Chapter 6:The End of the Beginning
The man awoke from his dream reluctantly. All that waited for him in consciousness was pain and disappointment. His lips were cracked, his skin burnt, his muscles aching, his throat parched, and stomach turning inside out. The glare of the sun on the sand made his eyes water and beg to be shut.
Only a few days after leaving Sparrow Hawk and already he felt miserable. He had followed the instructions, had walked until he no longer could, yet still he had found no river. Could Sparrow Hawk have lied? No, the old man wouldn't believe it; so on he crawled, dragging his knees through the sand, somehow finding strength to stand and eventually stumbling on. He walked and walked, the hills turning into mountains, and the sand turning into water. Waves rolling under him, sometimes surging forward and sometimes dragging him back to where he had already been. Still, he walked on until he couldn't be sure his feet kept moving.
He remembered his dreams, how people once said you're life would flash before your eyes before you die. He wondered if that had been his, if he was going to die soon. Somehow the thought made him sad. Not because he thought he wasted his life, but because he would never find what he had always been missing even though he felt so close.
Tripping forward, he landed heavily and grazed himself on rocks and sand. It took him a second to even realize that it had happened at all. Blinking and glancing around himself, practically blinded by the sun, he could barely make out a golden eagle sitting in front of his face and staring at him. Was this how he was going to die? Eaten by an eagle? But a feeling nagged at the back of his mind. Just a bit more. Using only his arms, he drug his way forward, the eagle only jumped out of his way, not even deeming it necessary to fly. The man crawled and crawled and then slipped, his body weight pulling him down a large ravine, bruising his ribs on stones as he tumbled and rolled. Finally coming to an end, he rubbed off his eyes and looked around himself in confusion. Two steep slopes on either side of him and flat land at the same level stretching forwards and backwards. The floor beneath his body was clay, tightly packed into a smooth bed. He had found his way to the bank of a river, and had slid straight into its bottom. Looking around, the man knew this was the river he was looking for. The river Acta, with its deep imprint and high banks. But no water flowed between its ridges. It was dead.
Shaking his head in disbelief he tried to cry, but his body was devoid of moisture. "No. This can't be true," he croaked, tongue swelling in his mouth. His soul felt even more devoid now than it ever had. This was supposed to be it, the end of his search. He was supposed to feel whole and relieved.
But it was gone, all gone.
The golden Eagle flew down into the divot next to the man's head. It looked left and right, switching its gaze to look at the man with first one eye then the other. Questioning. Testing.
The man took in deep breaths and calmed his heart. Sparrow Hawk had said there would be a river here, that his people worshiped it like a god. Why then would he have never mentioned the fact that it was now devoid? He had said that he was going to it as well at this very moment. Where was it? The old man's heart sank beneath the clay, further and further into the depths of the earth and despair until he finally fell unconscious on the dead river's basin.
The old man awoke surprisingly to water bubbling up around him. It was already half way up his torso. He felt it and touched it to his mouth.
"Water?" It was! He tried to rise and make his way to edge so he could climb out, but was to weak. The water began rising to quickly to cope with. The old man was far too tired to swim, but still he tried.
"If only I can make it to the shore. I will see it. I will see it and become whole." Vainly he flailed, but soon, his muscles gave out on him and the water swallowed him whole. He reached up towards the surface, wishing if only. He could sense the beauty just above, see the fuzzy outline of trees and flowers at the rivers edge, so close yet still out of reach. The water thrashed and sent him deeper and deeper. The dark, angry river was swallowing his soul. Soon he would be shoved into the mud and deeper still. He couldn't go out like this, not after everything.
Suddenly the man stopped struggling and just let the water take him where it would. As he did the, river calmed as well. Everything he had been through, all of his memories flashed before his mind. His childhood with his mother, ignorant but content, the dead bird on the road, his trial and failure with religion. Then his adulthood traveling the world, finding Mina, leaving Mina. His old age, entering the desert, meeting Sparrow Hawk, and now this.
What if it was all meant to be? Just like what Sparrow Hawk had said, Acta was everything. The river completely stilled and surrounded the old man with the warm embrace of his mother.
Sparrow Hawk had said that if he merely opened his soul to Acta, that she would fill him, and so the old man did. He felt like he was releasing everything, his love, his hopes, his fears, even the emptiness that had been his only faithful companion for so long. He let it all go, and the river began to fill him. He was the lonely mountains, and hidden valleys, empty plains, vast ocean, and barren desert. Empty yet full, they all had been, but he had never noticed.
It had taken everything to reach this point. He'd had to go to all those places to learn how to let go. He realized now that nothing meant anything, that his life was truly worthless, but he had to accept that. The old man had been looking for the wrong thing. Since he was a small boy, he had searched for his purpose, so that he wouldn't die unnoticed like that little bird. The meaning to life. Now, he knew none of it mattered. Like walking up and down, up and down those hills, like how the desert would cover a single rock and erase it from existence, he had to realize the futility. It wasn't until now that he was letting everything go, he was able to see the meaning in it. He thought he had been empty, but he was actually carrying all his burdens with him. "No more," he thought. The river was cleaning him and filling his void.
A smile slowly came over the man as the water washed away his wounds, scratches, bruises, and cuts. He no longer felt any pain or fatigue, simply bliss. The water was warm, yet cool and comforting, as he imagined being in his mother's womb would have felt when he was less than an infant.
The man continued to sink into the depths of the river, becoming a part of it. Everything was one. Everything he had ever done had led him to this one point, one goal in his life, and he was more than ready to accept it into his bosom. The smile stayed on his face even as his body was devoid of air, yet it didn't cry. He rejoiced in his rapture and freedom. The river wasn't here, but it was. It was whatever you needed it to be. It was what you expected it to be. Just as Sparrow Hawk had said. This was his soul's river. Not everyone could see it, but Sparrow Hawk's people could, and now so could he.
He didn't need to be on the edge looking out, because it was apart of him now. The river did exist. It was here. And now he was with it, with god, with himself.
The Golden Eagle soars high into the sky, completely in control. No wind to strong, or goal to high. No questioning of its power. Solitary but strong, there is no limit to its majesty or poise. It stares down at the world below. A giant trench dug into the earth continues to glide across the desert. Empty but for a single, motionless, black form at its center. A river once flowed there, now long since lost to time. But yet… if one would brave the burning sands, look into the sun and travels farther than their legs may carry, it may flow there still.