The Eternal Song, Part Thirteen: Pilgrim

Awiyan had picked dandelion greens all morning in the foothills of the mountain, just above the fog line where the rainforest ended. The gentle slopes, sunlight, and colorful spring flowers almost made Awiyan forget her aching jaw. She had been grinding her teeth every night in her sleep, Wiilu had told her, despite the calming herbs.

The ache returned in full force when Awiyan descended into the fog once more, carrying a full sack of greens. She plonked it down in a corner of her hut, next to a jar of dried mushrooms. Not much was left of the mushrooms, Awiyan knew. She opened the jar and ate the last small handful. That, along with the dandelion greens that she had eaten while picking, was her lunch. Chewing the mushrooms left her jaw feeling worse.

Why couldn’t the villagers have built their new huts in the sunny foothills? Awiyan already knew the answer: Because the fog kept them out of the settlers’ view. Without it, they would be visible, and thus a target. Eldest Grandmother had made a wise choice to stay hidden in the forest, where the clouds rarely lifted. The long spasms of coughing that now wracked Eldest Grandmother’s frail body made clear that this choice would be a fatal one for her. Awiyan, having so recently become the youngest of the Grandmothers, felt keenly the loss of the wisdom and compassion on which she relied for guidance.

Riadne came through the fog, a tall gaunt figure in her goatskin cloak and boots, on her way to the mountain temple where she spent every afternoon. She was carrying flowers for the altar, pale orchids that she had gathered from the dark recesses of the forest.

Although the women of the tribe were always welcome to go along, Awiyan had never visited the new temple. She could find no reason to make such a pilgrimage, now that she no longer saw visions of the Gods in her dreams, but only images of loss and absence. So she was as much taken by surprise as Riadne when, driven by a sudden impulse that she did not understand, she demanded of the younger woman, “Take me with you!”

Snatching up a shawl for warmth on the mountain’s heights, Awiyan followed the muddy trail that led out of the forest. After walking through the hills where she had gathered dandelion greens that morning, Awiyan found herself on unfamiliar stony ground where little but pines grew. High, thin clouds dotted the sky. The wind whistled through narrow ravines. Awiyan clutched her shawl tightly around her shoulders. She could see no path now, but Riadne continued on with a steady stride.

Upon reaching the temple, Awiyan almost walked past it, so well concealed was the entrance. When Riadne suddenly disappeared from view, it took Awiyan a moment to realize that there was a path behind the pines that hugged the sheer rock face. She followed Riadne through the hidden doorway and glanced from one side of the cave to the other, feeling out of place and wondering why she was there. The simple scenes of village life that Riadne had painted on the urns looked like something out of a dream, distant and unreachable.

Riadne went up to the altar, which was just starting to brighten as sunlight touched the crystal above it. She placed the orchids on both sides of the pedestal where the Goddess statue stood. The base of the altar had been shaped roughly into a semicircle. A hammer and chisel resting against the left side of the altar showed what Riadne had been doing the day before.

Today the young priestess had given herself a quieter task, as she sat cross-legged on the straw mat beside the doorway and started to paint an urn. Awiyan, left to her own devices, breathed in the fragrance of the orchids as she knelt before the altar. So many times she had sought answers in just this way, going humbly into the temple and asking the Earth Mother for guidance.

Only the soft strokes of Riadne’s paintbrush broke the silence. Awiyan tried to calm her breathing and clear her mind, but the disciplines that once had come so easily to her now seemed out of reach. The crystal filled with light and then began to dim. Awiyan forced herself to recite the familiar prayers in her thoughts. The words slipped away from her like the pebbles over which she had trod on the slopes, bouncing and falling into her inner emptiness. She dared not give voice to them.

When the crystal had fallen into shadow, she turned toward Riadne and spoke.

“There is a stone in my heart where the Gods once dwelt.”

Riadne put down the urn, now bright with images of laughing children at play. She approached the altar, bending to pick up the hammer and chisel, which she held out toward Awiyan.

That coaxed forth a small smile from the older woman. “I wish it could be so easy.”

Reaching for Awiyan’s hands, Riadne firmly pressed the hammer and chisel into them. Then she picked up the icon to move it safely away from the work area.

A small spider made its way across the uneven base of the altar, moving with the busy determination of a creature that had somewhere to go. Awiyan envied it the simple boon of knowing where its home was. She waited until the spider was out of sight before she placed the chisel against the granite. Something about the motion felt right to her, and she realized that this, also, was a blessing—to have work that was not focused entirely on survival, even if it was only for an afternoon.

At first the echoing strikes of the hammer sounded strangely loud, after so many months spent in the heavy, stifling air of the forest. Then, as she developed more of a rhythm and swung the hammer with greater confidence, Awiyan sensed that something inside herself might be close to breaking loose along with the stone chips from the base of the altar. Her breathing had become calm and steady, and her mind was free of all thoughts beyond her immediate task. But all too soon the cave grew dark in twilight, and there was nothing to do but set aside the tools and follow Riadne back down into the clammy grasp of the fog.

Continue to Part Fourteen

Part Twelve: Priestess.
Part Eleven: Scout.
Part Ten: Lost.
Part Nine: Mountain.
Part Eight: Forest.
Part Seven: Shards and Dust.
Part Six: Warning.
Part Five: Gifts.
Part Four: Midsummer.
Part Three: Hunters or Hunted.
Part Two: Rehearsal.
Part One: Beauty.

on 07/20/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 8 Comments | Read More

Comments (8)


  1. Elesia says:

    Keep it up, Gwen! I am avidly following your story! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    Many thanks, Elesia!

  3. This is really attention-grabbing, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your feed and stay up for in quest of extra of your excellent post.
    Additionally, I’ve shared your site in my social networks.

    my site … program do wypełniania pitu

  4. I think the admin of this website is genuinely working hard
    in support of his site, because here every data is quality based material.

    Here is my web site - program do rozliczania pit

  5. First of all I would like to say awesome blog! I had a
    quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to
    know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in
    getting my thoughts out there. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first
    10 to 15 minutes are wasted simply just trying to figure out
    how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Kudos!|

    Here is my page; pit 37 druk []

  6. Reyes says:

    I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish.

    nonetheless, you command get bought an shakiness over that you wish
    be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly the
    same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.

Leave a Reply