|Writing Prompt #587|
The Wandering Forests of Llovendt were a legend even before The Dust came. People told stories of them in taverns where they shared cool beverages together: “Sure, you always had a place to camp, but the problem with having a creature with trees growing out of its back was finding a big enough river to water them thoroughly!”
That was why my father sent us off.
Yes, the Wandering Forests of Llovendt are more than just a legend, and no matter what anyone says, they were not the cause of The Dust. My clan could see it coming, though. We had all traveled to the western mountains for a gathering, a reunion, and the Eldest Lloven informed us all that calamity was coming to the land. She said it would last for a life age, and that if we did not prepare ourselves, our lives and our forests would be lost forever.
My family had traveled together with several other groups as long as I could remember. It was said that those who saw us from afar told tales of earthquakes, forests rolling and cresting as though they were waves in the ocean.
When my father first announced his plan, I objected. My younger brother glared at me for my boldness, but as firstborn my father did not mind my speaking out. “Why not go to the ocean?” I had protested. “Surely there would be enough water for all the Llovendtea there.”
My father shook his head. “The Lloven are not seafarers,” he argued. “We must all go our separate ways and find water for ourselves where we may. Perhaps at the end of this coming disaster, we may meet again, and travel together once more.”
I frowned and bid my family goodbye. My brother tried to hide his tears as he and Tor’ven started northward, but I saw them streaming down his face. He could never hide his tears from me, whether they were caused by a sharp word from another Lloven or by a fall he had taken while climbing Tor’ven’s massive foreleg. “Don’t cry,” I would tell him when he was small. “Tor’ven will always take care of you.”
It was not as though I was not sad myself as I watched my family and friends walk away from me that day. My father’s wisdom would most likely save a good deal of us, if not all, no matter how I disagreed with him. It was a fact that without water to sustain our Llovendtea, they would die, and all of us with them.
I traveled south. My father and mother went east, determined to stay together until they were forced to separate. I had other plans, but I wanted my father to think that I was “doing what was best for myself and Do’lvah,” as he had instructed me, so I shouted to one of my friends that the Great South River would be my first destination.
I walked, keeping in the shade Do’lvah had always been able to provide for me. We walked two days and rested one, sleeping through the heat of the day, that seemed hotter than it ever had before. Do’lvah did not seem bothered. As we descended the mountains, we left scenes of greenery behind us. Do’lvah’s “slumbering brothers,” as my mother called them, seemed to be losing much of their plant growth. Could the ruin be starting already? I wondered.
Brown were the plains and the farmland that should have greeted us. The only green for miles were the trees, towering on Do’lvah’s back. And even they were looking forlorn. The third day after the mountains were behind us, I ascended in my usual way to the sanctuary Do’lvah kept for me, watched as ever by his huge black eye. “Don’t worry,” I assured him as he settled down. “We’ll be seeing the river in another day or two.”
But we did not.
I slept twice more before the Great South River greeted our eyes, and it was no longer great, nor was it a river. Do’lvah made a sound of unease as he bent to drink, and I patted his rough cheek in sympathy. We rested by the stream until he was ready to go on, and by then the stream was not much more than a trickle.
That evening we endured the first dust squall. Do’lvah again made sounds of anxiety, but I believe they were more on my account than his. I pulled my robe down over my face and could not see where we were going. Do’lvah seemed undisturbed for himself, and grew more comfortable as I drew closer to his side. This was dangerous as he does not often know where he will place his foot when he lifts it, but we know each other’s ways so well that even with my head covered, I could dodge his heavy limbs while still continuing our journey.
I had never traveled to the western extremes before, but when dust squall ended I did not recognize the country. Despite my attempts to keep the river on my left, we had wandered away from it. Or perhaps it could not stand against the destructive powers of the squall. That evening I stood near Do’lvah’s head and stared down at where the riverbed should have been.
The Great South River was no more. The Dust had conquered it.
A week after the squall, I awakened to see movement on the western horizon. The sea already? I thought. It was not yet the sea, but a member of my clan coming toward us. Do’lvah got to his feet, moving more quickly in anticipation of fellowship with another Llovendtea.
Unfortunately, it was Velah, one of my least favorite cousins. Do’lvah had always gotten on very well with Bar’relig, however, and the two Llovendtea cordially butted heads and settled down next to one another, Do’lvah’s still green back contrasting Bar’relig’s strangely reddish brown one.
“We got lost,” Velah admitted immediately. “The river that’s always been on the western side of the mountains has been spirited away by all this dust.” She coughed. “I did not walk for two days last week. Bar’relig walked instead, and I stayed safe above. That storm was awful.”
“You rode while he walked?!” I gasped.
“What was I supposed to do?” Velah growled in response, “choke to death? Bar’relig’s fine, you can see that yourself. He’ll be even better once we get to the Great South River.”
