It was the smell that did it. Just a faint hint of grass and heathers, but it was enough to trigger the memories; memories she did not even know she had. She had felt restless for the past few days. Something was urging her to go, to leave this place and travel north. Now she knew she must find that smell once more; it was important.
She turned her head northwards and began the journey. Others around her were moving too. Perhaps they had remembered a smell of a grass or a rock or maybe they were imagining the days of their youth. Gentle, carefree days spent splashing in ponds and streams, with no worries of the future. She wondered idly how far she would have to travel. It would not matter; she was strong and had stored up plenty of food. Winter was coming and it would be good to be away before the temperature dropped.
Day after day she ploughed on. She fell into a rhythm and no longer thought about the effort. Her companions changed over the weeks but a few stayed constant. She had memories of one or two of them from games long ago when they were young and carefree, but she was shy and did not catch their eyes, although from time to time she was conscious of a large shape following her like a shadow. He did not come too close and after a while she began to think of him as her protector.
And they did need protection. They were attacked more than once and had to scurry for cover and hurry to get away from their assailants. After a while she realized that it was safer to travel with company so she kept close to her one time playmates and accepted the attention of her shadow.
It was tiring. Day after day, night after night, moving ever northwards. She felt herself grow weary and more than once caught herself thinking how easy it would be to sink into a gentle sleep; to just slip away and drift into oblivion. But then she remembered the smell and thought if she could just smell that heather and play in that rock pool one more time she would be content.
The journey became tougher. At first the way had been flat but after a while she found herself struggling uphill, making her way round obstacles, leaping over rocks and even backtracking on occasion. All the time her companion kept pace with her, encouraging her silently. It became harder to breathe; it felt different somehow. She slowed down, to adjust, and as she slowly breathed in the smell came back to her again. Even the light was familiar. She could remember the sunlight flickering through the heathers, the glinting of the water rippling over the stones. She was nearly home.
Would it have changed after so much time, she wondered, would she recognize it? She herself had changed. She was bigger now and different somehow. She looked across at her companion, struggling to keep up; he was different too, and the strain of the journey was showing. She must not give up, not now that she was so close.
At last she saw it. The pool she remembered from so long ago. And the smell; it was just as she had imagined. She stopped, taking time to savour the scene. The old tree was still there, its branches drooping down to the ground. She remembered hiding among the roots during a game of chase. The stepping stones had moved, but then they moved often. They seemed smaller, in fact the whole pool seemed smaller, or maybe it was she that was bigger. It was all so confusing and she was so tired.
Slowly she sank down onto the stones. With the last of her energy she dug a small hole and deposited her precious burden that she had carried all the way, back to her home. She was vaguely aware of her companion moving back and forth over her treasure. He must be helping to keep it safe.
And there was that smell again. Now she knew she was truly home, back where she belonged. She felt weak. She knew she did not have long to live, but at least she had made it home to her family, to the place she had been born. She did not move much more. She was content to watch the sunlight rippling upon the water and smell the heathers and the rocks. It was so very beautiful. One day her children would learn to love this place too and they would know the smell of home, as had her mother in her time.
The salmon gave one last flutter and was still. Her journey was over.
Beautiful! I thought she was a bird at first until he had to get over rocks.