A young girl with a unique place in the world struggles to find her purpose.
The midafternoon sunlight filtered through the canopy, playing peekaboo with the forest floor as a soft wind herded the leaves back and forth. It was a beautiful day to explore between the trees, and a girl of no more than seven was taking full advantage of it, singing quietly to herself as she travelled through the underbrush. At odd moments she would pause and raise her voice until it rang through the surrounding area. She would sing a line or two like this, and then go back to her regular volume and pace.
One might think she were playing some sort of game, if not for the very real (if smaller than usual) bow and quiver of arrows she carried, and the way she moved almost silently through the detritus the trees had left covering the ground. Every time she raised her voice, she seemed annoyed at giving herself away, and would hurry to another location as if hoping to outrun her own echo.
This continued for at least an hour without any change, but at last the little girl found what she was searching for. Her brow furrowed, she levelled her bow—arrow at the ready—and her singing became no more than a breathy whisper as she stared at the underbrush in front of her.
A few more moments passed like this, without a single movement, and gradually her singing, too, ceased. The only movement was the wind testing her long chestnut hair, only to find it securely tied behind her head by a piece of green ribbon.
Then the events she had been hoping for the most and the least occurred all at once—a small creature with brown fur poked out from underneath the bush it had been hiding in, and a loud, panicked voice cried out through the forest.
Oriana loosed her arrow with an exasperated sigh, hardly watching it as it flew off-target and hit the creature in the shoulder.
“MOOOOM,” she yelled in no particular direction, approaching her dying prey. She rolled her eyes—one greener than the brightest leaves in the woods, the other a brilliant pink—and grabbed the creature unceremoniously by the feet.
Her trip back was considerably louder than before, full of grumbling and loud, purposeful stomping. She was singing again but only the loudest bits, and the annoyance in her voice was very clear.
Before long, she breached the edge of the forest, and came out into a clearing in front of a middle-aged woman wearing a robe with a hood that hung low over her face. Her name was Naomi, she was the child’s mother, and her body language communicated clearly that she was very worried.
Oriana rolled her eyes again, with relish. It had become one of her favourite actions when dealing with her mother. “No mom, it’s the bogeyman, and he’s going to cook us both for dinner!”
“Don’t roll your eyes. They’ll get stuck like that,” her mother chided, once the breath she had been unknowingly holding returned.
“I didn’t.” Oriana averted her gaze, momentarily cowed.
“I can hear it in your voice, little one. And you had best stop lying, too, or the bogeyman will eat you up. Now, why weren’t you singing to me? You had me worried to death.”
“Because it’s the middle of the day and I’m seven and a half and I was busy,” she raved, regaining some of her earlier rebelliousness. “Look what you made me do!”
She tossed the near-dead result of her hunt to the feet of Naomi, who bent down and fumbled for a moment before she found the creature and gently picked it up. She examined it closely with her hands—not noticing or not caring about the blood that now stained her fingers—and held it up to her ear.
“It’s still alive,” she informed her daughter.
“I know, mom. I don’t have to be a witch to know that! Now the meat is going to be all tough and gross.”
“I am not a witch,” Naomi quietly objected.
“Then how do you see without any eyes!” Oriana burst out, her clenched fists trying to wring the answer out of the air.
“As I’ve told you many—" a deep sigh "—many times, I don’t. I use my ears, and my nose, and my body, and you could do it too—" a pointed look "—if you practiced.”
Oriana was still unconvinced. “The villagers call you a witch...” she muttered.
Her mother’s face went white, and Oriana’s kill was thrown to the ground, forgotten, as she rushed forward and clasped her hands onto her daughter’s shoulders with surprising accuracy.
“What did you say?!” she demanded, and though Oriana tried to squirm out of her grasp, she was held fast.
“Did you go near the village? What have I told you about the villagers? They’re dangerous, Oriana! They will take your eye! Or kill you! Or worse!”
Oriana avoided her mother’s face. “I didn’t go to the village! They came into the forest to gather berries. And they didn’t see me, or even hear me,” she insisted, but she seemed unable to summon any of her previous bravado. “They didn’t seem so bad. They sang, too. Weird and quiet, but…”
Oriana looked up again as Naomi relinquished her grip, but when she noticed that her mother was pulling off her hood, her eyes darted away and she closed them tight.
“Look Oriana,” she insisted. “Look!”
Oriana reluctantly raised her eyes again as Naomi pulled a layer of bandages from around her head, slowly revealing a grisly scar where the right eye should have been, and a vivid white left eye that had been ravaged by infection and was just as unseeing as the missing one. She then kneeled and put her hands on Oriana’s head, forcing the child to take in her mother’s face.
“You see? Remember? They took my eye like they take everyone else’s, right at birth, so they can feel safe. But you’re not a baby; they might not be content with that. They wouldn’t understand you. They would be afraid of you. You’re not a baby anymore.”
Oriana was on the brink of tears, and her mother sensed this, pulling her close to her chest. “You’re not a baby,” she repeated to herself, her ravaged eyes doing their best to cry.
“I know, mom,” Oriana said, much more kindly than any other words she had spoken that day.
She let Naomi be for a few moments, but eventually broke the silence.
“Mom? Mom, let go. You got blood all over me. Yuck!”
Her mother abruptly let her go, standing up as she wrapped her bandages again. “Sorry little one. Why don’t you go clean up and I’ll throw together a stew. Then we don’t have to worry so much about the meat being tough.”
Oriana hated stew. “...okay mom. Thanks.”
Then mother and daughter both retired to their cottage, just as the sun and wind began to retreat, resting for another day of playing in the forest.