Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chapter 2: The Cleansing River

Previously: Chapter 1: The Watching Woods

Emilie sat bolt upright, her chest heaving and bathed in sweat. For a moment, she wasn't sure where she was, but as she struggled to bring her breathing under control, she took in her surroundings. She reached out for her dagger and it was right where she left it, which calmed her down somewhat. The dream-images were already fading from her mind's eye, but they still terrified her in their vividness. She instinctively looked at her hands, expecting to see them covered in red-black blood, but she only saw sweat.

She pushed the dream away and began her morning routine, but her tide of her thoughts continued to be washed over by what she saw, heard, and felt. She knew she could only speak to Elder Khaman about her dream, not only because of his warning that morning months ago, but because she felt that he would take her seriously and provide the best insight.

Emilie grabbed some dried deer meat and some bitter-root, onions, and wild carrots, along with an assortment of her favorite herbs. She was relieved to see the sky was overcast, so it wouldn't be too cold today. All the same, she pulled on her warmest boots and mittens, just in case the weather turned colder. She stepped out into the morning light and took a deep breath, the frigid air shaking out the last of the night's cobwebs from her brain. Quietly, while the rest of her tribe were slowly waking up, she slipped out into the woods, heading for the river.

In some ways, Emilie felt more at home in the woods than in the village. The ancient trees seemed to embrace her, protecting her, and she in turn shared her life force with the forest. She ran her hand along the rough bark of each tree as she passed by, taking a moment to wonder at what history coursed just beneath its surface. With every step, the still-quiet of the forest was slowly drowned-out by the roar of the river until she finally stepped out beyond the tree line.

The raw power of the white water overwhelmed her for a moment, a moment that she savored. Carefully, she made her way to the edge of the shoreline, removed her mittens, and dipped her warm hands into the icy cold current. The shock of the cold water was brief, but exhilarating and she could feel the raw power of the river as rushed past her hands. Suddenly, she splashed the ice-cold water from her hands into her face and the shock sent her reeling into the present moment as the rivulets of ice water poured from her face, down her neck, and warmed to the heat of her skin.

She returned to the safety of the shoreline, sat against a snow-covered stone, and fell into a deep meditative trance. She became part of the landscape, and in turn, the land embraced her. She listened to everything around her and she watched, taking it all in. In that moment, she dwelled with the powers of the earth.

It was at that moment that she felt something new, something that seemed out of place. There was a tremor that coursed through the earth, jostling her from her trance. Looking up the trees, she saw an impossibly large shadow that danced between the branches and trunks. She peered past the boulder and saw it  emerge from the trees on the opposite shore. The ancient boughs cracked and broke, splintering into thousands of shards of ice and wood beneath its monstrous hands as it parted them and then stepped out onto the shore, sending stone, wood, and water flying in all directions.

The Frost Giant took a moment to look up and down the river, its eyes squinting in the bright light of morning. Emilie watched in fear and fascination as river water gushed through its fingers as it lifted its cupped hands up and splashed the water over its head. The Frost Giant shook its head, sending a torrent of snow and water in all directions. It reached down to a huge boulder so that it could sit by the raging waters. Emilie noticed that it only took a few seconds before the boulder was covered in frost, making it look like an enormous snow-throne supporting the giant's back.

Emilie took all this in while she watched and listened. She knew she should flee to the safety of the village, but she could not take her eyes off this enormous creature. The very few times she saw a Jotun, it was raging and bellowing, filled with hate and sowing destruction. But now, this Jotun seemed peaceful, quiet, even gentle in its own way. Emilie scanned the open space between herself, the rampaging river, the reposing giant, and the safety of the woods: there was no way she could move from her spot and not be seen by the behemoth. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing so that her fear did not cloud her thoughts quite so much.

When she opened them again, she witnessed worlds colliding, breaking down the fabric of all that she thought she understood. Her knees buckled and she grabbed wildly at the stone she hid behind for purchase, but the slickness of the stone betrayed her and she fell painfully down to the hard ground. All the while, she never took her eyes away from what she saw, just in case it disappeared from sight and she would need to contend with the idea that she had gone mad.

Sitting cross-legged in the snow, not ten feet from the Frost Giant, was Elder Khaman. In his left hand was his staff, leaning across his shoulder. In his right hand was the leg of a deer wrapped in cloth. This deer leg had enough meat on it to feed a family in their tribe for a week, but he held out to the Frost Giant and waited. The Frost Giant gently took the deer leg and set it between them.

At first, it seemed like the two of them simply stared at each other. Sometimes Khaman gestured with his staff and the Frost Giant shifted and traced shapes in the snow with its hands, but it didn't get up, nor did it move towards Elder Khaman. Both continued to sit 10 feet from each other as the trees swayed and the white water rushed. The river made so much noise that it took some time before the full weight of what was happening crashed through Emilie's consciousness.

They were talking.

Next: Chapter 3: The Secret

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This work by John David Hickey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Copyright© 2010 John David Hickey