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SOUNDSCAPE: by Eagle
Disclaimer: This story is set in an alternate reality we might call eagle_earth. The characters and setting which inspired this are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance.
Rating: This story contains no offensive content in regards to either sex or violence.
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It was not a sound that had startled her from sleep. She had woken suddenly and sharply, but the air around her was unbroken by the least murmur.
It was the kind of clear night which allows light and sound to travel across great distance, and yet though she knew they had camped in a clearing by the river she could not hear the slap of the water against the bank; and though she knew the forests lay behind her she could not hear the Erin bird's melancholy night cry. There was a deadened silence, and she wondered now whether that peculiar quietude had woken her.
She was fully awake now, and sat up, drawing up her knees and looking about her steadily. They had noted the full moon the previous night, lighting up most of their surroundings, but they had chosen the spot for the low bushes and small trees along the riverbank that might cast their shadows over them and hide them. The forest they had seen behind them had been deep enough and close enough for anyone to disappear into swiftly. It had been well chosen; but it was not the place she now found herself.
She had lain down where she could see the great city behind the mountain, which they had just left, where a little reflected light from the torches on the walls could be seen. There had been the smaller hills just beyond the forest, to where they were heading. Everything looked just as it should at eventide, when they had stopped for the night. It did not look that way now.
Now she saw that they were lying in the midst of a great grassy plain. Behind them, to the north, lay a huge mountain, glistening with strange lights. And ahead were a set of low hills. It was flat for miles; but in the darkness she could not see a single light; and in this dead part of the night she could not hear a sound - not even the breath of her companion.
Anxious, now, she moved swiftly over to her friend. She lay in her usual position, curled up like a child on her side, her fair head tucked in like a bird's to its wing. She laid a finger on her companion's cheek, brushing it firmly thrice, as was her usual signal. Her friend's eyelashes fluttered once, then opened, her eyebrows raised questioningly. She knew too well, however, to let a sound escape her lips and instead drew herself up quickly, tugging her cloak where it had caught on the bush by her side, and pulling it about her. The fire was doused, for a sense of caution had entered her; but no hiss followed.
It had been cool enough the previous evening to have flung a cloak about her, and she pulled it tighter now as her companion had, making sure its buckle did not clash against the brass of her belt. Even the swish of the cloth went unheard, and she felt a sudden stab of alarm, wondering whether it were her own ears that were failing her.
Her companion's look of surprise at the silence around them drove that thought away. And in that instant, it was replaced by the certainty that she had travelled too far within her dreams. It had happened once before, that she had managed to wake up quite far from where she had lain down to rest, due to great journeying within her sleep. Now, however, not only did she seem to be in an altogether different place, but also in a different landscape, one where sound as well as sight had changed.
Her companion had already discovered the strangeness of the landscape they had stumbled into. Turning with a look of alarm, she mouthed her queries. Where were they?
She shrugged. They would have to retreat into thoughts, she thought irritably. Mouthing and pointing were too inaccurate for their needs, whilst thoughts were safe. But it was too intimate for her liking, like holding hands when danger came rather than running out to meet it, like whispering rather than bursting into a roar. There were no modulations in thought language, and she despised that.
"Bright, you'll have to pull your hood over your head." She thought quickly to her companion, using the thought-name her friend bore. "Your hair shines too much in this moonlight."
Her own dark plaits were no problem, but she flung her cloak about her anyway.
"We've lost our way, haven't we, Winter?" She answered aggrievedly, pulling up her hood obediently. "What did you dream about?'
It was a fair question, but somehow one she didn't wish to answer. She had been dreaming of her past, full of the things of passion which she had mostly, now, renounced. And she was surprised that her friend had already realised the reason behind their journeying.
"It wasn't soundless, anyhow." She finally replied. "What about you, Bright?"
The constant need to use thought-names added to the intimacy, she thought crossly, though she knew her companion didn't share her distaste.
"No - I was remembering the great feast of the Harvest that we had, and I was conversing with Sim, as far as I remember, Winter. She is never a silent person!"
She grinned at her companion's reply. Food had been plentiful but plain the previous night and she had obviously gone to sleep unsatisfied. The feast at the Harvest had been sumptuous, and worth remembering.
"Well, we've travelled some distance, anyway, and we'll have to turn around again, I suppose, Winter." Her companion commented.
"How do you know?" She demanded quickly. "How do you know, Bright?"
