Her mother reached up a slender hand and caressed Adesina’s face. “I promise.”
Somewhere a pan clattered, and Adesina jerked awake. She opened her eyes and saw Kendan stirring the fire and preparing some breakfast.
She sat up with a start. “Kendan, how are you feeling today?”
He was still quite pale, but he looked much more calm. “I am doing better. I heard music last night. Singing. It helped to quiet the voices I hear.”
Adesina glanced at Ravi, but he was preoccupied and did not return her look. “I am glad to hear it.”
The man shuddered slightly as he put more wood on the fire. “I will be relieved when we leave this cursed place. I wish we had never come.”
She dropped her gaze to the ground and muttered quietly, “Yes, well. We do not have much farther to go.”
He turned to face her with a worried expression on his face. “I have been so preoccupied with my own struggles that I have not checked to see how you are doing.”
She waved aside his concerns, trying to appear unaffected. “I am fine. I suppose an advantage to having a sheltered childhood is that there are few memories that can be used against me in a place such as this.”
Kendan folded his arms tightly against his chest. “I envy you that. My childhood was…rather violent.”
“Your parents?” she asked gently.
“And the rest of my family,” he replied. “I really only have the Shimat order left as far as people who are close to me are concerned.”
Adesina didn’t really know what to say, and so she settled on what she had heard others say in similar situations. “I am sorry.”
He pressed his lips together. “It would have been worse if I had been left on my own rather than being brought to the fortress.” He glanced up at her. “In spite of all of our troubles, we are more fortunate than most of the people in this world.”
She could see that Kendan was embarrassed by this show of emotion. He cleared his throat and broke eye contact with her, finishing his preparations for their morning meal.
They did not speak anymore throughout breakfast or as they broke down the camp. Just as before, Kendan took the horses’ reins in one hand and held on to Adesina’s hand with the other. She rested her free hand on Ravi’s back, and they walked purposefully through the trees.
The voices returned full force as soon as they left the sanctuary of their camp. Kendan had a sharp intake of breath and squeezed Adesina’s hand painfully. The young woman sighed softly and did her best to shut out the noise.
“You were given a Dream last night, were you not?” asked Ravi.
Adesina frowned. “How did you know?” she whispered to keep Kendan from hearing.
A smile flitted across Ravi’s feline face. “One learns to recognize these things.”
They walked in thoughtful silence for a few moments more before Ravi spoke again. “Will you tell me about your Dream?”
Adesina was actually relieved to be asked. She wanted to talk about it with someone who might be able to tell her what it all meant. She described the Dream exactly how she remembered it and waited for Ravi’s response. When he continued to be silent, she prompted him impatiently.
“What does it mean, Ravi?”
“That is something only you can decide. That is part of what makes Dreams what they are.”
Adesina blew out her breath in frustration. “I should have known you would have nothing useful to say.”
The Rashad chuckled. “You are still young, Ma’eve. Understanding will come in time.”
His words struck a chord with Adesina. “My mother said that in my dream.”
Ravi nodded slowly. “Yes. Your mother is a good and wise woman.”
She almost stopped in her tracks. “Is? My mother is alive?”
He considered his answer thoughtfully. “That depends on what you consider to be alive.”
This time Adesina did stop. “No more riddles, Ravi. Is my mother alive or not?”
The enormous feline turned his golden eyes on Adesina’s purple ones. “Her mortal body no longer lives, but her immortal spirit will never die.”
Adesina could not quite get her head around this way of thinking. She shook her head stubbornly. “It was just a dream.”
“No, it was a Dream.”
She couldn’t keep her anger out of her voice. “What is the difference?”
“A dream is a thing of fantasy—a creation of your mind. Dreams, however, are real. They are glimpses into other times, other worlds. The sooner you can accept that, the sooner you will understand.”
Both of them stood still and silent for a few minutes. Adesina’s inner struggle was only made more chaotic by the words whispered to her by the incorporeal voices. Part of her wanted to believe what she had been told over the past several hours, but it felt so wrong when placed next to all that she had ever been taught. Part of her said that it was all inconsequential anyway and to just let it go, and yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was part of something bigger. Something deeper.
Ravi stood patiently for a while before walking back over to the young Shimat. “Keep walking, Ma’eve. We still have a long way to go.”
Adesina forced herself to move forward. She knew Kendan needed to be led out of the forest as soon as possible. The day dragged on like an eternity, and both Kendan and Adesina were relieved to stop for the night. She set up the camp, persuaded Kendan to eat some food, and curled up next to the fire. Ravi began to sing quietly, and soon Adesina’s eyes became heavy.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt herself being pulled far away from the world that she knew.
She found herself standing in a corridor similar to the ones found in the Shimat fortress, only the walls were made of white marble and there were arched windows that lined the wall high up next to the ceiling. Moonlight streamed through, illuminating the corridor with a mystical glow. The hall opened to a columned walkway that lined some sort of courtyard. Within the courtyard, Adesina saw something that took her breath away.
