Elyn, shaman of the Quoron Tribe, sped through the undergrowth towards Heartwood, where his wife and extended family, his dinaj, were camped. He lept onto fallen limbs covered in moss, and dodged through dense ferns and broad swaths of nettles and salmonberry. He vaulted over pocked granite, the foundation of the forest which periodically emerged into light and air, with an easy, thoughtless grace. He was long accustomed to negotiating the landscape of this temperate rainforest that sat between sea and mountain. Since before he had been old enough to walk he had found the forest to be a place of sustenance and comfort that buoyed his steps and steadied his balance. The soaring cedars were forgiving extensions of his own limbs, their size and venerability direct conduits to the Green Mother, their silent, statuesque vigilance the structure supporting his moral center. Leaves were the bed in which he dreamed, and the myriad of creatures that shared his nightly slumber as much his brethren as the dinaj he now raced home to.
The forest was continually blanketed by wet air from the adjacent western ocean, called most often simply Asz, the Sea, becoming a daily ritual of light misting rain as it rose over the mountains. The rain was gentle and warm, and when the sun broke through the low lying cloud she bathed Shadhrar in merry light that quickly drove away any damp. The forest was afforded a year round growing season by the pervasive humidity and mild temperatures, and in this long narrow finger that stretched up the western coast of Rone life had flourished like in few other places. Shadhrar was old, and with age inevitably comes sorrow and loss. But it was quintessentially and fundamentally alive.
Elyn loped through dappled shadows, past small herds of deer, through pockets of quail, over slugs that were as long as his arm. He dodged a fallen cedar that was wormed through by ten thousand nesting wasps, oblivious to the humming warning, before vaulting over a shallow ravine. What sunshine filtered down through the canopy was eagerly absorbed by giant ferns and archaic flowers, compensating for the low light by sending oversized fronds out to catch what they could. At times they obscured the fallen boughs and uneven topography, yet Elyn did not require sight to guide his practiced steps. Rough granite broke through the soft carpet in places, and was eroded in others to accept quick flowing streams in which brightly colored trout and salmon periodically leapt to snap at unsuspecting insects. Heavy mists that draped wet dreamscapes over the forest in the morning retreated to higher elevations or out to sea later in the day, at the same time and in the same way as they had for eons. The metronome of the day becoming the season becoming the year was a rhythm that beat a cadence on the scale of an entire planet. The rhythm of Shadhrar was inscribed in the tribesman as much as the pumping of his heart, or the rise of fall of his breathing.
Elyn had seen thirty-five summers, and was acknowledged by his dinaj as the one best able to lead them. And as one of the larger dinaj his word and respect had weight with the broader tribe; the People, the Quoron. He was of medium height and stockier than most of the People, with hidden grace belied by his frame. It was not by quirk of chance that his totem was the bear, for like the matriarch of the forest his potential for resolute ferocity was at all times tempered by gentle benevolence. He carried the shaht-tigue in his left hand, the symbol of leadership, and he used it with easy comfort born of long use to assist with his balance as he raced along narrow boughs high above the ground, or along the uneven footing of cliff sides. The femur of some large animal, its origins lost to antiquity, had been passed down through the generations from shaman to druid, from warrior to elder, each leaving their mark on it by way of pictograph or rune. Elyn had not yet added his own. He had not yet felt worthy.
He had run for the better part of two days and nights without rest, pausing only to hydrate as he required. There had been tales of intrusion into the north of the forest, rumors of death and pillaging as told by other dinaj. The reek of smoke and charnel could be faintly tasted in the air, and the earth, for those attuned to it, could be felt to shudder. The past few seasons had seen numerous forays by foreigners into Shadhrar, braving mountain crossing or long trek from the south. Some dinaj had reported coming across clearings entirely devoid of trees, the soil churned and torn, the handiwork of some unknown despoiler’s pillaging hand. More recent stories told around shared cooking fires, however, and the recent taste on the air, was of a different scale; worrisome and unsettling. As one who would lead, he had taken it upon himself to determine the truth behind the tales of violence. What he had found shocked him to his core, the startling truth of his discovery rocking his moral, if not kinetic, balance.
He stopped alongside a cold rill that flowed over clean pebble seawards from the Kinjala range, and drank his fill. A few gulls sat astride the protruding arm of a semi-submerged piece of driftwood, and regarded him with some cock-headed interest, wondering if his passing would afford some unlooked for opportunity for food. When none was forthcoming they returned their steady gaze to the efforts of a pair of otters that were playfully fishing. It was late in the year, and the salmon were beginning their spawn run upstream. Soon streams like this would be choked with countless fish that madly struggled against current to create life before life left them, and his people would feast on the bounty provided them. A magpie scolded the gulls for their temerity, which was surely born of jealousy in their opportune perch.
He took a moment to cast his gaze about his surroundings, to taste the life that made itself manifest in every direction and with unlimited variety. Animal, insect, plant. Stone, water, sky. Its interconnection and its interdependence – its sameness - was its power, and its beautiful differentiation was its wonder.
He ran on. He was not yet fatigued, but he ruefully thought he may need to rest at least once before he arrived at Heartwood. Urgency tugged at him; he needed to relate what he had seen to his tribe. Time was against him, and he cursed his weakness, born of the reality of flesh. He feared that the need of the Verdant was beyond him, beyond the scale of what he could afford to give. He resigned himself to doing all that he could, and regretted that he could do no more.
He jumped from branch to branch of the coastal cedars, the mosses and shoots that stretched upwards along their substantial girth no impediment to the surety of his footing. And as he hit his stride again, he vowed to make it home in four days.
Nearby, a cow moose and her yearling, dipping their muzzles into a brackish pool, did not even notice the silent figure that raced by.