“What do you mean she’s not here, Erdo?” said Maria. “You told me that no one would take her.”
“Of course, no one took her,” said Erdo. “She left of her own accord. She said that she wanted to go to the North Country and visit her friends in the Garden of Garourinn.”
“But I want her back.”
“Calm down. You will have her back. My sister, Milyaket, is visiting me at the moment. She is the keeper of another forest. On her way home, she will be more than happy to take you to the North Country and you will be able to retrieve Amira.”
“My parents will worry if I am gone for long.”
“I will send a message to them that you will be staying the week with Charlie. That will be long enough.”
I hope so, thought Maria. “Thank you, Erdo. It is quiet in the cafe, at the moment, and so my mother will be fine.”
“Milyaket has all that you need for the journey. You will start immediately.”
Although Maria had never met Milyaket, she felt instantly familiar and comfortable. She is Erdo’s sister, thought Maria. She had much she wanted to ask Milyaket. In particular, she was curious about Erdo and Milyaket’s family. What sort of family is that? wondered Maria. However, after a few words of introduction, Milyaket remained completely silent and would not be drawn into any conversation. After numerous attempts, Maria accepted that the journey would be a silent one.
“When will we get there?” asked Maria
“We will know,” said Milyaket.
Strange answer, thought Maria.
Maria and Milyaket walked for several days. Milyaket had arranged for them to stay somewhere simple and safe each evening. Maria wondered who owned the little huts deep in the forest. As Milyaket was silent, Maria had no other place to go but into her own thoughts. As each hour passed, her thoughts became quieter and more organised. And as her thoughts became quieter, Maria noticed that the physical terrain would change somewhat. Milyaket’s silence had a hypnotising effect. It was a rhythmical silence; steady, assured, joyous, and purposeful. It was a meditation in itself. Sometimes, Maria even forgot to think about what they were doing and where they were going. She didn’t forget out of distraction or weariness. In fact, she was feeling acutely awake and alive.
By the third afternoon, the landscape had completely changed and they were now approaching a mountain pass.
“We are here,” said Milyaket. “We are entering the North Country. You will not need me from here. Go straight ahead through the pass and you will find the Garden of Garourinn on the other side. May the Great Ones be with you.” She was gone.
Maria would have been scared on her own except that her mind had become so quiet that fear seemed inappropriate. She tried to keep the same peaceful state as she walked but, without Milyaket, it seemed much harder to do so. I guess Milyaket had more of an impact on my state of mind than I realised, thought Maria.
It was early evening and Maria didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the end of the pass. She was warm enough as it was summer and quite mild in the mountain air. Maria felt it was wisest to get off the main path and find a sheltered spot for the night. She sat in the fading light and ate some of the food Milyaket had given her. Suddenly, an uneasy stillness fell all around. The trees, the small animals, the wind, and even the plants all held their breath as if waiting to see what would be the outcome of an impending event. Maria looked around her nervously and then gasped. A pack of about thirty wolves was circling her with eyes glued not to her meagre bits of food but to her. I am the food, thought Maria. Running would have been ridiculous. This pack was made of healthy, strong, and vibrant creatures; masters of their terrain.
Still terrified, an idea entered the tiny bit of still mind that was left in Maria from her journey. I love dogs. They are my friends. Wolves are ancient dogs. There is nothing to fear. The largest wolf approached Maria and, to her surprise, she could understand him.
“You are Maria? My name is Galahad. This is my pack. We guard the borders of Garourinn. We will keep you safe for the rest of your journey. We are travelling further north to the far border of Garourinn. Night is soon upon us. Come with us.”
Not waiting for an answer, Galahad had spoken and nodded for his pack to fall into line. The injured and elderly went first. This seemed mean to Maria as they would be the ones most vulnerable to attack. She was later to find out that it was they who set the pace for the pack. Some of the stronger males followed close behind them. Many of the females and young took their place in the centre, followed by the remaining male wolves. Some distance behind walked Galahad on his own.
One of the bitches approached Maria, “My name is Sage. I am Galahad’s mate. Walk with me.”
As it was almost dark, they stopped at a cave for the night. A few of the hunters went out looking for nocturnal creatures. They soon came back with meat. Since her accident, Maria had been vegetarian. She couldn’t even eat cooked meat, let alone raw meat. The wolves respected the life of their prey and seemed to count it as being as worthy as their own. They would accept their own death as they did the death of their food. They did not give more importance to one life than another. Further, there was a sense that the Great Order of life was to be trusted and that nothing could ever be taken from anyone that was rightfully theirs. Maria ate the last of the food she had.
The next day Sage and the other bitches showed her where to find berries and other fruits. It looked like she was going to be with them some days. Each night the pack stayed close, both for warmth and affection. Maria was happily included in the pack like she belonged there. The invisible threads of togetherness were ever present amongst the wolves. They were not possessive, controlling or needy. There was a simple order which everyone accepted for the good of the pack. They found their happiness and stability in the well-being of all. Unlike humans that have a choice, the wolves were instinctively oriented in one direction only; to whatever made a harmonious and well-functioning community. Perhaps, they are like the angels, Maria thought. Angels also don’t have a choice. They are divine because that’s the only thing they can be.
Galahad came from the back of the pack and took his stride beside Maria. He must have something important to tell me, thought Maria. Galahad and the other wolves treated Maria with the respect of one who was not fully aware of a rightful inheritance.
“We will soon be at the entrance to the Garden of Garourinn. We will leave you there as we cannot enter the Garden. It is a privilege only to those who have the Spark of God in them.”
“But you do have that Spark,” said Maria.
