She stilled, and listened. A little way across the stream was a laurel bush. Its branches twisted arcanely; its stiff, leathery leaves slid against one another, whispering.
She rubbed her arms, conscious of the scratches left by the Watcher of the Beeches. Was it here, the Watcher?
She felt an immensity in the forest behind her and a rumbling of barky voices, more vibration than sound. And there was movement, too—not wind, but just as real and just as invisible. The Watcher was not here; they all were, all the Watchers of all the trees. All the Watchers of Sharhaya.
She closed her eyes and felt the Watchers pluck at her sleeves, push at her back. She let them pull her to her feet and lead her. Distantly, she heard a soft splash, and then another, as she stepped into the water; it was only shin deep here. The cold was more intense than before, penetratingly so, but it did not so much chill her as jar some inner part of her fully awake.
The Watchers were leading her upstream, toward the Asha’s source, a spring that birthed from a fold in the rocks on a wooded plateau just above the pass. Would they take her all the way there? It was a place claimed by the Forsteners; one of their first acts upon invading Sharhaya had been to destroy the Ma’Sharha house that offered shelter and assistance to pilgrims to the spring. Presumably the Forsteners now had a guardtower or some such thing at the site.
The Watcher of the Beeches scratched at her arm and brought her focus back to feeling her way up the streambed. It was mostly smooth limestone underfoot here, but occasionally her heel came down on a rolling pebble or she stubbed her toe; once her foot grazed the sharp edge of a broken tree branch that had stuck in the stream. She kept her silence, attuning her senses to anything the Watchers or the waters might communicate, hoping to hear the tree voices and sense the currents.
Then it struck her that she was moving against the current—metaphorically as well as literally?
No, whispered the Watchers; or was it the waters? No, not against. Into.
How better to get to the source?
The nearer to the source, the clearer you will see.