The Lost Path 8
The first strangers to Centre Valley leave with much less fuss than their arrival. There are a few people watching at the foot of Opening Way to see them away, and I am one of them. They gather their supplies in silence as we watch with muttered curses under our breaths. Blazing Ball has nearly finished its path across Outer Maze and the temperature has dropped to a pleasant coolness.
Karn turns and stares at the gathering. Ignoring everyone else, his gaze finds mine and we look at each other. Words are not needed between us: he does not wish to let me go, and I do not want him to go. Yet go he must, leaving our valley in peace for a little while longer. It is strange, but I feel that I will see Karn again, that our destinies are entwined.
“They’ll be back,” Rek mumbles next to me. “Don’t expect him to be all charm and smiles next time. Everyone has two faces, my dad says, and one of his has an evil smirk.”
I ignore him, focusing my attention on Karn as he enters Opening Way and finally leaves Centre Valley. Suddenly the valley becomes empty and I turn away, facing the lake. The gathered crowd disperses with grumbles of “good riddance” and “We don’t need their kind here.” They are not thinking about the future, of what will happen when Karn returns and their freedom is taken away. Tucked into a pocket of my dress is the key to our future that the witches had kept hidden away. Now I hide the secret of the Lost Path, but I do not think we are all ready for it yet. Such conceit, I think to myself: I am no better than the witches for keeping this secret.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” I ask Rek, looking him in the eyes. “We don’t know if this is the Lost Path, or if Wayfinder actually existed: the man seems more myth than anything else.”
Rek’s face is harsh as he stares up at Opening Way. “It’s about time we stepped outside of this tiny world. If we are not the centre of the maze, then there is more secrets to be uncovered.” Turning to me, his face becomes softer. “And we might even find a valley of our own to settle in.”
Shaking my head, I say, “Malek didn’t give me Wayfinder’s Map for my own gain; we are to use it for the future of Centre Valley.”
Rek sighs. “Then why did the witches not pass this information on sooner: we could have been spread throughout the Maze by now. Instead we are trapped as prisoners within this land.”
“It is not the worse place to be trapped,” I retort. Still, I see his point. We decide to keep our plans secret and spend the following days preparing for our trip. We have a hiding place in the forest for the supplies we are gathering. We manage to find enough food to last a week if we are careful.
On our last night in Centre Valley we go down by the lake and sit, looking up at twinkling lights in the black of Outer Maze. “I wonder what it will be like looking up at a sky from another valley,” I whisper softly. “It must have been strange for Karn-”
“Do you have to keep mentioning him,” Rek interrupts. “For one night can we not hear his name?” There is a touch of anger in his words, the hint of jealousy in his eyes. He will never admit to this; in many ways Rek was like me and almost as stubborn. People often remarked that we are the same. We were both quick to anger, but quicker to forgive.
“I wasn’t aware it was an issue,” I say simply. “Karn is the reason we must look for a new valley, is he not? I see no reason not to mention him.”
Rek bends over and scoops up a handful of water and takes a drink. For a moment I feel attraction as I think of that moment when Karn had drunk in this way and the water droplets fall from Rek’s mouth in slow motion. He looks out across the lake, oblivious of my lustful stare. “What happened between you?”
Blushing, I quickly tell Rek a lie, “Nothing happened.”
There is a narrowing of Rek’s eyes as though he disbelieves me. He is right to doubt and the guilt is eating away at me. It has been three days since Karn left and I am still finding myself yearning for him. I had expected this to have gone by now, that once Karn was no longer here the lust would fade and I would once again find Rek the object of my secret affection. Looking at Rek, I try to feel that same lust for him, but it is not there as once it was. Perhaps we had left things between us go unsaid for too long that the fire finally went out. But I trust Rek more than anyone, and I care for him as I would family.
“So first light tomorrow I’ll meet you up at the Opening Way,” Rek tells me, getting to his feet. “Make sure no one follows or asks where you are going: especially your mother; she will try and stop you.” With that, Rek strolls away into the night towards North Wall village, words that should have been said left unsaid.
“Rek!” I call out, but I do not know what to say to him. He turns and waits for my words. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say, feebly. Then Rek has gone and I am left with regrets. There is a sinking feeling within and I think on my dreams of being lost within the maze. It is this fear that keeps us in Centre Valley. As I make my way back to South Wall for my last night at home, I think: no more fear. Tomorrow I leave Centre Valley and follow Wayfinder’s Lost Path.
The day comes like every other day within Centre Valley: did I expect there to be a change in the air, a storm to send us on our way? No, the air was still and Blazing Ball was warm. Careful not to wake mother, I hurry to Opening Way, wondering if Rek has changed his mind. When I get there, I can see he is already waiting for me, two large bags at his side. He throws one towards me and it lands at my feet.
“It’s not too late to turn back and run home,” Rek says.
I pick up the bag and sling it over my shoulder. It is heavy, but I pretend it doesn’t bother me. Looking back, I take a last look at the lush green land of Centre Valley. I stare out at the lake, then beyond to the forest. A Hymming bird sings out in the forest and I whistle back as though it is my goodbye to home.
“We should get going now,” I say, taking the map out and opening it. For the last few days Rek and I have been planning our route and we have memorised it for several turns. Staring at the map grounded us to reality and the great endeavor we undertake. Rek holds his hand out to me and I take it.
Together we walk through Opening Way and away from Centre Valley. We stop at Crossing Path and I remember a few days earlier when everything had been so simple. Back then I had stood teasing myself to take a path. This time, I turn decisively right and head deeper into the maze, going further than anyone in Centre Valley ever has.
As we travel the Lost Path, Rek sings Forest Flower and I hum along with him.
“Caris flower of Centre Vale, he picked it for a lover pale. Where does she shelter, where does she sleep? Oh how sad the lost lover who daily weeps.”