DargonZine 12, Issue 2

Fate of a Child Part 2



This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Fate of a Child

“Tobias, Tobias! Look what I got!” Anna ran down the snow-covered hill, holding the result of this morning’s hunt in her hands. She could see Tobias Held, her guardian, blowing in his hands to warm them while he was waiting for her to come down the hill. Anna stumbled, fell, and slid several feet downward. Quickly, she got to her feet and walked the rest of the way. Her face beamed with pride.

 

“Look Tobias! I caught a rabbit! All by myself!” She held the rabbit up high and laughed. During the last years Tobias had taught her to hunt with a bow and arrow, but she was much better with a sling and stones. The rabbit she’d brought back proved it.

 

“Look at you!” Tobias laughed and brushed the snow off Anna’s cape. “Good hunting Anna!” he told her with a smile on his face. “Now go inside and warm up, I’ll skin the rabbit and we’ll cook it for supper.”

 

“Thanks Tobias,” she replied and stepped inside the cabin. Anna still hated to skin an animal, though she had learned how to do it. She took the outer layer of her clothing off and hung it near the fire to dry. Tobias had brought the clothing back from Dargon last Ober. It was a bit big, but that way it would last her hopefully through this winter and maybe next.

 

Anna stood near the fire and warmed her hands. The heat felt good after having spent the morning outside. Anna’s thoughts drifted. She was hoping that this year Tobias would take her along to Dargon. Each year he had gone to Dargon to sell fur and furniture for the spring festival, Melrin, a five-day celebration. Each year she had been left behind to tend the goats and look after the cabin.

 

“This year I’m going, too! I don’t want to stay behind again.” Anna straightened herself unconsciously as the thoughts whirled through her head. She wondered why Tobias wouldn’t take her with him to Dargon. Her fair skin, green eyes, and red hair were quite a contrast to Tobias’ dark skin and black hair. It would raise more than one question if she were to travel with him, but Anna didn’t care. She never accompanied him when he went to one of the villages, afraid what might happen if someone recognized her. The memory of her mother’s death still haunted her dreams. Up here on the hill she felt safe; no one bothered them.

 

“I will ask him again to take me to Dargon for the spring festival. He just has to let me go!” Anna told herself, took the kettle, filled it with water, and hung it on the hook over the fireplace. She threw in some of the dried herbs they had gathered last year and added cut vegetables. Together with the meat, it would make a fine stew.

 

It was Anna’s sixth winter in Tobias’ cabin. After her mother’s death she had been wandering aimlessly in the forest. Only by chance, had she found the cabin and Tobias had let her stay. He had added a room for her, made shelves for the wall, and a box in which she could keep her few belongings. Each year he had brought her something from his trip: a piece of candy, a string with beads to put around her neck, a new dress, or a doll. Last year, he had brought her a cape. Anna treasured the gifts, but they also reminded her of Tobias’ yearly absence. A cycle was a long time to be alone, the days passed quickly, but Anna hated to be left behind. She was dreaming of ships and big places and the market he had told her about. She wanted to see all that, too, and was determined to accompany Tobias when he l eft for Dargon the next time.

 

***

 

“Did a good job with that rabbit,” remarked Tobias as he walked into the cabin with a bowl full of cut up rabbit.

 

“Thank you!” Anna smiled and her eyes sparkled. Deciding not to wait until after dinner with her question, she gathered all her courage. “Tobias?”

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“Will you take me with you when you go to Dargon this year?” Anna saw the surprise on Tobias’ face.

 

After a few moments of silence, he took a deep breath and responded as he had many times before. “Anna, we’ve been through this before. The long journey and the dangers of the road. Maybe next year.”

 

“But I want to see the market, the ships, and all …” Anna’s voice was filled with a deep longing. She clenched her fists.

 

“And who’ll take care of the goats and the cabin while we’re gone?”

 

“We could take the goats with us. You always took the goats before.” She looked at him, wishing he’d give in.

 

“That I did, but I only had two goats then, not six like we do now.”

 

“But I can help! I’m older now; I can do many of the things you do.” Anna looked at her guardian and watched him prepare the meal quietly. The silence was unsettling. Pacing back and forth in the small room, Anna couldn’t take the silence any longer. “Tobias, I –”

 

“We’ll see,” he interrupted and Anna knew he wouldn’t say anything more about it. She let out a sigh, and set the table. She wanted to go to Dargon and would not give up until she’d gotten her way.

