Lukos slammed from the cabin, the flames of the fire recoiling in response. Aeliana stared at the door, strong and permanent.
“Your tongue is sharp, daughter.” Bekka emerged from her bedroom, eyes wary.
Aeliana crossed her arms. “You never discouraged it.”
“Lukos is a good man.”
“He was wrong.”
“You were wrong.”
Aeliana’s heart sank. “What shall I do?”
“She knows the location of all of the words ever spake.”
“Scribes tell of a magical place, rarely encountered, but tragic and beautiful.” Bekka gave her child a shove. “It is your only hope.”
For three days, Aeliana searched the woods, poking around abandoned cabins; looking beneath the footbridge cobbled together with magic; wandering beneath the jack pines where matsutakes grew. She found Esther curled in the depths of an ancient oak, her face as cracked and solid as the heart of the tree, so that the tree and the diviner seemed as one.
Esther woke immediately. “You seek the Place of Words.”
“How did you know?”
Esther unfurled herself. “What is your purpose?”
“We are allotted only a certain number of words in this life.”
“I fear I’ve squandered mine.”
“We squander much of our lives.”
“I want to gather up my words; spend them more carefully.”
Esther began to walk, Aeliana following. “Words are the map of your life.”
“Words are dangerous.”
“Can be.” Esther allowed. “Bitter words. Honest words, when dishonesty would have been a kindness.” She fished among pine needles until she brought up a mushroom. “Words can be good.”
“Hurts may be unintentionally given.”
“Deliberately as well.”
“You can spend your life studying on your words, looking for nuances and meaning.” Esther stopped. Choose wisely, my child,” she said before vanishing into the trees.
Aeliana peered. The words of her life lay before her, a cord serpentine and scaled. She gathered up the shimmering end, words last spoken with Esther. Further up, the cord was dull and black: Her argument with Lukos. Perhaps she could remove the dull parts…
The trees sighed deeply, the branches wept. A voice floated on the wind. “The cord cannot be broken. Take them all or none at all.
She’d take them all, then. She began to wrap the cord around her hand. Angry words. Kind words. Words reclaimed, set in store for future use, better use. The ball grew heavy. She set it on the ground and began rolling it, now left, now right, accumulating more words, unspeaking words spoken, rendering her past mute. Where she told Lukos of her love. The words she used to tell her mother about the night…She closed her eyes, remembering…
Aeliana sighed and began unrolling her words, spreading them upon the ground.
The jack pines sighed with relief and the wind carried Esther’s laughter.
Tomorrow, she would go to Lukos and speak proper words, words that would be added to her cord at the Place of Words, words that would shimmer and gleam with promise and hope.
This was written for this week’s Write on Edge prompt, a combination of a picture and this quote:
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953)