Chapter no 18: Roads to Safe Places

The Name of the Wind

PERHAPS THE GREATEST FACULTY our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.

First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind’s way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.

Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying “time heals all wounds” is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.

Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.

Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.

After my family was killed, I wandered deep into the forest and slept. My body demanded it, and my mind used the first door to dull the pain. The wound was covered until the proper time for healing could come. In self-defense, a good portion of my mind simply stopped working—went to sleep, if you will.

While my mind slept, many of the painful parts of the previous day were ushered through the second door. Not completely. I did not forget what had happened, but the memory was dulled, as if seen through thick gauze. If I wanted to, I could have brought to memory the faces of the dead, the memories of the man with black eyes. But I did not want to remember. I pushed those thoughts away and let them gather dust in a seldom-used corner

of my mind.

I dreamed, not of blood, glassy eyes, and the smell of burning hair, but of gentler things. And slowly the wound began to grow numb….

I dreamed I was walking through the forest with plain-faced Laclith, the woodsman who had traveled with our troupe when I was younger. He walked silently through the underbrush while I kicked up more noise than a wounded ox dragging an overturned cart.

After a long period of comfortable silence I stopped to look at a plant. He came quietly up behind me. “Sagebeard,” he said. “You can tell by the edge.” He reached past me and gently stroked the appropriate part of the leaf. It did look like a beard. I nodded.

“This is willow. You can chew the bark to lessen pains.” It was bitter and slightly gritty. “This is itchroot, don’t touch the leaves.” I didn’t. “This is baneberry, the small fruits are safe to eat when red but never when shading from green to yellow to orange.

“This is how you set your feet when you want to walk silently.” It made my calves ache. “This is how you part the brush quietly, leaving no sign of your passing. This is where you find the dry wood. This is how you keep the rain off when you don’t have canvas. This is paterroot. You can eat it but it tastes bad. These,” he gestured, “straightrod, orangestripe, never eat them. The one with little knobs on it is burrum. You should only eat it if you have just eaten something like straightrod. It will make you keck up whatever’s in your stomach.

“This is how you set a snare that won’t kill a rabbit. This snare will.” He looped the string first one way, then another.

As I watched his hands manipulate the string I realized it was no longer Laclith, but Abenthy. We were riding in the wagon and he was teaching me how to tie sailors’ knots.

“Knots are interesting things,” Ben said as he worked. “The knot will either be the strongest or the weakest part of the rope. It depends entirely on how well one makes the binding.” He held up his hands, showing me an impossibly complex pattern spread between his fingers.

His eyes glittered. “Any questions?”

“Any questions?” my father said. We had stopped early for the day because of a greystone. He sat tuning his lute and was finally going to play his song for my mother and me. We had been waiting so long. “Are there any questions?” he repeated, as he sat with his back against the great grey stone.

“Why do we stop at the waystones?”

“Tradition mostly. But some people say they marked old roads—” My father’s voice changed and became Ben’s voice, “—safe roads. Sometimes

roads to safe places, sometimes safe roads leading into danger.” Ben held one hand out to it, as if feeling the warmth of a fire. “But there is a power in them. Only a fool would deny that.”

Then Ben was no longer there, and there was not one standing stone, but many. More than I had ever seen in one place before. They formed a double circle around me. One stone was set across the top of two others, forming a huge arch with thick shadow underneath. I reached out to touch it….

And awoke. My mind had covered a fresh pain with the names of a hundred roots and berries, four ways to light a fire, nine snares made from nothing but a sapling and string, and where to find fresh water.

I thought very little on the other matter of the dream. Ben had never taught me sailors’ knots. My father had never finished his song.

I took inventory of what I had with me: a canvas sack, a small knife, a ball of string, some wax, a copper penny, two iron shims, and Rhetoric and Logic, the book Ben had given me. Aside from my clothes and my father’s lute, I had nothing else.

I set out looking for drinking water. “Water comes first,” Laclith had told me. “Anything else you can do without for days.” I considered the lay of the land and followed some animal trails. By the time I found a small spring-fed pool nestled among some birch trees, I could see the sky purpling into dusk behind the trees. I was terribly thirsty, but caution won out and I took only a small drink.

Next I collected dry wood from the hollows of trees and under canopies. I set a simple snare. I hunted for and found several stalks of motherleaf and spread the sap onto my fingers where they were bloody and torn. The stinging helped distract me from remembering how I had hurt them.

Waiting for the sap to dry, I took my first casual look around. Oaks and birches crowded each other for space. Their trunks made patterns of alternating light and dark beneath the canopy of branches. A small rivulet ran from the pool across some rocks and away to the east. It may have been beautiful, but I didn’t notice. I couldn’t notice. To me the trees were shelter, the undergrowth a source of nourishment, and the pool reflecting moonlight only reminded me of my thirst.

There was also a great rectangular stone lying on its side near the pool. A few days earlier I would have recognized it as a greystone. Now I saw it as an efficient windbreak, something to put my back against as I slept.

Through the canopy I saw the stars were out. That meant it had been several hours since I had tried the water. Since it hadn’t made me sick, I decided it must be safe and took a long drink.

Rather than refreshing me, all my drink did was make me aware of how hungry I was. I sat on the stone by the edge of the pool. I stripped the leaves from the stalks of motherleaf and ate one. It was rough, papery, and bitter. I

ate the rest, but it didn’t help. I took another drink of water, then lay down to sleep, not caring that the stone was cold and hard, or at least pretending not to care.

I awoke, took a drink, and went to check the snare I had set. I was surprised to find a rabbit already struggling against the cord. I took out my small knife and remembered how Laclith had shown me to dress a rabbit. Then I thought of the blood and how it would feel on my hands. I felt sick and vomited. I cut loose the rabbit and walked back to the pool.

I took another drink of water and sat on the stone. I felt a little light-headed and wondered if it was from hunger.

After a moment my head cleared and I chided myself for my foolishness. I found some shelf fungus growing on a dead tree and ate it after washing it in the pool. It was gritty and tasted like dirt. I ate all I could find.

I set a new snare, one that would kill. Then, smelling rain in the air, I returned to the greystone to make a shelter for my lute.

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