Porphyrogenitus wrote:Don't go back and edit yet. Keep writing until you finish the draft, then you can go back and edit. If you don't, you'll never make any progress, since all you'll do will be making revisions to your early bits.
Standing with her feet planted on the track she looked out across the valley, if anybody could step back in time this would have to be about the closest thing to actually doing it. Nothing had changed, twenty years and everything looked just the same as the day she'd left. Drawing in a breath to steady her nerve she ran her eyes over the village that she'd once called home. The market square, the meeting hall, the blacksmith's shop, the wheelwright's workshop standing next door. The woodturners and potters' workshops. Steeling herself she let her eyes move on picking out her onetime neighbours' houses, and the schoolhouse; - all unchanged save for a patch here and there to a roof, or a fresh coat of paint. Finally she rested her eyes on her own house, her true home, the place where she'd grown up and finally fled from; - and all because she'd been 'lo'moi', to make use of a certain insulting word in the Lowlands dialect. Then on the other hand she hadn't really known she was at the time.
It took several minutes before she could make her feet start following the track down into the valley, and once she'd started she kept on going because if she so much as paused for a second she'd turn around and go back the way she'd come. She walked on following the track barely noticing that people were coming out of the houses and other buildings in the village and were standing and staring at her as she approached. So what were they seeing? A sandy haired woman of thirty eight years of age with a tattooed face, dressed in shabby Highland's leather, her head covered by a sun faded desert nomad's shawl and armed to the teeth with a fighting baton, a knife and a Bodii made sonic disruptor carbine. Behold my people the prodigal returns.
When the track ended at the market square she kept walking ignoring the hubbub of voices rising in her wake. Because if she stopped she was going to see a face she knew and if that happened she'd never make it to her own door. One by one she passed by the oh so familiar landmarks of her village, the blacksmiths, the wheelwrights, the potter's shop........... And next the houses where she could tell off all the names of everyone who lived there, and then the schoolhouse. Desperately keeping her eyes from the faces of those she was passing by, until she reached a final house where she had to stop because the grey haired woman standing in the yard was staring at her wide eyed with her hands pressed to her face.
"Bonjour ma mère," she said as she fought against the tightness in her throat and the sting of her tears, "je suis Willow, la fille de tu."
Blinking her eyes she moaned. As she tried to move her head her vision lurched and she had to close her eyes again. She tried to raise her right hand only it wouldn't do what she wanted, and anyway trying had exhausted her.
"Hello Willow," said a female voice somewhere close by. "You've been very ill, but you're on the mend now so just lie back and relax and don't worry about anything; - sleeping's the best thing you can do at the moment." A hand lightly touched her forehead before moving away to attend to other things. "I'm your nurse Willow, my name's Jaqueline, and if you're wondering where you are you're in hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. And there's no need to feel frightned about that either, because it just means that you're being very carefully looked after."
Drifting on the edge of falling asleep again she did her best to absorb that information.
"Terra.... d'ici............?" she whispered.
"If you've just asked me if you're on Terra, yes you are Willow," Jaqueline told her in her brightly toned voice. "Now no more talking and go to sleep; - you're quite safe with me here to watch over you."
"Willow..........?" said Beth at last as her mother came towards her like a sleepwalker. "By the good God Willow what have you become.......?" Putting out her hand she touched her face, her fingers running over her tattooed mouth and cheekbones. With a sudden cry Beth snatched her hand away "Tattooed! Your face is tattooed!"
"Mamam, habiter a' I en l' Montagnard campagne a' l'Adronai.............," she said as she tried to explain. Only now Beth was staring at her like she was a devil out of hell, her hands busy with twisting her long homespun apron into a knot
"You don't even speak Anglic anymore," she accused. "You run away for twenty years and when you come back you can't even remember enough Anglic to speak to me so I can understand you."
"I think she was speaking Old French or something close to it Beth." An elderly woman wearing a long dark woollen skirt and a beautifully woven shawl across her shoulders limped into the yard leaning heavily on her stick.
"Mind out Jasmine, that desert woman's armed to the teeth," someone called out. Turning her head Willow saw the whole community standing in the street staring at her, dozens of face she knew. Older faces than when she'd last seen them, but she still knew them all just the same.
