(Author's Note: This is an idea that came to me a while ago, and I've only recently begun thinking about it again. I'm not sure how much I like it at this point; I'm always looking for ways to improve, so constructive criticism is always welcome. Thanks for reading!)
The sun was just rising and the leaves shaking off their morning dew when the girl set out on the narrow road cutting into the mountain. She walked alone, a small creature draped in a heavy cloak, with a pack slung over an arm and a sturdy walking stick grasped firmly in both hands. The path was not altogether steep or unfriendly, but already she was trembling and gasping for breath as she inched forward, tapping the stick on the ground before her.
She continued on like this for some time, stumbling frequently and shaking all over. The sun now hung high in the midday sky, partially obscured by a thick mantle of clouds. An icy wind screamed in, seemingly coming from all sides as it picked up the dust at her feet and heaved it wildly in the air. The girl's trembling intensified, and tears pricked at her eyes and spilled onto her dirty cheeks. She knelt, heedless of the small rocks that dug into her knees. "I must go back," she whispered, raking the dirt with her fingers. "I must go back."
The thought was sweet and nearly overpowering in its enticement. A ghost of a smile formed on her cracked lips. The road leading down was ten times more forgiving than that which lead upwards; the things that awaited her at the bottom were surely less frightening than what she would find at the top. And surely…surely they had been asking too much.
A raindrop landed on the back of her hand, bringing her out of her reverie. It was as though that single droplet of water had washed away all delusions, for now she saw clearly that she had no alternative before her. Had that not been their words? She pictured them now before her, looming shadows sending her to a near-certain death.
"Lyanth," they had said, "Say what you will, but you are not exempt from our ways. Others have gone before you with handicaps far greater than your own, and have succeeded. You've been coddled too long for your impediment; do you think you can survive by letting your weakness define you?"
It had seemed sensible enough, as though setting out into the mountains would take away her blindness and make her the strongest and bravest of women.
What had seemed sensible then was now nothing short of laughable.
Of course there was no other way she could choose. Would she return to her people, quest unfinished, she would surely be shunned for her cowardice and ineptitude. A tragic, lonely death in the wilderness would be far more respectable.
With these thoughts in mind, she rose slowly out of the dust and staggered forward.
Her next day of travels brought about a harsher terrain. The path was steeper and narrower, causing her to hold on to the craggy cliff face beside her to keep from falling down to the rocks below. Many times did the rocks give beneath her feet, sending her onto all fours in the gravel. As the day progressed, she was scratched and bruised in many places and covered from head to toe in dirt. The water skin resting on her hip was alarmingly light.
By and by she began to sing a little tune to cut into the monotony. Its words were silly and generally incoherent, but she felt herself grow a bit bolder as she sang. Her voice grew louder and louder until she was practically shouting her silly little song to the nothingness.
The words died on her lips as her fingers brushed against something sticky. She pulled her hand back but the substance clang to her skin; a decidedly unpleasant feeling. Lyanth was baffled momentarily on what it could be, until she remembered what it was that brought her here.
Her hand was covered in spider's silk.
Taking a few halting steps forward, she stuck out a hand on either side. Both struck against rock. Claustrophobic but exhilarated at having reached her destination, she thrust her hand into her pack and retrieved a long coil of thin rope. "Come," she said softly into the darkness. "Come," she said again, louder this time.
The only sound that greeted her was the echo of her own voice. Wringing the rope in her hands, Lyanth moved further ahead. Her foot struck against something small, warm, and rubbery. Kneeling on the web-covered floor, she worked her hand along the ground until she touched whatever it was she had kicked. Taking it up in both hands, she held it for several long moments, staring blankly into space. But then, it came to her.
Lyanth set it carefully back down and rose. Not exactly what she was looking for, but if there was an egg, there must be…
A hiss sounded sharply behind her, accompanied by the clattering sound of many feet scraping against the cave walls. Whirling around, Lyanth stood ready, rope in hands. Her heart beat so that it threatened to burst out of her chest. "Come," she whispered, inching backwards.
There was a sudden, intense burst of pain in her shoulder, and she knew no more.
