Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(28)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(28)
Jeff Wheeler

Her body responded to the walking, bringing a flush of heat to her cheeks that helped ward off the chill. She was tempted to run for it again. She was young and quick. She tried slowing deliberately, to see if he would outpace her. When she did, he would pause, cocking his head slightly as a warning. He expected her to match him stride for stride.

What should she do? The dilemma forced her to consider the situation from a hundred different ways. Should she try to escape? Should she refuse to walk and force him to drag her? Would he kill her for disobedience outright? She knew she had to try something, but preferably something not too risky. He had let her sleep and rest. There was any number of reasons he had done so. She imaged it was because he knew she needed it and that it would be difficult for her to go on if she were too fatigued. Carrying her back to Kenatos would not be enjoyable either. Perhaps he would bring her to a Preachán caravan and she’d be bundled up like cargo?

Phae wanted to try something, to test him even a little bit. Would he be reasonable?

“I am thirsty,” she said. It was true. Even if he wore a black ring beneath his glove, it would only confirm it.

The Kishion hardly broke stride. He slowed his pace slightly, pulling the leather flask from his belt and handed it to her. It was nearly full and she twisted it open and took a long drink from it. The water was warm and leathery. It tasted awful but it served its purpose. She wiped the moisture from her mouth on the back of her hand and gave it back to him.

The quiet and solitude tormented her. She had never been outside of Stonehollow. The thought of leaving the valley was excruciating. The Kishion’s stride never faltered. He was tireless. He was terrifying. She struggled to think what she could do to get away from him.

The next day passed in strange quiet. Phae noticed that they often attracted the attention of robins or blue jays, and an astonishing number of butterflies and other winged insects. They fluttered and hovered nearby, and she thought it curious. Several times during the day she had seen a doe or a fox peering at her, as if trying to win her gaze. Their luminous eyes were almost pleading. She did not understand this. Never before had nature tried to commune with her in such a way. Was this what it meant to be Dryad-born? Or were the old man and the young girl both mad?

The Kishion stopped to let her rest several times during the day, for which she was grateful. His pace was punishing but not impossible. He would pause by streams to let her drink and foraged berries and roots from the surrounding woods for her to eat. She noticed that he rarely ate—a few berries, if that. He’d suck on a root for a good while before eating it. He also knew the differences in edible mushrooms, which he promptly gave to her. She thanked him, but he did not answer.

Who was this man who had caught her? Why had he not seen her by the oak tree? He was strange and enigmatic and rarely glanced at her face for more than an instant. It was as if the Arch-Rike had warned him about her gaze. She wished she knew more about her race, whatever she was. Dryad-born, the Druidecht had called her. What did that mean? Twice she tried engaging him in conversation. He refused to speak or answer her. On they plodded, crossing meadows along the fringe of the valley, near the rim of mountains. If they were journeying to Stonehollow, they would have been going east, but instead, she discerned a northerly bend to their journey. They were crossing the lowlands along the northern edge. Each step took them farther away from the Winemiller’s vineyard. Her heart yearned to see it again.

In the late afternoon, they encountered an abandoned homestead. That it was abandoned was plain to see because the roof had caved in, the fence was rotting and dilapidated and the grasses had grown as high as their waists. It was a large stone cottage and the walls were intact, though the windows were missing, and Phae could see a hive of bees in the roofline, the swarm buzzing in the late afternoon.

The stone cottage was sullen and lonely and Phae pitied it immediately. There was an unkempt fruit orchard beyond the broken fence and she could see the branches laden with wild fruit.

“Can we stop a moment?” Phae implored, gazing hungrily at the trees. He glanced back at her, saw where she was looking and shrugged his indifference.

She walked through the high grass, enjoying the new smells on the breeze. The house looked so lonely and forlorn. How long had it sat empty of life? How long had nature laid claim to its seams and mortar? Trasen wanted ducats to buy a farmstead in Wayland. This one could be taken and rebuilt. A new roof could be put on, the grasses cut with a thresher. It was a sturdy-looking place and it seemed to weep in the light, begging her to stay. What if Trasen and she could fix it together? The thought of it sent a subtle thrill through her bones. Just the two of them, starting a homestead together.

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