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A journey of the heart, p.1
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       A Journey of the Heart, p.1

           Catherine M. Wilson
 
A Journey of the Heart


  Table of Contents

  28. Truth

  29. The Willow Tree

  30. Midsummer's Day

  31. The Lady

  32. The Council Stones

  33. Innocent Birds

  34. Running Away

  35. Vintel's Way

  36. Fear

  37. Courage

  38. Death

  39. Power

  40. Spoils of War

  41. A Choice of Evils

  42. A Journey of the Heart

  43. Merin

  44. A Wicked Lie

  45. A Warrior's Burial

  46. Tamar

  47. A Time of Trouble

  48. Hearts

  49. Demons

  50. The Spiral Path

  51. The Harvest

  52. An Undivided Heart

  53. A Different Light

  54. The Most Important Thing

  55. A Strong Friend

  56. Blood Debt

  57. Outlaws

  58. Wilderness

  59. A Fairy Tale

  60. Winter

  61. The Forest

  62. The Past

  When Women Were Warriors Book II

  A Journey of the Heart

  by Catherine M. Wilson

  Shield Maiden Press

  Boulder Creek, California

  Copyright (c) 2008 by Catherine M. Wilson

  All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. All characters depicted herein are the product of the author's imagination and do not represent any actual persons, living or dead.

  ISBN: 978-0-9815636-2-6

  Cover photo by Donna Trifilo

  Published by Shield Maiden Press

  P. O. Box 963

  Boulder Creek, CA

  95006-0963

  Visit our website at

  www.shieldmaidenpress.com

  For my mother

  Acknowledgements

  Many people offered advice, support, and encouragement during the "quite some time" it took to finish this project.

  It is an extraordinary piece of luck for a writer to find someone who is willing to discuss a work in progress, someone who can enter the world of the story and gossip about the characters as if they were real people, who will question their motivations, scrutinize their actions, complain when they step out of character, and cast a light on a side of them their creator may have missed -- someone who will take the work as seriously as the author does. For me that person is my friend and editor, Donna Trifilo, who, in addition to all of the above, pushed me through the hard times.

  To everyone who was willing to read a work in progress, sometimes more than once, I offer my gratitude and the assurance that everything they had to say about it mattered.

  Susan Strouse helped me overcome a major stumbling block at a crucial turning point. Lisa Liel, whose enthusiasm for the story rekindled my own enthusiasm, showed me how I could take a good idea and make it better. Ann Thryft's considerable knowledge of the time, place, and culture deepened my own understanding of the story and its characters. Jo Trifilo's insightful comments and careful critique gave me a new perspective on the story.

  In ways too numerous to mention, significant contributions were also made by Jen Davis-Kay, Katherine Gilmartin, Rebecca Hall, Rob Field, Carmen Carter, Kate Maynard, the late Dr. Susan Barnes, Judi Miller, Jack Contento, Ru Emerson, the members of my first writers' group--Morgan Van Dyke, Barbara Murray, Cooper Gallegos, Sandralee Watters, Marlene Michaelson, Rebecca Morn, and Eileen Thompson--who suffered through my early attempts to get my story started, and Heather Rose Jones, who helped me find my characters' names.

  And many thanks to George Derby and Marissa Holm for keeping me well fed.

  28. Truth

  Maara took the sword from my hand.

  "What is this?" she said.

  "It's a sword," I replied, as if she couldn't see that for herself.

  "What are you doing with it?"

  "Practicing." I wiped away the sweat running down my face. "I'm not used to its weight anymore."

  We were standing on the practice ground, where I had been giving a wooden post the benefit of my clumsy blows. I was discouraged. Although I had grown a little taller in the last year, I still had to use both hands to wield the heavy sword, and it had been so long since I'd practiced with it that I felt like a beginner again.

  "Did I say anything to you about practicing with a sword?"

  Maara leaned the sword against the post and beckoned to me to follow her. She found us a place to sit in the shadow of the earthworks where it was cooler.

  I waited for her to speak. I had thought she would be pleased with me. Instead she sat frowning down at the ground.

  At last she said, "I don't want you to practice with a sword. Not even with the wooden ones."

  "Why not?"

  "When will you be strong enough to wield a sword one-handed?"

  It was a question I didn't know how to answer.

  "Someday," I said.

  "I don't think so."

  What dreadful thing would she tell me next? Was she saying I would never be a warrior after all?

  "You don't believe I'll ever be strong enough?"

  "No."

  I couldn't comprehend what I was hearing. Why would she have apprenticed me if she didn't believe she could make a warrior of me? I almost suspected her of accepting me because she knew that I would fail and so release her early from her obligation.

  "I thought you believed. . ."

  "What?"

  "That I could become a warrior someday."

  "Of course you can," she said. "You will."

  "A warrior without a sword?"

  "A warrior with a weapon she can use."

  She reached for something that lay hidden in the tall grass. I recognized at once the bow she took from the man who killed Eramet.

  "The bow and the sword are very different weapons," she said. "A sword takes both strength and endurance. A bow takes a different kind of strength. It also takes great skill and more patience than most people ever have."

