Evelyn waited on the ridge, as she’d been told to do. The wind howled and whistled along the bones of the mountain, biting at the exposed flesh of her neck and wrists. In the distance she could see the valley, her village, smoke rising from the small collection of homes clustered together in the stark landscape. She was cold. The rage and fear and sadness had subsided for now and all she could feel were the teeth of the wind. She turned her eyes to the dark grey ranges around her and before she saw him, she heard the harsh cry of the eagle.
The huge, golden bird soared up from behind the black peaks and swooped down to the ridge in wide, keen circles, to land on the open rock. The bird was the size of man. Dark eyed, intelligent, he looked at Evelyn curiously. Cocked his head to one side as if examining her. She raised herself up to her full height and stared back without fear. The bird nodded, unfolded his tawny wings, rose into the air and gently picked her up in his black claws.
The air grew colder as the eagle flew higher. Despite her resolve to be fearless, Evelyn closed her eyes against the vertigo the threatened to overwhelm her and clenched her hands in fists. The eagle flew. Over the endless mountains of the hard lands. Over the crags and peaks and valleys. Over bitter lakes and hard rivers. Over the flats of scrubland and the dry earth of winter. And still the eagle flew. On and on he flew, the pulse of his wings the only measure of how far they’d come. Evelyn forgot time, forgot distance, forgot all in the rushing of the air and clasp of the eagle’s claws. Fighting back the fear, she forced herself to open her eyes and saw a monstrous black peak, rising up to devour the horizon. And felt the first quickening of despair as she realized she would never find her way home.
The bird slowed and began to circle down towards a narrow path etched into the face of the rock. He set her down before hopping on the ledge and ruffling his feathers in the wind. She thanked him and he looked her over again with his dark, serious eyes and inclined his head up the path.
Evelyn wrapped her cloak more firmly around her. On the exposed slope, the wind felt crueler. More intent than before. Dangerous with the vicious abyss to her right. As the bird took flight, she watched him ride the wind into the sky and then turned up towards the path. Stepping carefully along the narrow, roughly carved trail, she inched her way up the mountain. For hours she walked, numb to everything but the next step she had to take. As night fell, she huddled against the unforgiving stone, eating the last of her bread and apples, unable to sleep, but too afraid to continue on in the dark.
As dawn crept along the skyline, she rubbed feeling back into her arms and legs began to climb again. As she approached the summit, the path narrowed, until she was forced to lean into the granite face of the mountain to keep a precarious balance against the drop and the wind. Tears of frustration and exhaustion welled in her eyes. She cursed the bag of stones that thrust the garnet in her hand. She cursed her father. She cursed the eagle. And just as she was about to give up, sink to the ground with the rage and the pain to keep her warm, she stumbled round a corner and found a level open space leading back into a shadowed cave. She cried out in relief, allowing the tears to come, bowing her head into her hands and sobbing.
A shadow in the entrance moved and a voice said; “You’ve done well, Evelyn. Welcome. Come in, my child. I am the one you call the Reaper.”