Death and pain is all Petra will know for generations.
The joining of these two lands is something to behold. They were separated by a cliff of such heights that no climber from either land could ever hope to scale it. All the ladders of the lower land put together would not even reach halfway up, and all the rope of the upper land would not reach halfway down. The people of the upper land all had magic after the age of sixteen, but the people of the lower land, only a small number of them had magic. The upper lands held everything that was wonderful and peaceful, dangers were unknown and all the people were one family. The lower land violence was common and wars occasionally broke out. The plants and animals were much smaller in the lower lands and the animals were far wilder.
But the one thing they were about to have in common was a force that would devour magic, even if it was housed in people. It craved magic. It has walked the top land many times, killing, taking what it wanted before going back and sleeping for an unknown amount of time. This time it felt something different as it stalked the top land. Great Mother. She was doing something. It felt her all around him like never before. For every life it took it felt to it like she was changing something in the land. She kept something from it. It hungered like never before. It grew angry. It changed it mode of taking the magic from people. Instead of just removing magic and leaving the living unharmed, it reached into the person and ripped it out not letting any mark on the flesh. It looked into locked rooms and removed the persons head and sucked out the magic. It felt the people start to fear. It enjoyed their fear. It slowly but surely built up its speed until no living person on the top land remained. Not even the young, it made sure that they all had magic before he took the final group of people. When it couldn’t feel any people left alive, it went to the cliff and looked down. Not much magic down there but more than enough to have it send itself over the cliff and slither deep into the forest. Here it would take many generations to find all the people that held any kind of magic. It would take it from them no matter how long it took.
When it landed in the lower land, the forest trembled. It didn’t like this intruder; it sent a message throughout the whole forest. Animals were to leave, stay away. Danger! It put up a magical wordless warning that would make those people with magic to hurry away. But those that didn’t have magic it was unable to do anything about. The forest watched as the first person noticed the thing that moved along the forest floor. He tried to kill it. The thing reared up and landed on him. The man died instantly. The thing moved around the man as if unsure what to do with it. It dug into the ground and with a sudden explosion, dirt and leaves cascaded into the air and down onto the body. The intruder moved off.
A woman fell from the great heights of the cliffs without a single sound; no screaming or flailing of limbs as she watches the ground speeding up to her. She had had stood on the edge for hours before she stepped off the ledge about three hours ago just as the sun poked above the horizon. No longer able to bare the utter loneliness another hour, she did not think of anything but not being alone any more. She frowned for a moment, should she land on her front or her back? It didn't really matter all that much, dead is dead. She watched the ground rushing closer; she still could not see the trees of the forest in detail. She imagined hitting the grassy ground that separated the forest and cliffs by only meters and smiled for the first time in many years. She rejoiced as she welcomed death with what heart she had left, the wind whipped at her long pale blonde hair and gown of gold, pulling tears from her eyes that blurred her vision for a moment before they cleared. The ground rushed on. Just seconds left and it would all be over, her heart pounded with joy as she imagined being with her family and people once more.
Without conscious thought, her hands moved against the current of air rushing past her to point at the ground, her decent slowed instantly. Her mind only caught up when her body righted itself and she landed lightly on her feet, her heart twisted painfully. She stood at the edge of the forest and saw the greens slowly come back into focus. Her shoulders slumped as she realized that it had not been something deep within herself that had actually stopped her from dying. Great Mother! A sob escaped.
‘Why, I don't want to live alone anymore.’ She fell to her knees as the uselessness of her action hit her, how many more generations would she live. Remembering! The woman stayed in the same position until the sun rose the next morning. With a sigh that seemed to emanate from her very soul, she climbed to her feet and started walking as she called in something to eat. As she walked she took notice of the new land for the first time, the trees were small and thin; she knew without trying that she could wrap her arms around most. She wondered why the forest only consisted of young trees. Why plant a new forest all at the same time. The forest gave way to soft rolling hills a few weeks later and she had her first proper view of the new land. It was a pretty land, but to her, everything looked young and unfinished, the sky was blue and the sun was yellow and harsh. The trees of the forest were small, the plants had tiny leaves, and the animals that she had seen so far were also small. From behind her she felt the forest calling out; she turned and walked back into the forest. As she moved a little deeper she realized what it was she was feeling. The trees were trying to connect with its chosen guardian. Standing behind a tree she let herself feel as he came closer, completely oblivious to his true nature.
Sanjay walked along the same route he had taken four times a year for more than twenty years, to check his section of the forest. He loved this part of his job, packing only what he could carry and heading west along the edge of the forest. If he ever saw any trouble brewing or smaller than normal numbers of animals all he had to do was note it and when he returned home, send a detailed account to the King. He was very well paid for the work he did; he and his family were allowed to live in the small but comfortable house that came with the job. His father and grandfather had lived their lives before him in the same way and each had shown him what was expected of him. But this year he was to meet someone that would change his life and show him the true wonders of the forest.
He stopped and leant on a tree, listening. Someone moved in the forest. Not loud or even heavy, it was almost as if the forest was opening itself up for the visitor. He shook his head. ‘Great, I think I am losing the plot.’ He laughed softly to himself as he walked a little further before the feeling grew to the point he could not shrug it off. ‘Who is in my forest, show yourself.’ He meant it to be a demand, but it turned into a polite request.
