Meanwhile, Bara had been racing through the forest. Not for him the wild open spaces that Bild needed for this race! Bara had the eyes of a hawk and the ability to weave and skim though the trees and along the paths faster than anyone. He searched out with his keen sight a faint pathway, where few had walked before, and boldly he took it, spurring Tamba onwards and onwards to run faster and faster.
Bara kept his eyes fixed upon the darkest places in the forest, for he knew that somewhere in the hidden depth of the forest was the place where Shira lived. If such a wonderful white horse with a golden mane were to be out there in the open, then surely the whole world would already know him and be able to see him! No. Bara knew with his keen mind and sharp eyes of deepest blue that only the keenest eyes and sharpest wit would be able to locate this secret hiding place where Shira would be found.
In his secret heart Bara was a proud man, and was fiercely jealous of his brother’s enormous strength. To win the race he had to believe that his eyes were the keenest and his mind the sharpest, and he worked hard to use his eyes to read the signs of Shira’s passing and use his wits to deduce where he may be hiding. His only thought was that secret place.
He saw a hoof-print upon the ground and stopped his horse to examine it carefully. He placed his own foot into the print and wondered at the size of it, and he spent some time there staring at the shape in the ground, that pointed towards a dark place in the trees, showing him the way.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a small figure wearing a cloak the colour of autumn leaves. Curious, and not wanting to miss a single clue, Bara slowed his pace and approached the man. The man had a kindly face, but Bara did not know who he was and if he was wise enough to help him. The man said nothing but handed Bara a crumpled piece of paper and then melted into the woods out of sight.
Bara opened the paper and saw that it was a map. It was filled with strange signs and it was hard to understand. Bara spent a long time trying to work out which way he was to go. It seemed that where he was in the forest was not on this map. Maybe he was looking in the wrong place! Suddenly afraid that he had made a terrible mistake, Bara decided to see if he would find the edge of the forest, so that he might be able to find where he was on the map.
Staring into the distance, he tried to guess which way was perhaps a little lighter, where the sun was showing through the trees. He kept to a slow pace, and stared and stared ahead of him, seeking out any slight changes in the intensity of the light. He knew that if he lost his way in the woods, he would lose the race altogether. For Bara at that moment the race was less important than finding out where he was on the map.
As he fixed his eyes on the distant glimmer through the trees, again and again Bara ripped his clothes upon brambles and briars. Tamba was scratched and bleeding along his flanks, yet he did not complain. Bara did not stop to stem the flow of blood on his own legs or tend the wounds of his horse. As the day wore on and the night fell, both horse and rider stumbled more and more, until the pain became too hard to bear and it was time for Bara to rest and tend his wounds and staunch the blood that now flowed freely from the flanks of his faithful black stallion.
He dismounted, stiff and sore from the long ride, and bound up his own wounds. Then he looked at his horse, who stood there with his deep dark eyes filled with loyalty and readiness to carry him as far as he wished, and Bara felt remorse for how roughly he had treated his beautiful horse, that he had chosen for the race, who carried him so strongly and well and upon whom he relied totally.
Gently he took moss from the ground and around the trees, and speaking softly he placed moss along the horse’s flanks, took him to a small stream to drink, and let him graze freely upon the soft forest undergrowth while he watched. Gradually the look of pain in his horse’s eyes began to fade, and he came to stand near to Bara where he rested against a tree. Then Bara slept, tired and weary and lost in the dark wood. He dreamed of Shira’s magical kingdom in the hidden heart of the woods, and sometimes it felt as if he was truly there, with Shira near him.
For many days Bara wandered in the forest. At each cross roads he waited for a long, long time, thinking as hard as he could, looking as far as he could until his mind was in the whirl and his eyes ached. It seemed that there had never been a time when he was not here, lost among these trees, with only the occasional glimpses of sun to tell him the time of day.
As the forest grew darker it felt as if after all they were approaching the hidden place where Shira lived. Bara had to choose between finding the way out of the forest to see where he was on the map, or the way deeper into the forest to find Shira’s hiding place. He decided to risk going deeper, for the feeling that Shira was very near had been deepening every day.
