Coming up over the edge, he turned around and sat back in awe. His view opened out over the trees, and he could see for miles. Streams and rivers of gold were weaving through the landscape. There was a system of lakes and, in the distance, a blurred strip of sea. From this perspective it seemed simple to search it all in a day. But today was coming to a close, and though he was now warm and dry, he knew that wouldn’t last without shelter for the night.
Turning to seek a nest, he all but bumped into a small, grey man. He was clad all in brown and looked so much like stone that Gabrell almost tapped him just to be sure. Before he could do so, the tiny figure swung his hand in a gesture to follow. His short, aged body moved over the rocks in an amazingly agile way. Gabrell tailed him less efficiently, scrambling to keep up.
By the time the day grew dim with the final rose of sunset, the two were settled on crude, but comfortably fashioned, wooden seats. Tucked into an alcove of rock, they sipped warm mugs of excellent mead. A mature fire was smothered in the fragrant promise of roasting meat.
The odd little fellow had still said nothing, but Gabrell understood volumes—this was a friend. Beyond the alcove was a cave that he was sure held similarly efficient answers to his needs.
As they ate, Gabrell began wishing for another type of answers, but he hesitated to break the code of silence set down by his gracious host.
At last he ventured, “Is it alright to speak?”
The man nodded and looked pleased.
“Do you talk too?”
The man nodded again. “Y-yes,” he stammered, “I—I had almost forgotten. It has been so long. No one has come.”
“So you don’t go down the mountain?” asked Gabrell.
“This is where I stay,” he replied simply.
They ate some more in silence.
“Why are you here?” Gabrell just had to pry.
“It’s beautiful, no?”
“Well, yes, amazingly so.”
“And peaceful. I hear the falls, the wind, the rain.”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“There are the trees, there’s animals—I know their ways—and many birds. Even the clouds speak to me. I know the rocks, and sometimes I visit the lake—up over the highest peak. This is enough.”
“Why did you come to me then?”
“I like creatures, and you needed me. You may have fallen to the hand of Coldness tonight. He has no mercy. Only fire will keep him away, and you had gathered no fuel to claim it.”
“I have no way to create fire.” Gabrell’s mind wandered to an image of a young man walking down into one.
“Then how can you survive without others?”
Gabrell’s attention snapped back to his host’s words. “I haven’t recently stayed in a place so cold.”
“Coldness does not visit you?”
This seemed to confound him, and he pulled up his knees and put his head down muttering musical, nonsensical sounds. Gabrell was again reluctant to interrupt.
Although the man was strange and obviously isolated from the society Gabrell was seeking, Gabrell gloried in conversing with someone. It’d been a long time for him too. He felt he had much in common with this funny little man. They were both alone and survived. This man must know little of life beyond the mountain. Gabrell knew so very little too.
While Gabrell was musing, the grey and brown hermit finished his puzzling and began dishing more food onto his guest’s plate.
“Do you have a name, sir?” Gabrell inquired.
“A name? No one ever calls me. But I do have one possession from below. It was given to me by another dead creature, like you. He said it is a ‘book’. He scratched marks on it and told me that he put my name on it, so I would know it was mine. I had forgotten, and I asked him what a name is, and he said that it is what you are called. But no one calls me. He said, ‘I have written your name here. It says, ‘Minister’. You are Minister, because you met my needs and saved me body and soul.’ I do not truly understand, but my book says my name. ‘Minister’, that is my name. But I am not called.”
Now it was Gabrell’s turn to ponder. After a moment he said, “I am called, ‘Gabrell’. It’s my name. A woman called me, Gabrell.”
The man gurgled. It seemed he was laughing. “A woman,” he gulped and gasped quietly, “I have not seen a woman since I cannot remember. There was only one. She left.” He was no longer amused.
Gabrell searched for an easier subject. “Well, Minister…” That just wasn’t a name. “I will call you, ‘Greyset’. If you’d like, I’ll write it on your book.”
“I guess you had better so we’ll know that it is mine, as the other dead one said.”
“Okay then, but why do you call us ‘dead ones’? I at least am very much alive.” He felt much more so with his stomach full of meat and his head full of mead.
“But when I found you, you were dead. Soon you would have become one of the cold ones. Dead.”
“I think I would prefer that you call me, ‘Gabrell’.
The grey man gurgled and then seemed lost in thought.
Neither man spoke for a long while. The stone awning above them outlined a stunning display of abundant stars. Gabrell stood and stepped into a small clearing. His mouth opened as his head tipped back. He turned about shivering but did not return to the fire. After a few moments he realized that Greyset was at his elbow beckoning.
They picked their way up a well-trodden, path and Gabrell lost his breath as they came onto the open face of the peak. It looked out at the inky-blue world below. The earth, now woven thru with silver ribbons, was edged with the dimly sparkling rim of sea which met the unimaginably huge sky, bursting with stars.
