To Sleep, Perchance…
The dark of night is never the same, each night never like the last and never like the next. If it were, we would take comfort in preparation. Instead fear is ever present in the never knowing, and nothing in this world embraces anymore.
Tonight was bright with silver light from the cream moon high in the night sky. Dangerous. No shadows to hide in, only light to expose everything. It was beautiful once, this silver light, but not anymore. They see better in the light, and what’s to hide you while you sleep? They walk always, sometimes creep, sometimes run. Never sleeping, never resting, always driven like a ceaseless wind.
On nights like this Althea had to take precautions unlike those of a still, black night that naturally conceals. Every brightness in her would shine in this light, even the shine of her dark hair would shimmer as a beacon to those who hunt. And these nights were never restful. In fact, none of them were anymore. Not for her.
Althea decided that tonight in the Woods the best place to sleep would be high in the Ash. The Immortuos had tracked her to the stream at the edge of the woods, caught her scent and drove her all day relentlessly. But in water she had an advantage, and lost them for a time. But they were clever, Immortuos were not mindless, and they knew as they could not sense her on the Plain side of the river, she must be in the woods. And while the woods had their own disadvantages at night, so did everywhere else. In the Ash would be best. High in the leaves hidden in the only shadows that night. But sleep in a tree, even one as wide and thick as this Ash, was not restful for you cannot move once precariously balanced.
Althea secured her bow to her back and began to climb. Though the years of constant open living far from comforts and shelter had its toll, her hands remained soft and nimble. She always was in awe of this as she watched how well they grasped every hold of the tree and pulled her up. That was her mother, her grandmother, and their mothers, all Healers with the graceful hands. Nothing in life could change that.
This tree was old, not quite ancient, but it had endured. Within a three-fold fork Althea secured herself within an acceptable balance well hidden in the trees. As she tried to fall asleep, she watched the woods beneath her. She saw small packs of Immortuos here and there moving without grace through the columns of trees. Right choice to be high above them tonight, for nothing could hide on the floor in this light. Had it been fall or winter, things would have been different. The leaves wouldn’t hide her, and the Immortuos could pile upon each other high up the tree.
Althea knew that strategizing further her situation tonight would not get her to sleep, not get her the rest she needed. So she let her mind go into that precious place that held the pictures and sounds of the time before. When the land’s Magic was beautiful and full of sweet surprises and wonder. A life of plenty, of color, when others sang in joy, not the mournings of loss. Enchantments not lost, spells not forgotten, the rites commonplace. She recalled with bitter sweetness a time when a home cradled and protected, when it wrapped a family with security and living memory.
Now a home was confinement and a trap. Four walls meant nowhere to escape, no way out when the Immortuos came. Or worse, the Purple Mist.
She was teetering precariously in the realm between asleep and awake. A place where the head swims and all life seems to exist magically as in the days before and frighteningly as the days at hand. Her eyes closed, she could feel the hand on her cheek. Soft like hers, but stronger. It traced her face from top to bottom slowly, lovingly. She almost smiled. As the hand reached her chin and found its way to her throat, it suddenly clamped hard.
Present Fears Are Less Than Horrible Imaginings
Pain came first from her back looking upwards to the three-fold fork in the tree above her. While the sound of her fall was somewhat muffled by the damp leaves on the ground, it seemed deafening. If the Immortuos didn’t hear her fall, they would have felt the ground vibrate enough to come. They always came. No time for fear, no time for pain, just run.
Only checking for a moment which direction was uphill and that her bow was unbroken, she ran with urgency, she ran to survive. As she ran her Healer instincts worked in tandem with her strategic mind. Each step she assessed her pain. “Ankle isn’t broken though hurts like Hell, I can move all my toes, that tree is too small and no good, my arm is swelling just slightly, assess later. Wait, that tree...it’s perfect!”
On the top of a steep incline was an Oak, and this one was Ancient. It had seen ages in this land, weathered it all, bore through it strongly. And the incline meant safety, as the Immortuos hardly went against an incline, too difficult to manage. The climb up was difficult and not nearly as graceful as before. Her right arm and ankle were swelling more and more with each movement. “Nothing’s broken, keep going. Not much further.” As she reached sufficient height, only then did she look back behind her down the hill.
He wasn’t there. He never was, and yet he always is. It was a dream, but she could still feel his hand on her face.
She could still feel the pressure of a hold on her neck.
If she were to close her eyes, she would see his eyes. She would see their passion, their desire, their seductive beauty, and the darkness surrounding it all. So that night she would not sleep, not close her eyes, not invite him in. Though he wasn’t there, he never was, he somehow always is.
Instead she would focus on repairs. First her ankle which was not nearly as bad as her arm. The small and tightly packaged bundle that was strapped to her back in thick, brown cloth was loosened to obtain wraps. Pressure and warmth, and rest. The fall was foolish, the frightful night terrors of a simple child, and she cursed herself for allowing it. Not she had to use her supplies that were difficult to restock to heal. As she rubbed the salve and wrapped her ankle. The glow from her hands was faint as she softly sang old words, nearly forgotten in time and hardship. Healer’s words, Healers song’s, the kind that still held magic.
Normally she wouldn’t dare in the night, the glow would give her away. But this tree was perfect with thick branches and giant leaves that hid her almost completely. And even if she was spotted, there would be no way the Immortuos could get up this hill. Her soft singing made a soft wind blow and the leaves sway. It was as if the very earth were awakened in joy at the sound of music too far forgotten. She pressed a hand to her arm where she was swelling. As she rubbed a reserved amount of salve on it, she sang louder. The wind became stronger and danced about her, it was almost beautiful. But it was cold, and as she shivered her concentration broke and the song was lost.
It was enough for now, she would heal the rest on her own. What her mother could have done with those words, or better still her Grandmother! The line of Healers was thinning, not many left now. When the Immortuos came, those who stayed behind to heal those who could not run were taken easily. Now there are so few Healers left, and even less with the heart and strength to endure.
Whether she knew it or not, she was needed, and no one else will do. She felt the pull to go back and help, and deep down she knew she had to. With every step she ran away with her feet, her heart resisted.
But there was always fear. Fear beyond the Immortuous, fear beyond the Purple Mist, fear that took her to Base Village, her Majesty’s court, and the love the consumed her and violently devoured her.