The mountain air brought me needed refreshment. It was a warm day but with a breeze, and the breeze added perfect balance to the warm day. The feeling of the day, along with its setting, seemed to be speaking to me, telling me to rest. The setting was a small mountain that didn’t take much effort to climb. Near the top of the mountain was a plateau, medium in size.
I sat on the edge of the plateau and continued to listen to what the day was telling me. I closed my eyes and felt the perfect breeze push itself slightly against my skin. I attempted not to dwell on any worries and instead focused on my own present condition. Initially my mind was blank as only my physical body experienced feeling — warm air, cool breeze, warm air, cool breeze. Eventually, however, the blankness left and I began to feel in my mind again. What I felt initially was freedom. This freedom, however, came from rejection: the active rejecting of what had previously caused me to fall was bringing me more freedom than what I’d ever felt before.
How long will this last, though? I thought. What if this wears off and I fall back into the trap of pride?
I attempted to rid myself of these questions, not wanting to think upon any potential pitfalls. So I reverted to thankfulness by dwelling on how I had been preserved and protected by the God of the Cause. But the other thoughts continued to persist: What if things get hard? What if the Leaders become so entrenched in stopping me that I have no choice but to fall back to my old ways? And again, I fought back against these undesirable thoughts.
This constant back and forth did bring me to two realizations. The first — active rejection brought me freedom, a seeming paradox but one worth pursuing. The second — worrisome thoughts were best overcome by practicing thankfulness; another path to pursue, even if also not fully understood.
The night brought me to a place of sleeping directly under the stars again. And my being on a mountain ridge brought me closer to those stars. The night was cool but the heavenly lanterns brought me inward warmth and, before drifting off to sleep, I lay awake staring at them as they danced in the sky. While laying there, I wondered if they were talking to me. I wondered if they were trying to convey a message, and perhaps I just wasn’t mature or wise enough to understand the message.
Also I wondered: if there were more people in the world who did know what the stars were saying, would there be less turmoil? Would there be more spiritual guidance and would troubles be fewer and pain scarce. I felt that they had to be up there for a reason, believing that the God of the Cause had placed them there for our guidance. And yet, we ignored them. We enjoyed and took pleasure in their beauty at times, but we mostly took them for granted and as simple objects hanging in the sky for no particular reason.
It was in the midst of this wondering that I did eventually drift off into another body. This body was still me and I knew that this new realm I was entering was not real, and yet it still seemed quite real. It was real because many of the same issues I had faced in the actual realm were still in existence in this one, and sometimes, in this new body, new dilemmas joined right alongside those old and present ones. But despite how badly circumstances were allowed to get to in this new world, I never died in it. I took strange comfort in this. I was dreaming again.
This particular journey into the dream realm was not much different than the many dreams I had encountered before, however, this one was much shorter than usual, because while I had gradually entered it, my exit from it was abrupt. I suddenly was overcome with a distinct feeling of alarm. A sense within me screamed at me to wake back up and re-enter the real world. Along with experiencing this sense, I also heard a noise, one coming from the real world. My sleepy state quickly turned to alertness as my eyes quickly opened. The noise had been made from behind a thicket of brushes not far from where I had made my bed.
Being a warrior, I was accustomed to sleeping outside and had encountered countless noises during my sleep, these noises often being some lurking animal. These, along with other songs of nature’s night, I had learned to sleep through with no issue. But this particular one wasn’t an animal, and nor was it a singing bug or swaying tree. Since my instincts screamed at me to awake, I determined that this was a human; a realization that caused the alarm within me to intensify and increase. Was it the enemy? Had they followed me here? And if it was them, how many were there? And how would I be able to fight them off? Or was it someone from my own army? Had the Leaders become so distrusting of me that they were now sending spies to look after me? Or maybe it was my brother or someone sent by my brother to guard after me?
I grabbed my sword and quickly debated with myself over whether I should call out or wait for the person or persons to make the first move. I decided upon the first option, not feeling like I had the advantage of waiting. And so, I got to my feet and prepared for a potential fight.
“Who’s there!” I called out, in a demanding tone.
Immediately there was rustling in the bushes but no voiced answer was given. It sounded, thankfully, like there was just one person. I waited a little longer. Still nothing, and I then began to believe that I was at an advantage. This person, whoever it was, had been caught in the act, and I was sure that the person was now at a crossroads of either revealing himself to me or running away.
I began to inch closer to the brush, sword still in hand; I had to assume that the person in hiding also had a weapon. If he were to jump out from the brush, I already had in my mind how I would make my first strike, and I was growing confident that if a fight was necessary I would win that fight. This person seemingly had the same belief because they did not jump out. I wasn’t going to let him off, however, as I was going to force an answer one way or another. So I crept closer to the brush.
“Who’s there?” I said, this time asking instead of demanding, and in a much quieter tone.
Still no running but also no answer. If I had to, my mind was made up in that I was going to chase after this person if they were to attempt running away; in my years of battle, there had rarely been anyone who I couldn’t catch while in pursuit. My intention, though, wasn’t to kill right away. Attacking from behind wouldn’t have given me the opportunity to see who my stalker was, and my mind was racing with curiosity. But it became clear that this person wasn’t going to run. The time for running had long passed.
