A Foggy Forest



By Nicole Patrice Thomas

“NOOOOOO!” Wleia screamed, the hand she gripped slipped from wrists to palm to fingertips before disappearing forever beneath the sludge that rushed past the tree she clung to.

Her eyes raced back and forth over the rushing waters that had come upon them so suddenly. One moment they were hurriedly walking to escape the rain, the next the ground beneath their feet began to quake. A distant rumbling building as her husband and twin brothers eyes widen, locked on the mountain side above them.

They pushed her up into a nearby tree, forcing her as high as they could. There hadn’t even been time for words before the flash flood reached them.

Her brother was swept away first, eyes closed, face turned up in surrender. Her husband's hands lingered a little longer, still supporting her as she tried desperately to hold on to him. Only love reflected in his brown eyes, no fear. He knew and trusted The One enough to be sure they would meet again, in the next life.

Her now empty hand hovered in the air, trembling. Raindrops dripping from the end of each pale finger. Still reaching for the other half of her heart, knowing it was gone. Bile burned its way up her throat and she wretched into the heaving current. Only days before she had come to the conclusion that their prayers had been answered, they had sat with friends rejoicing over answered prayer. Now she was shattered beneath the weight that the dream of fatherhood would always remain just that for Fidel. The dawning knowledge that the joy and all the firsts he would miss as a father made her heart ache all the more.

As the water rushed past her ankles, she drew both legs up. Wrapping one arm around the tree, she curled the other around her waist. Her dark hair hung in a tangled mess across her face, tears and rain poured down her cheeks. Her chest heaved and shuddered with each breath, a moan starting low in her throat as her body began to quake from far more than the intolerable cold. Unable to control the pain the moan grew into the shattered wail of a soul that had been cleaved in two, emotionally gutted and left in the throes of a volatile storm.

They found her that way the next morning, vacantly staring into the distance and covered in mud.

“Wleia? Wleia ?” Sarah called softly as her husband and son assisted her from the tree, “are you hurt? Where is Fidel and Weston?”

Wleia could barely speak, just hearing the names caused a fresh onslaught of tears. Shaking her head she struggled to break free from the arms that held her, “N-n-o-o…we..have…we have…to find…them…pl…please…PLEASE!” Her voice became frantic as she continued to strain away from the men.

“Wleia! Stop!”, Sarah tried to get the distraught woman to look at her, “WLEIA PLEASE!” she gripped Wleia’s face, forcing eye contact, “I am sorry. SO very sorry. They are gone. So many were lost in the night. The flood waters washed through the entire valley. Do you understand? We will search…but we won’t…we won’t find them.”

Sarah searched the eyes of the broken woman before her, their husbands had been friends. The couples spent many nights around a fire making plans and most recently, thanking The One for the coming birth of the long prayed for child.

Wleia looked into the eyes of her friend, she saw the truth and it extinguished the tiny spark of hope she had clung to during the night. The hope that The One would spare them this grief, would be merciful, would surely provide a miracle. An unfamiliar coldness seeped deep into her bones. Unable to fight its pull, she gave in, her legs buckled and she welcomed the darkness.

4mo Pregnant

Two months later the small town she lived in had rebuilt a few homes. The families that were intact offered shelter to those who were left behind. Sarah and her family hadn’t hesitated to welcome Wleia, offering her a cot beside the hearth, a sheet strung across a rope provided a small sense of privacy. She lay there, day after day, night after night, eyes trained on the flickering shadows. She heard the family moving around her, she ate the food left on the stool nearby by Jasmina, their ten year old daughter, and ventured outside only when her body refused to hold any more waste or when the sniffs of her hosts indicated the smell had reached an intolerable level.

The days and weeks had passed in a haze of misery while she lay, wishing her grief would swallow her as the water had swallowed her future. She could hear Sarah and her husband whispering furiously on the other side of the sheet. Catching snippets here and there, before the sheet was thrust aside and a shaft of daylight from the open door caused her to squint.

“Wleia I love you and while I can not possible understand the pain of losing a husband and brother as you did, the fact remains that I grieve them too. I loved them too. But,” she moved and squatted at eye level, “they are gone. You have to get up from this place. You dishonor their memory by simply waiting for death to claim you. The child you carry, the child Fidel prayed for is suffering because of your selfishness. How long will you think only of what YOU lost? About how YOU feel? About how YOU hurt?”

