1 This Must Be Dying
"This must be dying," the thought came and went in my mind, along with other random, senseless images.
I'd stab my own heart and die already if I had the energy. Curl up in a God forsaken hole, close down my mind and succumb to eternal sleep.
"Peace and freedom it'll be," I whispered my conclusion. My breath cooled my cheek. The warmth and feeling of life was escaping my body. It wouldn't be long before my slumber became permanent.
"Will you find this in death?" Wind whispered its question around me.
I pried open my eyes to a grassy sludge and winced from the instant hit of aches and pains I felt to my chest.
"Pain in the butt," I coughed and cringed at the sharp jab I felt to my lower back. So much for that peaceful hole to die in.
I closed my eyes again; the image of shadows flickering on the ground etched into my retina. I listened to the irregular pounding against my ears that seemed to say, "Duh-dum, it comes, duh-dum, you're done."
"I'm done here," I whispered and drifted into a dream of baby-blue and peach coloured skies, swirling watery clouds, a collection of grandiose images, faces, far-away places. All wondrous and inviting.
"Not yet," Wind slapped into my senses. I felt its harsh scolding strike at my exposed skin; doing all it could to keep me alive. Some strength returned to my limbs.
"Grip the pain. Listen for water. Find it, find answers daughter of Marsilien." Its shrieking voice instructed.
I opened my eyes to light and heard the rustling of trees, a shifting in the grass and a steady gush.
"Find the water." The instruction came again.
"Why?" I groaned but knew I would comply since I was now feeling life in me again and a body's will to hold on to it. The idea of finding water had also latched onto my brain.
I inhaled deeply, coughed out my pain and faced the sludge. Warmth and the flow of blood empowered my limbs into movement. I made a slug trail toward a muddy river edge and felt cold life brush my finger tips. Water!
I fingered the sense-snapping coldness and scooped a handful toward my lips. The water's taste was tainted with iron and a putrid stench of decay.
The ground underneath me slipped away into the water. I found myself in a wrestle with a villainous river.
The river's assault was brutal. Its water invaded my throat and nostrils. It stung my eyes, pushed against my chest and threatened to break my ribs. My screams came out as gurgles and pitiful bubbles. It punched, knocked and dragged my body for some time before it spewed me out as deadwood toward the hard edge of something.
Twilight flickered about my eyes. A calming breeze soothed my aches.
"Finally, the end." Words spewed out of my mouth on the back of my last breath.
"Rest now daughter of Marsilien. Know earth and magic are with you," Wind cooed into my ears.
I felt hands wrap around my waist and lift my body into dry air. Pins and needles jabbed the tender spots underneath my skin.
Suddenly, I felt and saw nothing.
I returned to life with dull senses. I felt moist cool air to my exposed skin. My eyes fluttered open to the inside of a rickety cabin. A cosy blanket kept my body warm. Rope coils, weird shaped instruments, tools and hunting traps garnished walls of moist-stained wood. A small window framed a subdue outline of a misty vista near the foot of the bed I laid on.
Questions churned through my mind. Where was I? Didn't I die? Was I in hell? Did it rain in hell?
My head began to ache; stirring nausea in my belly. I groaned and snuggled further underneath the blankets.
A curt bam jolted my senses. I turned my head and saw an old man wrapped in a fur coat and camouflage green pants standing before the cabin's entrance. He stomped his heavy boots at the threshold before stepping inside and slamming the door shut.
"Huh? Good, yah be awake," he grunted my way.
My eyes followed his hobble to a practical table at the center of the room. He dumped a grubby sack on it and went about gathering cooking tools and instruments off the walls.
I lay unmovable as I watched him potter around the cabin. He assumed a silent routine and focus as he prepared and cooked a meal of roast rabbit and vegetables at a small hearth at the back of the room.
A rich, meaty aroma tickled my nose and made my mouth water with a desire to devour the cooked beast.
"Yah get up?" He asked me as he poked at the smouldering cauldron in the hearth.
I opened my mouth to speak but my words croaked in my throat.
The old man faced me with a knowing look. He grabbed a cup and fished out water from a barrel near the window then pulled up a chair next to me. My eyes watched his wrinkly, calloused hands carefully feed water into my mouth. An unavoidable stink of fish and iron wafted up my nose, which saw my first taste of water enter my mouth as a gag reflex. I was able to take more when I became accustom to his smell and the art of being able to drink again.
