This is a new illustration for my story “Wild Woman”. It’s drawing on paper done in pencil, ink gel pen and gold marker. Wild Woman is inspired by the woman archetype in Clarissa Pinkola D’Estes book” Women Who Run With Wolves” . My story is somehow connected to it…even if it’s a story of a love that still looks for completion.
The moonless night opened its velvet wings over the land, muffling sounds and filling every corner with shapeless, crawling shadows. In the dim light of the stars, the groups were gathering in the specially chosen points outside the Citadel. The earth was trembling imperceptibly under their feet as the Moon-thorn bushes were pushing towards the surface.
When the night reached its apex, the powerful vegetal hands dislodged chunks of the white walls, opening the way for the outcasts. They quickly spread on the streets, trying to go unnoticed as far as they could . The aim of the group lead by Satoru, which comprised Cora too, was to reach the Sanctuary and save the Silver Tree. They managed to get far enough when they bumped into the White Guards. After the first moments of shock, both sides engaged in bitter fight and chase in the streets of the City.
People woke up to the noise of the battle and running. At first, they weren’t keen to intervene; but soon, some of them decided to help one side or the other and step into the fight. Above them all, the angry growl of clashing Shadowcats and ferdogs filled the air with chilling sounds…
Up in his residence, Asterius woke up to the sound of a heavy fist knocking on his door. He jumped out of his bed and listened intently: there was a strong rumor coming from the streets.
-Commander!-shouted Rolf Asterianus, knocking nervously at the door of the main entrance. We’re attacked by the outcasts! They are everywhere in the streets!
Asterius opened the door with an angry move and grabbed the young man.
-How could that happen?! Were you all sleeping in your posts?!!! Incompetent fools! You practically invited them in! What is your excuse, you…you idiot!!!?
But the young commander was not keen to take the bash and he dismissed the angry shouts of his uncle.
-We were not sleeping! They broke into the city by the breaches in the wall opened by the thorn bushes that grew overnight! There was no sign of them yesterday evening! You know very well that we had burn them to the ground. How could I know that they can grow at such speed and damage the walls?!
Listening to him, Asterius calmed down instantly. He already knew where his true enemy was lying: in the Sanctuary.
-The Tree…..-he growled. The Silver Tree…
But Rolf misunderstood his words and he quickly reassured his uncle.
-No, no, don’t worry! The Silver Tree is safe. I’ve placed my best squadron there to protect it.
-The bastard….-Asterius spew the word, without further explanation. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out a vial. He slipped it in his pocket with a smirk; the Silver Tree was as good as dead. He then turned to the young commander and barked a few orders, then dismissed him. Rolf Asterianus left in a hurry.
-So you are here, my rebellious son!-murmured Asterius , looking outside.
Soon it would be dawn and he had to go and reach the Sanctuary. He has ordered Rolf to move away the squadron of White Guards and send them to protect the Council of Elders. He needed to get to the Silver Tree undetected, if he wanted to finish his work. He took his hooded cape and left the house.
At the same time, Gondwana was ferociously opening way for Satoru’s team. The young leader knew that his father was not sleeping peacefully in his bed. Oh, no! He was sneaking somewhere in the streets, trying to do as much harm as he could. Cora was focusing on both the dangers of the battle and the faint call of the Silver Tree. Ogren was backing them up, pushing back any attempt of hurt against his friends. In the heat of the action, he sometimes changed into a big brown bear, sending the attackers to the ground with one hit of his large paws. They’ve got at the Sanctuary at the same time with Asterius.
Satoru and Cora confronted Asterius atop of the circular row of stairs. They have cornered the self-appointed ruler of the Citadel and he was enraged. Where was that stupid nephew of his when he was needed?! The White Guardians were fighting the Invisibles in the streets and the members of the Council were hiding, waiting for the outcome of the battle. Satoru and Asterius were facing each other for the first time after many years. Despite the strong, slender features of his son, the cold hearted father could see only a crippled youth challenging his authority. The veins of his neck were bulging of fury as he spat his words towards Satoru:
-You!!…You’re nothing but a petty criminal in cahoots with the enemies of your own people! These freaks of Nature have poisoned and almost destroyed the Silver Tree that is safe-guarding our lives!
-That’s a lie!-shouted Cora.
-How do you know?-sneered Asterius, turning to her. You’re a foreigner in this land! What do you know about us?!
-I know because I am an Arberian and my people has its own Tree Guardian. There are many such trees in the lands around us and they are all connected through their roots. I am a chosen ambassador of my people and I was taught to connect to the Tree so yes, I know that you are lying! The Silver Tree has finally shown me the face of its longtime tormentor and that face belongs to you, Asterius! You are the one causing the demise of your Tree!!!