  I was only half listening to her. I was grieving the loss of my dream of myself with sword and shield, standing with my comrades, as I had imagined my mother and her sisters standing, shoulder to shoulder, against the enemy.

  "A bow is a coward's weapon," I said. I was mouthing words I'd heard somewhere without understanding what they meant.

  My warrior frowned at me. "Any weapon is a coward's weapon in the hands of a coward."

  I blushed with shame and looked away, but my pride was wounded, and I refused to understand her.

  "Why did you accept me if you thought so little of me?"

  "So little?" She waited for me to meet her eyes. "I think the world of you."

  A lump in my throat prevented me from speaking.

  "If I did not," she said, "I would hang a sword from your belt and a shield from your shoulder and pray that you never had to use them."

  If she was making a joke, I didn't find it funny.

  She turned the bow over in her hands, admiring it. Her fingers followed the carvings, swirling spirals that meandered up and down its length. When I had first seen it, it had no bowstring. Now a new string wound around the shaft of the unstrung bow.

  "Do you know what kind of bow this is?" she asked me.

  I shook my head.

  "It's a forest bow. Powerful, but meant to be used at close range. Easy to carry among the trees. Small enough not to get in its own way."

  "Small enough even for me?"

  I couldn't keep the bitterness out of my voice. She answered me in kind.

  "Yes," she said. "Small enough even for you." Then in a kinder voice she said, "And like
you, it is powerful and clever. Like you, it has strengths that are easily overlooked, but they are many nonetheless."

  The sweetness of her words was meant to help me swallow a bitter truth, but I was not yet ready to give in.

  "If a bow is such a wonderful weapon," I said, "why is it that you carry a sword?"

  "For the same reason you want so much to carry one. A sword is a symbol of power. A hunter may carry a bow. Even a child can make a bow to shoot at birds that would scratch the farmers' seed out of the ground. Only a warrior has the right to bear a sword." She gave me a long look. "I understand your disappointment, but you must face the truth about yourself."

  "And the truth is that I'm too small and always will be."

  My words tasted bitter in my mouth. Nothing she could say would sweeten them.

  "Too small?" she said. "Too small for what? Too small to wield a sword? Yes, I believe you are. But the whole truth is that you are small of body. That's all."

  She stood up and took several steps away from me, then stopped and turned around. She still held the bow, and she shook it in a gesture of impatience.

  "There is great power in this truth you can't accept, and I don't know how to make you see it."

  Now she had my attention.

  "If you insist on acquiring the trappings of a warrior, that's all you'll ever have. A sword can't make you something you were never meant to be."

  "What was I meant to be?" I wondered aloud.

  "I have no idea," she said. "Nor do you, but you'll discover that only when you can face the truth about yourself."

  Although nothing could make facing the truth any less painful, she had made it a little easier. She had held out to me the hope that, by letting something go, I might be able to take hold of something better.

  Maara came back and knelt down in front of me.

  "You once told me that every warrior's heart is different," she said. "I never thought of it before, but you showed me that it is a warrior's heart that matters, more than her size or the weapon she carries."

  Surely it was the power of the oak grove that had given me those words. I could never have thought of them myself.

  "A woman with a warrior's heart shouldn't fear the truth," she said. "No weapon in the world is stronger than the truth."

  I closed my eyes and tried to find the courage to face the truth about myself. I would have to let go of a dream I'd dreamed since childhood. For a little while grief filled my heart. I had no choice but to bear it. Then the pain subsided, and I put that dream away.

  "It can't be done."

  "Yes, it can." She was trying not to smile.

  With all my strength I tried to bend the bow, so that I could slip the loop of the bowstring into its notch. It stubbornly refused to bend.

  "Let me see it."

  I handed Maara the bow. She placed one end on the ground and braced it against her foot. While I had been tugging hard on the other end, which only drove the bow straight down into the soft ground, she held it lightly, her fingers ready to guide the bowstring into place. With her other hand she grasped the belly of the bow and pulled. The bow bent, and the string slipped easily into its notch.

  "Nothing about a bow is obvious," she said.

  She unstrung it just as easily and handed it back to me.

  I didn't succeed right away, but after struggling with it for a while, I was at last able to string the bow. She had me practice stringing and unstringing it until I was drenched with sweat and my arms trembled. Then she let me rest.

  "That's all for today," she said.

  "Oh."

  I was disappointed. She knew why.

  "You're not strong enough yet to draw a bow like this," she said. "When you can string it without effort, you'll be ready to learn to draw it."

  "If I were strong enough to draw a bow, wouldn't I be strong enough to wield a sword?"

  "A bow takes a different kind of strength," she said. "To wield a sword, you must have the strength to lift it and to strike with it. Once you've drawn a bow, you must hold it drawn while you take all the time you need to find your aim. I've seen many who had no trouble wielding a sword in battle shake like an aspen in the wind after they had held a drawn bow for only a short time."

