Summer’s leaves slowly turned to Autumn’s grace. Riotous color littered the forest floor as the trees shed their leaves, and they danced delicately through the breezes that now chilled the air. And the sun’s glow turned everything to a burnished, softly-lit scene of golds, rusts, coppers, scarlets and deepest plum.
And Anku waited.
Waited for the signal that he knew so well meant another was coming to cross the veil of death. Another soul bound for eternity, he always felt the gathering emotion that preceded the arrival of his next visitor. And this one, this one was special.
Turning his face toward the path that lead to his small cottage in the forest, he felt the approaching one clearly. Fear, sadness, and… deeper within, a sense of anticipation. It was time.
From the shadows that lingered, first a face peered forward, then the rest of the person’s form came into view.
Her measured gait was slow, but sure, as she approached the home before which Anku now stood, and looking up, she lifted her hand in a small gesture of greeting. Anku returned it with his own gesture of welcome, opening the gate to his garden to allow her entrance.
“Elder Cate, I am honored by your visit, even though I know it brings the rest of your village much grief. Please, enter, and take your rest,” Anku led the gently smiling woman to a nearby bench, and helped her lower herself to it.
“Anku, I knew you would be waiting for me, and I am glad for it,” the village elder sighed softly, “Others can take my place in the village, but only I can accomplish this journey.” She looked up at the dark-haired man, and a quick flash of mischief crossed her face, just as quickly erased in the anticipation of what was to come.
“Ah, Elder, you speak truly,” Anku chuckled a little, knowing that the woman had made a small joke at her own expense, and that it was not disrespectful to acknowledge it, and even play along a little to relieve her fears. “This journey is best taken for oneself, for it is not one others can tell you about… you quite literally… have to be there yourself, to understand.”
A raspy laugh came from Elder Cate as she let go of her tension over the next part of the trip she was about to make. “Yes, I do, don’t I,” she mused, and nodded her greyed head. “And, I imagine that it will not be like unto any other journey I’ve ever taken, now, will it?”
“No, Elder, this will be more than you could ever have dreamed,” another voice, low and slightly musical came from behind Cate, causing her to turn on her seat to see. Although she knew, already, that whom she was to see.
Kora. Walking softly, almost without seeming to touch the ground, she glided forward to greet the woman she’d known her whole life. And taking the Elder’s hands into her own, lifted her easily from the bench and pulled her into a gentle embrace.
“Oh, Elder, I am sorry for the village to lose you, for I know that they love you well… but I am glad that I may be here for you, now. That I may be the one to help you through this gate.”
Elder Cate lifted her hands, taking Kora’s face into her palms, and smiled at the gifted child she’d helped Erinas raise. This beautiful woman, whom she’d watched grow, was now in full possession of her power, and it sat well with her.
“Child, and yes, I know that you are grown, but you will always be ‘Child’ to me, as I helped bring you into this world, and have watched you all your years… I am ready. For all my years, I’ve served the village and those who’ve lived and died there, and I am ready to lay my burden to rest at the foot of the Great Tree. Let us not tarry here, but be about our business, shall we?” And the Elder pulled Kora’s head down to hers to place a loving kiss on her forehead, smoothing what few lines had gathered in concern for her aged frame.
“Yes, Elder, I shall lead you home. Come along with me.”
And Anku stood at the gate, and watched his beloved lead the woman to the far end of the garden, and into the shadows beyond. As they faded in vision beyond the gate, he caught one last glimpse of the 2 of them, heads together, hand in hand, and he heard laughter, soft and lovely, rise on the air, to float up and out.