Solitude, Denahi found, is the only thing that kept his sanity at bay.
He paddles his canoe in silence. This place had been so beautiful, he thinks, looking around at the trees, listening to the song of the birds. He used to go to this place with his brothers, his only family—before they left.
He suddenly feels his heart wrench as this realization dawns on him: they are gone. All his old dreams have shattered. His brothers, his only family, have left him.
No! Denahi vehemently tells himself. They are still here! They haven’t left me for good… have they?
Kenai’s boyish squabbles with him, Sitka’s fatherly advice… these will come back. They had to come back. What is left of his life, then, if all these have permanently departed from his life?
A certain memory turns into a daydream:
“Hey, Sitka,” he says. He seized the moment when Kenai had gone wreaking havoc into the woods—he treasured his minutes with Sitka as much as he treasured getting Kenai into trouble. Sitka also loved these quiet conversations; this is how he knows that his brother is growing. Slow and steady, Sitka told himself.
Unlike Denahi, Sitka had to grow up quick, because he was the only parent left. Mother and Father were no longer around to keep watch, and it was only fitting that Sitka’s totem is the eagle of guidance.
Denahi had a long road ahead, and that was okay. So long as Sitka was there to watch his journey.
Sitka’s pondering was cut short with Denahi’s quiet, somber voice. “What does it take to be wise?”
Sitka chuckles. “Easy. You just need two rambunctious brothers who don’t stop arguing. Add to that a couple of animals that can trample you anytime. That kind of supervision alone would make you wiser than Tanana herself.”
Denahi rolled his eyes.
“Hey, d on’t you deny it. I’m wise, and if you disagree, I won’t even help you look for dinner tonight.”
“Come on, Sitka,” Denahi groans.
“All right, all right, I was only teasing. Worried about your totem again?”
“I want to live up to it, Sitka. I'm trying my best. But we both know that 'being wise' is totally not my forte.”
“Well, you’re right,” Sitka shrugs. “You’re not wise at all. But, you know what? You’re getting there.”
“Easy for you to say. You know everything,” Denahi scoffs.
“ I don't know everything, Denahi,” Sitka says empathically. “You know what? When I was your age, I was way more lost than you.”
“You? Get outta here.”
“We had just lost Mom and Dad, and we all had nowhere to turn to. Well, I had to be the big brother.” He looks at a tree distantly. “I had to make sure we’re all right. That… kind of took a toll on me as a young boy, of course, but it has also made me wise. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Denahi looks at him in awe.
“You’re a great big brother, Sitka,” he ponders quietly.
“I know,” Sitka smirks, raising his brows proudly. Denahi groans.
“But really… I hope I’ll be like you someday.”
“Yeah,” Sitka smiles. “Maybe even better.”
Denahi paddles more and more, imaginary conversations running through his head.
Nothing was certain. He had dumped all his hopes and dreams, all his plans for his brothers; whichever had been, it was no more. His future was uncertain, his life was uncertain.
And it was all his fault.
If he had been a better brother to Kenai, perhaps he would have chosen him over the little bear. Justified feelings of spite took over his senses, and he punched at a tree trunk near his hut.
He was raging.
Damn Kenai, damn that little bear. Damn Sitka for leaving. Damn Tanana for this stupid plan! Damn the Great Spirits! Damn the entire world!
But as much as Denahi could hit the tree, it would never extinguish the rage he had for himself. Blame it on the world as much as he wanted to, but it all stemmed from him. Everything was his doing.
He was not a good brother to Kenai. He did not have Sitka’s guidance and wisdom to lead himself to whatever goodness he can find. If he had not provoked Kenai to chase the bear, if he had stopped Kenai from being aggressive, if he were able to save Sitka from his sacrifice…
“I don’t blame the bear, Kenai.”
The words echoed for the tenth time that day.
Oh, spirits, how he loathes himself. How have Sitka and Kenai forgiven him, when he cannot even muster the willpower to forgive himself? Have they actually forgiven him?
