The girl ran up the hill easily, dodging white birches and falling leaves, the soft moss under her bare feet chill with morning dew. The highest hill was bare of trees, and as she reached it she could see the wide plains of the inland stretching out all the way into the blue haze. Out of the blue haze rose the far-off mountains, soft and worn, but some of them high enough to have snow this time of year. Straight ahead of her was a cut in the mountains, also filled with haze, but she knew that this was the pass to the other side. She had heard tales of all the duchies, kingdoms and quarrels on the plains; but of the land beyond the mountains, she had heard not a word. With the gate hidden in blue nothingness, it was a fairyland in her mind.
Her daydreaming was cut short by an angry voice in her head shouting, "Denera!" Time to run back and help her father. Good thing her subconscious told her, as she should have been down there already.
Denera walked back up to the hill after dark. Almost invisible in the black night, the wide plains and far-off mountains that had made her dream of the world out there were still visible in her mind. Over the pass shrouded in darkness, a pale scimitar moon shone down and gave the highest peaks a silver edge of snow-reflected light. The slowly moving heavenly body she knew as The Coin was on its way towards the moon, and it looked like it would wink on just between the horns of the moon. The Coin was said to be just that, a coin, and the tale of how it came to spin across the night sky, how it came to be that one side shone appearantly of its own, and the other side was dark, and how come it was so huge, was one of Denera's favourite tales of ancient heros. "I've never seen that before," she thought as The Coin reached perfect roundness just in the middle of the darkened disk of the scimitar moon. As it winked out again, a shooting star shot through the place it had been. She gasped as the line of fire crossed through the moon and pointed straight for the lowest point of the mountains. "A sign from the gods," she thought, and gasped again as the single shooting star was followed by a rain of them. "Surely a sign from the gods," she thought, and tales of people chosen by the gods and her own daydreaming of the land beyond the mountains ran through her mind.
As she lay in her bed, the first urge to see the other side and let the gods lead her to her fairyland was replaced by sensible thoughts of staying home. She knew little of the world, and had no idea how she would survive out there, but it had been such a strong feeling. The thought had just popped into her mind as if from outside, and who but the gods could put thoughts in someone's mind? If the gods had chosen her to go, she would. She thought up the title of a hero's poem about hersef, as she fell under her spell of being selected by the gods. "The FisherFarmer's Daughter."
"She was a fisherfarmer's daughter,
But not destined to be one's wife.
Her path lay across the mountians.
Hmmm mmmm mmmm..."
The fields on both sides of the road were bare, the harvest was over. The rain that fell on the ground made no farmer tear his hair out from worry that the ripe grain would be ruined. On the other hand, it made the deep ruts in the road into rivers of mud. The rest of the road was not much better, but the hedges along the useless ditches forced her to follow it. The soaked, stubbled fields didn't look inviting either, her senses told her to turn home. Only the strange urge from the first night had kept her moving, and she hadn't felt like that for days. All the money she had "borrowed" from her unsuspecting parents was spent, she'd worked the harvest on several farms and borrowed some not yet reaped vegetables. Now, however, most fields were empty, and she hadn't eaten anything for days. She was about to let her senses get the upper hand and turn back, despite the message from the gods, and the fact that the first thing she thought about any time she saw the mountains as, "there, and beyond." She just knew the gods had her destiny planned for her on the other side and the urge to see that other side was there when she looked toward the pass, but she thought about the miles left and the hopelessness of the journey. She turned her back to them.
She had heard infrequent dull sounds throughout the monotonous drizzle of the rain for the last day or so, without really noticing or caring what they were. As she crossed another hill, the opposite way from the day before, the source became evident. Camped on both sides of the road she had traveled two days earlier, was a small army. She knew about the armies, and the wars, they were one of the reasons she had gotten to work in the harvest: people were afraid the war would come to the before their food was safely harvested. And now she'd stumbled right into it. It wasn't a large camp, but she was afraid of either walking through it or sneaking around it. Had she still been following her urge she would have marched through it, but now she decided sneaking would be better.
The soldier appeared from the bushes as she was halfway around the camp. She saw him first and hid fast. The man was heavily armored, with several mismatched pieces of equipment that obviously didn't belong together, even in her untrained eyes. He looked slow and inattentive, and the thought struck her that she could just sneak by. She thought about a safer route, but it seemed to her the only way was to go back quite a bit and make a major detour. So, she went with her hunch and was completely surprised when her soft footsteps, soundless to her, made him turn.
