The silent girl walked far across the plains, leaving the fertile riverlands of her people far behind her. She leaned on her stick and walked into the winds, she followed meagre streams for their water, she caught small animals for their meat, and she persevered.
After many days, she saw something unusual in the distance. A tall, broad shape; somewhat like a low hill, but with an odd regularity to it, and – just visible as she peered into the distance – men moving across its top.
She moved towards it with caution, her path taking her in a wide, sweeping arc around it so that she could survey it before coming too close. It was obviously some kind of defensive feature. The men atop it were armed and vigilant. At its centre, where the men’s attention was focussed, there was a gate, but it was closed and remained so as long as she watched.
From the gate, a road – little more than a track – led away into the plains, and around the track a number of tents and huts were clustered. From her vantage point, she watched as the people from these humble dwellings approached the gate in the morning, watched them clamour and hammer at it.
She watched the armed men despatch a few, and saw them disperse – until the next morning.
Leaning on her stick, she made her way along the road.
“It’s no use, girl,” someone said to her in a thick accent as she approached the gate. “They’ll let none of us in.”
She turned to look at the speaker, and saw an old woman – far older than her mother had been – wrapped in a grey ragged cloak.
“What’s your name, girl?”
The silent girl scraped her name into the dust with her stick, and the old woman harrumphed.
“One of the river people, is it? Used to be able to read your words. Not any longer. Forgot most of it, along with my pride.”
The silent girl looked at her, then at the gate.
“They have food a plenty in there,” the old woman said. “But none for the needy. They say they’ll open the gate when they see someone of worth, but they’ll not open for any of us.”
She tugged at her ragged cloak, spat on it and rubbed. As the dirt came away beneath her fingers, the silent girl saw gold thread.
“We all thought ourselves worthy,” the old woman said. “We were all wrong. Come. Share my stew. You can test yourself in the morning.”
© Kari Fay