To go on with the story then…
While Nal was thus lost in her deep thoughts, yet not unaware of the world around her, morning came. The pink glow spreading softly across distant bare rounded hills promising another beautiful sunny day contrasted sharply with the retreating darkness of night in the west.
Lo woke up from his much needed sleep, got up and stretched in that feline way of his. He turned and greeted Nal. She stood up also and they walked to each other to hug and kiss. There was a groan from the sleeping roll and the girl Donna pushed herself out also. She looked around confused as her thoughts slowly came together but she could not remember the strange events that had brought her to this place.
“Do you know this place, Donna?” Asked Nal.
“No, I have no idea where we are. I’ve never been out of my village!”
“We think your village lies somewhere to the south. We saw a smoke haze in that direction yesterday and we thought maybe it was from the many wood burning fireplaces.”
“It could be, I don’t know. How did I get here? What am I doing here?”
Lo looked over at Nal and winked. He whispered, “Your ‘imparting of alternate realities’ may need some fine adjustments! She doesn’t remember anything at all of the vicissitudes of her ordeals and journey. You’re going to have to explain to her how she got here, huh? Make it nice.” His tone should have warned her he was being quasi-serious, too intent on enjoying her presence and the day to become serious, but she was still in her sombre mood. She replied:
“I will Lo. I will create a plausible scenario that will suit her situation, but only if I must. It may not be necessary to go back to yesterday.”
“I sense some sadness and deep seriousness about you this morning Nal. What happened during your watch?” He suspected he knew, but he wanted her to say it.
“Remember the other day when you made me see my own innate evil? I’ve been thinking about that. I am growing in all kinds of new ways, discovering powers of mind and body I had no idea could exist. Do you have any idea what an evil minded person could do with such powers?”
“Oh, I know that only too well, Nal and so will you very soon. Those two remaining Alay I told you about, the ones we are both training ourselves to meet and defeat, they are the embodiment of what you said. Empowered evil. They are probably the two most powerful evil entities alive on this world. But now is not the time to discuss this, we need to feed our friend here and get her back to her village. Priority one. And we need to develop a strategy to hunt down and kill her assailants. Priority two that cannot be avoided.”
While they were talking they had been aware that Donna had climbed down the rock and walked away to relieve herself, then down to the pool to drink and wash her hands and face, using the fine sand at the bottom as an abrasive cleanser. They noticed her looking about, searching among the spiky gorse and other weeds. She pulled out some roots, broke off the stems, washed them in the pool and brought them back.
“This is a kind of camphre, or camphor,” she told Nal who then translated for Lo. “and around our village most of these small laurel plants have been taken or destroyed by our sheep. I would like to make a small bundle and bring it back with me. In winter there are many uses for this healing plant.”
“Ask her how she knows the name of that plant, Nal, please?”
Nal asked. “A traveller from far places noticed me grinding my roots when he passed through our village. He said he noticed the strong scent and recognized it as belonging to a family of trees called laurels. He said he didn’t think such grew in our part of the world. So he taught me more of what the plant extract can do. Oh, I so want to be a healer! I have the gift for it but they won’t let me. If only I could escape that place, go somewhere else, somewhere they would let me be what I choose to be!”
They were all silent for a time while Lo pulled out their travelling rations and laid out breakfast, such as it would be. Then, after chewing on the dry bread and hard cheese, it was Nal who spoke first.
“Donna? There is no such place for us girls. Everywhere we go, men control us. They fear us because we know things about nature and life they cannot access in their brains, so they persecute us, keep us from education and knowledge. We cannot stand against such madness, we must flow with it somehow, like a snake through grass, moving silently, unseen, and striking only when it is a sure thing.”
“Oh! But the snake is the symbol of evil! How can you compare us to snakes?”
“But we are snakes, Donna. Men believe that about us. The snake symbol, the Devil that crawls on its belly, that is how they picture us. We crawl, powerless and they jump on us, mount us, use us to amuse and satisfy their sexual lust and to make children for them and to take care of them.
Angrily now: “We are seductresses, irredeemable. We have no soul. We are but slaves of men, always and forever. We can never be preachers, priests, teachers or healers or hold any political power for everything we touch turns to evil. It is totally our fault that there is evil in this world, you see? That is how men see us because that is how their “God” has labelled us from the beginning. I can read, Donna, because I was brought up to understand these great double standards of this patriarchal society – don’t worry about the big words, I’ll explain later – and if even in your village they knew this about me, I would be immediately branded a sorceress and tortured to death in an effort to eradicate that great evil from me. That is called superstition and it is deadly for us women.
