Beyond the Legend
She had only just made it to the top of the climb when she realized she’d eaten nothing in far too long and decided that she should rest. She found a flat rock and set herself upon it, opening her bag to find at least some shred of food left that would sustain her until she could find something else along the way. As she dug through the shirts and the wool blankets and the extra socks and undergarments, she discovered a wrapped packet of animal pelt that she knew she had not placed therein. Upon removing it and unwrapping it, she discovered a good portion of what must have been last night’s dinner, including some succulent meat and some vegetables. She ate with delight as the flavors of the savory meat, the outside coated in a thin layer of cooled and hardened fat and the inside tender and delectable, and the bitterness of the vegetables, a bed of greens that had been stuck through with a stick and roasted over the fire so that she could still taste the hint of the smokiness. Savoring each bite, she wondered who had placed the food in her bag, blushing at the thought of Judah or Galeal packing this feast beneath her undergarments and socks. But, if she were to consider that Poppy may have done provided her the food, then she would have to accept that Poppy left without her willingly and that thought was far more unsettling than the first.
When she had finished her food, she let her gaze take in the view from the top of this peak. She felt as if she were sitting upon the very top of the world itself as the land stretched out in every direction endlessly. She watched as misty white clouds hung close to the tops of mountains in the distance and barely moved across the sky. With so many choices before her, Willow wasn’t quite sure in what direction she should travel, other than knowing she did not want to return from where she had come. As she had told Judah last night, the village was far too small a place to grow or become anyone other than what the Ceremony of the Fates dictated her to be. And so she stood and moved toward the edge of this top-most point and took in the land before her, running a hand over the cover of the journal and hearing her mother’s words in her mind. She looked around at the various paths leading down from where she stood, wanting to at least find one that was not too difficult a climb, but her view allowed her little indication of the paths ahead.
She settled on the one before her and shouldered her bag in preparation, but her eyes settled on a strange item protruding from a small pile of rocks beside her at the ledge. Upon closer look, she realized it was a book and she brushed the rocks and pebbles aside to reveal one of Poppy’s 16 books, in fact, it was her best friend’s favorite book, Beyond the Legend. She scooped it up and turned it over and over in her hand, as if it might reveal where Poppy had gone, but, of course, it revealed nothing. She wondered how it had gotten here. Had Poppy left it for her as a sign of some kind that she was okay and that she had left of her own accord or had she left it because she had been taken against her will and she had the opportunity to hide it where she hoped Willow would find it? She didn’t know and part of her was just happy to hold a piece of Poppy in her hands. She stared down at the book. How many times had she and Poppy read sections of the story, taking turns reading it aloud on those afternoons when they escaped their villages and wandered out into the wide open meadow with its swaying grasses and wildflowers. The scent had teases Willow’s sense of smell with its sweetness and the long, swaying grasses tickled her bare feet, she and Poppy having long abandoned their clodding shoes and thick socks for the softness of the meadows grassy ocean.
Her mind recalled a favorite passage and she recited it to herself as she began making her way down the somewhat steep incline leading to the valley below:
Beyond the lands of angels there resided all the promise of hope that one could hold and Kierla yearned to see the land for herself. She had gotten close during her last journey, but had had to turn back and return to the place of her origin despite her efforts, pursued by the Santilini tribe, enemies to all, but especially Kierla’s tribe. But she refused to give up the journey and the promise, seeking the reward of the Gods that the legends spoke of: translucent seas and carpets of flowers and a peace that none had ever discovered within the tribes of men. And so Kierla was determined with all of her heart to discover that land.
In that moment, as she headed down the hill alone, she pictured herself as a kindred spirit to Kierla in search of the lands of angels and the promise of hope beyond the legends.
As she walked the path before her, she hummed the songs her mother sang to her when she was a little girl and took moments to touch the charm that hung around her neck. She wondered what her mother would think of her taking this journey into the strange vastness of the land that called her forth one step at a time. She let her mind wander into daydreaming memories of her mother, some that she’d enjoyed as a girl and others that she’d created after her mother’s death, especially creating different futures for them both, the two of them journeying together far way from the villages and into the unknown. She had loved the idea of she and her mother creating their destinies together and especially having her mother a part of her own wrestlings with the Elders’ declaration and her heart’s yet-revealed desires.
She passed the time along her path recalling words from Poppy’s book and stories that Poppy created when the two walked along the outskirts of their villages and reminiscing many treasured moments shared with her mother, some that came only after her mother died and she discovered her mother’s journal that was filled with parts of her mother that Willow had never known.