She waited a breath for an answer, knowing none would come, she drew a stool close and sat.

“You, who have always had such strong faith in The One. Who KNEW He would bless you with a child. You would cast that faith aside now? You told me you are gifted as a scribe, look back on your life. Look back at all the times The One has provided, protected, sheltered and showed His love for you. Look back on your memories with Fidel. Draw them back, inhale them deep into your soul and live.”

Wleia shifted her head enough to look up into the hazel gaze of her only friend. There was a green ring around them that she had never noticed before, a beautiful complement to the glow of her bronzed skin. She watched as Sarah brushed an errant inky coil from her face, a movement she must have done a million times in her life but it was as if Wleia was seeing it, seeing her for the first time. She drew a shaky breath, pushing up onto her elbow before dropping her legs off the side of the cot and sitting up. Hunched over, her dirty hair hung in a limp curtain on either side of her face. Sarah leaned forward until their foreheads touched and together they took a deep breath. A tear dropped from the tip of Wlei’s nose onto the back of her friend's hand that clutched her own, but if Sarah noticed she didn’t move or bother to brush it away. Wleia watched as it sat and then rolled away, leaving a wet trail before dropping onto the bed and disappearing into the wrinkled fabric.

She blinked and the sun was lower than she remembered, she opened her eyes and it was dark, still they sat breathing life into each other.

“Thank you.” Wleia whispered into the silence

“Always.” Sarah whispered back

5mo pregnant

Little by little, with each sunrise to sunset, Wleia gained her strength back. She would watch from the hilltop as her surrogate family washed clothes in the river, the current bringing painful memories rushing back at her. Instead she helped Sarah and Jasmina with cooking and tending the few animals they had. The jerky movements in her womb brought some comfort during the lonely nights while she listened to Sarah and Marcus whisper softly to each other.

Each day the chill in the air grew, and each night around the firepit the whispers of an evil force making its way across the land also grew.

“The attacks on nearby villages are happening more and more. The bandits have no fear of the King's guards or of his laws. No one is safe anymore.” Jared said, his graying beard shaking with each word.

“You are right.” Phillip responded, “While I was at market this morning it is all anyone is talking about. Hastily dug graves line the roadway where travelers have been attacked. Broken pieces of carts and goods lie just beyond the treeline of almost every road!”

“What is the King doing about the problem?” Marcus asked, one arm wrapped around the hunched shoulders of Sarah who listened with wide eyes.

“NOTHING!” Stephen shouted as he strode into the light, his ruddy complexion and red hair as wild as his temper. “This boy is no king, since his father died he has barely left the manor grounds. So enamored with his bride, he could care less that his people bleed out and die in the streets.”

“Come now, we must give him time to accept this new position. It is not as if one can plan for…” Marcus tried

“He has had ample time, Marcus. I am done waiting for him to protect us. I am the head of my family and will do whatever it takes to protect them.” Stephens' eyes narrowed as his hand rested on the hilt of a rusty blade that sat on his hip.

“We are not soldiers Stephen, not anymore. Those of us with any skill,” his eyes darted to the doorway where Wleia sat silently, “are no longer here. And those who are left are too old or too young to be of use. No, it would be better if we left this place to its dark fate.”

“You would run? Like a coward?” Stephen sneared,

“No, I would live. As would my family and any who chose to come with us. Sarah and I have discussed it privately, she has family in the south who would welcome us. Their letters indicate the bandits are not there. The land is fertile and peaceful. I am sure you all could find a place there.” Marcus looked around the circle at his neighbors. Many had children and families that they longed to protect, though a few of the men grumbling amongst themselves seemed to side with Stephen's approach. “It is late, we can talk more and decide in the coming days.”

Wleia stepped to the side as Marcus and Sarah entered the small home, Sarah caught her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. That night and many nights to come, the whispers were not gentle, they were anxious and laced with fear.

6mo Pregnant

The decision to leave had been made, the small village had been divided into three groups. Those who would travel south, those who would fight and those who could not make the journey in either direction. The midwife had confirmed she was carrying twins and advised against her making the trip, but what was left for her here but more death. Marcus and Sarah agreed to go as slow as needed, they would not leave her behind.

