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Winter

Narratives, I.I

Withered Trees

By: A. R. Cervantes

The day breaks and the wind scales an octave. The light unsheathes a field littered with dried dismembered branches. I’ve lingered through the night accompanied by a forest and finally emerged to a field of withered trees. The loss of responsibility becomes present through my displacement, and a growing sense of estrangement has settled within me. I’ve determined to seek refuge in the fragmented land beyond Amazi.

I’ve known only of what was reported by my brother. He often illustrated the depravity that composed the outside land in non-uniformity. His depiction never made definitive sense, but always left me with a vague image that resonated with desolation. I couldn’t help but ruminate throughout the night. I felt as time progressed that my venture into this desolation would consume me and cast away my presence that I have so far molded.

The sun continued to rise and I caught sight of a small village settled amongst the dread-inspiring bark filled field. Upon nearing, several huts became apparent and distinguished by their primitively assembled branches. I strived forward without much hesitation. Silence pervaded the land and I presumed the absence as abandonment. I approached the closest hut, creaking the door ajar, I peered from outside.

I glanced and immediately noticed the slumber of a large family. Draped in ragged, charcoaled-dyed robes. The interior radiated with warmth from the several folks huddled within the surprisingly tight sealed hut. I observed the folk for moments until a soft snarled was confessed and I struck the rough snow with my back. I was met with the eyes of a child.

“Owwl!” The child howled.

Folks rushed and stumbled from their homes. They quickly gathered around as the child bore her weight above me, adjusting her knees against the resistance of my arms and fixating force from her elbows to my throat.

Panic and terror reverberated within my nerves. I could not grasp what would occur next. I met their expressed indifference with a plea. I sought forgiveness. I involuntarily shook with sincerity.

“Please, take what you need. Please just don’t eat me! Forgive me!”

Their long elongated and partially bony bodies had me believe they hungered for meat, any kind of it.

The child relieved her weight and stood aside. A dry and tired voice emerged with the passing wind.

“Why do you come here?”

“I’ve been discarded. I have no home. I linger amongst your kind, in this desolation.”

Harshly, “You are not of our kind.”

“Forgive me. I only approached this place as I roamed these woods with the night. I desperately sought refuge from the cold.”

I looked up from where I laid and sought the sight of the bearer of this dreary voice. The elderly man, as thin as the others, stood with a slight hunch. His eyes glared and hovered about my gaze. I then became aware of an ash marking crested on the eyelids of both his eyes. I then noticed most of the folk surrounding me bore a similar ashed crest but only marking one of their eyelids.

“What is your sound?” he asked me.

I was confused. “I don’t understand.”

“Seemingly. I am Tra’ile.”

“Aumit.”

“Ahh, Aumit is your sound. You can stand now. Wil’ile will bother you no more. You will assist us in our needs and traditions and in exchange we will give you warmth and shelter.”

“What traditions?”

Tra-ile walked away and the others followed as he hummed and whistled. I was confused by his omitted response but followed as I stood at the tail of the crowd. As they proceeded beyond the nearest huts, a rhythm began to permeate the air as it was carried by the wind and given strength by rising participation of the other present folk. The rhythm presented itself as a peaceful lullaby. They arrived at a hut that seemed to be at the center of their village. They all began to gather and enter the hut. As I drew closer to the doorway of the hut, I was surprised by how many folks could fit in such a small space. I entered and was met by Tra’ile at the entrance.

“Careful down the steps.” He whispered to me.

I was stunned. Curiosity took priority in my considerations. I walked along with the others as Tra’ile continued with a humming rhythm. They trailed in a single line down the steps that were compacted with dirt, structured with dead wood. When I set foot on the floor hidden beneath, most of the others were already gathered together in a circle illuminated around a large fire. I stood amongst the crowd as they hummed and whistled in unity. I was caught off guard by the sudden closure of the entryway from where we entered. Fear and uncertainty took hold of me.

A chant rose from the hums and whistles. Their vocals grew in participants and then in volume. The rhythm began to intensify in reverberation. I grew mystified and confused.