‘I apologies to you sir if I have trespassed.’ A light and incredibly sad voice said as a woman stepped out from behind a tree. He stood there trying to comprehend what he was seeing. She had the palest skin he had ever seen and long blonde hair that swayed as she moved. Her gold gown flowed like water as she walked. Her crown of gold held many diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires that floated around in the crown as if it was still molten. One moment they moved into one pattern then started moving again, settling every now and then but soon continued on their way. His breath caught in his chest as at last he looked at her face. She looked at him with eyes of lilac. He stood there with his mouth handing open until he felt the forest calling out. It told him of her sadness and loneliness that made the trees wilt before his eyes. Sanjay marvelled as she stopped before him, the sunlight fell on her through the trees, she almost glowed.
‘Your Majesty. Where are your guards?’ He frowned as he bowed. ‘Are you lost?’
‘Lost?’ Her voice brought tears to his eyes. ‘No, I am not lost. Would you sit with me a while and take some time to talk.’
‘I would be honoured my Queen.’
‘My dear guardian of the forest, I am no longer a queen to any people.’
‘Why?’ He all but whispered in shock as they sat where they stood, he noticed the gems in her crown fall to the base before they took up their paths again.
‘They are no longer; I have lived past every one of my people.’ She looked deep into his eyes. ‘What do you know of the land above the cliffs?’
‘Is there a real land up there?’
‘It was once a land of everything that was magical, of such incredible beauty, and no danger walked the land. But now it is a dead land.’
‘How did you live?’
‘I have been made to live for generations by one that we called Great Mother.’ She sighed deeply; the forest around her joined in. ‘She stopped me from aging; I am made to live on and remember.’
‘No one could be that heartless.’
‘As my people thought.’
‘Are you heading to the castle Your Majesty?’
‘No my friend, I will walk the land and stay away from people as much as my heart will allow me.’ She said looking out the forest and across the soft rolling hills. ‘Are all your lands as pretty as this?’
‘I don’t know, I have never travelled further than the castle.’ He looked over the hills. ‘Winter is on the way, only a couple of months at most and it will all be covered in a blanket of white. Almost what I think heaven would be like.’ He suddenly looks at the Queen. ‘Surely you will seek a castle to stay at during winter?’
‘What is winter?’
‘The land is much colder, freezing, the water turns into snowflakes before it falls, and if you are caught in a blizzard, you will surly die. Please find a warm place to stay.’
‘I will be fine; I have all that I will need with me.’ She saw him frowning. ‘I have it in the void.’
‘The void, what is that?’
‘A place I use to carry all I own.’
‘You have magic?’ In all his years he had never come across anyone that had magic.
‘Magic?’ In her mind she instantly knew what her people called ability, was called magic here. ‘Yes, as you do.’
‘Me.’ He laughed. ‘I have none in me.’
‘But of course you do guardian, you felt the forest talking to you.’ She watched him frown deeply and look at the forest over her shoulder.
‘I did do that.’ He looked back at the queen. ‘But why do you call me guardian?’
‘Because that is what you are. That is your gift, to hear and feel the forest and all the creatures in it. You are the forests protector.’
‘Really?’ He looked around.
‘You find if you put off your forest walk for even a single week, you cannot sit still. You cannot even think of anything else.’
‘The forest calls if you are not with it.’
‘Oh.’ He smiled at the forest as he remembered the two weeks before he left home; he had felt like he would crawl out of his skin. His wife ended up telling he had to go.
‘Your father had it before you, and his father before him.’ She watched as his eyes widened.
‘That is what he was talking about.’ He smiled at the queen. ‘He would tell me he could hear the forest complaining about a woodcutter or a person killing animals in the forest. I thought it was just an excuse to take off for a few days.’
‘You are the one the forest connected with; it knew you before you were born.’ The forest around them seemed to lean towards him; she reached out and touched his cheek. ‘It is welcoming you home Sanjay.’ She watched as he stood up and walked to the first tree and placed his hand on the trunk.
‘Hello.’ He listened for a moment. ‘Oh thank you.’ He whispered as a tear ran down his cheek, joy filled his heart. He thought it was like finding a missing piece of his heart that he never knew was missing. ‘Wait, how do you know my name?’ Suddenly he knew the forest grieved for the lonely queen. The man turned and found her gone. He put his hand on the tree and they told him she stood outside the forest. He turned and found her watching him from halfway across the field. She bowed her head to him and he returned it, she vanished. He stood with his hand on the tree for hours knowing he would never see her again. Around him the trees whispered 'Lonely Queen.' as they wept. Sanjay tried to find out her name but the forest didn’t know, all they knew was they felt her pain. He turned around and walked slowly home, touching each tree he passed. For many years all protectors of the forest would feel the forests grief. Over the years Sanjay would tell anyone that would listen about the Queen that wondered their lands. He would tell them if they ever came across a woman that caused their heart to tare just to hear her voice; they would know they had just met the Lonely Queen.
