(Another section of the growing novel. Enjoy)
“They’re running away down the side of this hill to who knows where. Let’s check the inside of this cave and see what is alive in there.”
After lighting a resin torch from fallen branches they slowly entered the cave. A smell of retching and feces filled their nostrils. Then they saw another horror. A young woman was chained to a rock, naked and unconscious, not dead, covered in filth and blood. While Lo continued to check the depths of the cave for any other living creature, man or beast, Nal went to the woman. She was just a young girl, no more than fouteen years. She’d been raped and abused viciously but was alive. ‘Now I need my healing powers’ she thought to herself. She passed her hands over the girl’s body, touching it gently wherever there were cuts and bruises. The girl moaned, woke up and screamed. Nal touched her face and she went quiet, her one good eye wide open and staring at Nal.
“Shhh, we’re here to deliver you from those monsters. We’ll help you get better. Are you hungry?”
The girl nodded, ‘yes’ and despite a swollen lip, was able to take some of Nal’s cheese and the soft parts of her bread. Lo returned from making certain nothing else lurked around and looked at the girl’s chains. Simple: the straps holding the chains were of horse harness leather.
“Can your sword cut through this thick leather without harming the girl, Nal?”
“I’ll use my dagger, it’s made of the same steel and safer.” She pulled a deadly looking dagger from her boot top and proceeded to hack away at the leather straps until she’d cut through, one after the other, freeing the girl’s wrists and ankles. They brought her out into the afternoon sunshine and laid her down on their bedrolls. The girl was still small enough to fit into Nal’s spare shirt and trousers so these were laid out for her. Lo returned into the cave after making up another torch to see if he could find more clothing for the girl.
“I think I found her shoes, and maybe some more clothing though it appears torn.” Lo emerged with his discoveries while Nal was busy passing her healing energies over the girl’s body until she appeared at least physically, quite recovered from her ordeal. Her mouth was almost back to normal and she could speak but only Nal could understand what she was saying. It sounded like a similar language he’d heard around the cottage and hadn’t had time to focus on learning it.
“I’m thirsty, please, water.” Nal translated for her.
“Unless I can find something to hold water we’ll have to take her to the pool. Might be a good idea, then you can help her wash also.
Nal explained to the girl about the water and the pool. Despite the coolness of the air, the girl was eager to go, drink and wash, obviously.
“I’ll keep watch while you help her and continue to ministrations. I am very impressed with your powers, Nal, very impressed indeed, and thrilled. Can she walk or should I carry her to the pool?”
Words passed between Nal and the girl who held her arms crossed over her breasts.
“Her name is Donna. She says she will still need you to carry her if it’s not too much of an imposition considering her physical state.”
“Tell her it’s fine. I will carry her.” And it was done. Lo wandered about a bit, making sure no one was creeping up on them. After a time, Nal whistled and he went back to pick up the girl and bring her back to the bed rolls. Washed and almost completely healed now, she looked very pretty with her dark red hair and green eyes. With some grunting and tugging she was finally attired in Nal’s leathers and her own shoes.
“Where are you from, Donna?” Nal asked her in her language.
“It’s a place called Torglynn. We were attacked some days ago, I can’t remember how many days it was now, and in the commotion and burning houses, three of us were captured, three girls. They took us with them when they escaped. There were only three of them left alive then and they each took one of us. They raped and tortured us. The others are dead…” She began to sob loudly and again Nal placed her hands on her head and immediately calmed her down.
“It’s fine, Donna, fine. Listen to me, no one ever really dies, they just leave and travel for some time then they come back again. It’s how it is. Your friends aren’t really dead.”
“I’ll see them again, then?”
“That is not the same thing. Whether we meet people we used to know, care for or love in those other worlds has not been determined or proven. Some do, yes, but not everyone. You need to learn the rules to move things in those other worlds. Just know that your friends are alive, wish them well and let them go.”
“I know I was dying when you rescued me. I had a knife wound that said ‘death’ in its throbbing pain. How did you do this,” pointing at her healed body, “hardly a mark now and I’m feeling better and stronger by the minute. How is that possible?”
“Do you pray, Donna?”
“Oh yes I do. I have always prayed to God, of course.”
“Should you then need to ask me how such things are possible?”
“Are you a divine healer then? How could you be, you’re a woman!”
“Ah, I see. Only a man could represent God then, is that it?”
“It’s what I’ve been taught. I’ve wanted to serve God the way you do but I was told it was impossible that a girl should even think of such things. Women are unclean.”
“I’d like to have a word or two with those teachers of yours,” said Nal. “I’m sure I could make them change their minds.” Inside, Nal was trembling with indignation and righteous anger. There would be no end to it. Girls would be raped and denied justice. Women would be used and abused and denied education or any sort of power that challenged the authority of a male.
“No woman could ever make them change their minds. There was a woman healer who lived alone in a wood not too far from Torglynn. I was only maybe five then when they brought the women into the square, chained her to a steel post and set her on fire. I can still hear her screams in my nightmares.”
“So, what do you think now that you are grown up. Was that woman wrong in helping to heal people, or are those who tortured her to death, murderers?”
“I never thought of our priest or councilors as murderers but then I never thought it was right either. The woman deserved praise, not what they did to her.”