A utopian garden lay before her. Large exotic-looking flowers bloomed in brilliant grandeur, displaying shades of color that Adesina never knew existed. These were offset by smaller, more demure flowers that gave the garden a pleasing sense of balance. Many tall, beautiful trees swayed to the soft breeze, and the ground was carpeted with the greenest grass she could have ever imagined.
In the center of the garden was a fountain made of pure white stone that glowed in the moonlight. It made the white marble of the corridor and columns dull and grey in comparison. Engraved in the stone were several strange symbols that were defined by the luminous glow of reflected light. The crystal water heaved upward in the center to form a pedestal for a shimmering orb the size of a man’s head.
Seated on the edge of this fountain was Adesina’s mother. Their eyes met and a shy smile appeared on each of their faces. Her mother patted the stone next to her. “Come and sit with me, Ma’eve.”
Adesina did so, fairly bursting with questions. “What is your name?”
Her mother’s face was sweet and friendly. “E’rian.”
The word sounded slightly musical. It settled into Adesina’s heart like a warm liquid. “Am I to call you that?”
E’rian raised her eyebrows. “If you wish. Or you may simply call me ‘mother.’”
This had a strangely strong appeal to Adesina. “Very well, mother.”
The young Shimat studied the stunning garden that surrounded them. “Where are we?”
E’rian joined her in looking around. “It has many names in many tongues in many worlds. I simply call it the Garden.”
“Did you call me here?”
There was a hint of sadness in her eyes as E’rian shook her head. “No, child. You called me.”
Frustration bubbled up inside Adesina. “I still do not know why.”
E’rian reached over and took Adesina’s hand. “Do not trouble yourself, Ma’eve. It will come to you in time.”
“And in the meantime?” Adesina asked with a harsher edge to her voice than she intended.
E’rian stood and pulled her daughter up with her. “We shall make up for lost time.”
They walked around the Garden for the rest of the night, holding hands and talking about Adesina’s childhood. For the first time in Adesina’s life she felt like she could speak freely and know that she would not be reprimanded or ridiculed. Even Signe and Kendan, both of whom were closer to the young woman than anyone, did not inspire such a lack of restraint.
She told her mother about being raised in the fortress, and her friend Lanil. She talked about Basha, and the rivalry that existed between them. She described her training, and her hopes for the future. When she mentioned the need she felt to find her father, a gleam of satisfaction flashed in E’rian’s eyes, but it went unnoticed by Adesina.
When the morning light began to dilute the darkness, Adesina turned to her mother with an unsettled expression on her face. “Ravi says we will be leaving the forest today.”
E’rian nodded serenely.
The young woman found her words were sticking in her throat. She cleared her throat and spoke in a more brusque tone. “When I find the answer am I to come back to this forest?”
Her mother looked puzzled. “Why would you need to do that?”
It was Adesina’s turn to frown. “To see you. To Dream.”
The older woman laughed softly—a lovely, musical sound. “Ma’eve, you do not need the forest to Dream now that you know the way. The door has been opened and you can enter whenever you choose.”
She felt a flood of relief and ducked her head in embarrassment when she realized how clearly it must have been showing on her face. “So, I will see you again?” she mumbled.
E’rian took Adesina’s chin in her slender hand and tipped her face upward again. “You keep asking that, my daughter. Why so uncertain?”
She searched for words that would downplay the abnormal amount of emotion she was feeling. “I just do not understand how all of this works.”
A thoughtful expression came over E’rian as she looked at the young woman before her. “Dreaming is a skill, in a way. You have been taught and aided by this forest in your Dreaming, but that skill will remain with you when you leave. If you have trouble, Ravi will guide you.”
E’rian released her daughter’s face and stepped back. “Close your eyes, Ma’eve. It will ease the crossing.”
The young woman wasn’t certain that she understood, but did as she was asked. When she opened her eyes again she was lying in the camp. Ravi was lying next to her, his head resting on his front paws but his golden eyes wide awake. Kendan was curled in the fetal position next to the fire.
She sat up, and Ravi raised his head to look at her. “Tell your companion we will be leaving the forest today. He needs some reassurance.”
Adesina moved over to his side and put a hand on his shoulder. “Kendan, we will be leaving the forest today.”
A shiver and a sigh escaped from the man’s motionless body. Adesina repacked all their gear and followed Ravi through the trees. Kendan gripped her hand as if it were his only link to sanity.
Around noon the trees began to thin, and Adesina could see sunlight filtering down through the foliage. The whispers also grew more faint, and it became possible for the young Shimat to tune them out entirely.
She could see the end of the trees just ahead.
As they stepped out into the sunlight, the voices stopped abruptly. It took a moment for Adesina’s eyes to adjust, but she was immediately scanning the area for any prominent danger. Kendan, too distracted to remember his training, heaved a deep sigh of relief. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing in and out, almost as if trying to keep some strong emotion under control.
Ravi waited patiently a few feet from where Adesina stood. He nodded his head to the north. “The High City awaits.”