She shivered as a cold breeze whipped by. Opening her eyes she found herself staring at grass. Refocusing her eyes and lifting her head slightly from the ground she saw that she was on the side of a road. Her mind was numb, everything seemed out of whack.
Awareness of an oxcart a dozen yards away came to her after what seemed like forever. A middle aged man was jumping down from the seat saying something she could not hear or understand. He approached her in slow motion as if he was walking through muck.
He was saying something and at first it sounded as if from far away. “…okay?” was all she got as he neared her.
The world was slowly coming back to her and for the first time she realized she was naked. In a snap the world solidified and she lunged backwards trying to cover herself. Her body screamed at her when she moved. Her fear and tension magnifying all the pain from the cuts and bruises that she became aware of covering her body.
“Easy! Easy…” he said with his hand making a calming motion. “I won’t hurt you, here…” he took off his coat and handed it towards her while looking away. “Go ahead and wrap yourself up.”
She hesitated a moment, then snatched the coat from his hand and quickly pulled it around her the best she could wincing from the motion.
After a moment he turned his head back and seeing that she was covered said “My name is Emasis. I’m a local farmer. Who are you?”
Still unsure of this… Emasis, she opened her mouth to speak but found that she could not. This somehow did not surprise her, but what did surprise her was that she could not think of who she was.
Emasis must have seen something in her reaction, “Cat’s got your tongue I see. Doesn’t matter. My home is nearby. There is food and a bath. I’m sure my wife and daughter have something more fitting for you to wear and would be appreciative of another women’s company.”
Emasis stood up and slowly starting walking back to his cart. “You are welcome to join us. Just jump in the back of the cart if you wish to come.”
She sat there for a moment. Emasis seemed kind and genuine but she was still unsure. She could not remember who she was. All she had was his coat, it was cold, and now she became aware that she was hungry. She got up and climbed into the back of the cart. Turning her head, she watched as Emasis climbed up into the seat and gently coached the ox to move. She was on edge, ready to bolt, and kept her gaze firmly locked on the back of Emasis’ head.
The ride to Emasis’ home was short. The oxcart wound its way up a hill and around the bend to the house and as it neared the crest of the hill Emasis cursed under his breath and jumped out of the cart.
She quickly bolted out of the back of the oxcart, grimacing from the pain of both her body and the rocks under her feet. She managed to keep a grip on the coat around her and quickly looked around for Emasis.
She spotted him on the side of the road, yanking some sort of sign out of the ground near the road.
Relieved she cautiously approached and tried to get a better look at the sign. It was some sort of short wooden post with a skull and feathers atop it. A sign nailed on the front said “Dog God.”
Emasis finally yanked the sign from the ground when he noticed she was watching. “Ah… yes… well… I didn’t want you to see this…” He quickly tossed the sign deep into the bushes, wiped his hands and noticed the confused look on her face.
Shocked Emasis said “You don’t know do you? Well, it’s of no concern. Just local troublemakers is all. I need to put the oxcart away. Why don’t you make your way to the house.”
She slowly nodded her head and cautiously started up the path keeping an eye on Emasis.
“Kikla! Kikla!” Emasis shouted as he moved the oxcart over to a barn, “where is that girl?”
“Here daddy!” came the reply as a young girl came running around the barn. She was dressed in a well worn shirt and pants carrying what looked to be a flute in one hand.
“Please escort our guest up to the house and instruct your mom to tend to her as best we can. I will be along shortly.”
“Yes sir!” Kikla replied and sped over to her. “Hello! My name is Kikla!” Kikla said to her, face beaming. The girl’s smile started to fade a bit when she noticed her condition. “Oh, you’re hurt! Come, lets get you inside. Mom will know what to do.”
Over the course of a few hours she was washed, tended, clothed, and feed. Kikla’s mother, Alissia, was a sweet and caring women. Once Alissia discovered that her guest could not speak, she filled the air with constant chatter. She found it soothing and warm.
She could not remember what or who she was, but thanks to an old mirror, she could at least look at herself. She appeared to be in her late teens with shoulder length raven black hair and sharp blue eyes. Her body looked mangled with all the bruising and cuts. Alissia’s treatment at least took most of the pain away.
Over dinner the family discussed what to call their new guest. Emasis finally proclaimed “Alright Kikla, Einara is shall be!” Turning towards her “It means lone warrior. Do you like it?”
She took a moment, and nodded yes.
“This way… quickly” said the maid as she tugged her down a hallway.
A body was pressed up against her, it was dark. Voices filled the air, pain shot through her.