The small caravan of ten families planned to leave before the sun rose, the journey would be long and hard but hope lay to the south. Wleia packed the few items she had, tying the small bundle of clothes to the hilt of a jeweled sword. Her hand lovingly caressed the leather sheath. It was all she had left of her husband, a sword she could neither wield nor give away. Marcus had dug it from the wreckage of her home. It had been in Fidel’s family for generations and though she had often asked about its origin, Fidel had always said he would tell her and their future son when the time came. Such faith he had, and look where it had gotten him now. Wleia had to physically shake her head as if trying to shake those dark thoughts from her mind. They came less and less, but somehow managed to sneak through every now and then.

Sighing she tucked her parcel into the back of the wagon the family would be traveling in. Jasmina was already positioned and excited for the adventure she was sure lay ahead, her curly hair mirrored her mothers while her grass green eyes were from marcus. She was a beautiful blend of both parents. Wleia wondered who her children would resemble. Would they have her dark features or Fidel's fiery hair? Would they be a constant reminder of all she had lost or would she be able to look on them and see a bright future? Only time would tell.

“Ready to go?” Marcus asked as he placed a hand on her shoulder

“Ready as I’m going to be, I suppose.” Wleia responded, shifting from under his touch.

“Good, Sarah is saying her last goodbyes and then we will be on our way.” Marcus said, glancing around the small town, “I wish we could have convinced more of them to come with us.”

“They made their choice. We have made ours. The One will protect His own.” Sarah said as she approached and slipped her arm around his waist. Leaning into him as he placed a kiss on her forehead. Wleia nodded and turned away, the familiar prick of impending tears stinging the corners of her eyes at the show of affection. It wasn’t that she was jealous, she was genuinely happy for her friends. It was only that she longed for that same love, a love that had been ripped from her much too soon. She placed a hand over her womb as a forceful kick from one of her children reminded her that she wasn’t entirely alone. It was as if they were saying we love you, we are still here.

One by one the group of wagons disappeared around the bend in the road, being one of the few men left with any fighting skills, Marcus had agreed to bring up the rear. They had barely been on the road for an hour when Jasmina tapped Sarah on the shoulder.

“Mama, Aunt Wleia is not feeling well.” she whispered, causing Sarah to turn quickly to look at her friend. Wleia’s was perspiring heavily, eyes and jaw clenched tightly. The wagon hit a rut in the road and Wleia doubled over in pain.

“Marcus, stop the wagon!” Sarah cried as she started climbing into the back to reach Wleia.

“What is it? What is wrong?” he asked, pulling the reins sharply

“It’s Wleia, something is wrong.” Sarah tersely replied, “Wleia, what is wrong? Look at me.”

Slowly Wleia opened her eyes and tried to focus on her friend's face but the pain caused everything to go out fuzzy at the edges. “I’m sorry, It’s the babies. I think they are coming.”

Sarah’s eyes widened as she placed both hands on Wleia’s stomach, feeling it harden and soften several times. Her curls whipped around as she turned to her husband in a panic, “It’s too soon!” she cried. Marcus set his lips in a firm line and began to turn the wagon back the way they came. He would not lose Fidel’s family like this, not without trying everything in his power to save them. He knew the bumps would be agony for her but he had to reach the village and the midwife quickly. His lips flew in silent supplication to The One for speed and mercy.

“Call the Midwife! Call her now!” Marcus yelled as the wagon slid to a halt in the center of the village, dropping the reins he leapt off the side and rushed around to lift Wleia from the wagon bed. Carrying her into their now empty home, he gave thanks that they had made it back swiftly. The midwife arrived and shooed him from the room, allowing only Sarah to remain. One hour turned into two and then three, the woman rushed in and out with buckets of water and baskets of herbs. Noone approached him and Sarah wouldn't meet his eyes, he could feel the tension in the air, he could see their lips moving silently in prayer as they made each trip.

And then everything stopped.

Sarah and the midwife emerge from the shadowed room, heads bent together whispering. Then Sarah beckoned him closer, “Is she alright? The babies?” he nervously asked

“They are all fine, thanks be to The One. And you for getting her here so quickly. I have often seen women go into early labor, especially those who are carrying more than one. But…” she glanced back at the door as if she could see through it to the room beyond, “never have I seen labor start so violently and then just stop.”

