Chapter One: Finding the Cairn
Rhianna’s backpack had been heavy days earlier when she’d started this journey. After three days in the Trilian Woods, she was beyond grateful to Ta’ara for defying the wishes of both of their mothers and accompanying her on this pilgrimage. It wasn’t that Rhianna minded being alone, it was that all her senses were aggravated and she was filled with an unidentifiable anxiousness. She imagined that the physical and emotional weight of everything would have increased her burden, had she made this trek by herself. The presence of her spirit sister had always been a blanket of reassurance, today was no different.
All her training over the years had led her to believe that time spent in the ancient forest would calm and center both soul and body. She had been raised in the lessons of the elders of her clan. As her soft footfalls made their way through the forest floor leaving barely a trail of evidence, her eyes wandered the multitudes of green that surrounded her. Rhianna tried to center herself by cataloging the variety of ferns, moss, herbs, and shrubbery in their midst. It didn’t help.
Everything was simply more of everything today. The differentiation of the greens was more obvious. The browns of the branches could be identified with ease. Rhianna could feel the texture of the leaves that brushed her arms and without a glance know that it was an ostrich fern that touched her. Even the smell of the moss at her feet filtered up with a clarity that separated it from the moss on the rock formation up ahead.
She stopped short and held out her arm so that Ta’ara would not bang into her even though she knew in her gut exactly how far behind her sister walked. She arched backwards to glance, but kept her feet firm. As expected, Ta’ara had been exactly 2 meters back her as was custom in a single file hike. She closed the gap and stepped up an arms length behind. Their eyes met and they both smiled at each other reassuringly.
The low level anxiousness had escalated to be replaced with almost full-on panic. Rhianna’s throat was so tight that she couldn’t speak. As always, Ta’ra read her face and understood. She reached out one hand and rested it reassuringly on Rhianna’s shoulder and held out the other one waiting, patiently waiting. “Take a deep breath. We will know what to do soon.” She held out her other hand, palm open, eyes locked and whispered, “Give me the map, I will read it this time.”
Rhianna slowly let out the breadth that she’d been completely unaware she’d been holding. She reached behind her other shoulder and pulled out the rolled parchment from the side compartment of her pack and placed it into Ta’ra’s palm.
Ta’ra unfurled the map and looked at the drawings, then up at the cairn that lay not more than 100 meters in front of them. It was tall, perhaps as high as 5 meters. The lower half of it disguised by moss, the top covered in vines. If they hadn’t been searching for this exact landmark for almost two days, it could easily have been missed. Yet. . . there was also an undeniable magic about the place and both of them knew they never could have missed this spot for all that they had just spent hours upon hours walking through the woods in search of it.
Ta’ara rolled the map back up and placed it gently into its resting place in Rhianna’s pack, “Shall we settle here for the night and uncover what’s next?”
The choice was a given even before the question had been asked. With a nod and a smile of gratitude, they both set to work. They’d hiked and camped together for years and worked in a quiet rhythm that came from knowing each other well. Knowing that everything they did at the moment was filled with meaning and ancient tradition only added to the power of their actions.
Rhianna’s Grandparent, Ana’ha, had been the Trilla’am Two-Spirit Elder for 22 years. Her Elder had insisted that one spirit be set to rest with the clan, while Rhianna would bring one spirit to the spiritual resting place within the Trillian Forest. The Elder Trilla had drawn the map up to this point. Detailed instructions on the rituals that the grandchild would need to perform had been handwritten. This was considered the Sacred Spiritual Birthplace of her people. She would add her elder’s stone to the cairn just as one had been placed decades before when her grandparent’s grandparent had passed. Rhianna would say the sacred prayer, bless this place, and only then would her ancestors guide her to whatever was next on this journey.
According to the map, the ritual would reveal the direction of Triliam’s Arc. Once the Arc was in sight, the rituals of earth and water would uncover the Warrior’s Circlet. From the poetry and songs of her youth, Rhianna knew that her Elder wanted her to pass through the Warrior’s Circlet and scatter the ashes as she passed through. It was her sacred duty as a child of Trilla’am. She did not know what she was supposed to be searching for exactly, but she had been told by the elders that she would know with both body and spirit when she found it.
