‘Don’t run. I know you feel like running, but don’t’ said Sygfrieda, and I was amazed that she was able to tell that running was exactly what I was about to do. She couldn’t expect me not to run in a situation like this, and yet her words convinced me instantly. I felt as if I couldn’t take one single step forward, because if I did, nothing would stop me from running and only halting when I had Cam in my arms. ‘That’s okay, let’s just stay still for a moment’ said Sygfrieda.
‘Okay’ I answered and I froze with my eyes on what I thought was Cam. I could not stop looking at her, not now, not after not having seen her for so many hours and wondering where she was or whether she was okay. Sygfrieda instantly picked up on that and did not say a thing.
She said something to Rhosalíne, something else I couldn’t understand. It had to have something to do with Cam and those surrounding her, because Rhosalíne instantly looked to the east and nodded. ‘Well, I guess we will have to go towards them. There seems to be no other way. Are you okay with this? I don’t think they’ll do anything, but they might and we have to be prepared.’
‘If there’s no other way… then I have no choice. But what is the plan?’ I asked: the plan, if there were any, seemed clear to the both of them but not at all to me.
‘Oh, there’s no plan really’ said Sygfrieda, and I looked at Rhosalíne but she remained silent and emotionless. ‘We’re going to approach them and ask if we can have Cam back. They know us, so we are hoping this will be easy’ Rhosalíne cleared her throat ‘I am hoping this will be easy, Rhosalíne doesn’t care all that much.’ She then said something else to Rhosalíne that I, again, could not understand.
‘And what do I do?’
‘Keep quiet and just follow us. I am sure they wouldn’t want to know your opinion or what you have to say’ Rhosalíne answered me, talking to me for the first time ever since we started walking.
I followed the both of them. I could now see Cam and nearly smell her flowery scent. She didn’t seem all that upset: she was leaning against a tree trunk and the shadows were surrounding her, but they did not seem to frighten her. I had been so worried about her well being and about getting near her as soon as it was possible that I had entirely forgotten my deep curiosity about what those ghastly shadows were. Apparently, they were related to Sygfrieda and Rhosalíne, but they did not look like them: so what could they be? I was hoping my questions would be answered eventually. Faint sounds were coming my way: I could not understand what they were or where they came from, but it sounded like speech; as if they were all engaged in merry talking. We were now very close and the shadows already knew we were there, because they looked our way and did not seem surprised, not in the very least. Not even Cam. She saw me and she smiled at me: at least that is how I interpreted the upward curve I saw forming in her mouth. Again, I felt like saying something, doing something, or simply running towards her: but first I looked at Sygfrieda and she was looking at me, and I got the message. Now that I knew that Cam was fine (at least she appeared to be so), newly formed concerns that before had only been soaring below the surface of my consciousness gained form: was she mad at me? I could not blame if she were, after all she must’ve gone through… That on her face looked like a smile, but what if it weren’t?
We had reached the glade were they all were rounded up. Rhosalíne looked at Sygfrieda, as if telling her to go on. She then did, and I was surprised by how smooth it all seemed to be going: or maybe their way to show anger and hate was simply by looking plainly satisfied all the time. That would explain a lot about Rhosalíne’s face for the last hours. Sygfrieda talked to them for a while, and they all answered her in turns. There seemed to be no leader, no spokesperson: the only ones to not say a word were Rhosalíne, Cam and I. I looked at Cam and smiled, trying to get any information I could from her face only.
‘So is that what you are doing here?’ one of the shadows asked, pointing at me. It was an unusual but very effective way of making it clear the question was directed at me. I did not know, however, what it meant by “that”: “that” what? I hadn’t understood a word of their exchange.
‘Yes. Are you here to take Camyhlsh?’, another one of them answered. I was taken aback by the fact that he knew Cam’s name and that he could pronounce it perfectly: as if he had said that name many times before. I felt dizzy, and anxiety was taking control of my body, but still Cam smiled, as if their knowledge came as no surprise to her.
‘Yes’ I answered, trembling. I did not know whether I could ask them how they could know her name, how they could pronounce it so perfectly, and what else they knew about us. But then again, they seemed to be able to get an awful lot from just looking at someone, as Sygfrieda did.
‘Are you sure you do not know how we can know all of this?’ a third shadow answered. I still did not know exactly what they were and what were their real shape, but it was clear that taking the form of shadows had a purpose: and one that was fulfilled.
‘Yes, yes I am’ I said, after giving it a bit of thought. How could I? I had never heard of them. I had heard of a people living in a different land down south, and that many centuries before I was born my people had commerce and spiritual relations to them. But I could not tell whether those people I’d heard about was the one and same standing around me right then. And it did not explain how they all could tell whatever the fuck I was thinking about or feeling, and how they acted as if they had known Camyhlsh, my Cam, for ages.
‘At first we could not believe it, but it really does sound as if your people has gone through a lot of trouble to erase us from their past.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘We mean that it is quite funny how neither of you know who we are, or what you have done to us. Maybe funny isn’t the right word though: maybe the word would be “disrespectful”.’
I could not keep trace of who I was supposed to be talking to anymore, so I just answered them all at the same time: ‘I don’t know what you are talking about. I am sorry if we have ever done you any harm in the past, but Cam and I have nothing to do with it.’
‘Oh… oh, you do. You and Camyhlsh have a lot to do with that, as a matter of fact. We knew Camyhlsh was coming. We have known it for a long time already, and we were prepared.’
