Thais

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9

Nana Darling stared at the door, her quick heartbeat thudding methodically in her temples. Trepidation was making her skin crawl across the nape of her neck. The elderly woman could not explain away the sensation to the swaying tides of the ether, for she had not been born with the halo and was not a sensitive like her grandson and great granddaughter. Katherine of Apollo had been born a woodcutter’s daughter far away in the Mountains of Glory where she had lived a frugal life. Though ether did not settle upon the precocious youngster and she certainly could not use it to perform seemingly miraculous acts to the untrained eye, she still became the subject of local legend.

In a world where the study of science and ether were entangled to such a degree that should one be removed from the other then all knowledge of both might cease to make sense, mysticism was heavily frowned upon by local professors, sneered at by academics and chortled at in most taverns. However, there did exist communities who stood no choice but to accept that the universities and the mageries could not explain everything with their long-winded lectures. There were events no one could explain, such as why children like Katherine were able to see a wolf getting into farmer Rowan’s cattle shed and killing all his livestock several days before it actually happened or why the girl might weep when passing one of her fellow villagers in the street moments before an untimely illness or accident overcame the unlucky object of her despair.

Seers, such was the name given to people like Katherine. Witches they were called as well, but only by those ill educated in the secretive world of Witchcraft. Any who saw the pretty young girl could not call her a Witch, for Katherine was a child and all save the most stubborn and ignorant of Denariens knew there was no such thing as a Witch child. Aius had cursed their kind and made them barren. They could not propagate their numbers; they could not have any children.

Young Katherine refused to accept that she was a seer. She was afraid of the looks people cast her in the streets, afraid of the furtive visitors knocking on the door of her father’s cabin in the night seeking answers to problems Katherine could not conceive of, but most of all she hated the loneliness of her affliction. If the adults of the village could be called fearful and ignorant, then the children were positively hostile. It seems children always shun what they cannot understand and Katherine’s enigmatic abilities went far beyond the grasp of the local children.

Karo and Nell, Katherine’s compassionate parents, despaired of their only child’s sorrow and when Katherine reached her adolescent years they did the unthinkable. Though it broke their hearts, they sent their daughter away to a distant relative in Titua with the hope that their unique child might find a better life for herself. A certain foresightedness they too must have possessed, for within six years Katherine had wed the crown prince of Denari.

Now, over sixty years later and Katherine still harboured her gift. She still remained unable to control the visions or the feelings that overcame her, but she had learnt to trust them implicitly. Sat now at the table in her favoured dining room in the palace, the elderly woman was experiencing a very familiar premonition. Her great granddaughter Thais was gone again. This however, could not explain the deep panic setting in. It was not simply a case of a runaway child this time. No, Nana Darling knew no good could come of this situation.

Jerkily and quite suddenly – certainly suddenly enough to startle the young maid who had come to collect the dirty plates – the matriarch climbed to her feet.

“My apologies,” she whispered sweetly to the bright-faced young girl staring at her with wide eyes, before she strode towards the doors with more vigour than one might expect from such a small frail woman. Out in the grey light of the corridor Nana Darling sped up until she reached a pair of doors littered with parchments bearing sentiments akin to: If you enter without my express permission you do so at your own peril!

Without knocking the girl’s foremother pushed into the heavy doors revealing an empty room with a bed that had not been slept in the night before. Trembling slightly Nana Darling looked around, hoping to find that her instincts had failed her in a rare glitch, but of course there was no princess where there ought to be one.

“Right,” the elderly woman exclaimed firmly and she turned on heal once more. The young maid who was now laden down with an expertly balanced array of plates and cutlery stared in wonder as the king’s grandmother strode down the corridor towards the door leading to the rest of the palace.

‘How I would love to follow her,’ the girl sighed inwardly, before she turned her attention on navigating her way down a nearby spiral staircase to the kitchens. Meanwhile, Nana Darling made her way rapidly to a set of grand and impressive chambers on the second floor, which overlooked the grand library down below. She could hear the hustle and bustle of irate voices shielded by a thick Kaba door several paces before she reached it and with a slight roll of her eyes she knocked determinedly.

The voices dimmed and moments later a rather self-important looking man opened the door to a crack. He looked as though he had been gearing himself up to send away – possibly rather impolitely - whoever had the impertinence to interrupt a session of the Royal Confidence, but when he saw the person stood out in the corridor he quickly straightened up and opened the door fully.

