by Zentara Shadowsoul
I followed my grandfather along what appeared to be an animal track through the forest. My thoughts were confused; my emotions in a state of turmoil. That this shay was the one named as renegade who seduced my grandmother, with the help of the Life-Giver, and yet who seemed as if he wanted to help me, was one reason for my confusion. Another was the nature of the Life-Giver herself. And yet another puzzle was how the latter had opened my senses to all around me. That in itself was causing me some disorientation, to say the least. Ghost trudged along as happily as ever but, to me, he was different. I was now far more aware of his feelings, of his essence, than I had ever been. Whilst all around I could feel the trees and the wild-life of the forest as never before.
After only a few minutes we came to a steep bank that led down into a gully. Although the path twisted back and forth I decided that Ghost would be happier if I was not on his back so I slid off and held on to his halter as we descended. I concentrated on the walk but couldn’t help gazing down at the narrow valley below. A few whittan trees grew amongst an abundance of bushes and undergrowth that spilled along the valley and around the stream. The trees had shed their leaves but even in the greying light the rest of the valley was a green oasis with splashes of autumnal colours that contrasted strongly with the white bark of the tree trunks. On the far side of the gully was an almost vertical escarpment of rock that shimmered in the last of the twilight, adding even more colour.
It was only as we got to the bottom and were about to cross the plank bridge that I became aware that there were buildings here. Most were almost invisible, having become covered in greenery. I must have gasped with amazement for my grandfather waved an arm as he commented “The forest always reclaims her own,” before leading me across the bridge. It was the first time he’d spoken since leaving the clearing and he continued in silence, leading me through the tangled undergrowth toward the escarpment.
A wooden structure with a grass roof was built against the rock. It looked safe enough, although bare and unwelcoming. Still, it was a shelter and I was grateful for my grandfather’s offer to stay. He halted by the doorway, explaining that there was no stable, but that he was sure my horse would be fine as long as he didn’t wander far. As I removed the saddle, bags and halter I replied that Ghost always stayed fairly close and that being a Zigandi-bred horse he was used to being out in the open. Something that Ghost seemed to understand, for he whinnied his thanks and, freed of his burden, went off to have a drink in the stream.
Grandfather nodded, pushed open the cracked wooden door and led me inside. My eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light as I entered what appeared to be little more than a long workroom, with tools, herbs and other items hanging from hooks banged into the rock wall whilst an old gnarled table and bench stood at the far end. Just as I was wondering where food was prepared let alone where I would be sleeping the shay pulled aside a large brown curtain and ushered me through an archway. Puzzled, I followed, then stopped and stood gaping at what lay beyond.
Carved into the rock of the escarpment was a huge room. Niches contained shelves of books, parchments and scrolls as well as pots, pans, bowls and other necessary household items. Within one niche was a large stove, smoke seemingly rising up through a chimney. Vials and bottles of dried herbs and spices and possibly potions filled another niche; yet others were obviously used as seating as well as housing some decorative items such as carvings and statuettes. There was one table and a bench, plus a desk and some more comfortable chairs, whilst drapes hung around the room, at least one of which, partially drawn back, hid another archway.
My grandfather smiled, a mix of pride and amusement on his face as he exclaimed “Welcome home, Zentara.”
( For more information regarding the painting, see Painting the valley… )