No matter how he wrapped the blankets around himself, the wind found a way through the fabric.
When he’d been here before it was summer. Bright and green, the pass lined cherry blossom and blackberry brambles. The other men on the pilgrimage had ignored the fruit, chosen instead to set up camp on a rocky outcrop and dine on the tough heels of bread they’d brought with them. James had spent an afternoon with purple juice staining his hands and mouth. When he was done, he’d cleaned himself in the stream than ran close by, marvelling at how cool and crisp the water felt across his tongue.
Now the stream was little more than a strip of ice, the brambles only thorns.
Perhaps, James thought, he was seeing the truth of it at last. The beauty of before was only a trick designed to lure him in, distract him from the death that was waiting for him, now he could see it all he could see what this place truly meant.
The wind screamed through a gap in the rockface and into James’ hiding spot, ripping him from his thoughts. He shivered and tried to adjust the blanket. It didn’t help. What would help would be a fire, but he didn’t dare light one for fear someone would see the light from outside and follow it right to him. That was the whole point of him hiding in this frozen hell hole after all, the avoid someone finding him and taking away what he knew. He could risk freezing to death if he meant avoid that.
Without a fire he could also pretend that the pack by his feet wasn’t empty. What was left of his rations had gone past the point of rescue. For a few days he had risked picking off the green fur and dark spots, but now there was more to pick off then there was to eat, and the smell turned his stomach as soon as the bag was opened.
He would find something to eat when morning came, he told himself. He’d managed to set snares outside his hiding spot. His fingers were bleeding by the time he’d completed them, and they did not look like much, but they might prove to be his salvation if anything did stumble past. He would risk a fire then, just for long enough to cook whatever he caught and then he’d douse the flames, scatter the evidence. He was learning how to make it look like he’d never been a place at all.
Under the blanket he moved his hand to the pendent around his neck. Prayer had always been his mother’s answer to all life’s problems and for a while he’d followed suit, managing to find some comfort in blind devotion. She’d been proud when he joined the order, proud when he took his vows to serve without question, to do as he was bid by the gods, to take the oracles at their word.
For the first time he was glad she was taken from him when she was. It would have broken her to see him betray everything that she had stood for.
He let the pendent go.
Perhaps he deserved to die in this place.
The he heard it. The soft snick of shale shifting beneath a foot, almost swallowed by the howling of the wind but very much there.
James fumbled for the blade he’d left on the floor beside him. He knocked the handle and flinched as it clattered into the wall. There wasn’t time to reach again, the hand came down on his throat, the knee in his gut. His skull bounced off the rock, sparks flickering across his eyes as the pain blossomed, followed by warmth at last. He was bleeding he realised slowly.
‘Stay there,’ his assailant hissed.
James swallowed and nodded, felt the hand retreat.
He cried out as space before him burst into flames, the light burning his eyes.
‘Child,’ muttered the attacker. ‘It wouldn’t hurt you if you’d not hidden yourself away in the dark for so long.’
The flames dimmed and James blinked rapidly, trying to restore his sight to normal.
The voice caught that time, tugging at something in his memory.
‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.’
He found himself looking up at a pair of eyes he knew, eyebrows drawn together in concern as she reached out with the hand that wasn’t holding her flames to run her fingers through his hair.
‘You can sit up now,’ she said.
James nodded and did as he was told.
‘Are you here to kill me?’ he asked, allowing her to pull him forward into her chest so she could get a better look at the wound.
‘Kill you? What are you on about? You were the one trying to pull a knife on me.’ She poked the wound and made him gasp. ‘This will need stitching. Holding still.’ She leant him against the wall and shrugged her own bag off her shoulders.
‘I needed to protect myself,’ he told her.
‘From who James? You ran off without telling anyone, now I find you half frozen on the Gods’ Path. What were you trying to do?’
James ducked his gaze and stared at ground beneath his feet.
‘James, answer me.’
He lifted his gaze and felt the lump in his throat grow. ‘Ashia,’ he breathed, ‘How did you… where… I…’
‘James,’ Ashia spoke softly and closed the distance between them. ‘Do you know where you are right now?’
His mouth moved but no words came.
‘Sweetheart, talk to me, please.’
‘Ashai.’ His words were a whimper. ‘I think I’m lost.’
I’d forgotten about Story Shack and their plethora of writing prompts. The one above is a particularly good one to pop out of their prompt generator, though I’m not sure the piece above does it justice. Either way it got my writing tonight and the practice will do me good.
I actually think I might hold onto this one and work it into something longer. My current WIP is proving to be almost impossible to get back into so I’ve been debating trying something new for a few months. I think this might be it.