This world has so many secrets it keeps hidden around corners, in dark places, under the shadows, beyond the ability of eyes to see or fingers to reach.
Shona knew many of those dark places, those hidden shadowed corners, but not all of them. Even though she was now beginning to feel her age, she knew she would never find them all. This world was like an enormous tangle of wool. Untangling one thread left so many more tangled yarns, more than enough for any one lifetime. More than enough for many lifetimes.
Shona felt her age more and more each morning. Many of those she’d grown up with, and almost as many younger, had left this world behind them. Shona too, felt she was drawing ever closer to that final edge where she too would step over and become only a memory to those left behind.
She had put it off long enough; always thinking that maybe next year would be soon enough. But soon enough was becoming sooner and sooner. She knew she would have to choose a girl and teach that girl all she knew. She could not leave the tribe, the village, without a wise woman.
One thing she did know was that any tribe, any village, without a wise woman would not last long. Wisdom was one thing (among many) that was best not left just to men.
They weren’t that good at it.
She’d already picked out a couple of girls as possibles. Deena was clever; Shona could see that in her eyes. Eyes that looked and learnt beyond what they saw. But Shona knew cleverness was not enough. Angia, though, may not have been quite as smart as Dena, but Angia knew about the shadows. She knew about the corners, the edges of things where this world blurred, distorted and became something else. Shona had seen Angia staring off into the shadows, or lost in the dancing flames of the fires. Shona knew that Angia was the girl for her.
Still, Shona hesitated.
She had seen it herself, with her girlhood best friend Herla, the secrets hidden in this world were too much. Herla had learnt too much, the wisdom had taken her mind. Shona remembered her friend sitting in front of the fire her face blank, only her lips moving; speaking some language from the shadows that no-one else knew or understood.
Herla had died a few days later, something no longer human, a wild animal that huddled in a corner and screamed at the darkness, watching the shadows as if they were hunting her.
Then, once Herla was dead, floated off in the burning boat down the endless river, the old wise woman Cana had come in the dark heart of the night to take Shona.
Shona remembered that night with the thought of Herla and the shadows that had stolen her mind haunting every flickering shadow cast by the fire in the wise woman’s hut. Shona had stripped and shivered as Cana painted the signs and sigils of the wise woman on her bare skin with a needle that drew blood.
Shona knew then there was no going back.
Her apprentice would have to walk alone into the shadows and dark places and emerge back in this world with all she had learnt too.
She looked into the fire, sighed and raised her weary bones up.
She had the inks and the needles ready.
It was time to fetch Angia.