Because if they truly had, Sitka would not have abandoned him; Kenai would have chosen his old life.
Wordlessly, but seething, he slumps down at the tree trunk. His fist started to bleed, and his eyes starts to sting with tears of rage. Pure, justified rage, at the world—and perhaps mostly at himself.
He’d circled the perimeter of the forest with desperate sprints like a madman.
“Sitka!” he yells, his voice getting hoarse; and that was not the only thing that gave away his frustration. His feet ache, and his eyes droop from exhaustion. There was no clear reason as to why he was doing this; he just knew that he had to go somewhere. One more second in that goddamned hut, where he’s all alone, where there is no family to soothe his sadness—
“Sitka! Please, Sitka!”
No one answers. No light touches the earth.
I can’t do this anymore, he thinks, finally dropping onto his knees.
Gone was all the life he had ever known; he does not even know of a life anymore.
“Turn me into a wolf if you must!” he screams in the distance, his voice mirthless, devoid of any disposition he’d once had. “I don’t know what else to do.”
All he wants was to have something back into his life. If Kenai had gotten the life he wanted, why couldn’t he?
The world was unforgiving. That was why. His screaming turns futile, and he sits on the ground, unable to gather the last of his motivation to walk any further.
He could hear all the villagers’ concerns about him not going out.
“The poor man hasn’t left his hut for days!”
“Oh, shut it, will you, and let him mourn. He lost his family.”
He asked for a sign. If Sitka had not forgotten him, he would have given him anything. Anything would have sufficed.
Even Kenai seemed to have forgotten him.
What else can he do, with all the grief that swelled up in his heart? The villagers had murmured about him being such an active man in the tribe—one who helped with chores daily, one who helped plan festivities, one who caught meals…
But how can he possibly carry himself like that, now that all that’s left of his life has gone? He was hopeless; there was no power, whatsoever, to go beyond this.
Hey, Sitka, if you need some company up there, take me.
He’d healed when he had lost his parents; he had Sitka and Kenai. Who did he have now?
Himself. His selfish, lonesome self.
If that were the case, then, God help him. He is damned; he does not want to push further for his survival.
Tanana knocks on his hut gently. Truthfully, everyone started to get worried—the man hasn’t gone out, which meant he had gone for two full weeks without a proper meal (or anything at all, if that were the matter).
“I brought you something to eat.”
“Thanks, Nana, but I’m not hungry.”
There is a short spurt of silence before Tanana speaks up again.
“Come outside. I need to show you something.”
Denahi steps out reluctantly; his legs are sore, his heart still heavy. He is about to protest—‘please, Nana, I am not interested’—but he decides to can it. Tanana points to a sequoia tree near them.
“I don’t know what you mean, Tanana.”
And so he follows her finger. Something inside him strikes when he saw a bald eagle.
“Sitka?” he whispers. The eagle stares right back at him. Really, there was nothing to be suspicious of, and even so, Denahi knew, deep inside his heart, that it was Sitka.
Sitka was there. Barely, but he was there. And this is what he desperately chooses to believe.
“He has never forgotten you.”
Denahi blinks at Tanana. “How—?”
“Of course I know,” Tanana says, as if reading his mind. “He has never left that tree. He has never left you, Denahi.”
“So it is Sitka?” asks Denahi, eyes still glued on the eagle.
“But—why—? I thought he has forsaken me,” he admits, more to himself that Tanana.
"Well, as you are terribly helpless, Denahi, so is he. Perhaps he is powerful, somehow, but Sitka’s powers can only go so far. He cannot bring himself back to the living.
“Kenai has a little brother now—Sitka had taught him a lesson already—but he knows you need him now more than ever. And, unfortunately, as much as he wants to comfort you, he can’t. He is no longer a part of the living.”
Denahi had not thought of that. Immense relief—and dare he say, hope—floods his heart. He sighs, a heavy weight slowly wearing off his sleeve. “You’re certain?”
