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* The Library - Fiction for the Heart *

The Gathering
Ch. 9 - Rage Arrives

She towered above them, nearly as tall as the trees. She carried a spear and a tall staff of wood. At her hip hung a sword in a torn leather scabbard, and many other weapons hung on her armored body, like so many lethal adornments.

She clinked when she moved.

Magda and Mabel drew back in alarm, not sure if this was friend or foe, but Mara approached the tall figure, unafraid. She reached up and put her hand on the armored plate covering the woman's knee.

"Welcome," she said, smiling up at the giantess.

"Thank you little one," the warrior woman looked down at Mara, then scowled at Magda and Mabel. Mabel whimpered and shrank back behind Magda.

Magda remembered what the voice had said. The valley was protected. This woman couldn't have found them unless she belonged here. As odd as it seemed, and in spite of her fear, she believed this woman was one of them.

"Welcome," she said. "Join our circle. This is where we tell our stories, remember our past, feel our pain."

"I know that!" boomed the giantess. "I am Girda," she said, with great emphasis on the GRRR. "I want to speak. I have something to say. Will you listen?"

"We will," Magda said.
"Tell us," Mara said.
Mabel only whimpered.

"Tell her," the woman pointed at Mabel, "to stop her sniveling. I won't hurt her. I'm not the enemy!"

She laid her staff and lance on the ground and began to remove most of her weaponry. She left her armor on, though, and she laid her sword down within reach as she sat down near the fire. By it's light they could see her face was tired and worn. Her hands and arms were badly scarred, but she sat erect and proud.

"I'm no sissy to be crying around a fire," she began. "I hate that weak, whiny, cowardly stuff!"

She scowled at Mabel, who ducked behind Magda again.

"Stop that!" Girda yelled. "I hate that! That's why I left you. All that cringing and hand wringing. You were stronger once," she gave a wry chuckle. "Long ago you were a holy terror! Of course, there was more of you then. Oh yes, you kept tight control over us all. Not ONE battle would you let me fight. I would have protected us! I would have blasted the enemy back to Hades where he belonged!"

Tears began to well up in her eyes and she blinked furiously.

"You wouldn't let me go out and fight for us! Even though the enemy was at our door. There were only two choices; fight or die. You chose to die, but I," she jerked her thumb toward her chest, "I chose to live. I... choose ... to ... fight... and... live!!!" With each word she pounded the ground with her fists and she seemed unaware that the tears were now streaming down her face. "I choose to fight and live and you.. can't.. stop.. me!"

She shook her fists at them and cried, "I hate you, I hate you all! You didn't want me to show my rage, you wouldn't let me stand up and fight! You made me lie down and be quiet and I hated you for that!"

Mabel was sobbing quietly, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I was so afraid." She got up and moved nearer to the giantess, and with each step she seemed to grow a little larger. She reached out to touch Girda's knee. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Girda, tears streaming down her cheeks, told them, "I couldn't do it alone. I thought I could, so I left. But, without you," she looked at Mabel, "I couldn't tell when a battle was too much for me. And to prove I wasn't afraid, I let the enemy goad me into many foolish battles. I died some horrible deaths.

"Without you," she looked at Mara, "I had no mercy. At first, I only wanted to protect you, little one, so fragile and innocent. But then I went out and killed and tortured and had no care for my victims at all. Vengeance was all I wanted. Hatred was all I felt.

"Without you," she looked at Magda, "I had no discernment. I had only red rage clouding my vision, and I'm ashamed to say I couldn't tell anymore who was the enemy. I think... " she paused and looked down at the ground. "I'm afraid I was fooled many times into killing many of our sisters... "

Her breathing was getting labored and she leaned a little to one side.

"The enemy tricked me and used me, I see that now. And little by little he's taken bits of me, taken parts of me for his own use. Only this armor and what remains of my rage has held me together."

She opened her armor and showed them the large gaping wound beneath it where her ribs and heart should have been. "Couldn't... admit... weakness... " she gasped, and then she fell over.

They gathered around her, but they couldn't rouse her. She still breathed, but shallowly. There was no question of bringing her back to the cave, they couldn't possibly lift her. So they just huddled around her, there by the fire.

Mabel held her hand and wept, "I'm so sorry, I was so afraid... "
Mara laid her head on the armored chest and wept, "You wanted to protect me... "
Magda stroked Girda's hair and wept, "Please don't die, you are our strength and we need you... "


Magda woke slowly, swimming through the dregs of a dream. In the dream she'd seen a woman who had a leech of some kind on her back. A large, black, wet, slimy, disgusting thing. She'd been trying to get the woman's attention, but the woman couldn't, or wouldn't, hear.

She shuddered and opened her eyes. Then she remembered the events of the night before, and that brought her fully awake. She sat up and looked across the fire where the others were sleeping, still curled up together. Mabel was nestled in the crook of one large arm, and Mara's head was resting on Girda's breast which was now rising and falling evenly. Magda quietly crept over and gently pulled back the armor and leather tunic ... she gasped and her eyes grew wide. In place of the large gaping wound there was a fragile-looking, translucent rib cage. Magda could actually see beneath the pale skin to the nearly clear rib bones, right through to the steadily beating heart.

She gently closed the tunic just as the others were waking up. Girda sat up carefully, one hand searching inside her armor. She gasped, then coughed and winced, her face was a study in wonder.

"I... I appear to be healing," she stuttered. "How did this happen?"

Magda smiled and said, "It may be this valley has its own healing properties. But I think it's mostly because of our sharing, our healing circle. We've all changed so much in this place. Your healing is miraculous. Overnight that gaping emptiness beneath your armor has become whole. But our Mabel here - she's no longer impossibly tiny. Why, she's almost as tall as Mara and she no longer trembles with fear every minute. Maybe, someday she'll be completely healed of all her old fears. And Mara, well, Mara is a constantly evolving wonder. She seems to change and grow every day. She's so alive, so full of feeling. She can cry great oceans of tears, and then she can coax even the stones to singing."

Mara blushed at this appraisal of herself. She was almost a young woman, Magda realized.

Girda, still rubbing her fragile ribs, looked around at them as Magda spoke.

"Of course, you'll have to take my word for it," Magda said. "You've only just arrived and you didn't know any of us before. But when I first came here, I couldn't speak. I couldn't even hold a thought. We've all come a long long way."

Girda nodded. "This is a good thing, this circle around the fire. I would like to stay, with your permission." She bowed formally to each of them from her sitting position, which wasn't easy to do with her heavy armor hindering her.

"You are most welcome to stay," Magda smiled at the formality of the request.
"We want you to stay," Mara said, taking the giantess' hand.
"Yes, please stay," Mabel said quietly.

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