The closer Eirwyn and I got to the coast, the heavier the mist was as it came around me. I could barely see in front of me, but Eirwyn knew where she was going. Something other than me was guiding her, calling her. I was frightened. I didn't know where she was taking me or what I would find when we got there. I could hear nothing but the crash of waves against the cliffs, and all I could smell was the salty air of the sea. I had never been to the sea, but my excitement at seeing the vast waterscape was dampened by my fear of the unknown.
A break in the mist let me see that Eirwyn was walking alongside the cliffs, and the ocean was so far below I couldn't see it through the mist, only hear it. We were headed downhill, so I imagined that the cliffs lowered into a beach of some kind. My thoughts were proven when the green grass on the Cliffside gave way to pliable, mushy sand. Eirwyn had no trouble navigating herself to the ocean's edge. She stopped in the path of the waves so that the water bubbled up around her hooves. She didn't seem to mind the coolness of the water.
I looked out at the endless expanse of grey water. I could see jagged rocks pushing their way up through the surface, and standing firm so that waves crashed against them, breaking into white sea foam. There was froth and bubbles on the edges of the waves that came up around Eirwyn.
"Where to now?" I asked her, as she made no indication that she was going to move further from that spot. Eirwyn's eyes were fixed on something far out into the sea that I could not see. I dismounted, and my mare didn't move an inch. She didn't even show that she noticed I was no longer on her back; she just stood as still as a stone, looking out into the clouds that hung low on the water.
The skirt of my dress began to get wet as a wave rolled in and around my ankles. The ocean water was very cold, but the tanginess of its smell and the smoothness of its caress made it impossible for me to step away. I picked up my skirts to keep them from getting wet and heavy, and I let my bare feet wiggle in the sand. The sand was strange, different than the sand by streams and rivers and lakes. If was much finer sand, softer, and muddier, but I found that when rubbed on my skin, the sand left my skin soft and velvety. I was reveling so much in the sights of the beach that I didn't notice all the sea birds that were overhead, not until they started making loud noises and swooping. They made me nervous, but then Eirwyn let out a low sound in her throat, and I looked back at her. She was still staring out at the sea, so once again I followed her gaze.
In the dense fog and mist I could make out the shape of what looked to be a boat of some kind. I went to Eirwyn's side and rested a hand on her back. She turned to me, moving for the first time since our arrival, and nudged me. It wasn't a playful nudge. It was a comforting nudge, a nudge that filled me with warmth and strength. The boat was close enough now that I could see a single feminine figure standing on it. The boat was large for one person to operate, large enough for two people and a horse. Eirwyn kneaded the sand with her hooves in a display of happiness. It was a response she normally only showed to Aren or me, and I felt myself wondering who this woman was that my horse felt she knew.
The woman on the boat had one large paddle in her hands, and she propelled herself forward with ease. The boat was in the shape of a giant leaf with the sides curved up, and the veins running along the wooden bottom. The paddle had a similar design and shape to it. The woman soon came completely into view, and I felt my breath stop in my throat for a moment. She was beautiful, her hair hung down to her lower back in straight locks of silky smooth gold. She wore a dress of pale green that complimented her fair skin tone, and resting against her legs there was a quiver of arrows, and a war bow. She was not significantly tall, but she seemed to be enlarged just by the way she held herself, like a leader.
The boat slid onto the sand, and the woman stepped onto the beach. She was the same height as me, and we both had the same pale skin. Where her eyes were piercing blue, mine were amber brown, and where her hair was fine and golden blonde, mine was thick and black. She looked at me squarely, she was several years my senior. I could see the lines of age etched on her face, but she still held herself proudly. She studied me for a moment, looking over every feature as if she had seen me before.
"Branwen," She said my name in a deep, handsome voice.
"How do you know me?" I asked. She just smiled at me and motioned to the boat.
"It is time to leave this place," She said. I looked back along the path that Eirwyn and I had traveled. I could see the outline of the village hidden in the mist, but it was there, and it was where I had lived for as long as I could remember. It was home. A regretful pang of longing swept over me, and I dropped my skirts back into the water.
I had never belonged with Eileen, Finn, Magnar, and Kaya. They weren't like me, their hair was a much lighter color, often with reddish hints; their skin was fair and freckled. They were taller, more temperamental, and war hungry. They hunted heads for sport, and only believed what made sense to them and nothing else. What did it matter that we were so different, they had still cared for me, and I found myself thinking that leaving would be a betrayal to their kindness. They were my home, weren't they?
