The days drifted into each other. When my grandfather was in the right mood, we talked. I asked him about what seemed to me a contradiction: that my father didn’t wish to have anything to do with me as a baby, and yet as one of the Bwekhirazii he should have been keen to have me brought up by the shay. Ferantu had shrugged, explaining that he didn’t know the answer, but that he thought it was more to do with the physical care that Osmenda would have needed to give me. Or that the place they were going to wasn’t particularly conducive to one so young.
It was just one of the mysteries that still plagued my understanding. And yet I was learning much. Not just from conversations with my grandfather but by reading his scrolls and books, and by studying the shay language. However, Ferantu wasn’t the most patient of tutors and soon tired of his lessons, leaving me for long periods. He had lived alone for so long that I realised that having anyone around him was difficult. Some days he disappeared altogether without telling me. He’d return hours later, occasionally with rabbit or game, or with herbs. Other days there would be nothing to indicate where he’d been although I suspected that he spent those times with Anshiana-kuftir or quietly checking out the forest around us.
But my biggest teacher was An Feppia. She showed me much, allowed me to sense her power, her ‘being’ as a part of the world. At times I felt her and if I listened carefully the trees spoke to me, silently, within my head. In such ways she communicated the magic of the forest and my senses grew. I could feel what was happening beyond her borders, too, for the trees knew of the blizzards and the cold winds that snapped and snarled at their brethren outside An Feppia. It was a network of communication and feeling that stretched throughout the forest and even into the meadows and fields that bordered it. With her help I gradually made progress and even realised that such magic wasn’t exclusive to the shay: if anyone had the talent or desire to see, they could do so. What made the shay special were their abilities to recognise and utilise those talents, along with their prowess at moving silently amongst the shadows, their keen night vision and their innate understanding of the world around them.
Like Anshiana-kuftir, An Feppia was ancient. Both were sentient beings who had come into existence long before any shay or race had walked in Rohinval. Although I still struggled with the concept that a Vale could be sentient, I accepted her without question. An Feppia’s abilities were limited to her own needs, her own survival. I realised with some awe that she only allowed certain beings to enter her domain. That I was here was a privilege: even had Ferantu wanted me there, if An Feppia hadn’t wanted me, she wouldn’t have allowed me access.
As it was she showed me her borders and her secrets, opening up ways to let me pass and revealing hidden glades or unexpected pleasures. Ghost often wandered with me. He was as much at home within An Feppia as I had become. It was a wondrous, peaceful time, those days spent by the stream or exploring the caves that peppered the escarpments. From her I learned how Ferantu had kept the many homes of past Gwethintoriz in tact for years after my birth, in the hope that some would return, or more would come. She had aided him in his efforts and I sensed, deep within her being, that one day she hoped that I, too, would become a Gwethintor. She feared that Ferantu would be the last, and wept. For the guardians were not just there to help Anshiana-kuftir; they were also there to protect and care for An Feppia. Not that either needed much protection. But even they were not immune to dangers and threats that were alien to them.
One of the things I learned was that Ferantu’s home wasn’t unique, although his was the only one that was furnished and looked after. I discovered passages that linked the caves together: from my grandfather’s dwelling it was possible to access others, all empty now. And the sadness that echoed through them, and around the whole of An Feppia, grew within me. She was lonely. As was Anshiana-kuftir.
One afternoon I left An Feppia and headed back toward the clearing. Ferantu had left on one of his trips and I felt a need to visit Anshiana-kuftir. She greeted me, softly, and I returned her greeting, moving toward her. I had no qualms now about being close to the Life-Giver; she, like An Feppia, knew that I wouldn’t be staying. Not yet, at least. I sat by the pool, communing silently. And accepted her gift: a small polished stone egg that sat comfortably in the palm of my hand. Quite how she had made it remained a mystery but it had appeared in the water by my feet and Anshiana-kuftir had told me to take it.
Keep it close, she intoned, and if you ever wish to return hold it in your hand and think of me.
I thank you, not just for this precious gift, but for your aid and for the blessings you have bestowed upon me, I replied.
No need, Shadowsoul. Now return to An Feppia where your grandfather awaits. For it is time for your journey to continue. Farewell, and may your travels be fruitful.