Nemesis, NoBloPoMo, Stories...

Nemesis… Chapter 5 (Day 7)

I am walking through a sun-dappled forest. It is beautiful here, with majestic old-growth trees, soft moss and leaves under my feet, the scent of pine and cedar on the warm breeze.  There are animals here with me; I can sense them and hear them rustling in the leaves alongside the trail I am walking on.  From the sound of the tiny rustles, and the movement of the bushes on either side of me, it would appear they are following, or even leading me.  Every once in a while, if I turn my head at just the right angle, at just the right moment, I can see something else travelling beside me, though I dare not speculate on who, or what, it might be…

I know these woods; I have been here many times.  A deep peace settles over me, a sense of warm contentment, the feeling of coming home after an exciting but exhausting adventure.  I realize, while I am walking, that I am not limping at all; there is absolutely no pain in my lower extremities!  Curious, I ball my hands into fists and release them, flex my elbow a few times, roll my shoulders…  The pain is simply gone today!

A feeling of elation pours through me, pure joy, at the exquisite sensation of being pain-free.  I cannot remember the last time my physical body moved with such grace and strength, and the pleasure of it is enough to make me weep.  I feel light enough to fly today, having no true idea of how heavy my spirit had become, being weighed down as it was by chronic pain.  Gratitude for this temporary freedom pulses from me with every step I take, becoming a beacon bright enough to light my way through this dense forest…

Suddenly a crossroads appears before me; a choice must be made.  I recognize this intersection, having passed through it many times before.  And while the road not usually travelled appeals to me, knowing I could actually explore it in this version of my body, I turn away, and focus my sights on the path I already know.  If I am here, and pain-free, there must be a reason; the Mother must have called me here today.  It would not serve me in the end, nor any other being for that matter, to ignore such a summons…  So I carry on…

A few more steps along the way, and I come across the gnarled old oak who serves as guardian of this place.  I make my offerings here, seeking entrance into the enchanted part of this realm.  If such offerings are accepted, then he will reveal the path I am to follow, and the others will appear along the way to guide me in.  For this is a sacred place, home to a particular group of Fey, and it was not so long ago that they were gone.  But this summer drew me back, helped me create a sacred grove, and these ones answered my invitation to return.  So I am careful to follow the “rules,” not wanting to offend anyone, not wanting them to abandon this place again…

“There he is!,” I think, excited.  I pick up the pace, running the last few steps, only slightly distracted by the sheer joy of running again…  I stop, suddenly, just shy of the old oak tree, realizing suddenly that I have nothing with me to use as an offering. Momentary panic sets in…

“No!  This will not do!,” I cry out loud.  The Old Man Oak is ancient, at least in terms of my lifespan.  He was here before the forest grew up around him, and he will be here still when it is long since gone.  He is scarred by lightning strikes, and marred by human selfishness carved deep into his bark; missing limbs that forest workers took, for whatever reason seemed worthy to them; roots exposed by rain and wind; wearing an old stump which used to be his twin…  Tears well in my eyes, as I realize that I have nothing to offer him…

“Your love is gift enough,” I hear, as a deep, resonant voice joins with the wind.  I glance up at Old Man Oak and notice that he is looking back at me…

Confused now, I approach, for I have never seen his eyes before.  They are large and dark and wise; liquid pools of kindness, shining with the light of a thousand stars.  I am mesmerized…

“How is this happening?,” I ask aloud.  “Not that I’m complaining, of course, but I have never seen your true face.  Is there a reason you are revealing yourself to me today?”

“There is always a reason for the events of our lives, ” he responds kindly.  “But we do not always need to know what it is to use those events wisely.  Or do you disagree, O’LeaRa?”

Two things strike me immediately about his response, aside from the message itself, of course.  One is that his voice, his speaking, matches my human rhythm, which is exceptionally unusual; the voice of trees, especially ones as old as Old Man Oak, are usually so slow in cadence that it hardly seems like speech at all.  Rather, trees “speak” in feelings, sometimes images, always slow moving, for clearly they measure time differently than humans…

The second is that he is using my “true” name, which very few in this world actually know.  It is a name that has followed me through lifetimes in this human plane, changing slightly with each new birth, while always retaining some trace of its original form.  In this lifetime I was named Elisa, which was shortened early on to simply Lisa, and that is the name I most frequently hear.  The fact that he has chosen to address me by my soul’s name is unique indeed, and bears noticing, even if I do not yet understand why it is significant…

