The Girls of Skogtarnisor
Chapter 3: The Labyrinth Forest
Copyright© 2020 by Tarasandia
What had been a worrying distance between me and Brenna after our visit to the wall became a heartbreaking wall between us after Unn passed away. By the time Brenna was 10, I could see in her an unyielding strength which I at once deplored and envied. I felt no surprise, therefore, when in the summer of her 17th year, Brenna was suddenly nowhere to be found.
I thought back to that day eight years earlier when I had thought to entrust Brenna and Unn’s secret to Sister Corrinne, and the familiar weight in my stomach seemed to grow just a bit heavier as once again I sat through an inquisition with the Village Elders: Did I have any idea as to where Brenna might have gone? What company might she have kept that would lead her astray? Did I think she might have left by the Market Gate? Or by the Labyrinth Gate?
Two thoughts dominated my inner dialogue throughout this unproductive interview. First was the realization of how pathetically little I knew about my sister, my beloved little Brenna, after all this time. And second was ... if I were ever fortunate enough to find her and win her confidence again, NEVER would I betray her again. The only help we could count on was each other.
Therefore, when one small hope did dawn inside my heart, I kept it close and secret. I guarded it as carefully as a traveller might carry coals on winter’s journey over land: careful not to spill them, lest they burn down my provisions and shelters; and careful not to expose them, lest they consume themselves too quickly and die out before we had reached our next night’s camp.
I had the trust of the Council, and I used it to my own purposes instead.
The Labyrinth Gate was searched, of course; and the Market Gate, and all the village houses where she was know to have friends; but there was one place that no one thought to look. Under cover of the Dark Moon, I made my way unobserved to Unn’s grave that night.
There were patrols on the North Road, of course, but the Western Road led to no gate, and was unguarded. The graveyard was a lonesome enough place by day; at night, and in the dark, I was completely alone.
Despite the darkness, I made my way to Unn’s grave without hesitation. I had visited it every week for many years now, and sometimes even on a daily basis, and my feet new every stone and divot along the path. I experienced some peace when I went there: a lifting of the stone burden I bore at all other times, and which I invariably picked back up again and carried with me when I left.
Tonight, something was different. A small bunch of Daisies lay wilting beneath the marker of Unn’s grave: Brenna had been here before she left Skogtarn-i-Sor. I sat down by the headstone and picked up the flowers, and as I did so a voice like rush of wind whispered through me, like the sussuration of a gentle breeze through a field of wildflowers and tall grasses:
She is come ... she is come.
I closed my eyes and brought the cut blossoms close to my face; I inhaled deeply of their spicy sweetness, and the words became sharper and clearer in my head:
She is come as she said as she both said. She is come.
“Unn and Brenna,” I replied, “Are these the ones who said I would come?”
Yessss ... yessss.She both said she would come.
“Can you help me find Brenna? Is she alright?”
She is come, and she must follow.
“Where must I follow?”
Here, here ... Here, here ... whispered the Daisies, and the whispering sound seemed to travel away from me; I turned my face to follow the sound, and saw a path of daisies dimly lit by starlight under the dark moon sky as they opened their faces across the neatly manicured lawn of the graveyard. With a final farewell to Unn, I followed the daisy trail.
The Daisies were surprisingly canny, I soon learned. They did not lead me straight to wall and gate, but took a circuitous route through empty fields well away from witnessing eyes. The patrols were increased because of my sister’s disappearance, but the daisies seemed to know where to pause and let them pass, and where to go around them altogether. When we drew near to the Labyrinth Gate, they led me to a small cluster of bushes a short way off of the North Road. The ground between the bushes and the gate was clear of any obstacle, and the patrol was stationed at a small bridge which was the only easy way across to the gate.
She stays here ... Stay here. She comes when we call, when we show the way.
I stayed put, and trusted I would recognize their “call” when it came. A moment later, I saw a huge white form appearing to the west of the road: the figure of a girl, all dressed in white. The patrols noticed immediately, and one of them moved out to investigate. The shape disappeared, then reformed a little farther down on the bank of the stream, over a small hillock and out of sight of both me and the remaining patrol. A moment later, the first patrol called out to the second: “Erik, come ‘ere! You’ve got to see this!”
I realized that the Daisies were creating a diversion, and took the opportunity to cross the bridge and make my way to the old guard door at the labyrinth gate. I could still hear their voices as I worked on opening the door:
“Did you see that, Erik?”
“I did! I did ... but where did it go?” I recognized the second voice as beloning to Erik’s twin, Bjorn.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was the moonlight shinin’ on these daisies,” Erik proposed.
“There is no moon tonight”
“Yeah, well ... we’d better get back to the bridge, anyway.”
“You go ... I’m sure you can handle any wee ones who might go sneaking off after the will-o-wisps without my help. I going to look around a bit more, see if I can’t track down what it is we saw. I’d swear it looked like Brenna.”
The figure had indeed had the shape of young girl, but it wasn’t the face Brenna I had seen. It was the face of Unn. As the boys separated - Erik returnign to the bridge and Bjorn heading further down the stream bank in search of footprints and other clues he would never find, I saw the daisies take shape one more time, and Unn waved to me with a smile on her face as I slipped through guard door and out beyond the Labyrinth Gate.