3 The Way

Old woman Myra’s journey was mundane and momentous at the same time. Taking to the road every day was a task she was not prepared for. She walked slower than the other pilgrims and was soon left behind. For a while a middle-aged man accompanied her named Tarwin. There was no rush, he had said. Tarwin was a kindly man with a heavy heart. He spoke for most of the two days they travelled together, unburdening himself of his life’s story and why he was taking the Black Pilgrimage, how he had followed his father into carpentry, had helped build several halls and castles, and the various loves he had throughout his life, but nothing had come of any of it. There was nothing dramatic about it, much like her own, but there was something strangely satisfying in sharing it. It was as if it was the first time she had really listened to someone, a heartfelt transparency they both shared as pilgrims together. She heard every word he uttered, and if she did not hear a word or her mind was distracted she would ask him to repeat himself, and by doing so Tarwin knew that she was listening deeply. When they passed a family of birds which were giving themselves a dust bath, or came across the vast height and girth of a rivertree, named so because of the grooves which gave the thick bark an impression of fast moving water, or some other remarkable aspect of nature, they would stop together and witness together in silence. At first Tarwin would reflect on his thoughts, the momentuum of his mind rolling on in his memories, until he noticed how avidly and calmly Myra would look on, and soon they would take these breaks together, silently, listening to the bounty that nature provided. Once he had related his life, and they had mixed with other pilgrims, he thanked Myra for her company and headed off with them, leaving Myra to journey alone at her slow pace accompanied by another pilgrim for a few hours or a day or two, or sometimes by herself.

The journey was hard, hunger came to her on a number of occassions, but she did not complain. It was what it was. In some villages the Black Pilgrims were welcomed, in others they were shunned. She was given cheese and bread in one village, and nothing in another. She was going to die, so it did not concern her if she died on the Pilgrimage itself, something which came to many of the old especially during winter. When asked why she was on the Pilgrimage, she answered simply, it was time.

Pilgrims took different routes through the roads and forest trails. At first, Myra simply followed the trail of other Pilgrims, they seemed to know where they were going, talking of signs on the journey. She looked out for a sign of her own, and she found herself drawn to birds and butterflies. Whenever she was faced with a crossroads, there was a bird which swooped over one path, or landed on the trail itself, or a butterfly would appear from behind her and float and tumble its way down one of the routes. When she walked alone, she would follow these signs, and when with other pilgrims of her age it was often in the same direction, until her confidence was strong enough that she could made the decision to take a route which her birds signaled and depart from her fellows, who were to a fault younger. It was a liberating experience, and seemed to confirm to her that the Black Pilgrimage was indeed what she should be doing, and her road was the right road.

At last she came to what was called the Gate, where she joined a steady stream of pilgrims aged like herself, hobling criples, and a small group dressed in stained rags bound around their limbs who apologetically kept to themselves, those cursed with rotting flesh. All together, they felt guided to the place. Tired and sad, old Myra found herself curiously uplifted for having finally arrived. What would become of her? What would the Dark Lord do with her?

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