This was Phagus Vargas; a man Nana Darling held little regard for and consequently she offered him a slight smile before she pushed into the room with so much grace and refinement that one immediately forgot she had forced her way rudely past a highly esteemed member of the Confidence. Phagus Vargas certainly did not forget however, and as he sulked in after the Apollo matriarch he cast her a glower that thankfully none of his colleagues noticed.

“Good morning,” Katherine greeted the ruffled council members, noting that none except the five most prominent faces were missing. Gallus, Eunus, Selmain, Avery and Thalius were sometimes goaded by their fellow members for hogging the limelight where the Confidence was concerned and even though everyone laughed when such humorous comments were uttered, everybody knew that they disguised a thinly veiled truth. It would seem that in the absence of their more prominent peers the members were vying to temporarily replace them and though some of the most distinguished academics, merchants, generals, mages and politicians were gathered, they had evidently sought to establish themselves using the power of bickering instead of their various strengths.

There was one man who the mantle of power automatically fell to and he was the only member of the council who seemed relaxed. Indeed, he had been reclining with his feet up until the moment the king’s grandmother had walked in. Seeing her now Gregorius Sectus scrambled to his feet and caught her eye. He had known this woman since he was a young boy when his father was in the King’s Confidence and he held her in the highest esteem. As did she him.

Politely ignoring all the other members of the council Nana Darling walked over to the king’s personal advisor and nodded to him.

“Good morning Gregory,” she greeted the young man kindly, before her face grew stony. She didn’t give him time to respond. “Gallus was right. She has gone.”

Sectus didn’t even raise his eyebrows.

“I do not think this news will come as a surprise to him.” There was a slight smile on the man’s lips before he noticed the pain in the matriarch’s eyes and immediately adopted a more sensible manner. “Do you have any idea where she might have gone?”

“Away is all I can say at this point. She will have departed with her merchant friends I am sure.”

“Shall we send out the guard to find her ma’am? Or perhaps Shein can follow her trail?”

“No, I am certain that will not be necessary,” Katherine sighed with a kind smile. “Gallus knows the girl well and if he believes that she will come back in a few days as she did the last time then we really ought to obey his wishes. His express wishes were to let the girl loose to expel her upset. She would know if she were being followed.”

Sectus paused for a second, sensing that the elderly woman in front of him believed quite the opposite, but decided after a moment’s battle of the conscious to bow away from intruding on Nana Darling’s thoughts.

“Very well,” he said instead, his kind eyes creased in concern. “I will inform Gallus the next time bring him a report.”

“Thank you Gregory,” Katherine replied with a genuine gratitude, before she turned around and ambled from the room. At the door she turned around to see the members of the council watching her while eagerly waiting for her to leave so that they could commence their squabbling. “Do try to get on this time chaps. I do fear that all this bickering wastes an awful lot of time and energy that you could put towards running the country.”

With this the matriarch sauntered from the room, a mischievous smile etched into her wrinkled vibrant face. In her wake only Sectus’ laughter broke the stunned silence.

A golden glow illuminated the beautiful round room. Caring little for her surroundings Thais stared down at herself and wrinkled her brow at the elven gown she seemed to be wearing. How peculiar, she couldn’t remember ever owning a dress this fine and yet it seemed strangely familiar also. In the distance the sound of choral singing lilted over the trickle of a stream passing below the open doors that led from the room onto a circular balcony. Though Thais had never seen this room before, she knew exactly what lay outside the windows.

While she ran to see the splendour of the city a dark ebony braid wound its way down past Thais’ shoulder. A snow-white lily had been pinned to the ribbon tied at the end and for a moment the girl stared at it in wonder.

“Lilies?” she whispered. “So late in the season?”

Pondering this happy thought Thais skipped over to the balcony and stared out in warm wonder at the glittering silver city: Khaled-Dîn. It was spectacular and seemed exactly as she had always heard it described.

Everywhere the princess looked elves in long silk cloaks went about their business – reading, singing, playing the lute and dancing through the rose bushes – and everyone seemed to turn and wave at the youngster. She waved back, feeling a deep sense of belonging here with these people.

Heavy footsteps behind her startled Thais and she turned just in time to see a tall human man step out onto the balcony. The sight of this man made Thais feel like weeping. She had not seen him in so many months. She had not thought he would ever come back.

