One Thousand Steps

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

The snow fell softly in the early hours, blanketing a brittle frost with a bridal veil.

She undid the entrance flap and shivered in the chill. Her thin underclothing was not sufficient for the cold. She retreated back into the shelter to don her clothes, lace her cloak, and pull on her boots.

Still when she emerged from the tent, her breath caught in the frigid air. She welcomed it. She needed her wits about her, today more than most.

Her feet crunched over the frozen ground as she hurried to relieve herself by a nearby tree. The warmth leaving her body felt palpable. In it there was relief and wariness, both.

She did not fold the tent but she did not know if she’d return to it. What she did not carry along might not be seen again … and she would not be carrying much. She was warned to bring naught but herself.

“You’d have no need for anything,” were the instructions.

The words could be ominous or comforting. She wasn’t sure which it was and she didn’t think she was meant to be certain about it. Or about anything.

There was some food left in her pack, but her stomach did not feel ready for any digesting. She drank some water instead. It tasted flat and smelled of the container it’s been in, but it would have to do. She didn’t know where water sources might be found and even if she saw some on the path she didn’t think she’d be able to avail herself of any.

She shuddered again. Of fear. Of cold. Of worry. Of expectation. Of trepidation. Of all of the above.

It will be what it will. She had little choice now. She’d given her word, and what follows was not for her to decide on anymore.

She turned her back to the tent and began counting paces. The location for her tent had been marked. The one thousand steps were to be taken away from it, with the rising sun at her back.

She mouthed the numbers, ignoring the breeze as it tunneled under her cloak, the errant twigs that grabbed hold of her hood and deposited wet fluffs of snow on her hair, down the nape of her neck, on her back. No one had said what will happen if she lost count. She did not intend to find out.

The steps became a meditation of intent and tunnel vision. The world receded into the yard immediately ahead. Then the next. Then the next.

Nine hundred ninety nine, she breathed.

“Turn around.”

She jumped. The sound came from the space her body had just vacated.

She turned only to be blinded by the sun’s glare, rising through the narrow branches of a sapling. The light speared her.

When she finally adjusted, she was elsewhere. The forest was no more. The world as she’d known it, gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Warehoused

Photo: © J Hardy Carroll

 

The cells were small. Sturdy enough to keep them separated. Aerated enough to keep them alive. Near enough to let them marinate in each other’s misery.

What the jailers did not foresee, however, was how they were just close enough to offer comfort. Fingers laced through fencing let them hold hands. Almost.

Oh, they moved to corners when anyone came. Pretended to hate each other. Endured each other’s fake bullying that so amused their captors.

But in the silent moments they sat close, back-pressed-through-chain-to-back. Their ‘caretakers’ warehoused them like animals, but the children’s defiance held: they remembered they were siblings.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

Kiss Bliss

Frog Ready for a kiss AnneToet

Photo: Anne Toet

 

Time had arrived

To make the shift

From frog

To handsome

Prince,

But then the kiss

When it was dished

Kept Frog’s

Amphibian

Bliss.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Fantasy

 

 

Just A Crack

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Photo: Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash

 

“It is just a crack,” she said,

“A splinter off of perfection.”

‘Twas more than that, she understood,

Knowing what effort it exacted of her

To keep her direction,

To balance scales just so

They did not tip life

And hope

Into utter disconnection.

 

 

 

For the dVerse quadrille challenge: Crack

 

 

Middle Child

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Photo: Keith Kreates

 

Her rooms were in the middle of the castle, hovering above the center of the river, sandwiched between two layers of guard rooms, bordered on both sides with sentinel halls.

Her residence, her very life, was perched between the woods on one bank and the manicured gardens on the other, split between one land and another, between a grand promenade entrance on one side and an into-the-wild entrance on the other, belonging to both and owned by neither. It was so by design.

Oh, she was no prisoner. She had the freedom of the castle and the pleasures of the adjacent lands. She could go riding or strolling, hunting or frolicking, visiting or picnicking. As long as she made sure to spend the exact time on either side of the river, as long as she took heed to show no favor, no preference, no prediliction.

Three of her attendants were timekeepers. One from each side of the river. One from a foreign country altogether. All three carried hourglasses and were charged with maintaining synchronicity. Disputes were rare, for they would mean a cease of all outdoor activities till the disagreement resolved, cause a strain on her well-being, tarnish their families, and lead to possible replacement. The timekeepers kept discrepancies to a minimum.

