The Northern Lights, Part Two: The Path

Wild Birds Burning © 2013 Brooke Shaden. All Rights Reserved.  Used with permission of artist.
Wild Birds Burning
© 2013 Brooke Shaden. All Rights Reserved.
Used with permission of artist.

Evelyn stood at the mouth of the cave. The lost warmth of the warrior’s hands, his body, his voice, his heart, that absence left an emptiness. She could feel it like a man might lose his arm in battle but still complain he felt pain in his fingertips. Nothing remained but a fire that dwindled to ash, and the thick forest she had come from. Beyond was the path that led to her village, to rows of houses but not homes. To dresses and shoes that waited in her abandoned closet, but they would not fit her anymore, or she would not fit inside of them.

She wandered through the arc of trees, which had become full of green and bird-song. Hope whispered on the wind. It was impossible to stay sad while the sun danced through the leaves and left a delicate pattern on the path ahead of her. Like life and love and time. They trace their shadowy impressions on the heart too, but they can’t do so without the light.

“Oh, how I wish I could share this with you right now.” She closed her eyes and tried to always remember that moment.

A breeze lifted her hair and smoothed it from her face the way her warrior once had.

Evelyn came to the other side of the woods, to the place she had entered frightened and burning with life on that first winter night. It seemed not only a season ago, but a lifetime of seasons since she had sought out the mysteries of the forest. Slowly, she put one foot outside the last row of trees, and let it rest in a world that had once been hers. She didn’t belong there anymore. She turned back to the path. Winter would return again, and maybe her warrior would too. She could go to the cave. She could wait.

A lone, gray wolf stood in the path. Each time she tried to take a step forward, he lowered his head, pushed back his ears and growled. Even with the wolf ahead of her, the road back to the village was a kind of death too. She stood straddled between her two pasts until night fell.

The moon rose round and full, and its light spread until it fell over the wolf. He leapt away and disappeared into the dark forest.  Evelyn ran as fast as she could down in the direction she thought would take her back to the cave. Nothing was familiar. Everything seemed changed. She came to a place she didn’t remember, where the path forked in two directions. Neither seemed right. In the center, a gnarled tree twisted up from the ground. Evelyn was too tired to decide which choice to make. She threw herself down in front of the tree and rested her head against the trunk.

“I am lost.” But what am I really looking for, she wondered.

“Alms for the poor?” Croaked a voice from above her.

Evelyn wasn’t leaning against a tree. She was leaning against a bent, old woman draped in a black cloak with a pointed hood.

“Alms for the poor?” The old woman reached out an arthritic hand.

Evelyn had lived too long with the magic that hummed through the forest to let fear run cold through her body. She reached into her cloak and pulled out her last pouch of dried seeds and fruit. “Here you are, Vala.”

“You call me Vala?” said the old woman. “How do you know I am a seer?”

“I have lived in these woods for many months with a young warrior who runs with the wolves and disappears with the ravens. I have survived with nothing more than these seeds and the clothes on my back. There is no such thing as poor here. You asked only to test my generosity.”

“Ah, well, you do have a wise mind and a generous heart. Tell me, do your mind and your heart hold the same desire?”

“You know they do, Wise One. I wish to find the warrior’s cave, to find the joy I had for a short time. I want it back. I want him to return. I want him to want to return.”

The old woman worked her ancient tongue over her toothless gums. “No. Your heart wishes to love him, and your mind wishes to possess him. It is one kind of generosity to offer your food to a stranger. It is a far greater generosity to offer freedom to the one you love.” She placed her chill, twig-like fingers on the top of Evelyn’s head. “You won’t find your home or your story on this path anymore. Do not linger here.”

“But I can’t go back to the village. I’m not the girl I was any longer.”

“Then go forward into what you are becoming. Not every fire was meant for warmth and the discovery of another soul. Some fires are lit ahead of us, to guide us where we need to be to discover ourselves. There is a child in your belly now, and she is a part of your true destiny. Raise her to know how to tend the hearth and wield a sword with equal strength.”

“I don’t know which way to go.”

“In exchange for your seeds, I will show you where to start.” The old woman pointed down the path to the right. “Go forward this way, and do not get lost in the past again, My Child.”

The gray wolf leapt down the path and disappeared into the shadows.

Evelyn looked back at the old woman. There was nothing but a bent tree with a knotted branch that pointed to the darkness of the right hand path. She pushed through branches and tripped over logs until she came to a clearing. Above her in the Heavens blazed the greatest fire she had ever seen. The young warrior danced through the sky around it, leaving trails of deep red and indigo and violet wherever he went.

“Evelyn,” the warrior sang.

The night grew bright with his dance.

She made her home in that clearing, and there she had a daughter. The mother of us all. She taught her daughter to fight and weave with equal craft. Since that time, our ancestors have lived only where the Northern Lights can guide them to the place of their own stories and then, in the end, the lights call us forward to our greatest adventure of all…to the Beyond North.

Read part one here: The Northern Lights, Part One: The Wolf

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