Her friend pointed at the blue hills and then at the mountain. Her companion had seen the clues that she had missed. They were on the opposite side of the blue hills.
She marvelled that she had not seen it immediately, except the strangeness of it all had deceived her. What she saw behind her was Vulcan's mountain with the lights of the blacksmiths glowing faintly; and ahead the blue hills to where they were headed.
"It must have been an amazing dream, Winter!" Her friend thought, and as she glanced quickly at her, she caught an amused look on her face.
If she could have sighed meaningfully by thought, she would have; as it was she kept silent. Anyway, that was an accurate enough description.
The morning star was visible on the horizon and the moon was fading in the early morning light. There was no point remaining hidden, but they stayed alert as they began to cross the plains, in order to reach their community deep within the blue hills.
"You've done this before, haven't you, Winter - travelled in your dreams, I mean?" Her friend asked as they picked their way through the strange grasses of the plains.
"Yes, but it was less than a mile, and I knew where I was, and - and I could hear, anyway, Bright." She replied, frowning. She could see that her young friend was quite enjoying herself, with the originality of their adventure, the sun rising on their left bringing colours of rose and gold, and the little birds they disturbed as they trampled the grass flying up with peculiar indignant turns.
She would have, too, most likely, she admitted to herself, except that her ears were straining constantly, longing for sound. She felt quite certain that all sound necessary for her friend was being filled in by inner conversation; indeed she thought she could almost hear the buzzing of her companion's mind beside her. The day was fine and the landscape almost beautiful, but she could not concentrate on anything so esoteric - she had never been able to - whilst something was as troubling her, and here one of her senses was gone.
"I can hear the birds, Winter." Her friend suddenly commented uneasily, and turned to face her friend.
"You've regained your hearing, Bright?" She asked with hope.
"No, Winter. I heard them in my mind."
She stopped, at that, suddenly tense. No one had ever been able to read her mind, she thought jealously, and few were able to place thoughts within or receive them as her companion did. If this was a scape of the mind, it would not be pleasant, for that region she guarded fiercely and furiously. And if even the birds were present in her friend's thoughts - who nevertheless let any sound in easily, and as easily placed her thoughts - then this land had a strength for thought-language like no other place she had visited.
They tramped on uneasily for hours. The plains were large and pathless; and seemed to have no human habitation. She was aware constantly of Vulcan's mountain behind her, and she knew the stories. Unlike her friend, who knew people but was not so concerned with the unreal, she herself devoured stories, knowing that the visible things were less in all ways to those unseen.
Vulcan had a temper, she knew, and a passion, too. He followed after his desires enough to want the kingdom, and when that failed hid himself away in darkness. He was gifted, of course, which was why his mountain was sacred to the blacksmiths, and was where all the great weaponry artists were trained, for his swords cut anything whilst his shields were impenetrable. He'd been given, she now remembered, the goddess of love to be his wife; more to spite her than please him, no doubt. Or to placate him, perhaps, about losing the whole world to rule.
He'd been crippled, she remembered now. Lost an arm, or a leg, or something during the great battle. He was bitter, anyway, and as like as to her to enjoy a world of the mind, she thought wryly. As to why the place between their good blue hills and his fiery mountain should be ruled only by silence and thought, she could not fathom. But she was almost sure it was not his doing.
Her thoughts took her back to her dream; and her dream, to her past. She had respected Vulcan and his loneliness then, anyway. It seemed strange sometimes that she had hungered her whole life after solitude and yet was now living deep within a community. Only rarely now did she venture out as they had on this journey, and then only for the great Harvest festival on the outskirts of the City. And the only reason they were not travelling with the others, who had left days before them, was the illness that had struck that part of the city, that both she and her companion had skill in. It had held them up but a week, for it had only been fever; but now it would hold them up a great deal longer. The hills were distant, and - somehow they did not seem to be growing any closer, despite their determined strides.
Her companion had turned everything she wanted upside down. She had been living in her perfect state of hermit-hood, dwelling quietly by a slow-flowing river, living off fish and her garden. She had not uttered words for days on end. Then this chattering young girl had come - to save her, had been her words, she thought smiling to herself. At first she had been abrupt, even cruel with her. But then she discovered that she was the only one, almost, who could place thoughts in her mind. It had shocked her - enough to let her stay a little longer, and find out there was more to her than youth and words. By then her hermit-hood was lost.
