I wrote this piece in prevision of a scene that’s coming up in the WIP and then got bogged down in the writing of it and never got round to posting.
For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt
Halli slumped against the trunk of a birch tree, among the golden pennies of its fallen leaves. The breeze was chill at evening now and the sun set early. Jon shuddered at the idea of being stuck in this place, that was as much a limbo as the Mistlands, when the winter came and the real cold set in. Halli picked up a handful of birch leaves and shredded them moodily.
“We can’t stop here and we can’t go back. They said… the stories said…everybody said this was a good place if you could get in. Well, we got in…”
“I know, and it’s as big a pile of shite as the place we got run out of.” Jon meant what he said, but somehow, he wasn’t as pessimistic as Halli. “The stories are just a bunch of lies that chiefs like Ragnar and my dad encourage because it suits them. But what if one of the stories is true? I mean, they all believe in the Mistlands and the Ebbtide combat. Both sides respect the outcome, beat it into the kids that their lives depend on them following the rules to the letter, the sacrifice and all that. But they don’t talk much about the Heartlands do they?” He turned to Jussi. “Have you ever even seen the Tidelands?” Jussi shook his head. “Do they tell you it’s full of bogey men to stop you going to have a look?”
“They don’t talk about it. The Tidelands is just the edge of the ocean. Why would anybody want to go there? And the Heartlands is just a story. Nobody believes it’s really there.”
“See?” Jon was triumphant.
Halli threw the shredded leaves on the ground. “See what?”
“If they don’t spread stories about the Tidelands and the Heartlands, it’s because they want people to forget they’re there.” He gazed across the darkening valley to the west, wondering how far the forest stretched, how far until the trees ended at crashing cliffs and the heaving ocean, wondering how far from the cliffs across the waves lay the Heartlands and the end of his journey.
As he watched, a cloud rose from the forest eaves and swirled through the red light of the sunset like ink in a glass of bloody water. Even at such a distance the shrill bird-cries were audible. The flock of birds swirled, a tatterered black cloak, darkening the sky, a cloud that swirled about itself then streaked away westwards, towards the ocean. He watched until he could see no more, until the cloud became a smut on the bright backcloth of evening and dropped beneath the horizon, heading out to sea.
“The birds know. They’re going to the Heartlands,” he murmured. “If they can, so can we.”