“What is it that I am perceiving?” I asked of Tra’ile.

“Dreams in reflection.”

“Wha-”

“Listen and do not ask. Pay attention. Hear what is present.”

I paused and turned my attention toward the fire. I closed my eyes. The long night that I had endured flickered into my sensible presence. I felt as my breath was taken from me. Solitude, terror, and anxiety towered and weighed on my presence. I quickly reacted and resigned this focus.

“Do not fear what you sense. Merely observe and embrace what enters your domain.” Tra’ile intervened in my escape.

“Everything from before is gone.” My voice shook and broke.

The chant that previously paraded among the rhythm stopped at my utterance. The rhythm recomposed itself and took a gentle arrangement as I spoke.

“I can’t live in the world I grew up with anymore.”

“Give rise and importance to the possibilities of this new world. I know of from where you came. You are not alone Aumit.”

I nodded and returned with focus. The feelings resurged and I trembled.

The folk continued with their own chant and rhythm. As I tuned to their expressions I was overwhelmed with a sense of connection. I perceived the image distilled, tuned, and explored by this rhythm. Their tonal unity and arrangement bloomed a sense of acceptance. The inspired image reflected a child in the arms of loving parents. Fascinated, I opened my eyes and reveled in the event that was taking place in front of me.

“It’s beautiful.” I thought.

I came to notice an elderly woman taking the lead in this composition. Her vocals then faded and shifted to the hum. A child, Wil’ile as I recognized, took the lead. Her arrangement detoured from a calm composition and led with ferocity.

I resumed focus and was struck by a passion. A strengthening will, manifesting and presenting itself with a sense of security. An image of what seemed to represent Wil’ile occurred. She stood with her friends as outsiders from the village cornered them. She was stepping forward with seeming determination to fend these enemies on her own.

“I understand.” I involuntarily uttered.

The ceiling above began to rumble. Their music stopped and they all stood, paying close attention. The vibrations intensified, and the folks seemed to grow with concern. Without notice, the folks hushed the fire down and began to walk towards a corner on the opposite side of the room. As everyone proceeded down that path, I followed. The path was illuminated with small black torches set alongside the walls. The path was tight in space but enough for people to slip by each other. Proceeding forward, I glimpsed at the flames and found small tunnels on the other sides forming upwards.

The rumble stopped. The neighing of horses was heard along with muddled shouts and untamed barks. I trailed along and slowly came to put the pieces together.

“They must want me back, possibly to atone or to fulfill the role of a scapegoat.” I thoughtfully deduced.

“Oh no.” I let out.

Tra’ile’s eyes shot at me as he heard those words.

“What have you done?” demanded Tra’ile.

I turned to Tra’ile with distraught. I gazed at him momentarily as I was coming to terms with the reality of this situation.

“I was pursued.”

There began sudden stomps and a concentration of vocals from above the ground not too far behind. As I looked back I noticed the soil from the ceiling quake and fall like flakes. I turned forward gazing down the length of the path and a loud collapse occurred. The ceiling from the smoked engulfed room fell. Several men and women slipped past me near the tail of the group as they hurried back to the hidden room. At this moment everyone in front ran forward. I ran alongside them. Without intending, I had immediately slammed against Wil’ile. She was attempting to run back to from where we came. She stared at me for a moment, then stood and continued to run. I stopped there and watched as she ran towards the conflict that was brewing within the other room. I looked down the other side of the path and saw the rest continue, including Tra’ile. I felt it necessary and made a decision to follow after her. I now realized and embraced that I could not bear the weight of allowing harm to come to those uninvolved, especially a child far removed from it all.

Upon my return to the room, there were seven hunters carrying the colors and sigil of Amazi. The trunk of a tree with roots stretching across from all directions meeting at the center expressed in a fractal-like pattern. They stood above where the large fire once was. Two of the men and a woman that had passed by earlier laid on the floor with wounds soaking in blood. A hunter caught eye of me.

“Aumit!” yelled the hunter nearest to the pathway that I stood in.

