The Coinbearer - Chapter 2
Jerna had a dream. She was very small and her grandmother was still alive. They were sitting near the fire.
“When the chief god left his people, they thought that he had left them to die. Because of this, they felt that there was no purpose to live. They also believe that the chief god sent the disease as punishment. So, in hope to appease him sacrifices were made by letting animals run into the desert. However, there was another story that was not known to many people.”
Just when her grandmother was about to give the second story, Jerna woke up. She closed her hand over the coin around her neck. It felt heavier than it usually was. She sat up and looked at her surroundings. She remembered that she was in a cave she had found just outside the desert the night before. She opened her pack for some breakfast. She ate chewing each small bite carefully so she could taste every last morsel. She took a sip of water from her water skin. For a moment, she stared at the ground before her.
Without any weapons Jerna had come on this quest alone, bringing with her only a pack of supplies and a staff. Her cloak was not tattered from her escapes from dangers. Many times, she had faced dangers from wild animals and was lucky to have escaped them. She felt it was a miracle that she saved from the brood of flesh-eating beetles. However, the question remained of why she did not see her rescuer.
Her grandmother’s tale returned to her, “One day, the chief god, who had not communicated with his people for ages, came down and mingled amongst the people. He lived among them and learned their ways. Seeing the affects of the disease, the god had the people send him into the desert. He stayed in the desert and was not seen for days. Then one day, he returned covered in scars. The people wondered how he survived, for no one ever returned from the desert. The god gave water to his people and whoever drank this water lived.”
If that water is the cure, then I must find it. Jerna put her water away and shouldered her pack. Time to go.
Jerna walked until she came to the edge of the most unusual sight she had ever seen. It was a forest full of thick tall trees, some as wide as a house covered in moss. In fact, the entire forest was covered with moss, from the trees to the ground. Jerna wondered if she would turn green herself if she entered it. Perhaps the water of life could be found here, Jerna took her first step into the mysterious place. Though it was still day, the light streaming through the tree boughs gave the place an ominous feel. Jerna walked soundlessly on the thick carpet of moss as she cautiously stepped over tree roots and small plants. She came to a clearing where there was a lake surrounded by trees. She studied the waters. The water was clean and transparent revealing the lake floor. She tasted the water, it was sweet. Bringing out her now empty water skin, she filled it. Once the skin was full, she decided to rest before continuing her journey, so she spread her cloak and lay down. She smelled the sweet damp scent of moss as her mind drifted into sleep.
“The forest of illusions is a dangerous place,” Jerna heard her grandmother warn in her dream. “One may think that it is safe, for it appears very welcoming to those from the desert. However, the place is deadly and alive with evil spirits. The trees are not trees at all, but another form of demons that lure you into their trap with their sweet scents and flavours from their branches. One taste of their fruit can slowly poison you that you are not aware of it until you die. The lake is the place you must stay away from most of all; in it lives a creature that will pull you into its depths. Once you are pulled in you will be devoured.”
Then, Jerna dreamt she felt herself standing not far from the lake. Remembering her grandmother’s words, she turned to run, but could not move. She looked down and saw her feet embedded in the ground and covered in moss. She looked up and saw branches waving in the air like tentacles of a giant octopus, reaching out to her. She woke up screaming and found herself in water with something around her leg.
Jerna looked before her. Her eyes grew in terror. Before her was a giant black mound with black tentacles, one of them had a firm grip on her leg. Two slits appeared on the mound revealing a pair of glowing yellow eyes. Jerna screamed clawing the ground away from the creature, but the thing dragged her as it held her ankle fast. Water closed over her head. She looked down and saw its depths. She fought and thrashed in the water trying to break free. Her lung ached at the lack of air, she gasped inhaling water. Pain stung her nose and throat as water filled her lungs. Scenes of her life flashed by: her mother in bed, her grandmother, her brothers and sisters. Mother, I am sorry, she said in her heart.
Just then something grasped her arm and pulled her upwards. Jerna felt herself violently cough water; her lungs received sweet air! She looked up at her rescuer and saw a pair of gentle blue-grey eyes. Her vision blurred as she squinted trying to see the stranger’s features hidden under a deep hood. She saw black, brown, and green tendrils fly towards her. The stranger wrapped his cloak securely around her and said a word. As if they touched fire, the tendrils immediately retreated. Darkness enveloped Jerna’s sight.
Jerna woke up with a cloak wrapped around her. The cloak was of tightly woven cotton warm and soft to the touch. Seeing movement not far from where she was, she sat up. She gasped as pain shot through her leg and thigh.
“You should rest,” suggested her rescuer as he knelt before her.
He was broad shouldered wearing the garb of desert people – a long sleeved tunic and baggy trousers, around his waist an intricately braided belt of five colours. His coal black hair was long and tight coils that fell past his shoulders, giving him a wild look; yet his beard was neatly trimmed accentuating his lean chiseled features. His skin was earthen brown, possibly from the sun. His eyes were blue-grey like the clear desert sky.
“You have tzuim,” the man explained.
He pulled back the cloak to show Jerna her ankle. The bandage became loose, exposing greying skin, much like her mother’s condition – the advanced stage of the disease.
“A disease that not only attacks the body, but also kills the spirit.”
“How did I get it?” she wondered aloud.
“It was with you from birth, you just did not realize it.”
“Will I be able to walk?” She was hoping the disease was not severe.
He looked at her for a moment. “That depends.”
“What do you mean?”
“The disease attacked your nerves on your leg, you will not be able to walk on your own.”
Jerna did not like what she was hearing.
“But I must!” she objected, “My mother, our people – there are those who are dying! I need to find the cure.”
The man with the eyes of skies looked at her.
“You cannot walk on your own,” he told her sincerely. “As for the cure, I will bring it to you, if –” Jerna listened. “If you will take me with you on this journey.”
“And if I don’t want to?”
“Then you will not survive.”
“I suppose I have no choice.”
The man said nothing as he added wood to a crackling fire. As Jerna watched the fire, her mind recalled distantly the mysterious tale her grandmother told her.
“After the god saved the people…he left them, with a promise that he will watch over them…. The god at first did not have a name, but he was later given one…”
Jerna close her hand over the coin pendant, feeling the metal surface rubbed smooth over the numerous times she had held it in her hand.
Grandmother, what were you trying to tell me?She lay back on the ground and closed her eyes, hoping that the pain in her leg would go away.