Thursday, January 7, 2010

Keeper of the Forest: Part II

"Wake up, sleepyhead, wake up! The moon is asleep, and the sun is shining bright!"

Will opened his eyes to the sight of Silvana's upside-down face just inches from his face. He jerked backward from her, and she laughed. Sitting up, he saw that it was indeed late morning, and the sun was shining happily on the forest. He looked around. In the light, the forest seemed less mysterious and solemn, but not less magical. All around him the leaves were turning colors, and as he looked back at Silvana, he noticed her raiment matched that of the trees.

"Well, come on, I have a lot to show you, Will!" Silvana reached her hand toward Will.

Will shook his head to clear his mind of the last of his sleep. "Wait," he said finally, "I have work today. I can't stay."

Silvana's hand fell to her side, and a shadow came over her face. "You don't understand." She knelt down and sat next to him. "Will, do you love my forest?"

"Yes, I do, it was amazing last night in the starlight. And today, the colors are just brilliant and--"

Silvana put her hand up to his mouth. She looked at him intensely, and Will suddenly felt like a little kid being told off for stealing candy. "No, Will. That's not it. I want to know: do you love my forest?"

As Will stared into her eyes, he began to understand. This was not an idle question. Anyone could spend an evening in a forest, look at the stars, come out and say "I liked that forest," then quickly put it out of his mind and go back to his life. But Silvana wanted more than that from Will. He turned away from her. If he stayed, he was certain that he was going to get caught up in something bigger than himself. This was probably his last chance to leave and continue his normal life. If he stayed, he would probably lose his job, and he was up for a raise, too. Panic rose in him. He had to leave right then if he wanted to keep his job. This was definitely not a simple question. This was a turning point.

He glanced back at Silvana, who was looking at her hand. It was face down on the ground, and between her thumb and finger was a flower, bent over as if caressing her hand. Then he noticed green shoots coming up between her fingers, as if the dirt itself were glad that she was there. The forest itself loved and trusted Silvana. At that moment Will felt a desire well up inside of him. He wanted the forest to love him, he wanted to trust the forest, and let it care for him, and he wanted to love and care for the forest in return.

"Alright, Silvana," he said slowly, "I will stay. I think I love this forest. I will stay here with you today." He laughed as he felt a freedom he hadn't known before. "I don't even like my job! Screw it."

Silvana looked up at him and smiled. "Oh, Will, you're amazing!" She half jumped toward him and hugged him fiercely before jumping up and helping Will to his feet.

"So what now?" Will asked. "Breakfast?"

"Absolutely," she replied. "Do you like berries?"

"Love them."

"This way!"

She turned and sprang into a run, and Will followed her. Soon he saw blackberry bushes, and they slowed down, picking the berries and eating them as they walked. As they were eating, a deer came and nuzzled Silvana. Silvana looked seriously at it and then stroked its head. She nodded and spoke in another language. The deer bowed and then left.

"What was that about?"

She paused to eat a berry before she answered. "She wanted advice about her fawn, who is ill. I told her where to find an herb that I think will help him."

As they strolled along, many creatures came up to Silvana: beavers, two birds, a family of squirrels, a fox, several snakes and many others. Some gave her small gifts, some looked frightened or hurt, and all bowed respectfully when she had answered them. When the fox bowed, she spoke quickly to him, and called Will over. He came, and she took his hand in hers, and with it stroked the fox's head. Suddenly he saw glimpses into its mind. All at once he was hungry for rabbits, remembered the thrill of a recent chase, and longed to go home to his den.

"Did you feel that, Will?"

"Yes, wow. I felt like I was the fox! That's amazing. How did you do that?"

"No, you missed it." She placed his hand on the fox's head again. This time he had the same sensation as before, but above it all, he realized there was an urgent plea to Silvana. Will closed his eyes. Dimly he saw a small fox lying in a den. It was whimpering, and he saw a burn, as if from acid, on its back. Then Will saw that same little fox walking along, and a dark mist coming towards him, reaching out a finger and touching him on the back. Will opened his eyes and took his hand off the fox.

"What was that mist?"

Silvana smiled sadly at him. "It is an old enemy of mine. I fought him many years ago, but I always knew he would return. He has plagued us for some months now."

Will grew worried. "But how do you fight a mist like that?"

"The mist is only one of his weapons, and it is hard to fight. He himself is hard to fight, and only when the forest is joined together completely can we fight him. Let me show you."

She gestured, and they began walking. Silvana began singing so softly, that at first Will was not aware of it except as an undeniable urge to follow her and help in the work she was doing. Soon Will was not the only one following her. Animals and birds of all kinds followed them.

