The voice of Nehva’s mentor came to her as she was building a small fire.
Several winters now have you been my apprentice, learning the ways of the Siofra and of the world as a whole. Now, it is time to put that that knowledge to use. Only in the forest, away from distractions and living off the land that gives us our life, can you learn more.
The fire was to cook a scrawny rabbit she had earlier caught in a snare she had fashioned herself.
Today had been her third full day with nothing but the forest for company. She awoke with the sun, and set about gathering some edible berries for her breakfast. These she washed down with the cool water of a stream she had discovered upon her arrival, placed close but not too close to where she made her camp.
It was near the water she had set her small trap, in hopes of catching something for later.
The world around you is teeming with life, in places you might never expect, but the spirits of our world remain hidden to those who do not listen closely enough.
So far, the rabbit, some song birds, and a squirrel from the day before were all that had made themselves known to her. The only voices she had heard were those of the forest creatures. No spirits had spoken to her, and Nehva was starting to fear they would not deem her worthy of their voices.
She was trying to listen, but Master Gawain was always so cryptic in his explanations of the spirits, even when she asked directly. She did not even know what she was listening for!
The spirits do not exist to answer to our whims. They are older than the centuries of you and I and all the others of this village combined, and they will continue to exist even after each of us leave these mortal shells.
Nehva exhaled sharply. Even in her own mind, he chided her for her impatience.
The fire warmed her face as the day faded to night around her, and it kept away the chill of the darkening forest. It cast strange shadows that elongated the further they got from the fire.
The night creatures awoke and made their noises, forming a symphony that surrounded her like the arms of the forest itself.
You will have to learn to listen… and not just with your ears.
“Yah? What other part of me would I listen with?” Nehva grumbled with a frown. She unconsciously played with the pointed tip of one ear, and held her rabbit over the fire on a sharpened stick. She manipulated the stick until all sides of her evening meal were browned and crispy.
A chill breeze wound past her, whispering through the trees with a satisfied sigh. Nehva shivered and moved closer to the fire.
Once the cooked rabbit had cooled some, she ate it slowly, picking pieces off the small bones with her fingers and silently thanking the animal again for its sacrifice to sustain her.
Your thanks is heard, child of the Siofra.
Almost dropping her meal, Nehva realized this time it was not another remembered lesson from her mentor. Nor was it in her head. She was almost certain it came from the fire before her.
“Are you a spirit?” Nehva asked, her voice barely a whisper. She watched the hypnotic flames anxiously as she waited for a reply.
Yes, I am an ancestor of the Ifrits. A spirit of the element of fire.
The fire flared and danced with each of the spirit’s words, each both like a crack of a whip and the hiss of a serpent. It drew out the S’s longer than she would have expected. Though they were barely a whisper, Nehva could almost see the words forming, blazing before her very eyes, now that she knew where to look.
“There are different types of spirits?” she asked, blinking at the brightness of the flames.
Yes, every element has spirits that protect it. When an Ifrit dies, it becomes one with the element of fire. We shape the world and speak through it.
Though it sounded childish in her head, Nehva felt her next question was important. “Why did you choose to speak to me, spirit?”
A crackling arose from the fire, and the girl thought the spirit might be chuckling.
I was not the first, just the first you opened yourself to. Do you not hear the babbling of the stream you take drinks from, she who nourishes you and quenches your thirst? Do you not notice the shift and groan of the earth beneath your feet, he who lifts your steps and helps you along your way? Do you not feel the touch of the wind against your cheek, it always at your back and guiding you along? Do you not sense the eyes of the forest, they protecting you from the predators just beyond the light of your camp?
Nehva felt the blood rise to her cheeks, making them flush and hot. All this time, she had been looking so hard, and they were right here. “All this time I have been in the forest, I have been missing this?” she asked.
More crackling. The spirit of fire seemed amused.
We are ever present, whether you hear or not, with a reach far beyond this forest.
