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Thursday, 31 December 2020

Aeonas's Pass

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

     The amethyst sky loured over the fells. Snow drifted through the open forest like fragments of ivory, burying the road and outshining the glow of the dying sun, while a thick, creeping fog, both natural and impossible, layered itself over the slopes. The evening was silent but for the thin wheeze of the wind, still but for the sway of bare branches, and beautiful but for the seething black scar running like a river of decay from the horizon.

     There was no living thing for miles around - none at all but the cloaked figure walking at the head of that scar, bleeding it further into the shrouded forest with every lonely, booted step.
     The pace was steady, unhurried despite the taint; monotonous and resolute. And while the dreadful scar stretched, the eerie fog fled away, leaving the forest clear behind to gather instead at the lead. There, the cloud thickened, luring and goading the traveller, all while remaining always just one step out of reach.
     But Aeonas was too old to be deterred.
     Clad in a tattered cloak pulled tight against the cold, patched and stitched with a skill that had grown over ages, Aeonas walked eternal, with a bow and quiver slung over a shoulder, hose strapped with countless satchels, some small and writhing, and a doublet lashed with parchments and journals. And every day, with every thought and every event, that burden only grew. After almost a full year, Aeonas had been reduced to a heavy trudge. And yet still, the never-ending walk continued, through sun, through rain, through frost and snow, while the heading remained lost in a dense, blind cloud.
     The frigid breeze briefly picked up, stirring the edges of the fog as a grand stone bridge took shape on the left. As Aeonas stepped past it, it crumbled in a cloud of dust. It wasn't acknowledged with even a glance.
     Then an elaborate vase the size of a child emerged on the right, gilded and empty, and burst into flames just as suddenly. It went equally unnoticed.
     The bridge and vase melted ignored into the scarred, blurred world at Aeonas's back, though both stood less distorted than their surroundings. Ruined stone and ceramic remained crystal clear and perfectly defined, and with their survival, another pouch upon Aeonas's hip writhed and wriggled. The spider weaving amongst them skittered to secure itself.
     But, as always, those old, teal eyes didn't turn down to witness it. Staring blindly ahead, there was no effort within them to try to see even the clouded forms of the trees.
     More shapes soon blotched and darkened the heading, and sounds drifted through the muffled air, each unclear until Aeonas finally drew level with them. Then music piped in, flutes and strings to fill a weary heart with warmth - but still not a step was lost to distraction. Not even when another figure danced her way through the clouds. Her golden dress spun and flared with her twirls, the snow whispered beneath the grace of her feet. But Aeonas's eyes remained fixed to the fog ahead.
     The young woman leapt and glided on into the scar, and where she faded and blurred away, forgotten with so much else, a thick, purple cloud of acrid smoke trailed along behind her. This lingered all too clearly.
     Aeonas disregarded it, pulling the cloak closer as the cold crept through to what little bare skin it could find and snowflakes burned a lined and sullen brow. Then a high-pitched call came from the fogline, and an owl swept in from its rest in a nearby tree. But this, Aeonas knew, was no phantom. And knew equally that it had been waiting.
     Teal eyes broke their stare for only a moment, and as the owl took position overhead and followed Aeonas in perfect time, their gaze returned to the distance, just as another satchel jerked and writhed.
     In that moment, another shape emerged, one fast, thick, and slavering. A beast, neither wolf nor bear, crashed through the darkness towards the wanderer, red eyes fiercely aglow. But still, Aeonas didn't flinch, nor turn as another shape formed close to the left, its glinting sword raised high. The beast snarled and leapt for the head, but as Aeonas continued unshaken, it seized the shadow instead, and they vanished as quickly as the both of them had appeared.
     Then came the comforting smell of warm fruit, and the sound of joyous, hopeful singing. Both grew stronger, filled the air on all sides, then flooded on into the blur behind, where it reverberated wondrously amongst everything else.
     More abstract fragments of life moved by, until the screech of the owl broke the silence.
     Aeonas looked up, and bleak lips turned down further. The snow was heavier, the fog thicker, and the forest was growing dense. More trees took shape, stronger, defined, with deliberate clarity over the rest. As Aeonas walked on devotedly past them, some began to freeze, others grew taller, a single wassailed tree burned, and an emerging windmill turned to gold.
     But Aeonas continued, resigned, afraid and weary, wading through the mystery, past every event, until the air ahead suddenly and sharply cleared to a deep amethyst sky, empty of dread and thought. Finally, those ancient boots came to a stop.
     With a breath of relief, Aeonas shrugged out of the hood and looked out to the open night ahead, weathered heart beating in a fever. But there was nothing to see. Nothing to hear. Nothing to fear and nothing to celebrate. There was nothing at all, but possibility.
     With another breath, of peace and preparation, Aeonas's gaze dropped. And there, at the toe of the old boots and further down still, sprawling from the base of the cliff the wanderer now stood upon like a ragged old spectre, the fog rolled on. Everything beneath, everything ahead, everywhere old boots could walk, remained just as clouded and unclear. The shroud was endless, stretching far beyond what teal eyes could reach.
     Only now did Aeonas turn, and grimaced deeper at the sight of the scar left behind, the black destruction, lined with that most hated and most cherished; the things one would wish to forget, and the things one clings to without knowing better.
     But Aeonas had learned. There was nothing to be done but continue. There was no going backwards, and there was certainly no stopping; and as difficult as moving forward would always be, it could be made a little easier.
     Aeonas knelt down on the snow and sorted through the satchels. One by one, they were looked over, unstrapped from thigh and calf, peered tentatively inside of when needed. Some were filled with smoke, others with flowers, others still with dull stones and others with charred pine cones. Some with light itself, and others with nothing but the scent of spruce needles. And, one by one, Aeonas considered them with a practised eye.
     "Nothing heavier than a feather."
     And so, among many others, the satchel of smoke, the satchel of light, and the satchel of charred pine cones were discarded. And the satchels of flowers, of the smell of spruce needles, and of dull stones remained.
     Then Aeonas sorted through the journals and parchments.
     "Nothing lighter than lead."
     And so the notes and records of struggles, of love, of ideas and of hands remained, while disappointment, embarrassment, shame and nightmares were cast away.
     Aeonas stood taller, left now with only worthwhile lessons, and faced back into the clear sky and clouded earth. With one step, the traveller fell from the cliff.
     And landed on the soles of ancient boots with barely the sound of the snow beneath.
     With a deep breath, Aeonas continued on into the unknown, the owl ever overhead, spider ever weaving between the remaining satchels and journals. And behind the wanderer, there was nothing but bootprints in the snow.


Thank you all so much for your support this year.
I wish you all the best for 2021.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2020 Kim Wedlock


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