The day was cool, and the air still. Dew had formed on the shrubs and grasses just before dawn, and now dampened his ankles as he walked through them. He followed her lithe figure through the brush as she made her way down to the pool where she loved to come to watch the animals gather to drink. Morning was the best time for this - everything was quiet, and the waters the least disturbed. There was the all familiar calm throughout the land as the sun rose, and the lavender and pink light of pre-dawn gave way to the amber, then blue-white, of morning. It was beginning to warm, though he knew it would not become too uncomfortable.
She lowered herself down onto the mossy bank, and stretched out under the shade of an old willow. As she leaned back against the tree trunk, the hard bark dug into her skin a little. He sat beside her and the two watched as a family of antelope drank at the water's edge on the other side of the pool. They spoke softly so as not to disturb the gentle creatures. She was only 15.
The sun climbed higher, and soon the shadows were in stark contrast to the light areas along the bank. He asked if she would like to take a walk over to the south side of the meadows to see the hillsides blanketed with flowers. She liked that idea very much. The two walked along the river that emptied into the pool, and as they came to the edge of the meadow, gazelles ran and leaped with effortless grace toward the horizon. And, the two spoke of rumors of changes in their world, but this didn't dampen their contentment.
The hillside rose up before them as they approached it from the river. They had never been to the top of the hill, even though it was not particularly high, and it had been here for as long as they could remember. Its peak was occasionally shrouded in clouds, but this would not have been forbidding had they sought to climb its higher reaches. It had just never occurred to the two that they could venture up the path. Today, though, in her excitement, she decided they should climb the hill, and when they reached the top, see how far they could see. He wondered why anyone would want to see far away, a novel concept, but because her enthusiasm was so infectious, he decided it might be interesting to give it a try.
The climb to the top was a challenge, not because the way was particularly steep, but because the two were not used to such exertion. He stopped several times to rest on the way up, but each time she chided him to continue on; she wanted him to race her to the top. He struggled to keep his breathing normal, but accepted the challenge and ran after her. When he reached the top, she was already waiting under the shade of an ancient oak tree. It stood on the very crest of the hill, its branches widespread, as she sat beneath its protection, looking out over the green valley and to the Forbidden Mountains beyond. She was hardly breathing heavily at all.
He dropped to his knees in the welcome shade, trying unobtrusively to catch his breath. As he lay there looking up at the azure sky through the leaves of the oak tree, she told him that she loved this place - she loved it because she could see almost forever; she could see where the sun rose in the mornings, and where it came to rest at night; and as she observed she could see the land change and come alive in between. He looked at her and tried not to laugh. Actually, he hadn't a clue to what she was talking about. She took no notice, and went on - observing how the animals moved over the land with such freedom and grace. She knew they bore their young in the spring and their numbers grew and filled the plains. He mumbled in agreement, though he still did not understand.
In all of her excitement, the two had missed the presence of someone else on the hilltop. He was resting in the mid-branches of the tree above them, his eyes closed, his body lying with supple ease on a large branch. He whispered a deep sigh, and opened one steel-grey eye and observed the two resting beneath the tree. She turned and tilted her head as she heard his whispered interruption, and with eyes bright and an excitement in her voice, greeted the stranger above. He smiled, opened his other eye, and moved with sensuous grace down to a lower branch, coming to rest just above their heads. "Welcome," he said - he drew out the word, and it fell pleasurably on their ears. "Isn't it simply a grand scene?" he whispered, each 's' sibilant and provocative. "Oh, yes," she enthused, "It is so wonderful." "Do you live near here?" came a whispered query. "Oh, we live down the hill, near the gardens beyond the river," she said. "You should come here more often," he whispered. "It's so much more, in-ter-est-ing," said the stranger in the tree, the word stretched out and inviting. "Oh," she said.
The young man tried to follow the exchange between his friend and the stranger in the tree limbs, but found himself getting irritated and lost amidst words that had no meaning to him. It wasn't that he disliked being watched by the stranger from his vantage point above, or that the stranger said or did anything wrong, but he didn't see what she saw in him and his view from the hilltop. "What's so great about seeing out over the valley?" he thought to himself. "And, Big Deal - a tree with a view!"
She continued to purr as the stranger spoke of the wonderful mysteries locked in the shadows of the tree on the top of the hill. He spoke of ideas and thoughts utterly new to her, and described in word-pictures places beyond the Forbidden Mountains she had never imagined before, and she was filled with awe and wonder and excitement. Hearing of these things made her heart race, and gave her a tingling sensation all over, and she liked that. The stranger's words fell, too, on the young man's ears, and while they intrigued him as well, he was preoccupied with understanding her responses to them.
The stranger's words seemed to affect her, and she said things and felt things the young man didn't know or feel or understand. She laughed, and there was music in her voice and a sparkle in her eyes. The stranger above laughed, too, and told her that she would soar with the eagles, and hear their songs in her heart; she would walk with the gazelle, and know the fleet of foot...
....she would know the rising of the sun and its resting, and would touch the moon and know the night and all its mysteries. She swooned at his words, and her breast rose and fell with excitement. The stranger smiled.
The young man watched her, and for the first time noticed the soft curves of her body silhouetted against the late afternoon sky, and his heart beat faster. He felt faint, his head light, and did not know the feelings that had overtaken his body. He had difficulty breathing, and tried swallowing to clear his throat. He felt his forehead, and found he was perspiring profusely. His hands were clammy. He tried to speak to her, but words failed him, and he stammered some nonsense, and then kicked himself for his stupidity. She turned toward him to cajole him into joining the fun, but became suddenly aware of the strong and powerful outline of his body against the tree trunk, and she blushed. Their eyes met, and she stammered some nonsense in response. The stranger above them smiled broadly, and a sly chuckle escaped his lips. The two turned their eyes away, and with faces flushed, excused themselves - they said they should leave. "You will never leave the hilltop," whispered the stranger, his steel-grey eyes flashing, his face all smile and sharp teeth. "You cannot go back home."
The words rang in their ears as they made their way back down the hill toward the river and the gardens beyond. Hurrying down the path, they both were aware of a chill in the air, and there was a wind blowing from the southeast that cooled their skin. He held her hand over some rocky places along the pathway, but otherwise the two averted each other's eyes. He followed her down the remainder of the path, trying to be discreet. While they avoided each other's eyes, images were indelibly marked on their mind's eye, and they were self-conscious. They spoke not at all on the way down, but by the time they had reached the river, and just this side of the meadows, she stopped in her tracks. She said she had to return to the hilltop. She loved the meadows and the gardens, but something important had happened up on the hill, and it could not be denied; she had to go back. He said he knew, and agreed. He didn't understand what had happened, or at least very little of it, and he was troubled more not understanding what was happening within himself. He said this place was no longer home to him, and he didn't even know what saying that meant. She smiled, and nodded in understanding.
As they approached the crest of the hill for the second time, they were greeted by a tall dark figure in a long full-length robe, a hood over his head shading him from the late afternoon sun. Steel-grey eyes peered out at them from the shadows of the hood, and a deep resonant voice spoke to them. "The Forbidden Mountains await us" - this said with a sibilant and mystical timbre that touched their hearts deep within - and under their feet the earth movedů