Darkness... Despair... Desolation...
Is this what freedom is supposed to feel like? Is this how the rest of my life will be? Shouldn’t there be glowing sunshine in my hair and a carefree attitude? My breathing slowed by the pure joy of just being on the outside, not shaking from the cold and the fear of discovery? What kind of life is this?
I shook my head slowly, trying to rid myself of these haunting thoughts. But they did not want to leave. My face twisted in revulsion at my current situation, where my tormenting thoughts are my only companions. Inside, however, i was glad that i had some company here with me, even if it’s my own delusions. This is the price of freedom, so i must pay it.
“Maybe things will start getting better.” i muttered. I glared at the sky. The glittering stars didn’t diminish their light and the moon still shone a gleaming white. My anger and despair had no affect on them. My depression deepened at the thought that not even the stars could lift this darkness from me. This forest felt endless. Wandering for days, I had begun to lose hope that I would ever truly escape.
The snap of a twig behind me caught my attention. Growling and snarls filled the quiet forest around me. Panic burst from my chest and I started to run. My wounded shoulder screamed in protest but still I ran. Hot blood ran down my arm, warming my frozen finger tips. The only sounds I could hear through the blood pounding in my ears was something chasing me. In my rush, I was barely focusing on the ground in front of me. Roots grew in odd angles out of the earth and they were hidden well by a thick layer of snow. My foot caught on one and I fell hard to the ground. Tears streamed down my face from the pain. I put pressure on the wound on my left shoulder, beneath my collarbone. With each heartbeat, I could feel more blood trickled from the wound.
"I'm going to die..." I whispered, the beast chasing me growing closer with each breath. I closed my eyes and fought my fate in my mind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large black wolf sauntering towards me. Please no, I don't want to die here. My sobbing echoed off the trees around me. The creature, his eyes large and yellow, loomed over me. I strained hard to see what was right in front of me, but shockingly, the body never seemed to take any true shape. One moment I saw the thick fur of a beast, the next a wisp of shadows. He didn't strike. He didn't even show any sign of aggression. A long pink tongue lashed out and licked my blood stained cloak. My fear made it to where I could focus only on the beast, but he noticed something I hadn't. His head shot to my right. Just as quickly as he had ran before, he left in the opposite direction. Frozen, I watched him run. I heard his howl from somewhere in the distance, and I took that as my queue to leave. The wolf had spared me, for whatever reason, but I didn't care what that reason was. Scrambling to my feet, I staggered away. I need to get out of these woods. I need to get out. I can not die in here. There was no path leading through the trees. For all I knew, I was going in circles and would walk this forest until I bled out.
By some miracle, my eyes found a tiny sliver of light ahead. A break in the trees that hinted at something not too far ahead. I rolled up the remains of my cloak and stuffed it against my wound. I had to stop the bleeding somehow. My knees shaking, I pulled myself off the ground and stumbled towards the light. Beyond that light lay my future freedom. My shaky breaths echoed off the snow and trees. I felt my heart rate start to get faster. Adrenaline pumped through my veins and pushed me along. I halted, squinting my eyes at a shape before me. It looks a lot like a person.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" I hollered, almost hoping to not hear a response. I started walking again. The "person" turned out to just be a jumble of branches hanging off a tree. The blood loss is really starting to affect my mind. Slowly, I meandered forward. I take a deep breath and push through the trees. A long snowy road stretched out before me. I just had to choose to travel either left or right. Wagon and horse tracks in the snow made the decision harder. Finally, I made my mind up to go right. Praying, I kept stumbling along. Every few feet I'd fall into the snow. I no longer could feel my appendages and it wouldn't be long before I could no longer walk. The adrenaline was leaving my body now, slowly. Pretty soon, I'd be crawling my way through the ankle deep snow. I fell suddenly, tripping over what turned out to be a large straight stick. Perfect for a cane, if I could keep a grip on it. Using my cane heavily, I kept struggling down the road. The full moon lit my path splendidly and the snow glistened brightly. It was almost too bright for my to stare directly into. Snows begins to fall around me, obscuring my vision. How am I ever going to find shelter from this? I dropped the cane, unable to hold onto it any longer. I raised my hand to brush the ice forming on my eyelashes, making it harder to see. I keep myself moving. The mental image of a roaring fire is my last hope. Then, rather suddenly, a large gate for a town appears before me. I'm frozen from shock at my turn of luck. The snow had hidden this town from my sight. Although, the gate seems to be shut. Upon closer inspection, I find the large wooden gate slightly ajar.
I slipped inside the town and find it completely abandoned. The homes I can see are pitch black and cold looking. Then I hear it. A deep booming drum from somewhere deeper in the village. I follow the path that is the most worn down by footprints. The farther I tread, the larger and more expensive the homes start to look. Up ahead, in a break in the houses, I see a warm and inviting golden light. A fire! Breaking into a run, I get to the alley as fast as I can. Once there, I see before me what I assume is a town square full of dancing and laughing people. I stood behind 3 men pounding on large drums, making this almost entrancing music that a rather large group of people danced to. Women, children, men, and even some elderly were spinning around a large bonfire that lit up the whole square. The scene before me looked so warm and festive. Obviously, this is some kind of celebration. I crept closer to the crowd, watching for anyone who could possibly notice me. I see to my right long wooden tables laden with a truly magnificent feast. Many different kind of animals, fruits and vegetables lay spread out over at least ten different tables. My mouth waters as I smell the delicious roasted meats. I instinctively moved towards the food, but froze when I hear a voice behind me.
