The return journey home was a long one but finally after all these years they had been gained back the country of their great-grandfathers. The land was war torn and reclaimed by nature but they didn’t care about that. They could start again and live as their ancestors had once done.
Stopping to make camp as they did every night, the hundreds of people who had banded together to travel in safety, began the normal bustle and rushing to get things done. Horses, ponies, dogs and other animals needed to be sheltered, feed and watered. Watches for bandits and monster attacks need to be arrange. Lanterns lit, fires to be started, food prepared and cooked. Then finally, shelters and beds to be made.
A chilling winter wind was blowing and the sky looked heavy with snow. Prayers were said to try and ward the worse of winter away for bad weather would make the next few months difficult. Darkness began to fall and fires crackled into life, fighting away the growing shadows.
Tonight, they were camping in a low valley. Rocks jutted out from clumps of grass and small trees grew out from cracks in the mountain like rock. There was shelter from the elements here but it came at a price; venerability to attacks. The high rock sides and narrow ways in and out, meant that it would been easy for enemies to sneak up on the large group.
Some people would have chosen to stay out in the open but they had woman, children, elderly and non-fighting men who needed protecting. So, the best shelter had to be sort even if it wasn’t ideal for battle.
Through the noise that had risen up, the voice of a small child shouted out, ‘Look, mama!’
Fial turned wearily to her five year old daughter who was standing next to a pile of fallen boulders and pointing a finger upwards at the side of towering rock side.
Fial was exhausted and not in the mood for anything other then a hot meal and sleep. She was heavily pregnant, almost eight months gone with her ninth child. She was not happy about having to give birth in the wilderness but had lost the argument with her husband about travelling.
Fial sighed and addressed her youngest, ‘Ierne, please, I am too busy. I have to prepare the last meal and your sister, Aibell, still has a high fever.’
‘I wonder what is in there….’ Ierne spoke, ignoring her mother as her eyes were fixed on what seemed to be the entrance of a cave.
With a shake of her head, Fial turned back to her task and left the child, who was too young to help out much, to amuse herself.
Ierne began climbing up the side of the rock. She dug her hands into the soft soil and gripped onto rough grass to help pull herself upwards. She laughed as taller plants tickled her and frowned as sharp rock scraped her skin. The cave opening was high above but she was determined to reach it.
Stopping for a rest on a large outcrop, Ierne looked down and saw her family. Her mother and oldest sisters, Ciara and Dearlu, were preparing food into a large black pot. Aibell was still resting in the covered cart.
Their father was coming back from placing their horses in a more sheltered area with his youngest son, Faolan at his side. Whilst the other three brothers; Naos, Eion and Bricin, were getting the fire going after chopping down a nearby tree for wood.
Ierne turned her head back to the entrance and started her wonder again.
What is up there? Is it a bear cave? The home of a mighty dragon? Will there be treasure?
Smiling, the little girl began her climb again. It took her awhile to stand before the cave and she felt tired and hungry. The sight of the gloomy darkness and broken rocks around the entrance re-sparked Ierne into action.
Standing before the cave mouth, she peered in. It was darker in there then outside and only slight outlines of the rock faces and a narrow way in could be made out. There was no guessing how far back or if other passages lead off the cave ran. The wind whistled through like a low, mournful flute backed up by an echoing water drip.
Ierne smiled and cried out, ‘elves! Do you live here?’
Her voice give a soft echo and she listened for a reply but none came back.
She stepped forward and tried to peer into the dark entrance. Icy wind clawed at her face and she shivered in her travelling cloak. Ierne wiped her nose on the back of her mitten cover hand then rubbed her face. She was getting sleepy.
The wind began to pick up, pulling her towards the cave now and a few flakes of snow fluttered by. It was too cold to stand still for long. Looking into the cave again, Ierne slowly walked inside and put her fingers to the damp, cold wall.
Out of the wind and the arriving snow, the girl sit down and huddled in her cloak. Lulled by the whistling, Ierne started to drift off. Her eyes were heavy, her limbs ached with the cold and she tried after her climb. Sleep thickly stole her away.
In Ierne’s dream, there was a cosy fire, hot stew and warm bread. Music was playing somewhere and little people were dancing. They looked funny with their really long hair and clothes made out of plants and small animal skins. Laughter, singing and voices rose high, echoing in the cave. There was red wine and golden mead flowing and splashing on the floor.
Ierne joined in with the dancing and tried to sing but she didn’t know the words. The little people had a different language to her’s. When her feet got tried, she sat by the fire and it was then that one of the little people offered her a goblet of the mead.
She took it and looked into the shimming liquid. The fire light reflected off the surface and the mead smelt so sweet.
‘It looks and smells like honey!’ Ierne spoke, ‘I love honey and have not had it since the spring.’
‘Take a sip, A’stor,’ the little person said.
Ierne raised the goblet and was just about to taste the gold mead when everything started to shake.
The little people screamed and began running away. The goblet slipped from Ierne’s hand and she looked around confused as a faint, familiar voice called her name.
Coming too, Ierne woke up and felt light stinging her eyes. Someone was shaking her shoulder and repeatedly saying her name. She tried to question what was going on but only mumble sounds came out of her mouth.
‘Ierne!’ her brother, Naos snapped, ‘everyone has been looking for you!’
‘What happened?’ Ierne asked, rubbing sleep away.
‘You can not go wondering off! It is dangerous!’
‘I was safe. I was with the little people.’
‘There’s no one here,’ Naos pointed out and shone his lantern around.
‘That’s ’cause you scared them away!’ Ierne cried.
‘Come along now,’ Naos growled, ‘it’s supper and bedtime for you.’
Naos picked up his younger sister and carried her back down to the safety of their family.
(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2020/01/23/thursday-photo-prompt-entrance-writephoto/ with thanks).