Finally the song ended, and he found that they had arrived at the edge of the forest. There were many animals already working, bringing tree branches and vines and tying them in a great rope that extended as far as Will could see toward the right.

Silvana answered his unspoken question. "We are making a wreath around the whole forest. You can't see them right now, but there are others working on the other end, whom we will meet soon."

Silvana, Will and the creatures worked for the rest of the day on the wreath. Many more animals showed up, and Will thought that perhaps the entire forest had come. Finally, as dusk approached, they saw the animals working on the other end of the wreath, and soon the wreath was complete. All of the animals gathered around Silvana. She called Will to her, and spoke to the assembly in that same strange language. Suddenly all the animals looked at Will, and he wondered what was being said. Then all of the animals dispersed, leaving only Will and Silvana. The sun had set in the west, and Will looked to the east. It was dark, far darker than it should have been. Wind blew toward him, and he shivered, the first time he had been cold in the forest. Silvana shivered too.

"Come," she said quietly. They walked toward the center of the forest. Thunder rumbled, and a storm gathered quickly in the sky. Will watched the first drop fall on a flower. It immediately shriveled up and died. A light rain started. Any leaf or plant that a raindrop fell on died. The leaves of the trees fell to the ground, and the branches waved wildly in the wind, groaning under the strain. In the distance, Will heard a tree crashing to the ground. Soon the sound was all too common. Animals raced here and there, trying to find cover from the burning rain. Lightning rent the sky over and over. Still Silvana walked on. Will noticed that just behind her a trail of green sprang up, but quickly withered again in the rain. He heard soft sobbing, and realized that Silvana was weeping for her forest. All the noises, the thunder, the rain, the wind, grew louder and louder.

"Silvana!" he shouted. "You have to do something! The forest is dying." Will discovered that he,too, was crying openly.

She paused in her walk and turned toward him. "It's alright, Will," she said. "This is not the end of the forest." She smiled at him, but worry creased her brow. Then she turned and continued on.

They walked up the hill at the center of the forest. The old oak tree was there at the top. As they approached, a bolt of lightning came down with thunder and fire, and tore the great tree in two. Silvana cried out and ran up to it. There was nothing left but a pile of ashes.
She knelt down in the middle of in and scooped up the ashes. Will ran up next to her.

"No!" shouted Silvana in a loud voice. "Enough!"

Will looked around at the forest. Everywhere was destruction. Trees were fallen, creeks flowed with black water, fires had sprung up from the lightning and animals lay dead or wounded on the ground. The rain still fell, and Will felt it burn his skin. His hair stood on end, and he wondered if lightning would strike them--and that would be the end. He felt he didn't care. Without the forest, he didn't want to live.

But Silvana had not given up. She stood up quickly and shouted again, louder than the thunder and wind and rain, "I said, ENOUGH!" Bright light issued from her and flew upward into the sky. Instantly the rain stopped. All was deathly silent. Silvana looked at Will, tired.

"Will, I'm glad you stayed. I have to fight him now. Will you take my place while I'm gone?"

Will felt his heart drop. She was leaving him. "But I don't know how."

"It's okay, Will. The forest will teach you. Just promise me you will take care of my forest."

"I promise, Silvana. I will guard this forest till I die. It is worth more to me than life itself."

Silvana smiled at him. "A good oath, and a terrible one. You cannot leave now, but your days will be long and joyous, as mine were."

She stepped toward him and kissed him on the lips. "Goodbye, Silvain," she said quietly.

She turned and walked a few steps away, knelt, and placed her hands on the ground. Immediately green life sprang up all around her. It spread away from her until all that Will could see was green with plants. With an angry bolt of lightning, the storm started up again, but Silvana sang, and the ground around her rumbled. A wind blew, and the ashes from the oak swirled around her and enveloped her. Then they became solid, and Will saw a tree rise up toward the heavens, huge, and as tall and straight as a redwood. When it had reached almost two hundred feet, the tree began to glow from the inside. It became brighter and brighter, till it lit up the forest as if it were day. Then a beam of light rose from the top of the tree into the storm. There was a great noise like thunder and groaning. For a moment, the storm fought back. A mist reached downward to swallow the beam of light, but suddenly the storm started to dissipate. As the clouds disappeared, the sun rose in the east, and all traces of clouds vanished.

Will walked up slowly to the new tree. He placed his hand on it.

"Thank you, Silvana. You will not be forgotten," he said quietly. He stood there, unmoving, for nearly an hour. Finally he took his hand away from the tree and looked out into the forest.

"I am the forest," he whispered softly. Then louder, he said, "I am Silvain!" Suddenly he broke off into a run. He ran wildly through the forest, singing in a language he suddenly understood, calling all the animals to follow him and praise the savior of the forest.

No comments:

Post a Comment