It became so dark in the forest that he now had to rely upon his ears more than his eyes. The trees were tall and mysterious. They spoke to him in a language he did not understand. In the high winds they creaked and the wind screamed and he was too afraid to listen, and put his hands over his ears. In the soft gentle breezes there was a whisper that he never quite heard or understood, however hard he tried.
The darkness became deeper and the trees were so close together that there was only room to crawl through alone. It was time to leave Tamba, his faithful horse, to try and make his own way out of the forest towards the light and the wide green meadows, if he could. Bara made his farewell to his faithful stallion, and wished him well. Then slowly and gingerly, for there were many sharp thorns, he plunged into the undergrowth, with his heart and mind fixed upon his dream of the magical place in the depths of the wood.
There he would find the wonderful white horse Shira, with his golden mane and tail and wise black eyes. Bara reached an open space, and began to imagine that he knew the way. He set off surefooted, fighting through the low branches, sweeping away the nettles with his feet, until he became exhausted. He came to a stop, and fell to his knees in a state of exhaustion. He was lost and had been lost for a very long time.
He was alone and hungry. He found berries to eat growing there in the forest if he looked for them. Sometimes they tasted bitter but he ate them rather than starve, for he knew he needed strength to carry on; to keep trying. He knew, if he only kept believing, that one day he would find the way to the magical place he now yearned for constantly.
The next day he awoke from his bed of soft leaves and he was glad to see the sky still above him and the daylight coming with the dawn. Filled with fresh hope, he walked the long and lonely path that lay ahead, sometimes looking back to where he had been, sometimes searching through the trees for some sign that another person had passed the same way, to reassure him that he was following the right path.
If he kept his eyes on the ground he was sometimes able to see foot prints, sometimes facing forwards, sometimes seeming to retreat the way he had come. He found it reassuring that others had been there before him, but clearly they did not know the way out either.
If he kept my eyes on the sky above he often got the feeling that there was someone with him, but always when he looked round there was no one there. When that happened he grieved a little, for he craved company and support in his long, endless journey and it seemed so hard to do on his own. So he tried not to think about it and relied upon himself, his own eyes and wits his own ability to find his way.
Soon he became so hungry that he wept tears of hunger. He longed and yearned to be fed. He simply longed for home. He realised that his eyes were not sharp enough to see, and his wits were not clever enough to discover the magical hiding place where Shira was to be found. He longed for the safety and certainty of home.
It did not seem important any longer that Bild had certainly won the race and Bara would be the loser. It mattered only that he was lost, and yearned for home and safety. He knew that if he did not eat he would be unable to continue his long and arduous journey and must give up in despair.
Eventually, he became so weak he was unable to walk another step. He sank down onto a pile of soft leaves and wept, for he knew that he had no more strength to journey on and must therefore always be lost. And in the dark night of weeping he felt a gentle touch and dared to feel strength and hope grow in him. After that he remained hungry but he had hope. This was enough for him to continue.
And so he went on, filled with hope, wondering who it was whose touch he had felt, so gentle upon his shoulder. Every night he felt it upon him, but he dared not look for fear that it would fade and be gone. So in his mind he asked the giver of that touch to remain there upon his shoulder, for surely he did not need food but guidance. If this reassuring presence would only guide him, then he could find his way home.
So he closed his eyes and let the presence guide him. As he stumbled onwards he did not know if he was turning this way or that. The journey was long and difficult and sometimes he wanted to open his eyes to save himself if he stumbled on a tree root, but somehow the presence held him enough so that he did not fall.
He grew impatient, wanting to know if he had arrived at the edge of the forest where once again he would be able to use his eyes and wits to find his way home. Yet in his heart he knew that he must continue to wait and trust in his guide until he felt the sun warm upon him once again. He walked slowly, step by step, on and on, until he knew that he would never have been able to find his way without this gentle guide to help him. He wondered how he had ever imagined he could get out of the woods simply by trial and error, experimenting randomly with this or that path.
Here in the darkness, his blue long-sighted eyes closed, relying totally upon the guide, he soon felt a deep sense of rightness, that this was the right path. It was not smooth but pitted with holes and barred by branches and briars that whipped his skin and drew blood as he passed. But he kept trust in his guide until he felt a change in the wind, and in the whispering breeze he thought he heard soft and loving voices speaking to him.
Then in the scream of a gale he thought he heard a wail of unimaginable sorrow.......