by Zentara Shadowsoul
I sat cross-legged, my back resting against a tree, my eyes closed. A cool breeze rustled through the leaves and disorganised my hair, wild at the best of times. Ferantu Murlandyr – for that was my grandfather’s real name – had gone to investigate the new lumber camp that I had witnessed on my way into the forest. It seemed a long time ago, although less than a week had passed since leaving the Traveller Rest. But in that short time I had learned much and knew there was much more yet to learn.
Birds sang as they moved from branch to branch and the stream, never far away in this narrow valley, murmured its way around the rocks and between the bushes that tumbled down the stony banks. Scents of loam mixed with those of the dark-leaved bushes that were prominent in The Vale, as it was called. A simple name yet far from a simple place. There had been many Gwethintoriz living here until a year or so before my birth; but then, one by one, they had left until my grandfather was alone. Not that he had always lived here. By his account he’d wandered the world for far longer. He was a renegade, a rebel who had refused to accept the harsh regime of what he termed the Bwekhirazii – a group, or a cult, I wasn’t sure which, who imposed so-called traditional shay values and who were responsible for his semi-exile from them.
A faint snort made me smile. Ghost, as always, was near enough to keep an eye on me, although he was probably half-hidden in the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream. He was content but ever-protective, in his way. Whilst he was around I would be made aware of any strangers or dangers that came too near. Although my own senses were now as much attuned to the area as any animal, it was still good to know that I had a guardian.
I was able, now, to control the constant flow of senses that had at first caused me many problems: lack of sleep, disorientation and dizziness amongst them. But Ferantu had patiently taught me how to shield myself from the onslaught and to open only those senses that I needed or desired. Even so, I still had difficulties in understanding everything that my senses told me. Interpretation and manipulation, Ferantu told me, took many years to master. I believed him.
Breathing deeply I tried to organise my thoughts. This was the first time since my arrival in The Vale – An Feppia in the shay tongue – that I’d been alone. My grandfather had had to care for me, for the bombardment of sensual information from all around had left me weak and unable to think because of the pounding in my head. The rock had eased some of the pain; it was one reason, apparently, that Ferantu had built into the stone. Outside, exposed fully to the forest, the pain had been almost unbearable. But slowly I came to terms with my new power and now my head hardly throbbed at all. Allowing me, finally, to begin to come to terms with what I now knew of my birth.
Opening my eyes I looked at the abundant flowers in this tiny grove on the edge of the valley. Behind me the rock escarpments drew close together, until further back they melted into each other leaving only a cave from where the water sprung before tumbling into the open. This grove, Tegia du Ezhiz, was an important place. Here, somewhere, my mother’s ashes had been gently scattered amongst the bushes and flowers.
According to my grandfather, Jameela had fled the shay that had raised her. Followed by her husband, my father Osmenda Jariss, determined to take her back. For, despite her being eight months pregnant, he was adamant that Jameela should go with them to where ever it was the shay had now gone. But my grandfather had refused to let her leave, telling Osmenda in no uncertain terms that Jameela wasn’t fit to travel and that she should be permitted to give birth in peace.
It seems that my father wasn’t convinced. He dragged her from the room, screaming, when Ferantu had been out hunting. Luckily my grandfather had been alerted by the Life-Giver and rushed back in time to witness Jameela collapsing in agony as the birth-pains took hold. My father had been angry, shouting and hitting her, insisting that she was putting it on. From what Ferantu had told me he’d had to punch Osmenda senseless before he was able to rescue Jameela and get her back into the safety of the rock-home.
Sadly she didn’t survive the birth. Although he said little, my grandfather couldn’t hide the anger he still felt for it seemed that Jameela had not been treated well. Her body, he told me, had been bruised and mistreated. That she had managed to reach the sanctuary of The Vale was, in his view, surprising. It was only after her death, and after Osmenda had ranted and raved that Ferantu had killed her, that my father finally accepted her death and grieved. But he couldn’t bring himself to have anything to do with me. Ferantu told me that Osmenda believed I was an inconvenience, a burden, the reason for Jameela’s death. And that he had no desire to keep or deal with me in anyway at all. If it hadn’t been for Ferantu I wouldn’t have survived.
That was hard to accept but I knew, deep within me, that it was true.
For not only had Ferantu helped my mother give birth, he had also protected me from my father’s rage and kept me safe. However, raising an infant to adulthood was beyond him – at least, that is what my grandfather believed. So he had been the one to suggest that Osmenda took me to live with the Zigandi. My grandfather knew when the Zigandi would appear at the Rest and convinced Osmenda that the plan would work. My father grudgingly agreed and waited until the Zigandi arrived before leaving me for them to find. Ferantu had followed to ensure Osmenda kept his word. But it was he, not my father, who had hidden in the shadows until Isolda discovered me. Unsure of her reaction if he had told her who he really was, he had pretended that he was my father, saying what he had in order to make sure that I’d be safe and cared for.
And now, here I was, in The Vale, knowing the story of my birth. As I sat in the cool breeze of Tegia du Ezhiz, Place of Ashes, I thought I heard my mother sigh. I closed my eyes once more and let my tears roll down my cheeks to join her ashes in the ground.