There are places that keep our secrets to themselves. Helva would go back to the clearing deep in the woods every now and then, just to sit and remember. She was still young, but she felt so old now that she had lost so much.
Helva had nearly died during the winter, alone in the forest. She knew it so well, but she knew it was not a place for a lone human to survive, not easily. Some nights she was tempted to return to the village, or what was once her village before the Northmen came. At least there, she would have all the ghosts of her friends and family to keep her company as she shivered in the cold loneliness.
But still she was too scared to go back and stay for any length of time, especially in the night’s darkness when so many shadows crept closer and closer out of the shadows.
She never slept well. There was the darkness out there, creeping ever closer, but when she closed her eyes, there were the flames and the screams… and the blood and bodies. Helva never knew how many people there had been in her village until she had to bury them, one by one,
That had taken days, weeks, as the last of the summer faded into autumn. Then the winter came and she’d lost all track of time. Then she’d lost all track of place too when the snows turned everything white, even under the shelter of the trees deep in the forest where she’d made her new home.
Then the spring arrived as the thaw spread. It spread to Helva too. She slowly started to realise that she was alive, that she had survived. She was surprised by this, as she was surprised at how the world came back to life, even in the village. What had been burnt scorched earth was slowly, very slowly, turning green again, even on the low humps of the graves she’d dug.
Helva knew she could not stay. Now the village was no more, there was nothing for her here anymore.
She went back to that clearing in the woods, the place of all her secrets for one last time. She had said goodbye to her family, her parents, brothers and sisters when she had buried them. But this place, the village and its woods was the only place she had ever known. She needed to say goodbye to it too.
She stood in the centre of the clearing where the wise woman, Modga, had stood her for the ceremony. Helva remembered standing there naked, half child and half woman, as the wise woman painted the runes on her body. Then Modga turned to the waiting silent crowd of villagers standing around the edges of the clearing and announced to them all that Helva would be her successor.
Helva stood now in the clearing in the bright sharp spring sunlight. She remembered how the whole village had dropped to their knees around her, all whispering her name to the earth, then to the sky.
Now she was the only one left. She remembered how the voice in her mind at that ceremony had told her that she was more than just Modga’s chosen one.
So she waited her in her clearing of secrets for that voice to speak to her again. It should tell her why she had survived and what she was meant to do next.
But all she could hear was the birdsong in the trees and the breeze playing with the bright new leaves.
She turned to go.
Then the voice came again.