Callen woke and vomited all over the leaves. She had been living off leaves for about four or five days now, and apparently her stomach was catching up. She groaned and pulled herself over to the stream that she’d fallen asleep beside. Callen scooped up several handfuls of water and rinsed the taste of vomit out of her mouth.
She yawned and looked around her. The trees were thinner here. That meant that she was almost out of the forest! If she just followed the stream down, she could probably be clear of the trees by evening.
Then what? She couldn’t go back to the Dragonfriend army, she was a deserter. Callen certainly wouldn’t be joining the other side. Maybe she could find a nice piece of land to farm or become a hermit. Or she could try to make her way up to the capitol.
She looked up from her feet and saw a house just around a bend in the stream. Remembering what she’d found in the last house, Callen advanced cautiously. She crept up to the house and quietly rapped on the door.
“Yes?” A voice as sweet as wild strawberry asked from the other side. “Who is it?”
Before Callen could answer, the door was eased open by a sweet-looking old woman with a long white braid. “Oh! Come in, dear!” the old lady exclaimed.
Callen stepped into the house. It was furnished only with three chairs on the inside, and a few handmade rugs. The old lady gestured for her to sit.
“Oh, you poor thing! You look starved! I’ll just get you some food. Would you like some tea, dearie?” The old lady fussed. Callen nodded. The old lady handed her a loaf of bread and a crock of honey and sat down opposite her.
“Where are your family, sugar?” The lady asked.
“Dead.” Callen lied, swallowing a mouthful of bread.
“That’s to bad!” the old lady exclaimed. “You’re out here all alone? Poor thing.”
The old lady pulled herself up and bustled out of the room to make the tea. She came back a few moments later and handed Callen the cup. Callen sipped the tea. It tasted minty, with hints of chamomile mixed in.
“How long have you been traveling through these woods? What’s your name?”
“Callen.” Callen answered.
“Now there’s a name with some fighting spirit!” the woman giggled. “My name is Corina, sweet.”
“That’s a lovely name.” Callen said, feeling suddenly drowsy. It was hard to stay awake when you’d been walking for days eating nothing but leaves. Now that she finally had a full stomach and a comfortable place to sit, she was exhausted.
“Where are you headed, dear?” Corina pried.
“I’m trying to find some good farmland far enough from the war.” Callen told her, taking another sip of tea.
“Then you’ve got a long way to walk!” Corina chuckled. “It’s miles and miles to the next unburnt piece of land. Perhaps you should just stop and rest a while.”
Callen nodded and drank some more tea. She felt so tired. Like she hadn’t slept in four days. Callen felt her eyelids grow heavier and heavier. She hadn’t realized that she had dropped the cup until she heard it hit the floor and break.
The tea! It was drugged. She thought.
“Sorry, dearie.” Corina apologized. “The opportunity was too good to pass up. I’m afraid you won’t be getting to your farm.”
Callen’s eyes drifted shut. She was dimly aware of the floor rising to meet her as she fell unconscious.
Callen woke in the dark. She could feel something binding her arms to whatever she was laying on. She wiggled her arms experimentally and found that there was no way that she would be able to slip her arms free. She wriggled her legs and found that they hadn’t been tied down yet.
She bent the upper part of her body downward and moved her legs upward. She slipped her big toe under the binding and pushed her toe upward. The rope stretched just slightly, allowing her to slip her arm free. She clumsily untied the rope that held her left arm down.
Callen stood, her mind and body a muddled mess from the sleeping herb. She stumbled to the door in search of a hiding place or an escape. The door was unlocked. Corina must have thought that the drug would leave me unable to think clearly enough to escape.
She yanked it open. It was dark on the other side. She walked unsteadily through the room. She heard footsteps somewhere near her. Panic so intense that it nearly blinded her washed gripped Callen. She sped up, feeling along the wall for a weapon, or a hiding place. Her heart slowed as her hands hit a tabletop and found a small knife. She tore a trip of her shirt off and wrapped it around the knife and tied it to the nape of her neck. Then she ducked underneath the table and breathed as quietly as she could.
There was a creak as a door opened and Corina entered with a lantern. Corina slowly lit candles all around the room. Then she waddled over to the door of the room that Callen had just left. Callen slipped out from under the table and ran to the door as quickly as her weak legs would allow her. She turned the handle. It was locked.
She pulled the blade out of her hair and stuck it into the lock and rotated it around. She pulled it out and rattled the handle. Nothing.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned around and saw Corina armed with a shovel. “I think you’d better go back to sleep, dear.” She said sweetly. She swung the shovel at Callen, catching her in the head and knocking her out.
Callen didn’t know haw much time had passed when she next woke. All she knew was that everything hurt. Her head was throbbing from the blow to the head. Her chest felt like it had been stabbed by thousands of swords. She tried to cry out, but something was blocking her mouth. She began to suck in panicked gasps of air. Her vision blurred, and she fell unconscious again.