WARRIORS OF THE WAY
DOST THOU NOT KNOW THAT THE FUTURE LIES
IN THE DREAMS OF YESTERDAY?
Some time during the twilight hours of pre-dawn, I opened my eyes and beheld a most incredible and tender sight. I was bundled snugly in soft skins and blankets on a hard ground. There was an arm around my waist holding me tightly. It belonged to my mysterious friend and co-warrior of the Night From Hell and the Battle-That-No-One-Would Ever- Believe. At the man's backside hovered the gray boulders. Redemption stood resolutely at our heads, Snow stood at our feet and the deer lay on the ground in front of us with his back nestled up close to me. We were, all four of us, snoring softly in a much deserved and blessed slumber. I looked at the scene in wonder, put out my hand and patted the deer's back and mumbled, "Sweet, sweet boy." and something about my mother. Then I instantly fell back into healing and dreamless sleep. Even if it were not so, I had never felt so safe and secure.
I do not know how long we slept there in our little cocoon. I do not know how long I slept after my four companions left me. I did not even know if what I thought I remembered even happened. For I awoke alone, tangled in the skins, pawing my way out of dim-lit thoughts and memories so bizarre that no storyteller could write them. I lay there puzzling over dreams that were not dreams and feelings that poured through me like liquid fire. I had not felt this way since my childhood illness. When the fever had silenced me for long days at a time and I lay in cool darkness hearing words unspeakable and full of wonder pouring into my soul. When I had come out of it at last, I was a much different girl. I felt reborn into a new world though the old world still clutched at me with jealous fingers. My surroundings looked cleaner and clearer and the people that populated my life seemed dearer to me. I found myself thinking about them more so than myself. I took a greater interest in a life that till then, I had taken for granted. But with the passage of time, that, too changed with the circumstances that fell on my young heart like the discharge of leaves in the wind.
"Everything changes." my teacher had remarked one day when I ran to him with questions about my friend, the shepherd boy. "Everything except what matters most. Those things never change." It would be a long time before I came to understand the truth of that and still, even now, burrowed in the warmth of my makeshift bed, I did not fathom the depth of it. And I wondered if I ever would. For I did not like sharp changes in my life. I did not like it when people came and went and left me behind like a unwanted toy. It always made me feel that I had done something wrong, like there was something wrong with me.
(And the only thing that would ever make me feel right would be to fulfill the mission that came to me in the eleventh year of my life.)
I fell back to sleep thinking of that momentous day and the fate of the shepherd boy and the void he had left in my heart. It was something that hurt deeply, even now in my obliviousness. Even now, as my soul strove to escape it. At some point, I began to sense a presence and to smell a wonderful aroma coming from a far distance to envelope me and awaken my hunger. I opened my eyes a tiny bit at a time and saw the man lying beside me on the ground, brushing back my hair and singing a soft lullaby. At the same time, the deer's head appeared over his shoulder looking at me with his huge and gentle eyes. The man smiled. He kissed my cheek. The deer nudged his. We both smiled. I reached out from under the blankets and touched the uninjured side of the man's face with the softest of touches. I don't think I had ever touched anyone so tenderly. My eyes filled with tears. "Shhh... shhh." He whispered, kissing my hand. "It's alright. Everything is alright. Don't think of anything but this moment. Forget to remember for a while. Can you?" And I nodded and my stomach rumbled and he laughed. "Somebody is hungry!" "And thirsty." I said and he pulled a flask of water from behind him and I sat up and drained it dry. He reached for an apple, took a bite of it and put it to my lips. I took a big bite and threw it to the deer who devoured it and curled up at the man's feet.
"Are you strong enough to walk?" he asked, pulling himself up to his knees. "I have made a roasted fowl.........." "How foul is it?" I said, trying very hard not to smile. He looked at me for a moment and pulled my hair. "No breakfast for thee, my disgruntled lady!" And I groaned in mock anger. "But I starve!" He gingerly touched his wounded arm and it's dirty bandage and sniffed, "Then you must tell me I am the greatest of all cooks and that you marvel at my recipes!" "Oh, I do! I do!" I cried, pushing back my disheveled hair. "I marvel that anyone survives them!" And he pushed me down and began tickling me like a child and we laughed happily. Abruptly serious, he paused over my body, surveying my face with emotions dancing across his own, his lips hovering inches from mine. "How I rejoice to hear your laughter." He said huskily. "You have no idea how I rejoice to hear it. I thought I might never hear it again." And he hung there, suspended over me as we looked intensely at one another and the air we breathed became charged and our hearts hammered like a thousand thunders. The deer stuck his face in between ours and licked the man's chin. He collapsed on the blankets beside me and we erupted in helpless laughter, rolling back and forth as the deer stared at us like we were mad.
