Spending too much time looking back runs the risk of tripping and falling into the future.
Shella was not ready for the world to come to her out of the yet to come. She was too busy looking back over her shoulder, fearing the Northmen would come for her, riding out of her nightmares of fire and screams to take her back across the wild seas to a place too strange for her to imagine.
Shella had never see the sea, never been more than half a day’s walk from her village, but when the Northmen came, burnt her village, killed the men and the old ones and took the rest back to their ships, she’d had to run.
Shella had been deep in the woods that early morning when the Northmen came, collecting the herbs and the early morning mushrooms for Chenka now the wise woman was too old to move far from her hut.
Chenka had died in her hut. The Northmen burnt it down with her still inside. There were also the burnt remains of a Northman in the ashes of the hut when Shella got back to the village.
Shella had to smile through her tears at that. She knew Chenka would have died feeling proud she’d taken one with her.
There were few other Northmen bodies in their strange metal clothes and shining helmets lying around the blackened remains of the village. Shella had seen soldiers before. Their lord had taken a few of the lads from her village to his tower up on the high hills to make soldiers of them.
Shella had thought of running to the tower at first, but she’d never liked the lord or his taxmen, let alone the soldiers and their commanders who stared at her each tax day with hungry eyes and damp lips. She knew what would happen to her in the Lord’s tower with no one to protect her.
So she’d gone, following the trail of the Northmen and their captives gathered from many villages, until she’d stood on the deserted beach where the Northmen had left their ships.
They’d sailed away by the time Shella arrived. Only a deserted camp remained. There were a few bodies left their on the sand for the seagulls to pick over and the waves to wash away.
Shella recognised only one body on the beach, Tregg, a boy a few years younger than her. He’d died from a single arrow in the back a few hundred or so strides from the camp. He’d tried to run, but not got far.
Shella stood on the shoreline, staring out at the impossible distance of the sea to the point where it met the sky so far away. She’d never seen a distance like it. Not even from the high hill where she’d stood with Chenka all those years ago. The old woman had showed her their valley where they lived, and that there was a world that went far beyond all Shella had known.
‘I’ve never left this valley,’ Chenka said with a soft sad voice. ‘I will die here.’ She’d turned away. ‘Think about that, girl. You are young. Is this all you want to know?’
Shella had stood for a while looking down at all she’d known, and at the world beyond. Then she followed the old woman back down the winding path to their home village.
Now the village was gone and Shella had no choice but to go out into that strange world across the sea that held her future, even though she no longer wanted to go anywhere but home.