Cora pointed her finger to the Chief Guardian and suddenly, everyone in the City Square froze in action,turning their attention to him. Asterius reddened in anger and with an inhuman cry, he jumped forward to slay the girl defying him. But Satoru lunged swiftly in his way and took the blow without blinking. He fell to the ground, heavily bleeding while in her rage, Gondwana, the Shadowcat mauled Asterius to death. As Cora was kneeling, holding Satoru in her arms, the fight around them ended and citizens, Changers and White Guardians gathered in silence, forming a large circle around them. Ogden was shattered by pain while Cora was choking on her streaming tears.
-Don’t leave me, my love…-she whispered. Please…I need you by my side. How can I go on without you?
-I’m…not…leaving you….- Satoru articulated the words in pain. You’ll see….I’ll be with you…always…just call me…when you need me….
She caught his last breath was caught in a kiss. Releasing her beloved, Cora stood up silent, numbed by the pain. How was she supposed to move forward? How can anyone live with such a hole in the heart, such throbbing void of loss? All of a sudden she felt the need to run wild and never stop…Run, run till she would drown in her tears ! She choked on the pressure of the tears left uncried….OH!!!!
She felt the warmth of a tiny hand trying to cuddle inside her closed fist; it was Avik. Left with Petunia in the safety of the forest camp,he could feel her pain. Cora sighed and sent him a reassuring smile. The moment of personal anguish was over. The Invisibles were waiting for her to lead them and she wasn’t going to let them down. So she bent over Satoru and kissed him once more, then cut a strand of his hair, hiding it next to her heart.
The Invisibles took Satoru to the Sanctuary while Cora and Ogden followed them in silence. Moments later, Elders of the City arrived in the square and Rolf Asterianus joined them. They entered in the Sanctuary to talk with the leaders of the Insurgents, while outside the people were slowly assessing the damages, some of them emerging from the houses, looking for their long lost relatives among the Invisibles. Despite the tragic end of the clash, the moment Asterius met his demise under the paw of the Shadowcat, the spell making the Changers invisible broke, and those unjustly torn away from their loved ones could be seen and see each other. Sounds of joy, sighs, cries and tears filled the air as people embraced and kissed.
Inside the Sanctuary, the Elders, Cora and Ogden, the Changers and Rolf Asterianus were facing each other. The young Captain of the White Guards was torn between his duty towards his uncle and the feeling that the ugly facts delivered by the girl before him were true. Nonetheless, he challenged her:
-Why would we trust your words, young lady? Your claims about our respected leader Asterius have no proof!
Cora took a deep breath before answering him; this young man was both the aid of a man she loathed and the close relative of the man she loved.
-Revered Elders and Commander Asterianus! I have been in contact with the Silver Tree ever since I was in my own country. She has sent out a call for help and I have followed it until I got here. You can believe me or not. But I know that the custom of this land is that before dying, the Tree leaves behind a seed and only her Trusted One can find it. I will step back and leave it to you to find that seed. If you fail, it will be my turn to do the search.
She bowed and joined the ranks of the Changers, next to Ogden. On the other side of the chamber,the Elders and Rolf were having an animated.talk.
-The girl is right, Commander-said Matriarch Arantha, one of the Elders. Only the Chosen One can find the seed of the dying Tree.
-But how do we know our Tree is dead? I see it standing!-protested Rolf.
-You have a point, Commander-replied Elder Comino, head of the Council. As the closest person to Asterius, we appoint you to do the search. If you fail, we will allow the foreign girl to try her luck. May Truth and Justice be with you!
So they returned to the Changers with the offer and Cora and Ogren agreed, opening the way for Rolf Asterianus to do his search. The young man approached the battered Tree with deep emotion. There was so much at stake…and even his own peace of mind stood in the outcome of this task. He stopped before the huge trunk and touched it gingerly. In a fraction of a moment, the Silver Tree disintegrated, turning into a dense mist spreading under the dome of the Sanctuary. When it finally condensed, it became a silver cloud, levitating far beyond reach. In the place where the Tree once stood nothing was left, except for the barren soil. A murmur of surprise erupted from the audience and Rolf staggered, emotionally shaken.Resonating to his inner turmoil, Cora touched his shoulder.
-It’s not your fault, Commander. The Tree has gone through much lately and it has put its trust in me. It’s nothing personal in its reaction.
She stepped forward, eyes closed and the palms of her hands open. She focused on the search for the small voice of the Spirit in the Seed. The cloud of silver dust descended upon her, shrouding Cora in a glowing cocoon.
“ I’m here…”-said the little voice and the seed materialized in the palms of the girl. It was warm and silky, with the rhythm of life throbbing inside it, like a heart.
