The forest here was dead silent. Perhaps with good reason. A young woman stood in the middle of the forest floor holding a wooden fife in her left hand. High above, the treetops created a canopy nearly blocking out the entire sun. Bits and pieces of light littered the fallen leaves at the feet of Armitage. Visibly her hands were shaking but then they were still as she put the side of the wooden fife to her lips.
The silence persisted, her eyes closed. Moments passed as she remained still much like the forest around her. Her mind wasn’t calm. Jumbled by thoughts that needed reining in. More moments passed. Silence. Dead. Like her father as her mother tells it. She never believed it though. The fife in her hands was a gift from him before he left them. She was only a small child then but she remembered.
She closed her earthy brown eyes and calmed herself. A shrill note emanated softly, building up higher and higher. Her brown hair fluttered. Once. Twice. Consistent now. She held the note long and when she let it drop the wind was dead once again. She began to play.
A sweet melody filled the area. The notes seemed to whirl around, encompassing everything. They caressed the forest floor. The canopy tops. The small figure of Armitage. She played a song that she recall hearing her father play for her when she was a little girl. It wasn’t anything special but aside from the fife itself and the vague memories; she had nothing else so she held on to it. She continued to play. The wind continued to pick up.
The forest floor fluttered slightly. Leaves picked up by small gusts of wind. They danced around Armitage’s feet, the edges of her dark green dress slightly billowing. She played on, a song of curiosity turned adventure. A song that told the journey of her father’s youth. His travels. The life she so desperately wanted to hear tales about from the very person who traveled it. Her song became one of earnest.
Boughs of trees wrenched, swaying from side to side as if dancing. They were at Armitage’s mercy as she played her song. Her father’s song. The trees continued to dance as she quickened the song. Leaves clinging on for dear life. Some not so lucky as they got gathered into the wind, creating a whirlwind of leaves and foliage around Armitage as she hit the crescendo of the song.
Her hair rose above her shoulders, moving about as if she were underwater. She concentrated on what image of her father that she could muster. She focused on the sounds coming out of the fife and the fife itself. She began to reach out but nothing. She played harder, focusing more. She stretched out further but still touched nothing. She pulled. Pulled all that she could.
Armitage’s eyelids flung open. They glowed a smoky white that seeped out in an ethereal way. Clouds darkened overhead chasing off the light of the sun. The wind was a torrent of power now, whirling about and tugging hard on the roots of ancient trees. The song continued. She stretched out further.
The forest floor illuminated as lightning danced high above in the clouds. Thunder echoed all around. The storm overhead was a dangerous display of power. She pulled more and more. Her dress appeared as if she were underwater as well. Her small body began to rise; she was on the tips of her bare feet. She pulled more. She stretched. She felt something.
Something was drawing her far, far southeast. She did not know where, but she could see what she could only assume was her father. His features were the same. His smile still had that sly flair to it but it was much older now. She wanted to know more. Find out exactly where. She pulled. She was lifted off the ground, hovering slightly in midair as the very air around her crackled with lightning itself. In the distance a morose howl pierced through the noise briefly, answered by equally woeful howls.
Armitage made out a port. A ship. She tried to gather as much as she could, pulling more and stretching further. She pulled too much. It overtook her, crashing in on her as if she were being buried in an avalanche. The white, smoky aura emanating from her eyes suddenly blinked out and her earthy eyes were once more. She fell to the ground, unconscious.
Hours passed. Day turned into well past midnight. Armitage awoke suddenly with a cold sweat. She sat up too fast and groaned audibly, holding her head. It pulsated severely, almost as if it were literally going to explode. At this point she kind of wished it would just explode and get it over with. That is before she realized the forest floor was peppered with slivers of moonlight.
Getting up was a chore. Her first attempt yielded no success whatsoever. She edged towards a tree the next attempt and used it to pick herself up. Gravity was not her friend right now as she tried to ignore the ache of her entire body. After a few long moments she managed to begin taking steps as if it were her first ones ever. A memory of her father with arms outstretched slipped into her mind. She forced her legs to move on despite the ache. Her determination was now tenfold as she had more clues on her father’s whereabouts.
Home wasn’t too far off but she had to make it out of the forest first. She opted to travel to the road first and take the long way back home. She couldn’t take the unevenness of the forest floor on her trek back. She was already late as it was so any extra time didn’t matter at this point. She’ll take whatever reprimands her mother dishes out and set off on her journey when she was next able to sneak off.
The road was a welcome gift as Armitage flung herself to it. It meant that she was only a half hour’s journey away from reaching her small town. She took a few moments to rest before a cold sensation rattled her entire body almost as if she were being delved into. Surprise turned into curiosity which quickly turned into despair.
Down the road the silhouettes of two riders, one tall and the other short, could be seen. Morning was also approaching but all thoughts of the trouble she would get into was the least of her worries. Before the riders could gain much ground on their slow gait, Armitage took off at a full sprint despite the ache that enveloped her entire body. She made the journey in half the time.
Despite all her efforts, Armitage could not stifle the noise that the front door of her home created both opening and closing. Her mother, resting on a wooden rocking chair, roused slightly in front of the lifeless hearth. Armitage held her breath for what seemed like ages. Her mother remained still. Armitage slowly began to walk past but was suddenly stopped.
“Armi…” Her mother spoke softly, coming out of her sleep. She blinked the last bits of sleep out of her eyes and craned her neck to relieve some tension. Armitage stood still in her tracks awaiting her mother’s reprimand. “I was worried sick about you, Armi.”
“I’m sorry, mother, but there was something I had to do.” She expected her mother to start verbally berating her.
“I thought something had happened to you.” Armitage’s mother attempted to stand but thought otherwise as she slumped back into the chair.
“I think I’ve found father.” Armitage’s voice trailed off. Her mother sighed, a solitary tear falling from her cheek. “I must find him.”
“Is that what you really want? He left us both.”
“You told me he was dead.”
“Only to protect you from doing something as foolish as what you’re planning.”
“He’s in my dreams, mother. I must find out why he left us. I must go now.” Urgency laced her words.
“And then what, Armi? Do you think he’ll come back here? He’s a free spirit much like yourself.” A realization donned on Armitage’s mother. “Do you even intend to come back?”
Armitage stood silent. Her spine suddenly felt like cold water trailed down it. Her despair was renewed as three small knocks rapped at the door just behind Armitage.
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