Oh, how we needed that mirth! If ever two people in all of the world needed joy, it was we two. It was a healing balm to my wounded soul. But without warning, memories of last night came flashing in and scampering through my mind like insidious traitors. I pushed them back but on they came. Faster and faster. Images of terrible, terrible things, dreadful sounds, horrific feelings. Of unacceptable loss. Of dementia and mindlessness, of utter and total hopelessness. My companion snatched me up and stood me to my feet like a rag doll. "The feast awaits!" he exclaimed and all but dragged me away out of the enclosure and into the sunshine. The deer followed us. My legs gave way underneath me and the man grabbed me up in his arms and hurried to the camp fire, trying desperately to pull me back from that dark, dark place. He sat me upon a block of wood and handed me a piece of fruit and a cup of water. "Eat!" he commanded and prepared to carve up the bird that was perfectly roasted. The smell was beyond wonderful. It brought me back to reality and I ate and drank gratefully, never taking my eyes from the one who had cooked it. He stood over me, eating a drumstick and watching me as intently as a doctor, his patient. And as long as I kept my eyes on his, my mind stayed out of that nether region and in this world.
When I had eaten my fill, I stood up and tested my limbs. I felt stronger. My head swam and I fought the dizziness but I meant to overcome the derangement. I pulled the blanket (that he had grabbed up with me) tightly around my shoulders and began to march around in circles. I stomped my feet. I punched the air with my fists. I yelled out in a loud voice and then I screamed. The horses munching grass nearby stopped. The deer stopped. The man stood frozen by the fire, his mouth full of fruit. Then I laughed, "Ha!" and smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. All was silent for a moment, then I rushed back to the fireside and grabbed another piece of fruit and said into the startled man's face. "I feel better now." He stared at me, swallowing hard and murmured, "Good, good. I'm glad to hear it."
He didn't know what to make of me. I didn't know what to make of me.
I just knew I was almost me again. Little by little pulling myself out of an unknown place that I never wanted to visit again. The place where you give up on yourself and on life. The Valley of the Shadow, as my nursemaid had called it. The place where Death held sway and all who entered fell at it's feet. I let out a long and freeing sigh. "Well!" I said, "I feel like a swim!"
He'd been extremely busy as I'd slept the morning away. The arbor had been repaired and restored upon the ledge. The skins were once more secured to the trees, the campsite had been picked up and made straight. All our possessions and weapons lay neatly and in order.
Containers of fruit and water sat close by, firewood and provisions were at hand. Except for the deep hoove prints in the dried mud, it would have looked as it had before. I looked all around the place. I inspected the arbor, front and back and then I stopped in my tracks.
"Where is it?" I asked, puzzled. "Where is what?" he asked back, still standing as he had been during my extraordinary performance. "The wolf creature!" I shouted. "It was right here! Dead on the ground! And there was a white arrow in it's chest and over here, a severed arm from the other one." He watched me as I walked round and round, searching. I couldn't understand it. I walked back to where he stood and looked into his eyes. He seemed to stare at me in a daze, then shook himself and said, "Oh! The white arrow is in my quiver but the....Wereman...is gone." "Gone!?" I questioned him, perplexed, "How can it be gone?" "It just is," he said, "They usually disappear after death. Did I not tell you?" "No." "Well, tis true. The arm, too is gone. Believe me." "I've never seen an arrow like that one. It burned me. Is there a special potion or poison you....?" "Yes." he answered quietly. "A special poison for Weremen. I thought I had explained......?" "No." I said and we dropped the subject.
