Authors: Pam Uphoff
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Adventure
The Dark Lady
Copyright © 2013 Pamela Uphoff
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction.
All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional.
Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Winter Solstice, 1376
Mount Frost, Kingdom of the West
:: Save us, save us! :: Terrified voices rang in her head.
She grabbed her head.
She couldn't. There was no mental energy left.
Lady! Protect us! ::
I can't. I can't do any more." Tears froze on her face.
A fireball roared across the sky, west to east low on the horizon. Thousands of voices scream
ed in her head, not just terror; pain now, and the horrible crunching impact of dark static that was death. She couldn't shut them out and she screamed with them.
I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" She cringed away from the voices, tried to hide from the pain.
I didn't do enough. Pieces are still going to hit. I didn't do enough, I can't do any more. I've used it all.
She rolled off the shelf of rock where she lay, and thumped down two more to the sloped crest of a giant mountain, soaring above the surrounding lesser peaks. She had to get down. If she couldn't see the meteors, maybe she wouldn't hear the voices.
She ran, staggered, tripped and slid on the snow until she could catch a rock with cold
numbed fingers. She tried to not watch the fireballs, hundreds of burning bits of dust and rock, a few explosions from superheated ice or ice laden porous rock, or the rock itself.
There was a path. Somewhere under the snow. She'd walked this path nearly every year of her life. She couldn't remember her life. She fled the screaming, dying people in her head,
fell and slid, scrambled to get lower. The snow was illuminated by the meteors that still streaked across the southern sky. The terror of a world continued, with flashing glimpses of roaring forest fires that rolled over villages and towns.
There was a corridor
hen she was in a village. But now the voices were close, not many, but loud. Tearing at her mind.
And the screaming was still there.
She fled the village. The big barn on the outskirts, another corridor right there. A dome of rock in a bubble. She scratched at it and opened the door. It was full of bronze statues and heavy with potential. Alive.
She looked desperately at the
statue of a laughing boy on a horse. "The screams would go away if I went through a gate, wouldn't they? But I don't have a gate, they're so far away." A statue of a wagon and a team of horses. "Too slow." A saddled and bridled horse. "Are you fast, horse?" The statue seemed to think it was, so she peeled off the covering to find the real horse underneath and mounted. "Take me to a gate. Fast." Then all she could do was cling. And hope the horse knew where to go.
Half a world away, fires raged and people died. She couldn't keep the pain out, and reeled in the saddle. The horse shifted to keep her weight centered and kept moving.
She endured. Tried to not-feel. Tried to not-think. Tried to hide. Tried to exist in the moment, no past pain to remember. No past.
The horse staggered a bit, grunted as he tackled a hill. There was a glowing spot up there . . .
The horse leaped into the glow.
The screams chopped off, the pain faded.
Silence. Blessed silence.
She slid off the horse and collapsed onto winter killed grass.
I'm sorry. I tried to save you."
She vaguely wondered if she could ever go back . . . to wherever that was.
She stared up at the twilight, deep blue sky, mind empty of everything but relief.
all around, no people, no buildings. She still hurt, but it was all her own pain, and no one else's. She lay there, thinking nothing, doing nothing. Slowly, energy seeped back. The sky brightened.
Not twilight, dawn.
She turned her head, saw the horse standing legs braced, exhausted. Lines of dried sweat salt on his black coat. Head sagging.
She forced herself back t
o her feet. "Oh, Phantom. What have I done to you?"
She jerked at the cinch, pulled it loose and pulled the saddle off, staggering backwards and falling down with the saddle on top of her.
The horse laid down with a tired grunt, stretched out on his side.
She struggled out from under the saddle, untangled a half empty canteen and crawled to him.
He was breathing normally, the sweat dried, crusted with salt from . . . how long had they travelled? All day? Several days? Fast. She'd pushed the pace – and the horse. And her planning ability had not been at its best. She looked at her fingers, a bit numb, a bit discolored, dark . . . nasty.
case of frostbite." She unbuckled the bridle and eased the bit out of the horse's mouth. When she opened the canteen, he rolled back up to his chest and drank the water from the palm of her hand as she poured it slowly.
She stood up shakily and looked around. Early
dawn, a bright rim of the sun just lifting over the horizon, but enough light to see empty rolling hills of winter killed grass and a stream bed with a dark line down the middle of it. Water, she hoped.