It had taken her a long time to achieve her quiet dwelling place. She had been a mercenary for a brief time, before disgust and shame had set in. She had taken well to fencing, though, and taught that for a time before she'd realised what kind of skill she was passing on. Wisdom took a little while to reach her, she thought ruefully, and by that time she had done enough to regret, for the rest of her life. Mostly she never reflected on it; she had not done so for months after joining the community, nor recently. But the dream of her past had come suddenly and strangely and had transported her - here.
"There's people up ahead, Winter." Her companion told her briefly, inclining her head eastwards.
Her companion's use of her thought-name jarred in her solitary thoughts and almost brought an irritated response. But she stopped herself, and looked over to where her friend had indicated. There was a small party heading towards them.
About the distance away of a shout, she heard a call inwardly, and a mixture of dark fury and sad regret filled her. Her companion had heard it, too, and looked back at her almost cautiously. She knew her temper, even if no one else in the community did, and knew, too, how something like this would rile her. But someone else had torn down the ordinary barriers humans liked to keep between themselves, not these poor folk, and so there could be no excuse for anger against them.
It was a small group, an older man with a white shock of hair, and a young woman and man, both with hair of fire. She caught her friend looking at the bright stuff enviously, and hid a smile.
"Hie, Bright, Winter, are you from this land?"
They did have to use thought-names, she knew, but it still felt impertinence, and she felt herself stiffen automatically.
"Nay, Grave, we're strangers as you are." Her friend replied generously.
Generally, of course, it was not possible to hear the thought-conversation of which one was not a member. However, she thought ruefully, the general rules here did not apply.
"And how did you arrive, Bright?" The old man went on excitedly. "For we were in quite a different land, and now we find ourselves lost on this great plain, and unable to hear."
Her friend snatched a look at her, and she had pity on her, for she was afraid of saying what she should not.
"Grave, we dreamed our way here, we believe, and we also cannot hear. We are heading towards the blue hills, though it seems we are not getting any closer." She was quite certain of this now, that however much they exerted themselves, they would not move a single mile away from the plains.
"Aye, aye!" The old man nodded excitedly. "Why, we've been travelling hard for hours, and haven't made any distance at all. But suddenly we saw you here, Winter, just across from us."
"It was sudden, Winter." The woman agreed.
"It means no good, anyway." The man frowned. "If we dreamed our way here - and we may have, for we had been sleeping and awoke to this place - will we wake up, think you, Winter?"
It was a nice thought. But she knew herself to be quite awake and knew exactly where she was, also.
"Well, we're awake now, as far as I can see, Wrest." Her companion put in briskly.
At that, suddenly their companions seemed miles away, and after that, they were out of sight - but as strangely and gently as though they had always been so far.
"Something terrible is at work here, Winter." Her friend said, with a look of fear on her face.
She could not reassure her. There was nothing perhaps more fearful than being helpless in the face of something unable to be understood.
"Well, there seems no use journeying on, and wasting our strength, Bright." She decided. "If we have something to eat, perhaps we can think about our situation."
Her companion always had something edible with her, and this time was no exception. She had a good chunk of cheese, and a roll of flat bread, and some dried shade-leaves, too. They made a good breakfast after their early morning walk, and her companion discovered that she could for once talk and eat simultaneously; her two favourite activities.
"Do you think we could be separated, too, Winter?" She asked anxiously.
She shrugged. They would know if it happened, she thought, and bit off a good-sized chunk of cheese and bread, enjoying the bitterness of the shade-leaves. Fish and vegetables had been all very well before, but from her friend she had learned all manner of things about combinations of sweet foods and salt, sauces and creams, meats and breads, which she had never known before. Food had previously been something necessary but plain, but her friend so positively enjoyed it that it was made another fascinating part of her new life.
She lay back a moment and stared up at the immutable sky. From there, what did they look like? And the plain, from Vulcan's mountain? She fingered the powdery soil and looked at the tough waist-high scrub plants. They would be fairly visible on the plain, anyway.
"So what do we do, Winter?"
Her friend was beginning to panic, and she uncharacteristically laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"What we can. We aren't in any danger as yet, so don't worry, Bright. Perhaps Vulcan will stop playing with us soon and we'll be able to go home."
Her hand had been on her friend's shoulder - but her friend was a mile away at least - or miles . . .
It was a few moments before she realised that her friend was out of sight altogether.
Fury shook her. She pushed back her cloak and began to run.
