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.


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