“ You’re safe with me.”-murmured Cora and she opened her eyes, then turned to the others around. She showed the heart shaped seed, then walked out the sanctuary and stood on the top of the stairs:
-Citizens of the Silver Tree Citadel! I stand here before you, holding the seed of your future Tree, as it was handed out to me by the one that has guarded your life for such a long time. This seed is the promise of a new era, one where there’s no place for division and suffering! You have been cheated and lied and driven to hate your own kin. The Silver Tree died of broken heart and before that, I made a promise that I would protect its child and its beloved people from repeating such a sad history!
No one should be invisible ever again! No one should be denied the beauty of itself! No one should become an outcast for being different! Hate breeds only more hate and that endless spiral of hatred would eventually bring down and destroy us all! We cannot build our happiness on the misery inflicted to others! Such an edifice will only fall to pieces eventually.
You have built such a magnificent city, you have poured the beauty of your souls into the magic of your creation. But once you have allowed fear to live inside its walls, you’ve stripped of the beauty, emptied your lives and deprived the Silver Tree from the wonderful emotions that kept it alive and healthy. The Changers were your beautiful, unique children, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors and you allowed a hateful, maddened individual to trash them, to wrongly accuse them, to demonize them! But not all of you….
Luckily there were those who saw that this is terribly wrong. They have put their lives in jeopardy to save the innocents and ultimately to save you all from becoming the real monsters. I bow before them and I bow before you all. Please accept my humble offer of help in healing your wounds and in rebuilding your lives!
Finishing her speech, she looked around, trying to read the faces of people listening to her. She saw hope and support, she saw acceptance and deep relief. Some of the bystanders started to cheer and soon, the whole city square was booming of the joyful voices. That evening, the former Invisibles took Satoru’s body to their camp in the forest and incinerated their beloved leader under the moonlight. Cora stood there, holding Avik’s hand, supported by her friends, Petunia and Ogren, Savian and all the others. Satoru’s Shadowcat was sitting at Avik’s feet, guarding him closely. Cora took Satoru’s ashes and the next morning, she travelled to the highest point of the region to plant the Silver Seed.
She took out her knife and dug a hole in the ground. When it was deep enough, she took out the small box from her pocket and opened it. The Silver Seed was softly shimmering in the morning light. Cora carefully removed it from the box and gently placed it at the bottom of the hole, like she was laying a child to sleep. She then wiped clean the crystal knife and made a small cut on her palm. Three drops of blood sealed the connection between the young Queenie and the future Tree. But there was yet something else to do. She took out another little box and removed the strand of black hair from inside. She closed her eyes and kissed it, breathing in the painfully familiar scent, then placed the final gift next to the magical seed. With a quick move of her wrist, she cut her long , braided tail and placed the fiery-gold strands next to Satoru’s. She sprinkled the ashes of her beloved in the hole, then fill it up with soil.
“ Farewell, my love…”-she whispered as she pressed the ground firmly. She stood up, drew a protective circle around the place and walked away slowly. She has buried her heart along with seed of the new Tree that would grow and protect from now on the Land of the Invisibles.
-Cora! Are you ready? Can I come in?
The voice of Galaor was slightly nervous. Coming back abruptly from her reverie, Cora opened the door and embraced her father.
-I’m ready, Dad, don’t worry. Look!-she said and turned round. The sunlight was dancing around her, sparks bouncing off the slender figure dressed in a blue-green dress and tunic, embroidered with gold rimmed leaves. Cora’s fiery hair was combed into an intricately tressed tail held together by blue and green hair-pins. She took her father’s arm and left the room, walking confidently towards the Ceremony Hall, followed by her beaming mother and excited little sister. The rest of the family and friends were walking behind them, whispering to each other about their beautiful Queenie.
The high doors of the hall opened, letting in the ten young girls and their escorts into the spacious chamber where the most important Court members were waiting for them. Soon as everyone gathered inside, the sound of the Soul Bell started to ring, announcing the arrival of the Queen. It was a deep sound, seemingly coming from the body of the Tree around them, enveloping the audience in waves of soothing music,serene yet solemn. The hind wall of the room opened and the Queen stepped forward.
Cora watched her, mesmerized by the majestic gracefulness of the elderly woman. She was tall and lean, her face preserving the original beauty, despite the marks of so many ages. She was wearing a long, amber colored dress decorated with emerald vines and miniature blue butterflies. Her white hair was flowing freely around her shoulders, creating a halo around her face. The wings of the Queen were glossy and translucent, with purple-blue iridescence. But the most striking feature were her eyes: deep blue with a gaze that could see behind any pretense.Still, the appearance of the Queen was exhaling benevolence and kindness. People around her bowed respectfully as she walked towards the circle of blushing and nervous Queenies. The young girls bowed deeply and the Queen gestured them to rise so that she could see each of them. The First Lady joined her, carrying the silver tray containing the Royal Acts of recommendation.