I recognized this man. He was Desiet, a long-standing hunter of the Amazi Rhizomes. I suddenly recalled a brief encounter once before at a large gathering where his efforts were recognized in the service of Amazi. I reacted with a plea out of familiarity.

“Desiet please let me go free and end this violence. I’ve chosen to go and rid my burden from that society.”

He directed his long dagger at me in pursuit. I stood my ground but in fear, absorbing the image of death that stood before me. Two men and three women of this village remained, surrounded by five hunters. They held each other’s backs as they were circled, each paired with a dagger and their own foe. Wil’ile had found her ground in the shadows, undetected by the hunters as their attention was set on spewing harm.

The one approaching me was accompanied by another hunter who had just pierced the heart of the women who took in her last breath. Her head fell to the side in my direction and our eyes met as her awareness receded. I realized It was the women who whistled the image of an accepted child. Within seconds of the women’s passing, Wil’ile was seen to be steadily approaching the hunter without detection. Within moments, she leaped at the hunter and punctured his throat with a small dagger.

I noticed myself still standing amidst this misery and resistance. There was a sudden blistering pain in my chest. I was bashed and thrown aback by the fist of Desiet, who reached me while my attention was caught by Wil’ile’s act.

“You can’t escape after the damage you’ve done. I’ve been demanded to return you and that I will.” Desiet declared.

“I cannot and will not return to a damned control.” I snarled with a short breath.

Wil’ile continued her fight and had already leaped at another hunter who stood within the bounded circle of hunters. Their numbers began to dwindle by her will and unanticipated presence. I felt a surge of strength and will that was faintly familiar to what Wil’ile had inspired in me. I quickly gathered myself, summoning my strength and flung my body at Desiet’s stomach and tackled him to the ground. I could sense an immediate release of air from his lungs. Along with that pressure, I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder which was followed by a warm fluid that begins to stream down my arm. I jolted back to my feet, using my arms to throw myself back up.

“Eoww!” I shrieked.

The pain in my shoulder was made heavily present, I realized it to be thoroughly pierced by Desiet’s dagger. Without much thought of my surrounding environment, I reacted by running towards Wil’ile and the others like a wounded and scared animal.

Amidst my scramble, I discovered Wil’ile to be thrown to the ground by the hunter that neighbored the now deceased body of her previous murder. I caught sight of her small dagger, still left mounted in a crimson-coated throat. The hunter was approaching Wil’ile with seeming vile intent. I rushed as Wil’ile was still regaining her composure. I picked up my pace and adjusted my right shoulder to ram into the hunter’s side. I braced for impact and slammed his body with as much momentum that I could garner. I fell subsequently off to the side, clashing against the ground from where the hunter had tumbled. I lost my focus. The pain in my shoulder prevailed from the clash. I was slow in my attempt to gather my footing, with difficulty I stumbled. I felt the rush of air past my head, two women sprinted past me and reached the recomposing hunter and slit his throat without a hint of hesitation.

Finally gaining my feet, I walked to the hunter with Wil’ile’s dagger, exposed only by the handle. I caught sight of Desiet as I was reaching at the deceased hunter’s throat. He stood, paled faced, as though he just witnessed an unexpected death. Upon his delay, I took the moment and found the hunter’s unused blade to hold. I turned to Wil’ile, who looked bewildered by the casual throw of his body and the simultaneous events that had just occurred. I proceeded to sprint towards Wil’ile in an attempt to return his dagger. Desiet seemed to have shifted his focus, as I ran, his attention did not follow me but was set ardently on the women that stood upon the freshest corpse.

Desiet was slow to motion but exponentially developed his pace. Thereon, at the height of his sprint, I reached Wil’ile and handed him his bloodstained blade. The others that remained occupied by the three hunters, seemed to be in the midst of their counter, provided to them by our actions as a distraction. The two women, aware of Desiet’s approach, turned to assist the other three that held the attention of the engaged hunters. We followed in their pursuit.