Thanas was greeted with little more than a few raised eyebrows when he rode into the village with Lyanth in his arms. She had not stirred in the long hours that had passed since he found her unconscious on the cavern floor, but she was still alive, and that was something.
Pulling up by a modest-looking home carved into the cliff-face, he slid off his spider and landed awkwardly on his feet. Even with the jarring landing, the girl still did not wake. Thanas strode to the door and kicked it once, twice. There was a faint rustling from within, then the door swung open widely to reveal the girl's parents, surrounded by a small number of the townspeople. "I know you said not to interfere, but I just saw her lying there and…" he trailed off unsurely.
Lyanth's mother moved first, coming forward to look into the face of her daughter. "I expected as much," she said without inflection. "Well, why are you bringing her here? We can't do anything for her."
"Look, I just found her, like I was saying. Bringing her to you so you can do what you like with her; I'm not gonna tote her around any longer."
The woman sighed and motioned for her husband, who came forward and took the girl from Thanas. "Thank you," he grunted as he deposited Lyanth on a narrow bed in the corner. "Fetch Aiden, would you?"
Thanas hesitated in the doorway, shoulders hunched sulkily. After a moment he jerked his head in a nod and turned on his heel to leave, slamming the door behind him. Minutes passed in silence in that little home as Lyanth lay alone in the corner, her chest barely rising with each labored breath. Her parents watched her from a distance, arms crossed and expressions hard.
There was a rap on the door, and Aiden the physician bustled in. He was a tall, thin man with more hair on his chin than his head. "Poor Lyanth," he said, clucking his tongue as he rummaged through his parcel of herbs. "Lucky enough to see her again, aren't we?"
His comment was greeted by cold silence, and Aiden said no more. Crumbling a dark, spined leaf into a bowl, he whispered a few words and poured a clear liquid over it. A pungent odor wafted into the air, and the small crowd in the room began to disperse. Aiden scooped out a glob of the poultice and dabbed it on Lyanth's wrists, then held the bowl close to her head.
The effect took place almost immediately. Lyanth's eyes fluttered open and her lips curled in confusion. Aiden chuckled, pleased with his work, and rose, gathering his things. "That's all you need me for. Spiders, ha! It would do them better to get a venom stronger than an ant's."
Soon he was gone, along with all the others, leaving the girl alone with her parents. Lyanth brought her blanket to her chin, plucking nervously at a loose thread. She turned her face towards the wall, unseeing eyes half-veiled behind heavy lids. "Thank you for bringing me back," she said suddenly, her voice hoarse. How thirsty she was! But it would not do to ask for water now.
"We didn't," replied her mother tonelessly, moving to the fire.
Lyanth frowned. "Then who…?"
Thanas! To be rescued by him of all people, he who was so strong and reportedly handsome, he who always excelled where she failed. He spoke to her only rarely, but when he did, she heard the derision in his voice. Lyanth sighed and leaned her head back on her pillow.
"I am sorry," she said falteringly. "I was caught off guard. It came from behind me…"
Her parents sighed in unison. "Please," came the voice of her father. "Do not talk of it. You've multiplied every shame that ever would fall on us, but perhaps in time it will be forgotten."
But, naturally, it would not.
Three days Lyanth was confined to her bed, surrounded by darkness. With no visitors and nothing to amuse herself with, she was left to listening for clues of life outside her home. When she would feel a slight warmth on her cheek, and hear the scuttling of spiders passing overhead, she would know the day had come. Her parents arrived each night when the sun disappeared; she knew it was them from the sound of their footfalls: her father's were heavy and uneven and her mother's were soft and shuffling.
No words were exchanged as dinner was prepared (with the clanging of pans and hissing of the fire) and eaten (with the banging of fork against plate and the smacking of lips). After the remainder of the meal had been brought to Lyanth, her parents would shuffle to their room and soon their echoing snores would tell her it was time to sleep.
On the morning of the fourth day, she slipped from bed the moment the house was empty. The sting of the rough, cold stone against her bare flesh was a welcome change from her recent days of comfortable nothingness. She reached a hand out to steady herself as she swayed, but her fingers only grasped at the cold air. Taking a few stumbling steps forward, she snatched a crust of bread from the hearth and darted outside.