“How could you?” was all I could say. She knew as well as I that abusing Bar’relig like that would bring about his death. The longer he carried passengers while going without water, the worse off he would be. Only children were allowed to ride, and Velah could not claim that as her excuse, as she was several years older than I.
“The river will restore him,” she said confidently, patting his reddish side.
I stood, a feeling of contempt washing over me. “The river can do no such thing, Velah Lloven,” I informed her. “The river is gone. The squall defeated it. You and Bar’relig will have to hope for another source to save you.”
“Gone!” she leaped up. “But we’ll die! What can we do?”
“You can go further south, but I do not know what good that will do you. Bar’relig does not have much of a chance if your idea of riding out a storm is to endanger the only thing that will help you stay alive. Perhaps you should think about him before you think of yourself.”
I would have left immediately, but I knew that Do’lvah was enjoying Bar’relig’s presence and did not know when he would next get to enjoy the privilege of spending time with his kin, so I retreated to his back and left Velah to think in silence. I could swear that sometime during the night I heard her weeping and apologizing to Bar’relig, but I cannot be sure. We parted ways the next morning.
“Thank you for your words, Teleenah,” she said, glaring at the ground. “And for your warning about the river. We will try our luck elsewhere. Goodbye, Do’lvah.” Do’lvah snorted a farewell, and my cousin turned south, leading her Llovendtea from the ground where she belonged.
I was uneasy for several days after parting. I wondered if any of us would survive this blight, or if the Lloven and their Walking Forests would be lost forever. Surely there are few of us as foolish as Velah, I consoled myself. “I would never endanger you like that,” I shouted up to Do’lvah. He grunted in reply, and I knew he understood.
As we got closer to our destination, I started to see ordinary people. They stared at me and at Do’lvah, pointing and gaping at his size and my ease in walking so near him. One day I spotted a woman with a basketful of fish. I wanted to ask her how far we had left to go, but I had never studied the common tongue with any interest, as many others of my clan had. “FISH?!” I managed to say, pointing at her basket. She nodded with a look of horror up at Do’lvah. “WATER?” I continued, pointing west. She nodded again, more emphatically, and moved quickly away down the road, as though Do’lvah was a dangerous beast that would devour her if I gave the order. I looked smilingly up at him, he clicked his tongue, and we continued our journey.
I wasn’t worried for myself or Do’lvah. He had gone without water for much longer than three weeks before, and that was without having a strong drink at the river a week after drinking deeply from a spring in the mountains. I was as cheerful as ever, and tried not to let foreboding creep into my heart. It would do neither of us any good to give in to despair.
As I climbed up to rest the fourth night after “asking directions,” I could see no more brown in the distance. The horizon looked distinctly blue. I informed Do’lvah of this, and his snort seemed to convey that he would believe it when he saw it.
Two days later, he did.
The sea stretched out before us as far as we could see. For a moment, I was afraid that Do’lvah would rush ahead, leaving me behind in his haste to get to the water. He did move a little quicker, and I kept ahold of the lead even though it seemed more that he was leading me than the other way around. It still took half a day to reach the water, but neither of us minded. We did not stop to sleep when we should have, and this caused our mistake to be even more disheartening.
Around noon on the day I would normally have been resting, Do’lvah and I plunged into the water together. His raucous splashing raised the alarm of some nearby sea birds, and they squawked indignantly as he bent down for a drink. I lowered my own head at the same time, savoring being cool and dust-free for the first time in weeks when I heard Do’lvah squeak.
Normally, Llovendtea only snort, or grunt, or click their tongues to communicate. Squeaking was reserved for moments of extreme happiness or surprise. For a moment I assumed that Do’lvah was happy to be ankle deep in as much water as he could drink. The next, the water hit my own tongue, and I spat it out in disgust.
Do’lvah was gazing at me reproachfully. I looked up at him, baffled. “What is wrong with this water?” I asked him. “Has The Dust spoiled it, too? Salt is all well to season meat, but water…” Do’lvah snorted. “I didn’t know,” I assured him. The splashing was deafening as he made his way to the beach and lay down. “I’m sorry,” I told him, watching the water stream off his legs. “I’m as disappointed as you are.”
I climbed onto his back and said goodnight, and was almost asleep when he shifted position, nearly throwing me out of my hammock and off of his back, which he had not done since we were both very young. I opened my mouth to protest when I realized the point he was making: the fright he had given me was just as bad as my leading him to water that he couldn’t drink. I remained silent.
Though I had disagreed with my father before parting, I had never thought to ask him why he insisted that we separate instead of traveling together toward the sea. At the time, I had only held firm to the belief that surely we would all be better off together, and that no body of water could better sustain us through a long drought as the sea would.
