Sophia strode through the forest, smiling a greeting at a friendly raven and tossing some scraps collected from breakfast to both her and the uncertain little furballs in the undergrowth. She wasn’t sure what they were, the island collected mythical animals that had lost their belief along with everything else, but they were cute and apt to be helpful if shown a little affection and food.
Over the weeks of her exploration of the island and her own abilities and motivations, she’d built up a uniform of sorts for her expeditions. Long, soft leather boots over leggings, with a long tunic top that was just wide enough to be laced at the sides into a (slightly restrictive) dress should be encounter one of the more prudish members of the Lost Island community. For there were people here in plenty and some more conservative in their views than others.
One of her favourite elements of the outfit was the belt, a thick upper band holding securely around her waist and sporting her knives, arranged neatly in a series of pocket sheaths, then a thinner, looser band, that worked to hook assorted bags and other implements onto as needed. A set of leather gloves tucked into the small of her back completed the ensemble and, in her preferred shades of green, the whole effect allowed her to blend effortlessly into the leafy surrounds.
The sound of a horse approaching, complete with jangling bit and other tack had her reviewing her surrounds and reconnoitering to a handy oak with a couple of sturdy limbs just above head height on a rider and well-covered in foliage. Horses were rare on Lost Island, and people riding them even more so, this is the first she’d come across since her arrival a month or more earlier.
The sounds approached, and resolved into an elegant bay, with a rider she recognised.
She held back a moment, how could Connor be here? He was the most un-lost person she knew. Was it a trick? She fumbled for a charm given to her by a grateful djinn a week earlier with the ability to see through illusions ad glamours. No trick, it was Connor and he was passing under her tree even now.
She held herself poised, the dropped loudly to the ground shortly after he passed. It worked. He spun the horse, and stared.
“Sophie? You look like Sophie, but not.”
He stared, confused and, Sophia realised, a little scared. What was going on that her appearance had Connor on edge?
“It’s me Connor, even if you think I don’t look it. Do you need me to do or say something to prove it?”
“How are you so certain I’m me? There’s so many shadows and shapes here, I never know what I’m about to stumble into.”
Sophia grinned (Connor stared, the Sophia he knew smiled genteelly), “Practice, and a gift from an acquaintance”, she pulled out the charm again. “It sees through illusions. Doesn’t dispel them, but I can see whatever’s underneath. It’s rather useful.”
“So, yes according to this, as well as the fact you called me Sophie, and you’re the only one who does, you’re Connor. Did you want to use it on me? Or would something else be better?”
He carefully dismounted and approached, “What is the one thing in the world I’m afraid of, more than anything?”
“More than anything? Smoke. You say it kills more than the fire does and whenever you see it, there’s destruction at its base.”
He smiled briefly, “Hello Sophie. I’ve been looking for you.”
“Oh, so you’re on a quest for a lost, rather than being lost?”
“How did you know I’d be on the island?”
“We’re not on an island, I left the city ten days ago and haven’t seen a body of water bigger than a stream since I came round the back of the south coast forest and lost sight of the ocean.”
Sophia scrounged up a mental map, “Ohhhhh, interesting, let’s go and talk to Evan and Imelda. They might know how it works.”
Waving for Connor to follow, Sophia started back up the forest trail she’d been wandering. She hadn’t had a destination or timeline in mind, so heading back to the cottage in time for dinner sounded like a very good idea, even better if that included some ideas on how Connor had managed to be transplanted here without knowing.
She explained as they walked, Connor leading the horse.
“Evan and Imelda are a couple who live above the main beach and are sort of the caretakers or guardians of the Lost Island. I met them just after I arrived and stay with them when I’m not out exploring and working out my quest. What?”
Connor was giving her the weird side eye, “Lost Island? Quest? What on earth are you talking about? You went missing six weeks ago, and the morning after you disappeared, when we’d spent all night combing the forest, roads, cliffs and anywhere else we could think of, a raven turns up with a message on its leg saying you’re alive and well and will come back when you’re ready.”