“So we exist among these male dominated worlds as would snakes in the grasses. Feared, dreaded, hated, yet a necessary part of the whole process of life. They cannot exist without us and at times they lust after our bodies and claim to love us even. But make no mistake Donna: it is never love, it’s lust. But in our misery we want to believe them and we let our own feelings get twisted so we fall in love with them, our greatest enemies who will always remain so for we are helpless to change them.”
“They are all thus, Nal?”
“Exceptions prove the rule, Donna, always. Yes, it is better for you, and much safer, to always remember that even the boy you love dearly and hold in a naked embrace remains your deadliest enemy.
”Let me explain it to you this way. You are this beautiful nubile young girl living in a fortified village. You are in love with a swain and he’s in love with you, a wonderful boy you want to spend you life with. Flip to the next chapter: you are the same, in the same village but now the boy is not your lover, he’s part of a detachment of soldiers who have defeated your people and are overrunning you village. He comes upon you and you are taken as spoils of war. They strip you, mock you, gang rape you and otherwise abuse you. If they are not too rough you survive and heal. He takes you as his rightful slave and you become his servant. He can abuse you, beat you, and use you as entertainment for his soldier friends. Same boy, but from a different side of the fence. Instead of love, despair and hate.”
“If that is so then I wish never to marry. But how can I avoid it?”
Lo, who had been intently listening to Nal’s explanation and knowing she had seen such a thing, interrupted.
“If you lydies will excuse me, I’ve packed and it’s time to get on our journey. Please continue your discussion as we walk. I’ll bring up the rear again, and keep a lookout for any possible ambush or trap. We’ll follow that trail from the old cave we saw yesterday.”
Lo was careful to couch his language in words that would not raise questions, even though he was certain Donna could not understand him. He sensed there was much more to the girl than they realized as yet but would discover soon.
As they walked down the first hill heading for a low wood, and the trail proved easy to walk, Donna and Nal continued their discussion.
“If you would escape a forced marriage and a life of drudgery as I’m sure you’ve already observed of other women, then you must escape somehow, run away and make a life on your own.”
“How could I ever do that? The first men to find me would take me back for a ransom, or sell me as a slave, is that not so?”
“It is so, if you are trusting and unprotected. You need certain things for a successful escape. Self empowerment, my dear, and if you are good at seduction, which I think you can be, you can develop a friendship of love with a man who will actually think he loves you beyond just desire and will protect you as you both go on a journey of discovery. An older man, not too handsome whose chances with younger women are limited. Easily seduced and keener to the needs of women than the younger ones.”
“As you and Lo?” She wasn’t ridiculing or mocking but intent and innocent in her statement.
“Yes, though we are more than the exception that proves the rule. We have a vow of eternal love that cannot be broken by any known force. Do you believe that?”
“Yes I do. I have sensed it in you and in him when he slept beside me and held me last night. It was so gentle and clean, filled with trustworthiness. Do you think I could find my own Lo?”
“Every woman in love and feeling secure in her own relationship with a man would be quick to say, ‘of course you can’ but if it is true love you seek, know that such men are very rare and a woman needs all her skills of discernment and must ignore her feelings, to discover one. She needs all her powers of seduction to bring him into her field of love. Then she needs to be certain he knows, inside himself and without any prompting, that he remains free, ever free, while she loves him completely. That is the other side of love. We are the real givers, men are the takers even when they are convinced it’s the other way. It is a kind of faith; a belief system the seductive snake slithering silently through the grasses seeded by men learns to work with.”
“Your words sound strange to my ears, yet I thrill at them. I realize now that I do have to escape from Torglynn and make my own way in the world. That excites and frightens me.”
“How much do you know of fighting, Donna? Do you think you could develop what I call ‘the killer instinct’ when confronted by deadly enemies and if you were trained in sword, dagger and bow skills?”
“There have been times when I have felt a deep desire to know such skills, but then they interfered with my chosen purpose, that being to become a healer and I would get terribly confused.”
“What if I could teach you something totally alien to your upbringing, completely at odds with your religion and faith in your God, so dangerous that one whiff of it in your possession would immediately result in your condemnation as a witch to be burned alive at the stake? Would you want to know about such a terrible thing?”
