“Poor child.” murmured one of the women in the field. “Every day she walks and every day they try to stop her but nothing does.”
“She’s lost. ” said another, shaking her head sadly as she picked berries . The wicker basket next to her was half full. “You can look in to her eyes, and nothing looks back. She’s got nothing and no one left.”
“She may be lost, but no one could call that great castle and the rule and love of this island nothing.” An older woman added, deftly knotting stalks of grass together.
“That’s not the same, though, is it? Her parent’s role to fill is more burden than benefit at her age.”
A woman digging roots from the ground paused her labour and enquired to the others.
” Does she really say nothing?”
” Not since the day they found em bodies. Bri was the last to hear her, weren’t you?” said the first woman.
“I was” answered the youngest worker, no more than fourteen “When her parents didn’t come back that afternoon, she put together a party right there and then. No one but her knew where they had gone walking, so she led us. All day she had been calm and controlled, a real leader, but when we came across them, hands still clasped and solid as stone, she collapsed. Tears came pouring down her cheeks and she said something quiet about the river and the falls, nothing more. I stayed by her side for four days after that, but she was far gone in to the haze by then. Now all she does is wander off who knows where each day.”
“My cousin who lives near the ford sees her walking the main path, up to the falls.” commented the berry picker “She stands out on those rocks, above where the river plunges down to the flats. Dawn till dusk she watches the valley, always turned to where her mother and father lay drowned.”
“Is it a death wish, her just waiting to be washed away, waiting to join her kin beyond?”
They all turned to look at the slight smudge framed between the cliffs and the waterfall, obscured by the coming darkness.
“Not a death wish, I don’t think. Waiting for the answer to a question perhaps. Hoping the world will make some choice for her.”
“Alriona.” Her name was said gently “Alriona, please stay with us. There’s a new foal to be named. Kogh is waiting for us.”
The plead in the woman’s voice was evident. It betrayed a deep love for the vacant young woman beside her. Alriona showed no reaction. She looked unseeing at the great wooden hall, her home since birth. The woman thought of the past seventeen mornings, all beginning with the same request. Stay with us. Always a different enticement,news from the mainland, fruit fresh from the harvest, a new flute to be played. This morning’s question was no different and nor were the results. Alriona passed through the castle’s doors, retracing her footsteps. Nothing would change today.
A man, similar in age to the girl’s caretaker crossed the hall to where the woman stood. At the sound of his footsteps she turned.
“Kogh. Good morning.” she said, sighing
“Good morning Wrenn. No change?” he gestured towards the figure in the distance.
“None. The light may have left her body, but the stubbornness hasn’t.” she sighed and Kogh squeezed her hand. ” And you? Any news?”
“The people of the continent have learned of her parent’s deaths. They’ll be sailing across the sea and up the river to our doorstep by now.”
“Do they bring condolences or an invasion force do you think?”
“It will be a diplomatic mission till they see our brilliant young leader is only a shell. Then the ultimatums and bribes shall come, with armies not far behind.
There was silence for a moment, then Wrenn spoke once more.
“The islanders? How do they react?”
“They morn Trin and Fiel as leaders, family and friends. They know a conflict draws near and are ready to fight. If they are concerned, it is more for Alriona herself, seeing what she must face alone before returning to us. But if she does recover from her sorrow…” Kogh smiled a little, thinking of her as she had been before her parent’s deaths.
“She will be more than a match for the continent.” Wrenn supplied with certainty “If Alriona makes it through this time, she will burn more brightly than any ever imagined.”