Not What He Seemed
They walked for quite some time, exchanging small bits of their stories of growing up and what life had been like until the moment they met on this hillside but even so, Willow’s mind wandered occasionally to the whereabouts of Poppy and what she was doing as she herself wound down the hillside in search of things she didn’t yet know. Sentiary was a delightful traveling companion and kept her entertained with stories of his own growing up and proving quite interested in her stories of her mother and her hope to discover who she was intended to be according to the greater universe outside of the Elders and her village.
At last they reached the bottom of the hill and the sun was sliding down in the sky, stretching its golden fingers toward the horizon and creating long, funny shadows along the valley’s ground. With the hillside finally behind her, Willow felt that a rest was in order, and, oh, how she longed for something to eat. She wondered what Sentiary typically ate and if he could help them forage for some kind of nourishment here in the valley.
“Perhaps we should think about taking a few moments to rest,” Willow suggested and Sentiary eagerly accepted.
“You will read from the book now?” he asked her.
“As you wish,” she replied. “Before I begin, might we consider the opportunities there will be for dinner. What kind of foods do you tend to eat, Sentiary?”
“The same as you, I’m sure,” he said.
“Really?” This surprised her, but she was not quite sure why.
“I am only part horse as you can see, and that part being the bottom half means that I am half man where the appetite for food and drink is concerned,” he explained.
“Of course,” she said. “That makes perfect sense. And, so, is there a place where we can find some kind of game or perhaps some fish?”
“Indeed, but with what will you catch such things?”
She had not considered this and now stood in thought, wondering if it were possible to fashion some kind of means for fishing or fashion some kind of means for killing and skinning a small animal as Galeal had. She looked at Sentiary for a long moment. “How do you usually tend to gather food for yourself?” she asked.
He smiled a little self-consciously. “I suppose that I tend to use the things that are back at my home,” he explained. “I fear that I have brought nothing with which to provide food for either of us.”
“Then we shall have to improvise,” Willow told him. She searched the ground around them for sticks and rocks and considered whether she could braid some of the long grasses of the meadow together to create a fishing line of sorts, though the matter of a hook was a bit more troublesome. “But first,” she said, “let us sit and I will read to you a bit from Poppy’s book.”
The two found a place in the shade of the hillside wrapped in the long swaying grasses and settled down for a bit of a rest. There, Sentiary laid his head upon her legs and she began to read the story of Kierla and her search for the land beyond the angels. She did not get more than a few pages into the story’s beginning before she noticed that Sentiary had fallen asleep with his head on her legs. She laid her own head back and stared up at the sky that was changing colors over her head, the sun creeping closer to the horizon and from their sight. The pink was just beginning to deepen as her eyes began to droop with the day’s journey. She slipped into sleep and crossed over into the world of her dreams, a world that had become a place of danger and uncertainty.
She stood in the middle of a dark forest alone. The canopy of treetops was so dense that she could not even see a single star or even the moon. Moonlight dripped as thick as honey through the leaves, but provided almost no light to speak of and she had to walk slowly and carefully, her hands out in front of her and her feet tapping the ground ahead of her to avoid walking into a tree or tripping over vines or rocks or logs. Because of the thick curtain of night she no longer knew if she was traveling in the same direction as she had been earlier and she felt a fear creeping up from her feet and over all of her skin, like a misty dew that covered the plants at night around the village. Except that the misty dew was on her skin and surrounding her, making her travel extremely difficult, as if she were trapped in a web.
Just beyond her she saw a figure approaching and she squinted her eyes to try and make out whether it was friend or foe. Her heart longed for it to be Poppy and she was just about to call out her friend’s name when she saw that it walked on four legs and not two. It drew nearer and she could begin to make out that it was part horse and part man and it held a sword as if it meant to attack her. She attempted to turn and run, but her feet were stuck in thick mud and the night and the misty dew trapped her where she stood. He drew nearer and nearer, an evil laugh and an evil grin and the sword. As he came upon her with the sword, she flailed wildly, hands pushing at him, legs kicking, everything completely out of control. She heard herself screaming as she fought him back, and, yet, the voice sounded not entirely hers; it gave her pause. At last, after several moments, she realized that the creature, too, was screaming and flailing in response to her and so they were a tangle of flailing limbs and a combination of undulating screams. Willow felt hands grasping hers and pinning her down and she fought harder, hearing her name shouted somewhere beyond her consciousness
“Girl Willow! Please, stop, I beg of you!” The voice was near and her sleep and dream drained slowly from her mind. “Girl Willow, you must hear me. It’s Sentiary and I have done nothing to offend you, I promise.”
Willow opened her eyes and saw him, there beside her, his face a twisting of fear and pain and, yes, anger, at her actions. She saw that she had part of him pinned with her legs and that his hands were entwined with hers as he tried to keep her from clawing at him and striking him.
“Oh, Sentiary,” she said. “I am so sorry and I do hope you can forgive me.” She dropped her hands from his and wiped the stray strands of hair from her face that was wet with the sweat of her dream-inspired fight. “I do apologize,” she said again.
