Before her, the last crowd was passing through the gates.

She was behind them all, so far behind as to be alone.

She needed to get through those gates before they closed for the night.

She limped ahead, leaning on her staff.

She was close to the gates but they were shutting.

And then they held.

A gate-guard, who she hardly saw, but who she heard – “Come on through, Mother.”

She stumbled at the entrance, but steadied herself, grasping the ebony of the held-open gate.

She skipped the last few feet as though she wasn’t one-hundred-and-three.

“No,” Isla said. “You need to write characters that are – not nice -“

“But I don’t want to . . . I want my characters to be . . . people that are liked . . .”

“What you’re really saying is that you don’t want readers to think you are capable of knowing there is badness in people!”

“Oh!  That’s not fair!  I’m only young.  I haven’t had time to meet bad people . . .”

“Yet!  Except – I don’t believe that for a minute!  What about Rob Roy at school?  He should have been called Robber Roy!  If he was in this workshop now . . .”

“Oh, he only borrowed my eraser that time . . .”

“And rubbed out all my homework so that Miss Gubbins thought I hadn’t done it!”

“Hmm.  But that wouldn’t happen these days, now that we’re using our darn phones for every single thing . . .

“I wouldn’t put it past Robber Roy to have figured that angle already!” said Isla.  “But, look, you can’t just create cosy characters when we’re working with titles like ‘Valkyrie’!”

“Oh – I never wanted to come here in the first place, but you made me!”

“That’s the spirit!  What would Valkyrie Valerie make someone like me do, if I was a warrior against Robber Roy in a battle?”

“Oh, you’re making things too difficult!

“Yes!  Now you’re getting it!  He makes things too difficult!  Valkyrie Valerie thinks I’m a bad lot!  Off with my head!  Or would that be Queen Guinevere?. . . the point is – how to avoid a weak ending?  Everything we do seems to lead to that . . .

An old woman in a long cloak; she leans on a staff.

Across the deserted landscape, she approaches twin town gates, mountains her backdrop.

Her eyes are hidden within a soft, fluted hood, but they glare out.

No one can see, but she can.

She tapped into a vein of anger, one that had been bled many times over the past months.

She closed her eyes within the hood, still walking, meditated for a few moments on that hard knot.

What had been in her mind dissipated as vapour over that dust.