Wise Matriarch of her little nation, the Queen stopped by each Queenie and handed out the enscripted roll, saying a few words of personally tailored wisdom and encouragement. She gently touched their forehead with her hand, sharing protective magic that was coming from the Tree. When the Queen finally stopped in front of her, Cora sensed the powerful aura surrounding her. They looked each-other for a moment and Cora felt her heart opening like a flower under the scrutiny of those eyes. The Queen put the roll in the hands of the girl and then she gently touched her forehead. Cooling sensation ran through Cora’s whole body and for a fraction of a moment, she felt a total communion with the Tree. She was the Tree from its intricate web of roots embracing the land, to the last trembling leaf up in the highest branch. The flow of magical sap was rushing through her veins and her heart was filled with emotions. There was awe and joy but also concern and surprisingly, there was fear. Something malevolent and menacing was lurking beyond the boundaries of their land….But what could that be?
“ Follow your fire, my child-she heard. Follow your fire….”
The whispers of the Queen brought the girl back to reality.
“I will-she murmured.
Music exploded around her as the ceremony resumed as the Queen left the Hall. Families, friends, people surrounded the Queenies, congratulating them, sharing their good wishes and hopes for their safe and victorious return. Cora regained her composure and smilingly joined her loved ones. After all, this would be their last family afternoon together for a while.
-Amita! Come, let’s take a flight!- she said and picking up her little sister, she flew out of the room, up to the top of the Tree. The giggling of the little girl filled the air.
When she opened her eyes she found herself standing inside a glowing, reddish orange mist. The only firm thing was the ground under her feet. No sound, no directions. Nothing, just the faintly pulsing mist. Then, a deep sigh and muffled sobs broke the silence and she turned abruptly towards the source of the sounds.
-Hey! Who are you?! What happened?!
In response a sudden vortex appeared inside the orange mist and it seemed like something was coming towards her.
“ Me and my big mouth…”-thought Cora.
Up before her stood a huge bulge of white fluff, hovering above the ground. The face of that ghost-like creature was childlike, with sad little dark eyes.
-My Tree is dying….-it veiled in a small voice. Nobody helps it and I’m frightened and lonely….
Cora’s heart sank.
-What Tree? Where is it?
But before the creature could answer her, a strong draft of bone-chilling wind push them apart and all she could hear was a faint cry.
-Help meeee……Don’t leave me alone…..!
-Don’t be afraid! I’ll find you!!-she shouted.
-Who do you want to find?-asked Bella. Did you have a nightmare? You were shouting in your dream.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed with a worried expression on her face. Cora shook her head with a reassuring smile.
-No, no Mom, it was just a silly dream. I am little nervous about the flight-she chuckled.
Bella sighed. She was nervous to. All of a sudden, she wished her daughter was an ordinary girl, not a Queenie. But it was too late for that, so she better helped Cora to get ready for the flight. She helped her dress up and served her favorite meal for breakfast. Galaor joined them, checking each strap on the flight suit and giving his final pieces of advice. Amita rushed in and jumped in Cora’s arms, covering her face with smacks. Hugs, kisses, tears and goodbyes shared, at the sound of the Core Bell, the Golden Doors of the Tree opened wide and the row of Queenies took flight in the crisp air of the morning, followed by the loud cheer of the gathered Arberiens.
-This will be a long year-whispered Bella, leaning close to Galaor and holding Amita in her arms.
-This will be a long year-thought the Queen, watching the colorful flying squad diminishing in the horizon.
The Golden Doors closed with a thud behind them, marking the beginning of a journey into the unknown.
Somewhere faraway, under another sky, a young woman was hurriedly preparing her confused and frightened son. The child couldn’t understand the reason why his mom woke him up at night and why she kept silencing him, why was he dressed up and why was she wiping her eyes on and on. He saw his mom taking a small bottle from a hiding and slip it in her pocket , then turning off the faint light. She took his hand and spoke to him in a muffled but firm voice:
-Avik, listen to Mommy. Don’t say a word outside. Just hold my hand and follow me in silence and if I say “run!” then you run and don’t look back! You understand?
-Yes, Mommy!- came the answer in a little voice.
The young woman unlocked the hind door and slipped into the night with her child. She wasn’t going to let him suffer the fate of the other Changers; nothing could frighten her off and she couldn’t care less for the so called fate of the Tree. If the survival of the Tree was coming at the price of the life of an innocent child then something was wrong. Very wrong. Avik was her son and she was determined to save him no matter what the White Guardians were saying. Her child was not going to become an Invisible, he wasn’t going to starve in the streets of the Silver City, unseen by the others, unable to get help, food, shelter. Her child was not going to be found lying lifelessly in a corner, pushed aside like a piece of garbage. The mind of the young mother was swirling with heavy questions.
How did they end up giving in to such horrors? She held the little boy closer and they hurried down the dark street. It was a long way to the northern wall and she wanted to get there before dawn.