Lisle bolted for the trees, running blindly down the path, tears streaming down her cheeks. She tripped and fell, landing hard on her hands and knees, got up and ran again. She ran until she reached the heart of the woods, an opening beneath the great canopy of trees.
She sank down at the base of a huge, old oak tree, and leaned back into its strong trunk, allowing her tears to flow.
Slowly the aching pain inside eased.
She waited, her breathing calmed, the tears subsided.
Lisle looked up into the blowing leaves of the trees above her, seeing their bright, spring green against a deepening gray sky. A light breeze stirred the leaves and touched her face, drying her tear-dampened cheeks and neck.
She sat, feeling the coolness of the earth beneath her, the warmth of the sun on her face. Breathing the breath of the early morning wood. Waves of wind swished through the treetops, rustling the leaves closest to her. Morning singers chirped and whistled. Lisle sang back tentatively, a soft, high cascade of notes.
She closed her eyes and sang louder, then louder still. It was such a relief to let it out.
There were no words to stumble over, not even a particular tune, instead she sang the music she felt inside. She sang even louder now, screaming it out, feeling the pain boiling up and pouring out of her mouth. Her voice sounded harsh in her ears, like gravel crushed in the quarries of Greystone. She let it all flood out.
Gradually the pain eased once again and her song ended on a low, quiet note.
A flutter of tiny wings startled Lisle and she opened her eyes to see a miniature being, with furiously beating wings, hovering in the air right in front of her. It had a green-skinned body no bigger than the length of her palm, wings iridescent with shimmering color, and a halo of moss-green hair around it’s head.
She held absolutely still as it alighted on the back of her hand, fearful of scaring it off. It grasped at her thumb, pulling. The flier made high squeaking sounds, pulling backwards hard and managing to lift Lisle’s thumb.
Lisle was so astonished that she just sat and gaped at the small being wrestling with her thumb.
It’s real! It’s real! Ma-Marn was right!
She felt something plucking at the fabric clothing her upper arm, and looked to see another. This one was blue-skinned and seemed just as intent. She watched as it grasped the fabric of her over-dress with both hands, furiously beating it’s wings and pulling.
Then there was a small push at the back of her shoulder. She turned her head to see still another flier, pushing and prodding at her.
This was getting a bit much. Lisle stifled an impulse to brush them all off as she would annoying insects. She couldn’t bear the idea that she might injure one.
Pinpricks of anxiety touched her. Curiosity and dread filled her. What could possibly cause the flier folk to be so desperate as to try to communicate with her? They certainly never had before.
Lisle stood carefully. The fliers launched away from her to hover before her in the air.
“Wh…wh…wh…what duh…do you wuh…want?”
The green one moved close enough to her face for Lisle to see bright gold, vertically pupiled eyes in a sharp chinned face. Lisle could tell this was a female from it’s slight body shape so very like her own. The flier backed away from her, shimmering wings beating hard. Then turned and flew a little way off. The other two buzzed after the green one until all three turned, hovered and looked back at Lisle.
Lisle followed slowly, unable to resist her curiosity.
The fliers repeated the performance moving a little further in the same direction and Lisle followed, more sure now that, that was what they wanted.
The flier folk moved faster still and Lisle had to run now to keep up with them. Trying to keep them in sight, she didn’t see the root that caught her foot and sent her tumbling onto hands and knees. She sat back dazed for an instant, one knee bruised and throbbing where she had landed hard.
The green-skinned flier buzzed back to her and hovered in the air over her knee, scolding like a tree climber. Reaching down with tiny hands she gently caressed the painful joint. Lisle was astonished to feel the throbbing ease, pain dissolving away.
Then the flier backed away, turned and flew off. The other two joining her.
Lisle got up and ran after them, anxiety tightening her chest.
Something must be terribly wrong. They must need help, she thought as her legs pumped hard to keep up. She kept running, following her guides.
Eventually, gasping for breath, she had to rest. The flier folk flew on ahead.
Breathing hard Lisle stopped, hands on her knees, needing to catch her breath and ease the pain in her side. Chest heaving, Lisle looked up to see where the flier folk had gone, only to see a large, barrel-like, rounded shape off to one side. The flier folk were no where to be seen.
I must have lost them, she thought, sadly, as she scanned the woods in front of her. Then she looked back at the rounded shape. Sunlight shone through the thing. It looked like the cracked shells of the egg layers. Only this one was pale green and enormous.
Knowing she should keep on and find the flier folk, but unable to resist, she walked up to the huge shell and noticed a large, curved piece of it lying off to the side. What was left looked like an enormous broken cup tipped on its side.
I wonder what it would feel like to be in a shell? She had to try crawling inside. The shell felt slightly damp and a bit sticky as she placed her hand inside. Eww... She turned around and managed to fit her legs in, the shell cracking and breaking beneath her. The end broke out entirely as she moved an injudicious foot.
What kind of flier has an egg this big?
Then she realized. A Guardian! That’s who!
Lisle scrambled out of the shell fast, only to have buzzing, shimmering wings startle her as they darted close to her face. It was the green one, the others hovering nearby. The fliers took off, immediately disappearing around a rock outcropping up ahead. Lisle hastened to chase after them.