  Day after day I practiced stringing the heavy bow. After several weeks went by, it did seem to be getting easier. Maara found a lighter bow for me in the armory, and after I had strung and unstrung the heavy one until my arms were limp, she let me try drawing the lighter one. She had me hold the drawn bow as she circled around me, adjusting the placement of a foot or the angle of an elbow until she was satisfied.

  I was impatient. If I was going to become an archer, I wanted to get on with it. Every day the other apprentices practiced with sword and shield. I watched them enviously, wanting to believe that someday my skill would be a match for theirs, though mine was a different weapon.

  The day came at last when my warrior met me on the practice ground carrying a few arrows in her hand. She saw my eagerness and smiled.

  "Let's go down the hill a little way," she said. "We don't want to hurt anyone."

  She found a place where I could shoot the arrows into the side of the hill. I was more than ready to begin, but she sat down in the grass and patted the ground beside her. I resigned myself to waiting a little longer and sat down.

  "Look," she said, showing me the fletching of one of the arrows. "Like the feathers of a bird's wing, these feathers control the arrow's flight. They are as delicate as a bird's wing, and you must be careful of them."

  She showed me how to hold several arrows loosely in my hand so that the fletching of each arrow didn't rub against the others. Then she showed me that by putting a finger between each shaft I could hold them more tightly and still keep the arrows separated from one another. She sighted down the shaft of each arrow. None of them was perfectly straight, and she explained that each would fly a bit differently. At last she stood up.

  "I don't want you to try aiming at anything yet," she said. "Just shoot the arrow and watch its flight."

  She handed me the light bow and watched me string it. Then she handed me an arrow and showed me how to lay the bow flat to nock it, how to align it in the bow, how to set the tips of my fingers against the bowstring. When I turned the bow upright, the arrow fell away from the bow and dropped at my feet.

  After several tries I could keep the arrow more or less in place while I drew the bow. Maara had me hold the bow drawn while she examined my stance. I resisted the urge to find something to shoot at.

  "Straighten your fingers," she said.

  I did, and the arrow tumbled out of the bow and hit the ground a few feet in front of me.

  "Good," she said. "Try again."

  I couldn't believe how difficult it was. There were so many things to remember all at once. Draw the string with the fleshy part of the fingertips, not at the joint. Hold the bow upright. Don't let it tip to the left, or the arrow will fall away from the bow. Don't let it tip to the right either, or the arrow won't fly true. Let the hand that grips the bow support the tip of the arrow without restricting its flight. Keep the elbows down, head up, back straight, feet well apart.

  By the time Maara took me home, my shoulders ached. My fingertips burned from the bowstring brushing over them. The inside of the arm that held the bow was red and sore where the bowstring sometimes struck it. Worst of all I had succeeded only in sending arrow after arrow in every direction but where I wanted them to go.

  Maara saw that I was discouraged.

  "You're doing well," she said.

  I didn't believe her.

  29. The Willow Tree

  One day, when Namet invited Maara to spend the afternoon with her, I thought I would pass the time by watching the other apprentices sparring on the practice ground. I found Sparrow and Taia there, using wooden swords and wicker shields. They were well matched. Taia was a head taller than Sparrow and had a longer reach, but Sparrow was more agile, and much more skillful.
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  While Sparrow was clearly enjoying herself, Taia appeared to be half-hearted. She didn't seem to mind that time after time Sparrow's sword found its way past her guard. At last she tossed her sword and shield aside and wiped the sweat from her brow with the tail of her shirt.

  "Shall we try with real swords?" Sparrow asked her.

  Taia shook her head. "It's too hot," she said, and went to join a few of the other girls, who were resting in the shadow of the earthworks.

  Sparrow turned to me. "Will you practice with me?"

  "I can't," I said.

  "Why not?"

  "My warrior doesn't want me to practice with a sword."

  Sparrow knew, of course, that I had been learning the bow, but I hadn't yet told her what Maara had said, that I would never be strong enough to fight with sword and shield. I was ashamed to admit that to anyone.

  "Let's go for a walk then," she said.

  We went down to the river. Sparrow undressed and waded into the water, to wash off the sweat and dust of the practice ground. Then she joined me on the riverbank. The cold water had made her nipples shrivel up, and I thought briefly about taking one of them into my mouth.

  "What does your warrior think she's doing?" Sparrow asked me.

  I knew what she meant, but I didn't know how to answer her.

  "She's putting you at a disadvantage," Sparrow said. "Whether you're any good with a sword or not, you must carry one if you're going to be a warrior."

  "Maara doesn't think so," I replied. "She wants me to have a weapon I can use."

  Sparrow sighed. "What does the Lady say?"

  "She hasn't said anything to me."

  "She will."

  As much as I had protested Maara's decision, I found myself defending it as if it were my own. "It is Maara who is under an obligation to teach me. She'll teach me what seems best to her, and the Lady should have nothing to say about it."

  Sparrow pursed her lips, but she held her tongue. She knew better than to remind me that Maara wasn't one of us, although I knew that was just what she was thinking.

  "I'm not saying you shouldn't learn the bow," she said. "We all train with the bow a little. But why not learn to use a sword as well?"

 
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