Mikaela found herself surrounded by tall hedges around and a starlit sky above. The labyrinth had only one direction to take…well two if she chose to turn back. She walked for a long time, enough for the stars above to move across the sky.
She grew tired, but knew she needed to continue on. Ahead she spotted a small bench though and took a seat. In the distance she heard a rustle from the hedges, and a small rabbit hopped out. He munched on some grass in front of her then just as quickly disappeared.
Mikaela finally smiled, a moment away from the crazy kidnapping group. She reflected, if everyone is from There, why don’t they want to go back? Why choose to stay here?
So far, nothing here, as beautiful as it was, would stop her from wanting to go home. She reclined. Just a moments rest. She drifted asleep.
“Ahem!” A voice cleared his throat.
Mikaela opened her eyes, and before her stood a man she had never seen before. Not the mystery man from her dreams, not Jed. Slowly, she focused in on his face. She remembered his face from the crowd at the festival. He had smiled at her then, but not in a lustful way.
“I’m Hank. Here,” he handed her a cup of warm tea. “This should help you resume your journey. May I walk with you a bit?”
Hank’s voice was kind and his demeanor sweet and unassuming. Mikaela shook her head yes. “Of course. I don’t understand any of this. Could you explain it to me?”
Hank offered his hand to assist Mikaela up from the bench and they resumed walking through the labyrinth.
“I am from Thaer too. It can be confusing to arrive here without prior knowledge. Most people dream of here long before they come.” Hank explained. “You are one of the few who came to us without prior dreams. It makes you unique. It means something or someone pulled you here.”
“Is that why they keep referencing my acushla? What is an acushla?” Mikaela questioned.
“It is possible your acushla pulled or pushed you here. It is possible from either direction. The word translates to ‘darling’… someone you care for deeply.”
Mikaela looked thoughtfully at Hank. “Thank you for explaining that. I don’t know who that would be however.”
A smile came over Hank’s face. “Some who come here are escaping from something, they don’t normally come here without some sort of longing.” He hoped she wouldn’t know what she desired and that he could convince her to stay with him. “The clan is helping me find confidence and make connections. They set this up for me to meet you.”
Mikaela found herself flattered but curious. “Why me? Why you?”
Hank and Mikaela continued to walk the labyrinth while they got to know each other more. The turns in the labyrinth started coming faster as they spoke. Finally they reached the center.
Mikaela’s mind continued to nag her. Hank was a lovely man, kind, sweet, but there was something amiss.
They entered a small courtyard which appeared to be the center of the labyrinth. She looked around. A small tiered fountain with roses climbing on it trickled water. A small bench for two sat opposite the fountain and on the other side, a straight section which appeared to lead out of the labyrinth.
She took a seat on the bench, and Hank joined her. “Will you stay and take a journey with me?” He looked up and looked at the fountain, “or will you chance it all for the unknown?”
His offer was attractive. During their talk he spoke of travels and comfort and devotion. Any sane woman would leap at the chance to be with someone like Hank.
Then the mystery man’s voice came back to her, You will make it through. Hold on. She felt a chill down her spine and turned to Hank. “Will you let me go if I choose to go?”
Hank looked down to his hands, “Of course.”
She could tell he was crushed. “If I stay, can I leave later?”
He paused a moment. His kindness started to melt away. “Why would you do this? Pick me now or go.”
He stood up and kicked a pebble which smacked into the fountain and splashed some water onto the roses. The droplets looked like tears on the roses.
She stood up and quietly whispered, “I am sorry. I must go.” Her heart knew this was the best decision, although she felt saddened to see Hank in such a way.
Mikaela made her way forward, her steps quickened as she approached the arch marking the end of the labyrinth. She looked back one time and waved good bye to Hank. He nodded and she swore she saw him smile before he turned to head back.
When she exited the labyrinth, Pepper was standing, freshly brushed, saddled and ready to go. Her clothing and satchel were attached to the saddle, along with some provisions for their journey.
She looked around and quickly changed back into her riding clothes. She kept the dress, it could come in handy.
She mounted Pepper. “Where to now Pepper?”
Pepper pranced a moment, then took off through the valley towards the snow-capped mountains.