Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

#FridayFlash 68: Returning

This one is for Catherine, who asked "but what happened before?"
Annie -- your "what happened after?" is a much longer story ;)

For the curious -- this is a prequel to my Jezina story Beyond the Wall.

Thanks for reading!


"You have to take her," the frantic whisper commanded.  Leesha grabbed the brown bundle of fabric as it was shoved at her, before realizing what it held.  Who it held.

"What?  No.  Your highness, I can't..."

"She is not safe here," the voice less frantic, more commanding.  The queen speaking rather than the mother.  "My husband will kill her.  You must take her, and I cannot know where she's gone.  Keep her safe.  Keep her secret.  Until the time is right for her to return.  You will know when the time is right to tell her."

The queen handed Leesha a small sack.  Its contents jingled as she grasped it, letting her know exactly what it contained.  Its weight suggested there was enough money to last a lifetime.  

The queen's face softened as she looked at her first-born daughter, cursed with hair pure white, as her own had been.  The baby gurgled in her sleep and the queen reached for her, but as Leesha moved to hand the child back, the queen quickly stepped aside, straightening away from the child and glancing quickly over her shoulder.

"You must go now!"  The lines deepened on her forehead, but the tension evident did not disguise the pain in her eyes.  

Leesha gave a small curtsey and backed away from her queen's haunted gaze.  What did she know was coming?  Why would she fear the king?   What could possibly be bad enough that she would send her beloved daughter away with a maid?   And why her? 

Leesha's mind whirled with questions as she returned to her chamber to gather her meager belongings.  She made her way through the castle sticking to shadows and rarely used passageways, grateful for the princess's silence.  She looked longingly at the route to the kitchen, but didn't dare visit there with the child.  She didn't know how long she'd have before someone missed the girl, or if the queen would protect her if she were caught.

She thought wistfully of the friends she'd miss and hoped one day she'd be able to return.  Leesha had no family to miss her, she was sure that was a large part of why she was chosen.   What the queen didn't know, what nobody knew, was that she did have family.  The question was whether that family would take her back in.

She glanced at the baby's face – only her eyes visible through the blankets, and those mostly hidden by shadow.  Her white hair was covered – an oddity here, Leesha would take her where she would fit in, a place where Leesha never had.

She scanned the field and saw nobody before leaving the shelter of the wall and walking calmly but quickly toward the northern gate.  She'd picked a side exit, off the normal guard route, where she knew there'd only be one guard.  She hoped it might be a friend, someone she could convince she was never there.  Or, failing that, someone who could be paid to forget -- at least for a little while.

Leesha heard sounds up ahead.  Two people?  There were never two guards here.  And then her eyes widened and a smile touched the corner of her lips as she realized what she was hearing.  The guard, being less than diligent, had found himself some company to occupy his long shift.   Leesha's luck held as the baby slept while they slipped out the little-used exit.   

She hurried across the field, trying to hold the child in such a way as to not jostle her.  The steady rhythm kept her sleeping, and her silence was necessary to their escape.  She reached the forest but found the trees too think to cut through, so stuck to the edge, hiding in the shadows.   She shortly found a path -- one of the smaller ones she knew lead to town.  

Never before had the dark seemed so complete, the night so overwhelming.  But still she walked even as adrenaline began to give way to fatigue.  By the time she got to town, shed concluded she couldn't seek help; not with the princess in her arms.   To do so would be to risk not only herself and the child, but also any who helped her.

Terrified, Leesha hid the girl in a hollow of a tree off the poorly used path and hoped she'd make it to town and back quickly enough.   She quickly bought travel necessities and foods she could make into a gruel for both of them before visiting the docks.  A reasonably safe place, Leesha affected a bored countenance while negotiating travel for herself and her daughter up the river.   Her heart beat wildly from the lie, but the weathered boatman didn't even look at her, just agreed to a price and told her to return before his crew finished loading.

Leesha hurried back, fear making it hard to swallow, but the baby was still there and fine, just starting to fuss and wave her tiny fists in the air.  She fed her quickly before rebundling her, careful to ensure her hair was entirely covered.

