Usually, her strolls in the forest were no huge fuss. To Solitaia, many days they were simply known to her as sanity walks. Being around the sick and injured had its many rewards, but sometimes it could drive you into an unknown corner. Sometimes it could become so stifling that you started to die.
Just like Mother was doing.
This walk wasn't a sanity walk at this moment. It was the last walk she would have. The last walk she could have, with her mother.
Mother was breathing hard, clenching at her breast where the tumour lay, its slight bulk moving with her shallow breathes in tune. Her gaunt, lifeless face had creased with wrinkles of agony, as she had endured her silent torture. Mother's shuffling steps seemed all that the young lady could hear.
She wasn't old; she thought desperately, she was only nearing her fortieth season. She was young!
She wanted to shout out how unfair it was, for the world to take away a great person, a generous, kind person. One who put other people before her so far, that she had lost all her balance. All her life.
Her red hair now seemed so fragile, like a single strand would break at the slightest whisper. Her once beautiful body was now rail thin, her bones sticking out awkwardly under her now baggy dress. A dress that once used to fit perfectly.
Mother's gaze looked up at Solitaia, filled with pain from the lump, the destructive tumour. They had determined that it had sunk deeper into the chest cavity, onto the lung. Somehow, they figured, it had started to impede her breathing. From the lungs, it seemed to be spreading to her liver and kidneys, as well as her other organs. No matter what Solitaia had done to all these now forming tumours, it had only speeded up more.
"Taia, do you think we could just. . . sit for a moment?" Her mother rasped quietly, her once vibrant dark yellow gaze pleading up at her. Her soul seemed almost gone from those eyes now.
Until Mother had gotten ill, she hadn't realized how much she would miss her. Now it was the only thing she allowed herself to think of.
"Of course, mother," She struggled to smile brightly, to show courage. Her smile dimmed, the corners turning down into a frown as they stopped.
Heavily, mother sat down with her back against a tree. Solitaia followed suit. Mother smiled gratefully.
The frail woman turned her pained smile away from her daughter, towards the sky. Through the treetops, the clouds passed by, forming shapes by the meekly shining sun. Some looked like sheep, some like birds. To Mother, though, Solitaia thought fearfully, they looked like freedom.
Solitaia smiled weakly at her mother. The weary woman smiled with cracked lips back. Reaching heavily out, her mother rested a hand over Solitaia's, squeezing it tightly. Her cold hands felt like Death's upon Solitaia's heart. Death, who was stealing this beautiful woman away from their world rapidly.
Brushing away her tears with a free hand, she sat closer to her mother, her warm skin a stark contrast between her mother's cold, numb flesh.
"'Taia," Mother began, her rasping voice scaring and saddening Solitaia, "You must know something. Something I foresaw many years ago."
Solitaia snapped out of her mind, out of her anger and regret, and looked into her mother's now sharp commanding eyes, desperate to impart some hidden knowledge. Those eyes, that had once seemed so cold, so careless, filled with warmth and love, a love not seen by her daughter for many years.
"Mother, what would be so important that I must know it?" Solitaia began cautiously, wishing that they could sit together in shared silence forever. Mother cracked a sad smile, knowing burning now in her eyes.
"Everything must die, 'Taia," mother said calmly, flinching slightly at something.
"But you still have many years yet!" Solitaia burst out frantically, squeezing her mother's hand tightly. Mother strained to smile through her silent rift developing between her and the world. Solitaia, noticing, how tightly she clutched mother's hand, she let go.
" 'Taia, many others younger than I die in wars, as well as from plagues and diseases. Many younger than even you. I would like it considered that I'm old, compared to those poor souls. I would like you to realize I've lived a life many others never had a chance to. I've been a child, I've been a lover, and I've been a mother. What life could have been fuller than mine?"
Solitaia swallowed back tears, a lump forming in her throat once more. How could she deny that? Her mother was on her deathbed, sitting on moss and breathing in clear, clean air. Something she hadn't been able to do much over the last few years of working with the sick.
With a sigh, Solitaia bowed her head in silent defeat.
"Your right. . . but why. . ."
"That's not up for me to tell you, love," Mother replied, affectionately, brushing a wisp of stray white blonde hair away from her daughter's eyes.
"What I may tell you is this: Many years back, I had a vision. At the time, I had not been sure it had been anything more than a dream, but now. . . I know its truth. In that vision, you were depicted helping more people than I could with a hundred lives.
"And you were not a mere wise woman as I was of a small, almost unknown village in the mountains. You were with many important people, you were a warrior. You fought, you killed. . . but you repaid the lives you ruined with healing many more.
"I want you to be such a woman, Solitaia. I want you to do what I was afraid to do all my life. I want you to leave this village, to do something worthwhile, unlike what I have done."
