Fjord woke to green. The distant sound of crashing waves was the only thing to remind him of what had occurred moments before. He grabbed at his chest, frantically, checking for wounds from being stabbed over, over, and over again—but he found none. There was hardly a faint tickle from the memory.
When Fjord had finally calmed enough to examine his surroundings, he looked up to find a large, stately woman with cascading hair sitting beside a garden table and watching him patiently. She was surrounded by a thick, thick forest, made of every plant Fjord could think of and many he couldn’t.
Fjord was speechless.
“Fjord, my child,” said the Wildmother. Her voice was a warm breeze through leaves. She motioned to the chair across from her. On the table between the two seats was a simple teapot and two cups.
“O-of course,” said Fjord, slightly dazed. He stumbled his way down the small forest path.
As he sat in the little chair—it was the right size for him, but next to the Wildmother’s towering figure, everything seemed small—the Wildmother lifted the teapot and poured two cups of tea. Fjord was not usually one for tea (at least, not for the only tea he’d really had) but he felt obliged to take a sip. The tea was a deep red color, with the aroma of the sweetest flowers and the crispness of the sea breeze. Fjord thought he even detected a faint mustiness, like stone and dirt and deep growing things, but he found he did not mind it so much.
“Your friends are taking care of you,” said the Wildmother at last.
Fjord stared hard at the red tea in the little cup. It looked almost the color of blood, if he was feeling morbid. “So, am I just hurt, then, or…”
He looked up. The Wildmother smiled a little sadly and shook her head.
They both sat in silence for a moment longer. Fjord felt his words might choke him.
“It’s funny,” he said, though it wasn’t funny at all, “I wanted so badly to protect them, to help them, after all they had done for me, but here I am finding that I need them to protect me once again.”
“Do you mind? Needing their help?”
Fjord frowned. “No,” he said, clutching at his chest as he thought. The inner part of his chest felt cold, though the grove they were in was very warm. “But I fear that I am making things more dangerous for them. Was all that over what was—is—inside of me?”
The Wildmother nodded and looked sad again. When the Wildmother was sad, it was like a torrential rain crashing all around them. “I feel I must apologize—there was only so much I could do for you.”
“No!” said Fjord, with a start. The idea that the Wildmother might apologize to him was almost too much to bear. “To have someone protect me at all was more than I could have ever dreamed. I’ve never had a mother, and you have given me that. I could never ask for more.”
The Wildmother smiled. It was like watching a flower bloom before his eyes. “I thank you for your kindness, Fjord.” However, her expression darkened soon after. Behind her voice was the storm at sea, and Fjord remembered with a shudder what he had left. “Until the False Serpent is dealt with, I fear that you will face many more hardships on behalf of the choice that you have made.”
The idea of facing Uk’otoa himself scared Fjord, more than anything he and his friends had done so far. He took one large swig of tea to steel himself. “Then I suppose I have a lot more to do, don’t I?” he said, trying to smile.
At that, the Wildmother picked her head up as if hearing something on the breeze. Fjord thought he could hear the faintest shouts, as if they were coming from a great distance.
“That will be your friends calling you,” said the Wildmother, once again smiling like a warm summer day. Fjord thought his heart might burst. “Will you go to them?”
“Of course!” Fjord said, standing up quickly. He hesitated a moment. “I—thank you, Wildmother, for—”
“I know,” said the Wildmother. “We will talk again. Now go! Hurry!”
Fjord gave her one last smile and a polite nod before running back down the forest path to his friends.