I let the silence continue as my mind slowly cleared. If what my grandfather said was true, that he believed in this Anshiana-kuftir as being a real, living creature, whose only power and reason for being was to aid the fertility of shay, then I could accept what he had done. He certainly seemed to believe. And he definitely believed that he served her. I still had trouble with understanding the concept, though. And I had even more trouble in seeing the monolith as a living being.
Leaning back against the tree after having finished my meal, I gazed toward this powerful ‘being’, my hand going to the pendant of Ekchua that I wore as I opened my senses to explore the clearing. But aware of what had happened to me earlier, I kept my mind closed to outside probing. At least that’s what I aimed for.
To deliberately expand my senses was something that I hadn’t realised I could do. And even now, I wasn’t sure if what I intended would work. Except that I saw a subtle shift in Renegade’s posture, a momentary look of surprise on his face as I searched for the truth. And Ghost, as if aware too that I was trying something new, put his head down, touching my hand. I accepted his comforting nudge and stroked him as I concentrated on discovering more about the world around me.
Beneath the earth I felt the power streaming out from, as well as toward, the centre, sensed the roots deep below the ground. They pulsed lightly, sustaining Anshiana-kuftir as well as spreading her power into the surrounding forest. I traced the roots of power to the creature herself. So that much was true: she lived. I also saw a pale, almost imperceptible link, similar to a very fine misty thread, between her and the shay I still only knew as Renegade. I glanced across at him to see him shrug and smile. “You see?” he said softly. “I am her Gwethintor.”
I nodded but remained sceptical of what that actually meant and returned my inward gaze to Anshiana-kuftir. She did, indeed, grow from the soil below the pool, very like any tree, although part of her was far below the surface. As if the ground had risen around her since she was first planted. An ancient being, Renegade had said. It made sense. Her core was wood but her outer surface was harder, almost like stone. The crescent moon was a part of her being, a crown that she had shaped. And what I’d taken to be engravings, the symbols on her surface, were scars that she wore, almost as humans wore tattoos. They were an integral part of who she was, deliberately etched into what I realised to her, was her skin. And as she sensed me reaching out she accepted me as shay, as one of the forest beings whose life she protected.
But then I realised that Anshiana-kuftir wanted to go further, to link with me, to make me her Gwethintor. I believe it was my wariness, the pendant next to my skin and my refusal to accept her offer that prevented her from doing so. I withdrew, surprised and shocked, closing my senses, blinking as the light hit me and brought me back to full reality. I stared at the shay next to me. There was relief in his voice as he told me “That was dangerous, grand-daughter. In fact I wasn’t sure you had it in you. You know now, the truth, yes?”
“Some,” I admitted, realising that he had been guarding me, somehow, waiting to step in if necessary. As he had done earlier? Not by his voice, but by some form of power that I was yet unaware of. I shivered involuntarily. There was so much here that was beyond my knowledge. To my grandfather, I continued “But there are still so many things that I don’t understand. Like, why you are regarded as a renegade? And where are the rest of the shay? And how did you know to expect me? And did you know my mother? And…”
He held up his hand, stopping me. “All in good time,” he said softly. “First, I think it would be best if you came home with me. It’s beginning to darken, and to get cold. Are you happy to be my guest, for a few days? So that we can talk, and I can try to explain all you wish to know? I promise I won’t touch you.” The latter said with a wry smile.
It was very much what this quest was about: to learn of the shay and of my beginnings and of what I was. Renegade was the only one who could tell me. Even if I still didn’t trust him. Not completely, anyway. But he’d made the offer and I so badly wanted, needed, to know more, to learn. So I nodded and stood, one hand reaching out to pat Ghost. He was concerned for me so I smiled to reassure him, sending thoughts of comfort toward him. I was pleased when he whinnied and relaxed.
And it was then that I realised that Anshiana-kuftir had gifted me the knowledge to use my shay talents in ways that I had never dreamed possible. For the first time in my life I was fully aware and conscious of senses around, above and below me. It was dizzying. But Ghost lowered his neck and offered me a ride. And thus I left the clearing on his back, as my grandfather led us toward the place he called home.