Light struck my eyes, and I blinked to renew myself with the day. As my eyes settled, I saw that the clearing we had entered was full of people, all busy with animals or weapons. Some were fighting, others cooking in vast pots which hung over fires. Little huts adorned the edges of the space, and were made from mud and branches. I stared around me. Here was a humble village, in the centre of the forest that no one dared enter. It was astonishing.
Slowly my gaze fixed on the faces of the inhabitants. They had begun to notice our arrival, and stared at me with something akin to defiance and fear. A man with ashen blonde hair jogged to meet our company and bowed to the lady before speaking.
"Lady Althea, why have you brought an outsider to our midst?" He glanced at me with some contempt. I thought how cold his eyes were and decided I didn't much like him. He called the woman Lady Althea, so she must be important. He did not strike me as a man who would easily bow down to people.
"Calm yourself Ullrick. I have brought the girl for Ramona." Ullrick grunted but stood aside to let us pass. Lady Althea began to walk through the village, and I followed, aware of the many eyes upon me. I felt an uncomfortable prickling at the back of my neck. How many of these people were magic, or outcasts, or bandits? And why, if they weren't any of those things, did they hide away here? I realised Lady Altea had stopped walking and followed suit. In front of me was another of the huts, with several children standing in front. Lady Althea motioned for me to stay here and entered the hut, disappearing from view. I stood alone, with the eyes of the children upon me. I suddenly felt a sense of trepidation at meeting the woman Ramona. It seemed she was held in high regard and was most likely the leader of this group. I debated the possibilities of running away but gave up the idea immediately. There were too many people here and I would not get away. Of that I was sure.
Lady Althea emerged from the hut, and behind her came a tall thin woman with high cheekbones and bright blue eyes. This must be Ramona. She stood with her hands on her hips and looked me up and down.
"What is your name?" Her voice was sharp, but I suspected it was born of being a leader and having an image.
"My name is Ophelia."
"Your family were killed by the King's men?" I glanced sharply at Lady Althea. My fears were realised; she had read my mind.
"Yes." I answered while fighting back the memory of my family's blood streaked faces when I found them.
"We fight against the King. Will you join us?" Admiration filled me up as I heard her speech. This was what I was looking for; someone who fought against the terrifying rule we were under. I needed less than a second to think about my answer.
"Of course." Ramona smiled and beckoned for Lady Althea and myself to follow her inside.