She spent a long time running. The monster which hounded her needed to be trapped, to be managed. She ran as far and fast as she could, hunting for answers to tame this demon. She stayed up late at night with ink and parchment, scheming, studying, before rising before dawn and setting off again, always just ahead of her pursuer. Sometimes she would encounter it, on a lonely woodland road or in open moorland. They would wrestle, and, for a time, it would leave her alone. Sometimes, by cunning arts, she would devise a means to hold it in check, a potion or enchantment, and for a time she would imagine it gone. But it would appear, a shadow at the edge of vision, a lurking dis-ease in her quiet moments – and the chase would continue.
Months passed, years, decades. She grew older. Her hair began to streak with silver, her skin showed gossamer lines around eyes and mouth. The monster aged too. Its pursuit continued, but there were months when it vanished entirely. One dark night she sought refuge in a cave. Water dripped gently from the roof and a cool breeze wafted up from the deeper dark. Exhausted after a long day’s ride she fell asleep. She woke to the sense of presence. A breathing nearby, the sound of movement. Heart in her mouth she lay still. Silence fell, a heavy cloak. The darkness of the cave was impenetrable. She waited. Her heart slowed. Her breathing steadied.
Time passed. With the moon’s rise a grey light began to seep into the cave mouth and finger its way across the floor. Slowly her eyes adjusted. She could make out the monster’s bulk. It had fallen asleep. Gently, so as not to wake the beast she crawled across the floor. Now that it lay here, vulnerable, her curiosity took control. Perhaps she could kill it, finally, as it slept. Perhaps she could find a way to trap it in the cave and secure her freedom at last.
She reached its first massive paw, black with five inch claws like iron. She noticed the sheen on its black coat, the lines of muscle running across its legs. Captivated by its strength she forgot. Looking up she met with a bright, yellow eye, golden as ripe corn, staring straight down at her. Before she could move the giant paw lifted and pinned her to the ground. The beast shook itself, raised itself up onto its four legs and regarded her.
This is it, she thought. It is over. She waited for the claws to rip her stomach open, or tear her limbs asunder. In this final moment she closed her eyes, and allowed herself to breathe.
It came like a thought, a whisper in her mind.
“Why are you running from me?”
She opened her eyes.
“Don’t you know who I am?”
She shook her head, whether to answer the question or shake the voice she wasn’t sure.
“All this time,” said the voice.
“I was afraid,” she answered, her voice barely a whisper.
“Do you know who I am?” the voice insisted, “Remember.”
She had a sudden picture of herself, barely in her fifteenth year, travelling on board a sailing ship to visit foreign lands. Of adventures in strange cities. Of long hours studying at the university. Of romances. Of her children and the struggles they had faced when the kingdom was invaded. She recalled the disappearance of her husband, lost to dark enchantment, she remembered quests and trials. At each of these times her nemesis had hounded her, clinging on at the edge of perception, pursuing her, increasing the challenges tenfold.
“I don’t know,” she breathed, the weight of the enormous paw making speech difficult. “I thought you were my enemy,”
“You were wrong,” the creature spoke in her mind.
“I am your shadow, your strength, your power.”
It lifted its paw. She lay very still.
“I was afraid,” she said, rubbing her chest where the paw had left its mark. “I thought you would destroy me”
“Never,” the creature said, “I was there to keep you safe, to show you the way beyond your limitations, to help you reach the depths of your strength, beyond the thinking mind.”
“I didn’t know,” she said. She wept a while then, and the creature waited.
Time passed. A different light crept into the cave as day returned.
She stood, stretching her limbs, grown tired from the cold, earth floor. The creature rose and shook itself. They paused at the cave mouth, side by side, facing the dawn.
“What happens now?” she asked. “If I am not running, what will I do?”
“Now,” said the creature, “You will live.”