“What? Oh yes, Evan did mention he had a way to keep my family from worrying, that must be it. It was so kind of him.”
“Kind of who? What kind of person sends a raven with a two line message every two days, dropping these crazy hints on where you might be and what you were doing. I finally pieced enough together two weeks ago to have some idea of the direction to follow and set out as soon as I could get enough time away from Stephen.”
“How is Stephen? Are the wedding plans under control?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care, you’ve been missing for SIX WEEKS.”
“Well, yes, I know. I lost my life’s purpose, so I need to find what my other options are, so I can choose a new direction. It’s rather exciting really, I’ve never been allowed to have alternatives before.”
“Sophie, don’t you care about how worried everyone’s been?”
“Of course, but there was nothing I could do about it and Evan’s been keeping them up to date with what I’m doing so no one should be too concerned. Honestly Connor, if you’re just going to come here to yell at me and try to make me feel guilty for doing something for myself for the first time in my life, you can turn right around and go home again.”
“I was scared you were dead. And I look for you for weeks on end, worried that you’re afraid, alone, hungry, cold and needing help. Then I finally find you and you’re skipping around in some sort of acrobat costume like you’re out for a Sunday stroll without a care in the world.”
“Oh you have NO idea. Over the past six weeks I’ve been all of those things and more, sometimes on their own, sometimes together but you know what? I dealt with it, every time. When I was cold, I found ways to warm up, I found food, I found company, I found help and support and even when I didn’t, I managed. It may have only been six weeks, but I’ve lived more of my life in them than in all the years prior and I refuse to have you belittle it.”
“I wasn’t belittling…”
“You were, because you’re so completely intent on being the hero, and coming to my rescue, you can’t get your head around the idea that I might just be capable of rescuing myself.”
With that, Sophia stomped down the track, furious and rather enjoying it. Thankfully they weren’t far from the edge of the forest so she was able to make it a good way across the open meadow towards the cottage before Connor caught up and started spluttering at her again.
She held up a hand, “Not interested.”
He sensibly shut up, possibly distracted by the strange tower/cottage they were clearly heading towards.
She led them around the back of the curious structure to a roomy outbuilding, used for livestock whenever any decided to visit. It was permanent home to a sweet donkey, two goats and a cow, while the chicken house tucked into the outside wall at one end.
She showed Connor, or rather his mare, where to find water and hay, pointed out a rack for his riding gear and some brushes and told him to come in by way of the kitchen door, on the other side of the yard once he was done with the horse.
She scratched the donkey’s cheek on the way past, scooped up the farmyard cat and walked through the door she’d indicated moments earlier, leaving Connor starting after her in bewilderment.
Evan looked up at her tempestuous entrance, “Something has you hot under the collar, what’s wrong.”
Sophia sniffed and tried to still the small wobble in her lower lip. “Connor’s here and I was so glad to see him but he’s being a complete ass and now I wish he hadn’t come and I could still miss him.”
She sniffed a bit harder.
“Where is he?”
“Seeing to his horse, he says he’s not on an island and hasn’t been near water and all but called me a liar, and selfish.”
“I see, well how about I see to this young blunderer of yours while you go and freshen up. Take your time. And check the clothing room, last night was rather windy on the mainland from what I can tell.”
Sophia gave him a rather watery smile and retreated to her part of the cottage and if, when she returned to the kitchen a while later, bathed and in a fresh new gown, her eyes were a little swollen and her nose a little pink, both Evan and Imelda knew better than to notice.
Sunshine had been taken to inspect the farm orphanage a few weeks before and had been happy to approve it as his new home, so she was spared his embarrassingly acute (and loud) observations.
Connor had apparently been sent to clean himself up once his horse was done, and emerged from the tower area shortly after Sophia had been settled at the table with a cup of tea and some biscuits.
He glanced across at a silently glaring Sophia, then found the tips of his boots fascinating. Thankfully neither saw the grins both Evan and Imelda were having trouble hiding.