“Nothing we did was working,” Sarah continued, “her waters had not broken but she was in active labor and then just nothing! Suddenly the contractions stopped, her fever broke and her breathing returned to normal. I have no explanation other than a miracle. She must be favored by The One.”

“I agree” the midwife chimed in, “this was no normal birthing room. The very air in that room was so thick, it felt…heavy.” she shook her head and stepped away from the couple, “Regardless, she is in no condition to travel. She must remain here and join you after the twins are born. I shall tell her when she awakens.”

“No, I will tell her.” Sarah said, grateful for the small squeeze of reassurance Marcus gave her hand

The next morning Wleia woke slowly, the sunlight streaming through the window illuminated small particles as they floated on air currents. She had felt like that not so long ago, small and unimportant. Floating on the current of life, going wherever it took her and having no say in the matter. Sometime during the last day and night, that had changed. She felt grounded and sure, the future still lay shrouded in uncertainty but she was no longer afraid of it. The weight of peace still rested heavily on her as she lifted one hand into the shaft of light and felt its warmth fill her palm.

“Glad to see you are awake, dear one.” Sarah whispered from the floor where she lay, Jasmina sprawled out on one side and Marcus snoring softly on the other. Slowly she extracated herself from the jumble of limbs and made her way to Wleia’s bedside. “How do you feel?” she asked, placing the back of her hand first on her cheek and then on her belly.

“I feel…lighter.” Wleia whispered back, “What happened?”

“You went into labor yesterday on the road so we rushed you back here. The midwife and I tended to you for several hours before your labor stopped. Just stopped. We have no explanation for it.”

“He saved me. Just like he did during the flood and so many times before. He looked past my doubts and unbelief, he looked through my fear to my future, our future and saved us.” tears of gratitude welled up in her eyes. She felt the small fluttering within her belly and knew everything would be alright, somehow.

“Wleia, the midwife said…” Sarah started

“I know.” Wleia cut her off with a sad smile, “I must remain here and you must journey south. I will be alright. You and Marcus must protect each other and Jasmina, The One hold me in the palm of his hand. He protects his own, remember?”

Later that day tears tracked down the cheeks of both women as they clutched each other goodbye, not knowing when or if they would ever see each other again. Just like so many months ago Wleia felt another hand slip from her grasp, she remained behind watching her loved ones move on without her. This time the parting was sorrowful but not bitter, the final words of her heart's sister ringing in her ears, “Be strong and Courageous. The One is with you though we are not. He Goes before you, He will walk behind and beside you. He will not let you fall.”

9 months pregnant

If I could lift my leg higher, I would kick myself for forgetting to gather water till now. Thank The One it was a full moon and bright enough to make the trip there and back. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, as if someone were watching me. Hastening my footsteps back to the cottage I shut the door, sighing at the cold hearth. I had fallen asleep midday and let the fire go out. I was always so tired, according to the midwife, because the babies could arrive any day.

Using a stick, I poked the embers back to life and settled once more into the small cot, quickly falling back into a dreamless sleep.

Rolling out of bed the next morning, my joints popped and crackled, shifting into new positions to accommodate my large belly. Slowly making my way to the shed I pause at the door. It sits partially ajar though I am sure I shut it securely the day before. Cautiously I enter and feel my jaw drop open, the most beautiful woman lay bleeding in the straw. Raven hair plastered to a pale and sweating face, a dark embroidered cloak around her shoulders barely concealed a stomach as large as my own. Though she appears to be in tremendous pain, the voice that reaches my ears is strong and full of authority,

“Please do not be alarmed.” She says, “Despite how I must look to you, I am Alanna Bear-Claw, and I need your help. Please, gather ink and paper to write what I am about to tell you.”

“Oh, Mistress! Please, I will get the midwife!”

“There is no time! Listen to me, please.” her face clenched as a wave of labor pain hit her

“Yes Mistress, but no ink or paper is needed. I was born a scribe, a gift that has served me well in times of great distress. Perhaps The One knew you would have need of me.” Wleia whispered as she approached her queen.

“Praise The One! Look at me and record what is said.”

Queen Alanna proceeded to unravel a tale of love and betrayal, destiny and greed. A tale and a child I would hold close until The One released me to reveal them both.

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