She was asleep on the ground. Around her were arrayed bags and travois, bales of hide and smaller lumps, like a play fort you might make. At first it seemed she slept there alone. I only had eyes for my friend. I knew her face, but there was something quite different about it, longer and with sharper angles. “Jella?”
She gasped and sat up, “Dream-walker?” A couple of the lumps around her stirred and one sat up. Oddly, this one looked almost as much like the Jella I remembered as did the one I had first identified as my friend. Eerily this younger Jella pointed at me and laughed. The little one spoke her strange tongue and was answered by my friend and yet not my friend.
Jella threw back her covering of sleeping skins and rose. I was not so young that I couldn’t tell that this was now not the girl I had first seen, but a woman. She quickly covered the shift she slept in with buckskin and colorful woolens.
She looked me in the eye, and a smile twitched the corner of her mouth. Her generous lips did not move more than that, but I heard in my head, “You haven’t changed in all these years, I wasn’t sure I’d see you again.”
I’m fairly certain I frowned, because I saw one reflected on her smooth adult face, “Ah, are you still in the sidhe? But I left you the lamp and the flint. . .” I suspect my frown turned to a blush, because her smile returned and she said, “did you forget?” She tsked, and I was uncomfortably reminded of my own mother, ” It should be right there at the beginning of the souterrain.”
“The tunnel thing? I forgot that too.” I felt heat on my face and neck and was sure now that if I wasn’t blushing before I was now. “It is so dark.”
“Well, the sun should be rising. It may not light your way much, but it should help you find the center. At mid-day the light should point you toward the souterrain as it is due north.”
I mumbled thanks. She smiled. Her hair was much longer than before. It was braided in thick ropes with bits of bright bead and bright cloth or leather, I wasn’t sure. I thought her very lovely.
“Dream-walker, meet my children.” She reached over and roused the lump on the other side from the little Jella who stared at me with big blue eyes. A tossle-haired boy sat up. “My children, Oren and Joy.”
“How is it that you have lived your life and I am still in this hole?” I thought to her.
“I can’t say,” She looked puzzled, “Perhaps you can walk through time as well as through. . .” She shrugged. “. . .You would know better than I. Mostly I see the dead, you were the first living spirit I ever saw. And until now the last as well.”
“You see the spirits of the dead?” I asked her as if I had not just heard her say so. I blushed again.
She nodded, but otherwise took no notice of the question, “If you were outside of your time when first we met I wonder what time you are in now? We have not lived in a sidhe in a six-year and more. I think that one has been sealed for eleven years since I saw you that night. There may have been another clan that took refuge, but we have avoided the old secret places, riding with the deer, to keep them safe and ourselves free.”
“To keep yourself free? What threatens you?”
Her face was pale from sleep, but she paled still more, “Could you possibly have not met the foul ones, the devourers?” Jella frowned not in anger but with concern. “Why are you alone in the sidhe, why haven’t your people come for you Dream-Walker?”
“I’m a scout, a searcher, I seek out new places for my people. We have been at a great river to the south.”
“Are you saying that your people are not in the secret place? They are still at the River? In the open?”
“My people always live in the open. . .”
“No no, they must not. The hordes of foul ones will kill and feed. You should not have come into the north. It has not been safe since before the giants came, and they are the worst of all.
“I can see you live on the land. Why can you do it but my folk can not?”
“You do not know. We track them, we watch. We herd the deer away to the far north. Dream-Walker, your folk must be warned. There is a great gathering of the foul ones. They are on the march. It is all we can do to keep the herds from them, to stay alive and free from them. If they find you they will gather and kill you all. They are made to destroy man, we are food to them.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“We have gone into the far north. That as much as any reason is why we left the sidhe that sheltered us during the long winters. This new plague of monsters and giants is worse than that of ice. You must warn your people, Dream-walker, you must warn everyone that the dark hordes will come and they must flee or die.” Jella’s face hardened, “Go to your people Dream-Walker. It may be too late already. . .”
And as if her words had the power I was snatched away. My friend and her family shrunk to a tan blotch among the smaller blotches of the herd and then they were gone. As I rose I saw the great whiteness of the frozen wastes beyond. I flew across mountains, watching the white, ice-locked peaks dwindle. I saw below me the stony knob and the hidden place in the bramble wood with its sidhe where I guessed I lay, but I did not stop nor slow though I drew near the ground.
Along the river I saw a man. He strode along the banks and suddenly I saw that he was immense. He dwarfed the trees. The giant man had hair of red and he looked at me as if he saw me. I rushed along the river, there were creatures among the trees. I saw an army of them, armored, and armed for battle.
Then I was in our camp. The creatures, foul ones Jella had called them, were all throughout it. The morning sun cast evil glints off their cruel looking weapons dazzling my eyes. My people were gone. I looked to the sun.