I reach out to wrap my arms as far around the old oak as possible, hugging him.  Laying my cheek against his grizzled bark, I whisper, “I offer you my love today, Old Man, heartfelt and sincere.  I am honored and awed to call you Friend…”

The old oak tree sighs, as only trees can do, refreshing the very air around us.  The breeze picks up momentarily, scenting the air with memories of rain and wildflowers, the drone of insects sounding loud in the silence surrounding us.  I feel the earth beneath my feet, strong, steady, supportive, and she is healing me.  I am completely at peace with the Old Man in my arms and in my heart…

“You are most welcome, here, child,” he says to me.  “But you cannot stay here and pass the time with me.  The Mother called you here, so you must go to her at once.  Time is short, even in human terms, and it is moving much too swiftly here…”

I hesitate, wanting desperately to stay with him and have a “real” conversation for once…

“You must go!,” he urges me.  “But perhaps, one day, when all of this is behind us both, you can return, and we can have that conversation you so desire.  I will look forward to it myself…”

And with that, he closes his eyes, becoming a gnarled old oak tree once more…

***     *****     ***

Sighing myself, I turn away, heading up the path once again.  About a dozen paces ahead, I veer sharply off the path, moving into the wild forest itself.  I know this route now, though it was hell to find, requiring a friend with better eyes than mine…

I wander through the trees, absorbing the peace, casually waiting for my “road” to emerge from the trees ahead.  In the meantime I take note of little changes here and there, places where the Fey have been busy building, or healing, or creating.  I revel in the sense of Life here now.  And as each step takes me deeper in, away from the paths created by Man, I find I am attracting new companions to walk with me.  The chipmunks are no longer hiding in the tall grasses, but have come out to openly play, with and around me.  Birds are settling into lower branches so that I may see them, and hear them, delighting in the exchange.  Dragonflies zoom by, iridescent wings transfixing my gaze.  A lady bug settles on my hand, and I do not feel afraid…

Finally I glance up to see the path ahead has appeared, emerging from the random arrangement of the trees; now there is a straight road before my eyes, cleared of most debris, borders marked with fallen trees, and calling plaintively to me.  I feel the urgency the Old Man tried to communicate settling on me like a weight, so I pick up my pace and hurry on.

When I reach the Sacred Grove that I created just this summer, I see that someone else is kneeling before the makeshift altar I had made.  Not wishing to disturb her, I hang back, observing…
For some reason I believe that she is female, though there is no telltale sign of that as yet, other that the long raven hair laying lovingly across her back.  She wears a cloak as black as night, accessorized with brilliant red.  Her head is bowed, her hands hidden, and there is something about that pose that strikes a chord within, but I cannot place it now…

I glance beyond her, to where the Mother stands, a graceful tree whose species I have not even tried to identify.  “Odd,” it occurs to me, “that I never thought to question what kind of tree the Mother is before?”  It matters not, I guess, for she is the Mother, and I can feel her love from here.  But I can’t help wondering, now that the thought has occurred to me…

I look her over carefully.  She has a graceful trunk, tripled near the base, with peeling white bark, and small vocal leaves…  “Of course!,” I smile to myself. “She is a White Birch tree!”  Now that I have identified her, I realize what perfect sense it makes…

And then I notice that the lady at the altar is standing up.  She rises gracefully, stretching out her cloak like wings, nods once more at the altar in front of her, before turning to face the Mother.

Finally, she slowly rotates to face me…

I cannot help but stare, for she is quite a sight, this beauty who stands before me, and she is, indeed, a she.  Small black eyes, alight with mischief and something else stare back at me.  Those tiny eyes sit close together on an oval face, with skin so pale white, it appears translucent to me; veins mark every exposed space of skin, looking like treasure maps tattooed upon her face.  A hawkish nose reaches out from the center of that face, curving downward over a too-small mouth.  Her lips a scarlet red, resembling fresh spilled blood, so vibrant against the pale skin and dark tattoos.  And now, with her lips pursed this way, under that too-sharp nose, she appears for all the world like a bird with a ripe red berry in her beak.

She smiles a half-smile, as if hearing my thoughts, then slowly lifts her arms to either side.  It is only then I notice that the cloak I thought she wore actually is a set of wings!  Glossy black and feathered, with bright red at the shoulders, and tiny claw-like fingers protruding from the tips.  She is dressed in black, feathers everywhere, so downy soft in front, the side she is revealing to me.  I am stunned by her beauty and her form, bewildered by her presence, and yet…

And yet, somehow, nothing has ever felt more “natural” to me than this…

***     *****     ***

(to be continued)

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