"Oh for heaven's sake George," her old school teacher chuckled, "It's only Willow come back to us."
"Look at her Jasmine," said Beth pointing her finger straight at her, "Look at that gun slung on her shoulder, that dagger in her belt. She runs away carrying that bow I always hated, and now she comes back with a gun; - are you asking me to welcome a mercenary killer into my house?"
"Mamam....," she began, only it wasn't any good, she was only going to make Beth even more angry with her. As it was all she'd done was earn herself another furious glare. With a sigh she looked down at her dirty calloused bare feet heartily wishing that she'd never got the sudden urge to come home.
"You don't know that Beth," said Jasmine. "Willow was never one to hurt anybody if she could help it." Her old teacher gave her a sidelong glance weighing her up just the same as she used to when she was small. Age might have bent Jasmine a little and greyed her hair, but her bird bright gaze was the same as it had always been.
"Je suis une Rat femme du Dio Jasmine," she told her as she met and held her eye.
"That doesn't suprise me any Willow," her former teacher smiled. "That would be the kind of thing you'd get yourself mixed up in from what I remember of you. Only it looks like you've spent quite a while up in the Adronai Highlands as well from the look of you."
"Beth," sighed Jasmine as she painfully made her way over to where her mother was standing in the doorway of her house as if she was standing guard over her hearth and home. Putting out a wrinkled hand she patted her mother on the arm, "Your daughter is a Rat femme, that means she sees herself as being a species of warrior dedicated to serving God by protecting the weak from harm; - and if she looks outlandish its because she's spent more than a few years on Adronas living like one of the natives up in the desert high country."
"And is that supposed to make me feel better Jasmine," replied Beth. "Killing for God, or killing for money, it's still killing."
"Your daughter has come home Beth," said Jasmine quietly.
"And she can go away again Jasmine," said her mother with sudden anger. "There's a marker standing in the cemetery with her name on it; - her marker standing right alongside Micheal's marker. I've already mourned my daughter's death and my man's; - her running away killed her father and I'm not going to have her claw open old wounds so she can kill me too."
"You can't mean that Beth." She saw her old teacher put out her hand , only ignoring her Beth threw herself at her door, shoved it open and slammed it closed after herself.
It was as if a cold slim knife had slipped between her ribs and found her heart, and then'd been twisted in the wound. A soundless cry of pain escaped her lips as she buckled over her hands pressed to her face even as she heard Jasmine say her name. The glassy silence holding her trapped inside her own state of disbelief slowly began to break apart as behind her people started whispering to one another.
“After twenty years, how could Beth do that……..?”
“The poor lamb…….”
“We can’t leave her weeping outside Beth’s door……….”
Half-blinded by her tears she sensed more than saw several of her former neighbours begin to walk across the yard towards her. And she cut and ran for it. Dodging past hands that tried to catch her, tripping George and bodily felling him to the ground with a move she’d used before today against irregular troops armed with swords and knives. The heavy built and good humored blacksmith not standing a chance against her well honed martial skills and greater agility. Now clear of her onetime friends and neighbours she opened out her stride and ran hard for the track at the other end of the village. Once she was out in the open countryside she would be safe and no one would have a hope of finding her.
“Send your boys after her George!”
She looked back long enough to size up the three men coming after her, George’s two sons she knew since she’d been to school with them, but the other tall well made young man had to be his grandson and if she wasn’t careful he would be the one to catch her. They called out to her and ignoring them she turned her face towards the track, falling back into her tireless stride that she could keep up all day if she had to. Once beyond the village she followed the track as far as the rising ground beyond its boundary and then struck out across country. For a moment she paused again at the top of the rise to gauge her pursuers’ speed, then plunged down into the narrow valley on the other side. Only as she was working her way rapidly over an outcropping of smooth rounded boulders above the banks of the deep stream that divided the valley in two she missed her footing. One minute she was running springing from boulder to boulder the next she was falling out into space her arms flailing. Her leather garments saved her from the worst of being scraped to pieces as she crashed down into a stand of scrubby bushes above the stream and fell sprawling onto the stream bank's loose gravel.
