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Teaser Forgotten Road: CHUNMANIYE
Setting the scene
Secretly I hope that the concept of First Nations warriors stalking Sussex woodlands in southern England will be seen as far-fetched. The fact is; they were there. Hundreds of them had enlisted in the Canadian Army and after Dunkirk the Canadian First Division was, for a while, the main organised army on English soil, vital in the defence of England against the expected invasion in the summer of 1940. Those from the First Nations were often scouts, praised for their fighting capabilities and courage. Studying the basics of Lakota spirituality I was struck by the similarity to the old Anglo-Saxon belief system - which plays an important role in my Wyrde Woods - and the character of Chunmaniye was born. He hails from the Lakota band which stayed in Canada after the famous Thatanka Iyotake returned to the United States: The Lakota who never surrendered.
In the following scene Chunmaniye is searching the Wyrde Woods for the Tree of Life which his grandfather saw in a vision. He is delayed and then diverted by someone keen to keep that tree a secret: local lass Joy Whitfield, whom Chunmaniye has named Owl Heart.
The legend Joy / Owl Heart speaks of comes from Kingsley Vale in West Sussex, which I visited with my friend Marcel who forms part of the basis for the character of Chunmaniye.
Chunmaniye tried to follow the whispers of the breeze. At first they had brought him steadily north-west, past the ruins of Roreford and Hood’s Gorge but then they started confusing him. Tugging at him to go north, east and south.
He realised that they were tricksters now, those who could only be seen when they wanted to be seen and could take the guise of birds or other animals; even the wind’s whispers. If his mentor’s tree of life was here it did not want to be found but Chunmaniye pressed on, heading in the only direction which did not lure him with hushed hints and enticing whispers. Whatever spirit was directing these defences would have to send something stronger in order to erode Chunmaniye’s determination to seek out his grandfather’s vision and it seemed to realise this for the tricksters faded away.
The trees started to change, the clarity of gloomy light amidst a legion of ghostly silver birch trees beginning to make way for copses of red barked and twisted young yew trees. From a distance they showed only as intensily dark patches as if there was an ominous nothingness there. Coming closer they revealed more, though still in deep shadow. Their angular branches spread like the forks of lightning creating an effective erratic barrier and thrice Chunmaniye had to backtrack as he simply could not proceed. He suspected that he was coming closer and when he did at last penetrate the yew forest deep enough the trees became older, taller in height and larger in girth. Most were multi-faced as their trunks curved and twisted into gnarled forms.
“Tis not very safe, to go further into the Whychwood,” A girl’s voice rang out unexpectedly.
Chunmaniye looked around but could not see anything. Then his eye was drawn upwards and he could see the red-haired girl he had named Owl Heart perched on a broad bough, her legs swinging in the air as she regarded him with light amusement.
“And why,” Chunmaniye said as he returned her amusement with a smile, “would that be?”
He waited as Owl Heart clambered down the yew with the agility of a squirrel and skipped towards him.
“Shims!” Owl Heart pronounced in an ominous tone.
“Shims?” Chunmaniye frowned.
“Ghosts,” The short dark-haired girl he had named Laughing Maiden came stalking around the base of the tree.
“Spirits from many centuries ago,” Owl Heart nodded. “All around us even now.”
Chunmaniye looked around. The gnarly shapes did seem to resemble faces with open screaming mouths and outstretched arms clawing at salvation.
“A whole army of them, then?”
Owl Heart nodded. “An army of Draca, dragons.”
“Dragons even?” Chunmaniye studied the trees. From what he knew of dragons they seemed akin to the thunderbirds his people called Wakinyan.
“Men,” Owl Heart shook her head. “Shiploads of them. Their longships were feared and the bows of their ships rose up into a carved dragon’s head, the prow a depiction of its tail.”
“These men intended no good?” Chunmaniye guessed, getting a mental impression of a band of Crow marauders much like the ones his ancestors had been at odds with.
Owl Heart looked sad. “Naun good at all. They came to take what wasn’t theirs with sword and flame. Naun seemed able to stop them. After reducing Odesby to ashes they turned their eyes to the Wyrde Woods.”
“There was a young woman who was Chieftain of one of the settlements here, Wolf’s Denne Hall.” Owl Heart said. “Her people looked to her to defend them and that she did.”
“A squaw took on these marauders?” Chunmaniye asked, full of interest.
“Lewinna, innit?” Laughing Maiden said. “Girls can fight.”
“She was what we call a Wise Woman,” Owl Heart explained. “My people believe in a life force, we call it the Wyrd. The Wyrd touches every living thing and invests that which doesn’t live with spirit too.”
“Something my people call Wakan,” Chunmaniye was surprised at the similarities.
“Some are…in touch with that Wyrd, they can read it, attempt to weave it even. Those are the Wise Men and Wise Women,” Owl Heart said. “Do you have those too?”
“They have powerful medicine,” Chunmaniye said, slowly nodding his head. “We call them Wicasa Wakan, Medicine Men.”
“Wicasa Wakan,” Owl Heart smiled. “Our wise ones, the good ones, use their powers mostly for healing. Body and mind.”
Chunmaniye smiled back. It began to dawn on him that his sensitivity to the Wyrde Woods might well be a result of this shared spiritual foundation. It was an eye-opener too, he had never suspected the Saglasa Wasichu, those called the English, to have roots in a belief that was akin to his own.
“How did your Wicasa Wakan Lewinna fight these Draca?”
Owl Heart’s face changed into one that seemed much older and even contained a level of threat. “The Wyrd can be used for other matters aside from healing.”
“Such as?” Chunmaniye asked.
“She called upon all creatures of the Wyrd,” Owl Heart explained. “In all of their manifestations and raised an army such has seldom been seen in the Wyrde Woods.”
“Pooks too,” Laughing Maiden added.
Chunmaniye looked around at the multitude of anguished faces, frozen screams and twisted limbs. “A sorceress then?”
Owl Heart nodded. “She transformed every single draca warrior into a yew tree and here they yet stand, as a warning to would-be-invaders.”
Chunmaniye wondered if the Wyrde Wood’s reluctance to reveal its secrets to him meant that he too was marked as a would-be-invader. It seemed wiser to respect the local spirits, offending them was considered lunacy in his ancestral lands and Wakan was undeniably strong here.
“Perhaps this sorceress of yours would have known of the Tree of Life I seek.”
Owl Heart narrowed her eyes slightly and he sensed that she became guarded. He suddenly realised that the Wyrde Woods had sent one of its most powerful weapons to stop his quest.
“I know the tree you speak of,” Owl Heart answered. “We call it the Wishing Tree, I’ll show you.”
She pointed to the south-east and took a first few steps in that direction. Her friend did likewise.
Chunmaniye cast a last look at the yew intransigence ahead and concluded he was not meant to find whatever was there. Then he looked at Owl Heart. The child was looking at him expectantly with a mixture of childish innocence and knowing challenge. Her determination to lure him away was clear to him and he suspected that his respect for the Wakan present here was reason that the local spirits had sent a gentle nudge instead of something dark with claws, teeth and pitched madness.
“I will follow you,” he told Owl Heart and then turned his back on the ranks of frozen marauders.
Visit the 'Whychwood'
For pictures of those trees visit my Faces of Yew hub here: http://nissevisser.hubpages.com/hub/The-Faces-of-Yew