"Here," he said as he assisted me to sit up.
He shuffled off the chair and returned to the cauldron in the hearth. I frowned wondering if I knew this grizzly bearded man with the roughest crop of aged-grey tufts for hair I had ever seen. My frown deepened with a question if he knew who I was.
"Um, hello," I uttered a sound from my throat and almost gasped at its alien tones. Was my voice always that young and girly?
He returned to me with a plate of roast rabbit and assumed a position of spooning feeding me by the bedside.
"Ssh. Eat slowly. Don't yah choke," he ordered with a curt bedside manner.
I relaxed my frown with a sigh and followed his orders; carefully chewing each morsel and becoming familiar with the contours of my mouth. The time it took to chew down my food felt unusually long. Of the obvious reason I was meant to be dead. The less obvious was due to the small set of teeth in my mouth. Unable to resist the urge, I fingered the shape of my lips and inside of my mouth with a bony finger.
"Stop dat!" the Old Man grumbled as he slapped my hand away from my mouth and continued his spoon feeding until the plate was clear and my stomach bulged.
He shuffled out of the chair and went about cleaning up the mess. I relaxed back on to the pillow and found an interest in my own hands.
"Pale skin, small hands, slender fingers," I muttered.
The skin was still supple and free from many knots and scratchy lines that came with age.
"So I'm young?" I questioned in my head.
I glanced about for the Old Man's whereabouts and saw his attention on the hearth. I quickly shoved my hand underneath the blanket and squirmed as I gingerly felt myself up.
"Bony waist, seemingly skinny legs, breasts?! Hellbore!" I groaned at the thought.
Why did this discovery bothered me? I sighed away my feelings.
The Old Man started unpacking a sleeping mat from a chest against the wall with the traps. He laid out the mat and made a bed for himself before the hearth.
No more words were exchanged between us as he laid himself down underneath a blanket. I watched his back heave into a gentle rhythm as he lulled himself to sleep. Moonlight streamed through the window; casting a gentle light over everyday objects and transforming them into figures for imagination.
I was alive wasn't I? A gust of night air stroked my skin to answer my question.
"Whatever. Let the new day come. I'll be ready," I declared and allowed sleep to reclaim me.
I was able to move about the cabin a few days later, and discover more of the body I inhabited. The outlines of my hourglass contours and bony limbs still felt weird. Strong and solid is what I kept telling myself I should be. Also, my face was too smooth and small. I was still coming to terms with its soft pale features, thin lips, button nose and opaque almond eyes. Not to mention tufts of dark curly bangs that hung, annoyingly, over my brows. I suppose I was cute for a girl. Albeit a common one.
On the plus, I was functioning as any other average human. Although, I'd feel a pang from a plugged up hole near my right rib cage whenever I exerted too much movement in that area. As my mind had no memory of how the wound came about, I made an assumption it was caused by arrow penetration. Although it could've been from anything. The idea of being wounded whilst fighting a battle was a cooler explanation for dying so 'wound by arrow' it was.
"I see what I am. What's my name?" I asked myself as I scrubbed at a knotted pattern on the table; hoping the answer would leap before my eyes. Nothing.
That's not right. Surely, I had a name. I had to have something of an identity. Nothing was returned no matter how hard I pressed my mind. It was as if I had actually died and was revived to a blank slate.
"Too confusing," I brushed off and moved my scrubbing to the rest of the table surface until it was gleaming. Fortunately, the cabin held a lot of distractions in the form of work.
The Old Man issued light chores for me to do whilst he was out earning a keep. He also left me a dress to wear. Actually, it was more like a potato sack with a rope belt to hold everything up. The thick cotton sometimes irritated my skin like one too. I couldn't complain. He was being kind and providing what he could to help me recover my strength. It would be rude to speak against his gesture.
A gentle breeze sailed through the partially opened window, carrying the scent of crisp pine and fresh fish across my nose. It riled up soot from the corner of the hearth I had yet to clean. Charcoal clouds swirled unnaturally in the air, drawing my attention towards its dance.
