Word Count: 500
She had been hiding amongst them for days. Initially, she panicked at being left behind. Later, she had allowed her mind to settle, to grasp a solution. Being here was not exactly forbidden. Especially if no one knew. Thus she had slipped in, masquerading as one of them. A traveler from another town; still, one of them.
That her own clan had vanished perplexed her. She had lingered briefly in the meadow, reveling in the soft, grassy scent, the spicy-sweet of Dame’s Rockets—a profusion of purple blooms, towering above the lacework of pale green and golden buttercups. So different from the musky woods of home. When she arrived at the gathering place, a click, a whoosh, a whisper hung in the air; no other remainder of the beings who made those sounds. Had they been spirited away by their own hand? Or something else? How was she unaffected? Nary a broken stick or trampled blade of grass evidenced that they had existed at all. Had she been magicked here, all alone, a false memory of the posy-picking excursion planted in her mind? A curious thought.
Mother always chided her for ‘gathering wool’, but Father indulged her. Destined for greater things than washing and spinning, he said. Was this punishment for wandering? Or was she waking to her destiny?
Perhaps, like being left behind, destiny would just happen. For now, the masquerade was the important thing. Her appearance seemed normal in this bustling settlement by the river. If she kept the hood of her cloak pulled close, she blended in with market shoppers, scullery maids, nurses—a feast of watery blues, daffodil golds, meadow greens, violet thunderstorms—gathered here, there, wandering singly, but all belonging. She could communicate in their tongue, but her quicksilver voice would sparkle in forenoon’s raucous din. Gestures worked. Later, when the evening dimmed the daylight, subdued the urgency of life, her speech would be more in keeping with their drowsy discourse. Likewise, the wisps of silvery hair curling from her hood would go unnoticed.
These things she knew from observing—from afar the first day, then creeping closer. She now sat at the fire with some young women. The stories they shared were of love, longing, labors, so similar to stories exchanged in her village, she could have closed her eyes and imagined herself home. Biscuits, warm and buttery, cups of tangy-sweet juice. Mmmm. She settled into the sheltering sumac. The rock under her hand, cool, rough, emitted a soft shush as she rubbed it. A mouse rustled the grass. A beetle chewed a twig. Breezes buffeted leaves. All sound distinct, separate; then all sound together, reverberating. Her eyes danced with stars as she opened them. Before her stood a boy.
“You are from away,” he said. “Welcome.”
Beyond the boy, as through a mist, loomed her home in the woods. Near, but unreachable. This place. This boy. Her destiny? He offered his hand. “Ready?” he asked. “I’ve been waiting.”
Removing her hood, she nodded.