Gabrell understood how this man could be sustained. With all of those millions of lights in formation, he felt he was where he was meant to be. For a moment he was home. But unlike for Greyset, this feeling didn’t last for Gabrell.
If my woman left me here, I would follow her. He gazed at the sea and wondered if Majeska was on this side of it.
I don’t belong on this mountain. He shivered harder and started back down the path.
Tiny Greyset followed behind Gabrell, and after lighting a torch, he led him into the cave. Setting the torch in a hole carved out as a holder he began to make a cozy bed. He laid a pile of furs in a smooth spot along the wall. Although the space was not large, it was ample for comfort. Greyset motioned for Gabrell to climb into the furs. He said simply, “You will not be Cold.” Then he took the torch and left—perhaps to the fire that shone softly on the wall or back to commune with the stars. Gabrell hardly had time to wonder which before he fell asleep and began to dream:
Gabrell tiptoed out into the morning. A cloud was settled on the mountain top. He walked to the open face where he had felt so akin to the stars, but the view was obscured. The world seemed much smaller than when he left it the night before. His thoughts closed in on him and his dream came back to him with a heavy sense of reality. He felt it must relate to what he witnessed in the gated garden, but there was so much he did not understand. It seemed unlikely that Greyset would know of these things, but Gabrell decided he needed to talk to someone.
He wandered back to find that Greyset had emerged from the cave and was tending to the low embers of the fire. As Gabrell approached, Greyset went into the cave returning shortly with leathery strips of dried meat for breakfast. They shared the meal in silence, and then drank from an animal skin pouch. The bottle was ingeniously designed. Gabrell again marveled at the old man. He struggled to find a way to ask about the dream and the things he had seen at the garden.
“Do you dream, Greyset?” he began.
“Oh yes, Gabrell. See, I called you.” He gurgled.
Gabrell smiled. “What do you dream of?” he asked.
Greyset looked distant. “My mind.” he said. “Of things that are and might have been. Of things I know but do not understand.”
“Do you believe that dreams are real?”
“I see them as I see all others. They are like the eagle flying, the water running.”
Gabrell sighed. Perhaps the grey man’s experience was too removed.
“May I tell you the dream that came to me in the night?”
Greyset nodded expectantly.
When Gabrell had finished the telling, Greyset sat as though he was listening still. Just as Gabrell was giving up on a response, Greyset asked, “Do you understand these things? Are they about you?”
“I’m not sure—no—but yes, I feel I should understand.”
Greyset then mysteriously quoted, “’Look inward and you will know. You must answer your fear… You must find a way.’”
It spooked Gabrell to hear the man recite a part of his dream when he hadn’t told him exactly what was said. But the words entered into him. He was on the edge of remembering. Whether or not the dream showed something real, he knew Greyset’s words were true for him.
So still he must search—inwardly as well as outwardly it seemed. He had one more question for his grey companion. “Do you know the black Blocks? The dark cubes that carry you? I wish to find one to continue my journey.”
“You care not where you go?”
“Oh yes. I want to find the woman I spoke of. How do I direct my path?”
“Ah, the Catalyst. A thing for the Travelers. It is no use to go to someplace—only anyplace. Only women use it. Sometimes men with Vision. Men tried it. They tried to make me—No, no! When I was a child we teased Travelers, ‘beware for you will always be where?’” He gurgled and went distant a moment. Then he said, “I do not ride the Catalyst.” He added, “I always be here.” Gurgling with delight, he ambled back into the cave.
In a moment he returned with a mound of things dwarfing him even more than usual. “For Gabrell,” he announced. “I set these aside for your journey. I had a dream too.”
He gave him a light but ample fur. It could be worn like a shirt slung over one shoulder but would serve as a small blanket at need. He gave him two skin pouches—one a bottle for water, the other filled with dried meat and dried fruit. This storage pouch would replace the less efficient sash. Gabrell refastened the sash about his waist and donned the rest of his glorious wealth.
“Surely I must give you something,” Gabrell wished. “I don’t know what I have to give.”
“I have what I desire,” said Greyset, “and you have given me a new name. I am called by you,” he smiled.
“Thank you, my friend,” said Gabrell. “Perhaps someday I will return here again. Is there a Catalyst Block near here?”
Greyset looked at him a moment. Gabrell could not read his expression.
Finally he answered. “Not near. Follow the river. The other Dead One was a Lakeman. His village is on the lake at the end of the river. Forget the Catalyst. Travel well.”
Greyset turned and walked away up the path they had followed in the moonlight. He looked back once more and said, “Don’t forget to remember me,” and he was gone.
– Kennedy J Quinn All Rights Reserved