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Wednesday 6 April 2022

Uruz, Þola

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

     A bleak, grey spectre glared over the scrubland valley.
     Cold mountain wind howled low through the crevice, sending the dull, mournful rustle of the frozen brush murmuring through the shadow-gripped recesses, and the pummelling storm of rain and hail rumbling beneath it all like a wardrum. Neither light nor hope reached this spot, trapped in the darkness of the glacier-shorn cliffs, and the old, rusting iron cage stood in its thickest depths. And the woman inside it sat slumped, knees hugged close to her chest, clouds of breath steaming from her nose as the hail struck and bruised her bare skin.
     The aurochs' pale body trembled in the cold. Thick, dark hair tumbled in knots down her back. Huge horns projected out from either side of her head, dull, faded, their points filed down. And dim hazel eyes stared from over the top of her arms, fixed to her captor through the bars, the tall, thin man with even emptier eyes, staring at his inconsequential work only a few paces away. There was no passion in him, either, though he chose to be here. No life, no love. Nothing at all. Until he looked her way.
     Just as he did at that moment.
     She watched the light flicker into life inside his eyes. But it wasn't warmth. It was power. Possession. Supremacy. She knew the look well. She read more in it than he could conceive.
     But the aurochs didn't flinch back from it. She was dead to it by now. She'd seen it too much; experienced what came of it too often. And so she met his stare with her own empty gaze, and held it until he looked away again, distracted once more by his work, his prize forgotten.
     Only then did she breathe the faintest sigh into her knees.
     As the vapour gathered on her eyelashes, her stare wandered away, tracking out through the shade of her trophy prison and on towards the frosted grasslands beyond.
     Out there, the sun shone. Out there, far from her reach, golden light battled the scrubby landscape, even while the frozen rain continued to thunder through her bars in the dark. There was hope out there. Life, and freedom. And others of her kind; she could hear them bellowing beyond the man's range, could smell them on the wind. And the ache in her heart swelled almost to the point of bursting. Because she could not join them. She couldn't walk among them. The whole world was so far out of her reach, she didn't deign even to lift a futile hand towards it.
     But neither did she succumb to the melancholy.
     Instead, she moved. Releasing her knees, she sat straight, exposing herself to the elements, and breathed deep of the cold, clear air. She rode that breath inside of herself, followed it into her lungs, and as it invigorated her blood, she retreated into memory.
     The world around her shifted; the straw floor of her cage became rough ground beneath her hooves, and the shadow scattered and revealed harsh scrub and grazing. A hard life, unforgiving, cold and solitary - but there was no heavy, pinning weight of loneliness woven within it.
     It was freedom.
     As she eased herself into her breath, stamped her hooves against the earth and teased her fingers through the biting breeze, she felt what now seemed like ancient traces of strength and power moving through her muscles.
     It set a fire in her heart, a song into her soul, and she spun and laughed. Then, without thought of destination, she ran.
     She stayed in that eternal place for some time before she found the strength to return to herself, yet still it felt her eyes had flickered open too soon, and her view was obscured again by the old, iron bars and the haze of frozen rain.
     Once again, the whole world remained out of her reach.
     And yet, she smiled.
     'For now.'
     Scars had formed on her body, lumps left in bone - but she had always healed. And her spirit hadn't been broken. Not yet. Not quite. The smallest flame still sputtered in her chest, she'd discovered, and every day that her captor reached through those bars to strike again at her defences, it only stoked it hotter. Even in the cold, dark shadows and the skin-piercing rain. Now she'd found it, it would not, could not, be extinguished.
     She would not be broken. Her kind was sturdy. It had taken her a decade to remember it, but now that she had, she held that fact, that assurance, closer than her own skin.
     And, as her eyes tracked back to her once-trusted captor, that faint smile flickered further across her lips.
     She was biding her time. Collecting her strength. Recalling freedom and all that had once breathed life into her soul. She was remembering her worth.
     Her hazel eyes closed, but the smile remained as she listened to her master mutter curses to himself as he worked, and she tilted her head from one side to the other, feeling the weight and power of her horns. They didn't need to be sharp to be devastating. If the fool had wanted to disarm her, he should have cut them off.
     He would be gored in the end.

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Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock


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