Before she managed to run, he grabbed her wrist and threw her to the ground. He pulled her back up by the neck and lifted her almost off the ground. She fought for breath as he took another look at her, the angry violent stare slowly fading to an ugly grin filled with lust. His other hand rose towards the neck of her worn and muddied dress. She was just about to panic and struggle, when the hand sunk back and the grin was replaced by a scowl of disappointment and determination. He threw her around and kicked her in the direction of the camp. "Move, you whore, move!" he said as he made to kick her onwards. She scrambled to her feet and started towards the camp, the big soldier walking close behind her, jabbing a fist into her back when she slowed.
"I caught this girl spying, Captain, sir!" The soldier was almost shouting.
"Good work, Menek. Grab some food before you go back. We'll take the chance that she didn't have a lot of friends spying with her." The captain waved the soldier off, who threw another disappointed glance at her before returning to his post, leaving her with the Captain. "So you're a spy are you?" The Captain looked her over and she glanced a bit fearfully at him. She noticed that his armor not only matched in every way, it was also spotless and shining. "You really do look like one, you know. I bet it was hard spotting you in that outfit as you came crawling." The Captain laughed at this, but she could not see what was so funny.
"I wasn't crawling, I was walking, I merely didn't want to go through an army camp like this."
The Captain was still grinning. "Though that might be it. Now tell me, so I can be sure you're not a spy, where are you going and why? I only ask so I can report to my superior that you're undoubtedly no spy." He looked a bit more serious, and the look of concern on his face when she'd started explaining led her to tell the whole story. She did replace the call of the gods with a regular dream of fame and glory, for she did not think he would believe her if she told him how she had been chosen. He looked still more concerned when she finished.
"You might get yourself in a lot more danger on the way back, little girl," he said. "I don't doubt Menek would have hurt you badly if he hadn't believed you a spy and brought you to me. There are a lot more soldiers on the road back to your home."
Denera looked down, and for the first time since she ran away, she felt really alone and afraid. A tear formed in her eye and ran down her nose.
"Hey, I can't stand to see a girl cry, stop that. Now, we're moving on the way you came, but I'm sending a party back to check with the other companies. I can put a trustworthy commander in charge of that group, and send you home with them. It won't mess with my plans, or the company's, and I won't have to worry about you."
Denera thought, "Moving in the other direction I could go with them." Her senses told her this hunch was as stupid as the others, but the urge to go the other way was strong again, the gods had merely given her a chance to move more safely.
"Couldn't I come with you instead?" She looked up once more. The Captain frowned.
"I thought you were going back home?"
"I was, but" She could almost imagine is mind churning, he had absolutely no reason to bring her along, but he had to, the gods wanted him to. She waited for him to finish thinking, or for the gods to give him the right idea.
"I suppose you can cook, and sew, and clean, right?" She nodded, hope rising in her eyes. "Well the Commander has complained all the time since his maid ran away. I'll see if he'll accept you as a replacement."
"Oh, thank you!" Denera exclaimed as tears sprang to her eyes once more.
Denera was crying again. As it had for the last few days, the pain resumed when she started walking in the morning. Traveling with the army had brought her almost to the mountains, a bit further south than the pass, but at the moment that was the least of her worries. Somewhere in her mind, she knew she would feel the longing to cross them later in the day, when the pain dulled, but right now all of her concentration was centered around the ache between her legs. The Commander had been reluctant to let a stranger close to him while they were still in "enemy" territory; but having cleaner clothes, better food and the tears and cuts in his tunics mended, eventually changed his mind. Denera slept on a soft bed, had clean clothes and good food, and she was traveling in the right direction. She was overjoyed. Then one night, the Commander ordered a late night snack brought to his tent. He started telling her how beautiful she was. She fled right after he fell asleep.
First, she ran to the Captain. He listened to her slow tale, that started by saying how grateful she was he had helped her in the first place. Then she came to the events of that night. Suddenly, he flared up and grabbed her arm. She stumbled a bit forward, and when she looked at him, he looked ready to kill. "Flee now!" her mind shouted at her and she yanked free and ran. He shouted after her, but she didn't turn back. Today was the first time she had thought about it at all, she just walked on, the pain subsiding as the day went by and starting again in the morning. Now it was more of a dull ache than the harsh pain of the first days, and she started to think. Maybe the impulse to flee had been wrong. When she thought about it, the Captain's anger had probably not been towards her. The violence in his eyes had come only after he'd pulled her closer. Once she moved towards him, she had been in better light, and when he glanced over her body, he had to have noticed the bruises on her neck and the red soaking through her clothing. Her mind had told her to flee, though, and she was still going to the pass. She didn't have the energy to think up a better plan.
