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[[The story begins...]]Climb down the steep bank of the river gorge. The place they won't think we can reach.
But she can't do it. She's holding her baby in her arms. She refuses to climb down.
Frustrated, her man desperately entreats her, gesturing for her to [[come.]]She shakes her head. She can't leave the baby behind.
[[Isn't this the truth?]]“But he is gone,” he fiercely tells her, as loud as he dares. “He //has// been gone!”
“No!” She cries, holding the bundle tighter in her arms.
He curses sadly and, climbing down the old branches and vines, disappears from view.
She crouches next to the edge, and [[looks down.]] Down into her man's eyes, into her mother's. Both sets are large and dark, the still falling rain washing away any tears.
Harsh and urgent shouting behind her. She hunches tighter around the form in her arms.
Her man calls her name one last time then shakes his head, hurrying away. He is followed by others, and finally...by her mother.
She sits down in the mud with the dead baby in her arms.
The invaders are nearly upon her [[when the unthinkable happens.]]
For days water had fallen from the heavens, spirits speaking in angry voices.
Up the mountain, displaced rocks and uprooted trees moved by ice melt have joined the churning waters of the rising river, breaking its banks, scourging the walls of the crevasse on its tumbling course.
In the next moments, the deafening cacophony of the voices of earth and water drown out the sounds of the coming invaders...and the screams of her people as they are swept away in the sudden flood.
[[Is it too late to join them?]]
She doesn't leap from the edge into the flood.
She doesn't resist when the invaders grab her and drag her away.
She does fight when they try to take her baby away, but when they tear it from her arms, and see what it is. They are too stunned to do anything more to her.
She runs away from them, but not far. After all, the cave has been her home since she was a small child.
Where would she go now anyway? There is no where to go. [[And there is only time.]] “Don't look!” Nona’s mother warned as the small hunched figure scuttled away.
“What's in her arms?” Nona asked, half afraid but eager to know.
“She thinks it's her baby. Once she found a kit with broken back legs, its mother must have abandoned it. The woman tried to nurse it, carrying it around, trying to feed it but it died. When we had to take it from her, she made a terrible sound. I'll never forget. Of course, she soon found something else.”
Nona looked up at her mother with a gasp. "What was it?"
"Never you mind, but just stay away from her. She's...never hurt anyone, but you never know,” her mother said, shivering.
The child looked as the smelly old woman, cobwebby gray hair spread across her shoulders like a fur cloak, right arm folded tenderly against a withered breast. The old woman crept carefully along a pathway.
The child felt no fear.
[[Heed her mother's warning?]]
[[Try talking to the old woman?]]
Nona hurries on her way, following her mother back to the cave.
Later, the old woman doesn't come back inside, to her small allocated place near the cave's entrance.
The old woman is never seen again. (The Old Mother)
//I'm not crazy.
They're all gone now except for me.
Was I wise not to follow? But I couldn't leave him...//
The slope took more time now, but what was time, after all? Where did she have to ultimately go but up to the heavens?
With careful steps she negotiates her descent from the cave, navigating between the occasional dark gray rocks jutting up from the earth. Even with her dimming sight, the red-gold leaves fallen from the slim trees overhead, show [[the path between them.]]
The leaves were the only things bright in the autumn gloom, for the mists and rains have come again.
For the moment, these leaves exist in that narrow margin of time still appearing alive in their fallen glory before withering to brownness, before being ground to dust or...she thought...//before being washed away.//
When they were damp, pretty or not, they were slick.
After a third slip, she simply sat for a moment, eyes closed, waiting until her legs would take her weight again. She only had one hand to balance herself, to stop a really bad fall [[because of what she held.]]
//I must have a bite or two to eat, little one. You'll have some too soon enough. I'll make milk for you.//
She levers herself up finally.
//There, my babe, I’ll find something for us.//
She took a step, then another. She didn't have to reopen her eyes to see. This place was clearly visible in her mind whatever the season or the people nearby. She had made the trek more times than all the stars in the night sky.