Tears were running down her face as she took stock, she was bleeding freely from a long deep scratch on her upper arm and she was winded and bruised. She had to get across the stream, once she'd done that she'd have enough of a lead to lose Jeff, Will and George's grandson in the woods on the other side. Hurting in every joint she pushed herself out of the gravel, then hissed as her right ankle flared in pain as she put her weight on it. Damn, damn and blast.
Drawing in a breath she did something she hadn't done for a long time. Calling on all that she had she awakened the y'q'issia, the lesser breath; - drew in another breath deeply to her middle and began to walk along the stream bank . Ahead of her a tall slender pine tree that been uprooted by a gale sometime in the recent past lay spanning the stream, its shattered roots still heavy with clay a good eight feet above the water and its scrubby crown a tangle of broken limbs resting well up on the opposite bank. With the pain in her ankle something that was distant and barely a part of herself she sprang up the loose shingle of the bank and caught hold of the fallen tree, drawing herself up until she was standing upright with her bare feet carefully placed on the slender trunk's rough bark.
"Willow! .........." She barely glanced up at Jeff and Will above her on the top of the ridge before she lightly ran the length of the fallen tree's trunk, her narrow bridge springing and whipping under her feet. The tattoos on her face weren't for decoration, she'd earned everyone of the painful tiny wounds that'd gone into their making. Only she had to stop once she'd reached the top of the bank on the other side and rest and breath before she started to run again. Ahead of her was the fifty acre or so expanse of virgin woodland, which meant that she could take a rest soon and bind her ankle. Heartened she put on speed using up what was left of what she'd stolen by awakening the y'q'issia inside herself. Only to her right and slightly ahead of her somebody launched themselves up at her from where they'd been hiding in the long grass.
Instantly she flipped herself to her right without breaking stride as she shrieked aloud to centre her will. Her fighting baton was in her hand as she came up behind the young man who'd been completely taken in by her response to his attempt to grab her. As he spun around to face her she shoved her baton firmly into his belly to fold him over before she turned to run. Only as she thrust her right foot against the ground to launch herself towards the woods, her ankle became one blazing red hot mass of agony and she went down headlong in the grass.
As she tried to get up from the ground she was suddenly flung down again as George's grandson threw himself at her. With a sudden spiraling twist she threw him off and attempted to get back on her feet again. Throwing out a hand he grabbed her, wrapping his strong calloused fingers around her swollen right ankle and she screamed. Twisting again she broke his hold and with her breath hissing between her teeth she invoked the y'q'issia for a second time and tried to run. She only got three steps before she was bodily flung down on her face again with the full weight of George's grandson on her back.
"For the love of God Aunt Willow," said the young man as she yet again successfully and expertly broke his grip and threw him off. "You going to lay one on me with that stick in your hand? - 'cause that's what you're going to have to do to make me stop coming after you."
His words caught her just as she was about to make another attempt at outrunning him and she stopped where she was her fighting baton slipping from her fingers to fall amongst the long stems of grass.
"That's a whole lot better Aunt Willow," he said as stood catching his breath. She wasn't really his aunt, 'aunt' was both a term of endearment and respect in the community where she'd grown up. "Where in the hell did you learn to scrap like that anyway? - you gotta be as old as my Dad and you're whipcord muscle all over." Shaking her head she looked away as her tears began to flow again. If George's grandson had been some bastard of a raider she would be clean away now because he would've died the very first time he'd sprung out at her from his hiding place. She heard that note of respect in his voice, if she was a good fighter it was because when she fought it was for the highest stakes; - winner stays alive, the loser dies. Being respected for her warrior's skills was something she didn't want from this young man because it only shamed her before Dio.
"Whole time I was growing up I've been hearing tales about you Aunt Willow," he said sounding awkward in the face of her silence and her tears. "Shame if after all that time you took yourself off only an hour after you arrived."
"Á retour be folie de I sometime," she said with a sigh glancing back at him. "Je suis fou á retour á Serenity." Caught by the sudden trembling in her limbs she sat down untidily on the grass, she'd used the y'q'issia twice and now she was paying for it.
