RED STAR PINES

The sun was just beginning to rise over the Sangala Valley and the day was already warm. Ekon, a middle-aged widower and his son Mosi sat outside as they did each morning eating their breakfast before beginning their long day in the fields. It had been just the two of them since Ekon’s wife Bisa died from a fever several years earlier.

The Sangala Valley is very small but a good home for Ekon and Mosi. There is an abundance of sunlight for growing crops and copious amounts of fruit trees to provide much needed shade during the hottest times of the day. Mosi goes fishing daily in nearby Lake Caballo; he has become quite proficient but Ekon is the hunter, always keeping them well-fed with rabbits, pigs, deer or fowl. They also keep roosters, chickens and have a female mule for milk.

Three other families live in the valley and share the area peacefully, frequently trading with each other. Ekon and Mosi are fortunate to have a variety of foods to eat; however, they have had no luck growing wheat or other grains – something Bisa excelled at. Sometimes the women bring them flatbread and loaves of Green Mealies, a fluffy corn bread, in exchange for various items.

Forests of wild pine trees grow in the distance and the view from the valley is magnificent. One evening as father and son relaxed by their campfire after a long day, Mosi expressed his greatest desire: “Father, one day I shall visit the Red Star Pines.”

“One day?” exclaimed Ekon and laughed heartily. “My son, the pines are thousands of miles away, a rigorous and dangerous journey of many months. It is a quest, not a day’s adventure.”

“But how can that be, Father?” Mosi questioned. “I can see them as clearly as I can see Lake Caballo.”

“Mosi, the wild pines are enormous and tower over everything” Ekon explained. “Their closeness is a mere illusion.”

“But Father” Mosi argued. “Look across the lake. The pines are plainly visible and the land is flat. We can get there in half a day!”

“That is true, my son, but they are just saplings. There’s much more to the pine woods than meets the eye. You must give up this fantasy. Now, off to bed for both of us.”

Mosi did not mention the Red Star Pines again for a long time but he never abandoned his dream. One morning during breakfast Mosi told his father that he had decided he would not be able to rest until he traveled to the woods – or at least tried. Ekon’s first reaction was to once again talk Mosi out of his idea but as he looked at his son he realized he was no longer a child and his mind was made up. Ekon told Mosi he understood the need that drove him and they would make the trek together.

Mosi was thrilled and immediately began to prepare. Ekon said they must bring only the barest of necessities, their fishing and hunting tools and their mule Shiga. There was also one priceless object which Ekon would never leave behind, a treasure handed down from generation to generation – a tiny vial containing the Tincture of Jal’mboor. One small drop on the tip of the tongue would allow the user to speak in any language chosen and the spell would remain until no longer needed.

They set out the following morning, reaching the woods in a few hours. Mosi was shocked to find he was taller than the saplings. The terrain was flat and easily passable until the fifth day when they came upon a vast, swiftly-moving river blocking their path. Having no craft, the duo consulted an old map and chose to travel east. This would take them out of their way but is was the safer route. After many days of walking they reached a shallow section of the river which they crossed safely.

The new terrain was steeper and difficult. The forests were dense and hardly any light shone through. They were keenly aware of strange sounds and Ekon kept his spear by his side. Without warning the trees began to quake; suddenly hundreds of birds flew out and disappeared. A second later a massive tiger appeared. He stared at Ekon and Mosi, slits of amber eyes observing their every move. He snarled, exposing razor sharp fangs. Ekon whispered for Mosi to stand perfectly still but Shiga was spooked and whinnied loudly. In an instant the tiger leapt but Ekon was ready and felled the giant cat with his trusty spear. The duo dined that night on sinewy tiger meat, refilled their water skins from a babbling brook and went to sleep. They would start fresh in the morning.

However, when Ekon and Mosi awoke they were not in the same place as the night before. They were in a higher elevation; it was colder and there were traces of snow. They were comfortably covered in blankets next to a small fire under a giant pine tree. Shiga happily munched in a nearby trough. Besides the change of location, there was a much more obvious and disconcerting difference: both men had aged approximately five years! Mosi looked to be about 25 years old and Ekon had some grey in his hair and beard.

A group of men emerged from the woods; immediately Ekon reached for the vial in his wrap and placed one drop on the tip of his tongue. Quickly Mosi did the same. The leader of the group spoke rapidly, explaining how his men found Ekon and Mosi unconscious near the brook five years ago and brought them back to their village. The brook had been poisoned years ago by after a mysterious storm and an antidote had yet to be found. The men were members of the ancient San tribe, learned men of science who assured Ekon and Mosi they meant them no harm. When Ekon answered in San, the men were surprised but quickly deduced Ekon possessed the power of the Jal’mboor. As they spoke some San women approached with food and clean clothes. Mosi immediately caught the eye of a beautiful young woman called Tayla and they smiled shyly.