Now I understood. Worse still, Do’lvah did, too.
In the morning, I looked him over. Do’lvah did not look as bad as Bar’relig had when we met. Though he was mainly brown, there were still hopeful areas of green dotting his form. And despite the fact that the water tasted disgusting, it was still water. I knew that if things got bad enough, we could both still sustain ourselves if we got desperate enough. I just hoped that we would find a river first.
And so, with the sea on our left, we turned northward.
Some days, we waded through the water, Do'lvah's lead stretched between us as I splashed through the shallow water and he preferred the deeper waters. Occasionally he dipped his head in for a sip, but I knew it was never enough to quench his huge thirst.
I had never realized that the sea was so big. I have traveled all of my life, and land does not seem that vast to me, compared to that blue expanse that stretched forever. There were days I wondered if it would ever end. I had never wondered when a journey would end before; I had always known where my destination was. During that long trek by the sea, my only destination was the end of the sea, and my only plans for reaching it were to turn around and follow the never ending salt water back the way we had come.
One evening before Do’lvah and I settled down to sleep, I turned my gaze inland, giving my eyes a break from watching the waves crashing on the beach. But the land rolled and crashed as well. I wiped the dust from my face and looked again. I let out a cry of surprise and pulled on Do’lvah’s lead. He echoed my cry with a squeak of his own and this time, he did leave me behind. I ran as fast as I could toward the Llovendtea I had seen, and so did he. As Do’lvah reached them, I heard the happy squeaks of the other Llovendtea, and the shouts of her keeper, who had let go of his own lead and was running to me.
“Teleenah!” he shouted, and I recognized his voice and rushed forward into his arms.
“Sillendz!” My brother and I embraced as though we had not seen each other for years. Nearby, Do’lvah was greeting Tor’ven in a similar Llovendtean way. They rubbed their noses together, clicking their tongues happily.
“How did you get here?” my brother asked as we walked back toward our charges. “I thought you were headed south!”
“We did, for a while,” I said. I told him about the loss of the Great South River, about Velah and Bar’relig, and about the discovery we made that first day at the sea.
Sillendz laughed. “Tor’ven tried that too, but when we first saw the sea, she’d just had a drink. She was surprised, but not as disappointed as she would have been.”
“Do’lvah was pretty angry with me,” I said, smiling at the memory.
“He won’t be soon,” my brother told me. “There’s a river not far from here, and a settlement. Tor’ven and I have been staying there. We help their hunters capture meat to eat, and they share what they have with us.”
“But hasn’t The Dust reached them yet?”
“Yes, but it does not seem as bad as in other places. Before we came here, all we saw were dry, dying plants and windswept rocks. But the river is much wider and more sustaining here. They still have a few trees. I’ve told them all about our family, about Llovendt, and about how we all separated because of The Dust. They’re very generous; I’m sure they’ll let you stay.”
“But two Llovendtea, won’t we drain their resources?”
He smiled. “Come and meet them. We can decide what to do after Do’lvah has a drink.”
Tor’ven looked just as healthy as she had the day we all went our separate ways, perhaps healthier. I hoped that in time Do’lvah would regain the health he had lost, as well. He still didn’t look as bad as Bar’relig had, but he looked rather haggard as he walked along happily next to Tor’ven.
Over the next few days, Do’lvah spent as much time as he could with Tor’ven next to the river, while Sillendz and I shared more tales of our adventures while we were apart. I got to know some of the people from the nearby settlement, and enjoyed their company. I enjoyed it more when Sillendz was there to translate, since my conversations about water and fish were not terribly interesting.
“The Wandering Forests of Llovendt have never stayed in one place for very long,” I lectured my brother one afternoon about six weeks after Do’lvah and I arrived.
“And why did we leave Llovendt?” my brother asked, an echo of our father’s tone in his voice.
“Because we could no longer stay,” I answered, feeling as though I was a child again, reciting the history of our people over and over again so that I would never forget it.
“But… we can stay here,” my brother pointed out.
“This is… not Llovendt,” I said, frowning slightly.
“Maybe we could make it Llovendt. There is plenty of water and room for them. We could make a new Llovendt. Perhaps there will be enough time for some brand new Llovendtii.”
I gazed sharply at Do’lvah and Tor’ven. They were distantly related enough that they could produce offspring together. That sort of thing was only possible when the Llovendtea stayed in one spot long enough to raise their young, which did not happen often. Thankfully, they were long lived, and often, they were passed down to younger members of the tribe when the elders grew to old to care for them. Do’lvah had been in the care of my grandmother until I came of age.
“New Llovendtii?” I heard myself saying. It was a glimmer of hope in this paradise that The Dust had not managed to penetrate. “Perhaps it might be time to stop wandering.”