Telwen’s Extraneous Tales: Close to the Heart
Telwen sat with eyes closed, her back to a gnarled old tree, absentmindedly plucking at her harp strings. The light of the evening sun set her copper hair aflame as the wind softly tousled the short strands. Nearby, an auburn-haired warrior was busy unbuckling her armor. Easing off the heavy plates she laid them carefully to the side and tugged at the padding beneath to cool herself off.
“I don’t know how you wear that stuff,” Tel remarked lazily, “I’d think it’d bake you like an oven.”
Caisil shrugged, “Better to be slightly baked than fully skewered.”
Looking over at her friend, Telwen noticed again the strange quilt piece that was stitched onto the chest of her padding. Pale green with delicate needlework flowers, it looked like an ordinary square of cloth, nothing too remarkable about it. Yet it had been painstakingly sewn right above her heart.
“Caisil, I’ve been meaning to ask you what is that decoration on your padding there? It looks like no heraldry I’ve ever seen.”
Her hazel eyes distant, Caisil laid a hand gently across the green cloth. “That’s because it isn’t heraldry. I-it’s something of a long story.”
Tel’s pewter eyes gleamed as she leaned forward excitedly. “Oh, you know how I love a story!”
Smiling at the little minstrel, Caisil settled down beside her. “I do at that! Once you start a rampaging cave-troll couldn’t stop you.”
Telwen laughed merrily, the sound echoing light and melodic off the trees. “Well now’s your chance for payback!”
“All right, I suppose we have time, but you’ll have to cook tonight in return.” Easing herself into a more comfortable position, Caisil stared out across the lake, green flecks swirling amidst the amber of her eyes. “I was fourteen the summer the fires started. It had been so dry that year that hay left in barns began to simply burst into flame. Even so we weren’t prepared for it to strike so close to home…”
“Addie? Kam?” Choking on the thick black smoke, she felt her way around the house.
Reaching towards the sound, she gathered her little sister up in her arms. “Come on Addie we need to get out of here. Where’s Kam?”
“I have him Caisil,” her mother’s voice floated to her through the gloom, “Get you and your sister outside!”
Flames crackled and hissed all around her as she ran barefoot through the black clouds billowing about her. Her eyes burned until the tears ran freely down her face, further blurring her vision.
“I’m scared Caisil,” came the soft whimper as Addie’s fingers tightened their grip about her own. Pulling her sister onto her back, she patted her shoulder reassuringly.
“We’re almost out Addie, just hold on.”
Addie screamed as a beam fell in a shower of sparks right beside them. Her breath coming in labored gasps Caisil stumbled around it and kept her eyes focused on the exit. Once outside she collapsed to the ground, gulping in lungfuls of the cool night air.
“Mother no!” Caisil’s head snapped around as her mother’s pained voice tore through yard. Her grandmother was running back towards the burning house as her mother tried desperately to restrain her. Leaping to her feet, Caisil ran over.
“Our family’s quilt is in there! Ten generations have added to that quilt, I can’t let it end here!” Tears were streaming down her grandma’s weathered cheeks, her watery blue eyes riveted to the flames licking at their home. Her jaw set determinedly, Caisil sprinted past the two women, pulling her shift over her mouth as she charged into the inferno.
The smoke swirled about her, stinging her eyes and disorienting her. Groping for familiar landmarks, her hands blistered from the heat. Flames roared hungrily along the walls, which groaned low in anguish as their weakened limbs began to crack under their own weight. Turning into what remained of their living room her heart fell as she saw the quilt on the floor, fire eating away at it. Throwing herself on top of it, she tried to smother what she could. Gathering the remnants to her chest she began crawling back towards the door. There was a terrible hissing sound and her arms flew to cover her head as an entire section of the attic came crashing down behind her, showering her with shards of burning wood and hot embers. Her hair and nightshirt caught fire and she gritted her teeth against the pain. As she drew closer to the door she could hear the shouts of her family above the roar of the flames. Leaping to her feet, she used the last of her strength to dive through the doorway into her father’s arms. Pulling the quilt out she looked down in dismay to find that only one small square had survived. Despondently she offered it to her grandma who clutched the tiny remnant to her chest.
“I’m sorry, that’s all I could save,” she whispered hoarsely, her throat raw from the smoke.
Her grandma laid a hand along her cheek, “Child, you went fearlessly into the very jaws of hell and look at what, against all odds, you managed to save. You did far more than anyone could have hoped. Thank you.”
“On her deathbed my grandma gave me that small square of quilt. I sewed it onto my padding here, to remind myself that I carry my family with me where ever I go and that that is what I fight for.” Tel made a small sound and Caisil closed her eyes wearily. “Please tell me you aren’t crying.”
There was a hurried sniff. “I’m not.” Popping one eye open she turned to the minstrel who sat hugging her harp, tears rolling down her cheeks. “That was such a beautiful story.”
Shaking her head, Caisil settled herself back against the tree for a nap. “You still owe me dinner. I feel like chicken.”