It was on her second day out from the city that she encountered her first obstacle. She had thought that her natural sense of direction would lead her where she needed to go, but she had not anticipated the many twists and turns the road would take, and she certainly had not expected the rockfall that suddenly blocked their way forward.
Frowning, she wondered if perhaps she would be able to scale it, but decided almost at once that to do so would be the height of folly. Aside from the fact that she had not climbed anything since she was a girl stealing apples from her neighbor’s orchard, she also had the babe to think of. While he might be as calm as she could wish, he was still a weight that would drag her down to her death if she dared to try.
Just as she had decided that she had no choice but to scale or turn back, a shadow passed over the sun, and as she looked up she felt her heart skip a beat.
She knew all too well what the creature was that was above her, with that lion body and the wings of an eagle, and the eerily beautiful face. It was a sphinx.
Slowly and languidly it circled, as if it knew that she would not be able to escape but enjoyed toying with her.
She whimpered deep in her throat as the creature slowly approached, until it landed a few paces from her. For a moment it stood, but then it folded its legs until it lounged insolently, its eerily beautiful face holding her in its inscrutable gaze. She felt as if she were at the mercy of some great force, something so far beyond human understanding as to be terrifying.
“I seek passage beyond.” It was, she knew the customary thing to say to guardians of this sort. Besides, perhaps if she was lucky the creature would give her the means of getting across the rockfall.
“I can see that,” the spinx said, a trifle irritably. “Do you think that I am blind?” It narrowed its eyes. “Mortals are fools that will believe anything, ‘tis said. You may pass. But only when you have made me an offer that I accept.”
“Why should I offer you anything?” she demanded, her fear making her angry. “What right do you have to demand?”
The creature chuckled. “Because this is my domain. Did you think this fall happened on its own?” It laughed, an eerily beautiful sound. “
Siska knew that she had nothing to offer, so she said the only thing she thought might sway the heart of this creature.
“I carry a babe in arms. The laws of old say that I may pass.” It was well-known that the creatures of the hinterlands adhered to a set of laws that could not be transgressed, and that one of them was that a child should not be harmed.
Or so she had been told.
The creature laughed deep in its throat, its bronze eyes sparkling with vicious mirth. “Oh, little human woman, don’t try to use the old laws against me. The law only states that I cannot harm the child. It says nothing about you, and it certainly doesn’t say that I have to let you pass.
“You will have to do better than that, little mortal. I ask you again: what will you give me that will let you pass?”
For a paralyzing moment, Siska could think of nothing, and despair washed over her.
Then, in one of those moments of pure inspiration, it came to her.
She stepped forward, and made her offer.