“You came,” Thais exclaimed in wonder, her voice several tones lower than it ought to have been and with the depth and beauty of several millennia of life. “I was sure you would not.”

“Of course I came,” the man replied brusquely, his young face resonating an innocence and a naivety that Thais had never seen before. “Where is he?”

Thais looked from the window and pointed at a building very much like a Temple high above the street: the Silver Halls of Sil’Vein.

“Come,” the human man spoke softly and he held out an arm to Thais, who ran to his side though refused to take the human king’s arm. She knew such an act would be wrong in this city. She knew everyone was watching and wondering how a mortal had come this far and why the princess was leading him through the crowds up the winding streets to the doors of the Silver Halls.

Once they reached the grand doors, which looked very much like the doors of the Green Palace, the man lifted the knocker and let it drop three times. A deep shiver ran through Thais’ bones and she reached out to pull a shawl she could not remember wearing moments ago around her shoulders. The golden sunshine adorning the mountain city was waning, only to be replaced by a thick darkness. A storm was brewing not far from the elven stronghold. Thais caught a glimpse of it in the distance before the doors creaked open. The young girl fell into step behind the human and she followed him, feeling herself shrinking with every pace. All around her discerning elven eyes were judging her, glaring at her and narrowing in disdain. Thais felt herself grow so small she couldn’t have been taller than a three-year-old child.

Quite suddenly the princess fell to her knees and she stared down at her hands in wonder to find they were the hands of a toddler. She tried to call out, but only garbled words escaped. The tall man ahead of her seemed not to notice, until finally he turned around, his expression paternal.

“Let me help you,” he said softly and he reached down to lift the princess from the ground. Thais felt her lip wavering, she was about to cry.

Up ahead the army of angry elven faces seemed to cease in a circular clearing and all of a sudden Thais wished dearly that she could turn back and run away, but she could do neither of these things, for she was no longer in control of her actions.

“He will not be able to deny us,” the human was saying firmly as they approached the clearing. Thais knew who would be waiting for them there and she had no desire to see him. “He will try, but we must remain strong. Whatever he says, you must ignore him. Remember our love. Remember he cannot take that from us!”

Thais let out a fearful whimper, which seemed lost the moment she uttered it. No one heard her.

Quite suddenly the clearing was upon them and Thais looked up from the dusty floor to see a fearful figure. Immensely taller than the man who carried her, towering over them in fact, was a dark robed elven man with a cruel face carved by the wrinkles of several hundred lifetimes. His twisted eyebrows were screwed together in anger and his terrifying eyes gleamed with fury. Thais wanted to turn away from him, but her eyes were fixed on his.

“You dare come before me?” the Elf Lord bellowed in a giant’s voice. Thais started to cry and yet still she could not look away from the lord of the elves. “You dare defy me and enter these Halls with that human?”

Thais shook her head, willing the terror to end. The man holding her seemed to be growing, bringing her closer and closer to the hawk-like face of the Elf Lord.

“I am going to marry him.” The voice came from Thais though she had not opened her mouth to speak and once more it resonated with a beauty and purity that she did not possess.

Thunder bellowed from the heavens and wind battered down into the Silver Halls where the angry elven faces glowed brightly in the darkness. Thais could not tear her eyes from the figure in the centre of the clearing.

“You will never return to these halls!” a voice so terrible it could have split open the mountains roared into Thais’ mind. “You will never come back to us you wretched child! You have turned your back on our kind and I will never forgive you. Never will you return to us, never will you see the light again. You are cursed! Leave us and never, ever, return!”

Rain poured down through the oculus in the roof and Thais felt herself drifting away from the horror in the Elf Lord’s face, yet with it she did not feel a reprieve from her suffering. Rather, the pain in her heart worsened and as she and the human king fell out into the storm she felt her soul loosen from her mortal body and start to wander. Her senses grew weaker and weaker until finally she became just a breath in the wind. Darkness fell upon her and as she rolled in the stormy gales Thais caught one last sight of a beautiful willowy elven woman lying cold and dead in the arms of a weeping man before there was nothing.

Thais sat up quickly, inhaling a money spider that had been ambling across her lip in search of a warm place to spin a web. Spluttering and coughing the girl leaned over and nearly lost her balance high up in the nest of evergreen leaves she had fashioned for herself in the treetop.

“Mama,” Thais whispered through a strangled throat when the dream forced its way back into her minds eye. With tears welling in her eyes the girl pulled herself into an upright position and leaned her head back on a tree branch. “He was so horrible to you. Why?”