She found the nook against a certain rock that was her outside place. As she sat, [[the memories came again on their own.]]
//It was a large cave, deep and wide enough for a moderate sized tribe, with convenient pockets where family groups or individuals could be more private and separate if they wished.
The best things were the high arched ceiling letting smoke float up high and eventually out, and the caverns beneath, reached by a jagged corridor through which a series of rivulets flowed, convenient for tribal cleanliness even in the harshest weather when members were mostly confined inside.
Similarly, the cave had the luck of a stream nearby as the bottom of the gorge. The trees that grew at the main front opening of caves were somewhat sparse, but they thickened into a forest as you rounded the sides of the hill in which the cave was set.
A near perfect shelter, with good hunting all around, and places to forage. [[Those things had been the reason why They came.]]//Her band was only twice the fingers on both hands, one for each person. Barely enough to keep the other ones away who wanted the precious cave.
A messenger had come first speaking peace, suggesting they share the cave, to mix and become stronger, but their own scout sent out had seen that tribe’s cruel practices, their harshness even to their own. Such was not THEIR OWN tribe’s way.
Her people were the Children of Light who had danced down on sun beams from the sky. They lived in peace with the earth, the birds and beasts and, as they could,// [[with other men.]]//When the messenger returned the next time his words were no longer friendly, and his own people's demands were clear. There had been a fearful council held the night after he’d left wearing a cruel smile, strangely pale eyes filled with dark intent.
She had watched and listened, lying at her place, not yet rising after recently giving birth. After barely a new sunrise, in which no sun was seen, breath always shallow and fitful before stopping altogether, her beautiful baby with his head of shiny black hair had lain peacefully still and never removed again.//
Back in the present, she groaned as the red rush of grief tightened the bones of her thighs. Clutching a new bundle tighter, she pushed into motion, heedless of the pain.
[[She cared nothing for who might be watching...]]
A few days later, Nona again watched the old woman from the sheltering mouth of the cave curious to know what she held, whatever it was looked like. Was it a creature, was it alive?
Except for the hunters out afield, most people were inside. She could hear their voices, the //tink-tink// of stone on stone as some worked at crafts. She heard the crackle of many fires and murmuring voices.
The rain's pace was steady. It was a day better to be within, yet in her memory, except for the very coldest days or when the snow was too high, the no-tribe old woman struggled up and out from the space allowed her near the cave's mouth.
After days of persistence, Nona had finally gotten the whole story from her mother. First, in exasperation and then with a sort of wistfulness, her mother told her it had happened years ago when she had been a girl just a little older than Nona was now, who was nearing the time when she might be given to someone as a mate. This told Nona the old woman wasn't really so old despite her hair.
[[Nona's mother had told her...]]//Their own people had needed the new strength and blood so they in turn could grow stronger as a tribe, but the old woman's people hadn’t accepted their offer to unite. Instead they had run away, or tried to.
Seeking to escape through the canyon like path that was now the tumbling river, the whole had perished save one.
Nona's mother's tribe had crept nearer after hearing the screams of the doomed, finding a young woman who'd not reacted to their approach. One of the warriors had thought to take her as his own until he saw the dead baby she carried.//
[[Stay in the cave and fantasize]]
[[Approach the old woman again]]Your mother calls you away from watching the old woman, to help with finishing a task.
By the time you are done, the evening meal is finished and consumed, the old woman still hasn't come back inside like usual, to take the small offered portion one or another family give her.
The next morning, one of the men finds her body next to the rock. After looking back to see if she was observed, Nona pulls the piece of tanned hide that serves as a hood up over her hair. She hurries out of immediate view of the cave mouth then slows to cautiously approach the old woman and crouch down beside her.
"Why don't you ever put it down?" Nona asks. Though she receives no response or acknowledgement, she senses the woman became aware of her as soon as she had neared.
Nona creeps a little closer then subsides back on her haunches, gathering further courage for a moment, before attempting to peer into what is tucked close in the woman’s arm.
