ONCE IN A RED MOON
BY LUCIRINA TELOR VEVAN




Say the stories, whisper the words, of one that had been both gifted and cursed by the Gods. Her name still remains in the places she wandered, remembered with both love and fear... - This is the story of Ehlaina.
 

CHAPTER III
B
EETLE WHISTLES AND FLOATING WISPS

or weeks Ehlaina wandered alone among the glum landscape of the marshes, avoiding the many paths and trails that lead through it. Keeping to herself as much as she could, shunning the light of the day and moving only in the shadows of the few trees that grew in the swampy landscape, hoping no one would hear or see her. Terrified with the thought that maybe the people from Astran had followed her to end her life, she fled from any sound, shy and easily startled she escaped like a frightened doe whenever something seemed to move among the trees or a distant sound came to her ears.

She was still trying to understand what she had done wrong, what terrible crime she had committed to deserve this treatment. She had nothing left from her prior life, only the torn blanket that she had been covering herself with during the cold and damp nights. She fed on roots and berries, often getting sick as she didn’t know which ones were actually edible. She quickly learned to avoid the pink and tempting berries of the in’ilá and instead search for the berries from the waterberry bush. The roots and leaves of the lotann flower were her main food. The green leaves of the plant didn’t exactly taste good, bitter was more like it, but they filled the stomach and made her feel satiated.
 

The leaves of the trees were starting to show the faint golden colour that announced the coming of autumn and the approaching of winter. Ehlaina knew she couldn’t continue roaming the marshes when snow would start to cover the grouns. She had no clothes that could warm her. She had no place to hide.

She slowly turned to look longingly toward the road that she knew led back to the city of Astran, the town that she had called home for so long. But what was there for her now? Nothing, only rocks flung at her and insults that fell over her like drops of rain.
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She knew she couldn’t turn back, they would most certainly kill her if she did. But who else would give shelter to a starving child? Who would give home to one that had been scorned by her own people, condemned and hated because she was not like the rest of the people around her?

Ehlaina lifted her hand to touch over the stump where her arm should have grown. The small stub felt cold and for a moment she hated it, she hated the arm that she never had. Falling to her knees she started crying in the uttermost despair, cursing the Gods that had allowed her to be conceived. She cursed Queprur for taking her family away, for not taking her instead. Her words were soon drowned in the sobs that escaped her lips, making her whole body shudder as in an intense cold. Her heart was broken beyond repair, she had no place she could call home anymore. She was little more than nothing. Even the wild beasts of the forest were more than her, being able to call the unfriendly forest and marshes for their home, they belonged here.
 
The child continued crying until her eyes were dry and sore, not longer holding any more tears that could be shed. She cried until her throat ached, parched with thirst and hurting from the sobs that had been wrenched from her chest. Slowly she lay down on the ground, covering herself with the still damp and torn woollen blanket. Exhausted by the long day of wandering, the lack of food and the crying, Ehlaina fell asleep, completely unaware of the pair of eyes that were watching her from between the trees, eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness. They blinked a few times before their owner disappeared without making a sound.

The night was merciful with Ehlaina, no wild beast bothered her dream, and no cold rain showered her. The child sleeping peacefully in the middle of the wilderness spared by some whim of the Gods. It was as if Arvins himself had ordered his beasts to stay away from her sleeping place. Grothar kept his rain filled clouds floating in  the sky far away from the marshes and Eyasha had bidden all the creatures to let the night be silent so the child could rest in complete peace.

Only when the injčrá had started her race over the sky Ehlaina woke to the sound of a loud whistling. The girl was startled as she heard the noise and swiftly sat up. She let out a small shriek as she saw a large grey and orange beetle sitting squarely on her hand. Ehlaina shook her hand violently to scare the insect away, sending it flying several peds far, as she grimaced in disgust. The beetle didn’t seem to appreciate the rough treatment either, emitting a low and slightly rattling whistle before taking to flight and disappearing between the trees.

Ehlaina stared at the large beetle as it flew away, still trying to calm her racing heart, she knew that there was no real danger now, but the scare from her awakening still lingered in her body, her muscles still tight and tense. After a long moment she let out a trembling sigh, slowly turning her head to look around her resting place. The blanket had dried during the night, and there were no tracks of animals close to her, almost as if no life had stirred in the place surrounding her. Slowly Ehlaina stretched herself, running her hand through her locks, trying to untangle them as best as she could. Slowly she got to her feet and pulled her blanked up, draping it over her shoulders as one would with a cloak. She could feel her stomach starting to protest. She was hungry.