We decided to go swimming together and made our preparations. Taking soap and clean clothes, bandages, towels, pails, weapons and anything else we thought we needed, we headed for the oasis. The horses and deer decided to stay behind and we let them rest, determining to go riding later. There was no hint of danger in the air, no watching eyes, no threat that we were aware of. It was exhilarating. We walked to the stream at a swift pace, not talking but not needing to. I was resolved to put the events of the past night out of my mind and behind me, if possible. I felt very fragile in a hundred ways but stubbornness was one trait I had never been delivered from and that stubbornness now dictated that I fight this thing and come out victorious. I simply would not allow myself to think of anything other than what I chose to. And all I thought of now was plunging into the cool sweet water. I hurried to the banks, threw down my burdens and swam out to the deepest depths with all my clothes on except for my boots. The man joined me and we swam for several minutes, up and down, over and across, washing and washing and washing away all of the dirt and sweat and stains that threatened to become part of us. We swam until we were exhausted and then went back to the shore and fell heavily upon the grass, soaking wet and feeling renewed. I scooted over to put my head on his shoulder and he put out his arm and pulled me close to his side. And there we lay basking in the sun and letting ourselves mend in the silence.
After our nap, I sleepily informed him, with my eyes still closed, "I have some questions." "Of course you do." he teased, awake but not moving. "What was that song you were singing when I woke up?" He gave a small laugh and told me, "Oh, just a little song I picked up somewhere. Something about yesterdays and tomorrows and the future and things like that. Kind of a children's song, really." "I liked it." I said, "I've never heard it before. It was nice. But what does it mean?" But before he could answer, I asked another more pertinent question. "What do you mean, you have no name?!" He grunted and pulled his arm out from under me, rolling over on the grass and looking at me with shaded eyes. The sun was high and shining very brightly. "I don't. I meant that. Everyone who meets me calls me by a different name. You can call me whatever you choose. It's alright." I got to my knees and pushed the wet hair out of my face. "That's ridiculous. Everyone has a name. What did your mother call you? That's your real name."
"I never knew my mother." he said in a pained voice. "Or my father. I was adopted and...." I was stunned. I thought that I alone bore the sad fate of the mother-less child! How strange this was to hear! He chewed on a piece of grass and watched me. "What would you like to call me, Vaangelika?" "Oh, I don't know but I'm very tired of calling you the man-with-sky-colored- eyes!" I teased. "Though it is a lovely thing to call you and think of but...it is no proper name. Perhaps that is why you have never become widely known as a famous warrior.......they don't know what to call thee!" "You may be right." he granted, rolling back over, "But in some respects, it's a form of privacy. The villains don't know who to come looking for when they want to tear your head off!" He was having fun with me but deep inside, I sensed that he felt lonely and a bit of a misfit because he had no name. "I will find a name for you!" I promised him. "A great name befitting a hero and a warrior." And I began to call up every name I had ever heard or remembered but none seemed suitable.
After a time, he got to his feet and put his boots on. "I am going to stroll down the way and try to find more potatoes and such. Then you can take your leisure here in the stream. I'll be back shortly." And he walked away carrying empty bags and flasks, turning every few seconds to look longingly at me and wave. I got to my feet and waved back, feeling his absence with every step. Finally he disappeared from view and I got the soap and washed my filthy garments and hung them on a branch nearby, then dove back in and bathed and washed my hair. It was a glorious, sunny, clear day. A perfect day. Not one cloud cluttered the azure sky, not one thought cluttered my fractured mind. I swam and swam, enjoying the rippling of my body through the water, the sensation of flying through a liquid firmament.
Thoroughly refreshed, I wrapped my long hair in some toweling and began to dress. It felt good to be clean. It felt wonderful to be clean! I pulled some ivory colored trousers and a tunic out of my bag and tried to smooth the wrinkles out of them. The fabric was soft and comfortable against my skin. I put some clean shoes on my feet and fastened the wide gold necklace around my neck and the matching round earrings in my ears. Then I spread out a skin and sat upon it, drying my hair. I heard the fluttering of wings and looked around me but saw nothing. When my hair was almost completely dry, I plucked a bunch of flowers growing in abundance nearby and braided them into a circlet for my head and sat there reminding myself that I was still the daughter of a king, no matter what circumstances had befallen me.