Desiet promptly pelt himself at the two women as they made their move. At first contact, he drove his long blade to the handle, into the stomach of one woman and was immediately corresponded with a reaction from the other woman. She lobbed her arm and met her dagger to the left of his bicep. Desiet, without a mere expression of pain, removed his blade from the wounded women and proceed to grab the other women and hurled her to the ground with his inflicted arm. In my observation and attempt to catch my breath, Wil’ile had already left my side and sprinted in the direction of the thrown women. I hurried after. The hunter pulled the dagger from his arm and threw it at the woman. Wil’ile ran before it and embraced its trajectory. She was pierced in the leg and immediately fell to the floor.

I saw this act of sacrifice unfold before me as I began my sprint. I readied the blade I stole and aimed to drive its entire body into Desiet’s back. Desiet was slow to rise to his feet. Resting his vengeful focus on Wil’ile. I hurried my sprint as he walked with determination towards the woman and the child. At my approach, his attention was taken, he turned his head and saw my quick arrival, at that moment I drew the blade’s first blood of the day. I rammed its steel tip back into the open wound of his. I forced its reentry with the weight of my body as I lunged at him. Desiet was forced to fall forward by my weight and shock of pain. His face smashed against dead wood that was used to birth the large fire. I felt no resistance from his body after this move. I gathered myself and regained my footing and grabbed Desiet’s long dagger. I glanced for Wil’ile and found her being tended to by the women she had protected.

I now noticed blood dripping from my left hand. I realized the initial pain in my left shoulder returned to my attention and brought with it an agonizing distraction. I fell to my knees, resting and breathing heavily. My focus began to shudder. I glimpsed at the women helping Wil’ile and then to the other folk. The others had continued to fight. I knew I had no other option but to help settle this conflict that I had inevitably inspired. It’s necessary that I did. I clung to that necessity, that will, to help give rise to my strength.

“Listen.” I thought, as my vulnerability pervaded me.

The noise of conflict filtered my attention. I felt grappled by the fears of death, emitting from each soul that stood to kill. Fears heard faintly by their mere enactment to withstand. The heaves and contested clashes of blades saturated my focus, signifying my ruin by submission to hearing this as my last sound. The noise grew in defiance of my will and I accepted its presence. My body felt as though it was severed from its own weight. Steadily, I surrendered and suddenly felt it right to hum as I lost sight.

I shifted my focus to my sound and heard what I had to offer in my rendition. The echoes of betrayal, the intent to overcome, cowardice, and reconciliation. I felt as though my occurrence was no longer feasible and without light. The sound of Wil’ile had appeared to my thought. It’s sound introduced to me a new possibility, a new light to follow. I observed it and felt it come closer to my presence.

A transformation felt to be taking place and I was incongruence. Once in the shadow of this sense, with acceptance, I rose to confront my sensations from this new perspective. I dawned my eyes upon the hunters, no longer with a sole fear but with confidence. I pursued the other hunters with the company of vengeance and sought to provide them with the pain that stemmed from their weapons.

I came forth and lunged with the blade in an attempt to strike a hunter while he was distracted by the other folks. The hunter reached his fate the moment the blade cleaved into his spine. I splintered and bled his vertebrates. The others hunters soon realized their fates. After making contact, the women that had tended to Wil’ile’s wound had subsequently made her own contact with another standing hunter. She, without notice, pressed her dagger into the neighboring hunter’s lower stomach and I then followed by yanking out the blade from a ceased spine, leading its edge to break skin once more as it met the new warmth of this man’s chest.

The last man watched as his hunters fell one by one. He broke and ceased fire. I looked at the other folk to gauge their next move. They looked upon each other and made a decisive nod. I watched as the four remaining folks, excluding Wil’ile, approach the hunter and knock him unconscious. They each then made the effort to carry the man’s body and began walking towards the underground pathway. I watched as they left and then turned to Wil’ile. She struggled to stand and walk. I approached her and offered to carry her back with the rest of the folk. She initially refused, ignoring me as if it was unnecessary. I reserved myself with patience and allowed her to work it out herself.