I was directly in front of the brush when I finally received my answer — one that sent chills down my spine, and not because of what was said, but rather how it sounded.
“You can put your weapon down,” the voice said calmly, which I found unusual. But again, it was the sound of the voice that stood out the most. Because it was the voice of a woman.
In my life I had never really considered taking someone as a wife. Fighting was all I had ever known, making it rare for me to ever be around women. And for the times I was tempted to seek out companionship with the opposite sex, I fought against it because I didn’t feel that I had the time to put into any kind of companionship, especially one of this sort. Therefore, I was not used to, nor was I good at remaining my natural self in the presence of women. I was, to be blunt, quite anxious when around them. So here I was, a long way from the Main Village and on my own, and apparently now in the presence of a woman. Who was she? Why was she here? And could I believe any story she chose to put forth?
“I won’t put my weapon down until you show yourself to me,” I told her.
“Very well,” she replied.
She stepped out from the brush and into the moonlight, and I got my first glance. She was tall with long dark hair that looked neither too neat nor too messy. She was slender and she stood with strength, giving off an aura of confidence. Her skin shone brightly and seemed to provide light to the dark night sky. It appeared soft and my hand longed for it almost immediately. She wasn’t smiling nor did she appear afraid or troubled. She just looked to be there, to be present.
But none of this is what stood out to me the most. Once my gaze fixed upon her eyes, is when I became the most taken aback. Her eyes were kind, they looked into me and caused me to feel relief. They weren’t glaring but they were just strong enough to relay to me that, again, she was fully present and completely aware. And more than that, her eyes pleaded with me to trust her — but they did not beg. They communicated to me that I could be honest and open with her because she would listen and understand. Her eyes were beautiful. She was beautiful.
“Who are you?” I asked, as I lowered my sword to my side, honoring my word.
“Me and my father live on the other side of the ridge,” she said. “I don’t mean you any harm or even to pry, but it’s just us living there now, and earlier this evening I saw a man standing on the ridge, and I now believe that it was you I saw. My father is old and so I didn’t tell him what I saw, for I don’t want any more strain on him than what is already there. But I had to come investigate… for our safety.”
“Why would you think that one man on a ridge would want to do you any harm?” I asked.
“We are neutral, you see,” she said.
“Neutral? As in you do not take a side in our fight for the Cause?”
I had heard about sects of people who had broken off from our Cause over the years, but had never imagined some being still so close in proximity to the eye of the surrounding battlefields.”
“Yes,” she answered.
It still didn’t make complete sense to me why she would be afraid for her safety. Sure, those who were neutral were not looked upon favorably by either side, but the war was still between those of us on the side of the Cause and those who were our enemy. We had no qualms, at this time, with those who did not agree with either side. Our focus was on our enemy and their focus was on us.
“I still don’t understand your fear. We intend no harm toward your kind of people as long as you do no harm to our Cause.”
If I had caught the lady in any type of untruth she did not show it at all, displaying no signs of being bothered by my pressing of the question. Actually, it seemed as if she expected me to carry on as I did.
“You see, we are in the way,” she said. “Our home and our living our lives where we do is in the path of your battles. The war has progressively gotten closer and closer to us and my father fears that it will soon be right on top of us. He fears that we will either be trampled upon in battle or that your people or the people of your enemy will force us to leave. With my father’s health the way it is, we are in no position to leave, but if we don’t, we will surely be killed.”
After hearing her reasoning, I was sure that I could help calm her fears.
“Lady, I’m not going to tell you my exact position in the army for our Cause, but I can tell you that our enemy has been driven back further than what they have been in a long, long time. You are fairly close to our camp, yes, but our enemy is far from here and our intention is to keep it that way.”
She looked at the ground, finally displaying in manner some of the concern she was expressing with her words. It appeared that I did not console her in the way I had hoped to. It took her a few moments to answer, but when she did, her voice was softer than what it had been before.
“As I said, my father is old and has seen many things. He has not always been neutral and was once a part of your Cause. No offense, sir, but he does not believe there is an end in sight for your Cause. And from what he has told me about the years of war, what looks to be a great advantage for you at this time may not be so for very long.”
I would be dishonest if I said that I felt no offense to what she said, because I did. I didn’t take offense in a way that made me angry with her, but it was rather directed at the harsh reality and truth of her statement. Yes, our side was in a great position, but it had been in great positions before and had lost that ground. Despite my personal confidence, along with that of the people of the Cause, there were no guarantees that we could maintain and ultimately advance upon where we currently stood. I was more determined than ever, but that didn’t mean my predecessors were any different.
“Lady, where exactly is your home. And would you be willing to take me there so that I can speak with your father myself? I promise you, I mean no harm.”
“Oh no, I can’t do that!” Her eyes grew wide at my proposition. “I’m sorry, sir, it’s not that I don’t trust you, because I do trust you, but my father would be very upset with me if I brought you there. I’m sorry, I cannot upset him at this time. You can surely understand that, can’t you?”