“Of course. I’m connected to the spirits, Denahi. Remember that. I know of their voices; I know of their desires. Just as I know yours.”
Denahi is silent again as they walk beside the riverbank, towards the more crowded, merrier part of the village.
“I’d like to be your apprentice, Nana.”
Tanana looks at him with a genuine smile on her face.
“Sitka’s always believed in you,” she says solemnly. “I have, too.”
Denahi shoots her a grateful look. His mouth curves up to a small, meek smile; the first one he’d cracked in months.
“Although, dear, I think you need a shave,” she jokes. “I thought you looked better without the beard.”
. . . . . .
“So much has been planned for my family, and for me,” Denahi says, wrapping up his story. The villagers look at him in awe and respect. He is a man who carries himself, despite the loss of—well, frankly, everything—and this has garnered admiration from the people. This is a man who let loss freely unhook him from the painful ghosts of his past; a man who suffers in humility, in solitude.
But Denahi knows that he cannot stay in darkness forever. No, that was not what Sitka would have wanted. And he knows that Kenai did not choose his old life out of spite; it was not selfish if he had found greener pastures somewhere else. He is certain, for once, that he was not forsaken; not by Sitka, not by Kenai.
“You’re a great big brother…” “No matter what you choose, you’ll always be my little brother.”
And wherever his brothers were, his brothers they remain.
“But perhaps… the world has plans for me. For us.” Denahi resolves these words with a smile he intends for himself. “Family… is not something concrete. It is more than memory, it is more than the people themselves. It is the unbreakable bond you build, the love, no matter what the circumstances. No matter where, no matter why. They are a part of you forever.
“Brotherhood transcends tragedies—and maybe even dimensions.”
Sitka, Kenai and Denahi lived in a world of their own—Sitka among the Spirits, Kenai among the animals, and Denahi among the people. But that meant that their brotherhood goes beyond the world; that it was transcendent—sacred, even. And this gives Denahi the courage to live on and tell his tale.
The people look at him with awestruck eyes.
“I think it’s time we put your hand on that wall,” Tanana says. Her eyes gleam wistfully, and Denahi knows, in that moment, that it was not only Tanana’s pride that he sees.
He sees Sitka’s as well.
. . . . . .
A week after Denahi printed his hand on the cave wall, Kenai visits the village with Koda.
Kenai immediately sees the change in Denahi’s demeanor. Gone was the mischievous boy who toyed with the forest and his creatures. A sadness creeps through Kenai’s heart as he realizes that his brother has grown in his absence.
Denahi’s eyes spoke volumes of his suffering when he had gone. Kenai was truly sorry for having left him behind; and on behalf of Sitka, he knows that his oldest brother was sorry, too, for that. But Denahi has forgiven him—and understands him.
Whatever he chose, he was Denahi’s baby brother. Despite the guilt and the longing of yesterdays, Kenai was happy for him. He is lucky to have such great men as brothers. It is in his love for them that he decides that he will do whatever it takes to be like them. For Koda.
I’m so proud of you, Kenai wordlessly whispers as he puts his paw over his brother’s hand.
“Thanks, Kenai,” Denahi replies in understanding, a soft smile crossing over his features. He was getting healthier again: his face was clean-shaven, the color on his lips was back, and he was gaining a little more weight.
“Well, shall we go get your hand on that wall?”
Kenai and Koda roar in excitement.
“What are we waiting for, then?” Denahi says, just as mirthful. He stands up and puts his arm on his brother's back. With his other hand, he pats Koda’s little head. “Let’s go.”
. . . . . .
The days go by, and the eagle remains on the tree.
They will always need his guidance, even when they have families of their own. Oh, to be a big brother, indeed.
And yet, Sitka knows, they will be just fine. Brothers, they were; and brothers they remain.
His pride and his faith for them shall never falter. Their brotherhood, after all, transcends dimensions.