Morning came too soon.
Appearing hardly rested, the coachman seemed distracted as they enjoyed a hearty start to the day, courtesy of the Innkeeper’s wife. The Nereid had come to him, in the depth of a sleepless night, and the hours passed quickly with her words. Words of anger. Words of fear. But; mostly; words of sorrow.
There was a time, so long ago, that memory of it remains only in tales for children. Once upon that time, all of Nature worked together. Once upon that time, Man knew us, and we knew Man. We walked the woods and hills together. We toiled and tilled together. We sheltered and protected him. He was of us.
Then: the Great Unfolding. Everything changed.
We were forced, gradually, to withdraw into shadow. The Bride of Fire faded first; her children dance no more in open ecstasy. The children of Earth too, sunlit no more; scattered in remote wooded dell, secluded lofty fortress, and, among their brethren, in deepest mountain cavern. The song of Water, now so rarely in beauty heard, faded as we sought out gentle places of hiding. The children of Air fared worst of all… so few places of refuge…
We are still here. Small in number. Watching. Tending. Toiling. Willing him back to us. It can never be too late…
They mounted the carriage later than they should. The residence of the exiled Fisher lay many miles hence. Their goal: the ancient fortress of Eternal Isle, sitting amid the great rapids feeding the Lake of Many Suns. The journey there is invariably pleasant, regardless of weather. High above the waters of the lake, the trail winds through dappled forest and rocky townships scattered among the Sentinels of the Ancients.
Seeking the indulgence of the Fisher, the four descended to the head of the falls. The Maiden and the Crone remained above the bank, communing with ancestors unknown, whilst the Mother dropped to the water’s edge. Images and forms swept past on the current. A lone, twisted pine gently stretched on the breeze and dipped a single frond…
Only women are admitted to the mysteries of the Triune Temple. Three, triple pillared halls, each connected, separately, one to the other. A place of enduring power, set apart in the landscape, housing the Vessels of Luanistyn. At this time of the year, the sacred content of the Vessels continuously overflows, flooding all of Creation with the Blessings thereof. Transporting the Nereid would require that outpouring to be temporarily stopped; the Powers in the Temple, closed down.
The three enrobed in the precinct, and prepared for the task ahead. The driver sifted through their assorted instruments; not expecting such a task to be thrust upon them, they would need to improvise. From all that was available, each selected a sound most pleasing to their ear. Three brands were lit and placed atop the Eastern pillar of the North Gate.
The Crone, as Air, entered first, making her way to the Western Hall; the Mother entered next, as Water, and made her way to the Southern Hall; the Maiden, as Earth, entered last and made her way to the Eastern Hall; the coachman remained outwith, tending Fire and keeping watch of the Gate.
Placing protection on the altar of their respective Hall, the three began the ritual in unison. The vibrations of Air, strong and loud; the vibrations of Water, so far off, yet high and clear; the vibrations of Earth, faltering and low. The Temple lights dimmed, time slowed, the Vessels faltered. All of Creation paused…
An hour later, the Temple now in complete Darkness, the coachman rang a high pealed bell to call the Rite to end. The Maiden, the Mother and the Crone slowly made their way to the Gate, exiting, in order, as the first of the brands burned out. Within the Temple, but five minutes had passed.
The coachman dismounted at the bridge, made his way down the bank, and dropped to the rocks. The Nereid was sluggish, and much smaller than he expected. For this he was grateful. Had she appeared as the night before, it would have been impossible to transport her in his makeshift container. The Fisher twisted down, stretched, and gently dipped the Vessel…
His head spun. Temple Time closed over him and everything stopped. The Nereid rose, moved carefully across the void between them, and settled into the Vessel. Nausea and weakness overwhelmed him. Sealing the container, the driver stumbled back to his coach.
The Mother accepted the Vessel. She alone could carry it, and its precious cargo, for the rest of its desperate journey.
They planned to stop at the Refuge by the Great Pool of Offering, where they could give thanks in sight of the Grand Stele. Already the outpouring from the Vessels of Luanistyn was building up behind them. They would have to hurry.
Having barely reached the Place of Meeting, the road suddenly filled. A vast tide of humanity; carts and coaches, flocks and herds; refugees fleeing, they knew not what, all moving in the opposite direction. With little choice, they stopped and waited as the exodus clamoured around them.
The Priestess of the Offering, in the midst of closing the Refuge, looked up as the coach drew to a halt. She welcomed the group in, without complaint, administering the Sacred Rites, and refusing payment for her service.
Parking the coach as close to the Bounding Bridge as safety would allow, the coachman and the Mother prepared for the long hike to the Healing Pool. It was here, in purest, mountain fed water, that the Nereid could soonest recover. The Maiden and the Crone, unable to travel such a distance, held vigil.
The coachman and the Mother, clutching her precious cargo, crossed the perilous gorge to the sweet meadow beyond. In the far distance, their rocky goal, from where the faint sounds of falling, tumbling, dancing water could be heard. The Nereid slept.
The bear, which usually resided in the falls, was nowhere to be found. Luanistyn watched from his mountain. As the coachman lit a brand, the Mother took the Vessel to the water’s edge, and gently lowered the Nereid into the stream. Slowly, she woke, taking in her new surroundings. A long, hesitant, pause. Then, with hardly a stir, she was gone. The fallen centurion smiled as a stony bear cub pulled itself, glistening, from the pool.
They took their time, basking in the last of the sunshine, as they made their way back to the coach. The Maiden and the Crone stood in the roadway, waiting. Unknowing, they had completed that which they had, unwittingly, come to achieve.
The Land still had much healing to do, and her inhabitants would take even longer to recover. But the three eagles, which would come in the days following, brought a message of hope, alleviating many of their fears. The worst that Man can achieve, Nature shall surely endure.