Only once the boat was on its way with Leesha on it, did the reality of what she was doing sink in.  As she dozed on the gently rocking ship, she remembered the village shed left as a girl.  A small village it was bound by stricter rules than most.  She recalled as a young child, visitors had been encouraged, but by the time she was a teen and ready to explore herself, things had changed.   A wall had been built that few were allowed to cross.  For the good of the village, the elders said.   They knew what was out there and had to protect against it.  Those who wished to leave could, but they were not guaranteed to be welcomed back.  Leesha was afraid the hard words she had exchanged with her mother before leaving would ensure she would not be permitted to return.

The journey took several weeks, and while there were some challenges, they made their way there together and unharmed.  The wall was much smaller than Leesha remembered, and the gate stood open.

A keelah!” Leesha heard a childs excited shout and the nostalgia it brought helped calm her nerves.

The baby whimpered and Leesha softened her hold.  She focused on calming the girl as she entered the village shed sworn never to return to.  As she looked up a woman stepped out of the crowd, her face pale but proud.   Not a welcome, but more encouragement than Leesha had expected.

She held the bundle out and uttered the lie that would change lives. Mom, Id like to introduce you to your granddaughter.  Jezina.

This is not how Sunday mornings are meant to be spent...

Went to an interesting spin class today - the focus was on spinning as training to ride as opposed to spinning as its own fitness activity.  This may seem a minor differentiation but in reality it was a completely different experience.

This class was all people who are participating in Ride to Conquer Cancer of varying skill levels.  Focus was on maintaining the same level of energy output throughout.  The bike's computer showed watts, revolutions, and a few other random details.   We were to adjust the tension so that we were hitting a certain number of watts at a particular number of revolutions.   (Eg - get to 85 revolutions and set tension so end result is 100 watts...  then reduce to 65 revs and still maintain 100 - meaning tension has to go way up).   Premise being while riding outside regardless of hills, wind, etc focus should be on maintaining a consistent energy usage.   With a secondary focus on maintaining a consistent rhythm.

At first I was all over the place but by the end I had managed to at least be within five of wherever I was supposed to be consistently - I'm going to deem that a win :)   Down side -- my actual bike computer doesn't give me all the same information the spin bike does; revs yes, energy no...

Less of a win is that my hind muscles are already screaming and I have to sit on them for several hours tomorrow.  Fail.   But hopefully the beach will help them relax ;)

For those just dropping into the story - this early morning class is to help me prep for the Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Your support by clicking this link and donating would be greatly welcomed!


So while Wednesday’s bike ride was a challenge, I was feeling pretty good on Thursday.   Both excited and dismayed that I apparently didn’t get a workout out of the brutality that was Wednesday’s conflict with the wind.  
It was late by the time I had time to exercise so the bike was out (I’m not riding in the dark!) but Core de Force still exists.   Lol I haven’t been nearly as dedicated to that as I’d like to be – unlike P90X3, this one has a pretty serious time commitment and, well, that time is not always there.  But I am loving the results it gets even with less than ideal commitment so I picked the most intense video and away I went.
But while I felt I wasn’t tired, something was clearly nqr…   Each of my “roundhouse” kicks sent me spinning in a circle (this was really quite comical I must admit, but disconcerting as it wasn’t on purpose!)  And I quickly noticed that any jumps that involved moving forward were not, in fact, propelling me particularly far forward.
It only got worse…   When she asked “is your guard up?”  No, no its not.  And trying to put it there resulted in tapping myself in the face (I say ‘tap’ because there was so little power it doesn’t count as a punch!)   And “are you retracting your kick?”   No.  If I ever have to actually fight someone, they’re just going to grab my ankle or my wrist and I’ll be done.   
Lol I got through the program, but while I didn’t feel muscle sore going in, I have to acknowledge my poor body was very definitely tired.   So today, instead of exercise, I’m going out for dinner ;)   This seems an entirely reasonable deviation from all current goals.