 

Anna ate her dinner, hardly noticing what was in her bowl, then finished her chores automatically. After her evening ablutions she went to her room and stretched out on the hay.

 

“Please, Stevene,” she prayed silently, like so many nights before, “let me go to Dargon with Tobias this year.”

 

***

 

Tobias remained sitting at the table, pulling his traps out from underneath the table and fixing them, long after Anna had gone to her room. He had seen the longing in Anna’s eyes and heard the unspoken want for change and adventure. It reminded him of his own longing for adventure in his youth. The girl had brought so much joy to his life. If he took her with him, it would make her happy, but would also put her life in danger. Roadside bandits were one of his concerns, the length of the journey another. It would be more stressful to travel with Anna, and if they took the goats it was almost an invitation for raiders. And then there was the matter of being recognized on the way by the villagers who orphaned her. Anna hadn’t told him what happened, but she had been plagued by nightmares for cycles after she had arrived in his cabin and had cried for her mother in her sleep. The year after her arrival, he had learned about Anna’s mother and the circumstances of her death. His journey had led him through Cobbleswell and careful questioning of some of the village youngsters had revealed that Anna’s mother had been accused of worshipping Arom-Nok and conspiring with the god to bring harm to the villagers.

 

Tobias remembered the youngster’s words as clearly as if he’d told him the day before: “… The men chased her all night and brought her back and tied her up real good, but they couldn’t find Anna. The girl was just as evil as her mother was. The next morning some of the rope was cut and we all got scared, thought the woman was gonna just disappear. Then we all threw stones at her till she stopped breathing. She was evil you know and did bad things to us. And then the men burnt her shack. After that all was quiet and nothing bad has happened since.” Tobias shuddered when he thought just how proud the boy had been about the killing. He had avoided Cobbleswell ever since, just in case. Every now and then, he heard that the villagers were still afraid the child would reappear and continue what her mother supposedly had done.

 

Over the years, Tobias had seen nothing in Anna that would warrant the accusations of the villagers. His knowledge of the All-Creator was limited. He had read the Manifest Pantheon a long time ago and forgotten most of it. After learning about Anna’s mother, he had filled in the gaps in his memory. Part of the Manifest was an explanation how everything came to be, and the All-Creator’s intention for his creation. When the All-Creator realized that man needed guidance, he created eight gods. Arom-Nok was one of the gods, but despised the All-Creator’s work and spread plagues and suffering among the people.

 

Tobias believed in the teachings of Cephas Stevene, who had spread the word of one god, and had taught Anna in that manner. She was certainly not the child of an evil god. But who would believe him? Many fellow travelers avoided him because his skin was so dark. He had heard the word ‘demon’ applied to him more than once. Only in Dargon people were used to all different kinds of skin colors, though he wasn’t so sure if Anna’s red hair would not draw extra attention, or prompt someone’s memory. During Melrin people from all over the duchy would visit Dargon. If he were to take her, he’d have to come up with a plan. Maybe his friends Zarit and Jerel would be willing to help him — traveling with six goats was not something he looked forward to. With this in mind he went to bed.

 

***

 

Spring finally arrived, melting the last ice, turning the hills green, and the meadows into a symphony of colors. The birds in the forest were chirping and building their nests. Anna was down at the creek washing her clothes and laying them in the sun to dry. She could hear Tobias hammering behind the house. He was fixing the fence and the small hand-wagon. He’d been at it all morning. Anna knew he was getting ready to travel. The spring festival was only three sennights away. Her yearning to go to Dargon with Tobias was stronger than ever and made it difficult to concentrate on her chores. He hadn’t said anything since she had asked him last. Twice after her successful hunt in the winter she had tried to talk to Tobias about taking her to Dargon. Each time he had cut her of f with a brief remark. A deep sigh escaped her. Anna knew better than to push the issue again, but she wanted to go so much that all her thinking circled around a way that would convince Tobias to take her with him.

 

Anna rinsed her shirt, wrung it as well as she could, and spread it out to dry. The sun was high in the sky now and shining warmly on her. A quick bath in mind, she took her shirt off and stepped carefully into the creek. The water felt cold around her ankles. She knelt down and let the water splash onto her legs and stomach. It was icy! Anna finished quickly. By the time she was done her feet looked blue. Shivering, she put her shirt back on and ran up and down alongside the creek to warm up. A little out of breath, but finally warm, she let herself fall backward on the grass, and watched white and grey clouds move slowly over the sky.