When she was halfway down the hill, the horse heaved himself to his feet, and limped stiffly down to join her. She filled the canteen in the trickle of water and the horse drank slowly. He didn't seem in too bad a shape, apart from fatigue and the sweat salt that must be irritating his skin. She patted pockets pointlessly, then took off jacket
, sweater, vest and blouse, and soaked the blouse to wipe him down.
She shivered in the cold
breeze, and her breasts ached, crusted dried milk on her brassier. "Do I have a baby?" she asked the horse. He nodded, then threw his head up in alarm and looked up the hill. He scrambled out of the stream bed and trotted back up the hill, stiff, and perhaps favoring his near foreleg.
She grabbed her jacket and climbed more slowly after him.
Her feet didn't hurt, but they felt numb, and she had a suspicion that might be worse than hurting. The horse was nuzzling the saddlebags. "I hope you're after oats. People don't generally keep babies in saddlebags." She opened the flap and looked in.
Pale hair, rosebud mouth. The baby couldn't
be more than a few days old. "Old Gods!" she sank down and pulled the baby out. It, she? blinked and cried. Her breasts answered with aching leakage and she winced as she pulled stuck dried fabric away so she could nurse the baby. Then burp her, and change the soaked, dirty diaper, for a clean one from the saddlebag. Yes, a little girl, and hours old, not days. The cord was properly tied off, but it had been soaked by the wet diaper. Had the voices in her head drowned out a baby crying desperately in her saddle bag?
You can't be
new," she protested. "The horse had
of sweat on him."
The horse had moved off, and was grazing. Did she have any oats for him? Did she have any food for herself?
The baby fussed, and she nursed her again. The tiny girl was asleep in minutes.
She dragged the saddle down to the stream bank before unpacking.
She unrolled the bedroll strapped to the cantle and laid the baby on it. The other side of the saddle bag disgorged brushes and a halter, a canvas bucket and several small sacks of oats. A tightly rolled bundle of oiled canvas that she vaguely thought might be a tent. The baby's side held lots of diapers. Baby sized clothes, and clothes that she rather thought were hers. Money. Both coinage and letters of credit. And food. Packages wrapped in greased paper. The first held ham in a hard roll and she wolfed it down. Wine. Good grief, why amongst a ridiculous amount of stuff in her saddle bags did she have a baby and a bottle of wine?
Because it'll cure damn near anything short of death." She said, and wondered how she knew that. She reached into the saddlebag, yes, she'd even included a cork screw. She fumbled with numb fingers and aching muscles until she got the cork out. She poured a half a sack of oats into the canvas bucket and drizzled a half a cup of wine over them.
She took a swig
before she recorked the bottle. She took the oats up to the horse. He scarfed them all, and tossed his head and pranced.
The Wine of the Gods," she told him. And looking at her fingers, drank more, herself before she pried off her boots and washed her toes—in better shape than her fingers, barely—in the stream.
She slept the rest of the day, waking only to feed and change the baby, and eat and drink and check the horse, and do some laundry . . . She slept most of the night too.
Her fingers and toes looked both better and worse. Draining pustules, but filling out the hollows and sags. Hurting a bit. Her nose and ears hurt too. She wondered if there was a mirror in those bottomless saddlebags, but didn’t look. She drank more wine.
The next morning s
he looked back at the glowing gate on top of the hill and shook her head. "There's a whole world on the other side of that gate. But I can't go back to where the screams are. So, Phantom, why don't we explore
The horse nodded, or at any rate bobbed his head at the appropriate time, and she fed him oats, and dressed herself and the baby. The little blanket she wrapped the girl in was embroidered around the edges. Horses, dogs, and the word 'Quicksilver'.
"Is that your name, little one? Or a family name? I have no idea." She hesitated. "I don't know what my name is. And . . . I think it will hurt if I try too hard to remember."
Mounting was interesting, with a baby in arms. She was not about to put the baby back in the saddlebag. But Phantom obliged by standing up next to the bank of the stream, and she managed.
"So, baby, is Quicksilver your name or ours? If it is yours may I share it? You look like a downy little bird, would you like to be Quail Quicksilver? Yes, I like that.
Let's go see if there is somewhere in this world where you and I can live."