Einara woke up with a start. She looked around quickly and slowly gained her bearings. It was dark, she was in bed, and a faint snoring could be heard from the corner.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she remembered that she was in the home of Alissia and her family. Kikla, dressed in her night clothes, sat slumped snoring softly in a chair in the corner.
It must have been some sort of nightmare that woke her. She got up out of the bed and crossed to the window. While she had only been there a few hours, looking outside over the farm she felt comfortable and safe. These were good and lovely people.
Over the next couple of weeks the nightmares continued but she grew stronger and healthier. She started to help out around the house. One day she found a side room while cleaning. The door normally was locked, but today it stood ajar. As she entered she was amazed at what was inside.
In that small tight room with no secondary door or even a window, on one side was a small chair and desk to cluttered with papers and a pen. On the other side sat shelves upon shelves of books. There must be hundreds, no thousands of tomes sitting there.
“They are beautiful are they not?” said Emasis from behind her.
She gave a little jump, but quickly composed herself. She nodded to him. Thinking quickly she grabbed a piece of paper and the pen and scribbled a note. Turning she handed it to him.
Looking down at the note Emasis’ smile faded. He looked up to her and said, “I’m sorry Einara, I can’t read.”
Einara looked at him puzzled then pointed to the books.
“Yes,” he said as he walked over and put his hands on a few of the books, slowly picking one out. “I’ve been fascinated by books my entire life. Unlike the old days, we are not taught to read or write, though I had hoped to someday learn. I collect these in hope that one day I could fully enjoy them.” He slowly put the book back in its place.
Einara, still puzzled, looked at the desk. What she had originally thought was a desk, paper, and pen used for writing, was in fact used for drawing. Sketches littered the desk.
Turning to Einara he said, “I see that you can read and write. You must come from a wealthy family. While you are here, you are more than welcome to use this room. At least someone can use them.” He nodded to her and stepped out.
A month had passed since she lost her memory. Physically she had fully recovered, but the nightmares still persisted. At least they were not every night now. She wondered, not for the first time, who she was, where she had come from.
She had started helping out with the work around the farm. It was close to harvest time, and a lot of work was still to be done. Kikla was so happy running around and doing the work that she could do. Every day at lunch Einara and Kikla would go out to a lone tree up the hill behind the house. Kikla would pull out her flute and play this most wondrous song. When Einara tried to have Kikla tell her where she learned the song, all that she would respond with was “I don’t know. Dad used to hum it to me when I was small. He said it was an important song, an anthem of the old ways.”
Einara had grown quite fond of Kikla. She was like a cheery little sister. A joy everyday. It helped her forget, for at least a few minutes, her own troubles.
Harvest had come and gone, and the days were getting colder.
Einara was helping Alissia in the kitchen one day when she noticed something hanging on the back wall. When Einara pointed it out to Alissia she said, “Oh, that’s just Emasis’ old bow. He pulls it out every year after harvest. We don’t always have enough meat, so he keeps it ready to go hunting. He tried teaching Kikla last year, but… let’s say it didn’t end well.”
While Einara stood there looking at the bow, Alissia, as always, filled the air with chatter. It was obvious where Kikla’s charm and pleasant attitude came from. It did not bother her, being unable to speak. She was comforted by the constant soothing voice of Alissia.
It took her a moment to realize that the voice had stopped. Turning she found Alissia looking at her as if a question had been asked but ignored. “Would you like to try the bow Einara? You seem to be fascinated with it.”
She nodded yes.
“I’m sure Emasis would not mind. Go find him and he will show you where he likes to practice.”
“Now gently pull…” was all Emasis could say before Einara let fly an arrow thumping square in the middle of a potato sending it spinning off on a nearby fence.
“Well… ah… yeah… okay. I guess you know how to use a bow.” Emasis said while standing there looking a little lost. “Do you… ah… know how to hunt?”
Einara stood there a moment and thought. While she could not recall having hunted before, she felt that she knew. Slowly she looked at Emasis and nodded.
“Alight. Why don’t you head out and see if you can find something tomorrow. It would be a great help.”
Einara nodded. Happy that she could help out in some meaningful way.
That night Einara awoke to muffled voices.
Slowly, quietly, she got out of bed, headed over to the door, and cracked it open. Angry voices were talking in hushed tones from downstairs. Listening carefully after a minute she was sure it was Emasis and Alissia arguing over something.
Curiosity overcame her and she crept down the stairs. Hiding in the shadows she listened.
“It is of no concern Alissia! All they have done is left those signs.”
“What are we to do Emasis? We are already not welcomed in town. Kikla has no friends. How long must this continue?”
“NO Alissia! I will not abandon the ways of my fathers just to satisfy those pigs in town. The old ways are good to us, good for everyone. Do you not wish to be free? To be able to worship and gather peacefully?”
