A blinded warrior and a widowed woman travel together following a major war. The warrior carries a staff, endowed with dangerous and unknown powers.
It was getting dark and the village was still nowhere in sight. Mira pulled her coat more tightly around her thin shoulders and looked up at the sky, warily. Rain, and any minute now. The darkening forest loomed ahead, like a shield set between her and civilization. She didn't like the forest. It was dark and fearsome. People who went into the forest never came out. Some didn't, anyway. In any event, she was not looking forward to spending a night there.
Daniel was standing to her right with a hand held firmly to her upper arm. He held a staff in the other and pointed his head toward the sky, sniffing. Mira looked up at him, saw the scarred face and the two glass orbs painted in an approximate likeness of eyes. He'd had a pair of his own, once. Then the war came. Everything had changed after that - for everyone. Daniel had lost his sight. Mira had lost her family. And now they were about to walk into a forest, on the verge of a rain storm.
"What's ahead?" Daniel asked, smiling as he felt the tension in the woman's shoulder. "I have a feeling it's not the village." He felt rain now, pattering against his head.
Mira swore and pushed towards the forest, Daniel in tow. "There's a forest ahead," she said. "We need to get under the trees. It's going to pour." She led Daniel down a small incline and ducked under a large tree. She could hear rain around her, gaining in intensity, but they were both dry under the tree's massive branches. "We're a few days away," she explained. "We'll have to make camp for the night."
"It's going to be wet," Daniel replied. "This tree won't protect us much longer." He'd experienced worse, like sleeping in a rain storm surrounded by a thousand corpses. He felt sorry for the woman, though. Judging from her voice, she was no longer young. He'd stumbled onto her - literally. His first day out of the makeshift hospital ward. He'd crawled out of a filthy straw bed, felt his way along the floor until he came to his knife and sword. He'd buckled them on, then felt along the wall hoping he'd reach a door. The place stank like shit and death. Then he stumbled over a stone and landed right on top of her. She heard him curse him roundly, then stop abruptly.
"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I didn't realize you were wounded. Although it's good you can't see this place."
"Are you a nurse?" he asked.
"No," she replied. "I'm looking for my family. But I found them. Or what's left of them. I was just about to leave."
Daniel rose in silence, with the woman's assistance. "I'm sorry," he said.
"It's not your fault." There was a silence. "What about you?" she asked.
"Get me out of this shit hole and I'll tell you," he'd replied. And he had. He still had nightmares about it: a bloody hand, swinging the hilt of a sword, followed by a cracking sound, pain, and then darkness. He'd woken up screaming. That hand was the last thing he'd seen and he was determined to find the body attached to it, blind or no.
The woman's name was Mira. She had been married to a miller and they'd had three children: two boys and a girl. They'd been cut down like wheat before a scythe. Daniel had seen nothing, but she'd seen everything. She didn't know who had it worse.
They decided to travel together. He needed a guide. She needed the company. Before they left Mira had found a staff lying against the side of the door. It was old and shiny from use. She found no living owner to claim it, so gave it to Daniel.
And here they were, under a tree in the middle of nowhere. Rain was beginning to penetrate the leaves. Mira moved them closer to the trunk, hoping to gain a little time before they were soaked completely. "Well!" she declared, raising her voice as the sound of rain began to boom around them. "Isn't this lovely? Can you use that staff to conjure up a dry little fire and a cozy bed?"
"I'll have to depend on your imagination!" Daniel hollered back, but suddenly saw what she was talking about. He saw it, then felt a tingling in the hand holding the staff. The image focused around him: a small camp, with a warm fire in the center. He suddenly heard Mira draw in breath as the image grew stronger in his head. A clearing, dry and warm. A fire!
"What in the name of the Gods?" he heard Mira exclaim.
The image was in Daniel's head, in his hands, in his arms and in his feet. He was the image. He felt himself pulled away by Mira and, suddenly, he was dry. He stood for a moment, dry and warm. The image remained in his head, shifting as he moved it. He saw the fire now, then the trees and a small cave. Then he saw a woman - Mira? - staring at him with open eyes and a dropped mouth. The image of the woman turned her head and he suddenly felt himself dragged again. Then, darkness. Daniel heard rain pounding around him, but they were out of it.
"Daniel!" she heard Mira, but could no longer see her. "What's in that staff?"
The staff still felt warm in Daniel's hand. "Where are we?" he asked.
"A cave," she replied. "It was like a curtain parted. There was a patch of dry ground, and a fire, and a cave. I moved us into the cave. And now everything's back to normal, except we're dry."
"I know," Daniel replied. "I saw it."
"You saw it?" Mira exclaimed. "With the staff?"
"I don't know."
"What do you see now?" Mira asked.
"The same thing I always see," Daniel replied. "A lot of nothing." He reached out a hand. "Help me find a place to sit. I guess we can just wait here." He felt Mira guide him to the floor, felt behind him for stones or other objects. The sand beneath his hand was soft and warm, like a bed. He settled down and heard the woman doing the same next to him. He held the staff close, against his chest.
"If there's a spinner's circle in the village, I think we'll need to go see them," Mira said. "A staff like that outside of a circle..."
"I know." Daniel rubbed the worn wood with his thumb. The object in his hand was a death sentence.