Although the downward trek was slightly easier than the upward climb she and Poppy had made just yesterday, she found herself feeling weary and in need of rest, especially from the sun burning overhead. Up ahead she saw that the valley and its surrounding tree line was getting closer, but she knew she would need to stop long before she reached the trees. Along the rocky path, she noted that there were some angles that offered at least a hint of shade and so she came to rest as she arrived at a slight indention in the rocky face. There was just enough shading to provide her some moments from the sun and to close her eyes at least for a short spell. She yearned for both water and something to eat and wished that Galeal were about to provide some kind of meat and that Judah could point her toward a small stream or spring. As she leaned her back against the rocky face of the hillside and looked outward, a rain of pebbles fell on and around her, startling her to the place she sat. She held her breath and waited, wondering if it happened to be a small animal, or if there were someone else in this area of the hillside. Sure enough, another raining of dirt and pebbles fell around her. She longed for Poppy, for the sword and the shield, for her mother. What would her mother tell her? What would Judah advise her to do right now? She was a little surprised that she wondered what Judah might say given that she wasn’t sure she trusted him now that he’d left her completely alone, taking Poppy with him this time. She breathed deeply and pictured life in the village, how small it made her feel sometimes and how vast this place was, how beautiful. She was determined to see this through, no matter what the challenges she faced. At the very least she knew that she was strong of will even if she was not strong in battle. With another deep breath, she rose and made her way quietly along the ridge, staying as much out of sight of anyone as she was able.
In her hand she realized she still held Poppy’s book, Beyond the Legend, and she thought that it was not quite a proper weapon, but she would wield it as she needed to. She got only three steps further along the outcropped area of the path when she sensed the presence of someone or something near her. With all of the courage that she could muster in the moment she had to do so, she stepped boldly from the crevice where she had hid herself and stared into the eyes of a strange, but timid creature. They both froze, marveling at the presence of the other in this space they inhabited.
“Eh-eh-eh-excuse, M-m-me,” the creature said.
“And pardon me,” Willow replied, bowing her head ever so slightly.
“I-I-I didn’t – ahem – I-I-I did-didn’t realize – ahem – there – you – someone – wa-wa-was there,” the creature said, bowing his head and lowering his eyes to the ground at her feet.
Willow stared at the creature that had the body of a horse and the body of a man, with bright, wildly curious eyes the color of the leaves in springtime. Part of her wanted to reach out and stroke the sleek dark brown coat of his horse half and she watched mesmerized by the swishing of his long black tail that had a single braid in it.
“I’m Willow,” she said.
He looked up, his eyes meeting hers for but a moment before looking away again. He cleared his throat and though she believed him about to speak, he said nothing to her, but he stomped rhythmically from hoof to hoof and stared past her into the distance.
“Hello, my name is Willow,” she said again. “And your name?”
“Like the tree,” he said, not looking at her.
“Your name is Like the Tree,” she repeated and he laughed a rich, low sound that filled the space between them.
“Your name,” he said. “Like the tree.”
She laughed, too. “Of course!”
He stomped rhythmically from hoof to hoof again, this time with a bit more spring in each movement. “I like you,” he told her.
She smiled. “Thank you. I like you, too.”
He seemed surprised by this. “You do?”
“Should I not like you?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“Well, I do,” she said. “I know, and I like you.”
He smiled at her. “My name is Sentiary.”
“Sentiary,” she repeated.
“What brings you into these lands, girl Willow?” he asked.
“I am seeking a new destiny,” she told him. “I come from the villages beyond the Bridge of the Angels and I am seeking to rewrite the destiny to which I was assigned by my Elders.”
“That is quite a quest you have undertaken, girl Willow,” he said.
“Do you think so?”
“To travel forth from your home alone to seek something not yet known, perhaps never to be known,” he said, “yes, I think that is certainly an impressive quest.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“How does the quest go so far,” he asked.
“Well, one might consider it to be going less than what one hoped or expected,” she told him and he looked at her without understanding. “It’s been quite challenging so far, perhaps far more challenging than I expected even though I have considered this journey for at least a year now.”
“Perhaps I could accompany you for a while on your quest, to keep you some company as you make your way through this land,” he offered.
“I would appreciate your company, Sentiary,” she told him. “And, perhaps, you might provide me a direction for some water and some trees that might hold fruit or some other area for something upon which to snack.”
“Indeed,” Sentiary said. “There is a fresh spring just over the next ledge down that way.”
“Wonderful,” she said. “I will just collect my things so that we can continue the journey.”
He noticed the book in her hand as she gestured toward the place from which she had come. “Girl Willow, what is it that you hold in your hand?”
She looked at the book. “This?” He nodded. “This is a book. My best friend’s book. Her name is Poppy.”
“And what does this best friend Poppy do with this book?” he asked.
“Have you never read a book?” Willow asked. Sentiary lowered his head and Willow immediately felt badly for her words. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “I meant nothing more than surprise that you have not had the delight of reading a book or hearing its stories.”
“I have heard stories,” he said, “but I did not know that they came from these things you call books.”
“I suppose that not all stories come from book,” she admitted. “In fact, I would dare say stories are shared and then at some point someone deems to write them down into a book.”
This seemed to please Sentiary and he nodded his agreement.
“Perhaps, as we are walking and when we pause for rest, I can read some of this story to you,” Willow offered.
“I should like that quite a lot, Girl Willow,” he said.
And with that, they collected Willow’s bag and headed down to the next ledge in search of the fresh spring and a cool drink of water for Willow.
(Day 8 word count: 2360 for a total of 15,112/50,000)