My mind drifted in time to an aged memory of a hopeless battle before a pair of gigantic monolith, which stood as dark as night itself. They towered over ant-like warriors engrossed in their bloodshed. My heart thumped feverishly against my chest. I pressed a fist against my wound to dull an ache and the feeling of worry.
Marsilien. A voice sighed into my ears on the back of a breeze. Was that my name? It felt as alien as the body I moved in.
I shook the memory and other thoughts away. No. There was no way I could've been in such a battle. My body felt it wasn't so. Besides, I didn't look as old as fourteen summers. Aside from my arrow wound, the rest of my body didn't show further signs of battle wear.
"I must have good imagination," I concluded and felt reassured when the soot came to rest as a haphazard pile again.
I picked up the broom from the corner nearby and began sweeping the hearth clean. A smile touched my lips as I felt comfort in the back and forth motion. A ditty tune claimed my thoughts. I started singing it out loud.
ﾐ[A red sky burns,
One thousand men bleed,
A fire breathes,
The wyrd is freed,
Thrice it burns,
Twice they churn,
Four score a host of the darkest night bring.]ﾐ
I frowned and stopped my sweeping. Where did this song come from? It didn't sound like a common Bard tale but it was somehow etched into my mind.
"Don't analyse it," I said out loud as I shook the song from my mind. I continued my work in the comfort of silence.
Life assumed normality once I maintained a healthy status. It wasn't long before I started taking for granted my easy movements, average strength and agility that serviced the Old Man's cabin for three full moons with cooking, cleaning and other household duties. He seemed content to have me around. At least, I assumed his offhanded grunts here and there was his way of expressing his satisfaction. Either way, I did all I could so he wouldn't have reason for complaint.
Everyday, he left before the sun had time to wake up the morning sky and returned home as the night was drawing in. I adopted a habit of watching his dinghy draw itself out from misty waters at the end of each day. My mind finding comfort in seeing its weathered bow inch its way toward the small pier that was visible from the cabin's only window.
The time it took him to moor the boat and head up to the cabin was enough time for me to lay food on the table. He'd arrive home to a fresh dinner, which we usually ate in a comfortable silence.
The Old Man surprised me one day when he started up a conversation during our dinner.
"Yah recovered well. Dat be good," he grunted between mouthfuls.
"Um, yes, thanks to you," I said respectfully.
A gusty breeze surprised our meal as it knocked over a bowl of peas and cups of ale. Patterns of snowflakes and a tune of chimes filled my head all of a sudden. A gasp escaped our mouths as peas and ale drops were lifted into the air on a gentle whirlwind and slow danced a sequence of snowflake patterns before us. It was a magical feast for the eyes.
"Wow, amazing," I breathed my astonishment.
"Hellbore!" the Old Man cursed as he shuffled off his chair with shock. The chair had fallen to the ground with a heavy thud that broke the dance and caused the peas and ale to rain to the table's surface.
"Sir?" I stared at the Old Man and felt an uneasiness at the momentary expression of fear in his eyes.
"You, what are you?" His question had been barely audible.
"Sorry?" I had asked, not understanding what he had said.
He was quick to assume his usual, sober expression. The words that did come clearly out of his mouth were orders for me to clean up the mess.
Our conversation was kept to one or two words afterwards. I went to bed carrying my uneasiness into my heart.
"Daughter of Marsilien. You need to prepare yourself for a change. It cometh," Wind warned my ears with its airy chill as I slowly woke to another misty morning.
What could possibly change the situation I was in right now? I couldn't see it happening anytime too soon. Why would it? Life was comfortable for the both of us. Surely, the Old Man wouldn't want to change this.
I was naive. It was near the start of the fourth full moon when the Old Man suggested the change on the premise of finding out who I was.
"No chores today. You come with me," he ordered.
I must have looked like a frozen carp with my mouth stuck on a why. The steadfast look in his eyes told me I had no option to refuse his order, so I haphazardly gathered things for the trip and stepped out of the cabin for the first time.
The ice morning air chilled my bones as I followed the Old Man's hobble down the stairs to the small pier I had become familiar with from the cabin's window. It's weathered boards creaked underfoot as I followed his lead to the dinghy that swayed to the gentle lull of the sleeping river.
The Old Man threw our gear into the center of the boat and helped me step inside. I sat in a huddle with the comfort of a sack to keep my backside from turning numb with cold.