 

***

 

Tobias looked up from his work and stretched. He had finished the hand-wagon and packed all he needed for his trip. The fence was in a decent state. He listened for Anna. She was noisy when she did her chores, and he usually had no trouble locating her. But it was quiet and the silence was unsettling. “What is she up to?” he wondered and walked around to the front of the house. All over the grass, laundry was spread out to dry and right in the middle was Anna, asleep. He woke her up.

 

“Anna,” he began, “There’s just enough time for me to walk the path and check the traps one last time. I’ll be back by sundown.” He saw the unspoken question in her eyes and added, “We’re leaving tomorrow.” Anna’s face took on an expression of surprise and amazement.

 

“I get to go? I get to go!” excitement was in her voice, then doubt. “I really get to go?”

 

Tobias saw the worried look and nodded. Anna’s reaction made him smile. She ran around, jumping and twirling, laughing and crying at the same time. In between her jumps she yelled: “I get to go! I get to go!” Watching her in all her excitement and joy, he felt comfortable with his decision for the first time. Yet, Tobias wondered if he’d done the right thing; he still wasn’t sure whether his plan to disguise her would work. When Anna was out of breath, she ran back to Tobias and hugged him.

 

“Thank you, Tobias!” Her eyes beamed with joy. “Thank you!”

 

“Make sure you have everything ready for the journey, so I can add it on when I get back. Pack only what you need.” Anna nodded; for once she was speechless.

 

Tobias smiled at her. “I’ll be back at sundown.” He turned and made his way into the forest. Soon he disappeared from sight.

 

***

 

Anna picked up the clean clothes and turned them over so they would dry faster. She ran in and out of the cabin, put the things she wanted to take in a bundle, and closed it up, only to open it up again and add one thing or take another out. The sun was beginning its downward path when Anna closed the bundle up for the last time and took it out to the wagon. She took a deep breath. “I get to go,” she thought, “I really get to go.” Overjoyed, she quickly picked up the now dry clothes, jumping excitedly from shirt to shirt, took them inside, and folded them. In her excitement she didn’t notice the three men who stood at the edge of the forest on the other side of the creek.

 

***

 

The men watched as the girl ran in and out of the cabin, the long red hair following her every movement like a tail. For a long time the men seemed frozen in position, then, without a word one turned and walked into the forest — the other two followed.

 

“It is Arom-Nok’s child!” one of the men whispered in shock, breaking the silence. “I was right! I did see her two sennights ago when I took a wrong path! And you wouldn’t believe me.”

 

“No! It can’t be her! The wolves ate her years ago!” the other remarked. “No child can survive in the woods by itself.”

 

“No real child, but Arom-Nok’s child can!” the first man stated. “Arom-Nok even provided her with a place to live! Nobody lives up here! Don’t you remember that he’s responsible for plagues and sufferin’? Told you this place’s evil! We shouldn’t have come here in the first place!”

 

“No, you’re wrong,” the second man said thoughtfully. “It was the All-Creator himself who led us here. So we can take care of the evil in these woods once and for all.”

 

“What do you intend to do?” the third man inquired. The men looked at each other. Neither of them was sure how to proceed. The first man broke the silence.

 

“I say we burn the place down and then take her to the village where she’ll join the fate of her mother.” It only took a brief moment for the others to agree.

 

“I’ll go and get the girl,” the first man said, “You two wait until I have her and then we’ll set fire to the place.” The other two nodded silently and watched as their companion approached the cabin.

 

***

 

Anna packed her clothes in a separate bundle. She’d take them with her in the morning. When she heard a knock, she turned around in surprise.

 

“Hello, anybody here?” a voice inquired. Anna held her breath and for a moment she didn’t move. “Who would come up here?” she wondered. When the same voice spoke up again and repeated the question, Anna left her small room and stepped into the main room of the cabin. A burly man dressed in grey was standing in the doorway.

 

“Hello,” she said shyly, barely looking at the stranger.

 

“I got lost in the woods; do you know which way’s to the nearest village?” he wanted to know. “Can you show me?”

 

“Just follow the creek downstream,” Anna said softly. She didn’t move.

 

“Speak up child,” the man said, “I can’t understand you. I’m a little hard of hearin’.” Anna repeated what she’d said.

 

“I can’t hear you child, just point me in the right direction. My hearin’s really bad.” He moved back into the sunlight. Anna stepped outside and walked towards the creek. The man followed her swiftly, then grabbed her, pulled her hands behind her back, and covered her mouth before she could let out a scream. She struggled as hard as she could, but the man held her tight.

