Treed

Generator: The story’s protaganist is female and not human. ‘In a tree’ plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a place between worlds in the medieval age. The story is about fear.

She licked her wounds, blood-salty, and let the sun warm her fur. In the middle distance she could hear a brook whispering over smooth, worn rocks. The fat branches of the tree would hold her up. Even if she drifted into healing sleep she would be safe here.

Below her, troops marched by, and she pushed the pain into the old, cold part of her mind so that she could concentrate on the classes of peril she might yet face.

Sunlight winked off of a motley assortment of armour and weaponry. The knights and the high-born wore and carried items polished to a high sheen, sufficient to throw funhouse reflections of the sky and the trees of the grove they passed through. The poor, if they wore armour at all, wore dull metal plates held together by leather or cloth, and their weapons had a workaday look to them, swords of truly awful balance made of inferior metal, as likely to shatter as to defend their owners. The cat woman wondered how many of them understood what they’d been pressed into, or even understood the Latin that the gentry spoke. A confused gabble of speech rose from their ranks, quelled now and then when one of the knights riding outrider shouted something or struck a man with the flat of his sword.

They marched on, headed south, to slaughter Saracens and in turn be slaughtered by them.

The cat woman looked with longing at the hillock where she’d buried her chord-driven time machine. The river of men flowed over it still, a line reaching nearly to the horizon in either direction. This war would be the war to end all wars, she thought sardonically. Till the next one.

#

At nightfall they encamped, some of them directly beneath her. Fires appeared, and she had a brief quiver of fear, watching the sparks dance upwards past her, wondering if they would burn the grove in their foolhardy ignorance.

Some sang songs, others went to the brook to wash faces and hands, others still skewered meats and breads to cook over the flames. The cat woman drifted in and out of sleep, her wounds closing, tiny beings in her bloodstream foaming out to form dams against sepsis and airborne particles. She dreamed of home, of capering up carpeted walls in pursuit of her husband and their brood of children.

In the morning fog had erased the world, and she knew for sure that this was a thin place, a spirit grove where the walls between worlds was fined down to a papery thickness. The men below sensed it too, if she was any judge. They kept their voices pitched low;  any echoes were swallowed by the soft white mist. She could smell their fear from here, the stink of sweat and the tang of pheromones that rode it.

They were marching to combat in an enemy land, and mere mist frightened them?

But she knew that thought was crazy bravado. She was, in her way, as afraid as them.

Things were astir in the mist. Things she couldn’t quite see, couldn’t quite smell, couldn’t quite get a fix on. Were they benevolent? Were they hungry? There was no way to know for sure.

Until one of them snared a crusader, flayed him and ate him. His screams raised her hackles. She tried to will herself into a fugue state, a soundless ignorance of the world around her, but the healing yesterday after the dog attack had left her reserves depleted. She needed food, and soon.

But she wasn’t about to descend while those hungry things were abroad in the world.

#

Hours later, the sun had risen high enough to close the gap between worlds. Its energy vibrated the portal shut and burned away the fog. There were at least twenty dead soldiers, and a pair of the—things—were stuck on this side. They were immense, and shaggy, and angry. But their fur already smouldered in the light of the sun, and in another hour, having killed nine more warriors, they had burned away into ghosts, rising and flattening into the blue sky. Someday they would fall as rain, perhaps, or maybe they would rise forever into the black beyond, past the moon, past the worlds, pushed out forever by the wind from the sun. The cat woman didn’t really care right now.

Food waited in the chord-ship. She had to risk sneaking past the warriors, as they gathered their wits and their weapons, as they buried their dead and prepared to move on from this cursed thin place. There might be enough cover, especially if they were distracted.

If they caught her, these Crusaders would kill her, thinking her a demon. But if she waited in the tree even another day without her food, she would deplete too far, and the little helpers in her blood would start to eat her body tissues, killing her from within.

She waited till someone screamed, one of the poor soldiers in his tarnished armour finding the severed head of his brother, and then she made a break for it.