‘Prepared for what?’ I answered, my nerves getting ever more tense, my tone raising. ‘We just wanted to travel. That is all. I don’t understand what you want from us.’
‘But we do know what you wanted from us, and you are not going to get it. This land is ours. It has always been ours. We had heard Camyhlsh’s name in many a prophecy and when we sensed her approach, there was no doubt. How could you ever intend to take it from us, just the two of you? You are alone against all of us’ one of them said, and I was surrounded by a dense fog that came into being in a split second. I could not see anything: I couldn’t see Sygfrieda nor Rhosalíne, and not even Cam. It was getting harder and harder to breath and I now coughed, each cough worse than the last one. I could hear nothing but a high and loud noise, and Cam’s voice said “I tried to explain everything, I am sorry I failed. They still need to know if you’re not dangerous, Soph, and I know you are not, I know you are not, trust me… it’ll all go away soon, I promise” in a hurried manner, her voice trying to stand above it all. I got on my knees, my legs now dirt and wet against the muddy black soil: I closed my eyes and I tried to stay calm, inhaling and exhaling slowly and carefully, focusing in every good sentiment I could find inside myself. ‘I mean you no harm. I mean you no harm’ I started calmly saying as soon as I had stabilised by breathing pattern. ‘I really do not mean you harm, neither of us do. Neither of us’ I said at last, hoping those weren’t the last words I would ever speak. I felt a warm body against mine, hugging me and helping me get up as the fog faded. ‘She means it’ the body said. ‘We mean it. Will you let us go? I thought we had settled this already’ it said and it sounded angry: it was Cam’s voice.
‘Yes. We had talked to you, yes: but not to her.’
‘She knows nothing, for fuck’s sake! She knows even less than I do’ Cam replied, still sounding angry. I was almost offended, but it was entirely true that I knew much less than she must have known. ‘You took me for a reason, didn’t you? Then why couldn’t you just believe me?’
‘She could have been stronger than you. There was no way of knowing.’
‘Yes, yes, there was. If you did not feel it at first, why would you feel it now?’
‘She could have been pretending.’
There was a pause. We looked at each other: I was not sure what it was that I was supposed to be pretending. I got up, my chest suffering from a deep ache, my bones resettling inside my body. Cam said, frowning in confusion: ‘That makes no sense.’
‘That really does not make sense’ said Sygfrieda after a while, and she stepped forward to meet us.
The shadows spoke to Sygfrieda in their language, but she answered them in English: ‘I am not on their side, it is not as simple as that. I am on the right side. You are out of line. These centuries of boredom have done you no good.’
‘So you really believe they are not dangerous to us?’ one of them asked softly. They seemed to respect Sygfrieda’s opinion more than they trusted their own assumptions.
‘Not only do I believe that, I am also entirely sure they are harmless’ she said, then pointing at me ‘Specially this one. This one would not even be able to spot her partner in a meadow at daylight. That is how untrained she is. She is clearly, as we have now seen, more dangerous to herself and her loved ones than to others.’
Were they not making a strong case for my safety, I would have been very offended by the ways Cam and Sygfrieda used to describe me. They were right, but still it stung. The pain slowly faded and I tried to grasp the meaning of their conversation.
Sygfrieda, Rhosalíne, Cam and I stood up motionless, the non-fox nowhere to be seen, while the Others silently assented on something. ‘We will let them go, with the condition they must inform us of any trips they plan on taking on our land. Camyhlsh, mainly’ they said, and their pronunciation of Cam’s name was still perfect.
‘And how would we do that?’ I asked, looking at Cam. She came closer and murmured ‘Never you mind’ in my ear, and I promised myself I would make her explain it — and many other things — to me later on. ‘We’re free. That’s all that matters right now.’
I looked east and there were no shadows, nothing but ourselves and the glade and a soft breeze. Sygfrieda and Rhosalíne were by our left side. It must have been noon, and the sun shone directly upon us, its golden light highlighting Cam’s and the forest’s beauty: the enormous trees and their shapes being distortedly drawn on the dead ochre leaves on the ground, the mountains overlooking it all, everything in its right place. Cam noticed I wasn’t feeling as well as I was supposed to, since we were fine, and we were finally together again, and everything was okay, and we’d just learned so little about us but already so much in comparison to what we knew before. She didn’t need ask: she could tell it right away. She looked at me and said “Don’t you be so sad. It was a great adventure” and she then giggled, closing her eyes in order to better feel the sunshine.
We walked in silence for twenty minutes before we reached the road and our car there standing with its doors ajar. ‘You can come back and visit’ said Sygfrieda, turning her head to look at us. ‘It’d be nice. We haven’t talked to different peoples in a long time; I think it’s about time we change that’ she said, then looking at Rhosalíne: ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’
Rhosalíne nodded and said ‘Yes. I think it is a good idea. To let bygones be bygones… finally. Maybe that is what we all need right now’, then smiling at us, something I thought I’d never see.
‘What about them?’ I asked. ‘I feel like they would still have a problem with that.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that. I will deal with them. They would never dare disagree with me.’
Sygfrieda hugged me and I whispered many thanks to her; Rhosalíne looked at me and nodded. ‘Do you still feel like travelling?’ I asked Cam, turning to her. We still had the keys to Karl’s cabin, after all.
‘Yeah, why not?’ was the rhetorical question answer she gave me while sitting behind the steering wheel and waving goodbye at those standing amongst the trees. She hadn’t lost her will to drive. ‘Let’s go. I’m really hungry’ she said as I entered the car and we drove towards the mountains.