The ruts in the wet snow turned right onto a smaller road and disappeared between trees. Denera stopped and looked from the wagon tracks she had been walking in the whole day before, to the untouched white cover on the road leading into and up to the pass. She was hungry and cold and even with the tracks to walk in her shoes had gotten soaked by the melting snow. Before the unseasonly early snowfall she had been fairly warm and not too hungry. As she came nearer to the pass the farmland had given way to forest and not too far from the little traveled road she followed she had found berries and other products of the fall, enough to take away the hunger and bring some new strength. Then one morning she had woken with the dew on her clothes frozen and her toes completely numb. After the heavy snowfall the next day it had been almost impossible to find food, and picking berries made her fingers all numb. She had felt hunger again, and she was cold. When the weather got a little warmer it was a curse and not a blessing, for now she was wet as well as cold, and the whole day before she had just stumbled along in the tracks made by a wagon that must have passed just hours before she reached that road, and she wasn't sure she would have survived the night if she hadn't found a cosy, dry place to sleep under a large spruce with low branches. Now she had to think again as the tracks went one way and the road to the pass another.
Once again she tried listening for advice from the gods in her head, but with her teeth chattering it wasn't easy. In the end she followed the tracks, not from some clear though, but because that was the closest she could come to not making a decision at all.
The little valley with its one farm was a beautiful place. Green grass, waving fields of wheat, a high waterfall up in the beginning of the valley, and the little river running down along the road all added to its beauty, but Denera thought even the shape of the rocks, cliffs and towering mountains would have made it a beautiful, if harsh, place if they had been all alone.
She couldn't really remember her arrival, but she knew she had decided to follow the wagontracks off from the main road, and she knew she had kept walking when darkness fell. Her next memory was waking up in a dimly lit room, with soft straw under her and a blanket keeping her warm. The couple on the farm had taken care of her like a daughter and helped her back to health. The had said nothing about leaving, and had prevented her from killing herself or going mad, when she found she was pregnant. She had a son now that she thought she loved most of the time, and she knew she could stay here forever if she so wished.
But it was not staying she had walked out here to think about, it was leaving. She had tried to decide wether she had really been chosen or not, and after considering everything for and against she had come to the conclusion she wasn't really sure. But the other side of the mountains still called for her, and now it was so close. The farmer and his wife would only answer, "You don't want to go there, girl," whenever asked. The other side was so close, and it was still as mysterious and wonderful.
The sky was darkening and she turned towards the mountains. She could see the moon over the mountains and its light gave the mountains peaks of silver. The coin was crossing it like the night she had left home, only this time, the moon was almost full and the winking orbiter was off-center. She thought about the sign she had been given and watched The Coin go dark. The dark spot on the light moon seemed to point towards the pass, and again she felt the urge to go see the other side. Thinking about it for a little while, she decided it would be stupid, but the urge was still there.
Daybreak hadn't yet arrived when she left. Better clothed than before, and with more food, she left behind more this time. Telling herself it was just a short trip across the mountains, and that she could come back, she knew deep inside that there was no concern for her son in the call from the gods.
The other end of the pass was higher, much higher, and the plains she walked onto were heather covered. Her food had run out on the way over, so she was delighted when she found the big red berries that tasted like pure heaven. They were spread around with lots of space between them, but the great taste and the filling feeling in her stomach justified moving around to find new thickets of them. Her hands and face were sticky with the sweet juice when the horsemen suddenly appeared. They seemed angry, but she did not understand their language. Suddenly, her head exploded.
If she had had more time when she came to, she might have cursed herself from following her hunches when her senses told her she was foolish, but she didn't have time. The tight noose around her neck gave her something else to think about entirely. She tried to pull it off, but the rope moved slowly, and before she had loosened it, the rope tightened. She had a short moment of clear thought where she noticed a tripod of solid poles with a man at the end of each pole lifting the ends closer to each other. Then all she thought about was the noose preventing her from breathing. She could feel the heather brush against her feet, but the solidity of the ground was inches beneath her. She gouged her nails into her neck as she tried to loosen the noose, but she couldn't lift herself enough to get a breath. Blackness overwhelmed her. The three horsemen left the body hanging under the tripod. It hung there for a long time.
Thanks to Rebecca for fixing my punctuation and grammar.Copyright notice.