She careened around the rock and a mass of shimmering wings startled upward at her arrival, surprising her into a skidded stop. A bulk of green and brown huddled on a flat expanse of rock. The scales reflecting the light of the sunny space and glittering slightly.
Lisle stood still, staring. A Guardian! It must be a Guardian! Only… aren’t they supposed to be… well, prettier?
It’s body looked rather like a huge water hopper, though it’s head was smaller and sat up on a skinny neck. Round pupiled, gold eyes looked right at her. It had a short, fat tail wrapped around it’s middle, and was covered all over with scales.
With a cry, more squeak than roar, it lurched up onto all fours and moved awkwardly toward her, looking like a newborn cud-chewer just finding it’s legs.
Lisle knelt, shivering and placing her hands together before her heart in the position of respect.
Please don’t eat me, Guardian. She thought wildly. Please. I know it’s an honor to be eaten by a Guardian, at least that’s what Ma-Marn said. Though it’s an honor usually reserved for cud-chewers. I’d just as soon leave it to them. Maybe since I’m showing the proper respect you won’t attack me?
She trembled and held her position.
Eyes squeezed shut, waiting for she knew not what terrible thing to happen, she noticed a scent of flowers in the air despite the fact that it was far too early for even the white bells to be in bloom.
A heavy body thudded into her lap.
Her eyes snapped open only to see beautiful eyes looking up at her. The infant Guardian’s eyes were a deep, liquid gold with tiny flecks of green. The pupils not slitted as the small scaled ones were, but round, like me, thought Lisle.
Mesmerized Lisle felt drawn into those beautiful eyes. I know her, thought Lisle, confused and delighted.
Guess she’s not going to eat me. Looks kind of helpless.
Lisle put her arms around the hatchling, and pulled her warm bulk further into her lap.
The Guardian gazed at her steadily, trustingly.
Looking away from those mesmerizing eyes Lisle saw the softly rounded, mottled green and brown shape of the Guardian. Her jaws were narrow and shorter than the pictures she had seen of Guardians in the Book of One. Those beautiful eyes were huge on a head disproportionately large for her body. Lisle could see the little tail, so short and fat compared to what it would be, and just curled at the tip. Hind legs with little talons pulled in beneath it. Soft wings, not fully formed, clung to her sides. Delicate fore claws extended from wing tips now curled against her chest.
Lisle had never seen anything so wonderful in her life.
She stared, awestruck.
Gradually a feeling of need gripped Lisle. A constriction in her stomach that spoke of intense hunger. Only she knew it wasn’t her own hunger.
She is hungry, really hungry! Lisle knew it with certainty, not even wondering how she knew the Guardian was female.
“Huh…huh…hunt…f.f.f…for yuh..you,” said Lisle.
“But I huh…huh…have to get uh..up,” she continued.
The Guardian seemed to understand, and heaved herself off of Lisle’s lap, then wobbled slowly back to the stone she had been lying on when Lisle first saw her.
Lisle watched her go, missing her warm weight, wanting to hold onto this incredibly, precious gift.
The Guardian turned to look at her, and Lisle felt her stomach constrict painfully with hunger again. She stood and made the gesture of respect over her heart with her hands, turned and raced back the way she had come, pulling her stone shot from her belt.
Almost immediately Lisle saw a hopper step out of the brush nearby. Grazing on the early spring grass shoots as it moved slowly along. Not believing her luck, Lisle skidded to a stop, and selected a good size stone from her pouch.
She placed her stone and whirled the sling. The hopper looked up. Lisle felt the familiar constriction in her chest that told her of its fear and let fly. The stone struck the hopper and it dropped, twitched and was still.
A good shot, Lisle thought, no pain. Lisle’s chest relaxed.
She walked up the still form and spoke,
“I am g…g…grateful for your gift of life, h…hopper. It is a gh…great honor to be food f…for a gh…Guardian.” I guess you know that or you wouldn’t have been right here waiting for me, she thought.
She tucked her sling back into her belt, grabbed the hopper by its back legs, and hurried to return to the hungry hatchling.
Approaching the Guardian, Lisle fell to her knees and offered the hopper respectfully on the ground before the Guardian. The hatchling grabbed at the hopper with her small jaws and struggled, trying to swallow the whole carcass at once. Choking, she dropped it to the ground with a pitiful mewling sound and looked at Lisle.
It’s too big for you, isn’t it?
Lisle took out her knife and cut the carcass into small sections, as the desperate hatchling got into her way trying to grab each piece as it was cut.
Lisle sat back and watched the awkward hatchling grabbing at pieces of hopper, tilting her over-sized head back on her skinny neck and gulping the chunks down.
She’s so beautiful, thought Lisle, smiling, and taking a deep, enamored breath.
Finishing it’s first meal the infant Guardian sat back, greenish stomach bulging. Lisle moved closer and sat down next to her, daring to rest her hand on the bony ridge running the length of the hatchling’s back. The hatchling lay down, resting mottled head on Lisle’s legs, curling shining forearms under it’s chest and wrapping it’s short tail around it’s back end. Eyes closing in the warm sun, a peaceful, rumbling sound vibrated from the throat of the hatchling before it fell into the deep sleep of all newborn creatures.
©Holly Hildreth 2019
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