Inspired by Over The Edge by Adrian Dudziak.
Ankle deep with dampness creeping up her dress where it skimmed the frigid river water Grace held her hands out in front her in the traditional pose of supplication. She couldn’t feel her feet anymore. At first the cold had been painful. The daytime had been moderately warm but the river was fed by the glacier further up the valley making it icy year round. The first snow melt was always going to be the coldest the river would get. She had travelled a full day north from the village to be as close to the head water as possible before it became the stream. Grace camped for four days as she fasted, drinking only river water and applying holy oil. Before putting on her robe she had scraped her skin clean with a strigil. She stepped barefoot into the rapidly moving water as the sun began to shine through the trees on the fifth day. The white wool of her dress was getting heavier. Her back and scalp were damp as she concentrated on standing still. She wondered if she stayed there during the night would she freeze to death. She had only told her betrothed where she was planning on going. Would he be able to guide them to her if she did not return? How would he react if he found her body? Or would she wash down towards the village and be found by the early morning washer women? But the suffering for the rite was required of all brides if they wished to be blessed with a glimpse of their future children.
As the dusk turned to night her knees began to shake but she renewed her resolve, palms down to the water. She thought of her mother describing her rite. She along with all the other women who were betrothed were taken to the priestess on the far edge of the village. In seclusion they fasted and applied the oil. Then on the longest day of the year they went out into the fields to stand and await their vision. She had heard variations of the rite from women who had married into the village. One woman had never done it as her father had forbidden it. He had decided that with her mother dead and no other children she was too valuable to risk the rite. No one was surprised when she was barren. The rite was performed during summer in high heat, their grim determination in the scorching sun blessing them with hardy children who could work the land from sunup to sundown. But during her rite, Grace’s mother had seen her daughter having a winter babe. A child who could handle lack of warmth and forge their own path. Grace had always wanted to be that child. The jealousy she felt was always there. Even now as she dared see her child’s future.
Her whole body began to shake. Eyes closing against the starry sky her vision turned inwards. Opening her eyes the light was so bright she had to squint. Looking around she found herself on a swaying platform surrounded by a field of glittering jewels. Grace looked down and didn’t recognise any of the clothing she wore. She did recognise a wedding band around her wrist. She stepped towards the rail and realised it wasn’t jewels out there but sunlight hitting the ripples on a vast expanse of water bigger than she had ever seen. It was just water and sky as far as she could see. The size of it frightened and thrilled her equally. Wind whipped around her pulling at her hair and clothing bringing with it a strong salt smell and something else warm and inviting. There was a call from above. She turned to it and saw clouds captured in webbing. Focusing she saw they were just enormous sheets, bleached white in the baking sun billowing out and pulling their vessel over the water. She ran along in the direction they raced. She leant forward over the rail almost to her tipping point, closing her eyes when the wind made her eyes water and it felt like she was flying. This was where her child was going to go and she felt that pang of jealousy. She sensed someone beside her and turned to find a man holding a child. She couldn’t see his face but the child had dark hair like the raven, like hers. The man was looking forward and pointing. A dark mass was looming over them now. Dark grey cliffs speckled with green and peaks so high they were hidden by dense white cloud. Suddenly Grace was on a small boat. She leapt out and helped pull it onto crisp golden sand. The water that soaked into her boots was warm. She moved away from the boat not caring that her clothing was getting soaked. The envy she felt at her own child’s future was a dull ache. She knew it could grow into rage and destroy her relationship with her daughter. She sighed and hung her head but the reflection in the crystal water by her feet wasn’t of her child.
It was her own face, older, weathered. She gasped but the air that entered her lungs was bitingly cold. She coughed it out and tried to hold onto the trance but the harder she tried to stay the faster she felt herself return to the river. Stumbling out of the water Grace made it to the bank as a sob escaped her. Laying back she saw the moon still hanging over her but pale dawn light beginning. Eventually her sobs lessened and she smiled up at the sky. She was going to see more sky, soon.
Two days later Graces betrothed found one of his camping bedrolls missing and their betrothal band sitting on his kitchen table. Muddy footprints led to the river’s edge. She must have travelled by night through the water. Which way she went they never discovered.
Today’s story has come about because of the random image inspiration Flash Fiction challenge over at http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/05/06/flash-fiction-challenge-inspiration-of-the-random-image/
The picture I chose is Over The Edge by Adrian Dudziak:
If it doesn’t show up you can search photo.net with the title and artists name.
Featured image from pixabay.com and used under Creative Commons.