Women work slowly in a hunched line, harvesting a crop they will never taste; laboring on the land they used to own. The wind holds a whispered conversation with the barley, even as the scythes cut it down. 

My sister’s hair streams in the air, a thin red cloud, as her head slowly rises. She watches like the trees. She watches the three soldiers.

They are clothed in red, gold and brown as if they mean to outshine the autumn. As my sister watches them turn and leave, I know she has the same thought as I do: thank the Fae that the Roman women are meek and obedient. Thank the Fae that the autumn soldiers think we are too.

When I look at my sister, her eyes are the same color, and hold the same fury as the swirling clouds above us. I know that two storms are coming. 

I know exactly what is coming, but I can’t open my mouth. I can’t warn her. I can’t move. I want to scream, but I have no voice. I want to scream, but my sister tilts her chin up, and in a clear, high voice, she begins to sing.

“Do you remember what it was like before?

“Do you remember running over the moor?”

Everyone freezes as if the wind has turned them to ice. Then, with one body, they turn to look at the soldiers. They have not returned, and still my sister’s voice sings a melodic treachery.

“Do you remember the Fae carved in the stones?”

“Do you remember the magic in our bones?”

Then a hesitant voice joins hers, an old voice, a tired voice, rising in beautiful rebellion.

“When we were all free,

“When our spears where bright,

“When magic filled the air.

“When spirits joined our fight.”

Someone has begun stomping, and the women have all taken it up. The hungry rhythm pounds into the very earth, and now they sing. We know the song. It has been pounding in our blood for years.

“I’ll tell you of the world that will come again,

“Our freedom from the seas up and to the fen,

For the moment we are alive, we are bold, we are invincible. The thunder roars its approval and the earth its self shakes under our feet.

“Soon we will all be free 

“Soon our spears will be bright

“Soon magic will fill the air

“Soon the spirits will join our fight”

But then the soldiers are back. They are running, bronze swords in hand. Our roaring revolt has become suddenly silent. Only one voice rises to meet the gleaming swords.

“Our memories are long, but they say we spout myth and lore

“We remember our land before they ravaged it with war.”

Now all that is left is a memory in my head and the conversation between the sky and the barley stained with blood. The song roars silently in my thoughts, and again I want to scream for it to stop, scream at my sister, scream that she has killed us all for a song; but in the memory my voice only rises with defiance. Rises with the storm. Rises in the furious, pounding rhythm. Rising and rising until all the anger stuffed into a dark part of my soul begins to boil over me; spill out of me. Consume me like the fire will consume my sister.

Her billowing red hair will have its color leached by the flame. Her mouth that never could be quiet. Her eyes as angry as the storm. Her hands that held mine.

Fire licking up her face.

She had said once that she wanted to be buried like our ancestors. Buried in a tunnel to the Fae world so that her spirit could come torment the Romans every solstice. She only mentioned it in passing, a joke. Now it seems a tragedy. She will be burned for a song and her soul will fly away with the smoke. 

So I lean down, my fingers touching her red throat. Gently, so gently I remove her necklace. The silver is cold in my hand as I leave the red barley.

The soldiers left hours ago, leaving the still bodies strewn over the crop they had been gathering. Only mine got up again, it still has red to splashing onto the dirt.

It is not until I see another soldier that it occurs to me to leave the road. By then of course, it is too late. So I run, my bare feet faster then the the men weighed down by armor, but it doesn’t matter, because red trails me like the reaper. All the same, I run. Pain sets white sparks dancing in my eyes, but I still run, my feet pounding to the beat of a forbidden song. In my head, my sister’s blood flies again.

Soon we will be free. But they are already free in death. The only slave left from the field is me. I am a slave to the pain, to the fear, to the faltering body I somehow still inhabit.

Soon our spears will be bright. But it was the Roman spears that gleamed with blood today.

Soon magic will fill the air. But it already does. It murmurs to me now, and if I where to stop and listen, I know what I would hear: the song pounding with the beat of my heart. Pounding with enough fury to make up for the hearts it has silenced. Pounding because it will be free one day.




And a distant voice joins my chorus.

I scream into the pounding forest. I scream in defiance to the soldiers who have long ago given up looking for me, I am already dead, so why bother? I scream because blood is running down my side, but the wound doesn’t compare to the suffocating, empty pain inside my chest. I scream for my sister who will never scream again.

And the ghosts roar their approval.



I can’t tell how long I run before my feet can no longer keep up with the pounding inside my head. I can’t tell how long I run before I fall into the leaves. I can’t tell how long it is until I can see the ghosts as clearly as I can see my own bloody hands. “Get up!” they tell me, “Get up for all of us who can no longer stand. You are still alive and where there is life, there is hope.” So I struggle to my feet, and I limp on.

I need to find the Barrows. Women who are now dead used to tell stories of them. The only places where all Romans fear to go. Not because of beasts, but because their gods can’t protect them there. The Fae control the Barrows, the tunnels to their world. That is where we are the strongest, and that is where I need to leave my sister’s necklace.

It isn’t her body, but she always cared more for the piece of silver given by our long dead mother than she ever cared for herself. It is the best I can do. Surely the Fae will accept it. Surely they will let my sister into their world.

Once more I fall, my blood seeping out onto the leaves, but once more the ghosts urge me on. 

Please let me find the Barrows. I pray, but weather to the spirits or to the Fae themselves, I’m not sure.

Either way, my prayer is answered, and I can see the clearing up ahead. I can see the stones leaning against each other. I can see the blackness of the tunnels underneath them.

But red is spilling onto the leaves, and my body doesn’t want to move the way it should. I stumble forward, each step harder then the entire race I have just run. But I reach the stones. I reach the tunnel and make my way down.

Everything grows darker, grows darker, grows darker.

A ghost with a familiar voice takes my hand, “We have missed you,” my mother says, but my heart still pounds with the song in my blood. Her hand is warm all the same.

It seems to get easier as I go down, and by the time I reach the bottom of the tunnel, the wound doesn’t hurt so much. Everything is numb.

I set my sister’s necklace onto the cold stone. “Please let it be enough,” I whisper into the emptiness, and her voice responds.

“Thank you.” she says, and something inside me doesn’t weigh so much anymore, “We are all free,” my sister’s voice carries a smile.

“Our eyes are bright,” I startle when I recognize my father’s almost forgotten voice.

“We are the magic in the air,” My mother says

“We help the living’s fight.” My own voice seems stranger to me in the dark, but for some reason it isn’t dark.

In the space between my last heartbeat and my last breath, I can see my own body, crumpled alone in the leaves of an endless forest. 

Red pools around it.

February 29, 2020 00:09

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Fowzia A
21:22 Mar 04, 2020

I really enjoyed your story! Your ability to evoke imagery is excellent. The first half especially as the woman all join in the song. I wish there was a bit more description of the action though. For example when the soldiers kill everyone, a bit more description would help clarify what happened. Overall I liked the strong characters and the world you made. There was just enough world building that I wanted to learn more which is a good sign.


Tay Wilding
15:24 Mar 05, 2020

Yay. Thank you, and that is a very good suggestion. I might add that


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.