I saw her ahead of me looming up out of the mist and fog, a stately vision of liberty, upheld torch lighting my way in the gloom. She reminded me of the famous American statue.
‘Come quickly if you value safety,’ she said, continuing, ‘I take in and give protection to all who need it. If you’re hungry I have food, if you’re in need of rest I have beds.’ She turned and walked into the mist, I followed in fear of what might be behind, hopeful of what lay ahead. As she walked ahead of me I studied her from behind. She wore a long, loose grey robe which billowed around her legs as she strode into the gloom. In her right hand she carried a torch playing it along the path in front of us. She had something tucked under her left arm but I couldn’t make out what it was in the failing light. Her confident stride saw her starting to pull away from me, I was forced to push myself to keep up with her. Eventually she slowed and, waving her torch, pointed out a low doorway leading into a snug looking cottage. We entered and she lit what looked to be an oil lamp standing on the table.
‘Sit, rest while I get the fire started. We’ll have a hot drink when I’ve finished.’ I sat at the table, weary after my tiring journey. My glance fell on the object that she’d placed on the table before lighting the lamp. It was what she’d been carrying under her arm as we had walked, a large book with unfamiliar writing on the cover
‘Who are you?’ I asked.
‘Just someone who likes to help those less fortunate than my self. You’re safe here with me.’ Out of curiosity I opened the book and looked inside. It was decorated with strange symbols, stars and half moon shapes, there were foreign looking symbols which I took to be runes, there were even words in what I recognised to be Latin and ancient Greek. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought it to be some sort of magical book, a grimoire perhaps.
The fire had caught and was now blazing away. I watched as she suspended a blackened kettle above the flames. For the first time, in the light of the fire, I caught sight of her face. It was a strong face with a slightly hooked nose, not plain, not ugly but handsome. She saw me watching her and smiled.
‘Like what you see dearie?’ she asked. She noticed that I’d opened her book and went on, ‘I’d be careful what you do with that book, Turn the pages with care otherwise those dwelling within the pages might take it into their heads to grab you and drag you into the book.’ I gently closed the book and pushed it away from me.
‘Is that why I should have no fear of those following me? Is that why I’m safe with you? Because they fear you? But what about me? Should I fear you too?’
‘The king’s men don’t fear me but they do respect me and leave me alone. I told you that you’re safe here with me. And you are.’ She turned her attention back to the fire as the sound of boiling came from the kettle. Unhooking the kettle she moved over to another table, one that looked to be set up as a kitchen area. She took a teapot and warmed it with some of the boiling water, rinsing it around then discarding it into the sink. She then measured out two spoonfuls of what I took to be tea, then filled the pot with water from the kettle. Taking down two cups from where they were hanging above the kitchen table she proceeded to pour us both a drink.
‘Drink this, it’s a restorative, it’ll warm you up and help revive you after your journey.’ I sipped at the drink and found it to have a delicate flavour and immediately felt an indescribable something. I relaxed feeling at peace and wondered about getting some sleep but no, my belly protested that it was in need of food before my tiredness could be accommodated.
‘Do you have anything to eat?’ I asked.
‘I wouldn’t worry about food if I were you. Finish your drink and see how you feel then.’ I continued to sip at my drink feeling more and more relaxed and as I did so my stomach ceased its complaining.
‘Perhaps you’re right, I no longer feel hungry. Earlier you mentioned that you had a bed to spare. It’s late, and I’m on the verge of nodding off sitting here at your table.’
‘I have my bed and I have a spare. If you want the spare you’ll have to bear with me while I make it up for you. That is if you want to sleep alone.’
‘ Alone would be fine, but thank you for the offer.’ I sat drowsing by the fire musing on whether she was trying to somehow entice me or whether it was just my tired mind playing tricks on me.
‘Ready for bed, sleepyhead?’ I woke with a start, I was slouched against the table, my head cushioned by the large book as if it were my pillow. Once more this enigmatic women loomed over me. I sat up then rose from the table and followed her through a door into another room. A narrow bed lay there clad in startlingly bright white bedding. It beckoned to my weariness, I slipped off my shoes and jacket and got into bed otherwise fully clothed. She leaned over me, kissed my forehead lightly, then tucked the bed clothes around my body and said, ‘Sweet dreams, dearie.’ Her last words to me as I drifted off.
I awoke refreshed to find myself lying on a snowdrift of crisp golden-brown leaves. The day was bright and warm with a fresh breeze on the air, likely responsible for blowing away the mist of the previous night. Of the woman or the cottage there was no sign. I found my jacket neatly folded over a nearby branch and my shoes aligned next to my leafy bed. I put on my shoes and jacket and continued my journey wondering where it was that I was going but with no thought of where I might have been.
As I walked my thoughts turned to my dreams of the night before. Who was that mysterious lady in grey who’d given me a bed for the night and nearly herself? How had she come to be carrying my book, the book now firmly tucked under my arm once more?
Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink March 15th writing prompt competition