We spent the day collecting the herbs and plants I needed to create the medicine, plus a few other useful plants I found. Kevin collected food he found, and even killed a deer which he attatched to a branch in order to make it easy for us to carry it. The little girl, Mia, clung to my hand tightly as we foraged, and hid her head in my trousers when we found three other missing people. Kevin buried them all, and I was touched about how he cared for his people. I found myself wondering about him, about his life. Had he got someone in his life? Had he had someone, who just wasn't here any more?
We found a little girl who Kevin told me was called Kyla, crying in the middle of some bushes. Unlike Mia, she had no one with her. I took her and she clung to me as Mia did, making it difficult to walk. I wondered whether finding these people reminded Kevin of the loss of Oti's parents.
I glanced at him and found he was looking at me. He turned his head quickly, and pretended to be interested in some plants, but this made me smile even more. I sat the girl down with the supplies and slipped quietly over.
"I wouldn't eat that if I were you." He jumped and span round. "It'd give you a wicked stomach ache."
"What is it?"
"Poinsettia. That on the other hand, " I pointed at another plant, "helps with any problems you might have... relieving yourself."
"Good. Not that I, have those problems..." He muttered quickly.
I laughed and put some of the herbs in the bag I was carrying.
"I'm sure you don't."
"Come, we had better go."
He led Mia, Kyla and myself back to the river, then we followed its winding path until we reached the other side of the woody valley. There he led us up a steep and narrow path until we opened out in to yet another mountainous clearing, but without any plant life to be seen.
Some of the men came and relieved us of the deer and I pulled Kevin aside. Mia ran off to her father, but Kyla clung tighter to my trousers.
"Does the little girl have no one?"
"Her father was killed years ago, along with Oti's parents. Her mother was one of those we buried."
"Then I shall take care of her." I stated. He looked surprised, but pleasantly so, and I led the little girl over to where Irene was sat propped against a rock. "Look Irene. This is Kyla, and she has no family any more. We shall take care of her."
"Yes. I thought you would like that."
Irene stared at me for a minute as though she had something to say, but then Kyla slipped her hand in to Irene's and she melted, taking the child in her arms and letting her sob in to her shoulder.
I slipped in to one of the huts and changed in to a simple green dress one of the women had laid out for my return, feeling that I did not want to push the men's boundaries too far. I had only just re-deemed my status by bringing Mia and Kyla home. Men were actually nodding to me, although they had not yet begun smiling. As I emerged from the hut I saw an ancient, wrinkled woman struggling with a bucket of water she had obviously fetched from the river, and I ran to help. She thanked me as I put it next to the fire that was heating up the deer.
I smiled and glanced behind me to see where Kevin was. For a minute I did not spot him, but then I noticed he was stood by the edge of the rocks, looking at me. A slight gesture of his head bid me follow him, and he disappeared. Intrigued I glanced back to check Irene was alright but she was engrossed in Kyla, so I went to the rocks and discovered a narrow space. Of course Kevin would have a way out. I slipped down it, and came out the other side in to a sea of colour.
The sun was setting, deep burnt oranges and crimsons mixed with the darkness of the night, and the paleness of the shrinking day. Sprays of pink fluttered along the edges of these colours, blending them perfectly in to a beauty that no painter could re-create.
"It's beautiful!" I gasped, closing my eyes to feel the draining warmth of the lids, and then opening them to take in the beauty once more. There were changes, subtle but there, in the brief second that my eyes had closed. How quickly mother nature works! I turned with joy in my face to see Kevin stood inches from me.
I felt wild and free, and the sun was so beautiful and the life in me was so... alive, that I laughed and twirled away tauntingly. When he grinned at me I smiled coyly and smoothed down the dress.
"I thought I had better become a woman again, until our next trip. The men night be able to handle my figure in such fitting garments." I laughed, reminding him of the trousers and shirt I had worn. Then I twirled in the dress again. "What do you think? Am I a woman?" I taunted, enjoying being able to talk like this with a man. If I had tried this with any man in the castle, I would have either been put in the cellar for inappropriate behaviour, or I would have been taken advantage of. And besides, none of the men in the castle were quite as handsome as Kevin.