He was kneeling beside her now his concern for her written all over his young and handsome face. "You're sick aren't you Aunt Willow?" he said. Frowning he added, "I can't understand a thing you say Aunt Willow, but I think you can understand me."
"Oui," she sighed as she opened her belt pouch, taking out a roll of Terran military issue plas-bandage and breaking the seal. Carefully she began to bind up her ankle, wrapping it firmly so she'd be able to walk on it.
"Let me do that Aunt Willow." She let him take over, watching as he made a reasonable job of fitting a support bandage.
"Le nome de tu?" she asked quietly.
He looked up at her. "Nome? - is that the word for 'name' Aunt Willow?" She nodded. "I'm called Arthur, I'm Jeff and Morags' son and George is my grandfather." Screwing her eyes tight closed she hid her face in her hands as she started to cry again. Awkwardly he patted her on the shoulder completely at a loss what to do with her, "Come on Aunt Willow," he said trying to coax her out of making herself a wet mess, "You're home now, you're going to be alright."
"Now don't you go getting any ideas Arthur," said Jeff as he walked beside his son. "Just because you were the one to catch your Aunt Willow 'doesn't mean you're a kingpin scraper." Looking her way he flashed a grin and winked, "Fact was if Will and me'd been the one's to cross over back at the ford and circle around to waylay her, your Aunt Willow would've knocked the stuffing outta us just for old times sake to pay us back for that time we tossed her in that steam. Your uncle and me thought she mightn't go laying one on you though Arthur." He chuckled as he reached out and tossled his son's hair, "Thought you might try to lose us in those woods Willow since you'd done it to Will and me so many times when we were still kids; - though since it looked like you knew that fallen tree was there, I'd say that you had yourself a scout around before you came down into the village."
From where his brother Will was carrying her with ease in his huge arms she saw Jeff give her a significant look. "Seems to me its been a dangerous life you've chosen Willow if you feel you gotta scout yourself an escape route when you come home." His eyes roved back to his son Arthur and she understood right away that observation hadn't been just for her alone. The last thing Jeff would want is for his son to decide that he wanted to follow in her footsteps.
"Hell Willow," he said, "I heard Jasmine telling Beth that you think you're some kinda warrior of God; - God don't need nobody to fight for him."
Yes Jeff would say that, so would everyone who'd once been her friends and neighbours. Opening her mouth she tried to find the words to explain, only yet again the words wouldn't come no matter how hard she struggled. In frustration she started to cry as her mouth kept opening and closing on silence.
"Hey, hey Willow," Will told her gently, "It's alright I've got you, just rest there in my arms and take it easy."
"But Aunt Willow can speak Will," said Arthur, his eyes full of concern as watched her hide her face in her hands. "She was talking to me before you came, only I couldn't understand a word she said."
"True enough," sighed Jeff as he put his sizeable well muscled arm around his son. "Only it looks like your Aunt Willow can't speak Anglic anymore."
"But Dad," she heard Arthur quietly say, doing his best to keep his voice down so she wouldn't overhear him, "She's crying and she's acting like she's not right in the head..........."
Only before that particular wound could begin to fester Will gave a chuckle, "Hey Willow, want to know how long I've been wanting to get you in my arms like this?" Jerking up her head she found Will grinning at her. "Then I reckon you knew I always fancied you back when you were eighteen."
Suddenly she was laughing and she had to put her arms around his neck and kiss him on his rough and weather beaten cheek. Oh yes she'd known that Will was one of the handful of young men in the village who fancied her; - and of them all Will'd always been the one to be under her feet whenever she'd tried to sneak away up into the hills. "Je regreter," she sighed, "ma cæur n'est pas pour tu Will sometime." Still grinning he shook his head because he didn't understand what she'd said. Sighing again she decided it didn't matter, only because she didn't want him to feel she was rejecting his friendship she kept her arms about his neck and nestled her head against his shoulder. They'd reached the track now, and ahead of them she could see the village where a more pressing ordeal than the rejection of a man's hope of marriage lay in wait for her.
"Nearly there now Willow," Jeff told her as he shot a wide grin and a wink at his brother.
'Oh may Dio weep!' was the instant thought that crossed her mind. 'Oh may Dio weep for me.'
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