 

“Stop struggling or I’ll kill you right here,” the man yelled at her. Anna stopped in horror; she sensed he meant what he said. She watched, terrified, as two men appeared from across the creek and walked into the cabin. Menes later, the cabin burned. Tears ran down Anna’s cheek as she remembered her first home burning. “Not again!” she cried inwardly, almost choking on the lump she felt in her throat, “Not again!”

 

“Did you get some rope?” asked the man who was holding her.

 

“Sure did, and some cloth to keep her quiet,” answered the man grinning, binding Anna’s hands behind her back, and tying the cloth so she couldn’t make a sound. “Don’t need her screamin’ all the way.” “Let’s go!” the man grabbed her arm and dragged her along. She tried to resist, but got a blow to her head instead.

 

“You walk, or you’ll get more of those,” the man threatened and raised his hand again. Anna’s head hurt. She let herself be led away, weeping as she stumbled down the path.

 

“Tobias, help me!” she thought, “Please! Tobias! Help me!”

 

***

 

It was a long way up the hill to check the traps and disable them. Not much game was in the traps these days. “Damn wolves” he swore out loud when he found another trap with only a head in it. He’d have to come up with something better than the current traps when he returned from Dargon. Angry, Tobias walked on. “Three traps in one day emptied by those damn beasts! I can’t believe it!” he muttered to himself. “It would have been nice to have some extra meat to take along to Dargon. What am I going to tell Anna, when I get home empty-handed? The wolves ate her dinner?” Tobias picked up a stick, slammed it against the nearest tree, breaking it in half. “I better make my way home, no sense in cleaning out more traps.”

 

Frustrated, Tobias chose another path back. When he saw smoke rising, he hurried down the hill. “Oh, Stevene! Please, don’t let this be true!” Tobias called out, hoping it was not his cabin going up in flames. His hopes were crushed when he finally saw the clearing in which his cabin was located. Where his cabin stood, the flames were rising high into the sky.

 

“Anna!” he shouted, “Anna, where are you?” Only the sound of flames consuming his cabin answered him. There was nothing he could do to stop the fire; in a few bells his cabin would be only ash. The goats were trying to get as far from the burning cabin as possible and galloped into the forest the minute Tobias released them.

 

Tobias worked hard to stop the spread of the fire. Countless times he ran back and forth, making sure none of the falling debris would set the forest on fire. He had lost track of time and stopped to catch his breath. He was sure the fire wouldn’t spread now, but his cabin was lost. He had moved his hand-wagon to safety earlier, and felt fortunate that he still had it. Everything he had packed was still on there and safe. He glanced to the spot where he’d left it. A small bundle on the side caught his eye and he walked over to the wagon and opened it: Anna’s belongings.

 

“Anna!” Tobias called her until his voice was sore, but no answer. His heart ached. The uncertainty of what had happened to her made him worry so much he had trouble breathing. He could only hope that she hadn’t been trapped inside the cabin when the fire had broken out. Tobias watched as the cabin collapsed and sent more debris flying, keeping him busy preventing the spreading of the fire. Finally he had it under control and he paused, feeling tired and miserable. Not knowing what had happened to Anna was more than he could take. He searched the area around the cabin until sunset without finding her. In his sorrow, he forgot completely to search the other side of the creek.

 

***

 

The men walked fast alongside the creek, stopping only briefly whenever Anna tripped and fell. By the time they sought shelter for the night, Anna’s knees were bloody, her arms bruised, and her head hurt. She had fallen countless time, being unable to balance herself. Breathing was difficult with the cloth covering, and partly filling, her mouth. She was scared and winced in pain when one of them tied her to the tree.

 

“Tobias, where are you? I need your help!” Only the cloth in her mouth kept her from yelling at the top of her lungs.

 

For the first time, Anna got a good look at the men and memories of events long forgotten surfaced again. “They look like the men who took Mama away from me!” The realization was like a blow to the stomach and a wave of nausea swept over her. “They were among the people who burnt my house!” Anna swallowed hard. She watched as the men built a fire and sat down to eat. “What are they going to do to me?” she asked herself, yet was afraid to find out.

 

“We should get her some water; don’t want to drag a corpse to the village.”

 

“You give it to her then,” was the swift reply.

 

“Fine.” One of the men got up and stood in front of Anna. “If you make one sound, you won’t get a drop of water. Understood?” Anna nodded and he untied the gag. She took in a deep breath of fresh air and quickly drank the water he offered her.