“Yes, but… could we not do those things privately? I fear they will not be content to continue with idle threats. What of Kikla? How is she to find a husband and build a family when she is old enough?”
“There are many who support the old ways Alissia. Everyone I come across in town says they believe and support. In time, it will not be held against her when she is to move away from this house.”
“Einara, you do not have to hide in the other room. You should be aware of this,” called Emasis.
Surprised, Einara slowly stood up and walked into the other room. She took her time so she could regain her composure at being discovered.
“Things can be rough for those of us who cling to the old ways. No doubt you see the markings they continue to put in front of the farm like the first day you arrived here. I do my best to make sure Kikla does not see them. So far they have left us alone, but each winter is difficult since they will not sell to us or buy from us. We make what living we can from the travelers along the highway to the capital.”
“Since the old king, may he rest in peace, grew ill and his mind wandered some 20 years ago, groups have taken it upon themselves to do as they please. It does not help that the advisor who now rules turns a blind eye to the care of the common folk.”
“Fairness and equality are not ideals that dictators and bullies care to foster. But to abandon the old ways is to give in to fear and terror. I refuse to live like that. You are welcome to choose as you will Einara. You are welcome to stay with us, but you are also welcome to leave if that is your choice.”
Einara sat there pondering what Emasis had said.
“It is late and there is work to be done early. I think it best that we all retire for the evening and let our minds ponder happier thoughts,” Emasis said as he stood. He nodded to Einara, took Alissia’s hand and left.
Weeks pass and Einara finds that she spends most of her time hunting. Little can be found near the house, and she finds that while she is excellent with the bow, she is not so excellent with stealth.
It has taken her many hours, but she finally tracked, and approached close enough to shot the deer that has been eluding her for the past week. With a single fluid motion she draws her bow, lets fly the arrow, and watch as the deer goes down.
As she heads to the fallen deer she once again thinks about the act of hunting. Now that she has done it for the past few weeks she finds that she has no taste for it. Oh, it’s necessary. The harvest was not ample enough to feed the family for the winter, even without counting her into the mix.
At the deer she kneels down and performs the sacrificial prayer that Emasis showed her.
‘It blesses the kill and gives thanks for its sacrifice to feed you,’ he had said.
As she approached the house with the deer, something seemed off. A peculiar odor was present. As the trees thinned her apprehension grew. Black smoke was billowing into the air from the direction of the farm.
Dropping the deer she took off as fast as her legs would carry her. Branches cut her, rocks tripped her, but she paid not mind in her mad rush.
Bursting through into the tree line she came to a complete stop. Devastation lay around her everywhere. The ground was torn up, the barn was ablaze, and the house… blackened and smoking. Things had been thrown from the house and destroyed. Clothes, some burned, littered the yard.
Next to the house sat a pile still burning. It was Emasis’ entire library, reduced to a smoldering ash.
Coming to her senses she looked around. She could only hop that Emasis, Alissia, and Kikla managed to escape this carnage.
It took an hour of searching but she finally found them there at the old tree where Kikla performed that song for her so many times.
Tears filled her eyes as she approached on unsteady legs. Their bodies hanging from the old branches, broken, torn, raped.
She fell to the ground in front of them. Tears streaming down her face. Comprehension eluding her.
She shivered as a cold breeze whipped by. Opening her eyes she found herself staring at grass. Refocusing her eyes and lifting her head slightly from the ground she saw that she was at the foot of a tree. Her mind was numb, everything seemed out of whack.
Slowly awareness came to her, and looking up she saw the horror that she wished was only a dream.
She pulled away from the scene and closed her eyes, she could not bear to look at it anymore. When she reopened her eyes she found herself looking down at a small wooden flute. Kikla’s flute. She must have had it in her hand when she was…
She reached out and picked it from the grass. Brushing it off she noticed that it was still in good shape.
Without thinking she pulled it to her lips and started playing that old melody Kikla loved.
Still playing she got up, took one last mournful look around her and starting walking. Past the house she went, down the way and onto the road her legs took her. All the while her lips continued to play.
After an hour on the road a dozen people had come up and took step behind her. In another hour, a dozen more.
As she walked and played that song, more and more people took up behind her. She paid them no mind, in fact she barely acknowledged that there were people walking with her. Einara did not stop, not once, in her walking recital.
At the end of the second day she crested a hill and looked down on the capital.
Stopping her march she slowly pried the flute from her lips. For one moment as the sun sat low on the horizon everything was still and silent.
Then like a wave crashing against rocks rose the cry of tens of thousands of people as they surged forward past her streaming down the hill towards the capital.
Now she remembered.