A cold wind blew through the few trees, pulling away the yellow leaves from the branches, making them dance around the naked ankles of the child like playful fairies. Yet Ehlaina saw no joy in the dance of the leaves, it only meant that winter was moving even closer, and soon she wouldn’t be able to find any berries or plants to feed on. She shuddered and pulled the blanket closer around herself before she started her search for food, looking for something to silence the growls of hunger coming from her empty stomach.

The waterberry bushes were almost completely stripped for fruits, most of it had already been eaten by squirrels and birds. Ehlaina found some berries and ate them slowly, as to make them last as much as possible. The bush picked clean of berries and her stomach still screaming with hunger she continued wandering in search for something else to satsify her hunger. But the luck that had been with her during the night seemed to have left her completely, as she found nothing to eat, not even a lonely lotann. The sun finished its run over the sky with the child feeling more hunger than she had ever felt. Even when her father was without work he always managed to get food to give her, even when it was only a crust of dry bread. But now she couldn’t find anything to eat. The bushes that had been heavy with berries were now shedding their leaves and preparing for a cold winter. The limb she was missing made it difficult for her to climb the trees in search for the few fruits that remained on the now naked branches.

Ehlaina returned to the spot where she had slept last night, looking around for a safer safer to sleep. And she was happy when she saw that there was a nearby tree, dead it seemed, with a rather large hole in its trunk close to its roots. With great effort Ehlaina scooped together a small pile of dry leaves and proceeded to stuff them into the hole, providing a soft place to lie during the night. She made sure to shake her blanket before she crawled into her little den. The leaves crunched under her weight as she tried as good as she could to fit her whole body inside the crevice of the tree, curling up like a small animal hiding from the cold. And the cold indeed came.

That night was a herald for the approaching winter, cold winds swept the ground, making the dry leaves dance around as possessed by thousands of little demons. It blew away the leaves from the trees, leaving the branches like naked and bony fingers stretching toward a gray heaven. Small animals of all sorts ran for cover as the rain-heavy clouds started emptying themselves, sending a cascade of icy cold water towards the ground. Grothar released his powers, lightning crossing the sky from side to side, thunder rolling over the swamp. The wind joined the rain and froze the small drops into pieces of ice that pounded against the ground. The hail destroyed the few berries and plants that were still surviving the cold of the wind, crushing the waterberries and killing the lotann with its sharp edges.

The storm lasted all night, rain and hail were washing the trees and bushes free from leaves and berries, leaving them empty and dormant, ready to receive the cold snow that would soon start falling over the lands.

A gray dawn rose over the land, the golden sun hidden behind the heavy, gray clouds that continued to drift over the sky. Ehlaina awoke shuddering in cold, even the thick layer of leaves and the wool blanket had not been enough to keep out the wind and rain. The leaves were damp and cold under her, and the blanket was stiff and white with frost. The girl looked out at the ground and her heart sunk when she saw the thin layer of ice that coated the ground and the plants, the first hoarfrost of the year had come to steal away what little food was still in the forest.

The child felt that tears started forming in her eyes, running down her cheeks to drip on the ground below her.

How could Seyella be so cruel to her? First robbing her of her father, and now letting the cold coat the earth; for a moment Ehlaina felt like just curling up in the small crevice and wait for Queprur to harvest her. But a small voice in the back of her head was urging the child to leave the hiding place. Maybe the hail had spared some berries, maybe some small lotanns were still standing, hidden between the trunk of the trees.

Ehlaina sniffled and slowly crawled out from the place that now served as her home. She once more draped the blanket around her shoulder as she started walking, determined to find food.

By the time the injérá was halfway across the heavens Ehlaina had given up her search, tears streaming freely down her cheeks as she walked aimlessly among the trees. Not a single berry had she found, not one edible leaf, nothing. Her stomach growled in hunger as she searched the ground for roots that could calm her hunger. But the ground was as hard as stone after last night's freeze, Ehlaina 's nails broke painfully, blood mixing with the dirt as she tried to dig after food.

The child was dizzy with hunger. It had been so long, so very long, since she had felt the sweet taste of bread in her mouth, almost a complete moon now. And the memory of the last meal she had let spoil was haunting her mind. She had never gotten to taste any of the meat she had prepared. Never had she enjoyed the feeling of the Santharian mint kisses melting on her tongue, their sugary and sweet taste invading her mouth.

