In keeping with my theme of writing about Lorata and not myself, this challenge will be from the point of view of one of my characters: Mearrk’hal (mee-air’-call), a shaman from one of the three enchanted forests. You have probably already read about Shu-Giri and his magical forest. Mearrkh’al’s is very different, and as he shares his memories, you will find out what happened to it.
I remember the green of the woods, the rich smell of the earth, whether it was a warm summer day or the cold of winter. Shyal’In* Forest was always fertile. It didn’t matter if you were listening to the rain patter down through the leaves of the canopy or the moans of the woman beneath you; one thing was certain: there was was life all around you. Everything in the forest felt alive, pulsing with its own energy, perhaps even its own magic. I remember the soft green moss under my fingertips as I trekked between the trees on my spirit walks.
My fingers also remember the feel of her skin as I held her, and the round of her belly as she carried my sons. They remember the thick curls of her hair and the way it stick to her skin when it was wet. The smell of her was more intoxicating than any trance I could have entered into in those foregone days, as rich as the earth but as sweet as berries. There was also the scent of milk as she fed our children; I cannot forget that. She was the most gentle mother I could have asked for.
I remember the day that the council called upon me to represent Shyal’In and act as ambassador, visiting a distant kingdom. The elders felt that, since I was the head shaman in my village, I was ready to welcome the new princess into the world on behalf of all the forest people. I agreed only because of the honor it meant to have been chosen. The day I left, I made loved to my druidess one last time, and kissed her belly until the elders grew impatient to see me off. I promised her that I would return before she gave birth to our third child’ we had plenty of time.
I remember the way she smiled at me, so warm, so perfect. Maybe it was because I was a shaman, maybe it was our bonds, but I could feel her love for me glowing in the depths of my heart no matter how far I travelled. The longing grew with it the further I went; we missed each other from the moment I left or home in the high branches of the ancient trees.
My memories of the baby I was sent to visit are… conflicted at best. She was a lovely baby, pale-skinned and bright-eyed, but the babe made me miss watching my suns run through the forest or swimming in the lake. I paid my respects and gave the king and queen the gifts that the elders had sent with me, but did not stay for longer than was expected of me.
Even as I rushed home, days later, the journey seemed longer than the one away from Shyal’in. I remember wanting to run even under the four moons to get back to my beloved druidess, even though I forced myself to rest. My heart soared as I grew closer to the forest; I was honored, I was loved, I was a father and–
And there was smoke. It was billowing up from Shyal’In in such uncontrollable clouds that I my heart stopped me from taking a step further. As I stared at the horror before me, I realized that I was not looking at trees so much as flames. I wish I could say that my memories of that day are too blurred, perhaps by time, perhaps by the tears that I shed. In reality, I remember every second of the agony that I faced as I watched Shyal’In Forest burn.
There was no rushing in to help. It had been burning out of control for days, someone told me; someone not from my forest. Every able hand had dome whatever they could to help douse those flames, and some had lost their lives in trying. I was an incredible sight to them, the only Shyal’In elf still alive, I heard. I did not believe them. Someone else had to have made it out. My sons, my druidess, my–
As I thought about them, wanting desperately to charge between the red tongues and find my family, the pain shot through me. Call it misery, call it torment, call it torture or distress; it was all of those things added together and multiplied. I remember the way it felt, as though I were being torn asunder, beginning with my heart. Like a whip it kept beating, but all the goodness was gone from it. As I knelt in the grass, the other men refusing to let me go into the forest, it didn’t matter how much sweat poured down my brow; inside, I was cold, I was empty.
I remember my grandmother telling me, when I was very young, that when you take the Rites with someone, the moment of their death is the worst kind of pain imaginable. She was wrong. Nobody can imagine the level of suffering that you experience; it is an agony all its own. I remember wailing. I wish I could say that I don’t, but the feel of my cries in my throat linger to this very day. I could have choked on my tears, I could have emptied my lungs of air and refused to take another breath.
But I lived. I was alive, whether or not I was a mere husk of a man. Everything I loved had been in that forest; it was my life, my heart, everything that I knew. Being a shaman, I understood the death of every villager that much worse. I knew the burial rites that they would need, the blessings to find peace in the afterlife even if their deaths had been torture. I struggled every minute not to think of how it must have felt to die in the fire.
By the time the flames gave up, Shyal’In was less than a skeleton of a forest. Even the trunks of the old trees had turned to nothing but ash; only a few stood scattered across the land, and many of them soon cracked and fell over, revealing char down to their core. It wasn’t until I was calm enough to meditate and find my focus that the strangers let me set foot on my own homeland.
Shyal’In hand burned all the way to the edge. The grasslands around my birthplace were damaged, but had been moist enough to carry the flames no further. When my foot left the green, it sank into the ash, revealing just how deep it really was. I remember most of my foot sinking down, although I was still able to walk, and that was what I did.
Anywhere that I found bones, I first wept on my knees, and then prepared a burial for my lost brethren. Most of them I could not recognize. I realized in the worst way that I could discern their identity through their jewelry, if they wore anything distinguishable or unique. The first one I recognized was the pendant that I had given to my beloved ages ago. It was something that she treasured, and… and I can speak no more of that day.
It has been decades since I lost my homeland. I have found no other survivors, and no love as great as that which I had for my druidess. I have sired no other children; there are no half-blood Shyal’In. With heavy heard I have travelled the continent, looking for nothing, for I know that nothing can fill the void that she and my sons left when they died. Here and there I have had my adventures, and have taken solace in meditation, but I cannot go on forever. Not a single thing has grown on Shyal’In’s land since that day, with or without my help.
The worst thing is, I know exactly why…
*Shyal’In can be pronounced like ‘shall’ with a y added, plus ‘een.’