I cautiously docked my arrow without taking my eyes off the rabbit. He was across the stream, and partially hidden by underbrush so I could only see his head. It would be a tough shot from so far away, but if I had to eat one more squirrel, I was going to puke.
I raised my bow. The rabbit continued nibbling on whatever it was eating. I pulled back the string. Aimed.
My stomach growled like a stray dog.
The rabbit’s head shot up and its ears stood strait in the air. Its tiny nose twitched rapidly.
I let the arrow fly but it hit some foliage in its path which veered it off course. The noise startled the already alert rabbit and he darted away. The arrow hit the ground.
I lowered my bow and stood staring at the spot as if the rabbit would be stupid enough to come back. After four days of tromping around these woods, I’d only had rabbit once.
My stomach grumbled again.
“Shut up.” I told it, angry that its complaining had scared away my meal. I didn’t realize how un-filling squirrels could be. I also didn’t realize just how quickly you could tire of the same meal. I’d rather starve than eat the stuff again. I would give anything to come across some berry bushes. Or another pecan tree like the one I found yesterday. After all that squirrel, the plain pecans tasted better than any pecan pie I’d ever had.
After I’d found a shallow place to cross the stream and retrieve my arrow, I started walking in the direction of the stream’s current as I had every day since the orphanage burned down. There was no particular reason for the direction. I could have gone against the current. All I knew was I couldn’t stray too far from water without risking dehydration since I didn’t have anything to carry water in. Actually, I didn’t have anything to carry anything in. Everything I owned was burned. I had a bow, arrows, a quiver, and a pair of very dirty clothes. I also had two pieces of flint inside the small pouch that was now empty of coins. Besides the flint stones, the only other thing they bought me was a knife. I thought the money would get me more than that.
I should have stayed in town. At least until I had enough money to buy a canteen or a pack. Or some blankets. Sleeping on a bunch of underbrush was much more uncomfortable than the lumpy mattress at the orphanage.
“Stand where you are,” called a girl’s voice. I spun around, but all I could see were towering trees and a tangle of underbrush. I thought my mind was making up voices because it missed hearing people after four days of nothing but bird sounds, but the girl’s voice came again.
“State your name and what you’re doing here.”
Not sure what was going on, I reached for an arrow in the quiver strapped to my back.
“Don’t move,” the girl snarled.
I pulled an arrow from the quiver, then jumped as something came whizzing from my left. An arrow was sticking out of the ground an inch from my foot.
This crazy girl was trying to kill me! I scanned the area where the arrow came from, but I still didn’t see anyone.
“Next time, I won’t be so generous,” she said smugly. “Now drop the bow and tell me what you are doing here.”
“Drop the bow, or my next arrow goes through your hand!”
I glared in the direction her arrow had come and set my bow on the forest floor.
“Happy?” I asked.
“I won’t be until you tell me who you are and why you are walking around in my woods.”
“Your woods? Who are you? The king of Minaria?”
“You really are a slow one aren’t you? I’ve asked the same question how many times now? Three, I think. And if I don’t get an answer I’ll have to assume you mean us harm and put an arrow in your gut.”
“Do I look like I’m trying to harm anyone? You’re the one shooting at me like I’m game.”
She sighed. “Name.”
“What are you’re doing out here?”
An arrow whizzed by my head and buried itself in the tree beside me.
“I’m just walking alright! Am I not allowed to walk in your woods?”
“That depends,” the girl said. “Where are you going?”
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m just…walking.”
“Well that doesn’t sound suspicious at all,” she said sarcastically. “Where’s your family?”
Why would she want to know that? Unless, she was a soldier. There weren’t many girls in the army, but there was a chance she was a soldier looking for orphaned children to take to the castle. It was strange that she was on her own, but I didn’t want to take chances.
“I’m seventeen. I can be on my own.”
She laughed. “You aren’t seventeen. And no one underage would travel alone for the soldier to nab unless they had to.”
The blood drained from my face. She knew I was an orphan. I told myself that I shouldn’t have dropped my bow, even though I knew it would have done little good when I couldn’t see anyone to shoot at.
“Well orphan, you’ve stumbled on the right place.”
“My name is Dalan,” I said, cringing at the word orphan. It made me feel helpless and alone.
“I assume that you are traveling through the woods because you don’t want to be forced into the king’s service,” the girl went on.
I didn’t say anything. It could be a soldier with a twisted sense of humor: making the people they were about to take confess they didn’t want to be in the King’s service.
“I’ll take your silence as a yes.”
I inwardly groaned and tried to think of a way to escape.
“In that case you have two choices. You can turn around and ‘just walk’ in another part of this forest, or you can join with other orphans who are ‘seventeen and can be on their own.’”
“Since when did the army start letting us decide if we were going with them or not?” I spat. She had no intention of letting me go, and I wouldn’t be mocked.
She laughed again. I didn’t think laughter could be so annoying. “You really are slow, aren’t you? I’m not a soldier.”
Not a soldier? Then what did she want?
“Who are you then?”
“I’m more of a…guardian of orphans.”
What was a guardian of orphans?
“Some guardian,” I said. “You nearly killed me.”
“Don’t be such a whiner. If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead. Now are you joining us or not? Unlike you, I have things to do.”
She let out a breath. “Orphans. Join my group of orphans or get out of our woods.”
This was unexpected—a bunch of orphans living together in the woods. Living with others would be much easier than trying to make it on my own out here, which wasn’t going to well.
But was I letting my empty stomach do the thinking? I didn’t know if I could trust her. Then again, if she wanted anything from me, she would have taken it by now.
Did I want to keep wandering by myself or join her group?
This poll is closed. The next chapter comes out Thursday!
Ooh…Who is this crazy arrow shooting girl? And should Dalan trust her? I’m so excited to be sharing the second chapter! I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. 🙂
So…there was a mistake made when I scheduled this post and it came out earlier than it was supposed to. (So if you’re wondering why this came out now instead of Thursday, that’s why 🙂 ).
This won’t affect when the voting ends. It will still be on Sunday at 10 p.m. central time. Yay for extra time to read and vote!
Who knows, you may like chapters being put out on a Monday better. Let me know in the comments if Monday or Thursday is the better day to release chapters so I can change it if that works better.