“Well let me tell you this: your priest and councilors are murderers, Donna. Now let’s change the subject. Try walking around a bit, see how you feel.”
She got up and after walking around, up and down the trail, she exclaimed: “I feel wonderful, wonderful! Are you going to take me back home?”
“That we will, but it’s already quite late. We will camp for the night, resume our journey tomorrow.”
“Please, let’s not camp near this place, it frightens me so.”
“No, we were not going to stay here, it would be too easy for those bandits to find us in the night. My husband Lo has found us a suitable place. We’ll meet him there.”
“How do you know? How do you talk to him? Are you a sorceress?”
“Never, ever, use that word around us, or about us. If people find that you were healed by a sorceress and they can’t capture me, they will burn you at the stake, don’t you realize this? And if they did capture me, they’d burn us together!”
Then Nal had a different idea. “Now listen,” and she raised her left hand over the girl’s head, bringing it down slowly until it just touched her hair, “When we return you to your home, you will remember only that you were captured, then you were rescued by two soldiers of the guard. You were not hurt. You will remember only that you do not know what happened to the other two girls who were taken with you. You will not remember us except as a young girl’s dream. Now come, you must be dead tired and famished.”
“That I am, sir.” Nal was pleased with her growing skills at imparting of alternate realities. The girl now saw in her mind only two soldiers who were going to protect her and return her to her home. I really am an Alaya, she thought with a shiver.
The day continuing to be clear, as the orb had predicted, Lo chose the top of an exposed boulder as their sleeping area. It had a dip in the center that had filled with loam over time and would make an excellent place for the bedrolls. The place was easy to defend, and he could see a long way in every direction though he doubted that the vicious and cowardly bandits would return to face the owner of the bow that had pierced their mate’s wrist. Anyone who could shoot a bow like that was not to be trifled with. No, they’d do their best to disappear from the area.
Unfortunately for them, Lo had another Alay trick he was about to pull. Though he had not seen the faces of those men, Donna had, and would remember them clearly. All he had to do was approach her in the night, set her to dreaming some nightmare sequences of her capture and pick out of those whatever images he needed to identify her tormentors and the murderers of her two friends. There was one thing he knew: these two men had to be hunted down and destroyed and they would provide more of the training that both he and Nal needed as he plunged them both inexorably into the deadliest of encounters with their arch enemies and the completion of their quest.
While both Nal and the girl Donna slept together, Lo approached the girl, touched her cheek lightly and set her to dreaming of her adventures. What he saw made him sick and furious, but he controlled his feelings and began memorizing the faces of her assailants. When he was sure he had his memories completed he released her into a dreamless state and slowly walked away.
He stood tall and motionless on the edge of their dome rock, listening, searching, watching. There was much more movement here than there had been the night before but everything was of small animals and hunting owls. Once he heard what sounded like the rattle of a shrike and he thought it might have been a signal as these hunter birds are not known to be nocturnal but nothing else followed. Still he remained fully alert, uncertain as to the moves of the bandits. Sometimes in the middle of the night, Nal joined him and suggested he get some rest.
“The girl is sound asleep and the bedroll is warm. Go ahead, I’m not the jealous type plus she needs you to hold her; she’s still very much afraid of being abandoned.” She kissed him warmly, hugged him and pushed him towards the sleeping roll.
It was now Nal’s turn to watch but for her it was second nature. How many nights had she spent alone, along roadways, in ravines, in trees, in straw stacks and in hay-filled wagons, half sleeping, ready to defend herself if discovered? How many times had she had to jump up and defend herself against starving wolves, wild dogs and sex-starved men who saw her as easy prey?
To her the night sounds were pure music, soothing and filling her head and heart with romantic thoughts and feelings. How much had life suddenly begun to shine on her! She had found a man she considered as perfect in every way. She was developing strange new powers that promised her the things she had dreamed for herself when a little girl: the heroine who would walk upon a battle field and heal the wounded, give water to the thirsty, speak fearlessly of peace to hardened and bitter men who had never thought such a world was possible.
Now here she was, sitting wide awake under the stars, listening to the land singing to her, aware of her healing powers, aware that just a few feet away from her was a young girl she had saved from certain death and healed so well that when she felt the girl’s skin there were no scars anywhere. ‘If I continue thinking this way my heart is going to explode’ she thought to herself.
But what else could she occupy her thoughts with? Perhaps it would be that other side, the one she dreaded, the deeper human self where her evil dwelt. She felt cold then, remembering that when she had said to Lo, “I’m evil” he had replied, “Yes.” ‘I’m evil’ she thought. ‘Inside me resides this great and terrible darkness and death. I’m not a beautiful young woman and lovely bride, I’m a monster. I can kill without regrets, take another’s life and think of it as a score in a game. Place me there, I kill without any qualm. Put me here, I heal and give life. What am I? I have no word for me, just disgust. I’m a patchwork woman, made up of pieces others have thought up or placed inside me. No, this cannot continue. I have to recreate myself. I have to give myself a true identity that nothing can change.’
She looked up into the sky and across the great milky sea of stars a meteor streaked and disappeared on the horizon.
End of Part 8 – Eight