“It is our task to serve those with the Spark and, in so doing, one day we may earn it ourselves. One of our ancestors sacrificed his life to save a baby human not far from here. He was badly wounded in a battle with a wolf from a foreign pack but he managed to keep the child safe. He carried it to the border of Garourinn where it was gratefully accepted. He did not know that it was the youngest child of the Head Gardener. In return, our ancestor wolf was given the Spark of God. He died from his wounds but was then reborn as a human and began his long journey in a different dimension.”
“That’s beautiful,” said Maria, “but he may have been better off staying as a wolf. You wolves are happy. Most humans are not.”
“No, Maria. It is a great honour to be human. Humans have the capacity to freely choose their destiny and, one day, they will all choose the right destiny. We do not have that choice. Farewell, it has been my happy duty to serve you.”
“The honour has been all mine, Galahad,” said Maria with restrained emotion. One doesn’t cry to an alpha wolf. They are too dignified.
Each wolf came up in turn and rubbed its head on Maria’s leg and then they turned as a pack and fell into place. Maria felt she would truly miss them. She wished she could have a pack of wolves back home in Waldmeer but that would hardly work.
Maria had been sitting at the border of Garourinn for several hours. Not only did Amira not come but neither did anyone else. She rested under a tree and drifted into a content sleep. She could feel the filtered sun radiating from above. She dreamed that Amira was with her.
“Don’t you think we have waited here long enough, Maria?” said Amira. “We have things to do back home.” It dawned on Maria that all her walking with Milyaket had called Amira back into her being. Every step she took deeper into silence brought Amira closer to her soul. And her time with the wolves, when she had become so aligned with the pack and the rhythm of nature, stabilised Amira’s presence even more. By the time Maria and the pack had reached the border of Garourinn, Amira was completely re-established within her again.
While still asleep, Maria dreamed that she was resting on the back of a large, flying creature. Maybe, it was an angel. The wind was rapidly pushing past her but she wasn’t cold. It was beautifully warm and cosy in a nest of softness.
The next morning, Maria woke in her own bed in Waldmeer.
“Nice to have you back again, Maria,” Lucy said kissing her daughter. “We always miss you even though you are only in the back hills. It has been quiet at the cafe but today we will be busy. I will be glad of your help.”
Maria could remember every detail of her trip to the North Country. Her travels were no longer disappearing into the ether.
Since Maria had retrieved Amira, they lived side by side in a more compatible way. Each would speak at different times. Maria could now distinguish the two and choose which one would get a voice. Previously, she had trouble even recognising who was who. It was a satisfactory arrangement although both knew that, in the end, one of them was going to win. Although Amira was many times more powerful, it was part of the arrangement that she would not be allowed to come forward unless invited by Maria. Maria had to grow into Amira.
When Amira first entered Maria, Amira acquired all of Maria’s memories, tendencies, longings, and pains. She also took on the collective memories, tendencies, longings, and pains of humanity, as we all do. Amira had to work with what she had inherited and Maria had to learn to want Amira freely. There was no hurry. The destination was sure. The timing was up to Maria.
Gabriel was back. Maria asked him what he had been doing in the city.
“Not much,” was the extent of Gabriel’s reply.
He was back, but he was back in a different way. He was more directive. He, sometimes, got angry with Maria. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It meant that he trusted that she would still be there.
Sometimes, when he wanted to put her in her place, he would say, “You are young. You have barely been away from Waldmeer. You have never even had a boyfriend. No offence, Maria, but there are lots of things you have no idea about.” To make sure that she got the point, he added with less restraint, “And half the time you live in a fantasy world. God only knows where.”
Maria didn’t mind. She had a power inside her. Who needs to quibble about details? Maria had the feeling that Amira’s temporary departure from her life was not the only cause of Gabriel’s recent absence.
“Look, Maria,” Gabriel said one afternoon, “I am a straight forward person. We all have friends. I have many. And you are entitled to be friends with whoever you want but I don’t like Farkas. I don’t trust him. If you want to be friends with him, don’t expect too much from me.”
“Gabriel, I don’t see Farkas anymore,” said Maria.
Gabriel took no notice whatsoever of her reply. It didn’t seem to matter if she saw him or not. Maria tried to make light of the situation and made a joke. Gabriel didn’t laugh. She put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Everything is fine. Please don’t worry about this.” Gabriel removed her hand. She tried being firm, “This is silly.”
“I don’t think so,” said Gabriel.
An advantage of having Amira back was that Maria found it was not as necessary to make the trip to the Leleks to see Erdo as often as she used to. She could simply start tuning into Amira. One evening on the beach, she did just this about her recent conversation with Gabriel.
“This seems to me a no-win situation,” said Maria. “I want Gabriel to be happy but to make him happy, I have to accept his way of seeing life and that has problems. Besides, will it even make him happy? I doubt it.”
“True,” said Amira. “We all see a different reality and we will make decisions based on what we see. Everyone is trying to protect their interests in the best way that they can. The world is commonly viewed as a place where someone must lose in order for someone else to win. It’s a competition with winners and losers. This is particularly so in one’s most valued relationships.”
The sea was gentle this evening. The waves were regular and soothing.
“You must know in your own heart,” Amira continued, “that there is an overriding Love which loves everyone. Life is not a competition. No one has to lose for someone else to win. A true blessing blesses everyone. A fragmented love which makes others lose will eventually turn upon itself and destroy the very thing which was being so carefully guarded. An open-hearted love will follow a course which can only lead somewhere good. Know that for yourself. Know it for Gabriel. And know it for everyone else, without exception.”