 

“That’s enough.” He took the cup and forced the gag back into her mouth. Anna winced in pain. The man ignored her and settled back down near the fire.

 

“Tell me,” he inquired as he reached for the bread, “What makes you think she is Arom-Nok’s child? To me, she looks like any ordinary child.” The other men looked at him as if he was a youngster who needed a lesson about the All-Creator.

 

“I’ll tell you, but only ’cause you’re new around here.”

 

“Just tell him, and don’t leave anything out,” the other man interjected.

 

“Well then, ’bout half score ago, this woman with her brat shows up in our village, says her husband had died and she was looking for his sister. ‘Course the sister wasn’t living anymore either, so the woman moved into the empty shack. At first, all was fine, but then half the people in the village got sick and died. The year after we lost most of our goats to some sickness. First we didn’t think the woman had anything to do with it, but then we noticed that she disappeared into the woods and didn’t show up until days later. Said she was collecting herbs, but we found out she was conspiring with Arom-Nok, plotting how to do us more harm. She never joined in our circles, said she was praying alone. One year we caught her in the woods, but whoever was with her then, just vanished without a trace.

 

“And then that kid of hers. Just take a look! Have you ever seen anyone with hair that red or such green eyes? No one who ever lived in our village looked like that, and the mother didn’t look like that either. The year we caught the mother in the woods near the fairy circle, all the children but one got sick, many died. You can guess whose child didn’t get sick! So we took action!”

 

“What did you do?”

 

“We made sure she couldn’t do us any more harm, and then burnt her place. We just didn’t know what had happened to the brat. Thought the wolves had gotten to her. Now we know, and we’ll take care of her once we’re back in the village.”

 

“And nothing bad happened in the village since you disposed of the mother?”

 

“Nothing!”

 

“Then why do you want to harm the child?”

 

“Don’t you understand? Her mother conspired with an evil god and had this child!” The man pointed with his finger in Anna’s direction. “If we don’t take care of the child for good, the evil will come back.” The man spoken to nodded. Quietly, the three men finished their meal.

 

“One of us should stand watch. Just in case.”

 

“Don’t you think she’s secure enough?”

 

“Doesn’t hurt to stand watch! Never know what happens in these woods. And there are wolves around here.”

 

“All right, I’ll take first watch.”

 

“Fine, wake me when it’s time for the second watch,” the one sitting furthest away from Anna said. “And I wake you when it’s your turn,” he added and pointed to the remaining one. The man nodded and settled down beside the fire. Soon the two were asleep and started to snore. The other man sat down beside them and stirred the fire.

 

***

 

Anna was cold and uncomfortable. She’d been trying to shift into a better position, but the ties made that almost impossible. The man on watch, the same one who’d given her water earlier, approached Anna and gestured her to be silent. Then he took the gag out of her mouth. Anna took a deep breath and licked her dry lips. Silently he put a cup to her mouth and let her drink some of the water.

 

“Name’s Drew,” he whispered, “Don’t make a sound. Don’t want to have to put the gag back in. Understand?” Anna nodded. Drew took a sharp stone, went behind the tree, and started to tear the rope with it. Soon the rope gave and Anna quickly brushed the remains of the rope off her wrists. She rubbed her badly hurting wrists. Drew stepped in front of her and whispered: “Listen closely and remember! Name’s Drew. I’m a merchant from Dargon, selling cloth. I have a stand in the marketplace there. I’ve been searching for you for a long time. Knew your mother. There are some things you need to know, but I can’t tell you here. See that you make it to Dargon for the spring festival. You need to follow the water downstream for several days. Walk on the stones or in the water for the first days so the men can’t track you. Pass the villages by night; don’t let anyone see you if possible. Understand?” Anna nodded again.

 

“Here, eat slowly.” He handed her a piece of bread and watched her eat it. When she was done he gave her another.

 

“Save that for later! And now go!” He pointed towards the creek and watched her disappear.

 

***

 

Anna made her way to the creek, careful not to step on twigs or make a sound that could rouse the men. She felt dazed and confused, but she was free again and would go and find Tobias. It was dark, but Nochturon’s light aided her in finding her way. When she finally reached the creek, Anna was exhausted and hungry. Her body ached from the exertion of the day. She sat down to eat the rest of the bread, then quenched her thirst with the water from the creek.

 

Taking a deep breath she forced herself to go on, to get as much distance as she could between the men and herself before the other two discovered her escape.