"Princess! A gift….!" a soft voice said behind me and I turned to find the man with a single pink rose in his hand and a jewel colored feather, not unlike a peacock's but more exquisitely bright and beautiful. I had not heard his approach and wondered at his stealthiness. Surely he was the craftiest of men! There was no end to his skill and cunning! I smiled and took the rose and feather. "How beautiful. Did you steal this from the bird itself or find it on the ground?" He stood with his hands behind his back, his eyebrow lifted. "Oh, I shall not tell. Oh, yes, I will! I came upon a shrubbery made entirely out of feathers……..and it was from that bush that I took this feather. It cried out quite painfully when I plucked it but I told it to be quiet and ran." I caressed my face with the tip of the feather and giggled like a school girl, "Oh, you did not." And we began to go back and forth with the silly quarrel. It was such fun. I noticed that he had set three or four full bags on the ground behind him and he nodded and told me that we would have plenty of onions and potatoes and other vegetables for several days hence. Plus several fish that shimmered on their wooden spears. We would indeed be feasting tonight! Last night's meal had been so full of fear and apprehension that I barely remembered eating it. Tonight, we would eat in style and I would help. "May I say how lovely and charming you look?" he said observing me quietly. I blushed and looked at my shoes. "Thank you." "Without doubt, the prettiest thing my eyes have ever witnessed. Truly." My sudden shyness made me tongue-tied and I could not think of a single witty thing to say in retort. Now I understood why the ladies of the court blushed and turned away at the attentions of an approaching male. At the time I just thought they were absurd.
"Now, if you will excuse me, it's my turn to make myself charming." he said and removed his boots and torn tunic. I gasped when I saw the numerous bruises on his tanned back and shoulders. There were cuts and scrapes and evidence of the battle all over his upper body. The dirty bandage on his arm was about to fall off and I was overcome with concern and compassion for him. "How are you feeling?" I asked, getting to my feet. "Somewhat as if Redemption and Snow had run a violent race and used me for the road." he smiled. "But nothing that time will not heal. The balms you tended me with have already begun their work. It is no matter. When I am clean, I will ask you to doctor me again." I nodded and walked away to allow him his privacy. I did not walk in the direction of the multi-fruited tree. I did not wish to see it again so soon, if ever. Instead, I walked in the other direction, down past the willow trees and berry bushes, taking two pails with me to fill with fruit.
I came upon a small pond. In the middle of the pond was a tiny island covered with strange and wonderful plants. It had been hidden from view by trees with dark pink leaves, hanging almost to the ground. I was captivated by the sight of it. I saw gold colored fish jump up out of the water as though they were trying to draw my attention. I clapped my hands in delight. Multi-colored birds flew across the pond, trilling to one another and flying in and out of the pink trees. There were flowers of every size and description growing all around the banks of the pond and the fragrance was indescribable. It was a veritable paradise in the middle of a veritable paradise. I walked around the perimeter, closely examining everything I saw. Butterflies flitted here and there, hungrily claiming every flower they passed. I saw a tree hanging full of yellow fruit, long and sleek and unknown to me. I picked several of them and put them in my pail. Then I hurried to see what else I might find. There was so much! The beauty overwhelmed the senses.
Sitting down upon a log that looked as though it had been placed there for that purpose, I watched the fish play in the water and swim up to the edge of the pond to gather at my feet. Such lively little things they were! I wondered if I should feed them. They seemed to expect it. As I contemplated, I heard the loud rush of wings and the large white bird flew out of the sky and sat down in the middle of the island on a small, dark tree with strong branches. As it settled itself no more than ten feet away from me, I saw that it was looking at me with it's piercing eyes and I felt a shudder go through me and then stared back at it just as boldly as it stared at me. It was quite beautiful. Snow white, with a kind of glistening sheen to it's feathers. It's beak was black and so were it's feet. We sat there looking at one another for some time, not moving. I felt that I should say something but could not think what to say.
