Two lonely souls meet in dire circumstance. For The Writer's Cramp.
|Everyone was talking about it. The calm before the storm. It was hanging in the air, telling tales of what was to come. There were stories of times past, tales of rivers of fire and a blotting of the sun. A darkness and a choking.
Now the ground rumbled beneath their feet and the village elders spoke. A sacrifice was needed.
They found her deep in the forest, humming and picking wildflowers. She was young and beautiful and kind and sad and often very, very lonely. Only the first two of these concerned the elders. For them alone was she chosen and condemned.
They offered her money, not for herself, of course, but for her family. After. She didn’t care. Her family had never minded her and she had never minded them. Let them have what they would.
They gave her a day to prepare herself, though who could ever have enough time to prepare for something like this? She asked to spend her time in the wood. They set two men to guard her and agreed to her request.
She sat down in the tall grass, the sun bright and warm. She watched a butterfly flit by and wished that she could float like one of them. Then they could throw her off of the cliff but rather than meeting the rocks below, she could just fly away. She reached a hand out and brushed the grass with her fingertips, the tingle of it ran up her arm. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scents of early summer. She tried to appreciate every moment that she had and every breath that she took.
She flinched at the sound of the voice and opened her eyes. Her guards had been silent shadows, why would they speak now? But this wasn’t one of her guards. This was a young man that she had never seen before, but somehow felt that she knew.
He smiled. “I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t mean to.”
“What did you mean to do?” she asked.
“I heard that this might be my last chance to say hello to you. I took it.”
“And that is all you would like from me? A hello?”
He sighed. “No. That’s not all.” He was quiet for a long time. They studied each other. “It won’t work, you know. Your sacrifice. The Gods have long since left this place.” His eyes shone nearly as golden as the sun. His hair was black as night.
She hadn’t known that her heart could sink lower but it did. It seemed to escape her entirely, leaving a hollow ache in its place.
He reached out and placed a hand on hers, gently. She looked back up at him. “Is there nothing to be done, then?” she asked.
“I’ve put your guards to sleep. You have a choice. You can run from here, from the clearing, from the cliffs . . . And from me. You may survive what’s coming and you may not, but you’ll have more of a chance. I would understand that choice, a death of your own choosing rather than one others chose for you.”
She didn’t see that much of a difference. Death was death. And what would be left after the fire storm? Would everything she loved be eaten up? Would she be even more alone?
“What is the other choice?” she asked.
“To go to the cliffs. To make the leap and to trust that I will catch you.”
She shuddered still at the thought of the coldness of the sea, of the sharpness of the rocks below.
“Why would you save me?”
He looked around the clearing and high up into the trees. “This is my glade,” he said and looked back at her. “I’ve been here all the times you’ve visited. I’ve heard all the secrets that you’ve told the earth and the trees.” He looked into the distance for a while, perhaps gathering himself to say things he was unused to saying, perhaps to wrestle with feelings he was unused to feeling. “I find that if you were gone, I would miss you.”
There was a deep sincerity in him but . . . “You know me,” she said. “I don’t know you.”
“You do, though. Did you never hear the trees answer you? Did you never get wisdom from the wind through the leaves or from the rocks and earth below you?”
She was silent. He knew that she had.
“It was all me. We’ve been talking for years.” He turned his hand from hers and held it to her, palm up, giving her the choice to reach out and lace her fingers with his.
She did and asked him, “What will happen here? To your glade?”
He swallowed thickly and looked down. “The fire will take it and I will look for a new place to call my home. A new world for both us, I hope. Across the sea and deep into another forest. If you’ll just trust me, I can keep you safe.”
His skin was warm, almost too warm, like metal in the sun, but she kept her hand tied into his. She reached up with her other hand and turned his face to hers and looked into his eyes.
“I trust you,” she said.
The villagers all stood near the cliffs, a line of them for her to pass by on her way. The bravery with which she went to meet her fate filled them with pride.
She stands now, on the edge, a gentle breeze stirring past her face, while the bell of alarm sounds deep in the distance, calling in the fire storm, and calling her home across the sea.