Only the vast silence of the woods reverberated in reply leaving Thais to sober herself up slightly. It was only a dream and yet it hardened her resolve, which had been wavering these past three days.

From the city the escapee had travelled north along the great north road for a few miles before a small lane led her off into the heart of the woodlands. The path through the dense woodlands was a precarious route for the young princess to take as she well knew. They were home to every variety of felon from every corner of the Agea operating in nomadic dangerous gangs who had once reigned in terror over the Northern Territories. During wartime the treacherous villains had abandoned the nation to the southern onslaughts and had instead used Denari’s peril to lay the foundations to a crime racket that had taken Gallus and his army ten years to dissemble. No longer did the innocent townsfolk and farmers of the Northern Territories need to pay tribute to a Warlord in order to ensure the safety of their families and properties. However, incursions past the watchful patrols served to remind people that the danger had not been entirely put to rest. There were still those who, despite being loyal subjects of the king and the law, sent supplies and gold into the woods as a tribute in order to ensure their own safety and survival.

At the tree line Thais had lifted tired eyes up the snowy lane to check she had not been followed on her perilous route. Once more she had questioned her own sanity. To step into the midst of one of the most dangerous regions in the land on her own was not a decision she took lightly, though with little other choice she had placed one foot in front of the other, clasped her hands about the hilt of one of her twin blades and slunk into the damp gloom. The mounted soldiers of the guard were unlikely to search the depths of the woods. Usually Thais steered clear of the trees and she was sure they would search the plains and the hills surrounding the woods before venturing into the hostile territory. This was not however, the first time the heiress had travelled into the woodlands. Over the course of her wild twelve years Thais had explored these uncertain territories on many an occasion, though never had she done so alone.

“Think of what the seer told you,” the girl had whispered to herself, before she paced light-footedly across the mossy threshold into the notorious woodlands. The snow had been unable to infiltrate the thick leafy canopy leaving it humid and warmer than the air outside. The bright noon light had sunk away in the depths of the dense woods and with the light the sounds of the valley dissipated as well leaving only a curtain of silent misty trees. Thais’ dark keen eyes and pointed elven ears had grown more alert as the child paced lightly through the trees, following always a path north towards the Shield Mountains she had seen in the distance from the great north road.

At first the girl had felt hardened by the lack of dark or dangerous activity in the woods. In fact, she had needed to dive for cover several times due to quite mundane and occasionally irritating reasons. For instance when a gang of victorious hunters had sauntered from a heavy patch of undergrowth, singing about their prowess with a bow and the moment when Thais had been spotted by a woodcutter who had been sat enjoying a sneaky bottle of ale shortly before noon – though in truth the man had not quite believed what his eyes had seen and blamed the apparition of the small forest girl on the dubious inn man who had sold him the ale at a highly discounted price.

No, all in all, the woods had seemed at first a highly inappropriate place for a young princess to escape the attention of the local villages fanning out from Titua in vast arms up the major road links. Indeed, all the inhabitants of said villages seemed to be swanning about the supposedly notorious woodlands.

All in all Thais was both immensely relieved and yet also quite nervous when she came across her first sighting of something rather more untoward than a milkmaid out for a furtive amble hand in hand with the baker’s son. To the untrained eye the rabbit carcass seemed to have been the unlucky victim of a fur trader, for the thing had been skinned and left to the scavengers of the forest. Fur traders were quite well known to operate in these parts, but Thais knew that such a person was not to blame for the untimely end of this rabbit. The girl had bent low to inspect the serrated wounds around the base of the rabbit’s neck, where the skinned portion of the rotting animal met the only part that had been left furred: its head. These were not the marks of a blade or any other tool a human might use to kill and skin a rabbit. No, these marks suggested something more problematic for the young princess.

After finding a trail of similarly unfortunate creatures Thais had used her finely honed tracking skills to move away from the tracks criss-crossing the path of skinned animals. She had no wish to meet the owners of those tracks, though deep down she knew she could hardly hope to venture deep into the woodlands and not find at least one of them.

“Hopefully it’ll only be the one,” the girl had whispered to herself grimly before forcing herself away from her path north to venture further west in order to remove herself from the territory she had stumbled upon.

