Recap: A stranger, Torchan, materializes out of the jungle, warning of danger and offering to guide the Connarii away to the far edge of the jungle. Toryn decides to trust him. Camlin and Edana aren’t so sure. Edana asks Camlin to stop agitating for a permanent settlement and trying to win people over to his side. Camlin waves away her concerns and rebuffs his younger brother’s cry for attention.
Mostly, Edana just thought he looked strange. What kind of man sleeps in a tree? She stared up at Torchan, his dark skin blending into the reddish bark and shadows under the canopy. She thought she wouldn’t be able to move in the morning, if she spent the night all twisted around like that. Then she thought of the way Aislynn slept, all curled around herself like a cat, and smirked.
Probably, she should stop staring at the stranger as he slept. Her cheeks flushed at the thought, but the leaves and the way he curled around the branch covered enough that it wasn’t entirely indecent for her to be looking. And the stranger didn’t seem to care either way.
How different his life must be, she thought. What a strange life he must have, spending all his time in trees, with a pair of cats for company. I wonder if it gets lonely… Oh, but there’s probably more like him, hiding. A whole village of half-naked, brown people living in the trees. I bet they just sent him to get rid of us. I can’t believe father wouldn’t allow a doubled watch. I don’t know how he can be so trusting. I bet those cats are just pretending to be asleep. I-
“It’s not polite to stare, you know.”
“’Lynnie!” Edana shifted, startled. “I’m not staring. I’m keeping watch. Just because father and you are too trusting doesn’t mean that everyone else should just sit idly by and ignore the danger.”
“What danger? Torchan assured us the Cyrch are days away from here, and he said that there’s no danger from the jungle tonight.”
“How can you be so naive, so trusting? We know nothing about this stranger. He might not even be human. Who made him? Who’s is he? Not Connar’s, that’s for sure. Is he one of Danu’s? Look at him - he’s just so different.”
Aislynn’s feathers rustled as she shifted. It took her a moment to reply, and when she spoke, Edana wasn’t sure if it was with a druid’s confidence, or a thirteen-year-old’s. ‘Lynnie could be so absolute sometimes, so sure and so in love with her magical version of reality.
“He’s not, you know,” Aislynn said, nodding to herself in a way that made Edana roll her eyes, “-not in the way that you think. I saw into his mind, ‘Dana. I’m not really sure how, but I understood him. His body may be different than ours, but his mind, his… heart is the same. He’s not lying to us. He won’t hurt us.”
“What are you talking about? You’re mad. Completely insane. Since when have you been able to read minds? Look, I know this is a hard time, but you have to keep a grip on reality. This is no time to be making up stories. Besides, you’re too old for that.”
Edana felt it was her big sisterly duty to keep ‘Lynnie from getting a big head. Bickering came with the added benefit of helping her feel more firmly grounded to the soil – even if it was alien jungle mud and not good rich earth. She felt, more than ever, that she needed to hold on to something real. Like, tangible real, not whatever transcendent real that Aislynn seemed to be tapping in to these days.
“I’m not making up stories.” Aislynn’s words turned petulant, but when she turned her wide, luminescent eyes on her sister, Edana shivered to see the other looking out of them. “You’re the one who’s ignoring what is true. You know I’ve always understood more. You yourself sometimes understand more than the others.”
Edana made a sound of protest, beyond creeped out, but Aislynn carried on over top of her: “I’ve seen the way you look at this jungle. I’ve heard you talking to Camlin. You feel the wrongness of this place. That is the seed of true knowing, the soul of Connar that whispers to you. I feel it too, but I see more clearly.”
Edana snorted, more to keep up the appearance of elder-sister superiority than anything else.
“No, listen.” Aislynn insisted, her voice getting more remote by the second, her posture eerily still in the dim, flickering light. The stirring of her feathered cloak was the rustling of the leaves, the secret voices of the wind as it moved, the pattering endless water that moved throughout the jungle instead of in streams and rivers and lakes and seas where it belonged.
Edana swallowed, wanting to move away and entirely incapable of motion as Aislynn spoke with the voice of another: “The Connarii were already a declining race; we’ve been dwindling and weakening for generations. You never listened to the Elders. Their stories were not just fiction to fill the evening hours. They were the history of our tribe, of the world. The magic in the old tales, it is not a lie. We have grown weak, since those days, but we are still Connarii. Everything that the heroes of old did, that the sages knew, we can also do and know. I can see what the others cannot. You too have abilities and knowledge locked within you, waiting to be called forth. All of us have the potential to regain what we have lost in the passing of centuries.”
“It is a gift, Edana, a gift and not a curse that has been laid upon us. We are free from the thickening air of the old world, from the crushing presence of the younger peoples and tribes, the poisoning that Danu’s tribe brought. The magic is being freed now to run strong and unchecked in us. We will find our way into the Bright Lands. What’s more, I believe that there we will find others like us. Some of the stories…”
The spell was broken. The light in Aislynn’s eyes had dimmed, and the frost in Edana’s veins had melted, her voice finding it’s way out as she shifted back a few steps from the figure that was becoming her sister again. Edana shook off the moment along with Aislynn: “No more of your stories. No more tales, legends, or myths. Take your bards and leave me alone. I don’t want to hear any more of your babblings. I’m going to check the perimeter.”
She pushed past her sister and vanished into the bushes. Aislynn sighed, and made her way back to her father. High above her head, stretched along a thick branch, one of the catlike creatures twitched his tails, and rumbled a sub-harmonic alert to Torchan, who opened his eyes and gazed off after the retreating girls.