The Queen continued on her way, in good weather she let herself enjoy the land. In the worst of the winter she settled into her tent and kept warm but found it even lonelier. Every spring she would talk to more people after being alone all winter. She was quickly understanding most of the oddest things about this land. She was taking in knowledge and storing it. People here farmed the land and animals to live, others made things from the clay that made up parts of the valleys and sold them, others dug the metals and precious gems from the ground. She froze; others had nothing else to sell other than their own bodies. Why would they not ask for help? Because they were poor, no one ever listened to them, almost no one saw them. What about natural abilities that the Great Mother gave every person?
‘No.’ She whispered as she walked along a gently flowing river. Hardly anyone here had what they called magic and if you were not rich and powerful in the social world, you might be accused of evil deeds against someone else. Evil? This was something she had no explanation for. Heart is what this land needed. The Great Mother. She was not the God of this land. She thought about this. How could a God not watch over all the lands? Resting her right hand over her heart and lifting her left hand palm up in front of her, she closed her eyes letting her heart out.
‘Great Mother, please talk to me.’ She pleaded, and then waited. Receiving no response like every time she tried, she let her heart out further. ‘I need your guidance.’ Again nothing, no loving voice, no feel of her love being returned. ‘Fine then, don't answer your last child. Let me wander this strange land as alone as I did in your own.’ A tear rolled down her cheek as she waded across the shallows to the other side, not caring that her feet became numb from the chilly water.
‘Are you all right?’ A voice asked her from up a tree. The Queen looked up and found a happy face looking down at her. Her dark hair flowed free in the breeze as her bare feet dangled high overhead.
‘I . . . what are you doing up that tree young miss.’
‘Watching, why are you so sad on such a day as this?’ The girl looked up at the sun that shone through the branches with a smile.
‘I just am.’
‘You look like a queen or something, are you a queen.’
‘I was once.’ She looked at the branch the girl sat on and levitated herself to sit lightly on it.
‘You are magic.’
‘I do have the ability.’
‘Why are you alone Majesty.’
‘Because I am.’
‘Where are you going?’ The girl frowned deeper.
‘I am not going anywhere; all I do is walk and see.’
‘Who are you, you are a queen even I can tell that much, but no queen is as sad as you are.’
‘Here, take my hand.’ They held hands and she floated them both back to the rocky ground.
‘Are you going to tell me?’
‘I use to be live in the land on the cliffs, they all died and I came down here.’
‘They all died?’
‘Yes dear, every last one.’ Her voice became a whisper, the girl suddenly pulled on her arm so she bent over, and as soon as she was at her level the girl threw her arms around her neck.
‘You are not alone now.’
‘Thank you.’ She held the girl for a while before stepping back. ‘I have to keep going, but you keep safe.’
‘I will. Bye.’
‘Bye sweetie.’ She turned around and walked along the river until she came to a grassy spot under a shady tree. She sat and called in her latest diary, something she wrote in whenever she had more information that needed to be recorded and sometimes just things that occurred to her. She was up to the fifth red leather book, this one has lasted almost . . . she thought about it, a full two generations. She didn't know how she felt about Great Mother stopping her aging, would she continue on forever wandering from place to place never aging, never dying? With a sigh, she opened the book and watched as her words formed themselves in perfect red ink onto the purest white paper. When it finished she flipped back to the first page and read the first few lines.
I have just buried my best and the second to last living person in the land. I am alone. I now only wish for death to find me so I can join my people. A queen is not a queen without her people; she is no one, an empty symbol of a dead land. This thing that stalks my land is now haunting my dreams. I wish for a quick death. Why has Great Mother done this?
The hollowness grew in her heart as she thought about her people. She had seen so much death during her life but still was unable to comprehend killing. Until they started, her people had never known war let alone murder. At first they thought it might be one of them, but it was soon discovered that it was an external force. Every time she had tried to ask the Great Mother who or what it was, she would not answer, she did not even answer the young queens’ plea at all. For most of her life, Great Mother has been quiet; she knew she was real only because she could sometimes feel a faint feel of her but nothing more. Closing the diary and returning it to the void she went on her way.
She stayed away from populated areas for around two generations, talking to people only if they were by themselves. She would find herself telling some of them who she was and some of what had brought her here, but not about the deaths. Over the last generation, a few of the people she spoke to had already known about her. They said their parents told stories of her and her travels. Most of the time she would just listen to them as they talked about their families and home.
Then one fine sunny morning, she came to a choice between two road and knew if she wanted it to, her life was about to change. Looking down both for a while she wondered if she didn't want to just let things go on as they were. The left road wound its way along the banks of a river, small trees spotted the other side and the sun sparkled on the water. The right moved slowly up to the distant hills, she could see from here that a thin forest sat along one side. The sun would be blocked from two hours past noon. She decided to change her gown for something that would not stand out quite as much, and then took the left road that followed the river. At this time of year it would be a lovely walk, a gentle breeze off the water as the sun warmed her skin. And so she came to a town, a city really and she thinks she will be in for a while. It sat on the banks of the river, looking almost fresh and new but she could feel that it was many, many generations old.