She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door.
As Arianna passed through the portal, a strange tingling sensation prickled her skin, as the images ebbed and flowed around her. They stretched and yawed, becoming as elastic as gum, twisting, folding and winking into and out of existence. Nausea induced by the visual vertigo welled up inside her. Shutting her eyes to the kaleidoscopic images, she reached into the air around her, seeking resistance to ground her senses. Suddenly, her feet touched a soft surface, and warmth bathed her face. Opening her eyes, a wide expanse of waist-high green grass stretched before her, and on the periphery, the leafy tops of trees rose high above the grass.
As she pushed through the grasses, the tender tips brushed against her outstretched palms. The smell of hay and honeysuckle drifted on the warm breeze, and the buzzing of insects weaved in and out of her cognition. What was this place? The book said nothing about where the door would lead — only that it would open where she willed it to be, which she had hoped would be home. So again, where was she? Even as she pondered this, she drifted closer to the trees, their dark green forms swaying slightly in the breeze, standing sentinel on the boundary of the field. Dark shadows yawned from beneath the boughs, as gold slants of light shifted and folded into the sparse underbrush as the leaves rustled in the canopy.
A narrow path passed between the underbrush passing deeper into the darkness, passing from light to dark and back again. She hesitated. Where would this lead? But even as the question lingered, the fact remained, any way she went would leave her with the same dilemma. So she stepped upon the path and moved into the shadows. Coolness bathed her skin, sending a brief shiver down her spine. The canopy rustled, splashing light around her. Dried leaves and pine needles crunched under her feet. Sounds of running water drifted on the breeze, becoming more pronounced as she walked. Passing around bend, her eyes spotted a small stream crossing the path, and at the juncture, some steppingstones disturbed the constant flow of the water, bending and redirecting it. Beyond the stream, the path disappeared into a clearing, filled with yellow and white flowers, which moved slowly in the warm breezes. She pulled up short, however, when her eyes fell upon the person squatting next to the stream. A woman dressed in rags, with long gray hair, kept her head bowed, as she slowly washed her hands in the stream. Her hands and arms glistened, as the blood that covered them sloughed off into the water, turning it red, as it snaked further into the woods.
Arianna gasped. The woman looked up slowly, her deep-set, reddened eyes studied the young woman, before speaking. “Why have you come back?” the woman demanded, “Haven’t you done enough?”
“I’ve done nothing,” Arianna protested. “I’ve just arrived here.”
“LIAR,” the woman shrieked, pointing a bony finger at her. “I saw you yesterday, with that man. You came to the village, said you would help, but then you did this,” she said holding up her bloodied hands. “Have you no mercy?”
“I don’t understand — I’m alone, and I’ve never been here before. What do you say I’ve done?”
The old woman studied her, then slowly stood up, and stepped closer. The taut and pallid face frowned steadily as she approached, her red eyes fixed on Arianna’s. Suddenly the old woman’s face relaxed, and her eyes softened. “You are not that girl, though you could be her twin. What is your name?”
“Arianna,” she told the old woman, who hissed loudly, causing Arianna to start.
Clucking her tongue, the old woman shook her head, “This is sorcery then. For the girl has your name too.”
Numbly, Arianna stared. But I have no sister. How could this be? She glanced down as her mind churned, then her eyes spied the red leather-bound book in her hands. “Excuse me–what is your name?”
“Rhinna,” the old woman answered.
“This man you say was with her. What did he look like?”
“Tall, thin. He has dark hair, clothing and carries a cane, with a silver wolf’s head–”
“Dathon!” Arianna interjected. “Yes, I know of this man. But how did he get here?”
“I would ask the same of you,” Rhinna replied, her eyes narrowing.
Arianna felt light-headed. How could she explain the book? “I was traveling, and got lost, that is how I came to be here.” She looked around, “But what is this place?”
“You are in the Kingdom of Aldewater, I live in the nearby town of Eldgharst”
“I’ve never heard of this place,” Arianna replied softly. But the door only opens to where I will it, or so the book said, so why did it send me here?
“This, Dathon, you speak of — how do you know this man?”
Did she dare to say it? How would Rhinna react if she did? For a moment, she struggled with the dilemma, then finally spoke the words, “He is my husband.”