The tracks started to pass, though Thais could never be quite certain, for every now and then she would stumble upon a ghostly trail of marks that seemed to come from nowhere and then disappear again with similar abruptness. The girl felt her skin tingle with prickles of anxiety and it was with a grim acceptance that danger was afoot that she pulled her bow from her shoulder and armed herself with an arrow from her quiver, just in case.

It was during her very first night when she first heard the shrieking. The highly filtered mossy light had started fading much earlier than it had in the city and after coming across another animal carcass Thais decided she would be far safer up in a tree armed to the teeth than stumbling half-blind through the dark woods. Even half-elven eyes would be hard pressed to navigate safely through the darkness of a Kaba wood. So with a resigned sigh Thais had put a safe distance between herself and the carcass before scaling an oak tree and settling high up in a hollow that seemed disguised from the ground below. It was as comfortable a bed as a tree could offer and for that Thais was grateful, though she found little sleep that night.

After sprinkling salt all around the entrances to the hollow Thais had leaned back, taken her twin elven blades and crossed them across her chest, which was veritably festooned with small sacks of salt hanging from a leather cord. She would not go down without a fight. The dim light slowly faded into blackness and as though a heavy blanket had been lifted, all of a sudden the sounds of the woods came alive. Owls and bats filled the air with high-pitched squeaks and wise sounding musings, which amused the city dweller and lulled her into a false sense of security. In the distance howls made the girl go rigid and with wide eyes Thais calmed her thudding heart.

Just the wolves. ‘Tis just the wolves. Just wolves, she assured herself inwardly. Their ghostly calls in honour of the night kept Thais in a heightened state of alertness and try as she might sleep did not come. Her mind strayed to her father’s mission. Why had he travelled in the company of such important members of the Confidence? Why was he travelling a three week ride north of Titua?

Perhaps he wants to form an alliance with the elves? Thayos is always plotting to overthrow us. Maybe papa thinks the elves will help us fight him? her busy inner monologue had mused. Only to be cut short by a cruel laugh that escaped her own lips. The elves hadn’t lifted a weapon in centuries, this the girl knew. She, and many like her, found them to be cowards. They would never help the Denariens, even if Thayos and his Farojian dogs had the city surrounded. Indeed, they had not come to the rescue of their once friends and allies in all of Denari’s recent and horrific suffering at the hands of the Southern Powers.

“They care for no one except themselves,” Thais had whispered bitterly. She hadn’t even realised she had done so and moments later it all became quite irrelevant because there, in the near distance, was a sound so shrill it could have shattered all the glasses and windows of the crystal hall at the Green Palace.

Thais felt her mind pulsate in time to the demonic screech and though she knew were she to move even the faintest rustle would help the shadows in the night pinpoint her location, she could not help herself and threw her hands over her ears. The shrieking intensified, joined now by the disembodied voices of others of its kind. Thais’ heart started thumping ferociously in her small chest. She had to act, or she would have hundreds of them upon her in moments.

The girl reached into her bag and dragged out a large heavy pouch. It had been the heaviest item in her pack, but considering this stage of her journey, also one of the most important and crucial to survival. Certainly it was as important as her weapons and without thinking Thais dragged out handfuls of white powder and threw them over the edges of the hollow and onto the ground. For a moment Thais caught sight of the very faint moonlight reflected off a shining object, almost as though it had been reflected off a wet smoothed rock. There was no river nearby. Forcing her eyes shut Thais pulled back into her makeshift fortress clutching her weapons.

Almost instantly the shrieking stopped, before the demonic sounds howled in indignation. They were further away at least, though this was a small comfort to the small human stuck up a small tree in a large wood full of the sources of those cries.

Thais’ second day had brought her deeper still into the heart of the woodlands. It had taken the girl several hours past dawn to will herself to descend her tree. The ground was littered with ghostly tracks and without thinking Thais burst into a run feeling always as though a shadow followed in her wake. Several times she stopped and turned back, feeling deep within that some hidden danger lay waiting in her steps. Every time however, whatever seemed to be following her was too quick and so the girl kept running. She didn’t stop running until she came across a well-paced track cutting through the trees in a straight line. Quite suddenly the girl stopped and glanced up the track and then down it. Carts had trundled through the trees clearing a swathe of greenery. It was a trade route used by one of the woodland gangs and not a terribly safe place for the renegade royal to find herself in.

“This isn’t the best idea I’ve ever had,” Thais conceded with a heavy sigh, before she artfully jumped across the tracks and carried on jogging through the wood. The sound of a river had drawn the girl’s attention and instinctively she turned away from it. Her water flask was still half full and until she was on the brink of death by thirst she would avoid running water at all costs.

