"That's not the direction I'd go in, were I you - which I'm not."
I stopped, my foot already at a turn in the road that led down to a sunlit valley. The voice, coming from behind me and to the right, was clear, low-pitched and warm.
I turned to face her. She was sitting, this young woman who had seemingly materialized out of a light mist, atop a granite boulder.
Bright green eyes regarded me out of a pale face that was framed by dark auburn hair. Her lips were also pale and curved into a slight smile.
She was dressed in a shapeless smock, that was not shapeless on her.
I looked down to where her foot peeped out beneath her hem and frowned. Her foot was slim, perfectly formed, and bare.
I nodded at her foot. "You don't seem to be prepared for any direction, so far as I can tell."
Her smile broadened and she shrugged. My eye caught the gentle swaying beneath her smock.
"You go where you will," she said. "You needn't concern yourself about me." She leapt lightly from the rock and looked at me, her head cocked to one side.
"Should you meet a river, wherever you go, careful not to get your feet wet. You'll die."
With that she spun on her heel and was lost to my sight behind the boulder.
I stood, watching for her a long moment, and then turned and mounted the stile leading over the stone wall in front of me. I shook my head once, remembering there had been a road, and now there wasn't, and continued on my way.
The light mist thickened, rolling in waves before me. It began to feel cold. After a while, walking along sheep paths through heather, I thought I heard water.
Sure enough, a mere ten paces on, I found a rock-strewn river flowing in front of me.
"Too wide to jump across," I said to myself, measuring by eye. I looked right and left. "No ford for crossing either."
I looked at the rocks sticking up out of the fast-flowing water. As children we had played in such rivers, leaping from rock to rock, like sure-footed goats.
I snorted with laughter. "I'm called stubborn as a goat now, not sure-footed."
I shrugged. Nothing for it but to try. I stepped onto the nearest rock, leapt to the next, and the next. Remembering the woman't warning, I tried to keep my feet dry.
Disaster struck, and I but two short jumps from the other bank. The rock I landed on tilted, as some had when I was a child. And, as happened when I was a child, I fell in.
The cold shocked me, my clothes soaking up water like dry sponges. My shoulder struck a rock, my hip struck bottom. I laughed. I'd fallen into about two feet of water. I'd not die of this.
I straightened up and made my way to the riverbank. Still, if I didn't get warm and dry, I thought as I pulled myself out of the river, I could well catch my death of cold.
I stood on the bank, warming myself at a fire that was blazing in a huge fireplace. I looked around. Dark soot-stained walls reached up to a ceiling lost in the gloom above me. Off to my right, bookshelves reached as high.
I shivered and one by one removed my clothes, wringing the water out and hanging them over a long curved couch that was to the left of the fireplace.
"Now," came a voice I recognized, "stripped bare and going your own path, you are ready to begin."
I turned and watched as the woman from the rock crossed the room.
"You said I would die."
"If all you were prepared to do was wet your feet," she answered, "then some part of you would die." She glanced at my wet clothes and then back to me. "You did a lot more than that."
I grinned and a door at the far end of the room opened. A bearded man entered. I looked at his bearing, the kilt he wore and then the arms displayed on the stone walls of the room.
"You would be named Duncan," I said, "were this the Scottish play."
The woman stood beside me and light struck the silver of the object in her hand.
"Is this a dagger I see..." I quoted, smiling.
"Use your own words," she said, and pressed the fountain pen into my hand. I sat at my desk and began to write...