Suddenly, the bird flew from it's perch and scooped up a golden fish in mid jump above the pond. It returned to the perch and throwing the fish up into the air, swallowed it in one gulp. Then I thought it looked at me as if with the pride of a man. Like it had done something wonderful and terrible. To show me that it was capable. My stomach lurched and I got to my feet and grabbed the pails. The paradise felt suddenly tainted. I hurried out of the enclosure and away from the pond, trembling. I didn't know why it had frightened me so but it did. I gathered more of the purple berries and some other fruit I had not seen and walked back to the banks of the brook to see if the man was finished with his bath. He was. He was dressed in fresh trousers and drying his dark hair. It looked to be a painful effort, so I went to him and took the towel and began to dry it for him. The bandage had come off his arm and the wound looked angry and dangerous. I rubbed his head briskly and drew the moisture from his locks. He withstood my efforts without saying a word until my hand brushed against his cheek and he let out a cry. "Sorry." I apologized, my mind still on the white bird and her callous demonstration.
He took the towel from my hand and held both as he searched my face. "Not another encounter?" He asked worriedly and I shook my head. "Not with that creature." He asked no further question and I continued drying his hair and combing my fingers through it to untangle the snarls. Before he slipped into a clean shirt, I put healing salves on his bruises and wounds and dressed them with fresh bandages. Then I made him sit on the blanket and I brushed his hair. Soft breezes came through the trees and lulled us with their whispers. A large white cloud came to hover over our heads, shading us from the sun. The atmosphere was delicious. That was the only word to describe it. Delicious. I put down the brush because I saw he was drifting away with the stimulation of it and he protested mildly and chuckled. "Now who has the hands of a physician? I would that you continue for the space of another hour!" But I would not. We took our leisure there, eating peaches and drinking spring water from the newly filled flasks. We shared leftover roasted fowl and I made no jest about it but ate it with relish. "Good, no?" he asked mischievously and I said, "The best I have ever eaten! I tell you no lie!" And that seemed to make him joyful.
Reluctantly, we stood to head back to camp. He pulled the fish out of a shallow pool of water and we gathered up everything and began our walk. What a different walk from the last! Last night, my every step had slowed with his words. Words that brought me terror. Terror that had been nothing compared to what awaited us. This journey was one filled with amiability and contentment. I wouldn't let myself think of what he had said last night or what had transpired. This night would be different. Would be ours and no one else's. "About that song, " I said, taking up the subject just where I had left off. "You said you would tell me what it means." He sighed deeply and answered in a thoughtful tone, "Yes. Well, you know how you regress into the past and all it's memories? How you frequently flee away into that place inside you where you feel safe and can escape your present circumstances?"
And I opened my mouth in shock, wondering how he knew about that place that I escaped to but remembering his gift, I closed it again and said nothing. He continued. "I am more a forward looking person, myself, while you, on the other hand, like the familiarity of things past. No, don't protest! You know 'tis true. You think somehow that if you can repair the things that happened in the past, that everything can go on as it should and that you will be happy." I had no answer to that, knowing it was mostly true but had never considered it before. No one had ever confronted me with my beliefs. At least not like that. My teacher had confronted me with many things and my Father had confronted me on several things but no one in my life had wrapped me up in a nutshell and laid me neatly out for all to see. I felt transparent and exposed. It was…. unsettling.
"So, are you saying that I should forget the past and look only at the future? That there is something wrong with wanting to fix what was broken and surrounding myself with memory?" I was curious but mildly stung. "My girl, I am only trying to teach you a new lesson." He said, sounding exactly like my old teacher! It was astounding. "Hmmph." I huffed, wondering if I was really annoyed or merely amazed. "And what would that be?" "Well, you brought it up, remember? So, in answer to your question about the song and the song in relation to you, here it is: Everything in your past has culminated to make you into the person you are today. Every heartbreak, every joy, every sorrow. Even the worst of experiences have made you stronger. The deepest woundings have made you more unflinching, the most cutting losses have filled you with resolve. The very lack of love has made you all the more ravenous for it. The past has very powerful holds over us but we must break them and move away. Use them for our victories instead of our defeats. They are all interconnected but only as instruments for us to employ, not become imprisoned by. Do you understand? In other words, my butterfly with wings of iron, learn from the song. "Dost thou not know that the future lies….in the dreams of yesterday?" And he began to sing it again and I began to listen. Really listen. And my eyes shone with tears and I knew I was hearing something very important.
To Be Continued in Episode 19...........................