The woods were becoming less eventful now Thais had stepped into the realms of the woodland gangs though this did not put the girl at ease. She had never come across the notorious people before and she had no desire to. Stories of their kind were filled with barbarism, torture, executions and cruelty so fetid that even the most hardened criminals of Titua winced slightly when they heard them.

Thais passed quickly through the territory, hoping that hidden eyes weren’t observing her from behind every tree. The feeling of being followed lingered in the back of her mind, causing her to double back on herself several times and leave false trails should there be an unwelcome pursuer on her trail. The princess had learnt the art of evading the eyes of pursuers from her days of running wild about the kingdom with some of the Agea’s finest trackers on her heals. Indeed her father’s friend Avery was a spy among spies and several times had she managed to escape his hawk-like eyes and his animalistic sense of the trail.

Whoever haunted her steps now would not find themselves able to so for much longer. This came as little consolation however, when she came across a blood spattered clearing that consisted of flattened leaves and disrupted mossy earth. A fight had happened here and had left its mark in the destroyed undergrowth and the arrow shredded trees. Thais carefully skirted the disrupted ground to take a closer look at the handiwork and felt disheartened to see gruesome depictions etched into the shaft of the arrow. Blood spatters snaked their way up the arrow and from the dispersion pattern Thais could see that it had been flying at quite some pace before it ripped through someone’s flesh on its way into this final resting place in the tree. The feathers were soaked in dried blood, suggesting the bow that had let this arrow fly was unlike any bow Thais had ever come across. For to release an arrow and have it drill straight through human flesh and fly out the other side was quite a feat and indeed, not one Thais was familiar with. She hadn’t heard of such monstrous weapons and it caused her to take pause. If she had not heard of such weaponry in all the tales that had been spread about the woodland gangs then surely she had heard but a whisper of their true malevolence?

On her second night Thais had found another tree to hole herself up in and take refuge from the hidden dangers of the night. It was now that she saw the faint lights in the distance, rising high up into the treetops and the canopies of the mighty Kaba trees. For a long time she stared at the flickering lights. How could she have come so close to one of their settlements without realising she was doing so?

She was not safe here and yet she had known that moving in the dead of night would be a suicidal move. At least within reach of a Warlord and his tribe Thais was sure she could sleep without the risk of a shadow figure skinning her in the night. Even so, sleep was an elusive prey and Thais no master to its slipperiness. It evaded her all too effectively and the following morning Thais lay awake as the blackness of the forest turned a greeny-grey. She lay stock still in the hollow of her tree as voices passed nearby. They seemed innocuous, though she could make out the hoarse exotic laughter of a Farojian.

Thais shut her eyes. As the redness of her closed lids in the brightening light spread across her vision the girl forced herself to calm down. There were many people who had fled the kingdom of Faro in Titua, indeed some of Thais’ urchin friends were from the Farojian colonies, some of them from the same colony Selmain had hailed from and Thais had become accustomed to these neighbours, these friends. Those Farojians however, were very different to any Farojians she might find in the Woodlands though. During the dangerous and difficult years after the last great invasion many Farojian warriors had fled the swords of the Eden Armies into the woods around Titua. Here they had been accepted and absorbed into the gangs and the tribes. For all Thais knew this Farojian beast laughing in the trees could have killed countless Denariens. She hated him.

The laughter waned leaving Thais panting angrily in the tree for some time. Finally though she felt calm enough to carry on her path. It was a day of many mishaps both great and small. The smallest such mishap had occurred when Thais realised she had mislaid her compass and had to backtrack for two hours to collect it and the largest of which saw her tripping while taking a large gulp from her water flask causing it to spill its entire contents over the mossy ground. As Thais watched the moss absorb her precious water she felt a rising lump of fear growing in her throat.

“You stupid stupid girl,” she cursed herself angrily knowing that she was still several days walk from the woodland edge. She would need to make her way to a river. The very thought of it brought a shudder to Thais’ shoulders and she shook slightly in the darkening wood. Night was approaching; it would be doubly foolhardy to go near water at this time and so the girl had decided to seek out a water source the next day. The tree she had found was more uncomfortable than the last two and to make it slightly more bearable she had laid out a bed of evergreen leaves.

For the first time since leaving the palace she dreamed.



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