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Stronghold Part 4 – By Stephanie
Link to part 1 – http://www.theauthorschair.com/2017/05/12/critique-group-stronghold/
Dalia basked in the morning sunlight with fragments of her peaceful dreams drifting through her memory. She remembered a small cottage by the sea where she lived with both of her parents. Her dad sitting on their wide porch playing his harmonica. Dalia was mending a net on the steps, while Mother pulled weeds in the nearby garden. If only their life had really been that happy and content.
Dalia dallied in her daydream until her stomach grumbled for food. She rolled onto her side and glanced at the cold ashes of the fire pit. The spit was gone and no plate of food waited.
She sighed as she sat up. Where was her magical benefactor this morning? Her letdown was short lived once she noticed a sack resting beside the water basin in the rocks.
She jumped up and ran to the sack of food. She found dried fish, cheese, fresh bread and more blueberries. Popping a berry in her watering mouth, she noticed a set of foot prints leading away from the clearing. She tracked the prints to the far south edge of her cove where they disappeared through the trees.
Curious, Dalia moved a few low branches to reveal a shaded trail leading through the underbrush. Resting against the base of a tree waited a small backpack and a long straight branch that Dalia could use as a walking stick.
“That looks like an invitation to me,” she said, stepping onto the trail. She sat at the base of the tree to finish her breakfast, then sorted through her new backpack. Inside she found a canteen of water; small sacks of berries, nuts, bread and cheese; a knife; fire flint and a blanket. She hugged the pack like a treasure, grateful to be so thoroughly supplied.
Whispering her gratitude to her mysterious provider, she pulled on the pack. Grabbing the walking stick, she waved goodbye to her happy cove and began following the winding trail.
The small track wound back and forth through the trees most of the day. Dalia could still hear the sea to her left and glimpsed flashes of blue as she walked. As Dalia walked the insects and birds sang happily, undisturbed by her presence. Their song and the bright day had Dalia humming as she confidently walked. It was quite a difference from the skulking way she had traveled in South Kenton.
At midday she stopped by a stream to eat a brief meal and cool her feet in the water. She was so at peace in her surroundings that she found a spot in the shade and took a small nap.
She followed the trail for two more days, each night discovering a small cove by the ocean or clearing by a stream. As the sun moved close to the horizon, she would find a small fire and roasting fish as she did her first night.
On the third night, she rested with a full stomach watching the ocean waves sparkle in the moonlight. What a luxury to just relax. She didn’t have to scramble for food or search for shelter. She simply traveled, ate and rested like a noble from North Kenton. Was this what life was supposed to be like, something to be enjoyed, not a battle for survival?
She sighed with contentment, her heart, body and belly full. If this was the afterlife, she was quite satisfied to stroll these trails forever. Though, her lonely heart wished that she did not journey alone. This experience would be so much more pleasant if it was shared.
At lunch time the next day, the trees gave way to a wide meadow. Excitedly she crested the hill hoping to find a wonderful destination, instead she felt slapped in the face. Why would the foot prints lead her back to so much misery? The familiarity of the city in the valley and the shambles of the town to its south was a shock.
The large harbor below with merchant vessels and private sailing ships had not changed. The city built with clean sandy-pink stone, promising shelter and provision only lied. All this time she had thought she had awakened in heaven, but this beautiful city with its sparkling waves and polished appearance only proved that she still lived in hell.
Feeling abandoned, she turned around and started to backtrack. She was horrified to find that her trail had disappeared as if they never existed, only a lush jungle of trees confronted her. There was no going back to her paradise of safety. Dread and tension from her past rushed up to grab at her, stealing her breath and freezing her thoughts.
The realization that she was once again on her own ground into her, sparking anger. Even the one she thought was her caregiver brought betrayal. So this is what life was, she thought growling and stomping around on the rise. You can’t trust anyone. No one really cares. She was just a nuisance to reroute back to a place where she had to fend for herself. Why hadn’t she just died in the ocean and been done with all of this unhappiness?
She sat down and glared over the perfect pink buildings and beautiful banners of North Kenton. It was a wonderful home to many but it brought no comfort to Dalia. From her spot on the hill, she could see the wilderness to the west of Kenton. For the first time in her life, she wondered what life would be like outside of her lifelong prison.
Categories: Critique Group