Have you ever had a dream that was so real you thought surely you must be awake? A dream where you can feel the wind tossing your hair and the sun on the back of your neck? Where the sounds are so clear and the colors so vivid that it’s almost too real to be real?
I get those now and then. I will wake from them to see that the sun has not yet risen and go back to sleep, certain that the dream will have faded away by morning like most of my dreams. But upon rising, I find that it is still fresh and clear and compelling. So compelling that I have no choice but to sit at the computer and put it all into words.
This story is the result of one such dream.
Merrid has taken her laundry to the Edge to dry as she has done for countless cycles. Her young ones have accompanied her as they always do. Fallin, though, is no longer as young as she once was.
For many visits of the Goddess now, Merrid has dreaded the drying of the laundry. Ever since Fallin ate the Orcis, she worries that her eldest will leave her. Something in Merrid’s heart tells her that today is the Day.
Gillo rushes to the Edge as he always does. So full of young life and desire to know and to experience everything. She calls him away. She warns him not to go too close. But as always, he disobeys. As many times as he has perched upon the rocks and looked down, far below, at the Earthssea, you would think he had had his fill of it.
Only littlest Willid hangs back, holding to the hem of Merrid’s tunic, one finger stuck into her mouth and a look of worry playing about her young eyes. The worry makes her look older than her five cycles. Merrid wonders what that worry might turn into if today is indeed the Day.
Merrid works quickly to hang the laundry upon the frames built back from the Edge. They take advantage of the wind that always blows hard up the cliff. The clothes dry quickly here and so the mold is avoided. Merrid wishes there were some other way to dry the clothes quickly and avoid their ruin. But there is not.
Gillo finally walks back to his mother and asks if today is the Day that Fallin will Jump. Merrid looks to him with some dismay and then to Willid, who has now stuck an additional finger into her mouth. Merrid wonders if the tears falling down Willid’s cheeks are due to the harshness of the wind.
Merrid tells Gillo to be quiet and help her with the laundry. Just this season, he has reached a height that allows him to help as Fallin once helped.
Merrid looks to her daughter and calls to her where she is standing at the Edge. Fallin has left her hair loose today and it blows restlessly around her face. Fallin walks to her mother and looks her in the eye. Merrid had not realized she had grown so tall. Merrid thinks to herself that if she had more time, she might become taller than her mother. But Fallin ate the Orcis and so her days in the Settlement are numbered. Maybe, probably, today is the last.
Fallin stands before her mother. Her once golden brown hair has turned the color of the night sky when the Goddess does not grace it. It began to change a few days after Fallin ate the Orcis; growing out dark at the roots. Her fair skin has become a dusky brown. Like the husks of the grain at the end of the season of growth. But most disturbing are Fallin’s eyes. Once such a pale brown as to be almost yellow, they are now blacker than black. They seem to swallow you up and no one in the Settlement will look her in the eyes. Although whether that is the depth of them that is the cause, or that they know her eventual fate is hard to say.
Merrid cannot help herself and once again asks Fallin why she ate the Orcis. Fallin replies as she has each and every time her mother has asked her this. She explains that it seemed the right thing to do at the time and she is not certain she could have not eaten the Orcis. She felt so compelled to do so. Fallin reminds her mother that the Settlement, surrounded by the Earthssea and on this high plateau, can only support so many and that some must Jump that others might continue.
Listening to this, Willid has stuck yet another finger into her mouth. Gillo asks his mother if that is why Father ate the Orcis and Jumped. Merrid looks sadly at Gillo and tells him that her husband, Fillon, did not eat the Orcis. He ate the Trundau and he Jumped. Gillo asks if he will one day eat the Trundau and Merrid tells him that she hopes not because then he will be forever lost to her to the Earth.
Only one who has Eaten can know when it is time. Fallin has known for many days that today is the Day. But she has not said anything. She thought it was best for her family to have it done suddenly and then over that they might get on with their lives. So standing before her mother, she begins to remove her clothing. They are too precious a commodity to go over the Edge with her.
Merrid stands silently with the laundry flapping about her in the wind. Willid has removed her fingers from her mouth and Gillo looks on with some excitement and also fear.
Merrid thinks of the tales the Eldest tells around the fire in the evening. Of times when there was plenty. When there was no Earthssea. When the green hills stretched as far as the eyes could see. Merrid thinks they must surely be just stories. But the Eldest always insists this is truth. Merrid has known no other life than this and cannot imagine it. But right now, she is wishing that it were true and now was then.
Fallin has finished removing her clothing and has neatly folded them. She has placed them at the feet of her younger sister and told her that one day these clothes will be hers. Willid looks solemnly up at her sister and sucks her lips into her mouth not wanting to cry but feeling that she will anyway.
Fallin looks at her family and tells them that she loves them all and turns and runs for the Edge and launches herself into the air. Merrid, Gillo and Willid all run to the Edge and hold there at the furthest they can reach and watch as Fallin descends toward the Earthssea so very far below.
Before Fallin has reached quite a third of the way down, the transformation has begun. Just before she reaches the surface of the Earthssea it is complete. Where once she had arms, she now has wings covered in smooth black feathers that glisten in the sun and throw off little rainbows of color. Where once she had a petite button of a nose, she now has a formidable beak.
Fallin sleeks off through the air with ease as if she has flown all her life. And indeed, she has, but only in her dreams. She has never told her mother that it was those dreams that made her eat the Orcis. She suspects her father also had dreams.
Fallin does not look back and her family does not call to her. This is how it has been and how it will be. Gillo asks his mother if she thinks his father is happy as a fish. Merrid reminds him that his father is not a fish, but something else. Just as Fallin is not now a bird, but something else.
Willid looks to her mother and asks why. Just the one word, but Merrid understands all that lies behind it. She once asked her mother the same when her brother Jumped to claim the Air. Merrid looks at Willid and tells her what her mother told her. It is how the Mother has decided we shall live and survive and so we do.