“I dream in sepia of sun-baked wraiths and parched landscapes. Ever present and melancholy they crowd round my gate, wanting release from a place the world has forgotten.”
The old man’s words haunt me. They can apply equally to both the living and dead. I find myself once more in arid lands, must be something about deserts that keeps drawing me back. This landscape speaks of freedom as well as harshness. It’s drenched in a covering of faded gold. Wasn’t always so. Yet, the old man survives and even seems to flourish. As do the people in the nearby settlement. The noise of its activity drifts over to us. I can hear its story, wave upon wave of memories, joy, and sadness. It’s alive only due to the people who inhabit the space within its walls. They give it purpose, the will to endure century after century. I can sense only light within its heart, which is glowing with warmth. Of course the people suffer hardships in their daily lives, that’s inescapable. It feels as if the settlement protects those within its care and lightens their burdens. I was drawn here for a particular purpose it seems.
My companion glances over now and again as if to reassure me all is well. His eyes shine with wisdom and compassion, holding a sense of the eternal in their depths. There’s an air of great power about him, untainted by either arrogance or darkness. As for his dwelling, it’s a shack nestling in the ruins of a building centuries old. The land around it is parched and in desperate need of care. There’s a vegetable plot to the left of the shack, a couple of goats and several chickens are running free in the yard. Most surprising of all he has a well. Seems he’s quite self-sufficient. He, terrible I can’t remember his name, is finishing picking a few vegetables for our dinner. Hospitality to strangers has always been an important tradition anywhere in the world, more so in arid environments. Something I’m grateful for.
My host declines my offer of help and starts preparing the meal. I watch him intently as he expertly cuts, slices and dices. His movements are calm, graceful and focussed.
“What do you see storyteller? Do I satisfy your curiosity?” his voice and gaze are tinged with humour. I blush with embarrassment. He misses nothing. Perceptive enough to see through my disguise. A fellow well recommended and trusted by the forest dwellers I came across recently. He knew of my search for the jackal god, the purpose of the journey and of my people. I wonder who he really is and why he’s in this place. Nothing more is said of such things; there’s no need. A tantalising scent of rain is carried on the wind but there is no certainty of it falling here. A pity, the land is crying out for water. My thoughts are interrupted by the wonderful aroma of our dinner. We eat in silence in front of the fire. Dusk is approaching and the stars start to light up the darkness. The fire burns brightly, much like the sense of purpose in my heart. My experiences in the great forest have changed me profoundly. I am part of it and it is part of me. The Old Ones still walk through my inner landscape. This I’m reminded of again and again, beseeched never to forget.
With the meal finished we sit before the fire in silence. After a while the old man speaks eloquently and at length about the reason for his presence here. This place is a nexus, between the seen and unseen worlds, between the living and dead. It’s inhabited by souls trapped for a variety of reasons. Some are unwilling to accept their transition from one state of consciousness to another, therefore earthbound.
Others have been caught in the crossfire between Order and Chaos and trapped for eternity in a state of nothingness. This is the reason for the arid state of the landscape; the sense of hopelessness goes deep. Nothing is able to survive in the areas outside of his compound. The people in the settlement are aware there’s something not quite right “out there”, outside their gates. They speak of ghosts, of the undead filling the night with terror. They’re protected and unaware of the real dangers present in the whispers of the wind and darkness. I contemplate this information with sadness. Sadness for all these poor souls trapped for all eternity, tied to this wasteland. Hopelessness can eventually turn into anger and it seems many of these wraiths have turned their anger upon the living. I ask him whether these are the sun-baked wraiths of his dreams. He nods with a piercing look in his eyes.
The quality of the air soon changes and I can feel my ears popping. Something is approaching. Friend rather than foe I believe. A strongly built man emerges from the darkness, clothed in a dark red robe and cloak, long red hair tied back. He holds a staff with sigils carved into it. Golden eyes look right into me and then he smiles. My companion glances at both of us with a knowing look on his face. They politely make their excuses and disappear into the shack to talk. Their voices are low. How mundane this situation seems to be from my previous encounter in the forest. How wrong I am. I feel this is another example of the difficult and often unpredictable work that’s involved in the service of the jackal god. Not just the jackal god though. The old man and his companion aren’t what they appear to be. I sense that they’re ‘different’ to the other beings so far encountered. They’re familiar to me but for some reason I have no memory of them. Light and sound clothed in human skin. Stories of supernatural beings taking on human guise have been told by humanity from the earliest of times. Am I right to be wary? There’s no sense of any danger from these two individuals though. I trust my gut instinct in this matter.
My mind moves on to other things as I sense the forest strongly. Its breezes move through the canopy bringing freshness and life. The Faerie folk gather at the pool at the heart of the forest and call forth the Green Man. I call to the Green Man. Help us please. The forest spirits move over and through the parched landscape. I see the land drenched in water, revivifying and replenishing. Light pours into the ground and air. Life that’s remained dormant for centuries awakens to a new state of being. This is no dream. Toxicity fades but it will take a while for it to disappear totally. They’ll need the help of the two men in the shack to finish the process. It seems this story won’t be couched in flowery and dreamlike language. Not all of the stories I collect are. Azrael and Samael. I remember their names now and sense them standing behind me.
“Was I wrong to ask them for help?” I say to them. The two angels shake their heads and look at the changing landscape.
Azrael answers, “it helps the lost find their way back and eases their pain. I help them remember who they are, what they truly are, a divine spark. This will give them hope.”
I’m aware the importance of his work cannot be underestimated; that he often walks where the Light’s been obscured in search of those who’ve lost hope. This applies to both living and dead. To those who work as psychopomps (whether they are aware of this or not) to the dead and dying, his presence is strong in their lives. There’s nothing more I can do out here now and go inside to sleep, or try to. In my dreams I sit with the great bear god as we guard the gateway between life and death. I light my candle to guide those lost and afraid, in need of illumination and approaching the transition from life into death. It’s as much as I can do. ‘My’ forest nurtures the burgeoning life outside of the compound. From death springs renewed life. I wake the next day to find the landscape totally transformed. There are woodland, green fields and streams as far as the eyes can see. Azrael is still here I’m glad to say. His work isn’t over but my time with him is. I ask him to take all the parts of my life that are dead and dying, in essence asking for a blessing on them and me. Acceptance, strength and compassion are what I take away with me.