"Here," the Old Man said as he handed me a blanket to wrap around my shivering arms.
When he saw I was settled, he jiggled a couple of oars into two eyelets and started rowing the boat into open water. The boat was damp and the water a miserable misty surface that did nothing but splash up the sides and wet my skin causing shivers to the point of annoyance. I did what I could with the coarse blanket wrapped around my shoulders. It did nothing to ease my discomforts and my thoughts of wanting it to end already.
My mind drifted into imagination and a scenery of cool cream stone that gleamed with purity. Forming a wondrous maze of cobblestone streets, majestic columns holding up buildings designed with utmost authority in mind. Prophetic monoliths formed a ring toward the maze's center, which was beautified with red and white carnations. An orb of rainbow light pulsated in the ring's center.
"Is this place a memory?" I thought in a daze. It both did and didn't feel like one.
Flicker of light touched my eye lids. I opened my eyes to a energetic bustle of a city port underneath a morose sky.
Huh? When did I fall asleep? I mulled over the question as I watched the dinghy drift into a crowded quay and sandwich itself between bigger boats. He assisted me onto the pier with orders not to move without him. Like I'd want to when it was easy to become lost among the mill of fisherman and workers. I inhaled the smell of fresh smelt, iron and the sweat of hard work shared among the crowd.
"So this is life huh?" I muttered to myself through a dreamy smile. Maybe the Old Man was right to bring me here. I was being selfish with the denial of remembering who I was. Surely there was family and friends out there searching for me.
"Follow me. Stay close," The Old Man said as he led our procession through the crowd activity.
We weaved and pushed our way through grizzly-bearded men cloaked in thick oil-stained coats reeking of fish guts, tobacco and raw iron. Some of them either yelled out to each over barrels or stood over tables of mullets, cutting through fish bellies and ripping out offal.
Our direction changed as we headed up a dirt lane where people with run-down faces and shabby tunics hurried after the elegant gentlemen or ladies styled in crisp white robes with colorful sashes draped across their chests; their bodies adorned with silver jewelry and headdresses.
The Old Man was careful to avoid contact with the white robed people but he had no hesitation in shoving the others aside as we continued our course down a street of mud huts crowded with food carts of various wares and more shabby people fussing over white robe folk.
"Sir, who are those white robe people?" I asked and received a nasty pinch to the ear for an answer.
"These type of questions are rude," the Old Man scolded. He grabbed my hand and quickened his steps.
I was dragged up the steps of a steep path that led to a complex of cream stone buildings and a statue of a man with an eagle's head and wings guarding the front steps of a pantheon.
"Be a good girl and wait for me there. You don't move," he ordered and pointed to a tree shading the eagle-man statue.
I nodded and watched his hobble up the stairs and into the building that was frequented by white robed people.
The shade from the tree was a welcome respite to my flushed skin. I didn't realize how much we had walked until I sat down to rest and felt the ache in my calves.
"Hello," I offered a friendly greeting to a passing couple in white robes. They stared at me with screwed up noses and whispered horrid words before moving on. I sighed and leaned further into the tree's shadow; keeping out of everyone's way.
"Daughter of Marsilien your destiny is nigh," a gentle breeze stirred through my ears and slapped my senses awake. I saw the sun waning into the west.
I had fallen a sleep without realising it. Judging by the sun's position, it had been for a few hours. Why didn't the Old Man wake me? Surely, he hadn't been gone for that long?
The sight of uniformed men going went up and down the steps caused me to become apprehensive.
What if the Old Man wasn't here to help me find out who I was? What if who I was a person that shouldn't be found? A person that did a terrible thing. I chewed my lip with the troubled thoughts that raced through my mind as I continued my wait.
A shadow before my face drew me out of my thoughts. I saw a uniformed man staring down on me with a unfavourable smirk.
"Yeah, you're as that Old Man said," he sniggered and yanked my arms into his view.
Iron shackles were snapped around my wrists; pulling my body toward the ground.
Gusty winds whirled a tornado of dirt and debris around our bodies. The uniformed man yelped as he struggled against nature's slaps to his skin.
Morvorcas eticous! Stolid words sliced through my ear drums causing a rush of pain to my brain.
I passed out.