Her feet took in the miles as steps, and she crushed the hardy scrub plants beneath them scornfully, as the wind bends fields of wheat. She was not travelling towards the hills now, but the mountain, for the words which she had idly spoken had now revealed truth.
It was no use, of course, except to wear her out and drive her anger into weariness. She was not an inch closer to the mountain, not a step further from the place they had woken.
She felt the breeze rush past moments before she saw the glistening sword slice through the air. Bearing down upon her was a great white horse, and astride a knight with a sword.
She rolled her eyes at the unoriginal nature of Vulcan's game, and sidestepped the swinging blade. The poor untrained man had no idea who he was facing, she realised. She moved quickly, then leapt up and pulled the heavily armoured man from his horse.
He yelled, of course, but she could not hear him, and she dumped him in the scrub and mounted the horse, spurring him on in an instant.
Just as the horse leapt to action, he was gone - the horse, the knight, all. She fell heavily into the scrub plants and yelled loudly enough herself. They were prickly.
Muttering silently to herself, she picked herself up, and brushed herself off.
She turned again to find her companion behind her - not bearing an expression of relief and joy at return, but convulsed in silent laughter.
"You fell from - oh, it looked so funny, Winter!" She burst out, clapping her hands over her mouth in an effort to stop the giggles. "Oh, but I am glad we were returned." She added virtuously. "I never felt so lonely in my life."
"Well, quickly - because we'll be moved again soon, Bright - listen to me." She said urgently. "Next time someone attacks us, we have to lose."
Her friend stared at her.
"Did you fall on your head, Winter? You want me be speared by some man in a peculiar hat?"
"What - Bright, did you . . ."
"Yes, he didn't expect much of a defense, anyway, and I managed to rid him of his spear pretty quickly. But otherwise -" She stopped. "You know what's going on, don't you, Winter?"
She did, and she was fairly annoyed at Vulcan's audacity.
"We're being played with, Bright, like counters in that Arabic game, where one piece challenges the other -"
"I know the one, Winter! It has a knight - and . . ." She stopped for a moment. "If that's the case, who are we?"
"We, Bright?" She answered sweetly. "Why, we're the pawns."
She sat down a moment and frowned.
"And, Bright, "She went on, "they don't expect us to make much of a fight, either. Neither of us had to kill to make the other men disappear - we just disarmed them."
"And if we lose - by giving in, forfeiting - then what will happen to us, Winter?"
She shrugged, faintly worried herself.
"Well, either we'll be returned to where we lay sleeping, or -" She could see her friend didn't think that likely, either. "Or we'll be taken somewhere and held for a time. I think that is how the game works. And I've got a good idea why we're in this strange thought-scape, too, Bright," She added, but did not elucidate. Her companion would soon grasp the idea.
Her friend moved over to her and grasped her hand.
"Have you thought, Winter, that we might simply cease to exist - just disappear?" She asked, looking at her.
She had thought that - for a moment - but she didn't believe it. They were called gods, but that words only meant they were worshipped, not that they were all-powerful and had control over one's existence. She might be able to maneuver a team of horses, making them obey her every will, even to their deaths, but she could not bring them to life or know, even, what would happen to them after their deaths. She was far greater, but there were ones far greater than she, and, she knew, there was one far greater than these the people called gods.
When her friend disappeared this time, she was ready. Her knees would bend and she would beg forfeit. She simply hadn't counted on the humour of the gods.
He appeared fairly slowly before her - first a mile away, then a league, and then inches before her. She had known him from the first; and, she was certain, he had known her, too. He looked exactly the same. The thought of him calling her by her thought-name burned her, and so she knew it was exactly what he would do.
He stood tall in his knee-length boots, his mane of ash-fair hair contrasting against the dark of his blue tunic. He had the same turned lip of scorn, the same mocking face - though it had changed to almost joy, here. He had been her enemy for almost her whole life, and now she had to forfeit.
"This is a pleasure, Winter." He thought, grinning at her.
Even his thoughts were drawled, she thought furiously.
"Ah, Winter, Winter. I never thought either of us gave the gods enough credit. Yet here we are. I, with my sword, my dagger at my hip - and you? Weaponless."
"A fair fight at last, Manx."
He loathed the sound of his thought-name too, she saw. He was very much like her, she observed unemotionally. Like she had been, once, she corrected herself. They had been mercenaries together in King Ajas' army, and she had learned his viciousness there. And then they had fought against one another in the next battle, for he changed sides easily - as all mercenaries did. She had hated his cruelty, and his evil had taught her to hate her own. He had recognised this, and had tried again and again to wound her and to humiliate her. He had always been a better fighter - in the early days, when she had fought with him. Later on, she had beaten him easily, but he had been rescued off by half a dozen of his friends.
