idol friends and rivals | week 20, #1 | 802 words
We came from a place where the birds had no songs, a land already dead or where the future was lost long ago.
We dreamed of things we did not have, even things we had heard of but never seen. Stories were handed down from mother to child, of trees heavy with fruit, streams silvered with fish, days warmed by the sun until the heat of it reached your bones.
We could not imagine a place so lush and green that even the color of light was changed.
Over weeks of travel, we grew thin and gray even as the land around us became more colorful.
"So many animals!" my daughter would say again and again. At home, even wolves were hunted for fur and food. We had so little to live on that other predators were not welcome. Many animals now survived only in myth.
There was such beauty in this new place, so much life. There were creatures for which I had no names. You are surely dreaming, Sofia, I thought, yet the soft earth under my feet and the scent of unfamiliar flowers said otherwise.
Where were the other people? Was the land beyond so rich that even this flourishing forest had no dwellers? We had walked for so very long already—were there truly so may days of blight between our home and the edges of these woods?
"Are we there yet, Mama?" Anastasia asked. "I'm so very tired."
She had hardly complained all this time, although her feet were sore and her stomach so often empty. Surely, I had not possessed such patience and forbearance when I was her age. Such a dear, brave little girl.
There was little to eat in the forest—at least, little I knew to be safe. There were many unrecognizable plants, and we dared not chance them in the event they might be poisonous. The little red berries among several patches of low-lying leaves were tempting enough that I did not let Anastasia out of my sight. She was obedient, but she was still a child, still innocent of such dangers.
We were deep in the forest now, and the animals had grown scarce. I had just begun to wonder where they might have gone when I heard a growl.
That sound was one I knew all too well.
We were ill-prepared for such an encounter, and I had hoped stronger weapons would not be needed. I had a knife, but that was not enough to hold off a wolf.
"Move behind me," I told Anastasia, reaching slowly for a large branch lying nearby.
I held the branch in front of me, thrusting it forward as I shouted at the wolf. I was ready to strike if need be, and I waved my other arm to appear as large and menacing as possible.
Anastasia fretted behind me, her hands clutching my skirts. I prayed the wolf would not attack us, after everything we had already endured. It was close enough that I could the dust on its fur, the hair so much darker than the wolves of our own land.
When the wolf finally turned and walked away, I could have wept from sheer relief.
Anastasia crumpled to the ground. I knelt down beside her, despairing at the pallor of her face. She was surely exhausted. I smoothed her hair back gently, still thinking about the wolf.
We could not stop here, not with it still so near.
I picked her up and settled her on my hip. She was lighter than ever, but I was weaker. Our progress was graceless and slow.
Would we survive this journey that seemed to have no end?
It seemed I walked for hours, stopping now and then to rest. I thought I glimpsed grassy fields off in the distance, and I moved faster then, hoping to finally escape the forest.
I stumbled out of the woods, and ahead was an amazing and welcome sight—a farmhouse, with smoke curling from the chimney.
"Are we there, Mama?" Anastasia whispered.
I turned my head, and I saw that her eyes were closed and her lips tinged with blue. My heart nearly ceased beating.
There was a farmer out working in the field. He quickly abandoned his plow and ran to me, his arms outstretched as if he knew how heavy this near-ghost of a girl had become.
My heart lifted, oh how it lifted to at last find help when all hope had almost fled!
I held her closer, my darling child and only treasure, willing her to not to leave now that rescue had finally come.
"Yes, my sweet girl," I told her, "yes, a thousand times yes. Our journey has brought us to the land of our dreams.
"At long last, we are here."
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