It was dim when I woke, the deep shade of a forest, not of night. I could see, so, since it was my job to search and seek, that is what I did. I walked along the path in the dimness, not really knowing what time of day it might be or what direction I was going.
I believed that the water and the valley I had seen was on my left, but I knew little more. I hoped to come out to where I could see the sky, but I walked longer and then twice longer than I thought I should have.
I was frustrated. I felt sure I had not missed a turning, but it seemed that I had. I remembered walking past the steps rising out of the stream-bed and went back, now looking to my right where I expected to see the open vale.
This turning was more secret, but there it was, over grown and laid so that it could easily be missed by someone who didn’t know the way.
Then too, it was overgrown and I had to pick my way through invading brambles. Slowly and painfully I made my way until fighting through a particularly thick stand of ropey, spine studded, whips I stepped out into a riot of flowers.
I wondered why I had not smelled them, but one moment there was only green leaves and pain, then the next I was beneath the sun, it was past mid-day, and surrounded by wild flowers of so many kinds that I could not ever remember seeing their like.
I looked back along my way and saw only a green wall of bramble-thorn. I had a queasy feeling, I feared a magic other than that of growing things, but soon enough I found where I had come. I tore at the brambles and pulled them aside to mark my way. I looked around a little to get my bearings so that I could find this path again.
The green wall ran off, bending away each way. Whereas I had come out into flowers, one way seemed blocked, or rather filled in with a riot of big leaves and huge yellow flowers. The other way was walled off with smaller trees and the brambles had made inroads, out from the green wall was a tall grass like plant that was above my head.
I tore out a few of these big stocks with what seemed to be grain pods on the sides instead of at the top like the oats and wheat with which I was familiar. I placed my uprooted stocks against and holding open my path. I marked the smaller trees and my hole into the bramble.
I guessed the water was through the tall stocks and having marked well my exit in my mind I began to make my way through the tall grass.
In truth the going was easy. So big were these things that they seemed to dominate looked at in depth, but they were not solid like a field of grain. The big leafy, yellow flowered plants grew around and even climbed upon the stalks and everywhere there were flowers. There were other plants I knew, rooting plants, and there were pod plants that climbed the big stalks like the yellow flower plants.
All chaos and randomness, but it dawned on me that most or all of these plants might well be good for food. I looked around me and could see nothing, but the big stalks and slight sign of my passing behind me. It seemed I was lost in some mad man’s garden. Not many steps later the the tasseled stalks thinned and I could see ahead to a stacked stone wall.
Beyond the wall was turf, some of the plants I had seen were growing, widely dispersed, in what I guessed were pats of old manure. And beyond that, cat-tails and then the water. Now I could see the fall down a rocky tumble of the stream I had navigated. At the top of the cascade was the grill-work, the first strangeness, I had recognized as such.
I looked along the bank, following the line of cat-tails to where. . .
. . . I gasped, there across a section of lake was the hill I had seen in my dream, my dream flight, my seeing. I remembered myself, I was in the midst of some one’s place, I knew not who or whether they would want a visitor. I quickly slipped over the stone fence.
Of course they did not want visitors. I lay next to the wall thinking hard on my next move. I had found the watch place above the stream, the cunning back cut trails, the circling, bramble girdled, wood all of these spoke of secrecy, not welcome. But I had wandered far, I had stumbled around and met no resistance save deception, and the watch place, well that was moldering in long abandoned disuse.
I had given myself a shock. But this place seemed to me, abandoned, and yet a wonder that needed exploration. I determined to press on, but more carefully. If there were jealous defenders, I would try not to arouse them.
I moved back into the mixed planting where I could see the wall but not much else. Moving along it brought me through into places that seemed even less cultivated and more wild. I found another stand of trees like the ones I had seen at a distance. These were heavy with fruit, but beneath them there were wasted fruits and a whole forest of seedlings springing from the fallen waste.
Just beyond this the water widened still more, coming right to my wall with no margin, and beyond it was the large central mound. Right near to me was a smaller mound. I determined to see if I could find my way into it. I was nervous being so exposed, but passing around the bulk of the thing I found a stone lined cut with intricately decorated beams bracing them. Looking closer I saw that the stone wall had carvings as well, here and there, but the wood was completely covered.
The cut was stopped at the back with more carved wood and more dressed stone. There seemed to be two great doors positioned in the middle of the space, but in one of them was a much smaller portal and this one was ajar, whether the wall was just a wall or in truth a huge gateway, I could not tell.
I stepped into the cool interior, it was dark and I could not see anything but a little of the stone floor lit by the opened door. The stone was very well dressed, tightly fit, there seemed to be gouge marks that ran from stone to stone as if they had been scoured by the same heavy hand.
Leaving the entrance I examined the walls. The drawings there were marvelously fascinating. There were pictographs of things I could make out, salmon, boar, deer, and there was much more that I could not imagine what they might be. These carvings, all together on the rocks and carved into the heavy beams, meant nothing to me, I could make no sense of any of it, and finally gave it up.
I looked around the small hollow from my vantage at the front of the cut. Here and their were sections dominated by trees bearing fruit. The rest seemed strangely random. Not far from me was the hill. I gazed about me for signs of habitation I had missed, but finding none I walked toward the hill that I felt must be central to explaining this strange place.
I came on a hedge of sorts, low lying and dense. I inspected it for thorns and finding none, I pushed through it. Again I was presented with a variety of plants that looked like food plants I had gathered myself. Seeing what looked like a sweet root plant, if perhaps a bit larger than the wild ones I knew and loved, I pulled it from the ground and found what I’d expected. It tasted sweet and earthy and I promised myself I would keep my eyes open for more.
I glanced over at the hedge and was surprised to see clusters of mushrooms at its base, shaded by the hedge. They looked good to eat, but I left them alone. Near at hand was a big plant with small white flowers like the eating tuber plants we found when I was younger. Lately they had not been seen and I confess I missed the lumpy things. I grabbed hold of the bushy plant and heaved. I fell, showering myself with dirt, but when I had recovered I examined the plant I had uprooted. Around the base of it were many small red tubers. I dug around in the disturbed earth where I’d uprooted the plant and found more and larger tubers.
If only I had some wild onion, I thought, and there, not many steps away, were spikes of green just like what I sought. Though young and small they were indeed what I’d hoped to find. I stowed all the delicacies I found and started thinking about fire and a way to start one.
The day was fading fast in the tree ringed hollow so I made a dash for the top of the hill to have a look before all the light was gone. On top of that grassy knoll was a low circle of stones. I looked around and could only marvel that such plenty seemed abandoned. I remembered my need for firewood. The orchard with the spoiled fruit might have something but I crossed the stone circle to see if there might be something even closer that would provide the needed wood for my feast. I saw how a little stream bent around the hill and where it widened out into another little pond.
I stepped again into the middle to look once more for fallen wood. I felt the ground give a little. Sometimes one can find a burrow of coneys in that way and a whole group will erupt from their ruined home. I stomped down a bit harder, with the intent to cave in what had given but slightly. I heard a crunching and a dry snap and felt myself falling. I desperately tried to spread myself to catch at the edge of the cave in I realized I had caused, but it seemed to me that the whole of the top of the hill, at least as far as I could reach, was falling into darkness. There was a roaring as of a great wind and then I knew nothing for some time.
I guess this isn’t the conclusion yet. Stay tuned for the Deer Riders, the Conclusion, part 2.