At the sight of him she remembered that she had dreamt of him, of the last battle they had had. She wondered whether she had graced his dreams. Perhaps.
He flung the sword at her.
"It's against the rules, I'd say, Winter, but far more satisfying to fight you and humiliate you before killing you."
She left the sword lying on the ground and a terrible thought came to her. He wouldn't accept a forfeit - he'd probably kill her, and if so, that was that. But if her friend had dreamt something similar, and was meeting a similar enemy . . .
"Pick it up! Come on! Are you in a dream, Winter?" He roared silently, then thought impatiently.
"You always did lack patience, Manx. That, and a certain - oh, I don't know. Some human quality. Why, you haven't even asked how I am, and it's been - how long?"
It threw him, and gave her some time.
"I didn't need to ask you. I know where you've been, what you've been doing - or what they say, anyway. I didn't believe it myself, Winter. You foreswear killing? You live by it."
"Live by it, die by it, Manx. I've died to it, more likely." She replied, almost abstractly. It was part of the game, obviously, this matching up of enemy and enemy. "And you - what have you been doing all this time?"
There was already blood on the sword, she saw now. Blood on his boots, too. A wave of fury and revulsion broke over her, and she inched towards the sword.
"I was waiting for the call to battle in Aristo's army when I slept, and dreamt of you, Winter." He replied, his thin lips smiling almost lewdly. "I often do."
"That's sweet, Manx." She answered easily. "I must say I haven't thought of you in years."
"Except in your dreams, Winter." He said, leaning forward and grasping her wrist. "You dreamt of me, and here we are. What was it like?"
Now she remembered that she had had several dreams over the past few years where she had beaten him absolutely. And obviously he had had the same ones. The thought of kneeling to him brought a wave of sickness over her.
Now her pulled her closer and made as though to whisper in her ear, before realising the futility of that in the soundscape. Instead he pulled her to his face, and they stared each other out, eye to eye.
"I just killed the last pawn, Winter, and with your death the game will be over."
She flicked the wrist he held once, and he crashed to the ground. Moving her right foot, she flipped the sword up and into her hand, and brought it to his bare throat. If he had killed her friend, there was no point leaving the game, while he was still in it.
He had his dagger though, and pulled it from his hip. She jumped back, and let him rise. He was a good enough fighter, but she was better, and he would know that soon enough, if he had forgotten it.
They circled one another warily.
"You killed the old man, Manx?" She asked quickly.
"Aye, I killed the old man, and the young one, too. And that leaves you, my dear Winter, and then Vulcan will lose his bride."
She lifted the heavy sword over her head and spun it, and then flung it high into the air. For an instant her enemy stared at the flashing blade circling in the sky and then he turned back to her. In that moment she had fallen to her knees.
"What is this, Winter? A trick?" He growled - if only he could.
"No trick, Manx. I forfeit." She replied calmly, and lifted up her throat. He traced the blade along the smooth white skin, and then lifted it back with violence for the kill. But she had already disappeared.
It was dark.
She could not sense any presence around her, and sudden irrational fear gripped her.
"'Bright!" She thought desperately.
"You're all right, Winter?"
"Yes - can you see me, Bright?"
"No. I've no idea where I am, Winter, but I forfeited and arrived here, as you did. I'm in the dark."
She wondered whether her companion meant literally or figuratively. Such distinctions - like intonation, modulation and body language - were lost in thought language. There was something to replace that, of course, that ordinary speech lacked - that was the transported emotion that could accompany the words. She tried often to shield herself from such, though, as it was sometimes like touching a clammy hand suddenly in the dark - or a blade. But now she could feel her friend's emotions, and it was as near enough to seeing as need be. Her friend had faced an enemy as she had, and had done as she had, and was wondering, as she was, whether she had done aright.
She felt around her, and realised that she was in a dark stone room. Tracing a hand along the walls, she came to a wooden door, and called out again to her friend. They could all be in together and they would not know in the dark and silence of the dungeon. She thought they were probably in Vulcan's castle, spoils of the game he was playing, as her enemy had indicated, for his bride. And she knew, though she did not tell her friend, that the silence and the thought-scape had been created to keep track of the creatures in the game, to discover enemies and plans, with attempts to thwart them.
