Authors: Emigh Cannaday
“What does this mean? Do you think we’re related?” asked Annika. “Are you three sisters?” Runa and Hilda grinned to each other.
“They are,” Sariel said quietly. She had stopped frowning, but wasn’t ready to smile yet. Something still seemed to be bothering her. “Where have you been hiding all this time? How is it that I managed to not keep track of you?” She frowned as though she were inwardly scolding herself, and quite harshly at that.
“I’m not from here,” Annika tried to explain. “My mom is, but she doesn’t have any family left in the area. My dad’s parents are Norwegian. You know, Vikings.”
“Vikings?” Runa wondered out loud. “We haven’t seen them in a while.”
Not in a while?
Annika wondered silently. What were these women thinking? She tried her best to size them up. They could indeed be sisters. Hilda and Sariel looked the most alike, while Runa’s heart-shaped face made her look more like a doll. Sariel had a generous splash of freckles across her nose and arms, but it was her demeanor that set her apart from the others, even more than her jet black hair. There seemed to be a perpetual cloud of fierce negativity hanging over her.
“It’s a three day walk to the nearest village,” Sariel informed her. “We should leave first thing in the morning. If we get a ride then Annika’s injury shouldn’t slow us down too much.” Confusion clouded Annika’s thinking for a few moments.
“I know Sofia’s not
far,” she pointed out. “How can it be three days away if I’ve only walked for two? And why wouldn’t we just take a bus or a taxi?”
“There aren’t any autos here, and we haven’t any horses. We ride the deer of the forest,” Hilda said. Annika buried her face in her hands, shaking her head in frustration.
“I’m completely fucked, aren’t I?” she muttered. She was growing more and more concerned for her well-being given her present company. “Do you have any friends that I could talk to about getting home?”
“Yes. In the nearest village, which is three days away,” Runa said in the sweetest voice. “If we ride the deer it should only take two days.”
“Awesome,” she grumbled. Now that Annika knew she was depending on three strangers with a warped sense of reality, all she could do was play along.
“How is it that you don’t even recognize your own kind? Don’t you know us?” Runa replied, looking crestfallen. “You said your mother was from here. Doesn’t she have that same mark on her waist?”
“Yeah, actually, she does,” Annika admitted.
“I think perhaps you are a relative of our long lost Magda,” Hilda said. “She left us ages ago, and it’s somewhat bittersweet to see you. You look so much like her and we thought she came back. We used to dance and sing together right here on the same river rocks that you fell off of.”
Annika remembered what Tosho had told her about the wood nymphs who wore green sashes and had their clothes stolen by men seeking wives. She had her doubts regarding their sanity, but the business about that birthmark, well, that was perhaps too coincidental to be a coincidence.
“So you really
the samodivi that I’ve heard about?” she asked slowly, still pretending to believe them. Runa smiled and nodded her head enthusiastically.
“You are part of us, even if you don’t believe it.”
“Maybe,” Annika admitted slowly, tracing her fingers over the once boring, now much more interesting birthmark. She began to feel more comfortable with her acquaintances. “When I was growing up, I never understood why other kids never liked to climb trees or explore the woods, or why they didn’t seem to understand how…” she trailed off, lost in sentiment. “They just didn’t understand
“Of course they didn’t,” Sariel agreed. Her expression had softened up considerably since Annika’s arrival. “You’re not from their tribe. I’ve followed our bloodlines for ages, although there has been a great deal of romantic intermingling between samodivi and humans. Sometimes the traits are so diluted that they become lost, although other times they’re so highly concentrated that you could pass for one of us. Even if your father was a Viking, your mother is still a samodiva.” She paused to look at Runa and Hilda. “Because of that, you belong to two different worlds—that’s why you have never belonged to just one.”
There was a chord struck in Annika’s heart, and although she wasn’t about to believe everything she was hearing, there was something about what Sariel said that explained years of teenage angst in an instant.
“That’s exactly how I’ve felt my whole life,” she admitted with hesitation. “Stuck between two worlds.” Sariel’ nodded sympathetically when she heard this.
“It’s the curse of our mortal children. Some of them, I suppose, are more affected than others.” There was a long silence as the women gave Annika time to let this thought digest properly.
“So there are others like me?” she asked, ignoring the pain in her ankle.
“There are actually more like you out there than you know, but it’s so difficult to keep track when you move halfway around your world and ours.”
“Yes, and it will be especially difficult to follow you now,” Hilda lamented. Annika was still in disbelief by all she was experiencing, unable to look past the insane notion that she might be talking to bona fide wood nymphs.
“Why especially now?”
“Because the path that brought you here is now gone,” Hilda replied. “That’s why you can’t simply walk back to your house in Sofia. I think your presence here is an omen.”
“I’m pretty sure that was just an accident. Are you saying I’m bad luck?”
“No, silly,” Runa said cheerfully. “She’s saying that you were meant to find your way home…back to your
home. Back to
. However,” she gave a great sigh. “You may be here a long time. Perhaps forever.”
“Forever?” Annika asked with a healthy dose of skepticism. “Why can’t we just go out the way we came?”
Hilda brought over the herbal paste she had been making, and when she applied it to Annika’s ankle she shuddered at how cool it felt. She was surprised to feel some of the pain slowly fade as Hilda wrapped it in thin strips of cloth.
“You can stick your head out through the water, but you won’t like what you see,” Sariel warned. “If you step through it, you’ll be lost indefinitely.” Annika wasn’t sure if she was speaking metaphorically or not, but she looked serious enough.
“Come on. That’s ridiculous.”
