She ran along the wooded path, past towering ancient trees that loomed over her, towards the sea. Ravens squawked as she passed, disturbed by her footsteps, but quieted after she thundered by, though their black eyes followed her till out of sight. It was a cold morning, no snow or frost but as her Gran would say, ‘there’s a bite in the air.’
Despite the chill her face was beaded with sweat when she finally arrived at the sea. Waves threw themselves at the shore like an invading army, grim and unrelenting, at least until the tide changed.
Leaving footprints, she now walked to the large outcropping of rocks that stood at the edge of the ocean. Carefully, because she had fallen into the icy waters before, she climbed to what she called her throne, a niche of rock that she could sit in comfortably, or as comfortably one could on wet cold stone.
Squawks of ravens a distant memory, she watched the gulls circle above the water. Sometimes they sounded sad, other times as if they were inviting her to join them and soar across the sea. Whatever their mood, it always filled her longing.
“Are you going to do something today,” the Voice asked.
She didn’t know who the Voice was. A spirit? Maybe even the ocean itself. She could be mad. Hearing voices was not something you shared, it often ended badly for those who admitted it. And yet, her Gran had told her to listen to that little voice inside her head when she was unsure what to do.
The Voice was not little. It was deep and wise sounding and only spoke to her on her throne.
“I’m not sure,” she replied.
“You are never sure.”
“Don’t be cruel.”
With a rumbling sigh, the Voice replied, “I have no wish to be cruel, but you come here often and just stare out.”
“That’s doing something.”
“I suppose so.”
A wave slammed against the base of the rocks and fine spray erupted, leaving a taste of salt on her lips.
“Is there nothing better to do?” inquired the voice.
“All my chores are done.”
“I just like looking out.”
“Are you hoping to find something?”
“And what is it you are looking for?”
“I’ll know it when I see it.”
“Ahhh,” the Voice responded.
Suddenly, the gulls dived to the surface and a feeding frenzy began. As quickly as it started, it ended and they rode the wind again.
“There is much out there,” observed the Voice.
“Across the sea.”
“People and places.”
“We have those here,” she sniffed.
“You want to see what else there is,” stated the Voice. It was not a question.
She sat silent for a while before replying, “I do.”
“I thought as much.”
“What are they like? All those other people.”
“Some are kind, others wicked.”
“How can you tell one from the other?”
“It’s not always easy.”
“It should be.”
“Many things should be.”
Frowning she looked back to the woods. They offered no wisdom. The trees never spoke to her.
“What else is out there?”
“Wonders and disaster.”
“If you don’t really know, just say so.”
“Were I were to catalog it all, you would die of old age before I would finish.”
“Ha! That sounds like a lie!”
“It is not.”
“There can’t be that much out there.”
“But there is.”
“Tell me one thing.”
“Very well. Far from where you sit is a grand city called Nanthotept. In it, thousands of people live. It is surrounded by a mighty wall, taller than the trees behind us. There is a university where the wise come from all corners of the world to study.”
“People travel to study?” she asked suspiciously.
“What else do they have?”
“A zoo with animals from distant lands, where people can come and marvel.”
“Do the animals enjoy it?”
“As with all living things, there is no one answer.”
“It seems cruel, to lock up someone just so they can be gawped at.”
“What else do they have?”
“It is a center of trade, it is been said if you cannot find in the markets of Nanthotept, it does not exist. There are lush gardens, filled with flowers and plants of every color.”
“They are very boastful.”
“Perhaps, though many have sung their praises.”
“If you say so.”
“At the gates, there are two, enormous statues. One is a man with the head of a bull, the other, a woman with the head of a lion. It is said, if the city is in peril, they will come to life and defend it.”
“How many times has that happened?” she asked excitedly.
“So it’s just a story.”
“Maybe. But no one has been foolish enough to try.”
She pondered this as the tide began to retreat, the waves crashing further and further away.
“I think that I’d like to visit that city,” she finally said.
“But not today.”
“It is a great distance from here.”
“There are things I need to do.”
Standing, she looked towards the woods.
“I should go back now. Gran will need me to help with supper.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Until then,” the Voice replied, ever patient.
Climbing down she followed her footprints back to the treeline. Just before entering the forest she paused and looked out over the water. The Voice was silent. She never heard it here. ‘I’ll start tomorrow,’ she promised herself as she ran home.