 

“I have to get home, find Tobias, and then go to Dargon,” Anna muttered to herself. “I hope he is still by the cabin.” And then she remembered, “The cabin! They burnt it down!” Gathering all her strength she pushed forward.

 

The water in the creek was ice-cold. Anna stepped reluctantly in, but Drew was right. They wouldn’t be able to trace her if she walked on the stones or in the water. Whenever possible Anna stepped onto the stones in the creek, briefly resting. It became increasingly difficult for her to see. Clouds covered the moon, and then the rain began to fall, lightly at first, but soon the rain came pouring down. Within a mene Anna was drenched. She climbed out of the creek and continued her journey upstream on solid ground. The rain would obliterate all traces of her footsteps. “I need to get home! I need to get home!” was all she could think about. Wet, cold, and tired as she was, she stumbled on, each step becoming more and more difficult.

 

Dawn came slowly. Anna had no idea how much farther she had to go. The rain subsided. She tried to call Tobias, but her voice failed her. She leaned against a tree, shivering in her wet garments. “I. Have. To get. Home!” She dragged herself forward, but her strength was gone and the events from the night before caught up with her. The world turned black before her eyes and she collapsed.

 

***

 

Heavy rain woke Tobias the next morning. The fire was out; only the fireplace remained of his cabin, the rest was ash. He took a long stick and moved towards the remains to find out if Anna had been in there. Slowly he probed the ashes with his stick, salvaging the few things the fire hadn’t consumed. He found his knife blades and pocketed them. Tobias was both relieved and worried at the same time when he found out that Anna hadn’t been in the cabin.

 

Looking pensive, Tobias stood in front of the remains. The rain from the morning had obliterated all signs of whoever might have been there to set his place on fire. At this point it really didn’t matter anymore; there was nothing he could do to change it. All he wanted was to find Anna, to make sure she was safe again. He wasn’t sure where he should begin searching. The past six years had been some of the happiest in his life. To him, Anna had been a blessing. Sent from Stevene.

 

Tobias finally moved toward his hand-wagon, looking for some dry clothes, and then remembered; he’d left them in the cabin. He sighed deeply. He would have to stay in his wet clothes, not something he looked forward to. He hoped that the sun would come out soon and dry him. His eyes scanned the edge of the forest, hoping to spot Anna, but to no avail.

 

Tobias packed his findings into his hand-wagon. “The sooner I leave, the better!” he thought and started pulling. The soggy ground made it difficult to move the wagon. After a few steps he stopped. “If I leave and Anna shows up, she won’t be able to find me.” Tobias was torn inside. He paced back and forth between his wagon and the site of the fire, uncertain what to do. “Must have been those villagers who did this! First they set my place on fire and then they take Anna.” He stopped momentarily to kick a stone out of the way, then continued his pacing. “I need to go and find her!” Determined, he went back to his wagon and started pulling.

 

Tobias made slow progress. He traveled alongside the creek, stopping frequently, calling for Anna. The farther away from the cabin he got, the less hope he had of finding her.

 

“Anna!” he shouted as loud as his voice would allow. “Anna!” but no one answered his call. Around mid-afternoon, Tobias was tired and looked for a place for the night. His eyes were searching both sides of the creek, when he noticed a movement on the other side on the ground. He left the wagon and hurried across to investigate.

 

“By Stevene! Anna!” Tobias cried out. His eyes took it in all at once: the girl on the ground, covered with dirt, injured, and wet. Carefully, he picked her up. She felt cold and was very pale, but breathing. Tobias carried her to his wagon. He had to get her out of the wet clothing. Quickly, he unloaded the wagon, opened a bundle of fur, and spread half of it over the wagon. Then he peeled the wet clothing off the girl, laid her on the fur and covered her with the contents of a second bundle of fur. It would have to do until they reached shelter.

 

Tobias thought for a while which direction he should go. He didn’t dare speculate as to what had happened to Anna to get her in such a state. He’d seen the bruises and scrapes on her body. He wasn’t sure going to Dargon was such a good idea after all. He would have to think about it. He checked on Anna. She was still very pale, but breathed more easily. The fur helped warming her up. He would have to find a place where she could recover. The small settlement near the Coldwell river, where his friends Zarit and Jerel lived, came to his mind. They would surely help.

 

Tobias took a deep breath and began to pull the wagon. He moved away from the creek, taking the path into the forest. It would mean a detour of half a day, but he felt safer that way. He was glad to have Anna back and while he was pulling the wagon, he made plans to build a new cabin.

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