She tried and tried but couldn’t walk for long, collapsing at every other attempt. I offered once more and she looked around, catching sight of the withering corpses while realizing it was only the two of us. I sensed frailty as she nodded. I picked her up and carried her in my arms while I journeyed down the underground pathway. The pain in my left shoulder remained, growing in intensity as I supported her weight. I sought to familiarize myself with the pain as I realized Wil’ile had seemingly slipped into a sleep from exhaustion.

The walk felt indefinite with my present strains. Thoughts arose of rest but I knew I couldn’t fall too far behind the others. I began to anchor myself to my senses to avoid the temptation of my thoughts again. I listened, observing the ache of my bruising chest, the numbing of my arms, and of the opened wound that continued to bleed. I placed myself in the midst of these sensations, accepting the agony, tiresomeness, and worrisome distress that pervaded my desire for rest. I held them all in suspension with observation, allowing their presence to flow and pass through me.

Our long walk had come to an end as daylight formed its presence around wide roots that dangled and layered the walls at the end of the tunnel. I found steps near the exit that reunited us with the day. I stepped up and crouched through the small opening and found myself to be leaving the side of a century aged mother tree. The wind barely present as we stood deep within the forest. I could no longer determine my direction which permitted my sense of discomfort for being lost.

I figured Tra’ile could not have trailed too far from here, or at least the folks that previously accompanied Wil’ile and I.

“Tra’ile!” I called out with a sense of desperation.

The woman that previously tended to Wil’ile shortly appeared from a nearby tree. She quickly approached me and reached for Wil’ile. I handed her over with relief.

“Where are the others?” I asked.

There was no response, I suspect she didn’t feel the need to speak, her silence had met me with acceptance. I followed her as she slowly walked away with a quiet hum and returned to the area from where she appeared. The rest of the small village was broken into small groupings in a small open area, surrounded by aged concealing trees. The woman walked towards a gathered circle where Tra’ile was sitting. I proceeded with, and upon reaching Tra’ile I posited my forgiveness.

“I did what I could in reconciling these events.”

“As you have demonstrated.” He merely stated.

“What is next?” He asked without yet glancing at my condition.

He sat seemingly still with his eyes closed. His unmoved expression presented itself as a ghostly gaze through the ash markings on his eyelids.

“It’s best that I leave, possibly west from Amazi.”

“In search of?”

“I am still unsure, maybe to make sense of this world. I only hope to survive and while doing so learn what I can from this fragmented land.”

He then smiled and peered at my being. “You may rest and recuperate with us until your departure if you prefer.”

I sighed in immediate relief for his forgiveness and sat in weariness. The woman who led me here subsequently tended to my shoulder. We took a break in our conversation while she cared for me. During this short period, I was taken to a nearby tree where there seemed to be supplies hidden between the large roots of the tree. My attempt to rest became increasingly tiresome, I grew concerned with the aftermath of the conflict. After her efforts to mend me, I returned to Tra’ile with a restless curiosity.

Upon my approach, I had observed a few folks gathered with the elder, engaged in a whispered discussion.

“What will happen with those that have died?” I intruded.

Calmly he spoke, “Our people will be sung. As for the hunters and their animal, they will feed our fires and our land.”

“What of the captured hunter?”

“We will learn from him.” He stated in a serious tone.

Softly, “I see.”

I was curious to know more, although I felt it to be an intrusion of their own personal matters. The topic was shifted as Tra’ile quickly inquired of me a request.

“Aumit, Wil’ile has requested to join you in your travels. Will you accept her request?”

I was shocked. I did not anticipate such a thing, nor did I feel capable of looking after the child. I found this request nonsensical given our recently acquired acquaintances.

“I see your concerns, but do not underestimate this child. She has known and lived in this land since her birth. With her knowledge and experience, she will be of great assistance through your travels.” He explained with confidence and ease.

“Does she speak? So far she has yet to have said anything. I cannot agree to this if there is no possible communication.” I stated with serious concern.

“She does. She has been taught your language and others. She may speak when she feels the need to do so.”

“I am still unsure.”

“Well consider it while your presence remains in our company. Let us now return and repair what damage had been done by the hunters.” Tra’ile stated in a cheerful and unbothered tone.

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