The sun is already high in the sky when I disembark on the Red Shore, by the locals known as Cherven Bryag. I am drawn to this place by the tales of caves and endless stone labyrinths that hide dark secrets inside. Tales that cannot be ignored.
A short walk to the neighboring settlement, where I rest for a while in front of a warehouse and talk with an old man about my destination, the village, and the Plague of the Crown. It didn’t reach this region, thankfully. At least not yet. I set off, but run into him again by a water wheel, where he gives me a warning.
‘I see you are prepared to camp in the wild. The night will be dark and cold, why don’t you stay in the tavern?’. When I refuse, he continues with a lower voice, visibly concerned. ‘Today there will be half-moon. The state in between. Not reborn yet, not dead still. This is when it is the strongest…’
He disappears before I managed to ask what I should be wary of. But in the end, this is exactly what I am sure to find out by myself. This is why I came here.
I pass the signs pointing to the ever-moving settlement of Breste, depending on the season being 4 or 5 miles away. I ignore the subtle hint to turn back, made on one of the signs.
Before I leave into the wild, I decide to stop at the tavern and try to figure out what I should expect. The locals are hesitant to speak openly, but from the fragments of what I hear, I manage to piece together enough. Ruins at the center of the stone labyrinth, where an evil entity with great power resides. A witch, most likely. One clue for it is the type of talismans that are placed on the gates of the households:
The road climbs up surrounded by autumn trees and intriguing rock formations, Stone Dolls. As I descend towards the waterfall, I enter a dense forest with trees enveloped in winding vines. I finally reach a small pond and the cascade, where I rest and leave most of my heavy equipment hidden in the vegetation.
Traveling lighter I am much faster, but still, the hour is getting late. As I am getting close to the entrance of the canyon, a stray dog approaches me from the opposite side. He acts friendly and clearly gives me a sign to follow him into the labyrinth. Should I trust him? Is it a minion sent by the witch to mislead my way, or will it guide my way through the maze?
I decide to trust the dog… for now. I name him Sharo VII – as far as my memory works, he is the seventh dog companion in my travels in this region. He goes forward quickly but constantly waits for me to catch up with him behind every turn of the path, making sure I follow. At one point he goes off the main trail, which further raises my doubts. Nevertheless, I decide to follow… And end up in a place I wouldn’t reach otherwise. Steep stone walls, just a few meters apart, engulf a path and a forest that I can only call ‘enchanted’. There is a slight echo as together we climb up on the rocks.
This is where we reach sort of a gate. Or a trap. Or a trial. A heavy rock stuck between the two canyon walls, just waiting to crush an unwanted visitor. I look at the dog for any advice – that’s useless, he is not a talking dog, it is not some fairytale.
So I try to recall all the studies on witchcraft and wards. “Only a person with impure thoughts can enter the lair of a witch.” That makes sense, this is exactly the type of visitor that would be welcome here. Luckily I have some of those thoughts hidden for such an hour of trial. I pass slowly under the hanging rock, ready to be crushed any second, but I emerge safely on the other side.
A few steps forward and with my animal companion we get to a cliff overlooking the canyons below. It is exactly sunset and the views are breathtaking. Completely the opposite of the ominous aura of the forest below, inviting to stay, to enjoy the view…
…and to be surprised by the nightfall. I suddenly realize the danger, and quickly gather my gear and rush down through the narrow canyon. It is too late to explore further, this time I won’t reach the center of the labyrinth. I will count this as an initial reconnaissance. Now is the time to get back to the waterfall, set up my encampment, and prepare for the night.
The night passes peacefully despite the half-moon shining above the waterfall and the Stone Dolls. At sunrise I set off to the Red Shore, making a promise to myself to return here on the soonest occasion and to finish what I started.