The comparable reality extended to everything: An exactly equal number of ladies in waiting from each side of the river, exactly the same number of servants, workers, soldiers, guards, and tradesmen who were allowed to live and work in, or gain access to the castle. The same number of her dresses had been made on each side of the river. Half the furniture, too.

The constant balancing act was tedious. It was also necessary.

“You are the bridge,” her governess had explained to her when — still a child — she was fed up with being shuttled across the castle mid-activity, so equal play time on the other side can be maintained. She did not want to have two of everything and be required to play with each equally. “You were born to end five hundred years of bloodshed.”

Her parents had defied odds and had sought alliance instead of massacres. They’d built a bridge over the fear and hate that endless war had fed. They’d began construction on the castle. They’d birthed her.

The people had watched and waited.

She was barely toddling when her parents’ carriage had gotten ambushed by some who’d believed that ending the alliance would enliven the centuries-old feuds. The warmongers were wrong. They’d killed her parents, but not the want for peace. People on both sides of the river came for the murderers. People on both sides worked to complete the castle-bridge and ensured the princess could be raised in its center.

It was on that day, cocooned in her governess’s lap, in the room above the river that had for generations divided her people, that she truly understood: After so much distrust, an exacting fairness had to be the glue that would hold peace till lasting trust could grow.

No betters. No less-thans. Not even the appearance of favorites.

The efforts to keep it so were sometimes so precise as to be ridiculous, but she preferred to err on the side of the absurd, rather than risk her people any harm.

She was the princess on the bridge.

Her rooms were in the middle of the castle, hovering above the center of the river, sandwiched between two layers of guard rooms, bordered on both sides with sentinel halls.

Her residence, her very life, was perched between the woods on one bank and the manicured gardens on the other, split between one land and another, belonging to both and owned by neither. It was so by design.

 

 

For Kreative Kue 238

In Waiting

Waiting hat NaamaYehuda

Photo: Na’ama Yehuda

 

I am waiting for you

To come back.

To grab hold

And place me

Against your forehead,

As you adjust the strap.

 

I am waiting

For you

To return

From where you’d left me

Behind

Or forgot

I might yearn

To be perched

On your brow

Holding firm

Against burn.

 

 

For the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Waiting

 

Morning Calm

Morning calm KoSamui NaamaYehuda

Photo: Na’ama Yehuda

 

Soft ripples spread

Like ribbons of

Silk

As morning heads

Toward shimmering

Heat.

 

 

 

For Sunday Stills: Calm

Note: The photo was taken in Ko Samui, Thailand, on an August morning.  It was sublime.

 

Tea Time

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Inle Lake, Myanmar (Photo: Julien de Salaberry on Unsplash)

 

Arkar waited. The sky, his namesake, spread gray and calm above him.

Sometimes it took Dachen a little longer to make it. No matter.

Long breaths passed. A dog barked in the distance. Children laughed, and Arkar thought of the first time he’d met Dachen. They were but boys themselves then. Dachen had just come to live with his grandparents, who lived downstream from Arkan’s childhood home. The old folk enfolded the young orphan. “Our great joy, he is, true to his name.”

Dachen was as gregarious as Arkar was shy. They balanced each other. Then and since.

A pat sounded and Arkar lifted his pole in welcome. Dachen neared and expertly swiveled his boat to face Arkar’s.

“Twelve fish today,” Dachen’s face shone. He accepted a cup from Arkar. “Two big ones here for your wife.”

Arkar smiled his thanks. For the fish. For his friend. “Tea time?”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Myanmar

 

 

Cruella De-Guile

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Photo: Martin Adams on Unsplash

 

She was queen of artifice. The mistress of malicious.

She made rules that made no sense yet claimed to be officious.

There was no way to do right by her. Even flattery was suspicious.

She’d lay down her law with harsh demands. Her punishments were vicious.

“Beware the dragon,” many warned. “For she is capricious.”

Those who did not heed soon realized that her attentions weren’t auspicious.

She was queen of cruel decree. Her requests often lubricious.

They learned to lay low and wait. Salvation would not be expeditious.

But the day came when he arrived, beautiful, seditious,

And turned the draconian,

Propitious.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Draconian in 103 words