Solitaia sat frozen, unsure of what to say to her mother's last request. How could she ever be an important figure in the world? She was no more powerful than Mother. She was no more talented than her, either.
Mother had helped countless men and women. She had trained midwives, to help bear children of the women in many nearby villages. She had found cures to common plagues that had none. She had counselled harsh marriages. How could Solitaia best that?
She had done much that was worthwhile, unlike her daughter.
"But you've done more than merely worthwhile work, mother! You've healed. . ." Solitaia began, before being stopped with a motion from her mother.
"Not nearly as much as you can possibly do. A warrior for women, a model, in dark times to come, a saviour to the wicked and wounded. Unlike me, you will be remembered long past your death. Unlike me. When you go, you will take the memory of me from this world."
"You'll be remembered by the countless you've helped, through stories to their grandchildren that speak of a incredible healer who didn't stop at any barrier that blocked her path!" Solitaia argued, Her mother's breathing slowing more by the minute. Her mother shook her head coolly, her ill conditioned hair barely moving with her head. A frown came to her mouth.
"Don't fight your destiny, little 'Taia. I was, I am, your mother. Please, take to heart my vision. If you don't. . . I'm afraid many darker fates will happen. I'm afraid for you. I'm also in awe of you. You've grown into a strong, young woman. Maybe still a teenager, you think of many more burdening things than I think many adults consider.
"Also, do one thing more than I ever have: enjoy life. Enjoy love. And cherish each moment that passes between you and your close ones."
"I. . ." Solitaia choked, her hand smearing the tears away as her mother's lungs rattled more and more with each breath that they released.
"Swear that to me, Solitaia!" Mother cried, her eyes burning with feverish desire for her acceptance. For a promise to be kept.
"I. . . I swear under the moon I was born under," Solitaia whispered, looking away, trying to hide the silent tears streaming down her face. Looking to the sun setting in the distance, listened to her mother's slowing breaths, refusing to look over at this strong person who had become weak. The person she couldn't accept she would never save.
"Thank. . .you. . ." Mother breathed wispily near her daughter's ear. Solitaia couldn't avoid the inevitable. She had to turn her head, to look at her mother and let her vanish with the dimming sun. To let her be pulled into a world of death. To watch her pain vanish into an unsolvable fate. To watch a death that couldn't be prevented, and shouldn't happen.
She turned towards her mother, who was slowly slumping more and more to the cold, moss covered ground. Her faint gold eyes looked gratefully to her crying daughter. If only she knew how much she was killing that strong young soul with her smile of gratitude, her smile of farewell. Maybe then, she wouldn't have smiled that last smile. But the dying have already moved on, the acceptance they inwardly felt was something that they couldn't refuse trying to share to the ones closest to them. In so doing, they presented the worst type of torture any living creature could give.
"Mother, just hang on. . . I. . Could save you! I just need more time. . ."
Mother continued her slump down the tree's trunk, her eyes half close, loving gratitude and trust and understanding shining up at her daughter's kneeling form, at the hands that pulled her into a faintly warm lap. A warm breeze blew up out of nowhere. Or maybe a somewhere, now not as exact as it used to have been, to the red-haired woman.
With a now almost unfeeling hand, she reached, almost tentatively up to that pure, porcelain smooth face, caressed it briefly one last time. A time she would try to remember in death. And during it, the warmth of another living, loving thing.
And then she was swept away into the wind, to some other time. To a hopefully happier time.
The unbidden cry that issued forth echoed harshly, despairingly through the trees.
"Mother. . ." the hollow voice repeated, shudders issuing through it.
Solitaia had never felt so alone before as she did with her mother's corpse resting in her arms. Not when even their relationship had been strained. They had still loved, and been loved by one another. In that time, Solitaia realized they had somehow gathered a deeper understanding of one another through the distancing that she had thought had occurred.
During the month that had passed since Mother had said she was dying, they had lived and laughed more than at any other time in her short life. In that time, she had discovered what a treasure mother was. Now it was lost to the depths of her memory, to be buried swiftly and easily.
I will not let this happen again. I will not let myself hurt like this again.
Gently laying the beloved woman's shed shell to the ground, Solitaia rose stiffly to her feet. Looking upon her mother's body, she repeated her promise. Her oath.
Never again. Never again.
With that as her spur, she hollowly picked up her mother's now light body, and started toward what had once been their destination, the meadow near the river, to begin her rites of passing. To cremate what was left of her mother.
She wasn't surprised to see Nana waiting for her in the middle of the meadow's green sea. Nana had known the fact near the end that Mother was dying. Both of them had realized this was probably the last day they would see Mother alive.
Sadly, Solitaia thought despairingly, they had been right. It was the last day of her death.
Nana saw the broken pieces in her charges eyes as she drew near, and mourned her soul's daughter, and how she would never be the same way she had been before. Before this.
