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A Force of the Wind
It was a formidable landscape, barren and unforgiving. Drab winter brown grass lay motionless on the slight rises in the otherwise almost flat land. Stones and rock boulders dulled gray in the weak sunlight. A sputtering breeze whined and gusted across the openness, carrying scents of decay in its cold breath.
There was only the passing flight of a searching falcon or hunting buzzard that marked the endless span of the washed out blue sky. No thrush, no pheasant, no quail scurried in the brown bush, just the rattling of naked twig-like branches in the uncaring lack of mercy of the wind.
The big raw-boned horse moved easily through the dead grass that snapped under his ponderous weight. His bay coat intermixed with gray marked him as a roan and there were no marks of distinction to break the pattern of his color except the for the black of his mane and tail. Though gangly, he was still well-filled out and his appearance belied the grace and stealth with which he moved.
On his back sat a hooded rider, thickly dressed in a cloak laced to their frame. The rider moved as one with the roan as they were one body instead of two. A tall person, large boned and strong. Whatever form they possessed was concealed beneath the multitude of clothing. The face, hidden in the shadows of the wide hood, could not be seen.
Beneath the clothing, her body was tall, lanky, slim-hipped but with a full bust from her Northmen mother but her slenderness from her Isle-born father. Both of whom had died in the shipwreck off the North Coast of the Cold Isles when she was yet a tiny infant who floated ashore in a sealskin-lined wicker basket.
The sole survivor of the shipwreck, a vessel foundered on the treacherous rocks off the coast, she had been taken in by a smith and his barren wife and given the name "Gale" for the wind of the storm that orphaned her and also delivered her to safety. She had loved her adoptive parents and cared for them until she had lost them both to a plague of death that besieged the seacoast village. A hearty, robust girl as she helped her father in the smithy with the horses, she had survived the illness. Many called her lucky but most called her cursed as she had the uncanny ability to survive twice against incredible odds. At fifteen, she was a maiden but too rough for most of the remaining men's favor so she settled her parents' debt with all the household goods and the stock, keeping only the stalwart roan "destrian" or warhorse, Rook; her clothing, some utensils, and the strange small lyre that had floated ashore with her in the basket.
No one knew how Gale knew to play the small harp but as a child she picked out any tune she heard or played melodies of her own devising and sang words of poetry with them. She was a natural bard.
With only these things, she and Rook, then a young colt of two years, had set out on their own. Her way had been pockmarked with trouble, hunger and hard times but also summers of softness and plenty and the visit of love that filled her, seduced her, left her and she buried the still born child that was the fruit of that love. As tumultuous as a gale wind, the woman's life was often like a storm-tossed sea. Always a recluse by nature, she had taken the solitary path of a nomad and a bard when the opportunity arose. Now, fifteen years later, she found herself once again in the emptiness and solitude of herself and Rook. It no longer frightened her nor dismayed her but she preferred it.
She was in a strange land now, wearied of her home of the Cold Isles, and having forfeited up several coins, she had bought passage on a ship for herself and Rook to the large continent across the Channel. Many lands, many people, many languages but still endless leagues of open space, far spaced villages, and landlords who hired either her sword or her lyre, or sometimes, both.
No one knew all of these things of Gale but there was naught to care anyway. She had learned long ago that friendship was a fleeting thing and for her, love non-existent. In the cold silent nights by the campfire, she found herself often wondering how she had been allowed herself to be confused enough to think that her life path would take her that way.
Perhaps it came from the thought that her birth parents had loved each other and with her, their new babe, they had set out on a quest for a new home and a new life. It had never come to fruition for them but she had been spared so their union had not been without reason.
Or maybe it had come from the quiet, solid love between her adoptive parents, the smith and his wife, as they had lived out their calm simple lives in the tiny village by the sea. As her natural parents had been, they had gone together, dying just hours apart from each other, and neither left alone to face life without the other one. Yet, each time, she had lived and she could not but question as to why.
Gale thought she had known the answer to that once when "he" had loved her and she carried their child in her womb and he had left her as quickly as he had come and the child had never seen life after leaving her body. A perfect little boy that now rested serenely on a faraway hill, buried in tears and grief by his mother's hands alone. Her son, who would never grow up and be a man. Her son, whose eyes had never seen her face. Just one more beloved taken from her by Death and her own life left spared. Wounds that went deep and wide, scarring not only her heart but her human soul as well!
Mayhap, a lonely life that she knew as a nomad with only Rook's companionship but most assuredly, a less painful one. In the freedom of wide, empty spaces and the ever changing directions, she knew a solidness that seemed strange in such a rootless life. There was a constancy and predictability that gave her peace and acceptance and in those measures, she found her own sense of completeness and happiness. She knew what to expect and it did not disappoint her as those expectations were reliable.