The Lost Path 2
The depths of the forest has been my sanctuary since I was a young ‘un. It is where I run to hide from the death of my father. I am Brook, known for my strength, like the Brook tree that grows taller than all within Centre Valley. Death is common here and we make it our friend. Yet never have I experienced the loss of someone close to me and I do not know how to show my emotion. To show grief was to show weakness and in Centre Valley the weak become a target.
On the second day of hiding I feel hunger. It is a good thing to feel something other than grief. For both days they look for me, shouting out my name until the sun leaves the sky and I am plunged into the great darkness of Centre Valley. When the first light falls over the great wall of Maze, they begin the search again and I run like a hunted animal.
At night the forest becomes alive with Broar and Feydeer. I climb high into a Brook tree where I settle down and listen to the sounds of the forest below. There is the musical sound of hundreds of Hymming Brids above me and the music of the forest is complete. My bare feet dangle down into the darkness and I fall asleep hugging the branch tightly. When Blinding Ball rises above the walls and breathes light into Centre Valley on the third day, I open my eyes and look out across the tops of trees. I can see the grey of Wall stretching out in a circle, imprisoning us within Centre Valley, sparkling in the sun and dazzling me. Even from this tall tree I am unable to see over the top and across Maze. I look around our valley and my eyes settle on South Wall Village, my home.
But it’s not really home, I think. No. Home was out there somewhere beyond the great maze from where the Founders came. Thinking back three days ago I wish I had taken those steps into Maze and lost myself within the depths. Perhaps by chance I would find the fabled Lost Path that would lead me to freedom. I close my eyes and dream of twisting paths until my head spins. Climbing swiftly down the tree, I wander around the forest for hours in a dreamlike state, pretending the walls of Centre Valley do not exist and I am free to go where I want.
A memory kindles within my mind before bursting into flames. My father has taken me up the slope towards the Open Way where we sit at the edge of the great Maze, looking down towards the Crossing Path.
“I once dreamt of exploring, taking a turn at the Crossing Path,” My father says. I can see him stood in the shade of the trees next to me and I reach out to him; my fingers feel the wind. “There are great secrets within the depths of the Maze, whispers of other valleys just like ours.”
“Will there be people like me there?” I ask, falling back to that distant day when I was five cycles old.
My father smiles. “There is only one flower of the forest.” He looks out at the great Maze and sighs. “One day, our people will find the Lost Path and we shall enter Outer Maze.”
The memory fades back to the breeze and I wish my father was really with me, taking my hand and leading me through the maze on the Lost Path. That day my father had ignited a burning curiosity that yearned to see what was around the corner and beyond. I dreamt of the wide valleys of strange animals and stories of giant waterfalls that cascade down the walls into a valley of giant lakes.
Stories. Nothing but legends passed down by the Weavers, told to be lies by the witches who claimed Centre Valley was All World and Maze was impassable, moving around Centre for eternity. Centre was Life.
Now on the third day of my self made exile, I hear the gentle hum of a familiar tune drift on the breeze. I freeze on the spot like a startled Feydeer and the smell of smoke drifts across the forest. Inhaling deeply, I catch the smell of roasting Broar flesh and my stomach churns. Moving cautiously, I creep through the lush thick leaves of the undergrowth, drawn by the smell and tune. Stopping at the edge of a clearing dappled in bright sunbeam where flies dance and birds flutter, I see a figure sat crossed legged by a small fire with a Broar leg turning slowly on a spit.
The figure looks up towards me, but continues to hum the tune. I find myself humming along as we come to my favourite verse and my eyes close as I remember a time when father would hum that very song to me. When I do not cry, I feel like I have come through my grief and the sadness is replaced with nostalgia.
“Caris flower of Centre Vale, he picked it for a lover pale,” I sing, almost a whisper.
The figure goes quiet and the sound of crackling fire fills the warm air. “Where does she shelter, where does she sleep?” Rek sings back.
I stand up among the tall grass and step like a feral animal into the clearing. “Oh how sad the lost lover who daily weeps,” I finish. I crouch down by Rek, wrapping my arms around myself. He pulls off a piece of Broar for me and I snatch it from his hands, eating with abandon. I look at him, my mouth full of Broar with the fat running down my chin.
“I told them you’d come out when you’re ready,” Rek says with a smile as warm as the fire. “Or hungry,” he adds.
Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I scowl. “You know I can’t resist the song of Forest Flower. My father sang it to me when I was a young ‘un. I-” I stop talking and take a deep breath, controlling the tears. I look at Rek sitting calmly in front of me, and I wonder if I am dreaming him as I did with father. Reaching out, I go to touch his shoulder length blonde hair, but I don’t dare. Rek takes my hand and holds it in his and I feel small and weak around him, yet this feels good. I go to him and he wraps an arm around me and holds me, humming Forest Flower again.
“Arin has been sleeping in the forest at night,” Rek says after a while. “Thinks you need protecting.”
“It would be me protecting Arin,” I say; the thought of him sleeping alone in the forest when he is scared of the dark is a warming one, but I do not wish for his devotion, nor to encourage it.
“Your mother brought him food and water.”
I sit up sharply. “How has she been?”
Rek shrugs and lays back in the grass, chewing on a piece of fatty Broar. There is no need for words, because I know mother’s grief would be greater than mine, for I have seen how my parents look at each other with the glint of lovers that songs are written about. Shame and guilt floods through me and I realise the time for hiding has ended.
“Take me back,” I tell Rek, my tone colder than I meant. But Rek jumps to his feet and holds out his hand.
“I thought you’d never ask.” He takes my hand and leads me through the forest. We stop along the route as Rek spies a Caris flower and crouches down to gently pluck it out. He hands it to me and I take it, smelling the sweet scent of the most beautiful thing that grows in Centre Valley, perhaps in all of the great maze beyond. Coming to the edge of the forest, we look out towards South Wall Village and see a large crowd gathering by the Wall below Open Way.
“Is that all for me?” I ask, backing towards the forest.
“They know well enough to leave you be.” Rek takes my hand and we hurry towards the crowd, covering the long grassed meadow in no time. When we near, eyes look me up and down, but do not linger. It is as though they have acknowledged I am safe, but there is more interesting sights to look at. Only Arin shows delight at seeing me. He runs towards me and wraps his arms around me. His head buries in my breasts and he squeezes me tight. Pulling away, I ask him what has happened.
Arin points up the slope towards Open Way and grins widely. “Strangers have come from out of the maze! They set camp this morning by Open Way.”
I look at him and doubt his words. “Strangers?” I push through the crowd with Rek and Arin until I am close enough to see the smoke of campfire billowing up into Outer Maze. There are five figures sat around the fire, looking down into Centre Valley. No one dares to get too close, unsure how to greet them.
Malek is stood with a group of younger witches away from the crowd and they look on, shaking their heads. “The harbingers of doom,” Malek mumbles. She points a pony finger up towards them. “They shall bring death to us!” No one is listening to her and her face goes cold anger.
I stare up at the strangers, wondering what stories they bring. Have they found the Lost Path or have they come from another valley like Centre? Are they really the harbingers of doom? The strangers rise from their camp and there is a hushed silence as they approach us. Today, I think, Centre Valley will never be the same again.
Suddenly, it did not feel like we were the centre of Maze after all and I drop the Caris flower Rek had given me and watch it blow away in the wind.