“I believe you can do this for me but I have to think! I have to think…”
“Take your time. It is a very dangerous and difficult power to have at your disposal and I will tell you a truth: I only discovered it for myself early this morning, while I was on watch and deeply troubled also for you see, you and I are very similar creatures. Let me tell you a bit of my own story, that may help you in the decision you must make.
“My first and greatest desire is to be a healer, and that I am, as you are. But because of circumstances beyond my control, I had to become a fighter. I trained, endlessly and fiercely. I have killed men with this bow, this sword, this dagger, and this staff.”
Deliberately, she fingered each item, handing the dagger to Donna to hold and wonder at. Taking her precious bow out, she strung it and notched an arrow in it with such speed Donna saw a blur of movement where Nal’s hand was.
“I can bring down a falcon on the wing with this bow. I never miss and that has been a source of pride I’ve had to fight hard against many times. Everything has a price.”
“Many times it can be said that when I killed men or beasts it was in self defence, but equally, I have entered into games of sword play to the death. Obviously, since I’m here, the men, and much more rarely the women, who challenged me are dead, Donna. I killed them… for money.
“It was all about a young girl, alone in a patriarchal and violent world, learning to survive by challenging and using powers that were intent on subduing and enslaving her. I never thought about the wrong of it until Lo made me see that part of me some days ago. The revelation of this deep evil inside me was so hard I blocked it from my mind until last night.
“Then I let it surface so I could look at myself, and I saw two of me. But we weren’t enemies, just twins walking parallel paths that had different obstacles to overcome in each. At the end, the two paths would come together and the twins would merge into the real, the full, me. That is my hope at this time for I know without a doubt that I must be both, healer and killer and that one cannot be allowed to overcome or violate, the heart and purpose of the other. I am two people, Donna; two completely separate people who can never meet until their mutual quest is over.”
“Your story is sad, yet full of hope. It reminds me of a tale my governess was fond of telling. There was a prince, who was also a knight and he loved a princess but an evil bishop who was also a sorcerer desired the princess for himself. She spurned him and in anger he cursed her and her knight. At each sunrise, she turned into a hawk and at each sunset he turned into a wolf. Only in the moment of their changing could they get a despairing glimpse of one-another yet never able to touch or speak.
In the daytime, the heart-broken knight watched the beautiful hawk fly about. At night, the heart-broken princess walked the woods to listen to the wolf give his stricken howl. But in the end, after many trials, the spell was broken when the knight with the help of distraction caused by the frantic hawk, was finally able to confront the evil bishop and kill him. Then they were married and of course, lived happily ever after.
“In the end of your story, Nal, I see two such evil sorcerers to be destroyed and both of you must combine your forces to defeat them. Is that not what you made me see?”
“It is. What wisdom can you give me then, on my quest? How can the healer twin be of any help to the fighter one?”
“That is why you have paired up with Lo. Your healer self must join with the man Lo to protect him and heal him should he be wounded in your final battle. Knowing that Lo is safe, your fighter self will be free to do what she knows best to to, and that is to kill her enemies without qualms or regret. Thus empowered your battle is much more likely to turn in your favour. Three against two are pretty good odds.”
“You’re a very wise and perspicacious woman, Donna. That will take you far if you put your mind to it. I may as well admit right now that I am feeling a very strong bond developing between us. Maybe we can make something of that.”
For answer Donna sighed, then took stock of her surroundings as if she’d just awakened from a trance. The landscape way still much the same although there were more trees now and the air was warmer as they were crossing a low area where the wind didn’t penetrate except during violent storms, a rare occurrence in these parts. She could hear sounds she’d never heard; smelled scents of earth moving under the weak rays of the sun and of small animals scurrying among rocks and between shrubs hunting for food. Suddenly and for no reason, it seemed to Donna that the entire world was in a feverish quest to satisfy an insatiable hunger. Everything and everyone, it seemed, was chasing about and the bottom line of it, it was all about food.
“That is so strange.” She said this aloud and Lo who was closest to her at the moment, overheard.
“’Tis strange indeed,” he answered her in her own tongue, “this endless quest to satisfy some hunger. And t’isnt only for food ‘tis done, but for many other hungers, all equally insatiable. There’s hunger for things, for security, for love, for sex, for power, for control, for health (well, at least that one is understandable), recognition, either by fellowmen, or by some god, for conquest. But the basic hungers which all have in common are for food and sex.”
End of Part 9 – (Nine)