"What is it anyway?" she asks. An old shoulder newly angles so that Nona she still cannot see.
"I won't take it away," Nona offers, "or tell anyone about it if you tell me".
[[Will the old woman tell her?]]
“When they died—,” the old woman whispered. Nona could barely make out her words. “They all died.”
“The water took them away,” Nona supplied in what she thought was a helpful way.
“I should have gone with them, but I—.”
“You couldn’t, could you?"
“No,” said the old woman, turning towards Nona. Tear-filled eyes rose, burning into hers with fearful intensity a maddening second before angling back towards the river. “I couldn’t climb down because...I had him in my arms.”
[["Maybe it's finally time," the old woman says softly.]]//It's time. It's been long time.//
That's why she couldn't bring herself to look up anymore, especially when the sun was in the sky. She could only look along the path her feet walked. She could only look at the earth.
If she looked up into sunshine, she knew what she would see. She had been ashamed and afraid. Now, she had been lonely so long and she was tired. She was beyond tired and the girl's questions, the last one especially?
The old woman's chin falls to her chest, and her arms, both of them finally, relax down to her sides. The backs of her hands rest on the cool, damp ground as the bundle of fur and skins falls away from her lap.
[[She hears the girl, Nona, move.]]
Nona falls back in surprise then eagerly moves forward to see what she might see but there's nothing there. The bundle is empty!
She gathers herself up, running to tell her mother what she has seen. At the cave mouth, she glances back to visually confirm her experience and comes to an abrupt halt, feet skidding on wet leaves.
The old woman has fallen forward, cheek against the earth, eyes closed, [[completely motionless.]]//The old mother.//
A scene dominated by shades of gray and brown and black against the leaf shrewn earth. The mouth of the cave in the hillside is visible through the mostly nude branches of the trees. A small figure of a girl stands in front of it. A little girl, yet still larger than the tattered mound of cooling flesh merely yards away.
She was warm now, rising and moving away from that too familiar place that had come to be only cold and darkness and loss to her.
She was moving faster now, far above the earth. She could now see the shining curves of rivers, and lush lands far afield in shades of green and gold.
She could also see her feet, but they were clear like water or the beginnings of ice on a pond's surface.
In the next second of wonder, as she watches, white motes begin to swirl at the tips of her toes, spiralling up her body with [[a tingling sensation.]]
Her vision changes as she looked up into the whiteness of the sun, and then to the deepening blueness all round her.
She hears voices she knew, sees beings moving in around her, smiling, welcoming her, arms open in welcome. They are as clear as spring ice, just like her.
Her childhood friends are there, her mother, her man. He lifts up their son up, offers him into her arms, and she weeps glassy tears of joy.
"We've been waiting for you. We've //all// been waiting for you. We are all here now, all the Children of Light. Welcome home."
The EndThe old woman ignores her question, but their eyes meet for one brief moment. In those split seconds, Nona's heart freezes because of the pain, the sadness and grief she sees there.
Just the same, she is needed, so Nona turns and [[hurries after her mother.]] Nona had heard noises from the old woman before, wordless outcries or sobs, but never speech. She didn't think anyone had either.
The voice was raspy and low. The old woman's words came out haltingly at first, with an odd cadence, but she was understandable.
"My—my baby. He's sleeping."
"Can I see?" Nona brightened, starting forward but the woman scuttled away.
As Nona stopped her actions, hunkering down, the old woman did also.
"My mother said it happened a long time ago when...when your people...when they..." Nona said. She shifted uncomfortably in the silence, before resuming the necessary motionlessness everyone had to learn from infancy.
Raindrops pattered down here and there, dripping off the few remaining leaves or sliding to the tips of gray branches to be sucked earthward and embraced. It was chilly, but this was more interesting than being inside.
[[Would she learn more?]]''Invaders.''
Encroachers wanting the land: the cave, the resources, the women.
We are too few to fight these distant cousins. We will go to another place.
[[Come along! Hurry, before they come.]]