They struggled through a batch of tall spiky grass, wading through and through until they came to a wooded area. Gabriel seemed to know where he was going as he stopped beside a rough uneven block of stone stood in the middle of the grass.
"We turn right here. Into the woods."
Adam turned to look at the trees in front of him. They didn't look too bad, not as threatening or as spooky as some woods can be, but he still felt uncomfortable, ill at ease. But he breathed deeply and followed Gabriel into the trees.
As soon as they passed through, it was like crossing a barrier. It was cooler, calmer, and a lot quieter. Adam could still hear birds, hell he could still hear the busy road that they had come along, but there was a stillness here that was soothing. He could do this.
There were various trails crisscrossing amongst the trees. They took one, then another, then another. Adam was soon lost, but Gabriel kept confidently walking along.
They passed over dead branches that cracked, brambles that snagged, and pretty yellow, blue, and white flowers that Adam tried so hard not to step on. They ducked under extended branches, shimmied over others.
After scrambling for what seemed an age, sometimes nearly on all fours, the trees opened out into a small clearing. Not quite what Adam had imagined. A lot of beer cans, some snack packets, even some used condoms, charming!
"Is this it then?"
"Nice isn't it!"
Adam looked around again "No."
"Good job it's not the place then. It's this way."
Gabriel didn't stop, but murmured over his shoulder, "This way."
So he followed, as he always did.
It only took a few moments before Gabriel stopped, turned and said "This is it."
He moved aside and let Adam pass him. He caught his breath. It was so beautiful. It was a much smaller clearing than the last, but whereas the previous had trees in a rough circle, this clearing just had a large gnarled tree at its centre. A big old tree with a mass of white flowers covering it. So many flowers, it was like the tree could hardly stand for the weight. The tiny white flowers cascaded to the ground as if the tree was some kind of giant parasol. Adam had tears in his eyes, it was so beautiful.
"What do you think?" He heard Gabriel whisper behind him. He turned to face him, a fiery glint in his eyes that he couldn't quite place. He turned and faced the tree again.
"How could anything this beautiful be here?"
"Why not?" He could sense Gabriel shrug matter-of-factly, but nothing about this scene was matter-of-factly to him.
He moved towards the tree, putting his hand out tentatively.
"Can I touch it?"
"Of course you can. Can't you feel that it wants your touch?"
He was right, it did. He gently let the tips of his fingers travel over the lichen covered bark.
"Do you like it?"
Adam placed his hand fully on the tree. It was as if he could feel it breathe, feel it pulsing away, just as all life does. He knew that it was probably just his own pulse, but it felt real enough in that moment, real enough to think that it was indeed the tree.
"So this is the place."
"Gabriel? This is the place right?"
He sighed long and hard. "There is no magic. There is no ritual."
"Fucker" He whispered more to the tree than to Gabriel.
"You're not angry, disappointed?"
"There is no magic as you said."
"So why did you come along?"
Adam turned to face him, his back leaning against the soft surface of the tree.
"Because you asked me."
Silence again, but he waited.
"I wanted to talk to you."
Gabriel looked uncomfortably at his feet. "Stuff."
Adam sighed, but in a weirdly contented way.
"Let's sit, and then you can tell me about stuff."
Gabriel grinned sheepishly, sat on the ground underneath that spread tree, with its cascading white flowers. He patted the ground next to him, so Adam sat, as he knew he would.