She lifted her hand to run it over her head. Her hair was still short as a boy’s, but at least it didn’t stand straight out anymore. Her head was now covered with small brown curls. The sacrifice she had made had served to nothing. She had not enjoyed anything of what she had bought, the rats had soiled the food with their paws and their excrement. And what little she had saved was left in the cottage as the townspeople had chased her out of the town.

Hate welled up in her heart as she remembered the townspeople, their shouts and the stones flying towards her. She could almost feel the pain as a rock colided with her collarbone, nearly snapping it in two. The smell of the rotting fruits, the feeling of the eggs as they exploded against her head. All of it was clear in her mind.

Her hand balled up in a fist as anger washed over her. Why was she to hunger? Why did she have to starve to death in the marshes? It was not fair!

The child turned and stared in the direction where she knew the town was located. Indeed, why did she have to starve? There were small vegetable patches behind most of the houses. Chicken houses with birds and eggs!

Ehlaina started walking towards the town. She knew dusk was coming soon and that she would be safer in the darkness than by the fading lights of the day. All day she walked, still avoiding the usual paths that led towards the city, u´ntil at last she was close to the outskirts of Astran again.

As soon as night started spreading its veil over the lands she moved as silently as she could towards a vegetable patch, pulling up carroots from the still frozen ground, gobbling them down without caring for the dirt that still covered them, stripping the peases from the vines and chewing them without removing the pods. She raided the small garden, stuffing herself with all the vegetables she found.

She then looked toward the chicken coop, a sudden hunger for eggs befell her. Silently Ehlaina crept into the small shack and started collecting the eggs, breaking open the shells and swallowing the contents raw. But as she reached for the last egg the door burst open, only to reveal a angry looking farmer.

"So we have a thief? You’ll see what I do with thieves!" he shouted as he hasted into the shack, his arm lifted high, brandishing a tick wooden staff.

The Silvermarshes

View picture in full size Image description. Mist over the desolate Silvermarshes. Pic by Faugar.

Ehlaina tried to sneak past him, but the man was too fast. The staff flew down and caught her across the back. A sharp pain flared up and burned her. She let out a scream of pain that woke up the chickens. The man did not move away from her but simply lifted the staff once more before it fell over her shoulder this time. The child fell to the ground and tried crawling away. But it was only met by the hard kicks from his booted feet against her stomach and her rips. She thought she heard a snapping sound as he kicked her chest once more, and suddenly she couldn’t breathe. The pain was so intense that she thought he had kicked her heart into silence.

Still, somehow she had the presence of mind to get up somehow on her feet and run as the man was distracted by several of his hens as they ran through the door, escaping from the coop. Ehlaina ran as fast as she could, but the farmer, noticing she was escaping, bowed down and lifted a stone, flinging it towards the fleeing figure.

The stone flew whistling through the air and hit precisely, straight in the back of the child’s head, she toppled over and slammed into the ground, blood spurting from the wound the stone had made under the brown locks.

And though, Seyella’s hand was still over Ehlaina, and the child managed to scramble herself to her feet and continue the run towards the Silvermarshes, disappearing in the fog that had started to rise from the marshy grounds.

Ehlaina lost the sense of how long she had been running, her head was aching as were her chest and side. The world was spinning in a confusing way around her, making her dizzy. At one point she had fallen to her knees and emptied her stomach, spiting out all that she had managed to eat before she was discovered. But the fear for the man with the staff made her get to her feet and continue her staggering run back to her "home".

By the tree she finally fell to the ground, exhausted both from the run and from the terrible pain in her head and side, her breath was shallow and fast and a sharp pain shot through her with each breath. Several bruises covered her face and her arm, each one a mark from the booted feet that had kicked her.

Ehlaina felt the world spinning around, making her even more dizzy than she was. She got to her knees as she felt another wave of nausea was through her, but throwing up nothing more than bile.

Slowly she rolled until she was lying on her back, her head aching less and less as her eyes slid close. In the instant before she actually closed them she thought she saw several wisps floating over her, as well as the sound of many whistles filling the air.

She was almost certain she heard the sound of rustling leaves as well as slow and cautious footsteps approaching her still form. Ehlaina struggled to open her eyes once more, and what she saw froze the blood in her veins. A creature, not taller nor larger than her was looking down at her, its head seeming almost too big for its body, its eyes wide open and staring at her. It reached out a hand and gently caressed over her cheek, speaking in a language she didn’t understand. As it moved its hand back the fingers were covered with blood. The creature sniffed the blood and then looked back at Ehlaina, leaning closer and closer towards her...

And then she fell into the fogs of oblivion, her mind kindly shutting down.
 

Story written by Lucirina Telor Vevan View Profile