“Try it then,” Sariel dared. With her foot nicely bandaged up, Annika crawled over to the entrance of the cave, avoiding what bit of puddle still remained from her grand entrance. She stuck her head through the wall of water just enough to see a horrible sight. They sky was lit with blood-red sunlight from a blackened, coal-like sun. The searing hot sky burned her eyes, and on the ground was nothing but a desert of black sand. Instead of water, there was a river of fiery lava cutting through the landscape. She jumped back quickly and retreated to her blankets, feeling the shock of cold water dripping down her back once again.
that place?” she cried. She blinked and shook her head, but she still saw the eerie vision in her head. She began to seriously wonder if there was some type of hallucinogen in the water she’d drank earlier that day. There was no other explanation in her head for how she wound up in a cave with a bunch of Eastern European hillbilly hippies.
“We don’t know exactly what it is, but we know someone who might,” Hilda answered somberly.
“That’s why we should visit the Marinossians. Perhaps they know something about this situation and how to remedy it. Anthea will certainly be able to mend your ankle. Either way, they’ll have more information than we do. The elves are some of the oldest creatures we know.”
“I’m sorry, did you say
?” Annika repeated.
“Ooh, I can’t wait for you to meet them!” Runa squealed with glee. “They’re such a fun family! Especially Talvi. I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
“I suppose an entire month
a long time to
” Hilda said sarcastically. Then she and Runa grinned and giggled mischievously, looking at Annika again. Her eyes narrowed a little, wondering what the two weren’t telling her.
“What’s so funny?” she asked suspiciously.
“It’s silly…it’s nothing. But he’ll probably make you wish you had never laid eyes on him!” Runa sang in a playful voice.
“Who will?” asked Annika. “A little elf named Talvi?”
Hearing this, Runa burst out laughing, rolling on her back and shaking with rounds of giggles. Hilda turned around quickly so that Annika couldn’t see her trying not to laugh as she put away the mortar and pestle. Sariel just rolled her eyes and began packing a rucksack with vegetables.
“What could be so bad about him, and why’s it so funny?” Annika’s curiosity was peaked, as well as her suspected mental trip. She decided to stop fighting it and just let it play out. “Well? What kind of elf is he? Does he bake cookies and live in a tree? Or does he wear curly-toed shoes and make toys?” she pried, squeezing excess water from her hair. Her questions only seemed to make Runa laugh harder. “Are you going to tell me or not?
Runa sat up and wiped the tears of laughter away from her big brown eyes. “You’ll find out soon enough,” she said, and rose to join her sister who was making a vegetable stew. “Now we really need a good meal and a good night’s rest for tomorrow. When Sariel said we were leaving first thing in the morning, she meant it.”
“I’ll go anywhere I need to,” Annika said, too exasperated to argue with them about the existence of elves and wood nymphs. “I just need to get home. I know my uncle is worried sick. He’s going to be so upset when I don’t come home a second night in a row.”
Upon the sight of food, Annika’s stomach growled. The samodivi served the hearty vegetable stew with bread and honey for their supper. It tasted better than anything Annika could think of, except maybe
. After dinner the ladies sang a few songs in their enchanting, siren-like voices that echoed against the walls around them. Many of the songs were in languages that she’d never heard before, and after their lullabies had ceased, they retired to the soft blankets on the floor of the cave. Soon the only noise was the occasional crackle of the fire. Annika was thoughtful for a few moments, thinking about all she had learned in the past few hours. She was possibly related to these reality-challenged women, there was a gateway to a hellish realm on the other side of the waterfall where there should have been an open meadow, and she wasn’t calling a doctor or going home anytime soon because they didn’t have outrageous things like phones. Instead she was going to ride a deer through the forest to meet up with a little elf who sounded like a huge pain in the ass. The whole thing sounded ridiculous, but Annika knew she was exhausted. Plus, there had to have been something psychotropic floating around in that water she’d gulped earlier that day. This particular high wasn’t like anything else she’d ever experimented with in the past, but maybe they did things different in the backwoods of Bulgaria.
What seemed like only moments later, Annika heard a strange, grinding metallic noise.
. She opened one eye. It was barely light enough to see anything, but there was Sariel, sitting only inches away from the falling water.
. She was sharpening her sword with a stone, running it over each side of the blade and then wetting it in the cascade. Runa was already up and about, packing things into small bags. The weapons which had hung on the wall the previous day had been taken down, and Hilda was taking a tea kettle off the fire. Annika sat up, trying to collect her thoughts. Clearly she was still under the influence of something, but her mind was as crystal clear as that water she’d tasted. She couldn’t imagine what Vince was thinking, wondering what happened to his only niece. It upset her greatly to know she was unable to reach him, and at least reassure him that she was safe.
“Did you get enough rest?” Sariel asked without looking up from her sword.
“Yeah, I think so. I had really weird dreams, though. Like, stranger than usual.” Annika clutched her blanket tighter around her to keep out the chilly morning air, then hobbled over to where Sariel was working. Maybe she was barking up the wrong tree, but she felt determined to befriend her one way or another. At worst, Sariel would find her annoying. At best, she might be more likely to help her.
“Where did you get your sword?” Out of the corner of her eye, Annika saw Runa and Hilda’s heads jerk up at the question, but they said nothing. Sariel abruptly set the stone down, tossed her dark mane, and held out her sword for observation. Annika knelt down close to inspect the craftsmanship. The blade was etched with ancient writing and the hilt was designed to curl around Sariel’s dainty hand. Anything but crude, it was a magnificent work of art.
“The father of my children gave it to me,” she said in a voice that did not encourage questions or elaboration, and quickly resumed her task of sharpening. Annika thought for sure that by now, the blade could slice a gnat in half.
“Are you skilled with a weapon, Annika?” Runa piped up.
“I’ve used a bow and arrow before at summer camp. I guess I was pretty good at hitting my target,” Annika said with a shrug. “But that was years ago. I’ve done kickboxing on and off for the past two years, though.”