by CJ Clark
Cressida’s long brown hair blew in the breeze. She stood looking over the valley with its lush green trees and grass. She closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of pine trees and the smell of rain promising to come.
The sudden change in the atmosphere shifted Cressida out of her peaceful mood. She sprung her eyes open, alarm quickening her breath. Cressida heard the faint sounds of hooves in the distances, like a drum beating to a rhythm.
She gathered up her long skirts and ran. Her throat constricting and her heart pounding in her chest as she tried to escape the deep dread.
The sounds of screams and gunshots were heard as Cressida forged on. A sickening silence filled the air and she froze for a moment stricken with heartache. She forced herself to go on, running along the path to the village. The air was heavy with death and evil. Cressida made her way past familiar faces of men, women, and children, she known all her life. Their faces frozen in horror, blood spilling, and seeping into the earth beneath them. Tears streamed down Cressida’s cheeks as bile
threatened its way into her throat. She covered her mouth trying to push it down, making her way to her house, sobbing.
Her mother appeared in the doorway. A revolver in her right hand and blood soaking the front of her dress.
Cressida caught her mother and they collapsed onto the porch.
“Where’s Pa? Lily Ann?” Cressida said, looking around frantically.
“Pa’s dead,” her mother said, wincing with pain. “Listen Cressida, I don’t have much time.”
“NO!” Cressida held her mother tighter, weeping.
“Be strong,” her mother squeezed her hand. “They took Lily Ann. Find her.”
“Mama, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” she smiled at Cressida. “Now is the time for you to be brave. Promise me you’ll find her,” she reached out, cupping Cressida’s face. “My beautiful daughter, I love you. Remember Pa and I will always be with you. Carry us here,” she placed her hand over her daughter’s heart. “I…I love you both,” her mother’s eyes fluttered as she drew her last breath. Cressida held her, sobs shaking her whole body.
“Mama, I promise I’ll find Lily Ann,” Cressida vowed.
Cressida heard a noise to the right of her. She slipped her hand around the butt of the revolver that laid near. She was no stranger to guns. Her pa taught her to shoot at the age of ten. A man appeared and locked eyes with Cressida.
“Well, what do we have here?” the man sneered, walking towards her.
Cressida clamped her jaw, narrowing her eyes as she brought the gun level and fired. The man’s eyes widen in surprise. A curse escaping his lips as he staggered , falling face first inches from her.
Lily Ann, she thought, leaping up and scanning the area. Cressida spotted a group of men on horses with her. Cressida launched forward in a run when a hand snaked out, grabbing a handful of her hair. He yanked her towards him. She screamed and fought him. Cressida felt a sharp cold metal press against her neck. A sting then pain piercing through her. Cressida’s eyes opened wide in shock. She
grasped the wound with one hand. The warm liquid spreading down her neck and hand. A cruel laughter erupted from the man as darkness overcame her.
A terrifying scream shattered the room. Cressida’s heart slammed hard in her chest and her pulse roared in her ears as her hand flew to her neck. No, it wasn’t a dream she thought. Cressida tried to sit up, but pain shot through her. She looked around her surroundings.
Where was she? How did she get here? She wondered.
Cressida pushed the pain to the back of her mind as she sat up.
The house had a sense of warmth and comfort. A table stood in the center of the room. Jars of herbs and spices lined the shelves against the far wall. A small wood stove stood to one side of the room. A single window in the kitchen let in a stream of light.
A door opened as a man and woman entered. The man towered over the petite woman. Power and strength seemed to radiant from him, but there was a gentleness in his eyes and a warmth in his smile that wrapped Cressida up like a blanket.
“Well, it’s nice to see you up,” the man said, smiling. “I am William and this is Ellie. We arrived at the village to find a massacre. You were the only survivor.”
Cressida nodded as she blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall.
“You have been in and out of consciousness for the last week,” Ellie said, moving to the kitchen. She ladled a scoopful of liquid into a cup, bringing it to Cressida. “Herbal broth to help nourish and strengthen you,” Ellie said.
Cressida sipped it, enjoying the flavors before she described what happened.
William took Cressida under his wing, teaching her to read the land through signs the earth provided, to navigate using the sun and stars, and to shot a bow. Ellie poured her knowledge of herbs, medicine, and plants she could eat in the forest to give her strength.
Six full moons passed and Cressida grew restless. She walked along the path with Ellie and William. The moon sitting high in the night sky while tiny sparkling gems twinkled. The warm breeze caught Cressida’s hair, twirling it around her as she listened to the wind.
“Find her,” she could hear it whispering to her. “It is time.”
“I feel mother earth speaking,” Ellie said, turning to face Cressida. “You must go find your sister.”
Cressida nodded as William and Ellie embraced her.
The next morning, Cressida mounted the brown stallion William gave her. She turned the horse into a slow walk. She paused after a few seconds and leaped down, running into William and Ellie’s open arms.
“I’ll never forget you and what you have done,” Cressida said, tears slipping down her face.
Cressida lingered in their warmth and strength. She reluctantly pulled from their arms.
“Good luck to you,” William said.
“Be safe and well my child,” Ellie said.
At the edge of the field, Cressida turned, looking one last time before putting the horse into a gallop.
“She will be fine,” William said, hugging his wife.
“Yes, you are right. But I fear a hard and treacherous road lays ahead of her,” Ellie said, wiping the tears from her eyes.
Cressida arrived at the village she once called home in the early evening hours. She scanned the area, memories flooding her of the attack. It seemed like years, instead of six full moons ago. Her eyes slide across an object laying near the porch. She reached out, picking up a doll. Lily Ann’s. Cressida recalled her mother sewing it for her second birthday. She ran her fingers over it before placing it in the saddlebag.
Cressida paused at the door before she stepped through the threshold, memories flooding her. She took a deep breath.
“Ma, Pa, I’m here. I haven’t forgotten my promise,” she said out loud.
The sunrise peeking over the horizon stirred Cressida out of her slumber. She stretched before slipping her boots on. She slipped the two guns into the holster. A bowie knife hooked on her belt. She strapped the bow on her back.
Cressida stood in front of the mirror. She no longer recognized the girl anymore. Her face had hardened and she grew up quickly since the attack. Her eyes filled with sheer determination, her mouth forming a straight thin line that no longer laughed. She gathered up her long braided hair, slicing it with a knife. She ran her fingers along
the thin scar that marred her long neck. A scar that would forever bound her to her mother’s words.
Cressida reached the edge of the village and took one last look. The sky filled with smoke and the yellow-orange flames engulfed the house.
Be brave, be strong, her mother’s words filtered through her.
No, she was no longer that little girl. Instead, a warrior now stood in her place.