Heron’s Path

by Alethea Eason

Alethea Eason’s newest book, The Heron’s Path, has all the grace of the river that flows through its pages. One steps lithely into the world of Katy and her delicate sister Celeste. It is a world where the old and the new mingle, the Old Ones hold a knowing but genteel sway and the country man perhaps shouldn’t be so trusting of his dulled senses. Will Celeste come to know the purpose of her wanderings and dreams? Will Katy and aged Olena be able to keep her from the clutches of the evil we-nei-la? Follow them “north to the true wilderness, dark with ancient trees, where the Nanchuti struggle to keep their sacred songs from vanishing.” Like the current of the river Talum that witnesses all within these pages, you too will be swept along in the adventure, sometimes in reflective pools, sometimes drawn inexorably to the falls… to find the Heron’s Path.

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Excerpt of Heron’s Path:

On a hot day in September I found Celeste’s clothes scattered all over the barn, one shoe upside down next to Papa’s forge and the other inside a milking pail. Her yellow dress hung from a ladder like a bird suspended in midair. I pulled the dress down by its hem and three tiny blue feathers, nearly the same shade as my sister’s eyes, drifted down to the dusty floor.

I caught one of them in my hand; I stood there puzzling over what might have happened that morning to make her run off again. I felt alone, as though a wind had come up and peeled Celeste from the earth. I told myself that she was playing the same old game she’d scared us with so many other times, but this loneliness—so odd and new—followed me like a ghost as I ran outside and shouted for Papa. I was afraid he wouldn’t come; I’d find our cabin gone, and I’d be without any family at all.

Papa searched the woods. I took our dog, Rufus, and ran up and down the river bank. When I found no trace of her I followed Papa into the trees where there were more shadows than seemed right. I didn’t dare go in very far and kept circling the places Celeste and I knew well.

I heard Olena’s voice in my head telling me stories. Her words dripping slowly the way honey falls from a spoon. Her stories always made me uneasy. She believed in ghosts, the last traces of the Old Ones, who were a part of the breath and spirit of the rocks and trees, of the river Talum, and the surrounding woods. But the wei-ni-la, the darker ones, were the shadows to really fear. They were ancient too, and lived in the empty spaces of the woods, filling them with whispering.

All afternoon Celeste’s name echoed through the trees as Papa and I called for her. Finally, his shouting changed and Rufus started to bark furiously. I was so tired my legs were shaking. I was running on legs that wouldn’t work.

When I finally found them, Papa was half way up a steep gully with Celeste draped over his shoulder. Her hair, a skein of golden thread unraveling almost to the ground, was the only thing that covered her. I thought she looked newly born or newly dead.

“Is she all right?” I asked. My lips were dry and hurt when I spoke, and my words felt like spittle as they came out of my mouth.

All Papa could do was to keep climbing. A couple of times he lost his footing. I was afraid he’d slide all the way back down, but he finally got close enough for me to offer my hand, not that a twelve year old girl was much of an anchor for all that weight. He took my hand anyway and with a last push hauled Celeste over the rim of the gully, collapsing next to me.

He took a moment to catch his breath and then said, “Katy, take your sister.”

I pulled her off of him and held as much of her in my lap as I could. She breathed in the shallow way she did every night, as though she were dreaming peacefully, oblivious to all the fretting she’d caused. Rufus, his red coat full of stickers, licked her face. I shooed him away. A couple of small blue feathers stuck to his fur.

“Papa, if Celeste fell all the way down the gully, how come she doesn’t look it?”

There wasn’t a scratch or bruise anywhere on her body. Papa didn’t answer; he was still catching his breath. He finally stood up and carried her to Gruff, our mule, who was tethered to the branch of an old madrone tree. He got the quilt that was tied behind the saddle and wrapped her in it.

“You run home. Tell Mama we found her, that I think she’ll be fine.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“Never mind. Just go,” he said. He wet his handkerchief with water from his canteen, bathed her face, and then tried to get some into her mouth.

I wanted a drink, too. My tongue was like a piece of felt, but I didn’t want to ask for the water. Celeste had always been the favorite—a fragile lamb in my parents’ eyes. She was also beautiful, everyone said so; even now with her face burned red from the sun she was beautiful.

But I knew differently. Celeste was anything but frail. I took one last look, and I thought I saw her eyes flutter for a second, then close again. I called to Rufus . . .

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