I've lived in Hillshire all my life. There's plenty of fish in the stream that runs down the mountain, the girls are all pretty, and we make the best beer you've ever tasted.
To the East is the town of Carrick. And between us and them is the mountain we call Grandmother. For as long as anyone can remember, that mountain has kept our village safe. Few have ever climbed her, that just wouldn't be right. She's not some new frontier to conquer.
If you tried to go around, you'd get yourself lost in the dark forest, washed away in a flood, or worse. So when we want to go see our brothers in Carrick, we have to go through the tunnel. I don't think anyone knows who made it, how long the tunnel's been there or why she never resents our passage.
Now, Old Vindell, before his mysterious dissapearance, knew the mountain better than anyone else. When someone would turn 15 or 16, we would send him to Vindell for a few weeks to learn how to pass safely.
The mountain is alive, just like you and me. And when you cross through her, anything you feel, she feels. You have to cross respectfully. You have to learn her rules. Which paths to take and how not to wake her when she's sleeping.
The first thing he'd teach you about were the Guardian Stones. "If you ever lose your path", he said, "In here or out there, they will help you".
He told us they protect the travelers, but if you broke one, or you'd never leave that tunnel.
He said if you treat them right they can be your teachers, disrespect them and you'll have to answer to. I could never hear them, but I guess he could.
Second thing he'd teach you was about the mountain itself.
He said there was some things the mountain just can't stand. Number one was a fight. Even the children know you never fight inside the mountain. She hears that and she'll change the paths up on you.
Then he'd tell them about that evil map. There is one map of the tunnels, written on parchment, and ancient as the dirt, but you can't just read the thing. It's all lines and circles and symbols and writing in strange languages nobody can read. And even more than a fight, she hates that map.
We can't take it across for the scholars of Carrick to examine, and we dare not trouble them to make the journey for a thing we all know is best forgotten about entirely. So Vindell kept it where no evildoer could make use of it, if it had a use at all.
He'd also always mention that there's a few other places at the end of those tunnels, but he never told a soul in his life any more that. The rumor was he had been to some of those places, but he wouldn't say and we wouldn't ask.
Nothing ever stays the same in the tunnel. The paths always seem to be different every time, and the Guardian Stones are never where you remember the.
So you just have to trust her. There are all sorts of signs. You follow the stream until the first turn, then you stand very still and listen. Sometimes it will be breathing, sometimes it will be laughter, or sometimes rain, and sometimes she even cries.
Then you keep on going till the next fork in the road. If there is a road with laughter you take it. If there was a road with footsteps that sound like someone pacing back and forth, or with whispers; you would have to take the other one.
Sometimes the signs aren't quite as clear. Sometimes she has a favor to ask or a secret to tell you. Things are be a little different then. Then you just have to trust the stones, trust yourself, and trust the mountain, and you'll always make it out, but never quite the same as you went in.
That mountain changes people. She can be dangerous, but old Vindell loved her. And I think the mountain loved him too.
Another thing he'd tell yer is that you don't just go crossing for no good reason. We don't make friends with the people of Carrick lightly. You're either blood brothers or you do your business and go home as soon as you can. And you never go bothering them with questions you have no business asking.
And so we make the journey when one of ours needs healing, when we need a question answered, when we have a problem we can't solve ourselves, to trade, to see those we know or when were're just passing through to get to the dusty road to the north.
And sometimes, of course, we go just to see her. We go to give thanks, we go to learn, we go alone to find ourselves and we go together to celebrate.
Or at least we used to. Nobody knew the mountain like Vindell did, and with him gone for months now, the parents teach their sons and daughters as best they can, but many have already forgotton.
Some of us still make the passage now and again when we need to. We still follow the stream to the first fork and listen carefully, as Vindell called it. But each time I've been, the laughter is a little quieter(when she laughs at all), the footsteps a little angrier, and when she cries, I know that we have failed her.
A thousand years before Vindell, before anyone had stepped up as Guide of the Mountain, people would send their children to make the journey on their own, telling them only to never take the glowing path, and to trust in the guardians.
Of course, though she is patient and forgiving, she has her rules, and many did not return. And occasionally, when someone grew up and never learned, she would become very angry and send us great storms.
So it was decided that every child must learn from a teacher the proper way to cross.
But now we have no teacher, and the mountain has no herald. When the paths are not as we remember them, the people can only turn back.
And so tomorrow, I leave for Carrick. I will not let this happen. I will speak to their chief scholar. If Vindell isn't coming back, then I will learn all I can. And I will find out why she hates that map, and why it disappeared when Vindell did.
I will follow the stream until the first fork, and I will listen. I will try to hear the voices of the stones I never could hear before. And if she chooses to share her secrets with me, maybe I can figure this out.