Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(12)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(12)
Jeff Wheeler

She ran her hands along the rough, ridged bark of the oak trees, noticing the strange acorns with their furry caps. Ahead, a dazzlingly big blue jay squawked at her from a branch of an enormous tree. The noise caught her attention. It was as if the bird was speaking to her. She glanced backward and felt a surge of terror. Looking back at the tree, she felt safe. Phae approached it cautiously but quickly. The trunk was huge and wide enough to conceal her entire body. She gazed up at the gnarled branches and velvety green leaves. A butterfly zoomed by her ear, fluttering its wings. It was too beautiful to swat.

She was drawn to the tree in an inexplicable way. Its very presence was a comfort and that puzzled her. Staring up at the branches, she noticed thick bunches of mistletoe crowding around some leaves. She finished circling the trunk and then gazed back at the direction she had come.

The stranger was in the grove with her.

Phae froze instantly, clutching the bark with shock. He was not staring at her but at the tree. She saw him rooted in place, an enemy. She began to shiver with dread, knowing he was too close. He had not seen her yet. Slowly, she pulled back and slid down the trunk until she sat. She tried to make herself as tiny as she could. Even her breath was barely a whisper, despite the hard journey.

Twigs snapped and crunched. He was moving closer.

One thought came to her. If she could look into his eyes, those soulless eyes, she could steal his memory of her. It had not worked before because he was too far away. She hoped that was the reason it had not worked. If she held perfectly still and waited until he found her, she could stare into his eyes and blink, just as she had as a child in the wine barrel. She was not totally sure it would work, but it was the only thing she could try, knowing that even Trasen’s aim with a bow had not stopped him.

Drawing in little breaths, Phae listened to the sound of him approaching from the far side. She twisted some strands of hair away from her face and tried to calm the trembling. There were dead leaves all around the tree, creating a crackling carpet as he approached. She heard silence as he paused.

He appeared around the corner of the oak, so close she could see the scars on his face. He had a rugged look, sun-browned skin from a life out of doors, and scars across his face as if some terrible beast had clawed him savagely. Up close, he seemed a little younger than he had from afar. He stared at the tree, not down at her, his gloved fingers touching each ripple of bark. There were twin daggers sheathed in his belt. She could not believe he had not noticed her cowering in front of him. His lips pursed and he paused again, sniffing the air. He came closer, his boots nearly striking her. Phae tugged her legs against her body. Was he blind? How could he not see her?

An expression came over his face, a clouded look. He shook his head, as if he smelled something bad. Then he proceeded to circumnavigate the trunk. His boot collided with the tip of hers. He was right over her. She stared up at his scarred face, willing him to look at her. But he did not glance down.

Phae let out a slow breath of relief when he finished his circuit of the tree and then tromped off into the woods, never looking back. She did not understand it, but she was grateful. Hugging her knees with both arms, she pressed her face against the bark and felt tears of relief well up in her eyes. Perhaps, he would not find her after all. After resting, she could retrace her way back to the cabin and see what had become of Trasen. Exhausted, she dozed, pressed against the oak.

A hand shook Phae’s shoulder to wake her. She started. Kneeling by the oak tree she encountered a man with a gray beard and snowy white hair. He had a stern look on his face. She saw a Druidecht talisman hanging from his neck and a surge of relief immediately quelled the panic.

His beard was cropped and she noticed he was short. He glanced back at the woods the direction her pursuer had gone. “You are safe for now,” he said in a whisper. “But your pursuer is nearby.”

Phae nodded vigorously. “He may have killed my friend up on the ridge. How did you find me?”

He gave her a curt smile. “My wife led me to you. She saw you running from that man. How she called me is a Druidecht secret. But you are safe as long as you stay near this tree.”

“I can’t stay here,” Phae said, shaking her head. “I need to go back up the mountain and search for my friend. Can you guide me?”

He shook his head angrily. “You do not understand who is chasing you. It is one of the Arch-Rike’s minions. Who are you, child, and why does he hunt you?”

“I don’t know you,” she answered, immediately distrustful.

“I am a Druidecht, girl. You can trust me.”

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