Tears sparkling in their eyes, Solitaia started laying her mother into the grass, with the unnecessary help of Nana. With that, both women, young and old, went to woodpile hidden under a mound of grass to disguise it. Picking up the thick pieces, they began the work of building the funeral pyre.
It didn't take long; they had gotten the piece notched by the village's many wood worksmen. The man had been puzzled, no doubt, but he had done it was the elegance they had requested.
It took some twenty minutes when they had this finished, and her body upon it. Solitaia turned towards Nana.
"Should we invite the village?" She asked emotionlessly. Nana shook her head in response; unshed tears shinning within her eyes.
"After we have cremated her, and are readying to put the box containing her ashes into the earth, we must do so. That's the time the village can lament her death in the open. And you."
"I'd prefer to do so some other time, when everyone has left," Solitaia responded hollowly to the hint within Nana's reply. After that, they talked no more.
When they had arranged the body just right, Solitaia motioned Nana back, as she called upon her magic to make the fire underneath, in the wood they had stacked under the body's pyre.
It burst forth with a vengeance, her despair and hatred at the world's cruel ways fuelling it, and instantly ignited the crematory blaze. She cut it off after a few seconds, and slumped to the ground numbly to watch her life go up in smoke.
Nana only watched with sorrow, at the two she had loved, that were now lost. Both to different things. Both simply gone.
"She was a strong, courageous woman," Solitaia began numbly, absently scratching the back of one hand, as she looked out to the village, her face expressionless, tears no longer shinning openly in her eyes. Her mouth trembled only slightly after each set of words that sprang forth formally, as she commemorated her mother.
"She saved many lives, many of them were people standing among you," she continued solemnly. Many women were weeping, some holding a child, others a husband or friend. Many men looked on in depressed states, tears shinning in some of their eyes. Others concealed their loss better.
"She was a mother, maybe only to me, but a good one indeed. One who loved and taught, and patiently raised a child who could continue her work.
"She will be missed for eternity, and may none of us ever let her memory die."
Solitaia stepped away from the hole in the ground, where the box containing the ashes of both a fire and a mother lay. The villagers all stepped forward at once, gathering closer around the grave that had been dug in the meadow both mother and daughter had loved, to drop flowers and letters in. Letters that wished her good travels, and regrets. Others were just cards with blessings written on them. All of them could not warm a single piece in Solitaia's heart.
Condolences were voiced to Solitaia; hugs were shared with her, sorrow announced. She only managed to say a "thank you" or "I do too". She didn't think she could say anything more before she broke down into tears and cried herself to death.
After the last couple had trailed back towards the small village, Solitaia finally let every out.
In her customary black dress, she turned around and collapsed at the foot of the now filled grave. Her lamenting cries burst forth, screams and shrieks spreading in-between incomprehensible words.
As she silently let go of the rest of her heart, she read the final words etched into the tomb stone that had been specially been made:
Lived April 24, 1069 – June 6, 1109
Caring wise woman, Healer, Friend, and Mother.
Lived life, cherished life; loved, and was loved.
Eternally to be remembered.
With that, Solitaia's vision blurred, and she slowly cried herself to sleep beneath the cold gravestone.
A/n I hope you all liked this chapter. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed again.
Here are some replies to reviews I forgot to do in chapter 3:
Confectus Papilio— Thanks for your detailed comments. In a way, I guess, the point behind Solitaia is in a way she rises into some sort of divine being. In reality, she may not be, but people escalate her into such a thing. Oh, I'm confusing what I'm saying -- the way she is treated turns her into something almost inhuman, yet remaining human. The loss of her mother is the first step to this. So in a way, you could describe her as something divine, but in a far futuristic time. By people who knew her only briefly, or through stories of her.
Unlike my other stories, I'm going to add flaws as I go. Presetting them doesn't really work for her, I found. She is sort of perfect, I guess, but in a cold, hurt way. Her flaw is basically the fact that she refuses to be imperfect, really. She is overly harsh on herself (to be seen later) and all and all, overly critizes herself to become like her mother.
So those are what I would think some flaws. There will probably be more found out in future chapters, for sure.
Citizen of zozo: Thank you for reviewing! Much appreciated, as stated before. I'm glad you found the ailment different! At the moment, I haven't heard it much myself, and thought it would be a change.
In the meantime, I'm trying to show how even back in those times, people were starting evolve more into the society we know today. In the story so far, this is shown in the medical field.
I like blending some worlds, but this is only meant to be a small type of world blending. It's showing just the start of the shift to what we consider modern days, you know? ;)
Anyways, This will be the last chapter for a week or so, as for five days I'll be in Edmonton, enjoying the mall. Ah, haven't been there for a good time!
Good writing everyone!