> Serial Fiction: The Girl in the Way

Serial Fiction: The Girl in the Way

by Lincoln Sayger

Sad Girl by chuotanhls; Girl in the Way title image

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36. The Woman in the Girl

Elga woke with the first morning light and cleared her bedding away before eating a bit of her bread with a little fruit paste she made from her dried stores and the last of the berries she had picked the day before. She washed this down with a deep draught from her canteen.

She settled her pack and started walking. She hadn't often felt much like a woman, since coming out of the water, but today, she did. She didn't know why this morning, or the night before, felt different. She didn't know why she felt more capable now. Surely one night without fears or uncertainty didn't mean she'd grown up. But there was still something there, something that had changed. She felt there truly was a woman inside her breast, a capable woman who knew what to do in the situations she faced. She was on her way, and she knew where to put her feet. That was all she needed, right now.

Elga stepped out of the forest into a strange place. The forest definitely ended, right there around the road, but after perhaps twenty feet on either side, the grass and weeds were swallowed up by trees again. It was like the forest continued everywhere but on the road. And then she felt like a little girl again, wondering at something very simple. The forest did continue, but the road had been cleared to either side by the town beyond. Figuring this out made her feel strangely mature again. But perhaps that was natural. She was an explorer. Her ability to feed herself would depend on the ability to observe things and figure out what was at first puzzling.

She walked on.

Bosona had risen to the top of the sky and begun to fall again before she reached the end of the road canyon in the forest, and she came out of the trees for real. The road came out of the edge of the trees at an angle, and the trees continued on one side but fell away sharply on the other. This time, the road stretched out on a meandering path down a wide slope, as the land fell gently but clearly away in all directions beyond the forest. She could see farther away than she could from her grandmother's house. And there was no sign of a village anywhere. But the road did not go out into this great expanse. It actually went down for some way and then turned slightly to the suben, where it crossed a little stream and then went behind the trees. She started down the hill.

Bosona sank in the sky, as she continued walking. The road began to look more and more like a town road, kept in good repair and edged neatly. As she neared the bridge, she noticed that the land on the other side was surrounded by hedges, broken by a path leading to a home or other destination within the enclosure. Another path led into the trees some distance beyond the first. As she did not see anyone, she continued down the road, past open ground that no one had yet claimed. In spite of these signs of intervention, the area still felt wild and open. She did not know how far it was to the town, but it did not feel close. She paused and consulted her journal, but though there was a rough map of the road, she hadn't kept close track of how far she had come since the last landmark, so judging the distances was difficult. She told herself she needed to be more observant and put her journal back in her pack.

Bosona was near the trees, now, but she kept walking. She knew she would have to stop soon, but she hoped to reach the town before stopping for the night. She had just decided she needed to spend her remaining light preparing a place to sleep when she saw the first light in the village of Hartsel. It was still a distance off, but she felt confident that she could make it there before the light failed.

Keeping her awareness wide, she rushed toward the buildings that she could now make out clearly.

When she reached the first one, the last rays of light were sliding off the tops of the roofs, and the villagers were lighting the lamps on the main streets. One of these looked at her with an appraising look, and she said, "Alwa. Can you tell me where I can get a room?"

The man, a little taller than her with a few more stones' weight and slightly darker skin, said, "Four hatches on, there's a public house that lets rooms out."

"Thank you, dono," Elga said.

Elga counted the hatches as she passed them and came to a building with a larger hatch and a sign hanging from a metal bracket beside and a little above it. The sign depicted a mug and a cot, and below these, were the words: Berpe Public Hospitality. She pulled open the hatch and went inside.

The room was poorly lit, but she could make out most of its details. Three rings of candles hung from the ceiling and provided what light there was. Eight tables filled most of the floor, and a serving boy carried a tray of food to one of these. Each of the tables was at least half full, and the crowd gave off a distinct hum from all the voices mixing in varied conversations.

It was the most strangers she had ever been around.

For a long moment, she wanted to run back out into the road and find somewhere quieter. What if no one here liked her well enough to give her a fair trade? What if one of them took a dislike to her and attacked her? What if one of these was a wild man of the wilderness, come in to find victims of his bloodthirsty frenzy? Elga pushed back the terror and looked around.

Barely controlling her breathing, she gazed at each person, gathering as many details as her mind would hold, before lifting her leaden feet and moving forward into the room. She had to find the master of the house and arrange a room before she passed out of consciousness and tumbled to the floor. She located him, finally, and headed straight for him.

"Alwa, Host Erpe?"

He nodded, and she went on, dry-mouthed, saying, "I am Elga Explorer of Almodar. I am come to seek and share news."

Erpe smiled broadly and said, "What news from Almodar? Is Abek still shirer? Does Ima still sit with the eldest?"

Elga took a deep breath and started to tell what she remembered since the last minstrel had passed through. It was difficult, but she managed not to stumble over anything. She felt she must look foolish and naive to this man, but she managed to get through the recitation and ask about things her grandmother had told her, and about what the minstrels had mentioned about this area. Perhaps, with a year's practice, she could learn to do this without looking foolish, as she was certain she did to this experienced innkeeper. One day, she would no longer be a girl but a woman.

She hoped it would be soon.


Erpe Host stood behind the long table in his public house and dried the heavy mugs he favored for customer use. He felt happy about the day's events, and he wondered what would happen next.

A slim figure in a hooded cloak pulled the hatch open and stepped inside. When she pulled back her hood, he saw that it was a young woman with wavy, mouse-brown hair and almond irises, a thick nose, and flattened ears. She stood by the entry for a long moment, scanning the crowd. He wondered if she was seeking a specific person, but when she finished taking everything in, she didn't look disappointed or pleased. Instead, she glanced quickly around and locked her gaze on him before striding over with clear purpose.

"Alwa," she said calmly and firmly, "Host Erpe?"

Erpe nodded, wondering if she wanted him specifically or just the host of this place, and she went on, introducing herself as Elga of Almodar, an explorer.

Erpe was delighted and asked after some of the people he'd been told of by minstrels. She answered confidently and clearly, and he wondered how many years she had been exploring. This must have been her fourth or fifth outing, he thought.

She finished her news and asked of happenings in and around Hartsel. He told her what he knew, and her wise almond eyes made notes on his cheeks and forehead. When he had finished, she asked appropriate qestions about the events, and about the market in town for various items. At the end of this recitation, she asked for a meal and a room, and he took the money.

As she walked away to find an open spot at a table, he turned to his serving boy and said, "She's an expert explorer. I wonder where she traveled before, since we haven't seen her here."

The boy said, "Maybe she stopped on the other edge of town last time."

"That must be it," Erpe said.

He went into the kitchen to prepare a special dessert. Such a guest could bring more travelers, if she liked his hospitality.

The End of Girl in the Way

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