By Zentara Shadowsoul
It was cooler out in the forest than it had been in An Feppia and I wrapped my cloak tight around my body. Turning, I saw high tangles of undergrowth had covered the path and a heavy mist completely hid what lay beyond. How a whole valley could be invisible remained logically inexplicable. But since my stay with my grandfather I knew that my attitudes had changed. Impossibilities, myths and strange stories once dismissed were now plausible; magic itself had become a reality.
We walked in silence, Ferantu unerringly leading us along trails that wound through the forest. There were no brambles parting to show us the way; the paths we trod were made by animals, hunters or other travellers. Ghost trotted happily by my side, occasionally stopping to eat, sharing his delight at exploring new areas. I could sense at all times exactly where he was and how he felt. The connection between us had strengthened since I’d encountered Anshiana-kuftir. Indeed, I was far more aware of the whole forest and enjoyed the sensation of walking through woodlands that pulsed with life, catching whispers from plants and animals that before I wouldn’t have heard.
Indeed I was so wrapped up in the conversations of the forest that it took me a while to realise that Ferantu had stopped. He smiled as I almost bumped into him.
“You need to be more aware of where you’re going,” he remarked. “Bewitching as they are, the murmurings of nature’s creatures need to be kept at a distance from your own thoughts. Most of the time. Just try not to forget that you need to shut them out, as I taught you.” I nodded as he continued “We’ll sleep here tonight.” He pointed to what I first took to be a tangle of vegetation but quickly realised was an old hut similar to those in An Feppia. Looking around, I noticed others, far more overgrown, forming a rough circle in what had obviously once been a clearing.
“An old Shay site…” I muttered half to myself.
“Yes. Been deserted for decades. As they all are. Hunters and others have kept some in reasonable condition though. Let’s get settled and eat,” he answered as he moved toward the former settlement. I followed and was soon busy helping to light a fire and clear space for bedding within the small hut whilst my grandfather prepared a stew.
Darkness had fallen and our meal eaten before Ferantu spoke again.
“Tomorrow, I will set you on the path that leads to An Reviniba before returning to An Feppia,” he said softly. “Whether or not we meet again I don’t know. It will be your choice, not mine. Hush,” he lifted up his hand as I began to protest that of course I would visit him again, “such things are not always ours to decide. Or to know. What you learn, where you go, who you meet along the way, all these and more will set your future course. When I was young I thought that my life amongst the Shay was assured, that I would spend my whole life living as they did, ensconced in the forest and content to be here. How wrong I was.”
He paused. I waited for him to resume speaking, seeing something of the regrets within his eyes as reflections of the firelight played around us.
“I was never a child who accepted everything that I was told. I challenged my tutors. Constantly. When lectured by the Bwekhirazii to accept their teachings without question I found it impossible to do so. Why were the Shay to remain hidden? Why did we have to keep to ourselves? Why weren’t we allowed to mix with other races, to learn from them? Why shouldn’t we explore the world and other cultures? Why was it that only a handful, those called to special quests within the Artist’s Guild, or some religious quest, were allowed to leave the forest for any length of time? Why couldn’t every Shay choose his or her own destiny? These and so many other things I asked. Not getting answers that satisfied me, I repeated them, again and again.”
“Because that is our way was never convincing. Eventually I began asking, Why was it our way? I argued with them, pointing out that the histories taught us of Shay who had explored, who had ventured out from the forest, who had mixed with other races.” Hesitating briefly, he said “The Zigandi are a result of such wanderings. They were originally groups of Shay who mixed with human nomads, until they became a race apart. That, the priests told me, was the reason for Shay no longer going into the world. To keep Shay separate. Pure.”
“Zigandi are part Shay?” I couldn’t avoid asking.
Ferantu nodded. “Which is why some, like your grandmother, are drawn to the Old Places. She may not feel as we do, or have the innate abilities of Shay, but there is a stirring there, in some of the Zigandi, that still lingers. Even after many, many generations with so little contact with Shay, some of our blood remains within the Zigandi tribes. And that, it was put to me forcefully, was why I had to stay apart, that maintaining the purity of Shay was paramount to the survival of our race. But on one of our trips to An Reviniba to trade, I decided to talk to the half-Shay, those of mixed blood. It puzzled me that there were so many half-Shay, but they pointed out to me that most of them were old, born before the Bwekhirazii had become as strict. Others were the children of half-Shay, so had a more diluted blood-line. Anyway, I liked their company. Too much, it turned out. I was of the age when rebelling against my elders was at its height. I refused to leave the town, stayed where I was, travelled with a few of the half-Shay to Whitmuth and Chia. For me, it was an adventure. My roots, I believed, were still here, in the forest with my kin.”
“Unfortunately the Bwekhirazii and my parents didn’t see it that way. After several months I was back in An Reviniba, when they returned.” His eyes glazed over, sorrow and anger mingled in his expression. I realised with a shock that he still hurt as he carried on his explanation of what happened next. “They exiled me. There and then. Some refused to speak to me, turned their backs on me. In their eyes I had done what was against their law. I’d become an outsider, a renegade. That is why, Zentara, I won’t be travelling with you. Too many painful memories reside in An Reviniba. Even though it is no longer the place it was, I can not travel there. Some shadows are just too strong to ever die.”