The adventure begins

Every good quest must have a nemesis.  Sometimes it’s physical ability, sometimes it’s a competitor, sometimes it’s an angry wizard…  You never know quite what you might encounter.   While I was really hoping not to have to take on the angry wizard, I had figured I might have to tackle such obstacles as lack of time, lack of fundraising skills, and of course, lack of fitness.   I was prepared to tackle two of the three and a little bit counting on the kindness of friends and strangers for the third (HUGE thanks once again to those who have already donated to support my effort to help the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre).

But no, my nemesis was more sneaky than that.  Should, perhaps, have been obvious.  Would have been obvious were I a trained cyclist.  Alas I am not.  And so on my first real training ride, I met my nemesis: The Wind.

Okay now I can accept the knowing laughter from the cyclists in the group.  But those of you rolling your eyes – let me tell you, that’s what I thought too!

So, to set the stage, because I’m told that’s what you have to do, the day I decided to take on this challenge, I dusted my bike off (literally!) and rode it around the block.  Now this block is a large block and it does involve a bit of a valley that lets me get some serious (to me) speed – about 60km on a good day – and then ALL the peddling on the easiest of gears to get back up the other side.   But even still, we’re talking less than 3km all in, and I was all kinds of puffing by the end.  Now to be fair to me, part of this was undoubtedly due to my well known and dreaded habit of holding my breath.  Lol – the first cross-country round of every eventing season usually sees me just about pass out after the fourth fence before I remember to breath.   And generally I do showjumping without ever bothering to waste time on such an unimportant function.  But even still, I took this as a pretty serious sign that if I wanted to ride two HUNDRED kms, I’d better give my fitness level some intense attention.

Acknowledging that, along with my complete dislike of anything that resembles winter weather, I hit up the spin bikes at the gym.  Now these have the advantage of being an intense workout in a short period of time (there’s no cruising or downhill!) but I know fully well that it’s not really the same.  So I had determined that on Wednesday (when I don’t have to commute and save myself 3h of daylight) that I would go for ride after work.   I have an “easy” 10km route that I used to do on the cross-training days from my running (which was last year’s adventure).

Right, Mother Nature was in one of those moods where she wasn’t going to outright say “no”, but she definitely wasn’t supportive of the idea either.  “Wind warning” – right.   Well what’s the worst that can happen?   I honestly thought it’d just be really hard to push into and it’d take me a long time in an easy gear.   Optimistic me put it as a good workout.  Right.  Hindsight’s a nasty little beast.

First of all, I would like to know how I could be riding into the wind BOTH directions.   I was doing a loop – logically one direction of the loop should be *with* the wind – super zoomy and all kinds of fun.  While the other would be the unpleasantness I had mentally prepped for.   Right?  Doesn’t this seem logical?   Well evidently Ms Nature and Logic were not on speaking terms.   I had about one block where I felt a significant boost.  The rest of the time it was just varying degrees of how hard the ride was.  And that was the easy part!

I’m not even kidding – I seriously thought the hard part would be riding into the wind.  No my friend, that it is not.   What I had failed to consider was what happens when the wind is coming at you on a ninety degree angle.  This, this is what nightmares are made of.   To put in perspective, earlier in the day this same wind blew a semi-truck over on the skyway (not far away).  It too had problems with the sideways gust.   I was SO very lucky there was zero traffic where I was riding, because when it hit I was instantly on the other side of the road and fighting for control.

And *then* when I thought I had figured out how to counter balance against said wind, it got angry at me and started THROWING THINGS.   I couldn’t even make this up.   Branches.  Leaves.  Garbage – ugh, so much garbage.

I never realized how grateful I’d be to turn a corner and *only* be riding into the insane wind.   Yet still it happened.

I did, in fact, make it home, uninjured, and in one piece.   The luck of small children and idiots was with me that ride – I’ll let you ascertain for yourself which one was protecting me ;-P   And all I can think is when I ride TWENTY times as far, I really hope Mother Nature can convince my nemesis The Wind to back off a little.  Or better yet, support the cause and give us all a push!