Flashathon started this morning at 9:00 with the prompt, “As we started.” There was a moment of panic when I first started because I had no idea what I was going to. Then I set it the woods, because I was thinking of Fort Lewis, and then I thought about an old idea I’d had, and the rest of the story took shape. Here’s “Customs” for you:
As we started, the sun crept up into the sky. The light wasn’t enough to chase the chill out of the morning. My breath puffed out in fog clouds. Even my wool uniform didn’t keep as much of the cold as I liked.
The woods around us were still — the trees standing as sentries to time. They’d seen a lot, but never told stories. It was probably a good thing, since where we were going should be a secret. The male soldiers wouldn’t like that we had gone.
I glanced at Annis. We were the only two female soldiers in the company. The King allowed women in, but the male soldiers didn’t want us. We were intruders, and we spent our days trying to ignore the outright contempt and derision. These men were never treat their sisters and girlfriends this way; yet, we were evidently fair game.
We stayed silent until we were clear of the camp. We did not want our voices to carry. But Annis finally spoke, her voice threaded with fear. “Do you think we’ll be all right?”
“I wish I knew.”
I didn’t have any answers. Yesterday, a seer — a man, of course — had predicted that the king’s foolishness would end with this battle, when everyone would be able to see that women didn’t belong. I thought he was injecting too much of his own opinions into his “Seeing,” but there was a part of me that wondered what was going to happen.
Tomorrow, we would go into battle. Our first one.
Our feet crunched on the path, following in the footprints of hundreds of other soldiers. We were the first women to do this — but we had to do it in secret. The men had refused to allow us to come with them. The hardest thing was hearing that if we went we would curse the battle.
The path wound under the trees, and into a deep chill that pressed upon us.
“We’re getting close,” Annis murmured.
We emerged into a clearing of sorts. No one kept it clear. The trees just knew not to grow here. In the center of the clearing was a wall, built out of fieldstone. It didn’t look like much. In fact, anyone who was not a soldier would probably pass it on by, not realizing what it was.
The air shivered, and I heard the murmur of voices. Soldiers past and present. Annis and I hesitated, wondering how the spirits would treat us. The men hated us. What would the spirits do?
Annis and I exchanged glances, then she drew in a breath and stepped forward. She was braver than me.
Welcome washed over us, a warmth that worked its way through the cold of the morning. The tension in my chest loosened.
Annis looked over her shoulder at me. “Are you ready?”
My mouth dry, I stepped forward. We didn’t know what the custom for the wall was, only that there was one. I approached the wall and stared at it for a long moment. Finally I reached out to touch it. A thousand souls reached back for me, giving me their strength and courage for tomorrow.
We’d make our own customs.