Author’s Note: This is a rewrite from the original, Selah.
Nyla wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead and sighed, enjoying the shade of the mountain. The unusually hot and dry weather had slowed her down. The journey from the village to the mountain had taken an extra day. So she hoped her grandmother would be proven right. She tightened the scarf around her afro again, making a puff. Nyla sighed, ignoring the creeping feeling of foolishness. She stood up straight.
“Dear Mountain, I am behind in my journey. Please help me return to my ailing brother sooner with the berries he so desperately needs. Please move so I can get to the berries behind you.”
Silence. Foolishness fluttered in her chest.
“Dear Mountain, please move? Please, please, please?”
Silence. Foolishness spread to her face and burned her cheeks.
Frustrated, Nyla sat on the ground, wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her head on her knees. Her grandmother had, in fact, told her an old wives tale. Mountains don’t move when asked nicely. Nyla groaned at the fact that she had practically begged, embarrassment heating her face again. At least no one was around.
“You’re just gonna give up?” A voice asked.
Nyla stood up and gripped the dagger tucked on her waist. She glanced around.
“Who said that?”
“Me. The mountain.”
“You can talk? Why didn’t you respond earlier?”
“I can’t move.”
“So why are you speaking now?”
“You’re the only one who’s asked and sat down.”
“I’m tired. I needed to rest,” Nyla said. Her stomach growled. “I need to figure out how to make my food and water stretch an extra day. You moving was the only way to complete my journey in time. I’ll be such a disappointment. We need every hand we can get to help with the harvest. My brother and father were counting on me.”
Nyla wished she had remembered to keep up the stock of berries like her mother did. The berries were the only thing that relieved her brother of his crippling migraines. After their mother died last year, no one kept it up consistently. But Eian had been doing well. The migraines were sporadic and it had been so long since his last spell. But now, at the height of harvest, Eian was forced in his bed, quietly grunting through the pain. Nyla felt her eyes fill with tears as she remembered his tight fists and twisted face.
“You’re harsh on yourself,” the mountain said. “I can help you complete the journey in time.”
“How can you help me if you’re in my way and can’t move?”
“I know my terrain. Where you can get water and food and shelter. There are shortcuts that are a little dangerous, but you seem nimble enough to handle them. You can get to the other side in half a day.”
“Half a day? You jest.”
“I do not.”
“And what do you want in return?”
“Nothing. Just want to help a weary traveler.”
Her grandmother had warned her about tricksters—snakes, foxes, and sometimes man—but never the mountain. The neighbors were helping her father, as they usually did, but they also had their own crops to harvest. Her father still needed Eian and Nyla.
“Okay. Let’s do it,” Nyla said.
And the mountain became her partner. The mountain navigated Nyla over crevices, away from wild animals, and carefully across stepping stones in the river. Nyla moved swiftly and didn’t stop until she made it to the other side of the mountain, just before nightfall.
“Mountain?” Nyla asked as she secured her bag, now full of berries.
“Do you have a name?”
“Yes. It’s Selah.”
“Now I can thank you properly. Thank you Selah. My brother won’t have to suffer any extra days thanks to you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. We have to get you back.”
“My grandmother taught me that we must be grateful in all things. So I thank you for helping me complete this leg of the journey. And I will thank you after I complete the next leg.”
Selah led Nyla to an empty cave where she would camp for the night. She laid on the blanket she had spread out and nestled her head on top of her backpack. Nyla hadn’t been a fan of sleeping outdoors these past few days. She was constantly worried about animals and not-so-friendly travelers. But Selah had guided her here. And she felt like Selah was watching over her. She closed her eyes with ease for the first time since leaving home. She thought of her return trips, definitely planning for once a month, until she drifted off to sleep.
“Good morning, Selah,” Nyla said as she sat and stretched.
“Good morning, Nyla,” Selah replied, the voice cheery.
Nyla drank some water and ate the last of her apples with some oatmeal for breakfast. She would save the juicy fruit she had picked yesterday for the rest of her journey and replenish her water jug once she returned to the river.
After breakfast, Selah guided Nyla back to the other side.
“Thank you again, Selah.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
“Should I tell the people of your generosity?”
“Let’s keep this between you and me for now. But I promise to always help those in need.”
“That works for me. See you later.”
“Safe travels, Nyla.”
Nyla grinned as she turned away from the mountain, heading back home. She wondered what other wise words her grandmother had said that were actually true. She pictured her grandma and her mom standing side-by-side, smiling at each other and then down on Nyla.
Didn’t think it could get better but it did for sure!