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Feb 24, 2009

The Corn Maiden, Chapter 1, part 2

Distance muffled the sound, so Dindi tilted her head to listen. Definitely a woman’s scream, coming from far away and further up, in the wild hills above Lost Swan Clan’s territory. A faery clan, extinct now, had once lived near Swan Rock. Their vengeful hexes haunted many caves and cliffs. More recently, Dindi’s grandmother, Mad Maba, had danced herself to death in those same hills.  A cursed region indeed – which made it the perfect place for Dindi to dance with the fae in secret. She was the only one imprudent enough to go there.

At least, she had been up until now.

The woman screamed again, in pain now. Dindi ran uphill toward the sound. I hope I can reach her in time to help, whoever she is.

Cultivated fields gave way to wild slopes of aspen and pine. Here one found no footpaths, only deer trails. In places, she had to avoid tangles of thorny brush, precipitous ditches, or bald patches of scree.

She reached Swan Rock, an odd boulder as big as a house. The rock seemed to stretch out a long neck and to overlook a cliff, like a swan. A white fir grew out of a crevice between two wing-like extensions on the broad rear of the boulder.

For a moment she hesitated. A windwheel blocked the path. It looked like a giant daisy, with six different colored petals spinning in the breeze. The windwheel marked the spot as taboo. Even Dindi avoided any place marked by a windwheel – she wasn’t obedient, but she wasn’t suicidal either.

Then the woman screamed again, and Dindi ran past the windwheel.

Closer now, Dindi could hear growls and sounds of struggle. She passed a shallow stream, another copse of trees and then –there! –on a barren, windswept hill, a bear mauled a young woman.

Dindi could recognize every member of the three clans in the area on sight; this woman was a stranger. She wore black leather legwals and black breastbands, but both were hemmed in brightly colored beads, and her elaborate necklace of animal canines had also been painted many colors. An odd sort of black feather cape swept behind her. Her skin was paler than bone, her hair darker than obsidian. A quiver of arrows hung from her hips, but though she clutched a bow already notched with a stone-tipped arrow, her weapon was useless to her at such close quarters.

The bear was huge, as tall as one man standing on another man’s shoulders. Instead of brown or black fur, as most of the local bears sported, this bear had shaggy golden blond fur. With a mitt as big as a man’s head, the bear swiped at the woman. The bear’s claw grazed the side of her face. Four parallel gashes sprayed blood as she fell. The loose pebble scree on the hillside did not offer a soft landing, but may have saved her life, for she skidded on the gravel and next swipe of claws missed her. However, she would not be so lucky twice. The bear prepared the throw its full weight on her.

Dindi had no weapon. She threw her clay pot at the bear.

“Fa! Over here, fur face!” Dindi shouted.

The distraction worked. First the bear reared up on its hind legs. Then it lunged at Dindi.

The woman in black scrambled to her feet and loosed a black-fletched arrow. The bear turned on her, but too late. The arrow thwacked the beast’s flank. The bear screamed in agony, sounding human not animal, and Dindi recognized the scream she had heard.

It was the bear I heard screaming – not the woman in black? But

The woman in black, deadly and graceful, unleashed a second arrow into the bear. Another strangely human scream ripped from the muzzle of the bear. The bear rushed her again, but the woman in black spread her cape – no cape at all, but black swan wings – and lifted into the air.

“Not even your sisters can cure my poison,” the Black Lady said with a mocking smile to her victim. “Even if they wouldhelp you, which I doubt. Even now, your seaborn sister prepares to war against you.”

“Curse-bringer!” the bear shouted, sounding exactly like a woman. Black poison dripped from arrow wound. Staggering, full of anguish, the bear begged of Dindi, “Why have you helped Lady Death? Don’t you know who you are? She is your enemy as much as ours!”

The bear transformed into a golden, glowing lady, with butterfly wings – a faery. Even in her true form, however, her wings were torn, and her leg bled black ooze from the wound of the poisoned arrow. She flew away, crookedly, and Lady Death did not stop her. Instead, Lady Death turned on Dindi.

 “And now for you,” Lady Death said.

What have I done? Dindi had already thrown her clay pot. She had nothing left to defend herself, if one even could defend oneself against Death incarnate. What have I done?


Sara Raasch said...

"Dindi could recognize every member of the three clans in the area on sight;" At first I thought there were three clans in the area, which really threw me off for the rest of it. But once I realized what was happening, I really liked it. Really really.

Zawir Al-Hamidi said...

Is not Dindi's fault. Believe me.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I like the voice and the pacing. Pulled me right in. You might want to find another word for windwheel though, because you used it about five times in a short paragraph.