Naya hadn’t meant to frighten the girl.
It was past time for the villagers to come and leave their daily offerings, so Naya was surprised to see a small girl carrying a basket coming up the path. Naya stopped by a stone, still deep in the shadow of the leaning mountain, and watched the child climb up the sunny slope to the boundary between day and twilight. She was fascinated by the bright colors of the girl’s clothes, by the tan of her skin and the slight blush of her cheeks. The girl kept her eyes on her feet until she was almost at the altar stone, and then she looked up.
And saw Naya.
The girl screamed and made a clumsy, frightened throw of the basket. It hit the altar, but bounced and scattered its contents over the sunny slope. The girl had already started running back down the path.
“Wait!” Naya called out to her, but the girl never looked back.
"They don’t speak our language anymore," Naya’s mother had told her. “Some of them don't believe that any of us are still alive.”
Naya stepped closer to the altar, but she couldn’t reach it. This time of day it was fully in the sunshine. Later in the afternoon, in an hour or so, the shadow of the leaning mountain would fall across it, then continue creeping down the slope. Then Naya could gather the loaves of bread that had fallen in the dust and carry them home.
A black shape fluttered down from the trees. The ravens knew about the altar, and were always on the lookout for a chance to steal. Naya picked up a pebble and flung it at the bird. It squawked and hopped to the side, watching her, but it didn’t fly away. Maybe it figured she’d leave before it did.
She was ready to wait. She was so hungry, and that bread so close. She could almost reach out and take it.
But she couldn’t. It was in the sunlight.
“If the sun ever sees a single one of us, the whole mountain will fall down and crush us all,” Naya’s grandmother had warned. Over and over again.
Naya looked up to the dark grey stone that cut out more than half the sky above her. She imagined it shuddering, falling, tumbling down, crushing the fragile houses of her village. All the people she knew and loved, in spite of the curse, in spite of whatever they’d done to doom her to this prison of shadow, she would never want to harm them.
Naya picked up another stone as more crows came to join the first one. It was going to be a long afternoon.