The Lost Path 4
All the villages have gathered this evening at the lake as news of the strangers to Centre Valley spread. There are whisperings of my involvement with their leader; I cover my ears and hang my head down to drown them out. My aunt, Feyla, stands and points to me.
“Their leader appeared interested in Brook,” Feyla says, sneering at me. “I saw the look he gives you, like he wants to bump with you.”
There is a murmur among the crowd and they turn to face me, eyes twinkling in the dusk. The blazing ball has nearly crossed Outer Maze and the shadows begin to fall, but not enough to hide me. Nervously, I glance around, but my eyes keep returning to the stranger who calls himself Droth Karn. He has rejoined his comrades at Opening Way and they sit in a circle of their own. I wonder what they are talking about, wishing I could be there now.
Someone is talking to me and I snap my head around to look at Rek. There is a look of fire within his eyes, a jealousy that threatens to tear our friendship apart. “What did he say to you?” he demands.
“What concern is that of yours?” My words are harsh and I regret them as soon as they are out. “I’m sorry, Rek, it has been a strange day.” Strange did not cover it. From grief to acceptance, then to being propositioned by a man who believes he gets whatever he desires, I do not know how to behave.
Rek looks up towards the Droth Draili camp and shakes his head. “We should send them back to their own land now,” he says. “Seal up Opening Way and prepare to fight them.”
There are cries of agreement. Feyla, always one to play to a crowd, calls out, “There are only five of them! Our hunters could strike them in their sleep.”
Turning on Feyla, I scowl, “You would have us murder people in their sleep?” My face glows red with anger and something else. “We could learn so much from them!”
Malek is helped to her feet by two younger witches. “They have declared themselves the conquerers of our land. Though they come with polite words and promises of peace, they are what they are.”
My anger now turns to Malek and I snap, “And what are they?”
Blindly, Malek faces me. “They are the harbingers of doom, child. Heed our warnings, prepare yourselves.”
Suddenly I see my mother sitting silently among them, watching me with grief worn eyes. Looking back at her, I forget for a moment what we are arguing about. My father, her husband, has been taken from us. This should be a time of grieving! Standing, I turn to the gathered crowds, spreading my arms wide. “There is more to this world than Center Valley! We have spent too long in this one place, when we should have been expanding like the Droth Draili. How do you expect to fight a people who have mastered the Maze?”
Arin stands. “Well we shouldn’t just give up and surrender, should we, Book?” He scratches the back of his neck nervously, his eyes cast to the ground. “If we kill them, they can’t go and tell of us to their own kind.”
There is a round of clapping and cheering for Arin who sits down quickly, clearly uncomfortable with this attention. I sigh. “Droth karn has told me that they are going to stay for a few days to learn about us; then he will go back to Droth Draili and report. What do you think will happen if they do not return with their report?”
Rek looks at me darkly. “They will send an army to destroy us.”
The villagers turn to each other to look for reassurance. For the first time in our history, I feel that we need a leader, someone to tell us what we should be doing. The witches are huddled in their little group, talking of superstition and Weylings. The Weavers discuss how to place these events into a story for future generations. Mothers and fathers talk of protecting their children while the children talk of war. Their voices fade away as my head spins. Looking up towards the Droth Draili camp, I see they have built their camp fires for the night.
What do you talk about up there? I wonder, thinking of the tall dark man called Droth Karn. Suddenly there is a voice speaking to me. “What?” I ask, turning to Rek.
Rek points to the Droth Draili. “If their leader truly wishes to bump with you,” he says. “Why not use that against them?”
I turn on him, angry. “Befriend him, so that you can sneak up on him when he sleeps and kill him? Why not do it now, there are only five of them; our finest hunters could use a bow.”
Arin comes to my side. “You should stay away from that Droth man; I don’t like how he looks at you.”
There is an explosion of discussion and the valley has never been so alive. The song of the Hymming birds is drowned in our united voices as the day turns to night and Centre Valley is plunged into darkness. By the time we head back home under fire light, no decision has been made. When I return home with mother, I am weary. On the walk back, we did not say a single word to each other; we knew not to.
Home is a strange place without father and being here brings back the pain of loss. Mother goes about lighting a fire in the darkness and I sit quietly watching her. When the fire is roaring and warmth spills into the room with flickering fire light, Mother finally speaks to me.
“What is he like?”
Mother turns and looks out the window that faces Open Way. “The Droth Draili who you spoke with. Does he really want to bump with you?”
The flames dance before my eyes and I sink deep into my chair. “Of course not,” I lie. To admit that Droth Karn desired me felt like a betrayal to my people, yet I knew within my heart that it was not my fault. It was not my intention to draw attention to myself, and I tried all my life to avoid it. I think of Arin and my point is proven to myself.
“I think Rek wants to bump with you,” Mother says matter of fact. “I think he would be a fine husband to you and then Arin would finally leave you alone. I will talk to Malek about pairing you both at the next tree dance.”
Something inside me explodes. Jumping to my feet, I shout at Mother, “There will be no more tree dances, no more pairings! Don’t you understand? Life in the valley is changing; we are not centre.”
Mother turns away from me, hiding her face. “We must hold onto our ways,” she whispers. “Centre is life.”
“Tell that to father,” I mumble, making my way to bed, pretending not to hear Mother’s protests. Slamming my door behind me, I climb onto my soft bed and stretch out. After a rough few nights, it feels luxurious. My eyes close, but I do not sleep for my mind is too full of thoughts.
I think about Rek and joining with him at the tree dance. My heart flutters at the thought and I think about kind Rek who has always been there for me since I was a young ‘un. Beautiful Rek with his long blonde hair and bright green eyes. This morning in the forest with his arm around me as I came through the last of my grief had felt like the most wonderful thing in the whole maze.
Then I think of him, that strange dark man who calls himself Droth Karn. His voice is soft and tinged with a strange accent, yet I could tell there is power behind his words. And with that power there was such a strong arrogance about him, too. Yet I could not help but feel attraction towards him and I remember the moment by the lake as I felt the need to press my lips up against his and taste a man from another land.
Sleep eventually comes but is filled with nightmares. I am running through the maze, the walls closing in on me. Lost, I turn this way and that, going deeper and deeper. Around one corner I see my father who tells me to keep going, that I am on the right path. When I try and tell him I miss him, he turns away and runs down another path.
A Broar growls behind me and I turn to face the thing, it’s tusks dripping with blood, it’s razor teeth snapping. Slowly I back away, edging down the path, my hands feeling the sides to guide the way. The Broar follows, biting the air savagely. Somehow I know it is the same Broar that killed my father and it wants to kill me, too. Suddenly, the Broar breaks into a run at me and I flee as fast as I can.
Around the corner, I run into the arms of Rek and close my eyes. When I open them again, the Broar is gone and I look up to Rek. But Rek is not there and it is Droth Karn. He leans down to me and our lips press together and we are kissing, his hands exploring my body.
I wake to the sound of banging at my door. Daylight spills in through my window and I shield my eyes with my hand. The banging on my door is persistent, so I pull myself out of bed, still fully dressed. I feel dirty and want to go bathe, but it will have to wait. I throw the door open and before me is the pale, scared face of Mother.
“You have a visitor!” she hisses, her eyes wide.
I look behind her and see the tall, handsome Droth Karn. He smiles when he sees me. “I thought we could go for a walk again,” he says.