idol season 11 | week 22 | 1200 words
In the bleak lands of the Northern steppe, the only hints of the ocean are the tears in Elinka's eyes.
There is the wind, so often cold, and the low waves of grass billowing across the fields in the brief fever-dream that is summer.
But the reality of water, the vast richness of its expanse and the depths of its kingdoms, is heartbreakingly absent. It is like a fairytale told to children to keep them from seeing that all they will inherit from this earth is the stubborn dirt beneath their feet
There are dark hours or even days when Elinka thinks she might have invented those feelings and images out of madness, and that the world has only ever been these frozen plains and the only ocean the endless fields of blinding snow.
How long has she been here? The calendar says it has been four years, but calendars lie. If they did not, she would remember coming to this place—choosing it somehow, or at least allowing it to happen. But she does not.
She went to sleep with a dream of sand and coral in her head, and awoke with a splitting headache into this frozen hell. The man named Otgursk calls her his wife.
The nearby people of the region know her. Pretty Elinka, they call her, but 'Elinka' does not seem like it is her name. She has the sense that her true name cannot be rendered by human voices, but that is the sort of impossible notion she keeps to herself.
This is a harsh and unforgiving climate. Its people seem kind, but she dares not presume.
Otgursk is neither kind nor cruel. His anger is a cold, icy thing, as frozen as this land. After all of these winters, she has yet to give him a child. He is certain her barrenness is a choice made out of spite.
The land itself is dry and fallow, and all life here is hard-won. Yet, Elinka is not sure if she even wants a child. Her days are filled with an unending ache for the open sea, and a sense of wrongness about this place and her role in it. It is hard enough to pull herself from one day to the next. She cannot imagine providing for a child when she is already struggling to survive herself.
No on else seems to understand the degree of longing Elinka feels, or the desperation that claws its way inside her. It took her years to learn the local language, but she knows by now that it doesn't even have words for the emotions that haunt her.
The winters are the hardest. Daylight is scarce and the bitter cold lasts for months. Elinka would sleep through them if she could, but Otgursk is always there. His demands are as insistent as the everlasting winter, wanting her body and her attention, needing her help to gather food.
Still, one night Elinka dreams deeply and truly, and when she awakens, her head is awash with new visions and sensations of an underwater world and the creatures who live there.
At last, Elinka remembers.
These past however many years, she always knew she was unhappy living in this bitter place with the brutish man whose bed she shares. But it was different to mourn where she was than it is to know the truth of where she rightly ought to be.
Otgursk is a criminal, and this desolate land was never her home.
There are herdsmen who pass near this region. She met some of them while she was out hunting for food one day, and she spoke with a couple of the young women traveling with their families. They had never seen the ocean, but they knew that it was North of the steppe and of the taiga farther beyond. It was colder to the North, they warned her, and travel through the taiga was difficult and dangerous even in the summer months.
She has kept this knowledge inside her ever since, burning with the tiniest of flames. Now, it forms the beginning of a plan.
It is hard to wait for Spring to come, but she does, all through the too-long nights with Otgursk pawing her and the grim days of piercing cold and endless snow. Waiting for two more weeks after the thaw begins is even harder, but the time finally comes.
She waits until Otgursk is deep in sleep. Then she dresses in her warmest clothes and fills a rough sack with food and knives and snares. Quiet as a mouse, she slips out into the night.
The moon is up, and she walks and walks, moving as far and fast as she can to put distance between herself and the moment when Otgursk discovers that she is gone. She crosses sodden fields and little snowmelt streams, heading North, always North. It is noon before she rests and eats a little of the cheese she packed, and then she resumes walking for as long as she can, stopping only for small breaks along the way.
Past nightfall, there is no sign of Otgursk or anyone else she knows, and lets herself sleep a few hours at last.
It is a hard, punishing journey, but she will not go back to that life again. Should misfortune befall her, she would rather die on the way to freedom than become trapped as she was before.
In the middle of the fourth day, she sees something in the distance rising up above the fields. Whether it is a forest or a mountain, it is different from anything she has seen in the past four years, and it gives her hope. She presses on after sundown, despite her weary bones and her sore feet.
Hunting for food is slowing her down now, so it is another day before she reaches the edge of the taiga, and nearly two weeks more before the view from a high point shows her the land beyond it. Off near the edge of the horizon, there is a glimpse of a lengthy span of darkest blue.
Oh, but the days seem long then, as she works her way down out of the forest and into the marshy lands beyond. It is hard to find a solid route through it, but there are signs of others who travel the same path, and they lead her to trails that help her slowly make her way farther Northward.
When she smells the salty air buried in the odor of wet moss and grasses, it is all she can do not to run the rest of the daylong-journey there.
It pulls her to it, calls her as if it is whispering her name: "Elenderial, my daughter, my love."
And then she is finally there.
The sea has a name and a sound and a presence, deep within her. There were words all along for what she knew.
There are tears in her eyes as she pulls off her boots and furs, so happy to finally have come home. Then she dives into the water, swimming out toward the deeps where she hopes her sisters will someday be able to find her.
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