by Zentara Shadowsoul
Ferantu returned late morning. To my surprise his multi-coloured cloak and leather boots were covered with snow although within The Vale there was no sign of winter, apart from the trees having shed their leaves. He had explained how An Feppia was warded and protected by Anshiana-kuftir as well as by its own magic: here, it never snowed and none who were not meant to find The Vale would stumble upon it. But even so I found it hard to accept that outside there was a blizzard blowing.
We returned to the rock-home where Ferantu prepared a lunch of rabbit stew and bread, which we ate in silence. I accepted that he would speak when ready: I’d already learned that my grandfather could become grumpy if questioned or spoken to when he was not in the mood for conversing. This time, however, he suggested that, now I had control of my headaches, we had time to relax and talk, adding that the weather outside The Vale would prevent further travel for a while.
He led the way through one of the curtained archways into a small cosy chamber with a fire and several armchairs, as well as low tables on which he put drinks and snacks. The walls were painted red, adding to the sense of warmth and well-being; unlike the main chamber with the numerous niches this one was plain. Snug and warm I asked him first about the lumber camp.
“They hadn’t done much,” he replied, “just built a large cabin to sleep in. The weather will keep them inside for a while. But Anshiana-kuftir knows that they are there and has already enforced her wards of protection over the forest, for they are well within her reach. Once they begin work the lumberjacks will find themselves frustrated at every turn. You know how the brambles parted for you?” I nodded before he continued “For those men, the forest will close up, as has happened before. My only fear is that this time they may try fire, something that would destroy much and cause much pain to the forest. But in the end, we will triumph – lumberjacks need wood not charred remains.”
It was good news but I was still trying to understand all the magic and how it worked. For a while we spoke of that, lessons that I hoped would be invaluable. But eventually the discussion turned to the shay and what the Bwekhirazii were. Ferantu looked grave as he explained how they were a powerful cult that believed in so-called traditions and laws of the shay that were long out-dated; how they convinced others to adopt the ‘old’ ways of secrecy and give up their explorations of Rohinval, including their strong links with the Travelling Artists’ Guild; and how the priests of the Bwekhirazii had ruled that shay should retreat to avoid any contact with outsiders.
“They call any non-shay barbarians; those shay who refuse to accept the teachings of the Bwekhirazii are branded renegade or infidels and exiled from the townships. As I was. As for those who are of mixed blood, they were initially branded as renegades too. But the shay have a problem – in the last century the birth rate has fallen and hardly any infants they do have, have survived. And so, eventually, reluctantly, some of the priests relaxed the ruling, even encouraging those like Jameela to be raised amongst the shay. And married into shay families whose support for the Bwekhirazii is strong.”
“So, Jameela’s husband, my father, is of the Bwekhirazii?”
My grandfather nodded. “Yes, although he was no priest he enforced the laws and believed in them. But still, he broke the rules once, for Jameela and Osmenda came for the Love-Rite. Once all shay couples would come and Anshiana-kuftir would give them her blessing. But the Bwekhirazii view the whole ritual as pagan and not of shay origin, one that was tainted. Especially as one of the last Gwethintor was a renegade.” He grinned wryly then shrugged. “I’m not sure how Osmenda viewed it – I suspect that they had tried for a child with no success and coming to Anshiana-kuftir was a last hope. They weren’t alone. Several had slipped away to conceive within the welcoming roots of Anshiana-kuftir. I believe that the shay would have been blessed with many children if the Bwekhirazii hadn’t enforced their ridiculous laws. No doubt Osmenda kept their visit a secret. Or blamed it all on Jameela. Whatever the reason Jameela learned of The Vale and that I was her father during that rite.”
I gasped “They hadn’t told her?”
“No. She had no idea who her father was, although it seems she did have an inkling that her mother was of the Zigandi, and felt that she didn’t truly belong with the shay. So when the Bwekhirazii began to enforce AnIxhuhaza – The Exodus – Jameela fled. The rest you know.”
I sat silently for a while, sipping mulled wine as the flames of the fire crackled and spat, attempting to take in everything my grandfather had told me. It seemed that there was a dark side to the shay, one I wasn’t sure that I wished to know about. And yet, part of me was very much shay, and perhaps I needed to learn of their history and ways even more now that the innate power of shay had been awakened within me. Eventually I asked “And where have the shay gone?”
Ferantu shook his head. “Only the priests knew. All I know is that the shay in Whittan Forest have left. The only ones who remain anywhere in the area are us renegades and several half-shay who still live in and around what you know as the ruins of Shay Town, what was known as An Reviniba – the market, in the old tongue.”
“Can we go there?” I asked. “Isolda told me that’s where she went, to find the shay.”
Ferantu nodded. “In time. Once the blizzards and the icy conditions have abated, I will guide you. For now, though, I will try to teach you and let you explore the Vale further. It’s been far too long since I had company and I find, curiously, that your presence here is awakening things in me that I had long thought gone.”
And with that he withdrew once more into his own world, so that the afternoon faded into evening in silence. I felt no need to speak, somehow comforted by his company and my surroundings. As if… my thoughts paused, but I knew that my feelings didn’t betray me and I confirmed them: it was as if I was at home, in a place where I finally belonged.