Ekon and Mosi learned much from the San people. They knew how to preserve food in such a way that it could be dried, shrunken to a compact size and last for years. They developed a shield of invisibility to disappear at the first sign of danger thus avoiding any conflict or violence. They were philosophers and great thinkers but lacked basic skills such as carpentry. Even their tents were falling over!

Mosi and Ekon told the San people of their quest to reach the top of the Red Star Pines. Many had tried but very few succeeded. It was a treacherous journey but the San could help if Ekon and Mosi did something in return for them: teach them to build huts. The pair agreed and spent the next two years working with the San people. During that time Mosi and Tayla fell in love and he promised to return for her after they reached the summit.

The San warned Ekon and Mosi about the Sanguine Precipice, the Eikae Dragon Den and the bloodthirsty Madosu Gorillas. The San said they would provide Mosi and Ekon with a map to get them safely passed the precipice and presented them with the invisibility shield to evade the monstrous dragons and gorillas. Mission now complete, Ekon and his son prepared to leave the next morning.

Shiga was loaded down with new flasks containing safe water, bundles of food, blankets and the invisibility shield. Bidding Tayla farewell, Mosi and Ekon followed the San people until they were safely on the other side of the poisonous brook. At the last minute, Mosi fetched a few old water skins and filled them with poison water. Now they were truly on their own, prepared but anxious. The higher they climbed the colder it became and they blessed the San women for their gift of warm clothing.

The pair hiked forever, sometimes not uttering a single word. Their silence was soon disturbed by horrifying screeches and savage bellows. They knew they reached the first hazard: the Eikae Dragons. The sound of huge flapping wings filled the sky and Mosi quickly grabbed the invisibility shield just before catching a glimpse of the nightmarish creatures. They covered themselves just in time and the Eikae hovered over them, sniffing the air suspiciously with gargantuan nostrils, then angrily flew away. Mosi and Ekon remained where they were until they were sure all was safe. They carefully retracted the shield and secured it onto Shiga’s back.

At first Ekon kept a record of the passing number of nights but eventually lost count. They walked for what seemed an eternity and Mosi questioned himself a thousand times over. They came to a divided path but the San map was unclear so they chose a path with no particular reason in mind. It proved to be the wrong choice. Rounding a bend they found themselves face to face with the Madosus. They were hideous beasts, a combination of a gorilla and a hippopotamus. Ekon froze as the savages slowly came closer, snorting loudly and beating their breasts. But Mosi thought quickly and placed a drop of the Jal’mboor potion on the tip of his tonge.

To the bewilderment of the gorillas Mosi began speaking in fluent Madosu: “We are travelers. We seek no trouble. All we wish is to pass by safely.”

One of the gorillas asked: “How is it you can speak our language?”

“We are magicians. We can offer you whatever you desire. What is your greatest wish?” Mosi asked, covering his fear.

“TO EAT YOU!” shouted the Madosu.

“But you can do that any time” countered Mosi.

“ABSOLUTE POWER!” roared the gorilla.

“If that is what you desire, I can provide it. It’s as easy as drinking the supernatural waters in these skins” and Mosi tossed the sacks to the gorillas. They greedily drank the brook water and were poisoned within seconds.

Elated with their great success over the Madosu, Ekon and Mosi quickened their pace and moved on. Their relief was short lived, however, when they reached the Sanguine Precipice. Never before had they seen such a narrow path nor so steep a cliff. Mosi checked the San map and saw a widening in the path about four feet ahead. Crossing those four feet would be crucial. They could not make one false move. Mosi believed he and his father could do it but he wasn’t sure about Shiga. The men decided to lighten Shiga’s load by dividing it beween them. She stood a better chance without the extra weight. Slow as snails they proceeded, placing one foot before the other, Mosi leading Shiga and Ekon gently pushing her rear.

Just as they safely reached the clearing, Shiga lost her footing and landed full force on top of Ekon who howled in agony. Working quickly Mosi got Shiga upright and tied her to a tree; then he returned for Ekon. As soon as Mosi tried to lift his father, Ekon screamed and lost consciousness; Mosi immediately knew his father’s back was broken. Mosi carried Ekon like a newborn baby and laid him in the shade of a Red Star Pine; it was only then that he realized they had made it to the summit. His quest was complete but at what cost?

Slowly, Ekon opened his eyes and whispered “We made it, son!” Then quietly he exhaled and died. Mosi cried out in sorrow, the mountains echoing his mournful wail, and Shiga softly nudged him with her head. Mosi buried Ekon on the summit of the Red Star Pines, laying his trusty spear, bow and arrow across the grave. Snow lightly began to fall as Mosi packed all their belongings and securely placed them onto Shiga’s back. Now knowing the safe route Mosi and Shiga began their trek back to Tayla and home to the Sangala Valley.

NAR © 2021

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