He backed away slightly and studied her for a moment. “Girl Willow, what was it that inspired your sudden attack?”
“Oh, dear Sentiary, I fell into dark dreams and I fear that because of your nearness to me, I was defending myself from a you that was not you,” Willow said.
“I fear that I do not understand,” Sentiary said.
“My dream. In my dream, I was surrounded by thick curtains of black night and a figure approached me, seeking to do me great harm. And I dare say that the figure in my dream looked such as you,” said Willow.
“Looked as me?” Sentiary repeated. “But I seek to do you know harm.”
“It is not the first of my dreams in which such things have happened. I promise you that you, dear Sentiary, were not the focus on my attack.”
“Perhaps we would do well to find the spring and some water,” Sentiary said.
“Absolutely,” Willow said. “Please, lead the way.”
The two wound around a small and overgrown path that led into a small shady spot with pine trees that circles a small area where water bubbled up out of the earth and flowed through a series of rocky canals into the meadow. Willow knelt beside the spring and scooped the cold water in her cupped hands, drinking with great thirst, both from the journey and from the disturbing dream. She turned to ask Sentiary if he would like a time at the spring and found him to be gone from her side and from the small pine tree circle. She stood a moment, listening for signs of his whereabouts but heard nothing around the spring. As she wondered whether she had offended him to the point of his leaving she heard a soft movement of what sounded like his hoofs on the soft, pine-needled ground. Her smile faded quickly as she saw him break through the trees, a dark shadow of a figure within the pine trees and a sword in his hands. As he approached on her, she noticed a fluttering of feathers along his back that she had not noticed previously. His legs also changed so that he was no longer half horse and half man but a looming creature on two legs with fluttering black feathers that traced along wings that started somewhere on his back and shaded him in shadow and cut off all light from the sun beyond the pine trees.
While he was still several feet from her she grabbed up her bag and ran into the denser trees beyond the spring and the meadow. She wove her way through towering pines and smaller saplings, twisting vines hanging on the lower branches and cut a path that zig-zagged and curved and looped as much as she could through the unfamiliar forest. He was much larger in form than she and her hope was that he would not be able to turn as quickly or fit through the lower hanging vines that seemed to grow thicker the deeper into the forest darkness she traveled. She scanned the way ahead, seeking some sort of refuge that she could reach without his seeing her escape.
As she cut right she headed into a small grove of smaller trees that seemed to grow despite the shading of the tall pines. There, she saw it, the sword was hung beneath a bow that stood at her eye level and there beside it, the shield. She looked frantically hoping for a hiding place rather than the weapons, but she knew that she would not outrun him and without a refuge, it would be a battle to be sure. She sprinted almost breathlessly to the tree and ripped the sword from its bough and took up the shield.
Dear, creator of all things, please be with me for I am scared and I do not want to die here alone.
She flung down her bag and rubbed two fingers along the charm around her neck and prepared herself to fight, wielding the sword with all of her strength as she swung around in search of her pursuer and spotted him just beyond the small grove of trees, seeking her whereabouts along the path. She sank back into the shadow and readied herself for his advance and yet hoping that he might abandon his search and leave her be. The sound of twigs breaking just beyond the tree behind which she’d hoped to hide herself alerted her to the fact that the dark angel had not abandoned his pursuit of her. She stood, holding her breath and readying her grip on the sword and hoped beyond all that she knew for the strength to swing it and bring harm to this person she deemed her enemy.
She waited until she could hear his breath and at last lunged from her place behind the tree and swung her sword toward the looming dark figure. Her first swing landed only a glancing blow upon one of his arms and did little to affect him or slow his approach. She pulled back and in her mind pictured the way to wield a sword in order to at least cause a bit of harm to an enemy, remembering the childhood games of swords that she’d played with her brothers until they’d gotten too old to play such games with her. She paused for but a moment, the arm with the sword pulled back and ready and then, when she saw him lunge at her, she, too, lunged forward, thrusting the sword with all of her might into his side. Though she’d intended to hit him in the chest, that she hit him at all gave her a moment of relief, especially when he stopped and put his hands to his side. With another bit of strength, she pulled the sword from his form, noting the black feathers that stuck to the blade and stood to plunge the sword again. But, to her surprise, he fell back several steps in retreat and then turned and disappeared in the direction from which they had come. She stood, ready for further attack, not trusting that he was truly gone, for several moments that to her could have been hours, but she dared not risk putting aside the sword lest he return to resume their battle.
When at least it seemed he was indeed gone from her proximity, she lowered her sword and let the tears that she’d held inside during her skirmish fall freely from her eyes, tears that held her fears and loneliness and doubts. She let the sobs erupt from her deepest soul, shaking her as they came in waves, all the while keeping her eyes alert for any movements within the forest. Although she yearned to move back in the direction of the meadow, she did not want to spend the night alone without at least the covering of the trees around her. For a moment she yearned for the willow tree where she and Poppy used to spend their afternoons after their learning classes and chores; actually, she longed desperately for Poppy right now.
(Day 9 word count: 2378 for a total of 17,510/50,000)