(I do a one-hour #WritingSprint each Friday and share those words here, fully unedited, with you. Yesterday, I logged 1,227 words during the sprint and then added a couple hundred more later in evening. Here is the result of those efforts.)
Just as Sophia scooped the last of her stew, Anrái returned, signaling to Luiseach to meet with him outside. “You made it seem as though you would be gone for quite some time,” Sophia said. “FaerieName has not even yet arrived.” At first, she smiled, but as she watched the silent exchange between Anrái and Luiseach, she sensed that something was amiss and she moved toward Anrái.
“The night has brought about some additional news,” Anrái told her, “and so we must address such things first. And for that, dear Sophia, I need a few moments alone with Luiseach outside.”
Luiseach touched Sophia’s face gently with her hand. “Warm yourself by the fire, dear one, for I will be but a few moments.”
But Sophia could tell by their eyes that something was quite wrong and she wondered again what danger lurked in these woods. She waited several moments before moving to the window next to the front door. A brief flash of memory ran through her mind and she saw Anrái opening this same window to the summer sounds and stillness when once she visited him here in the woods. With care, she pushed the paned mosaic of colorful glass open enough so she could hear the exchange between Luiseach and Anrái. Though their voices were muffled slightly, she picked up their sense of urgency and concern as well as two names, Ulleam and Myrddin. At mention of the name Ulleam, Sophia slid the window open wider so that she might catch greater details of this man whose picture she had seen in the Book of Lore & Legends.
“He insists he is well enough to resume as Chief Guardian,” Anrái told Luiseach.
“He remains not yet fully healed,” she replied. “Have you instructed the guardians to keep him at my house until I return?”
“They are subject to his orders, not the other way around,” said Anrái.
“He knows not the strength Myrddin has gained since he left our world.”
“I believe he has such knowledge and has at least once encountered the Dark One.”
“Indeed, but Myrddin could not have shown all his secrets else Ulleam would most certainly have perished already.” These words caused Sophia’s heart to race, though she knew not how she knew this man, Ulleam. She wondered, also, if she knew this Dark One, Myrddin, of whom they spoke in such hushed tones, as if he might hear their words. “We must protect Sophia from what is coming.”
Despite the fear these words stirred in Sophia’s heart, something inside of her compelled her to seek out Ulleam and she felt certain that if she followed her heart’s whispers, she would find him not far from where she was. She took the time to close the window before fixing the bed in the back room to appear as if she were resting beneath its carefully stitched quilts and then sneaking out the back door of Anrái’s cottage. She stood on the step in the dark tuning her ears to the night sounds, including the waning conversation between Luiseach and Anrái. If she were to reach Ulleam, she needed to move quickly, before Luiseach started home. With a deep breath, Sophia fixed the picture of Ulleam from the Book in her heart and her mind and set forth into the woods led by her heart’s truth.
The sense of danger was thick around her and she was almost certain she could feel it in the darkness that filled the space between the branches and leaves and flowers and crevices of the rocks beneath her feet. Even so, she moved forward with purpose and a growing sense of calm in her spirit, as if her feet and her heart knew where they were leading her. The rustle of leaves in the wind whispered caution to her senses and she left the worn path of the small village for the trees and brambles, again relying on unseen flashes of memory that she could almost feel with her fingertips as she felt her way through the night. To either side she saw cottages similar to Anrái’s and took comfort in the familiarity of them even as their locations spaced out as she moved deeper into the forest. At times, she was certain she was being followed, or at least watched, but she tuned into her heart and the picture of Ulleam she had fixed there.
She moves. Myrddin became deeply aware of Sophia’s movements in the woods and mirrored her movements even as he maintained enough distance that his presence was masked by her own. Unlike earlier, she moved with a clearer sense of purpose and confidence and he risked not alerting her to his desires by proximity to her. The shift of powers in the woods thrilled and concerned him; the Guardians were on the move, but it was Sophia herself that seemed to be emanating a power that had long since gone missing from Dearbháil. That it had returned instilled a desire unlike even Myrddin had known until now.
Aware of shifting winds and whispers within the surrounding woods, Sophia paused in order to listen to her heart and to the darkness. The Dark One, she thought, surprising herself. What had earlier been an ambiguous sense of dread now came to her in murky images of a man, someone her memory seemed to recognize for having seen him once when she was a girl still living on the Isle and twirling about with Anrái in the meadow that separated her home from his. At that time, his shadow had loomed over the meadow, his presence seeming big enough to overshadow the moon and the flickering hue of Anrái’s faerie glow. Despite its dark danger, Sophia had been unafraid and danced and twirled and laughed, reaching out and touching Anrái’s aura and infusing it with a power Anrái had never experienced before. Her presence and Anrái’s transformed aura had been enough to banish the Dark One from the meadow and Sophia held fast to that moment to infuse herself with the courage necessary to continue toward Ulleam.
With a renewed energy, Sophia moved in the direction her heart led, feeling a strong pull through the night toward what seemed a lost part of herself, so much so that it caused her to smile at the knowing that she would see him soon and learn who he was. Her hands traced along the tips of branches and her feet treaded lightly over rocks and roots as her memory of these woods seemed to grow with each step closer to Ulleam she came. She stumbled only when she sensed a presence moving toward her from where she’d already come. For a moment she questioned herself, wondering whether she was leading the Dark One to Ulleam but guessed he knew already Ulleam’s location and it was her that he sought.
“Where are you?” The words whispered along the winds and Sophia stood, contemplating her options. Should she show herself? Should she fix her heart and mind upon Anrái so that he might find her here and the two of them once again could together overpower the Dark One?
“You are near.” This declaration caught her unaware and she turned in a slow circle seeking its origin, recognizing that it did not carry with it the sense of danger or foreboding with which she had become familiar since arriving on the Irish Isle and yet caution encircled her thoughts. Could the Dark One be such a cunning shape shifter as to cover his dark presence with concern for her whereabouts?
“Ah-ha!” These words penetrated her thoughts, her heart, and the circle of her courage, and she felt a familiar fear inch through her fingers and her skin, causing each to tremble and tingle. “Be not afraid, angel.”
At these words, Sophia’s fingers sought the pendant around her neck, the gift her father left her all those years ago that had given her such strength and courage through the trials of this lifetime. Does he call me angel, she wondered. How could he know those words and what they mean?
“It is I, angel. Do you not know me as once you did?”
Sophia stood in the midst of the silence unable to move as the presence attached to the words drew nearer and nearer still to where she was. Overhead, raindrops fell and tapped out an almost familiar melody and thunder rumbled in the distance, drawing Sophia’s focus to how close she must at last be to Luiseach’s dwelling and Ulleam. In her mind, the falling rain reminded her of her mother’s evening piano lullabies until she realized that it was not the rain but a voice, singing the notes of her childhood memory. Despite her uncertainty and the fear tingling beneath her skin, Sophia was drawn toward the source of the song, clinging to the hope it stirred within her.
“Papa.” Her heart and mind projected an image of him and with her eyes closed and her heart seeking him, her hands reached out as if she might touch him here amidst the trees. When her hand brushed the cloak of another beside her, Sophia’s eyes flew open and she stumbled backward.