Hideaway Fall Writing Challenge Day 4 – Dwale

Another day, another word I’ve never seen or heard before! It made for a challenge today.

Today was a touch more of a struggle. A word I’d never heard or seen before meant a bit more thinking was needed. It took me a bit longer to work out what I wanted to do this time. That said, I came up with a little something!

***

With autumn’s first chilly caress the seasons were changing once again. Food would soon become scarce. The men were out hunting meat to get the village through the long, dark winter. There was a crisp scent in the air, snow would not be too far away. Alfhild was a restless soul. She had been ever since she was little. She dreamt of heading out on raids with the warriors, but that would still be years off for her. For now, she contented herself in the wondrous nature around her. Crystal clear lakes of glacial waters were enveloped by vast, dense forests. Beyond them, the soaring peaks of mountains loomed high above.

Alfhild picked up her basket, intent on making the most of the forest before the weather declined. She bid her mother and younger siblings farewell as she set out on an afternoon of foraging. She gathered nuts and berries as she went along, filling her basket with provisions that would be preserved and put aside.

She lost track of time, and lost her way. She began to panic, every rustle in the bushes and undergrowth exaggerating her fear. She took a breath, realising it was just her imagination. She was hungry and tired. She would feel better for some food, then she would find the path home. In a clearing the grass was littered with mushrooms. They looked somewhat familiar, so decided they would offer her a nutritious treat to get her home. She decided to pick enough to take home with her. The men would be pleased with her foraging, her finds would be perfect with the meats they would bring back with them.

Finding a fallen tree, Alfhild sat on its moss-covered trunk as she absently ate handful after handful of mushrooms. They tasted earthy. She decided to rest a while in the sun before she headed home. She couldn’t be sure if she had fallen asleep or not, but the shadows had stretched out and the sky had taken on the orange hue that heralded the beginning of sunset. She felt odd as she sat up. Everything looked so vibrant and colourful, and yet so soft. Her limbs felt heavy, like walking through molasses. She strode off into the forest, humming a tune to herself. She looked around her, seeing something not quite there.

Alfhild had been away all day. Her mother had become frantic, other villagers tried to calm her. People set out into the darkening forest in search of the missing girl. They crashed through the bushes, hacking their way noisily through the undergrowth, calling out, imploring to her to come towards their voices. 

She heard them. But something was wrong. Slicked with sweat even on a rapidly cooling evening, it covered her skin. The woodland creatures, mischievous spirits that all children were told tales of, were calling to her. She ran away from them, avoiding their screeching, cackling, giggling voices beckoning out to her. Her vision blurred, but she pushed on. The lake. She had an idea somewhere in the back of her mind that she ought to follow its shoreline. She ran, and stumbled, and tripped her way over the obstacles. The horrid spirits chasing her were closing in.

Light. In the near distance, she could make out lights. It must be the village. Alfhild clumsily splashed through the shallows, looking over her shoulder. She was certain she could see little things chasing after her, their high-pitched cackling voices taunted her. Distracted, she ran headlong into something solid, unyielding. It sent her sprawling to the shore. Looming over her was a vile, huge dragon. It’s wild eyes rolled around in its head as its bellowing roar tore the night air. It breathed a blinding goat of flame into the autumn air. The girl was certain she could feel a burning sensation searing her cheeks.

Strong hands gripped her under her arms, dragging her away from the beast, certain it was the forest spirits carrying her away. She thrashed and screamed as a torrent of cold water drenched her face. In a split second, clarity returned. She looked up to see the stern, bearded face of her father staring down at her, concern widening his eyes. Villagers surrounded her. Her delirium subsided slowly. Looking about her, she saw no spirits, no dragons – only longboats.

Carried back into her homestead, her mother followed, gathering her basket. Back inside, realisation dawned. The mushrooms. Alfhild had eaten them raw. No wonder she had been hallucinating so heavily. She had never been so ready for winter, the bleak snow-filled season that would confine her to the village, away from tempting fauna in the forest.

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