"How long have you been looking for us," Katherien asked.
"A week," replied the newcomer. "You can be very elusive when you want.
Caila was still looking at the stranger as though she'd never seen a person in her life. Perhaps it was the silky cloaks that could have belonged to richer people or the exquisitely carved bow that filled Caila with awe. Or perhaps it was the fact that the stranger had just saved their lives.
"Caila,” said Katherien, feeling an introduction was in order, “this is Hallie. She's a friend of mine. Hallie, this is Caila.”
Hallie held out a hand for Caila to shake. Caila took it cautiously. Hallie's hair was a very rare colour for Everlin, a red colour that set off her sparkling green eyes. Her face was warm and friendly, unlike Katherien's serious one, with freckles dotted around her nose. She bore a scar above her eyebrow and her skin was brown from being out so long in the sun. It was difficult not to smile when faced with this newcomer.
"How are things back home?" Katherien asked, this clearly being the question she had wanted to ask since seeing Hallie.
"Not good. I’m sorry, I can't tell you much here."
Katherien glanced at Caila in a way that Caila felt she was the one that was stopping Hallie from giving this information.
"We need to take her somewhere safe."
"How about taking her to Kren? It's not far from our path."
Katherien nodded. "I’ve been taking her there.”
“Are you sure? You do know you’re three days from the correct path.”
“What?” Katherien looked at her appalled. “Are you sure? But the sea’s right there.”
“Yes, but Kren’s a bit further away.”
Katherien kneaded her forehead with her knuckles. “I haven’t been in this country for a long time.”
Hallie laid a comforting hand on Katherien’s shoulder. “Come on, we must keep moving. We don't want them back. Luckily, I think we may have scared them off for now. Have they been following you for long?”
“Since Hiran, or, well, where Hiran was.” Again, she looked at Caila. Caila hid her face behind her long hair.
“What about the whisperers?” Katherien asked Hallie.
“There aren’t many of them. If we take a small detour, they should be fooled.” Hallie laughed. “They’ve never been the brightest of creatures.”
After a few more introductions, they set off at a fast pace. The chirping of a few birds and the rustling of trees told them the whisperers and bisch were no longer near. The creatures had disappeared for the time being.
The other members of the group stayed mostly quiet. Most had already introduced themselves to Caila and felt that that was all they needed to say. That said, they all seemed friendly enough. Well, about as friendly as a bodyguard could be, tense and always on the lookout for something that may or may not happen.
A couple of them talked to her. A young woman named Wren and a boy a couple of years older than her called Tom. Like her, he never seemed to have been this far away from home. She started to wonder what kind of people they were.
They didn’t camp long that night. "The night is wasted if you are asleep," said Katherien. "At night we are under the protection of darkness while during the day, we are exposed by the light." As a result of this, half the night was spent resting and the other half moving on. Caila had wondered about the others final destination but wasn't too concerned. She had relatives in Kren. That was the nearest place to her hometown, Hiran.
The more she thought about Hiran, the quieter she became. Even Katherien noticed.
"It's the sorrow catching up with her," whispered Hallie one night as she and Katherien stood watch.
"I can understand. She's only sixteen after all."
"Sixteen!" Hallie looked astonished. "I thought she just looked a little young for her age. Sixteen!"
"Why so surprised?" said Katherien. "I was her age when my mother died.
"Well, you were a year older."
"What difference does that make?"
"Look Katherien, why don't you try talking to her? After all you've both lost relatives."
Katherien stood up.
"There's no point. We'll be in Kren by tomorrow. Everyone's got relatives in Kren. I bet Caila will meet up with some of her family. She can talk to them. Goodnight Hallie."
And she went off back into the tent, forgetting she was supposed to be on guard. For the first time, she wondered if Caila might just have something in common with her.
In the end, Katherien did not need to talk to Caila. Caila came to her.
While they were packing up the tents for departure, Caila strode up to Katherien.
"I want to talk to you."
Katherien hid her face behind her dark hair to hide her surprise. It was the first time Caila had said anything so powerful and determined. She knelt down and pretended to be busy with a tent peg.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Look at me."
Katherien refused to lift her head up. Caila was towering over Katherien who was kneeling down. At that moment, Katherien found out what it felt like to be small. She didn’t like it much.
"I want to know the truth," Caila said. "I want to know what's going on."
"I'm sorry Caila," Katherien said trying to sound authoritive but failing miserably. Instead she sounded small and weak. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you."
"I know, I know, it isn't safe. But when will it be. Are you just not going to tell me anything? After my village has been destroyed and you’ve dragged me all this way...”
"You didn't seem very concerned about that."
“Well, I thought it was a dream, no, a nightmare.” Caila’s voice swelled in volume. “Where are my parents, and my cat, and my friends? Look at me!"
Caila spoke the last in such a threatening voice that Katherien turned her head and looked up into Caila's face. The blue eyes were not swelling with tears. They were angry. The usually smiling face was distorted with a rage Katherien had never seen before. But beyond that, the flicker in Caila's eyes, there was sadness and confusion. Katherien recognised it. She didn’t know what to say.
"I'm sorry," she kept repeating, "I'm sorry."
Caila sat down beside Katherien, having run out of steam. She still did not cry. The pair just sat in silence, watching the others packing away. They didn't talk until at last, Katherien spoke.
“Is it bad that I can’t cry?” Caila asked. Katherien didn’t respond so Caila continued. “I keep trying to make myself but I just can’t.”
“Everyone mourns in a different way,” Katherien said in a quiet voice. “Some never cry, some cry for ages. Others just take longer to feel the pain.”
“But that’s not right. Surely if someone you love dies...
“There is no set way for mourning for them. I lost my mother too. A long time ago. All I have left of her is this.” She touched the hair clip in her hair. “And I have never cried for her death. It never seemed like something she would want me to do.”
Caila looked up at her. “This feels awful,” she whispered.
Katherien looked despairingly back. If only she knew, the thought ran across her mind. Then Katherien made a decision.
"I can't tell you anything here," she said, "but I will. I promise."
Caila looked up. "Are you sure?"
Katherien smiled. "How would you like to see my home?"
"You want her to come with us?"
Katherien and Hallie were walking a little behind the others and were discussing, in whispers, the possibility of taking Caila to their home.
"Yes," replied Katherien, watching Caila talking, in a much happier tone than the night before, to one of the others.
"But a human! Everyone would be terrified. And she's only a child! We never planned to let anyone in. Why her? Why now?"
"She's seen them, Hallie. The whisperers and the bisch. Doesn't that deserve some explanation?"
Hallie paused. "Perhaps. But you didn't seem so keen on her before. What's changed?"
Katherien remained silent.
Hallie sighed. "You’re never going to tell me anything, are you?”
“Not if I can help it.”
Hallie thought for a minute.
“I'll send ahead a couple of scouts. They'll arrive this evening if they're quick. If they let Caila come we'll be there by tomorrow afternoon."
"Who'll you send?"
"Willow and Tom, I think."
Willow was a slender, brown haired woman who had been a loyal member of Hallie’s team for a long time. Katherien could spot her now, striding purposefully forward. But she hadn’t heard of Tom. Strange name. Simplistic.
"New kid. I'm training him. This is his first outing."
Katherien looked more closely the person Hallie was pointing to. He was busy in conversation with Caila. He had a young, open face with should length brown hair. Looking at him made Katherien remember her first excursion out onto the plains of Everlin. Her trip hadn't been so easy then. Her eyes glazed over as she thought back to the attack, the screaming and the sight that had haunted her mind for so many years...