The fire was starting to get low and Chloe watched the glowing red embers as the cold wind fanned them.
She placed three more dry branches on the embers and sat watching as they first smoked a little then began to catch fire.
She began to wonder if the trees missed these branches and minded at all if they were burnt.
She left the fireside and move toward the end of the path where trees ended. Putting her head forwards she listened keeping perfectly still.
For a long while there was nothing and then she asked,”Do you mind if take and burn the old branches?”
The trees suddenly moved in the cold breeze, though more than before, and she listened and she heard their voices
murmur and she recalled their few words.
In a moment it flashed in her head such a scene, the trees holding out a lake with setting sun. The cold wind blew across it but the image engraved itself into her mind. Such a change from the darkness.
“Now recall”, said a tree, “Remember our words…..the way is long….there’s danger ahead…….but you can only……go on.” There was a pause and murmuring then a tree spoke again, “Find the red stone at the feet of Askel the great oak.”
“Follow the path….find the sun…..and green trees….deep into Gorm the valley deep….and up the steep slope of Shadenwell the forgotten mountain lost in the hills Tildon the great hills…….”.
The trees fell silent nothing more to say as if perhaps they had already said too much. Chloe scrambled to write what she could hold the fading light torch of her mobile. She wrote all she could recall.
They sat thinking for a while around the warmth of the fire. Chloe’s words sinking in and each with their own thoughts. Keith now had moved closer to the fire wanting to sit next to Sarah, but she moved away to get something from her bag and returned to another spot.
Joel spoke now, “when will it cease to be night? This constant darkness is so depressing and oppressive.” Keith wondered if he should mention the bird and the way the sky appeared at that time.
The group was low in spirit and Keith could feel their despair. He need to share so he discided to tell them.
“I saw a bird just over there,” he said pointing to where the thick trees ended between the pathway trees and the stark black rocks. The trees were more sparse here appearing like blackness on a black background.
“When I saw it I noticed the sky appeared to have a sunset, it lasted for a few moments and then it was gone.”
Keith hesitated to mention that the bird spoke to him, the group were now eyeing him and beginning to question him on why he should see this alone and no one else did.
“The bird spoke to me!” he interjected looking about him and expecting more comments. This time though they ceased to question and seemed more interested and keen to know what the bird has said.
Keith told them and looked over to where he saw the bird. It was strange for darkness began to split apart and for a second or two a bright light, like the moon peeped through. There was gasp for the whole group and a sense of joy for this brief sighting of light and a possible near dawning.
From the cave entrance, Keith stood looking back and now it seemed the trees were far away to the right and much more sparse than before. A heavy darkness still rested on them, though an eerie light shone behind them like a previously unseen sunset.
Keith was no artist but the time there waiting and watching made him sketch what he saw. He wondered if that was a setting sun and if so how it could set without first giving light – and warmth.
The others were now stirring from their long periods of sleep and one of them had started a fire from the numerous dry wood around this flat area.
Keith liked to think it was the setting sun, it gave him hope and a little comfort. He recalled the words the little bird had told him and looked about quickly to see if he could it again.
To the right of the picture, the dense darkness of the trees held their position and Keith choose not to shown them just a brief indication to remind him (as if he needed reminding, of this!).
Sarah caught his eye distracting from his thoughts and his picture, now complete, but she held his gaze.
“Keith! What yer doin’ there?” she said looking back as she walked away.
Keith had not mentioned it to anyone, nor had he taken any notice of it. Hunger and tiredness had blurred his mind and nothing seemed that strange to him anymore.
It was at the place where the tree covered pathway joined the exposed level area from off which lay the cave’s entrance. The trees for a short length of the pathway grew less densely and it was here Keith thought he saw something moving in the tree close branches. It appeared best in his peripheral vision and seemed to vanish if he directly at it.
For a moment Keith saw it there and it appeared like the darkness had been replaced with light. Just for a moment and in that moment he saw it was a bird. One of the birds maybe that they had heard singing in the darkness. Not it chirped a familiar song. Then without a hesitation turned to face Keith and said, “Beware of the cave and now this. All must enter the cave but none can go back until they reach the end. ” The bird chirped a little more as if clearing its throat and then continued, “Beware of the cave and now this, you will never be alone in there but often wish you were alone.”
Keith for a moment could not believe what he saw and heard but also in another moment parked it and allowed his thoughts to go with those of the others now glad to be free of the trees and finding the cave.
Keith now wondered what he had heard and a little bird told him.
The trees whispered to the five travellers, though only Rowan had ears to hear. Far from the fear of threat heightened by the dark night and overbearing trees and their shadows. Rowan told the others to be quiet and let her hear and soon she could make out the words.
The trees creaked and cracked and their leaves and small twigs rustled in the unfelt breeze. Rowan posed to listen and it did seem to her that the trees were saying something, but nothing made sense. She heard, ‘forwards’ then ‘dang’ that she thought was ‘danger’ but there was no discernable pattern to it.
The trees were indeed speaking, and no ones for excessive talk, they kept their words few.
Trees line the path and murmur about the travellers making their way along the path. Speck looks up and into the trees above the dark starless sky beyond, blackness on darkness. They all stand still now listening and it is here that Rowan says,”Ssssh! Listen!”
Could it be the trees are speaking? What have they said and does that help or threaten?
The only way was forwards, the path behind seemed to close in so dark. They walked on now conscious that time was only by their watches or mobiles. Keith looked at his mobile and saw 6:43 pm and a red bar showing 5% battery left.