It seemed as if we were walking for hours before a small village came into view. My heart began to pound like a bass drum, it actually hurt my chest with every hard beat. If this was where my father was, this was the beginning of a true revolution; freedom from the tyranny and injustice of the clannies and the poverty of living in our village.
As we entered into the town, everything seemed to be silent and abandoned. I looked cautiously at Hum and Ibis, who were smiling wildly and edging at me to go on. Nodding, I continued to walk. As I approached the fountain in the center, my heart went into my throat. It was Da.
He looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a few years, even though it had only been a few days. His warm eyes gazed upon me with admiration and approval. He held out his scruffy arms, and as if I were a bright eyed rabbit, I sprang into them.
He held me for a long time, and even though I had seen him three days ago, I’m sure I was crying. His warm chest seemed very inviting, so I snuggled closer into it. Finally, after what seemed like years, he let me go.
“Hello Al.” Da said, his soft voice ringing with fondness, “I knew you would come back.”
*** *** ***
The next few hours felt as if I were watching someone else live my own life for me. Everything I did seemed to be like a dream. We discussed battle plans, and how we were going to infiltrate the village. This wasn’t me! This was a warrior, which I was not. I slowly began to grow accustomed to how all the people in the small village saluted me as their leader, a feeling I had never before experienced. Later, we sat down by the village fountain, a work of art such as I had never seen before. THere we ate a small meal of deer and raw carrots, such as the ones Mema plucked from the clan gardens…
“So Al,” Da began. “How was the journey here? I already know that you got seperated from Ibis and Hum here, but I’d like to hear your version of the tale.” I looked up with a slightly overwhelmed grin.
I went on to explain in much detail just exactly what had befallen in the last few days. I told Da how I saved Hum’s life in the pond, of the pain when Mema was whipped, and when we ran for our lives from the clannies. He listened with a vivid captivation as I told him of my first night in Eldritch, finding Hum again, and then being attacked by the Hun. I ended my narrative by telling him about my journey through the water, down the waterfall, and eventually ending up here. He shook his head when I had finished telling my story.
“Great lichen foot! This is exactly why you are the one of the prophecy. None of the rest of us could have survived that with a meager scratch on our side. I’m so proud of you.” I smiled mischievously.
“Now, I want to hear what all of you have to say.” I responded evenly. Hum and Ibis seemed to give each other a side grin. For two people who had just survived two days in the wilderness, they seemed as bright eyed and bushy tailed as newborn rabbits.
“Well,” Ibis said. “The journey was hard, being alone and all, but I must say it’s downright more fun than being the future Clan Princess -”
“The what!” Da said, interrupting her quite unlike a leader, “You left the best position in the clan for this?”
“As a matter of fact, I did, Plover Frond, so I pray you will let me continue my story.” Ibis said haughtily, winking at Hum and I knowingly. She flipped her hair, and the droplets from the fountain caught in it, sparkling in the sunlight.
“After we escaped the elders, leaping over the stockade into the living death according to our community, Swallow, Hum, and I all ran in separate directions. I tore through the woods that night, and finally found a safe place to rest on a high embankment over a creek. Come morning, I thought that the best way to find you, my friends, would be to follow the water. After all, all need water to live.”
During her pause, Da nodded understandingly and Hum punched Ibis gently in the shoulder.
“Get on with it, beautiful!” he said laughingly.
Ibis blushed and continued, “Well, an enormous fallen tree, half pushed into the water, half lodged on the swollen creek’s bank, offered a convenient way to travel the woods without tripping on underbrush. I shoved the log into the water and went along for the ride. I must have been half asleep, because the next thing I knew, I was hurtling through the roaring rapids, in the direction of a great plume of falling water!”
Hum gasped, and I laughed. He blushed and Ibis punched him for a change!
“Well, you stubborn menfolk keep interrupting my story. Do you want to hear the ending or not?”
Instantly, Hum and Da were silent as two scruffy, brawny angels. I snorted in spite of myself, and Ibis proudly finished her saga, “Well, being the intelligent woman that I am, I leaped off my watercraft just in time, for no sooner had it shot ahead of me than a wild torrent of water crashed about my head! Well, to make a long story short, I surfaced with ease and swam ashore to the distantly visible village with the carelessness of a nymph from above -”
This time I punched her, and she rubbed her arm pitifully. “It’s no small task to swim ashore while tons of water are pounding your ears! Stop sounding so darn princess like and talk like a warrior!”
My father looked surprised, but smiled charmingly.
“This is not the shy, smart, yet unspoken-to-the-crowds little Al I left?” He said. In reply, I grinned grimly, expressing all the seriousness in the world, along with joy.
“No, Da, I am afraid it is not. Al of the Clan is dead. She died during Mema’s and her own whipping. She died under the arrows of those she trusted. She died under the thumb of a blood-thirsty Hun. Al is dead, and I do not mourn her.”
Da gaped for a moment, but straightened his back and set his face. He was proud of me, I could tell, only a little startled. I would be startled too, in his case. But Da was right. I had changed. I had changed from an intelligent child to a hardened warrior. No longer would I pause to draw the dagger, Mema’s brutal whipping had changed that. No longer would I fear the roaring waters of filthy, bubbling rivers, Hum’s near drowning and my brave and wild creekside plunge had made sure of that. No longer did I hide what was on my mind, I spoke it outright. No longer was I his little angel-Al, I was Swallow the Fierce, the one spoken of by seers of old, the one who would lead her people back to the Truth and Justice.
“I am Swallow the Fierce, Da, and together Hum, Ibis, you, I: we and those of this village shall guide our people back to freedom.”