They believed in her. They had no doubt that she would find find the Arc. They had no doubt that she was a true heir of her lineage. It was their certainty in her brilliance that served to further strengthen Rhianna’s crippling doubt. Her family had been blessed for generations with the capability to carry the stronger magics that required on to be of two spirits. Rhianna was simply Rhianna. She’d always been herself, a single girl with a nervous spirit that was easily startled and unsure of her purpose.
Finding the cairn was a physical and mental relief. Two days had felt like an eternity.
“You need to get out of your own head again,” Ta’ra chided beside her as she worked to lay large leaves across the moss. Making a bedding that would help to leave less of a mark on the healthy moss overnight. “Do you remember to the Tale of Maha’ara,” she chided. Rhianna nervously chuckled and nodded her thanks.
Ta’ara continued, “In the days of the Third Elder, the Grandchild Mahara was a spirited son of Trilla’am. He had been brave and powerful before entering the wood. Assured of his gift and his skill, he headed off to find the cairn and his second spirit. The clan leaders prepped for Mahara’s return. They lit the torches, they began to prepare the slow cooking, they danced on the fourth evening in anticipation. His power had been so strong that they were certain that he would return sooner than most. The customary seven days passed and he did not return. The one week turned into two and he did not return. Mahara’s younger siblings begged to search for him and the Elders denied them. Finally, after four weeks, Mahara returned. He returned to the clan with his one spirit. He was the strongest one spirit any clan member had ever known, but he had nonetheless emerged without finding the other half of himself. He had wandered and wandered and in his pride had never found the cairn. He had been afraid to tell the Elders. In his fear and shame, he had wandered to long and his second spirit was forever lost to him. He could never hold the stronger magics within him and he could never lead his people. He was offered the honor to become Maha’ara, but he was far to ashamed to ever claim his adult name.”
Ta’ara stopped and looked pointedly at Rhianna, “And what is the lesson?”
Rhianna whispered the words she had heard first many years before, “Bravery and strength are not enough. We must hold compassion in our hearts. We must be able to balance our strength from both the earth and the water, the land and the sky, the cold and the hot, the male and the female, the lightning and the thunder. To be one-spirit is not to be able to truly understand the magic of the world. We must be open to our second spirit to become what we are meant to be.”
She knew this and other stories of ancestors older than her who had been lost in the woods for weeks. Ancestors who had emerged emancipated, troubled, and without reserves. She should be reassured. Two days was excellent. She knew that Ta’ara had not influenced the direction. Rhianna knew finding the cairn before sunset meant something, but she just could not shake the sense of doubt. Ta’ara had been on her quest four years previous. She had been an orphan adopted into the clan. She had a kind of magic, but it was different than that of the Elders. Tara’s quest had been simpler. She had returned with a stronger spirit. She had found more of her self and taken her adult name. Ta’ara had never been expected to find her complete second spirit. She was not the descendant of generations of Trilla’am Two-Spirits.
Rhianna could feel the magic of the ancient wood envelop her as she laid down her bedding for rest. It felt powerful and heavy. She knew that the energy surrounding her was why she felt so on edge, alert, and aware. That didn’t exactly help to settle her nerves. The fact that the world felt more alive than ever before, more uncontrollably powerful than ever before, it also served to add to her anxiety and doubt.
She rested her head on her bedding and prayed to all the gods and all her elders to guide her journey with gentle hands. She prayed to Mahara to spare her from pride. She prayed for compassion and patience. She recited in her mind the ritual she would perform in the morning over and over again until her mind silenced and she fell asleep.
255 Days to go.
Post Note: Image courtesy of WordPress images and found earlier today.
This story is original fiction that was outlined in my mind years and years and years ago when I was a teenager reading a multitude of fantasy and playing D&D regularly.
The photo sparked the memory of Rhianna in my mind. Although, I gave her a different name back then.
This is only the beginning. I hope to return to this story soon. ;-D
© Randi Sumner