In case you need to catch up, here’s the link to parts one through five of Safia’s Story.
My fingers worked of their own accord, nimbly weaving the long tendrils of unearthed roots together into a long rope. The idea had occurred to me the first evening after that test. Sitting by the fire with no weapon I had felt anxious, vulnerable. We had no real means of protection except perhaps Bryony’s stone-tipped spear which she typically used as a walking stick. Somehow I wasn’t too keen on the thought of relying on the old woman for help. After all, she had simply stood there, watching, smiling even as I was dragged across the ground.
Therefore I decided to take the matter into my own hands. It had taken me two nights but now I was down to the last root. I worked it into the rope and then stood. Pulling at various points, I tested the strength of my work. Satisfied, I looped one end and tied it back around on itself.
Looking down at my lasso reminded me of the many times my sister Caren and I had chased and captured each other with loops made from the long dangling vines of the forest. I could picture her scampering through the moss, green hair flying, as her laughter rang out and was then absorbed by water-logged vegetation.
Tears formed at the corners of my eyes and I sat back down heavily.
Bryony glanced down at me but said nothing.
The flames from the evening’s cookfire danced before my eyes, the swirl and lick of orange and yellow tongues was mesmerizing. My lids were half-closed in peaceful fascination when I heard a low rumble accompanied by the hiss of swiftly parting grass.
Squinting into the waning light I stood and looked in the direction of the sound. The ground began to vibrate beneath my feet.
“Bryony, what is it?” I whispered.
“Your next test.” She replied.
She answered at least, which is more than I had expected. Crouching with eyes narrowed in concentration, I scanned the horizon and finally saw the head and lethal looking point of a horn protruding from the nose of some strange beast. It was racing straight for us.
My eyes darted to Bryony, who sat calmly tending the fire, then back to the approaching animal. The creature showed no signs of slowing.
What was I supposed to do?
My eyes flitted back and forth, assessing the situation, and waiting to see if Bryony would move, or react in any way at all. She, of course, did not.
The beast was now a few body lengths from the fire, whipping its horn back and forth in a deadly display. I dove for Bryony and knocked her out of the way just as the massive front feet of the animal crashed down where Bryony had sat moments before.
Finally, it stopped its headlong flight and turned one beady eye on the two of us, sprawled and vulnerable where we lay in the dirt.
The creature rounded on us and began to shift its weight to its back legs, which allowed it to lift its front legs and lunge for our heads.
“Roll!” I yelled as I pulled Bryony with me.
This time I recovered quickly and sprang to my feet. I looked around for Bryony’s spear but my eyes fell first on my length of rope.
Before I could change my mind I dashed along the animal’s side and retrieved my woven roots. The beast lumbered around to face me. It reared again and this time when it lifted its front feet off the ground I lassoed one leg, then ran under and away from the creature on its opposite side.
The line jerked taut suddenly and I was yanked off my feet, but it worked.
The leg that I had lassoed was pulled across the animal’s mid-line, throwing it off balance. As it came down it turned and crashed to its side. The earth shook from the impact.
I moved swiftly to tie all four feet together as tightly as I could before it rose again.
Finally I paused to take a breath. With hands resting on my knees I lifted my head and tried to find Bryony.
The old woman appeared through the dust which was still settling around the hind end of the animal.
“What am I supposed to do now?” I asked.
“Take its horn.” She replied.
My eyes shifted to the beast. Its sides were heaving and its beady eyes were rolling in fear or frustration. I looked at the great pointed horn and frowned.
“How?” I asked.
“You ask for it.”
My frown deepened, but I approached the animal slowly.
“Um, may I have your horn please?” I asked in a small voice.
I heard Bryony’s snort behind me.
“Not like that fool child. It doesn’t understand your words.”
Taking a deep breath, I reached out with one hand, tentatively placing my fingers on the cool smooth surface of the horn.
My eyes closed and I tried to convey my situation, my turmoil of emotions, as I remembered the events which had brought me to this moment. I pictured my sister, falling into the mist, and the need that drove me forward; a need to find peace for both our souls.
My fingers tightened around the horn as a tear escaped from beneath one lid and rolled down my filthy cheek.
The horn began to feel warm against my palm. My eyes opened and I saw that the horn glowed slightly, and then began to shimmer. I tried to pull away, but I could not release my grip. Instead, the horn came away in my hand.
I gasped and cradled it against my body, then looked into the now calm eye of the beast.
“Thank you.” I whispered.