Pondering this, the girl dropped her eyes to her feet, her legs bunched against her body for warmth with her arms wrapped tightly around them. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the wind. It was ever shifting, and hard to catch, but finally, she heard it whisper to her in a drifting, airy voice:
Daughter of Siofra, I am the spirit of wind, ancestor of the Erinyes.
“Hello,” Nehva replied. It sounded anemic when addressing a spirit, but was all she could muster. The spirit of wind whistled a bemused reply.
Next, she placed her had flat against the hard-packed earth on which she sat. The tiniest of vibrations greeted her, and grew to a rumble she could feel in her bones. A gravelly voice that sounded that rocks being rubbed together grumbled in a grating voice:
The spirit of the earth, sons of the Nephilim, wish you lightness of step and quickness of travel. We form the ground beneath you and the minerals contained within.
“Your well-wishes are appreciated, good spirit.”
There was a rumble under her that seemed to be the spirit’s approval.
Nehva looked up and said to the trees, “There are spirits amongst you as well?” All she heard was a rustle of leaves in response, their bright green currently a mixture of black shadow and orange firelight. She felt compelled to walk up to the nearest tree and rest her hand against it. The tree spirit’s voice came through loudest and clearest of all.
Greetings, blood of our blood. Patiently we have waited for you to hear our voice. We call you Siofra, daughters and sons of the Dryads and the spirit of the wood.
“Dryads?” Nehva asked. “The tree-people. But how are you related to my folk?”
Many thousands of years ago, we were created by the gods, and named protectors of the forest and all living things. As our sisters passed on, they entered their second life, as wood spirits, tree ancestors. Our living sisters created the other fae races to aid in the protection of the forest and its creatures – the fairies and the elves.
“Tree ancestors? You mean that is not merely a story told to amuse younglings?” Nehva’s face lined with uncertainty.
Certainly not, little sister. Elves were given the same gift of the second life as their Dryad sisters. Your kin become the Aspen trees, ask any one of them.
The tree spirits also seemed mirthful at her ignorance, which made Nehva blush.
There is one more spirit who wishes you to see her. She is the spirit of the water, daughter of the Nereids.
“Will you watch over me?”
Of course, little sister.
Walking through the trees in the darkness should have seemed frightening, even with her sharp vision, which was almost as good in the dark as it was during the day. There were thick roots to trip her and prowling, hungry predators to attack her, but she met no delays.
She touched each tree as she walked by, feeling their strength. She stepped lightly, each rise of her feet aided by the shifting of the ground beneath her. The wind guided her along gently, like a protective mother helping her child to take those first steps. And, somehow, even with the radiance of the fire far behind her, Nehva felt the warmth of the Ifrit’s spirit with her.
The stream where she had caught her small game and drank away her thirst and refreshed herself with crisp, cool water giggled and babbled as she approached. A splashing noise, like a bear slapping at leaping salmon, filled the clearing.
My sisters said you would come! The spirits of the water greet you, young Siofra. We of the Nereid are always delighted to make ourselves known to the fae. We are sisters, of course. Fear no river or ocean or pond, for we will guard you through your days.
Nehva could not help but smile at the overwhelming enthusiasm of the water spirit. “Thank you… sister.” She made a polite bow of her head, and the water spirit giggled again.
A thought occurred to the girl. “Is there not one more spirit still? Master Gawain speaks of the Arcane as an element, as well.”
A hush fell upon everything. Even the night animals grew silent.
Nehva blinked and feared she had offended the spirits.
It was the spirit of the wood who spoke through her light contact with the closest tree. Her words were clipped and succinct.
The Arcane is the source of the wild magic. Controlled by the Dragons, it is unrestrained and unpredictable, much like those creatures. You, Siofra, are best to leave that power alone.
Nodding, Nehva resolved to leave the question for now, but the seed of curiosity was planted.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Awaiting the Muse by Jamie Roman AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/