"You're bleeding, dear." a rather robust older woman with wise eyes observed. She had to be talking to me. I just stared wide eyed at her, hoping she'd just ignore me. A quick nod and wave towards me, she began to walk away. I tried to understand her behavior and just as I had turned back towards the food, I heard her voice again, this time much more forceful.
"Follow me. Now." she held out a thick fingered hand and waited. The people around us barely paid any attention to the two of us. Obviously getting impatient at my reluctance, she grabbed my wrist and yanked. I followed her mindlessly. What else could I possibly do? The further I got from the food and crowd, the more I could feel my strength fade. By the time the woman had stopped, I was breathing rather shallow and using this stranger as a crutch. I moaned loudly, pain shooting down my arm and torso.
"Quiet, girl, or you'll give us away!" the woman spat, looking frantically down the road in front of what seemed to be an inn. A large sign hung above the door that said OM IDAR INN. My eyelids grew heavy and I could no longer hold myself up. I felt the woman hoist me over her shoulder and opened the door, then I lost myself to the darkness of my mind.
I awoke to my head pounding in time with the pain in my shoulder. My stomach turned and I threw up over the side of the bed. Wait, why am I in a bed? Carefully, I take in my surroundings and see I'm in a small room. A table next to me is covered in random plants and cloth. A bucket of water lays next to the bed, now filled with my vomit. Rolling onto my back, I groaned loudly at the pain from my shoulder.
"Enough of that. You're going to heal just fine. Surprisingly, that wound is healing well despite its age and lack of maintenance. You're very lucky to be alive, dear. Now, why don't you tell me what you were doing coming out of those woods and into our village." the woman entered the room and set down a bowl of something that smelled delicious. She rolled her eyes at the bucket by the bed and went to empty it. Upon her return, she sat down and waited for my answer. I merely stared at her. I am definitely not telling her the truth. "Don't feel like talking just yet? Well, rest some more. I'll be back in the morning to check on you. However, I can't hide you from my husband forever, so I will need answers by then. Sleep well, cellabraen." I frowned at the odd word but said nothing. She stood to leave but then stopped.
" I almost forgot. You can't very well feed yourself in this state. I'll help then be on my way." Not too long later, I was full and falling asleep in between bites of delicious broth. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was the old woman checking me for fever.
When I awoke, the woman sat by my side. She was reading a book, concentrating very hard. She saw I was awake and closed the book with a thud.
"You may call me Ellora, dear. My husband and I own this tavern, the OM IDAR INN. What is your name?" her voice was barely above a whisper. Her hands twitched and tugged at a fraying edge of the book cover. Those wise, brown eyes darted between the door and my face at the slightest noise from outside.
"My name is Varione." I responded simply, hoping to avoid any more questions. Maybe I can give her the smallest bit of knowledge I can, and then she will let me go?
"Pretty name, Varione. Where are you from?"
"I...I do not know where I am from." I stuttered, my mind drawing the all familiar blank when I try to think of my past. The woman frowned, deep wrinkles forming in her dark ebony skin.
"Well, what were you doing out in those woods? They're very dangerous. Full of monsters and Gods knows what else." Ellora crossed her arms, waiting. I stared at the ceiling, not knowing how to answer. I can't tell her the truth, can I? No doubt there is a warrant out for my arrest and some sort of bounty on my head.
"I don't know. I woke up out there, wounded, and being hunted by wolves. I just ran in whatever direction seemed the best." I stammered, trying to look as innocent as possible. By the glare I received, I know I wasn't fooling the old woman.
"I'm going to give you one more chance to be honest with me, Varione. If you do not take it, I will have no choice but to turn you over to the Guard." My gasp was all the answer she needed. She nodded slowly, and stood to leave the room.
"No, please. I will tell you all I know. It isn't much, but it may answer your questions." I begged, my face burning in shame. Ellora clucked at me and told me to quiet down. She left the room, leaving me to ponder my fate in silence. Maybe I could run? No, not with my shoulder bandaged in this fashion. I have almost no room to move my whole left side. A quick glance out the window behind me showed I was on the second floor. No chance of escape from there.
"It will still be a few days before you are able to move around, so you will have plenty of chances to talk with me. My husband, Ignatius, will be opening the inn soon. I've warned him you are here, but he has no clue why. We both have... assumed why you are in town." The look she gave me held much meaning. “Word of a woman escaping from Tolkhales Prison travels far.” She paused at the sound of footsteps upstairs. With a thud, the bedroom door opened, and a short, round man entered. His thick black hair was braided away from his smiling face. Ignatius grinned at us both, but his eyes stayed on my face a little too long.
"Why hello, Varione. My wife told me we had a guest and I came up to meet you myself. I wish to be present for your story, if you don't mind." He pulled a stool up next to his wife's chair and sat down. They both stared patiently at me. I was dumbfounded. After a deep breath, I steadied myself to tell my tale.