The door was thick and unbreakable, but she found the keyhole and pulled a thin piece of metal from the soles of one of her boots and flicked the workings of the lock easily. Cautiously she pulled the door and let light in.
The room was filled with people believing each alone in the dark. They blinked in the sudden brightness, and, looked around wildly, searching for friends, searching for their senses they had lost in the game. The knight was there, she saw; but she was not searching for the knight.
And then she saw her, over at the back of the room, helping up the old man whom she had thought her enemy had killed.
"Bright!" She called, and strode over to her friend, her eyes shining with gladness. She gave her an uncharacteristically warm embrace, and then pulled her over to the door.
"You know where we are?" Her friend asked, hugging her back warmly, and smiling.
"I've a fairly good idea." She answered carefully. "Get these people out to the main courtyard, which should be in the centre in a castle like this. I'll meet you there."
There had been a time when she had known the layout of every castle from just a look, and she had not forgotten this knowledge. She ran up the circling stairs to the high tower. It was from there such a mysterious chess game would be played.
She had to outwit half a dozen guards to gain entrance; but that was easy enough for her. When she flung open the door, she knew what she would see. There was Vulcan, the crippled blacksmith, his beautiful bride, and her clever lover, Aristo, who was nevertheless not clever enough.
"We're almost finished!" Vulcan growled. "Go away!"
His bride laughed at that. Oh, they knew each other, from long ago, and she never changed. She was always young, with her long blonde hair curling down, and her figure unmarred by time. She wondered whether, one day, she would be jealous of her, and decided that unlikely.
"Aristo's in check, and he'll soon be lost, and regretting this game, I'd say." The goddess said easily. There was no need for thoughts here, for what was simple impertinence for humans would be deadly insolence to the gods.
She smiled at the goddess' fickleness; it was the typical fickleness of an immortal. Eyeing the game quickly, she saw Aristo would lose within the next few minutes.
"Why are you wasting your time?" She asked Vulcan bluntly. "He's only a demi-god! Send us back, punish his audacity, and win your wife's pleasure."
Vulcan looked at her. "His audacity? You should be in a dungeon!"
"Yet I'm not, though perhaps once I deserved such. I'm now innocent."
He laughed at that, and nodded to the chessboard. In an instant the king was taken, and Aristo howled.
"Ah, you'll howl much louder than that, you upstart." Vulcan told him lazily. "Here, go and taste darkness for a while. Oh - I haven't forgotten you - nor your friends." He spoke to her whilst Aristo slowly faded away. "You'll all awake soon enough, perhaps recalling a dream of a game or something of the sort. Here - sleep!"
And he snapped his fingers. She had just enough time to see the goddess lean over to reward Vulcan with a kiss. It was, perhaps, the first time he had done something she could be proud of; he had chosen the best way to gain the admiration of the goddess of love. Only a god knew well how fickle an immortal could be.
When she awoke her head was thick with images.
She lay in the early-morning quiet, reveling in the splash of the river beside her, and the dawn chorus of forest birds. Even the heavy snores of her companion brought her pleasure. Her sharp ears caught the rustling of small animals in the forest, and the sudden splash of frogs by the water's edge.
It was almost worth it, she thought idly, to have lost hearing for a time, in order to enjoy the regaining of it.
She woke her friend soon enough, curious to see whether she recalled any of their dream - or nightmare - adventure. For once she enjoyed her early chatter, yawns and complaints of hunger. The naturalness of speech with all its gesture and openness delighted her.
"Well, we should be there before sundown," Her friend commented before they set off. "Now, I'm looking forward to arriving in those gates of safety!"
"Why's that?" She asked slyly.
"Well," She answered, scratching her head, "For some reason I feel I've been through a battle and a half to reach here!" And then she burst into laughter. "Oh, I know the difference between a nightmare and the real world."
And perhaps she was of the few who did, she thought to herself. It took all day to walk up into the hills, and she soon learned of her friend's fight and her inner battle, too, for just as much as she had enjoyed regaining her hearing, her friend was tasting spoken words again. Her companion knew better than to ask her about her own battle though, knowing that her past was a dark and ugly place to which she would never return.
They walked up in the purple twilight to the gates of the convent, and greeted soberly those who opened the gate. She thought again as they walked into the stone buildings at the strangeness of her life choice, and about how it was in its own way a place of silence. It was what she had chosen; she would never regret it nor turn away; but sometimes she would look back.
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