vii. the white spire

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Sidra POV

***
"Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearful flight.
For the greatest tragedy of them all,
Is to never feel the burning light."
                           
    - Oscar Wilde

***

I kept walking, pushing one leg in front of the other, trying to ignore the heavy exhaustion dragging me down. It filled up my mind and tugged at my eyelids. I raised my head and stared ahead. Nothing but wild meadow and sparse wood. I scanned the horizon, desperately searching for a tower, a spire or two, that would signal a town. The gods were smiling on me. In the distance, a white spire projected up, breaking the monotony of the plain blue sky. Encouraged, I put the last of my spirit into my legs and willed them forward. They protested, and I sunk down upon the heather. I couldn't afford to slow down, I needed refreshment, I thought to myself, as my eyes closed.

When I awoke, I couldn't say how many hours had passed. The sun was inching towards the west, and a cool breeze filtered through the grass. Wild rabbit skirted around my feet. They had grown accustomed to my presence – I had lain here so long. I looked ahead, half afraid the single spire would have disappeared; half afraid that it would turn out to be a hallucination caused by lack of rest. It was still there. An antenna of hope. A wave of relief flooded through me. I got up. The rabbits scampered away – the mountain was moving. I walked towards the spire, focussing on nothing else, pausing now and then to take a few sips of water from the flask that hung at my belt. The spire slowly came nearer. It eventually multiplied into dozens of smaller spires and towers. Numerous tin roofs caught the sunlight, and the faint chatter of population reached my ears on the breeze.

I stepped through the invisible line that separated the civilized and the wild, and a freshness effused into my bones. I was suddenly revitalized, and ready for the world – a great contrast to few hours back. I remembered the visions. A white modern building on a meadow, beside a large fjord, - my destination.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, jolting me out of my thoughts. "wake up lassie. You're in the way" I turned, and nearly collided with a man rolling along a wheelbarrow filled with apples. I scrambled out of the way with a mumbled apology. The apples looked appetizing – large and red, like rubies on the crown of a Mongolian princess. My stomach rumbled, reminding me of my body's material wants. I rummaged in my purse. Taking out a few stray coins, I offered them to the man. He accepted them and threw me two apples. Grateful, I sunk my teeth into one, stashing the other away for later. It was crisp, and the juice filled my mouth, a few drops rolling down the side of my lips.

Nibbling on the apple, I wandered through the town, looking for an inn I could lodge at, perhaps ask for directions to the white edifice. Buildings lined both sides of the paved street – mostly shops. There were grocery stores and bakeries, pubs and boutiques. The people milling around the shops gave me astonished stares. Even the youths sauntering along lost in their phones took out enough time to give me a surprised glance. Puzzled, I looked at my reflection in the glass window of a hairdresser's. I gasped, shocked. The girl in the mirror was an absolute wild animal – with tangled hair falling over her dirt-smeared face, and tattered muddy clothes.

______

The bell jingled, as I stepped into the small store. The woman behind the counter looked at me with a mixture of open disgust and horror. She bustled out, intending to turn me away. I pulled out my purse and explained my case, the story I rehearsed again and again. To my relief, it came out pat - I was a hippie traveler, going to visit my uncle, and I had to spend many nights camping out on the road. She relented, if not fully convinced, and let me look through her merchandise, under her strict watch, of course. Picking out a plain blue skirt and a white blouse to match, I paid her and turned to leave, when she called me back.

"I don't mean to be rude, lassie, but you sure understand its not common for a young girl like you to leave home all alone. I know you're not a beggar, your manners and bearing are like that of a well-bred lady. If you'd like a place to stay the night, my home is just above the shop, and I've got a spare room ever since my daughter died, so if you'd like to camp out here for the night, I'd be glad to accommodate you"

I was touched. "Thank you, ma'am, but I'm afraid I might be a burden"

"Oh, not all dear. It will be nothing but a pleasure" she assured me, a bright smile gracing her face.

I accepted, marveling at the extent of kindness in this woman. She led me up the stairs to the room, and left me there, reminding me to be down for dinner at nine. The room was small, but clean, and comfortably furnished. Walking into the pristine bathroom I stripped and turned on the shower. The searing hot water flowed down my body, and I allowed myself to relax, and think. I wondered what my stepmother would be doing right now. Not searching for me, I was sure. She was glad, I knew it. Especially after Sage. She was glad to be rid of me. I thought of dad. A tear escaped my eye and rolled down my cheek. I pictured him in one of the many pubs in my hometown, drinking his sorrows away. I doubted he remembered me at all. He must be happy, reveling in one of his booze-filled fantasies.

I shook my head, suppressing the memories. This was no time for weakness, I reminded myself. I won't be a prisoner to the past, I resolved. My purpose was clear – to find that building. The repeated visions couldn't be wrong. That building held a place in my future, I was sure of it. And I had to find it.

I stepped out of the shower and pulled on the new clothes. The soft, clean fabric was a pleasant change from the mud and grime of the past few days. I looked up at the clock – eight thirty. I made my way downstairs to the kitchen.

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