Rough Travels

Oriana travelled non-stop for the rest of the day. She carefully scouted out Owvry village when she reached it again, finding the gates closed and barred and an enormous cloud of dust hovering over the middle of the enclosure. She was careful to stick to the trees as much as possible as she skirted around the village and the surrounding fields on the far side, only crossing open areas when she was absolutely sure no one was around.

And it was a good thing, too; the guards were patrolling the entire surrounding area, and if she hadn't been so practiced with sneaking up on her prey while hunting she never would have made it undetected past them all.

All the running she had done that day was tiring, though, and the emotional toil had been great as well. She knew she couldn't go much further past the far side of the village today, especially since the sun was already setting by this point. She would have to set up camp.

Fortunately, the season was warm, and even overnight she would be able to make due without a fire as long as she bundled up. This close to town, a fire would give her away within minutes.

She found cover beneath a large willow tree, and laid out her rucksack to rest her head upon. It was a very lumpy, uncomfortable pillow, but it was still preferable to the ground.

Fitful at best, her sleep was interrupted many times by unidentifiable sounds in the forest around her, and curious animals that needed to be chased away or dissuaded with her knife lest they get into her supplies. Once, in a turn of events that left her heart pounding in her chest like a rabbit's, she even heard voices in the distance and saw a pair of lit torches moving through the woods.

Guards, undoubtedly, combing the forest in search of the girl who shouldn't exist. The girl who they probably thought had summoned lightning to protect herself and called some catastrophe down upon the village in order to aid her escape.

She would have grinned at the thought of the guards thinking her capable of such things, had the circumstances not been so dire. At least this would make her mother even more safe. If she was smart, Naomi could claim she was under the spell of a powerful witch disguised as a girl, or something along those lines. After what the guards had seen that day, even the most sceptical of them would probably believe it.

She knew the guards wouldn't be able to find her in the dark, not in such a big forest, so she tried her best to get back to sleep once they had moved on. It was then that she realized she hadn't left her mother any sort of goodbye, or explanation. The only way Naomi would even know Oriana had made it to the cottage unharmed was the missing items from around the house.

If she could have gone back, she would have. By this point, though, there was no way she could make it back to the cottage safely. And the guards would undoubtedly be watching the cottage for some time, just in case Oriana showed her face there again. All she could do was get as far away as possible, and hope it would be safe to come back again some day.

This thought left her with a terrible feeling, and it made the forest seem a lot more daunting by herself. In order to smother the feeling, and despite the danger it might involve, she covered up her left eye with her hand and fell asleep watching the forest through only her 'happy eye'.

* * *

Morning broke as Oriana was packing up again in the morning. The sun had not been her wake-up call—the birds who rose shortly before it had opened her eyes to a loud if welcome melody. For a moment, hearing their calls with her eyes still closed, she had smiled and greeted the new day with enthusiasm. But it wasn't long before she remembered where she was and how serious a situation she was in. The rest of her routine was completed with grim determination.

She hunted that day, and caught a few small animals that would make good eating. For breakfast, though, she ate some dried apple she had brought from home. She tried to eat as little as possible, but she hadn't had a proper meal since before she and Naomi had left for the village yesterday. It felt like eons ago.

Before long, her supply of dried apple slices was exhausted. This was unwelcome news, but she still had the game she had caught.

She hiked through the woods for the rest of the day, remaining parallel to the road that ran in this direction but a safe distance away from it. She occupied herself by collecting anything edible she came across, and snacked on berries, edible leaves, and ranger's lichen as she went.

By dinner, though, she was dying for a proper meal.

Sure she was far enough from the village by now for a fire to be safe, she started one by rubbing two sticks together, just as her mother had taught her. She had grabbed a few fire-starting supplies from home, as well as a candle, but the longer she could go without relying on them, the better.

Her fire-starting skills proved to be more than adequate, though, and by the time the sun was heading toward the horizon again she already had a comfortable blaze. Satisfied with her handiwork, she set to preparing the meat.

This did not go nearly as smoothly as the fire.

She hadn't realized just how much of the work her mother had always done for her. She knew how to skin and gut an animal in theory, but it was a different story trying to do it on her own, in the woods, with only a knife, a growling stomach, and a full day's travel under her belt.

By the time she got the animal into an edible state and put it over the fire, she felt more like falling asleep than eating. She forced herself to stay awake long enough to eat, though, even if she had done such a terrible job preparing and cooking the meat that barely any of it was edible. She quickly cooked the rest of the meat so it wouldn't go bad, and then immediately put out the fire and fell asleep.

However, she barely slept a wink. Whenever she managed to drift off, she would have terrible dreams and wake up in a cold sweat. She would see herself starving to death in the forest, alone, or her mother trapped in a jail cell, calling out her name. She tried to cover her left eye to make the nightmares stop, but her efforts were in vain.

Even her 'happy eye' couldn't protect her from her own dreams.

The End

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