For Sara 🙂
I no speak English..
It was the only phrase Mara could think of, the only phrase left in her mind. It made no sense to her, but it had sent her through spinning thunderclouds of silver and gold and thrown her out here, in this realm, somewhere out in the wilderness, in a small crack in the mountain of stone that felt wrong to the touch.
A man had already been there, standing in shock when she fell from the sky in a flurry of spark driven by the wind. He had shouted at her, and she had mumbled through her sobs to him, but her words made no sense to him, and when he spoke, she heard only a mishmash of sounds with little more meaning than a dog barking.
She smoothed down the lace pleats in her dress, her bright green eyes fixed on the floor covered with strange, dark leaves, her heart pattering, trying to slow her breathing. She didn’t want to say it again – what if it plucks me up again and sends me somewhere even worse? – but what choice did she have left? It was hard to make her mouth move, her lips forming the alien syllables.
“I no speak English.”
She couldn’t know what effect the words would have on him, and after the initial relief that nothing further had happened to her, the silence became unbearable. At long last, it took all of her willpower to raise her eyes to meet those of the man. He was tall, and much stouter than the men she was used to seeing – lithe, elven men, with slim limbs and a sly grace.
This man had a grace, but it was solid, sure. His clothes were like him, thick and sturdy, made of metal and hairless animal skins. His feet were covered; hers were bare, like all of her kind. He was looking at her with wide brown eyes, with a gaze that seemed to be able to pierce her thoughts.
Perhaps he is one of the wizards who live high in the mountains who know the minds of others, she thought. There were exercises one could do to protect oneself from the invasive nature of these wizards, but Mara never learned them. Only the most skilled were invited into the beautiful palaces of learning to become proficient in words, and letters, and the art of magic. Mara was not that skilled, and she was only a farmhand, tending the pear trees, and the grape vines for the farmer who employed her.
When no understanding dawned on the man’s face, Mara realized he could not read her thoughts, and she was glad. Though it may make communicating easier, she did not want her most secret dreams and ideas invaded or bared for any to see, least of all this man she did not know.
He had a sword. It hung in its scabbard, but his hand rested on the pommel with an easy grip, his fingers ready, but not twitching. The weapon was very much like the ones that had killed all the workers except for Mara, and all the animals, and finally the farmer and his family – his wife and their two small boys.
Mara still didn’t know why the others had come or what they had hoped to achieve by what they did. A bountiful, productive farm now reduced to ashes, for what? Tears filled her eyes at the thought, and her hand went to her throat for the comfort of the necklace that had always been there, hanging from the fine silver chain.
Except the necklace was no longer there, nor was chain. Mara had used it, tearing it from her neck, breaking the tiny glass bottle with the pale fairy dust, and choked out the incantation her mother had taught her through the burning smoke in her lungs and her eyes.
It was supposed to send Mara somewhere safe, but she didn’t know this place. The rock was too dark, the trees smelled funny, even the dirt was the wrong size, to coarse and dry. It was a wonder anything could grow in it, but somehow the bushes and flowers and trees managed. How could this be safe? Why didn’t it bring me home?
Her heart leaped into her throat when the man came and knelt before her. He held up his hand to stop her from scrambling away and spoke again, this time in a gentler voice. He spoke slowly, but she did not understand. Mara shook her head. He said something else, and Mara caught enough difference in the sounds to know he was speaking a different language. She shook her head again, and he frowned, letting out a frustrated sigh.
Mara’s fingers went again to the empty spot where the necklace used to rest, warm against her skin. The instructions were simple: if in mortal peril, send the dust to the wind, utter the arcane words I no speak English, and it would spirit her away to safety.
Her mother gave it to her, just before she sent Mara away to work on the farm, no longer able to support her along with her younger brothers and sisters on the meager wages of a seamstress. Mara’s father worked in the mill and didn’t make much more. They wanted the best for her, but keeping her in the city would only sentence her to the same fate.
A heavy, icy feeling grew in her chest. If the necklace truly worked and took me somewhere safe, and this place is not of my world, then no place there is safe back there. The city has fallen, and all the cities like it. It was a terrible, overwhelming thought, and sent her spinning close to sobbing again. One tear leaked down her cheek, but she brushed it away with an angry swipe of her hand.
She had taken care of herself for many years. She was not a child, nor was she weak. She would not cry, and not in front of this stranger. Fingers pressed under her chin, forcing her face up to look at him again.
He had a comforting look about him, hard, but not cruel. He took note of her tears, but did not become distressed. He reminded her very much of her father, and that sent her towards painful grief for a different reason. The man used his thumb to wipe the tears that escaped from her cheek and offered a steadying smile.
He went away, leaving her in the dim light at the front of the cave, and when he returned, he handed her a steaming mug of thin, hot soup. Mara took it and sipped it, burning her tongue in her eagerness. The man paced, glancing at the darkening sky, which turned red, and blue, and a purple color Mara had never seen before. She finished the soup, and with the nourishment warming her stomach, she found some of the courage she knew she had.
Mara stood and walked over to him. He watched her carefully but did not seem threatened. She stood before him, her head coming only up to his chest, and looked straight into his alien face. She pointed at herself.
He smiled, showing a row of straight, white teeth. “Hamael.”
“Haimail,” she repeated the syllables as well as she could. “Pleased to meet you.”