I was cold and miserable and my clothes were wet and chafing. The day was overcast and the wind was heavy with moisture from the sea, which collected in the bare branches of the trees and dripped to silent earth below. Silent, that is, except for the hissing of the snake. I remained as still as possible, clenching my teeth so they wouldn't chatter and remind the serpent I was still present. It was beginning to wander off and I hoped I could get down soon and continue my search for shelter. Night was already beginning to fall.
I didn't want to be here, on this forsaken by the gods island. Forsaken by the people as well, I could see. Mostly I saw foundation rubble where small cots had been and nothing remained. Some were overgrown and provided cover to creatures best left undisturbed. Except for the one just outside this copse, on the neck of land between the forest and the cliffs. It looked sturdy in its plainness, but I hadn't been able to figure out a way in before the snake found me.
The renewed hissing snapped me back to my current predicament and I almost swore aloud. But the snake hadn't returned to the tree I was seeking refuge in. It was after some other victim--a figure walking slowly from the south. At first I thought it a small troll, so large it was, but no, it was a man, a large double axe carried lightly on his shoulder. He didn't seem aware of the approaching serpent and I wondered if I should shout out a warning, but the fear and the stories I'd heard about this land crowded in and I remained silent. Without breaking a stride, the man let the axe fall from his shoulder and in a simple movement sliced the snake in twain. The axe returned to the shoulder with no effort.
There was the snap of a twig from deeper in the wood and the man froze. Anything which could snap something in this damp would have to be big. The man sniffed the air and turned toward the trees. "Hello, Bear," he said. From a pouch over his other shoulder he took a fish and tossed it. The bear which emerged swallowed the fish whole and lumbered up to the man. It nuzzled the man's hand and was rewarded with a scratch behind the ear. A throaty rumble passed from the bear and it wandered off. The man continued.
He climbed the steps of the small house and paused, staring at the lock. I thought he might take his axe and strike if off. He removed a key from some pouch and continued to stare at the lock. Without turning, he said, "Are you going to sit in that tree all night? Or would you like to come in and warm your bones?"
I froze, not knowing what to do.
"I know you're there. Even if I didn't notice the tree was sagging unnaturally, even if didn't see the trail you blazed along ground and in the bark, even if Bear hadn't told me you were there, your shivering is loud enough to awaken unhatched harpies. Come inside or stay in the tree. Your choice."
He unlocked the door and entered. I dropped from the tree and followed, wondering if he could also hear the complaining of my stiff knees. This was how I first met Bok, the hermit of Ocllo.