The next day we rose as well to continue our travels. We trekked in silence, a thing that did not disturb me save for the scowling tension it bore. Usually silence was my friend. It was when my thoughts ran freely and my mind felt at peace. Not so when it was an angry silence like this. Ale was fearful, and watched all about her with tension, like a mouse about to dart away for a hovel within the trees. D- reminded me strangely of a mother watching over a rabble of children that were not their own, and so displeasure and silent scolding marred their features. Ch- led the way in an extravagant display of boldness and bravery, leaving H- in a huff at everything she did. I followed all, senses attuned to every speech their bodies gave. Their slightest angers could easily be heard from the tension in their gait. It was all dreadfully loud to my eyes.
We reached the village by nightfall. The moment we set eyes on the gouged out space I wished we hadn’t.
The scent of blood lingered in the air. Ale suddenly refused to stop walking. Crows flew high above in the sky. The wind was still, and crickets sang despite our arrival. What had once been a peaceful field turning into a marsh was now nothing but mud. Puddles oozed with freshly forming algae. The forest had long since stopped its trees and now we stood atop a grassy knoll- and looked.
“Well,” Ch- said.
“It is there,” h- said.
“What is there?” D- asked sharply, eyes squinting.
“Nothing,” ale whispered frightfully. Her hands clutched at her robe and she began retreating. “Nothing.” D- caught her gently by the shoulder and pulled her behind themselves. Ale cowered in their shadow but no longer tried to move.
But there was something and I knew that if we were all quite honest that we could see it. It was not the marks of the gouging white teeth that had sucked up even the houses and churned the trimmed land into despair. No, it was instead – quite plainly so – the dead sacrifice of a deer that floated amidst the wreckage. It’s corpse was not eaten, though the birds vied for it. It was a sacrifice, set aside for a purpose that had not yet been fulfilled. And so, as the spirits had refused to touch it, so would all else.
I pointed to it, words bubbling up within me. They churned and spouted out in an excited gurgle. Ch- raised her eyebrows at me. “Very interesting,” she mocked.
D- made a sharp snapping sound. “What is it? My eyes cannot see that far. What is she seeing?”
“There is a dead deer, floating amidst the muddy waters. Had you a nose you could tell it by scent as well,” Ch- bragged.
H- jutted in “It must have been a sacrifice, yet the spirit has not yet come to gather it. So nothing else dares to eat it.”
Ch- smirked ruefully. “Have you come by this way, seer? Did you leave a deer behind you?”
Ale shook her head in D-‘s back. D- gently looped an arm behind themselves to hold Ale tenderly. “Do you see what is in the waters?” D- asked softly.
“Are you blind as well?” Ch- asked with scorn.
“I do not see,” Ale whispered hoarsely. “I do not see,” but it was an unending sentence, a sentence like my own that was not ending itself. “I do not see-”
“What? Just a few days ago you said you did,” Ch- sneered, even though D- hushed her. The seer’s voice lifted in a wail and she bunched her hands up to hold onto D’s clothes.
“I do not see! I do not see! I do not see the man in the waters! I do not see him!” And Ale began shaking D- with all her strength, which was considerable when she was frightened.
Ch-‘s faces softened in pity, fleetingly. “It is but a deer,” she mumbled yet the seer would not listen. Now her wailings grew into screams and she shook herself more than she shook D-. D- turned round and wrapped their arms around Ale, holding her tightly to their chest. Shushing her, they threw an angry glare at Ch-. Ch- looked away proudly as if blameless.
H- cleared his throat softly. “Perhaps we will walk around the vil- the valley,”
My throat glued shut at how he’d replaced the word ‘valley’ for ‘village’. This was still a village, was it not? But as I looked over the muddy patch that spread before us I was forced to agree. This was a village no longer. Yet I shook my head. If we were to investigate anything, we must certainly investigate here. Questions arose within me, bubbling and too difficult to find words to. The best I could do was point and moan, urging us to look to the deer, to search out clues.
Ch- tapped at my wrist. “use your hands. Speak!” and she signed language to me. I mimed her motions, then tried to make my own. How could I describe this? Investigate! Search!
Ch- smiled ruefully. “We’ll try again, for now let’s go search out the deer- you two stay here and watch the seer.” And she nodded sharply to H- and D-. “make sure she does not run away.”
“Oh get on!” D- snapped harshly while stroking Ale’s head. The seer was breathing heavily and still whimpering. Ch- snatched at my elbow and pulled me after her.