Tendrils of moonlight shown through the leaves as Kaci gazed up at the night sky. She should be resting, but sleep eluded her. Tomorrow she would have to leave the safety of her village. Go away from the friends and family that had always kept her secure and accepted her.
It was her final test. Elena was getting on in years, and Kaci would be the one to take over as the village leader. She had been preparing for this since she was a child. The trial should be easy, but she shivered fearfully in anticipation.
Her gift had manifested when she was young, before even her earliest memories. Kaci’s parents, knowing her destiny, had taken her to Elena. Her birth parents lived in the same little village, but she had no idea who they were. No one aside from Elena and her parents knew that secret.
It was a tradition that the village raised its leaders together. Unlike the other children, she was a child of all. This practice ensured there was no favoritism. At the same time, her peers had grown up with a mother or father to raise them and love them, to kiss their skinned knees and sing them lullabies. Kaci was alone.
She lived in the small thatched hut outside of the settlement with Elena. Elena wasn’t cruel, but she was a hard mistress. Lessons often began before dawn and went until well after the sun had set. Elena said, as a leader, Kaci would always be apart from the others.
Kaci received one day of rest a week. When she was younger, she would try to convince the other children to play with her, but their parents had taught them she would someday be a leader, and they should not distract her with childish games. Each week Kaci would try again hopeful, and each week, they would turn away, leaving her alone. When Kaci was tired of trying to win the children’s affections, she turned to Elena as a playmate. Elena would wave her hands and tell her to go away and find something to amuse her.
After some time, she gave up on having playmates and turned to the forest to be her playground. She would spend her free days climbing in the trees and picking violets in the shade. The tiny purple flowers would make regal crowns and long necklaces that she would drape over herself, pretending to be the queen of the faeries.
She remembered that time in her life fondly, for that was when she had met her best friend. The friend she would have to leave tomorrow, for she would have to go to a place where her friend could not follow.
They had found one and other almost ten years ago. It had been a particularly willful day for Kaci, and in a fit, she had run away from Elena’s lesson. She ignored her teacher’s shouts as she progressed further into the forest.
By that time, Kaci knew the forest better than anyone. After feeling confident Elena would not find her, she scooted herself up the nearest tree and sat silently on a branch. A voice sounded nearby. It was soft and echoey, almost as though it was only in her mind.
“Strange human, why does it sit in my tree.” It cooed
Still feeling willful and stubborn, she retorted, “The air and wind and trees belong to no one!”
“I am humbled,” the voice returned.
Kaci paused a moment, realizing that the voice was not coming from nearby, but it came from within her mind.
“Who are you?” she asked in her head, accepting the strange form of communication as usual.
“I am that with big eyes and silent flight. Small ones fear me, and large teeth and claws respect me,” the voice boomed.
“Do you have a name?” Kaci asked
“What is this name you speak of,” The voice replied, softer now.
“What are you called?” Kaci repeated.
“I have no name of which you speak, but sometimes my mother calls me small one with big eyes and silent flight,” It finally answered.
Kaci persisted, “I am named Kaci; show me your face, and I shall give you a name.”
Incredibly, the small white face of a young owlet poked out from a nearby nest of sticks and stones. Kaci smiled, pondering the creature.
“I shall call you Mwezi,” she said, smiling. It is another word for moon, and your face is white and round like a full moon.
“I am honored,” The young owl spoke solemnly.
Mwezi was Kaci’s first friend of many. After finding she could speak with the owl, talking to other creatures came quickly and easily. When restless, she would run with the deer, and when hungry, she would hunt with the wolves. Sometimes the small shrews would chatter and gossip with her. However, from that point on, Mwezi had always been her best friend. The village had seemed to accept her strange ability without question and welcomed the creatures of the forest. The years after that were joyful.
Now, as Elena aged, the time was coming for Kaci to take over. Every year, Elena would take Kaci east to the clan meeting. Kaci hated these trips. The village leaders would discuss the problems and direction they wanted the clan to take.
The Elders and Elena had known each other for many years. They laughed and celebrated, drinking wine, and singing together. Elena encouraged her to meet some of the other young apprentices, for they would be the future leaders.
She approached a fire surrounded by people closer to her age and attempted to join their festivities.
“Hello, fellow people, I am Kaci, the girl of the forest.” She introduced herself in the way she had always spoken to her friends.
The young woman closest to her looked up and laughed heartily. “Well, aren’t you a strange one?” She nudged the boy next to her and snickered. “She is Kaci, the girl of the forest. Must be a superhero or something?”
Kaci felt the blood rush to her face, turned, and ran swiftly to the treeline. She reached out to Mwezi, hoping her friend had followed her to the conclave, but all she found was silence. Warm tears slid down her cheeks. How was she going to be a good leader if she couldn’t even talk to people?
A soft cooing was sounding in her mind, and she snapped back to the present as Mwezi lighted on a nearby tree. Tomorrow she would go forth to the world beyond her own. Not only did she have to learn to speak with the other villages, but she had to learn to survive in a world alien to her own. Your final test, Elena, had called it.
Kaci sighed, thinking about what she would do and how she would achieve success in a quest that made no sense. She needed to find herself. How would she know when she achieved this goal? What if there never was a quest? Maybe Elena just wanted to get rid of her and find another apprentice?
“I’m scared,” she thought to Mwezi.
“You can stay.” Mwezi returned. “You are content, yes?”
“Of course, I’m content, but leading is what I was born for, and I want to be a good leader,” thought Kaci, “I can’t fail.”
“We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are,” answered the owl.
Kaci sighed, holding back her tears. “What do you want to be, Mwezi?”
“I am that with big eyes and silent flight. I am Mwezi, Kaci’s friend,” The owl answered solemnly.
Kaci sighed. “I will miss you, dear Mwezi. Will you be here to see me off?”
“Of course,” returned the wise old owl.
“And will you be here when you return?” Kaci asked quietly.
“If your quest is true, Kaci, the girl of the forest will not return.” Mwezi solemnly replied