"How long has it been since you have felt like you belong among those people?" The woman asked me. "How long, Branwen, since you have had a conversation that made you feel like you wanted to live that lifestyle forever?" I thought about the woman's words. Had I ever felt like I belonged, had I ever spoken to the Clan and known they were my future? Was it loyalty and longing to be among them that made me hesitate, or was it the fact that I didn't know what was to happen if I left?
I had always longed for a different life; when Eileen was showing me to spin yarn I hadn't been able to focus because I had been thinking of far off places and what they were like. Eirwyn and I would gallop as far away as fast as possible just so I could feel free and alive. My head turned once again back out towards the ocean. I couldn't see where this strange woman was taking me, but Eirwyn was sure, and my very blood sang with the idea. It was my mind stopping me, my own uncertainties. The woman was holding her hand out to me, waiting for me to make my choice.
I reached out and took the woman's hand setting my mind in the direction of what I didn't know. I stepped into the boat, and was followed by Eirwyn. With significant strength, the woman pushed the boat back into the waves, and she jumped in. Taking up the strange paddle again, she swept it through the water and propelled us forward into the mist.
I wondered how the woman knew where we were going. I could barely see the water in front of the boat. Every now and then we would pass a rock protruding from the surface of the sea, but the woman was never close enough for me to fear damaging the boat. We must not have been too far from the coast of Eire, because the water never seemed to get too deep. I could feel the woman's paddle touch the bottom of the ocean now and then. I gripped the sides of the boat every time a wave jostled us. The mists grew denser, and almost seemed to weigh heavily on my shoulders with a suffocating weight. My breathing felt labored, and I looked back at the woman to tell her how uncomfortable I was in the mist.
The woman was not looking at me though. She had her eyes closed, and her arms straight down, palms pointed at the bottom of the boat. The air around her shimmered and the waves splashed higher against the boat until the spray was getting me wet. I watched the woman as she stood as still as a figurine, the only part of her that moved was her lips as the muttered words I could neither hear nor understand. The mist descended on us and it thickened, making it impossible to see anything beyond the sides of the boat. A small whimper escaped my lips as I couldn't understand what was happening.
Finally, the woman opened her eyes. Her posture relaxed from its rigidity, and she was wearing a smile. In that instant I could breathe again. The mist was no longer suffocating me, in fact, it was starting to dissipate. I could make out the form of an island, not too far off in the distance, a large shadow looming over us. The woman was using the paddle to guide us once more. Eirwyn, my loving mare, had not made any indication that she had been frightened by what had happened in the mist. It was curious to me that she felt so comfortable and trusting of this new woman. It bothered me a little, I liked that in the Clan, I had been the only one, other than Aren, who could touch Eirwyn, ride her, give her treats, and sometimes even get close to her.
The mist was almost completely cleared by now, and I could make out a clearer picture of the island. Mostly covered in thick, green jungle, the island looked primitive and old. The boat pulled up at a small dock that turned into a dirt pathway into a small village. The village was in the outskirts of the jungle where the trees were smaller and spread apart more. All the huts were small and seemed only large enough to house individuals, but there were two larger huts at the edge of the village. The woman I was with hopped out of the boat and tied it up. Eirwyn got out next, and they both looked at me expectantly. I stood, my legs shaking slightly, in fear, in unease, whatever it was, they were shaking.
"Welcome to Avalon, Sister," The woman that had brought me here said as she helped me to the dock. "Shall we get you something more comfortable to wear?" She asked holding out her hand. I took the woman's hand and she led me towards the village. It was quiet and empty, but between the huts and trees there seemed to be endless gardens of herbs and flowers. A soft breeze drew their scent to me, and it was powerfully delicious.
"You may call me Sonja," The woman said in her deep, handsome voice as she brought me to a small hut. "This is my home," She added. We both entered the hut, and Sonja found me a dress of pale lavender. She left while I changed. The fabric was made of yarn from a material I did not recognize. It wasn't sheep's wool, which was what I was used to working with on Eire. The dress was lighter than I was used to, and air flowed through it easily, making my comfort level go up. The fabric was soft and silky, and I felt sheer delight as it ran over my skin.
When I exited the hut again, Sonja was waiting for me. She smiled upon seeing me, and opened her arms. I ran to her, falling into her embrace, and hugging her. The gesture was so full of love and warmth, I felt like I had known her all my life, and we were being reunited after a very long time. My eyes became wet with tears because of the joy and warmth I felt.
"There are many you must meet, and much you must see, before you can settle," Sonja said releasing me. She kissed my forehead, and held my hand tightly as she began to lead me through the village.