Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(11)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(11)
Jeff Wheeler

She did not dare to look back, even once. The feelings swirled inside her, bidding her to flee. She trusted the feelings. She should have trusted them earlier. Her legs strained with the pace, but she knew she would reach the summit soon, then it would be downhill to the river. That river was the farthest she had ever traveled in her life. They had camped at the river’s edge on a summer’s eve three years ago. Winemiller had warned them not to cross the river and enter the mountains on the other side. He said that it was dangerous on the other side. She would follow the river down the mountain then.

When she reached the summit, the sun was blazing with promise. The light blinded her momentarily and she stumbled and sagged to her knees, coughing so violently she vomited. Her legs trembled with the punishing pace. Her stomach was lurching again, and again she felt the fear. He was behind her. He was hunting her. The man with ice blue eyes. The eyes of someone without a soul.

“There are many things in this world that cannot be explained. There are an equal number of foolish theories that persist despite the evidence to the contrary. To kill a mistruth or an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.”

—Possidius Adeodat, Archivist of Kenatos

Phae tripped and plunged into the stream, soaking her pants and cloak. As she struggled to her feet, a branch raked her cheek. She nearly tripped again, but managed to catch herself in time. Ahead there were few boulders to hide behind.

The steepness of the brook challenged her differently and the stones and boulders were treacherous enough. It slowed her to stay in the water, and so she decided to scrabble up the other bank and enter the dense woods for concealment. The sounds of nature around her were terrifying. Blue jays flapped and squawked and even the insects formed a cacophony of sound. Moths and butterflies flitted in the sunlight all around her. She swatted at them and tried to squeeze water from her drenched cloak as she walked. She followed the sound of the brook, knowing it would bring her back to the low country.

Her stomach was twisted and worried about Trasen. She knew going back would be foolhardy, but it was agony not knowing what had happened to him. Her ears strained for the sound of her pursuer. Her legs felt swollen and aching from the punishing pace. She was grateful to Master Winemiller for all the years of hard work. A weaker girl would have collapsed.

The sun was deceptive beyond the branches of bristlecone. She did not know how much time had passed. Her stomach began raving with hunger and so she sat on a small boulder by the creek to rest and eat. Immediately the feelings of dread and worry exploded inside of her. She had to keep going. She pushed away from the boulder and ignored the hunger as best she could.

Her mind was a jumble. It took concentration to avoid the pitfalls that would twist an ankle, but the pace did give her some time to think. Somehow her father was involved in all of this. That her father was even alive was a complete revelation to her. She had assumed that he was dead, killed during the last bout of Plague because he had the fireblood. Winemiller had never even mentioned the possibility of him being alive. Why had her father sent the Vaettir prince and not come himself?

She wished now that she had gone with Prince Aran and not put Trasen’s life in danger. She did not know the Prince’s abilities, but he was obviously someone her father had trusted with her safety. It was the nature of those from Stonehollow to be wary of strangers. Master Winemiller had not trusted him either, but she knew he was even more wary than most. Her feelings were conflicted. If she could just make it back to the homestead, perhaps she would find them both there and determine what to do next.

A loud crack of a branch sounded behind her. She glanced over her shoulder but could not see anyone, but the sound was nearby. The feelings inside her fanned even more, driving her faster. She started to run. Her throat was parched, but she dared not scoop up some water from the creek. Her head buzzed with fatigue. There was no path through the woods and she found herself slogging through thick brush and maneuvering around twisted bristlecone somehow growing from cracks in enormous boulders.

The creek continued to snake its way down, her alongside it, until at last she reached a pond, choked with scum and moss. The water there would be undrinkable, so she knelt by the brook’s edge before it spilled there and gulped down some water quickly. It made her dizzy but the water was delicious.

Stopping even that short amount of time caused a wave of panic inside her. She splashed through the pond and crossed it. If her bearings were right, she was heading back toward the valley of Stonehollow. Her leg muscles burned. Relentlessly, she continued. After crossing a small meadow, she saw that there were fewer bristlecone now and more bur oak trees offering shade and more cover. Phae left the meadow behind and entered the shady woods. It felt better. Her heart began to calm. The green of the oddly-shaped leaves was inviting, causing dappled patterns on the forest floor.

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