Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(27)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(27)
Jeff Wheeler

“Not even a bird,” she agreed.

He sighed. “Very well. I will teach you. But there is something we must do first. We must shear off all of your hair.”

He could tell by her expression she was not certain if he was joking or not.

Before either could speak they heard the ominous sound of boot steps approaching and promptly fled their hiding place.

“There is a saying among the Romani, or so I am told. ‘It is folly to cross a bridge until you come to it, or to bid a hungry bear good morning until you meet him—perfect folly. All is well until the stroke falls, and even then nine times out of ten it is not so bad as anticipated.’ It means that we should not dwell on our troubles until they materialize for they are often not as desperate as we fear. Of course, this may be complete rubbish.”

—Possidius Adeodat, Archivist of Kenatos

She was caught.

Phae realized it immediately, knowing that there was no chance she could run. The night was dark and chill. Her ankles and knees were throbbing, her face itching from tiny cuts. Small twigs and crushed leaves had been her pallet as the stars had swirled above. Lifting her head, she gazed at the one who had hunted her relentlessly. She tried to speak, but her throat was thick and she nearly choked. It took some coughing and swallowing to master it again. There was something she had to know. She dreaded his answer.

“Did you kill him?” she whispered hoarsely.

He was shrouded with the darkness, staring down at the ground in silence, his expression void of emotion in the pale light. He plunged the nub of a stick into the dead leaves, stirring them lazily.

“Did you?” she demanded, slowly sitting up. Her body groaned with the effort. “Did you kill my friend?”

He tossed the stick away and shrugged. “He wasn’t a threat. I let him live.”

She let out a breath of relief. Leaves clung to the tangled net of her hair. She was dirt stained, filthy, and looked like a shambling mess. But her heart surged with gratitude. “Thank you,” she said softly.

The man said nothing. He seemed to be waiting for something.

“Who are you?” she pressed, rubbing her arms, which were very cold in the night air. She was trembling and felt her voice quaver. She tried to subdue it.

He brushed some leaves from his pants and then rose, adjusting the cowl so that it covered most of his face. She took a moment to study him. Woodsman garb, a heavy tunic and sturdy pants and boots. He had leather bracers across his arms and gloves. The cloak was travel-worn and fraying at the edges. She saw his chin in the moonlight, but it was too dark to see the scars or his eyes. As he moved, the cloak ruffled and she saw the hilts of two daggers at his belt. Both had sculpted hilts with hawk-like heads for the pommels and tight leather wrappings along the handles. Oddly, he carried no knapsack or bedroll but he did carry a leather flask for drinking. Where was his food?

He approached her deliberately. “I know what you are. I know what you can do. Do not attempt to run from me. It will end badly for you. I have no qualms hurting you.” He paused, folding his arms across his chest. “For now, you are of worth to my master, the Arch-Rike of Kenatos. I intend to take you to the city and you will come with me. If you prove difficult, my master has instructed me to kill you. I will do that. Believe me. Do we understand one another?”

Phae nodded solemnly, her heart constricting with terror. She could tell he was used to killing people. The dispassionate voice chilled her more than the night breezes. “Who are you?”

“I have no name.”

“What shall I call you then?” she asked.

She thought she saw a twist in his mouth, a sardonic expression. “I am a Kishion. Call me that, if you wish. But I do not wish to speak to you. It would be best if this were enough. We go to Kenatos now.”

She bit her lip. “Can I see my friend? Where did you leave him? I want to see him so that he can tell my family that I did not come to harm.”

“I will obey my master by bringing you to Kenatos as swiftly as possible.” He turned and began to walk. After a few steps, he paused, tilting his head slightly. She recognized it as a signal that she should follow him.

Folding her arms tightly, she started after him, wincing at the pain in her joints and the ravening hunger in her belly. Her pack thumped softly against the small of her back as she walked. The night made ominous sounds. The distant call of a night animal. Snapping sticks somewhere hidden in the gloom. Her mind whirled with dread and her insides thrummed with fear. She had thought he would use rope on her and drag her after him like a pup on a leash. His threat of death worked just as effectively as a bond.

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