The Bearer

This story is a work-in-progress. I have a vauge idea of where i want to take it, but I can't seem to find the time to work on it.

The Bearer

Dawn’s glow, the roosters crow, and Karen cried anew.

“Why me? Why now?” she asked the sun as it lit her misfortune through the bedroom window, as it lit the two mounds of her developing breasts protruding from beneath her nighty. “I don’t want to be a woman, please Lord,” she prayed.

As soon as the church elders saw her developments she would be taken from her mother’s house and moved to the Bearer’s house. Her life as it had been would be over, and before she knew it she would be with child.

“It was her duty,” they told her. All women of child bearing age must birth ten children. “The rule of the church is absolute.”

“Accept your destiny, and make the best of it,” her mother had said. “There is no other way,”  but Karen was not the accepting type. She was resolved to find another path.

She dried her tears, made her childhood bed for the last time, shouldered her small bundle, and slipped out through the window. She could hear and smell the church elders as she made her way quietly past their quarters. Soon she was walking the forest trail away from the village, away from a life of security, away from a life of servitude. She didn’t look back.

Shadows clung to everything when she entered the trees. The grey light of dawn could not penetrate the canopy above her head. Luckily, this close to the village, the road was broad. Wagons and carts used it daily to bring the spoils of the forest to the people. By the time the sun was up, the road had narrowed to a double rutted forest tract. Karen hurried then, interspersing her distance eating march with short spurts of running. She had to make it to the swimming hole at the falls, the farthest she had ever been from the village, and the end point of the forest road. There she would have to enter the woods.

Leaving the tract was possible anywhere after the last cultivated fields, but using it to travel as far and quickly as possible gave her a better chance of escape, or so she had reasoned. With luck her mother would assume she had left early to attend to chores. With greater luck her sector leader would assume she was late or better still, sick, but eventually they would realize she was missing. If the dogs found her before she reached the falls she would be hard pressed to get away although she had the sneezing pepper she had accumulated so carefully. It might give her some added time.

 The tract had become a walking trail before she heard the falls ahead and the hounds behind. She spread her pepper behind her, and took off running at her fastest pace. Reaching the swimming hole she raced through shallow water until she could clamber over the boulders that protected the bottom of the falls. She had debated this point with herself. The wall behind the falls was more slippery than the dry rock face. Climbing would be more difficult, but the added protection of invisibility had won out. She thought briefly of removing her clothes to keep them dry, but the sound of the hounds had added an urgency to escape that was pushing her on. As soon as she was behind the curtain of water she started to climb.

Her first slip and the resulting short fall drove the urgency beneath her caution. With care she made her way past the point of her slip, placing hands and feet surely before advancing. The rushing, crashing water drowned out other sounds. Men could be climbing below her or calling for her to stop, she could not hear, and she dare not take the time to look. Hands clinging, legs pushing, arms pulling, she made her way higher keeping to the edge of the water curtain, searching for the bushes that crowned the top of the cliff, and finally they were there.

Soaking wet, shivering, and exhausted she crawled under the bushes, continued upwards, and crested the rock wall. Like a mouse she checked for enemies, and then, still on her knees, scurried across the open space into the trees. The darkness of a dense forest enclosed her as she wormed her way forward, eventually coming to rest under the low outstretched limbs of a dense cedar. Too exhausted to continue she curled up and passed out.

Voices and the sounds of movement brought consciousness back.

“Do you think she made it up here?”

“I don’t know, but we have to look. I will not return to face the Elders with only supposition. Now shut your yap and look for sign.”

Karen realized she was holding her breath. She forced herself to breath slowly and quietly. She waited. After a great time she made out the sounds of slow deliberate movement again. She closed her eyes. Something was walking beside her tree. The sound of movement stopped; replaced soon by the sound of something hitting leaves both living and dead. The smelt of asparagus infiltrated her nose. She knew then, it was a man peeing. The sound stopped, the man moved away. Much later, Karen dragged herself out from under the tree, and made her way carefully along the shore of the river into the unknown.

* * *

“And you are sure she attempted to climb the cliff?” Elder Jacob asked again.

Tommy considered his response carefully. He had answered the question twice already, but obviously his answer was not sufficient. He would try to be more precise. “The one hound that didn’t get into the spice followed her scent to the large boulders beside the falls. It lost the trail because of the water, so we walked the dog all around the water and along the rock face for a distance in both directions. He discovered no other trace of her. Bobby and I climbed to the top and searched for signs. We found nothing. My conclusion is that she tried to climb, lost her footing, and fell.”

“But shouldn’t there be a body if that occurred?”

“I cannot say, sir.”

“Did you check under the water?” Elder Joseph asked.

“No, sir.”

 “Why not?

“I do not swim, sir.”

“You don’t … yes I remember now, you are the one who almost drowned.”

Elder Joseph turned his attention to the other members of the council. Tommy willed himself to relax.

“Do we assume she died,” one of the Elders asked.

“I would prefer to make sure. I noticed her the other day. She is worth the trouble of making sure,” Elder Jacob stated. A few of the other Elders nodded their agreement.

* * *

Tommy threw his pack over the top of the ridge, and then pulled himself over. He had been upset when the Elders decided it was his responsibility to offer proof regarding Karen’s fate. Now he was angry—angry that he was banned until he completed his task, and not just from the village, from people too, and angry because of the last order Elder Joseph had given him. “Bring her back if she is still pure, otherwise bring proof of death.”

Tommy had worried at the meaning of those words. He wished Elder Joseph had given him a chance to ask a question. What if she was alive, but no longer pure? Did he simply leave her? Was the anguish she would suffer for betraying of the laws of the church enough of a punishment, or was there a more sinister message in the command? Tommy refused to dwell on that possibility. He put it from his mind. The Elders could not sanction such an action. And anyway the girl was dead, had to be, she had fallen while climbing the cliff face behind the falls and had … dr … dr … drown.

He could barely say the word. His own experience still crushed his ability to move whenever it came to mind, even after years had passed. “Damn this girl,” he swore, and then asked for forgiveness. Why couldn’t she just accept her place?

Tommy shouldered his pack and bounced it about to make it settle on his back. He set off beside the river. “Follow the river for five days,” the Elders had ordered. “Return if you find no evidence of her in that time.”

Tommy found evidence of a campsite and fire before evening fell. It couldn’t be her, he reasoned, but then what alternative was left. No one lived above the falls. Hunters, it had to be hunters. They weren’t supposed to come up here, but Tommy knew it happened. He was a hunter and when game was scarce, instead of returning with nothing he had climbed. Game was abundant here on the plateau. He had always been able to bag some rabbits or grouse, and he knew other hunters did it also. It was a hunter’s campsite.

Finding no evidence of a campfire the next day reinforced his belief, but then on the third day and the forth the evidence was there. He had to accept that Karen was alive.

* * *