Cyclopaedia Chapter Eighteen: The Hare's Story
The forest was alive. A single toothy and rough creature, as it swallowed him whole he could look back at the sun on the wide plain full of rocks and grass behind him, with a moment of apprehension when he disappeared into it.
Eirik made guesses about the path he should make. His original path was gone, consumed by the unstoppable growth of the very brief summer, now quickly fading. How long had he been in the village? He'd arrived when it was cold. He left when it became cold. Normally he kept close track of his time. But this expedition wasn't normal. He still felt the influence of Vermilion. He wasn't addicted anymore, but he had to accept that it may have changed him, or some part of him, permanently. The world trembled, the world was a rippling stream, the world was an unfolding series of connections. Normally he kept better track of his time. Otherwise he could be stuck in a place like the village for the winter. The winter that lasted most of the year. He took a chance now by leaving so late in the season. But he had to get back, back to the Capital, back to the Cyclopaedia, back to stop Fox.
He thought about his supplies and how far he had to go. He could forage if he needed to. He was far from any known route. A mistake in direction would doom him. Through the tops of the trees the patch of sky looked swollen and gray like it might snow. This would be unfortunate. He conceived a pace for himself, he set the amount for his daily rations. These were things he knew so he did them coldly, methodically, without provoking his own expectations.
What would the forest think about him being here? The same habitual response as his own, he supposed. He was subject to the forest's whims, but without strong reactions, they were a series of connections that involved him, but were not fully determined by him.
At night he set down into a bed of leaves, a small fire for warmth and consolation. Traveling alone this way, dragging through the forest like a weight, untenable, the fire was a relief. He had to battle the monotony of traveling. Days would overlap and grow and become tangled, you become trapped easily. The jumble makes you directionless, he thought. He stared at the fire listening to the sounds it made, the fire would always sing the same song no matter what was burning. At the edge of his vision, on the other side of the fire he noticed the glint of a pair of eyes, trepidatious, a jerky movement of fur, ears, the face of a hare. Eirik did nothing, he watched. Hare sniffed. Odd, he thought, a hare at night near the fire. And Hare stared back at him, at Bird, and he thought, ah well Hare sees Bird, and Bird sees Hare.
Eirik dozed off to sleep this way, knowing that he should tell Hare to go away because you might not be safe here, something might want to eat you. As he fell asleep, in a half-aware state, he felt abundant and paralyzed, Hare moved closer and looked at him and spoke quietly to him.
"It has been a long time," Hare said, "since we could really jump. We could jump across a whole field, we could jump across this entire forest. We could jump into the sky, we could jump to the bottom of the ocean. We could fly. But Raven grew jealous. Why do I have wings to fly with if Hare, with only its legs can jump right into the sky? And so Raven came up with a plan to steal it from us. He would be the only one who would go into the sky. One day Raven told Hare that there was a huge garden, full of things to eat, the largest vegetables Raven had ever seen and there was nobody protecting this garden. It was there for Hare to eat, Raven said. But Raven knew better, the field was overgrown with terrible vines. When Hare jumped into the field hoping for something to eat, the vines grabbed Hare and held him down. Hare could not jump away, he was held fast by the vines. And Raven flew over Hare and laughed. Who owns the sky now? Raven mocked. Please help, asked Hare. It's time for you to stay on the ground in the dirt, said Raven. But I can't move, if I stay here very long I'll starve to death, said Hare. Well, that will teach you something, said Raven. Please, pleaded Hare, I'll do anything you ask, just don't leave me here to die. Only under one condition, said Raven. Anything, said Hare, I'll do anything you ask, just don't leave me here. You must swear, swear for all time and all of your kind that come after you, that you will no longer fly—you must stay on the ground, said Raven. If you will free me from these vines that are crushing me, then I swear that no hare will ever leap into the sky again, we will stay on the ground. And so Raven freed Hare, and that is why we must hop. But once we could leap. We could jump across an entire field, we could jump across the whole forest, we could jump into the sky, we could jump into the bottom of the ocean."
He thought about Hare's story the next morning. He would never find it in the Cyclopaedia. He would not be the one to add it. Why should everything be in one place? He'd wondered if the Cyclopaedia was too big, if the purpose of it was a mistake, that trying to put everything in one place was dangerous. If everything is in one place, then it can be controlled. But to discover Hare's story you would need to sleep in the forest.
He asked himself if he still belonged at the Cyclopaedia. Compilers devoted their lives to it, as he had. What else would he do? What else would he believe in? No, he thought, there was a whole world to believe in, if the Vermilion had done anything it had shown him this, he didn't need an authority to make sense of the world for him. He would fight Fox not because Fox betrayed the Cyclopaedia's Oath, but because he wanted to protect the village.
He buried the embers of the fire. He put stones back into the places they'd been. He coaxed the soil he'd disturbed back into a configuration that appeared untouched. A trained eye could see he'd been here, but that didn't matter, he did it because the forest asked him to.