“Yes, I understand,” I replied. “All I can do then is reaffirm to you that I don’t believe you’re going to be placed in any imminent danger... but I realize that these are just words and they may still be hard for you to fully believe.”
“Yes. I see,” she said firmly, then started to turn to walk away.
Although we had not come to any sort of resolution, I still did not want her to leave. Yet, there was nothing I could say to make her stay, and so I was silent as she turned away. My heart beat loudly and a lump began to form in my throat. They both seemed to cry for me to find some way to keep her near, but I was frozen and felt completely helpless. However, after she had taken a few steps away, she stopped under her own power and turned back around to face me. My heart stopped beating rapidly and seemed to almost stop completely.
“Maybe,” she began, “maybe there actually is something else that can be done...”
“What is it?” I asked, as the lump in my throat then disappeared and the normal beat of my heart returned; being faced with the mere idea of having to make a decision forced upon me the necessity of becoming composed again.
“Could I go home and ask my father if we can come to your main village someday soon? So you may speak with him there, away from our home?”
“I wouldn’t reject that. But will your father agree? It seems he may also not feel safe coming anywhere near our village.”
“This is what I am unsure of, but I think it may be worth asking him… though I would need one more promise from you that I could bring to him...”
“And what is that?”
“You have not told me what your position in the army is, but I can tell you are important and are someone with some influence, based upon the way you have spoken to me and by how you act. This all tells me that you’re not just an ordinary warrior. I’m not asking you to tell me exactly who you are, but these are my observations that lead me to wonder if you can gain us some kind of protection for when we enter the village?”
The woman continued to impress me with the amount of intuitiveness she displayed. Her request was reasonable, and I could, to some degree, promise to talk with the Leaders as well as with my brother about providing protection. I was also confident that, given it would be just a woman and her father coming for a meeting, no harm would be inflicted upon them. But I, along with my brother, no longer had the amount of influence we used to possess, which caused me some hesitation in giving her full assurance.
“Lady,” I started, “I can promise you that I will try my best to make sure you’re safe from any harm. But because I don’t want to lie to you, I can’t promise this absolutely.”
“I understand your answer and respect it,” she replied. “I am content with it and will bring my proposal to my father’s attention. Thank you for your honesty. I’ll go now.”
“If your father refuses, will I ever see you again?” I asked. I couldn’t believe I was asking it, but I felt I had to or else I would never forgive myself for allowing the opportunity to slip away.
“If my father refuses, I will still strongly consider coming to your village on my own. If that is the case, I will seek you out. Can we give each other our names?”
“And I’m Ramsii.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Ramsii.”
“Goodbye, sir, and thank you again.”
She then walked away, slowly. I watched and did not take my eyes off of her until the darkness swallowed her completely and left me alone again.
I sat down on the ground and stared into the dark space in front of me for a long time after she departed. I needed to sit in silence before I could even begin to process what had happened. There was a part of me that, as soon as I could no longer see her, told me that it was all a dream and that none of what had just transpired was real. But then the other part of me said that the occurrence may have been the most real thing I had ever experienced; an irrational thought, to be sure, and I told myself as much. I’m a general in the army for the Cause, I reminded myself. When one experiences battle after battle and kill after kill, meeting and conversing with a woman is not close to those experiences. Certainly this was not the most real thing that had ever happened to me. But it also wasn’t a dream. That was for sure.
I truly did trust her. However, having dealt with many people in my life whose desire was to remove my head from my neck, my first instinct was always to not trust, and instead force people to earn my trust over time. So I had to entertain the idea that she was not to be trusted.
To begin with, was it really just a coincidence that she happened to see me on top of the ridge? How did she know that I would be alone? Also, she knew that I was an important figure, and while I believed her to be intelligent, perhaps that intelligence came from information that had been relayed to her? But from whom and why? If she wasn’t being honest, was she sent to me by the enemy or was she from within the Cause? My brother had warned me of the growing distrust, but if she was with the Cause, why would they feel the need to go to these lengths? And if she was with the enemy, how would they know where to find me after having been driven so far away from our camp? So many questions had to be asked and it seemed none of them had definite answers.
As for my reasons for trusting her, they began with her eyes. I knew this was irrational, and yet, I had grown to trust in and rely upon my own instincts in life, and they hadn’t failed me very often. Why would they fail me now? Her story also seemed feasible, and when she told it to me, I didn’t get the sense that she was making anything up. She was firm and confident in her speech, and while that could have come from much practice and repetition before coming to meet me, she wasn’t methodical or deliberate in the telling of her story. She seemed to speak from her heart, appearing to be genuinely concerned about hers and her father’s well-being.
After forcing myself to stop dwelling on the incident, I did not decide definitively to completely trust her, but I ended with a determination to tentatively lean in that direction. Then I would wait and see if she and her father would even show up. If they didn’t, I would proceed to try and never think on it again. Deep down, however, I hoped they would show up. Rather, I hoped she would show up, with or without her father. Until then, though, I decided I would not speak of the encounter with anyone. Not even Theodon.