WARRIORS OF THE WAY
DAY BREAKS ON A HARDENED HEART
The sun fell out of the sky like a dying bird and crashed into the west with a sudden darkness that chilled me to the bone. I arranged my belongings around me and threw a blanket down upon the grass under a low hanging tree that provided a sort of shelter. Pulling off my knee high boots, I threw them onto the jumble of assorted treasures that had traveled with me for long years now and rubbed away the pain in my toes. I ran a hand through my long dark mass of curls and caught it in a tangle. Thinking I should do something about it, I looked into a deerskin bag for a brush and then threw it aside violently. "Who cares?" I asked the growing darkness. "I don't care! There is no one here to care anymore!"
Loneliness gripped my heart and I threw myself down upon the blanket and covered myself with another and fell into a dreamless sleep that seemed to last for days and yet only for minutes. My last thought before sleep had been, "Let this day be only a dream!" But that wish was not to be granted. A strange and beautiful white bird awakened me with an eerie song as it sat in the tree opposite mine and watched me warily with unreadable eyes. I lay there not moving and watched it watching me until it suddenly took flight and seemed to wave back at me in an approving farewell gesture.
I frowned and hid a smile behind my hand and turned my head as though I had not seen. I didn't want to smile. I did not plan to ever smile again. Smiling belonged to yesterday and Starshine and with the wilding joy of childhood. Today was another day. Today I would become nothing less than the warrior I had trained to be, determined and hardened and heartless! (That was the plan any way.) That had always been the plan though at heart I had remained the girl I had always been despite my many perilous adventures.
Looking down at the sparkling water in the brook, I dipped my fingers to test it's warmth and quickly decided a bath was in order. Slipping off my garments, I plunged into it's cooling depth, gasped and swam swiftly to the other side to acclimate my body. Pearl white stones lay all along the bottom of the stream and I dove down and collected a few and brought them to the surface. Like fragile bird's eggs, they were and cold and soothing to the touch. I had never seen the like. What strange stones!
I hurried out of the water and threw them down upon the blanket and reached for the fragrant soap I had purchased somewhere along my travels. Washing my hair, I remembered the woman who had cared for me as a child and spoke to me oft times in strange words that I could not understand but always her soft voice had comforted me and made me long for my mother.
I stood for a few moments in the sun on the banks of the brook and let the breeze dry away the drops of water. It never occurred to me that anyone might see me. I had not seen another human for many days nor did I care to. People always seemed to stare at me with strange looks and shocked expressions. I never understood why. When I had asked my father, he said to me, "Because you are beautiful. And special and they love you." That explanation never satisfied me, neither did it make me question further because deep inside my heart I had always heard a voice that said softly to me, "Someday you will know." But that day had never come.
I dressed quickly in fresh garments of soft deerskin and velvet, my preferred fabrics, not the preference of the royal house to which I was born but comfortable and luxurious to me. The deerskin tunic fell to my knees and was topped with a garnet cloak of velvet, hooded and tied about my throat. A garnet belt circled my waist and it's fringes came to the hem of the tunic. I pulled on my deerskin boots and the finger-less gloves that ran halfway to my shoulders. Brushing the tangles from my dark hair, I tied it up with strings of garnet and leather and let it fall down my back in uncontrollable curls. Starshine had loved to pull my hair when I had dared to walk in front of him and snorted in amusement when I protested and pulled his own black mane. The memory of it brought tears to my eyes but I brushed them away and clasped my father's gift around my neck, the golden necklace that matched the golden circlets in my ears. I had worn it for so long that I felt bare without it and it's smoothness gave me solace.
Sitting upon the blanket, I looked around me at the marvelous berries hanging from the vines and bushes and I grew hungry and my mouth watered at the sight. Breakfast beckoned, but first I sought to examine the pearl white stones I had collected at the bottom of the brook. I held three of them in my hands and turned them round and round then threw them up into the air in a juggling motion and let them fall down into my lap. "You're such a child!" I told myself and threw them down upon the blanket in frustration.
There was a cracking sound and I looked in amazement to see that two of them had been damaged. I picked them up and saw that each stone had broken in half and hidden inside one half was an object so shiny and dazzling that it hurt my eyes. "What magic is this?" I muttered and attempted to look at the objects through my upheld fingers. My surroundings suddenly went silent. Not a sound was heard, not a bird's voice, not a wild beast's call. Silence. My hardened heart began to race in unknown fear and I knew without looking that someone stood behind me. I felt them there without so much as hearing a single footstep.
It was a feeling of great....evil. I felt it watching me, willing me to pick up the broken white stones and remove the brilliant things inside them. It was almost too much to bear. I struggled with the strange manipulation and fought against it as hard as I could, thinking that I must. I must!
And so I did and the moment passed and the silence silently melted away into the morning. Noise rushed my ears then, noise of the wild and of the world and of the life I no longer felt a part of. I held my breath and waited for the watcher to return but it did not. Instead, I heard a twig snap and a footstep and a branch pulled back and to my utter horror, heard a voice, musical and low and oddly familiar. And the voice said "Magic indeed!"
TO BE CONTINUED IN EPISODE FOUR.....................