In a moment she was swept away in the crowds, surrounded by faceless voices and brushed against by hissing spiders bearing their riders to their destinations. Lyanth preferred these crowds; they guaranteed that she would not make a misstep and slip off the edge of the road into the canyon below.
At the right moment, she veered to the right, ducking beneath the swollen body of a spider. Here the ground began sloping gently upwards, and the road narrowing. The noise of the city slowly faded and then disappeared entirely, leaving her to enjoy the sound of the whistling wind and the call of birds to their mates.
Lyanth often came to this perch above the city, simply to imagine what it must look like. In her mind it was an unspoiled wonderland, and as beautiful a place as her unseeing mind could conjure. The earth was richer here, soft and moist. Flowers grew in abundance, showering the cool air with their fragrance.
Creeping as close to the edge as she dared, she flopped onto her stomach and nibbled at the dry hunk of bread. It was better than anything she had eaten in days.
With her hunger sated and the warm sun on her back, she felt herself slipping away into a dream. Her parents were smiling, the spiders were singing, she was dancing… and someone was calling her name.
Her parents and the spiders disappeared, but the voice persisted. "Lyanth? Wake up."
Mumbling, she rolled onto her back, blinking up groggily in the direction of the voice. The speaker was clearly tall, and his voice was deep and stern. "Thanas?"
There was an irritated huff which she could only interpret as an affirmative, and she felt her cheeks color. The last time he had seen her, she had been unconscious on the floor of a cave, covered in spider-silk. Now, she was sprawled out on the ground with crumbs on her face and dirt over every inch of her clothing.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Just… relaxing," she said, subtly brushing off the crumbs. "I find it very nice here."
"You wouldn't find it half so nice if you saw how far a drop it is. Go back."
Again her cheeks burned, but for another reason. A dozen responses filled her head, but none of them were likely to convince him that she did not need to be treated like a child. More importantly, it would not do for her to argue with him so soon after he had saved her. Silently, she began plucking up flowers and fumblingly attempted to weave them together.
"You're blind, girl, not deaf. Not mute. Go back. I don't feel like scraping you off of the canyon floor if you fall."
"Then I will take great care to fall in a place that nobody will notice," she said. For a brief moment, she felt exceptionally pleased with herself, before ducking her head in embarrassment.
To her surprise, he laughed, and settled himself in the grass near her. "Sarcasm? I thought you were supposed to be afraid of me."
"I do not think I should be. You brought me back, sir, and for that, I owe you much." She paused, then added reluctantly, "Excuse my rudeness."
She expected him to either brush off the apology, order her to go back, or simply leave. He did none of those things, however, and simply sat with her in silence. Something about this pleased her, though she could not imagine why.
"Why are you here?" Lyanth asked abruptly. Briefly and very foolishly, she wondered if he had wished for her company and sought to keep her safe.
"What was it you said? It's 'nice' here. You can see for miles…" His voice faltered. "Well. That's not what I meant."
"It's alright. I believe I can picture it fairly well," she smiled, pointing to the canyon below. "My house would be about… there."
Edging closer to her, Thanas closed his fingers gently around her wrist and adjusted her hand slightly. "A bit more to the left. Right there."
"And the market is…"
He adjusted his grip, pointing her hand further north. "Here."
The friendly touch was distracting, and for a moment Lyanth was left with a smile on her lips and no coherent thoughts in her head. Small talk had always been difficult, but now, with a man involved, she found herself quite at a loss. Finally, she stammered, "Is it busy?"
"Looks like it." Finally taking his hand away, Thanas asked, "Will your parents notice you're gone?"
"Perhaps not… but I did not mean to stay so long." Lyanth stood, backing away from the cliff's edge. "I just wished for some time alone, outside, after staying indoors-"
"Alone?" he asked, remaining seated. "I've interrupted you, then."
"Oh! No!" She smiled thinly and shook her head. "I do not mind it. -I welcome the company, I confess."
There was a rustle as he stood, and his voice again came from above her. "Meet me tomorrow in the Crags, then. After you've finished your work."
"The Crags? But-"
"You'll be safe. Just come."
Protest died on Lyanth's lips, and she nodded dumbly. Then, without a goodbye, Thanas was gone.