“Perhaps you might show me the places to gather such berries as we travel together today,” Willow said after she’d finished all that he’s shared with her.
“Perhaps after your journey, we might spend some time collecting berries together,” Sentiary said.
“I would like that, too.” Willow began collecting her things so that they might set out on their way and noticed a pause in Sentiary’s preparations. “What is it?” she asked him.
“I am afraid, Girl Willow, that I cannot accompany you on your journey,” Sentiary told her.
“But, why not?”
“According to lore, the Defender must travel alone on this journey,” he explained.
“According to what lore? Defender of what? I do not understand what it is that you mean.” She sat down upon the log beside Sentiary and he took one of her hands gently in his and looked her into her eyes.
“Ah, dear Girl Willow, before we part company, I will offer you a small glimpse of what I know.” He went on to tell her that many of the creatures of the land had heard tell of the tales of the Defender, a warrior who would travel from a distant village, far beyond the hills and forests and meadows of this place to do battle against the angels of darkness. According to the lore that Sentiary had learned growing up, the Defender was a young girl who would travel with another, but that companion was part of what the young warrior must protect.
“Poppy? I am to protect Poppy from the angels of darkness?” Willow could not absorb what Sentiary was telling her. “But why?” Sentiary considered this question for a moment before responding, as if he had something was not quite certain how to tell her. “Please, Sentiary, I need to know what it is about Poppy that I must protect her from the dark angels.”
“She is a teller of truth. She holds stories and history and her truths and stories threaten the realm of darkness. Like you, she is an important part of protecting all the land from the cunning and evil of the darkness,” he told her.
Willow sat thinking on these things without moving and almost without breathing. She and Poppy had not considered anything like this when they began their plans to rewrite their destinies a year ago. They were only now 16 and Willow could not imagine that two 16-year-old girls could do battle against the realm of darkness that she had heard tell of ever since she was a girl and that she had not believed in until this moment. Galeal’s words from the night before came back to her, She is safe for the moment. What was this once-simple journey transforming into this day even as Willow prepared to continue on. Was she indeed making her way to the realm of darkness and, if so, why had the Elders never once spoken of this journey to her.
“Girl Willow, are you okay, dear one?” Sentiary asked.
She offered him a smile though her eyes glistened with the tears of all she felt she was losing as a result of this journey to redefine who she was meant to be. “Thank you, Sentiary,” she said. “I am certain that I will be okay in a moment or two. I have never heard these tales until this day.”
Sentiary nodded with understanding and helped her to her feet. “There is much daylight and you should not waste its moment in the darkness of the forest,” he told her.
“Indeed I should not. Especially if I am to enter the realm of darkness soon then I shall revel in the beauty of the light and the warmth of the day and of the sun.”
He held out two small packets wrapped in tanned leather. “For the journey,” he said. She peeked inside and realized that he had saved his breakfast from Galeal for her and that he had included many more berries for her to enjoy as she trekked through the meadow into the rocky cliffs that lay ahead of her.
“Thank you, my dear Sentiary, for all you have given me,” she said, and kissed his cheek. He hugged her and wished her well, telling her not to fear.
“You will have the things you need when you need them,” he said.
“Words of Judah?” she said.
He smiled. “Indeed they are. But they are mine, too, because I believe in you, Girl Willow. Go with care.”
Willow made her way out of the forest with its darkness and chill and stood for several moments in the sun absorbing its glowing warmth through her skin and into her soul. The rather enjoyed the sense of energy that it provided her and she instinctively took hold of her mother’s necklace in her hand and wondered if this was what her mother had seen when she looked at Willow when she was a young girl. Was this why her mother had refused to leave and to embark on her own journey, because she had realized what her daughter would have to do one day? This thought made her want to sit and read through her mother’s words with this new information and see if they read differently to her than they had before, but she knew that she had not the time and that she must press onward.
She tucked the food from Sentiary into her bag and took out the journal for just a moment so that she could hold it and feel close to her mother and draw strength from her mother’s words and her mother’s belief in her. Finally, she looked ahead at the tall rocky faces that stretched toward the sky in the distance and began walking through the meadows, keeping close to the tree line on her left and drinking in the incredible beauty that shimmered around her in the meadow and in the sky and in the very air itself.
As she walked along, she remembered the days just after the Ceremony of the Fates, when she and her mother had walked alone for an afternoon, not speaking much to each other, but there was something about her mother that day, as if something weighed upon her mind and upon her heart, but she did not share her words with Willow. Instead, she held Willow’s hand in hers and led her into the surrounding cove of trees near the small stream that gurgled behind their village. When they were away from everyone, they sat and her mother turned to her and held her closely, whispering almost inaudibly in Willow’s ear. “When the time comes, dear Willow, you will know what to do. Trust in yourself and trust in the truth,” she’d said. “Always trust in the truth.”
At the time, her mother’s words had been confusing to her but she had not asked her mother to explain and she did not realize at that time that her mother was addressing what had happened at the Ceremony of the Fates and what would become this journey of destiny. How often had she replayed those words and wondered what her mother intended that day, and then, she was gone and Willow no longer had the opportunity to ask her for her understanding or explanation. For the first time she wondered about her mother’s death, how sudden it seemed, how surprising to so many because her mother and father were both young and healthy. The thought caused her to shudder in spite of the sun’s warmth upon her back and she stumbled slightly at what she was considering, falling forward to her knees. Had her mother actually been a victim of the angels of darkness? And, if so, how would she continue toward the danger that surely awaited her?
She felt a hand upon her back and jumped in a crawling motion away from the hand, fearing another encounter with one of the dark angels. But the voice that spoke was familiar.
“Willow,” Poppy said, “It’s me.” Poppy knelt beside her friend and Willow collapsed in Poppy’s arms shaking from a mixture of fear and relief and joy.
“Is it indeed you,” Willow said.
“It is,” Poppy replied.
“Where have you been? How are you? I have so much to tell you, oh, and I found your book.” Willow felt like she needed to tell her best friend everything that had happened in the last day and tell her far more quickly because she was afraid that time would require Poppy leave her again.
As if reading her mind, Poppy said, “We have time, dear Willow. There is a small lake just around this bend where the rocky crags begin where we can sit and have some food and we can talk about the journey that awaits us.”
“We will travel together then,” Willow said.
“From this point forward, we shall not be separated,” Poppy told her.
The two friends rose and clasped hands tightly as they headed toward the rocky crag of cliffs they would soon need to climb. But for this moment, Willow was content in knowing that she and Poppy would rest together and that they would talk and eat together and then they would proceed together. In the back of her mind, she did wonder about keeping Poppy safe, but she was determined that she would do whatever it took to do so and that it would be worth every effort if they were able to travel together.
(Day 11 word count: 1589 for a total of 20,878/50,000)