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Chapter 4

The next morning Laurissa woke to see her mother looking up at the ceiling and blue as ice. She huddled against the sheep with tears in her eyes. She is alone and didn’t know what to do next. She rarely spoke to her mother and so did not learn the necessities of life. Laurissa vowed to fight to live. She would never give up like her mother did. She needed food, and so did the sheep. They were useless to her now. Laurissa decided to try to sell them. She will need money to buy food until she could learn to find her own. She gathered the little yarn that Parnell had woven and tied it around the sheep’s necks.

“Okay. It’s time to get a new master. I can’t take care of you two any longer. I’m so sorry I have to do this.” Her mother’s words echoed in her head. Please forgive me. I have nothing to give you. “You two have been great listeners. Come on. Hopefully, whoever takes you will have food for you. Lord Dunkan will care for you.

Laurissa was useless, and Parnell just assumed to get rid of her. She couldn’t blame her, but it still hurt her heart to know her mother didn’t really love her the way she professed she did. How could someone abandon or sell the one they love?

The sheep blindly followed Laurissa out of the house and into town. Hundreds of people walked along the main road. No one paid attention to a small girl leading two sheep. Laurissa found a vendor with cattle in the market square. She went to the man and looked at him. He looked kind and strong. He is younger than Parnell. He was examining the reins of his oxen. Laurissa tugged at the man’s shirt sleeve. The man turned around then looked down at Laurissa. Without a word, she held her yarn up and a palm of her second hand to the man.

“What do you want?” His voice is kind. Laurissa’s heart pounded in her chest. She is terrified to speak to him. She never speaks to anyone. They would only think she lies to them. Her mother isn’t there to protect her. What if this man saw her as a creature of the devil?

When she didn’t answer, he looked at her hands with a frown. Laurissa looked like she was raising her arms to be picked up. “Speak up, child. What do you want?”

Laurissa looked at her two sheep and put her yarn in the man’s hand, then held out her other hand palm up.

“You want me to buy your sheep?”

Laurissa stood quietly. She couldn’t make her mouth work. The man’s face softened, then he knelt down to Laurissa. She backed up a step, ready to run if he tried to grab her.

“Can you speak?”

It was useless. How was she supposed to sell her sheep if she couldn’t speak? Laurissa wanted to run away. Tears formed in her eyes as her heart pounded in her ears like a drum. Slowly, she lowered her hand and began to back away.

“Hold on a moment, girl.” The man reached out and grabbed Laurissa’s wrist. Laurissa screamed when he touched her. She knew it! He wanted to hurt her. The sheep began to panic and pulled at the yarn to get away.

“Calm down, girl. I won’t hurt you.” The man said sternly.

Laurissa looked at him, wondering what was to become of her. She could hardly breathe. She did not want to end up like the slaves. The man could see the fear in her little face.

“Let me take a look at your sheep.” He released her wrist and held his hand up to show her he wouldn’t harm her.

Laurissa moved aside, keeping an eye on his hands, so the man could see the sheep. He inspected their flanks and feet then looked into their mouths.

“They are well cared for. Were you responsible for them?”

Laurissa couldn’t move or answer. She is petrified. The man smiled and said, “I’ll give you two gold for them.” Laurissa knew enough to know her sheep cost more than one gold a piece. She found her courage and frowned at the man and balled her fist. The man began laughing. “No? Okay, how about four?”

Laurissa knew the man meant to steal from her and take advantage of her. Her home cost her mother three of their sheep. The shack had to be worth more than twelve gold. Laurissa took her yarn and turned to leave. The man grabbed her shoulder. It frightened her as she twirled around to face him once again. His grip was firm. Laurissa’s eyes wildly searched the area looking for a means of escape with her sheep.

“How much do you think they are worth? Learn to speak, girl.”

She matched his glare. If he truly wants to hear the devil speak, then she will tell him how much it would cost him to buy her sheep. Her heart pounded in her chest as she took a deep breath. With all of her might, she forced her voice to work.

“One hundred gold each!” she shouted.

The man roared in laughter. Laurissa’s nose wrinkled in confusion. Why didn’t her voice scare him?

“I bet that was the first time you have ever spoke.” He continued laughing. Laurissa scowled at the man, and he seemed to laugh harder. It was a sight to see a tiny little blue eyed girl with her fits planted firmly on her hips and a scowl that made her appear even cuter.

“Alright. Fair enough. You earned it. Here is two hundred gold for your sheep.” Laurissa continued to frown at him and slowly backed away. Maybe she didn’t want to do business with him. He is not as nice as he appears.

The man’s face went pale, and his eyes gazed past Laurissa. Before she could respond, her back bumped into something hard. She turned to see Lord Dunkan glaring at the man. He didn’t even look at her. “Double the price, or give the sheep back.” His voice was cold and demanding. It frightened Laurissa.

“Forgive me, milord.” The man immediately handed Laurissa another two hundred gold with shaking hands. Lord Dunkan wordlessly turned and left. Laurissa clutched her money to her chest and ran home. Perhaps Lord Dunkan isn’t as bad as she feared him to be.

Parnell’s body is still lying on the bed. Laurissa hid her coins in a corner and put the wool on top. She needs to dig a hole and put her mother’s body in it. She had to do this when the baby sheep died. There is a small shovel she used to clean the sheep’s pin. Laurissa went a few yards into the neighboring prairie and began to shovel the ground.

It is cold outside, and the dirt is hard and unforgiving. Why did Parnell leave her? She didn’t have to leave. This town is large enough. She could have found some type of employment, but instead, she just gave up and left Laurissa to fend for herself! Laurissa huffed and threw down the shovel.

Laurissa is much too young. No one will help her. She is on her own. She learned a lesson today. She can’t trust anyone. That man saw she was desperate and venerable. At least she was smart enough to know when he was trying to cheat her.

Laurissa owed Lord Dunkan a favor. It was a good thing he was there to help her. Why did he help her? The money she got from the sheep should last the winter. She will work hard to learn how to survive on her own like a rouge does. She wished her father were here to show her.

Laurissa sighed and picked up the shovel. The grave won’t dig itself, and she will need to build a fire soon, or she would freeze. Her stomach began aching and gurgling as she worked to dig the hole. She had forgotten about her hunger. Laurissa had given Parnell her bread last night. She had to finish the grave first, then she could go look for food.

It was late into the night when she finally finished. Only the full moon and the stars lit the ground. She climbed out of the hole and looked toward the shack. Her home is dark, and it’s too dark to even see the building. The feeling of abandonment hit hard, and new tears flowed down her cheeks.

Even though it is near freezing out, Laurissa sweated. Her underclothing stuck to her body, and her hands felt like they grew blisters. She wished the sheep were here. She needed someone to talk to. Laurissa felt completely alone. Even the shack didn’t want her back. Well, she couldn’t very well leave Parnell in the shack. Besides, she needs shelter to live, and the shack is now hers. It’s just going to have to accept her just like she has to accept Parnell didn’t really love her.

Laurissa could barely see as she traveled back to the dark house. She felt tired from the day’s hardships, and her hunger gnawed at her fiercely. She will bury her mother then go buy food in the morning. Laurissa felt her way to the corner of the shack and burrowed into the wool.

The next morning is frigid. She could see her breath as she breathed out. Parnell still laid in the bed, staring up at the ceiling. New tears burned as she grieved. “Why did you leave mama? Was I so terrible you would rather die than live with me? You didn’t even fight your fever!” Laurissa held her knees to her chin and cried harder. The pain of her mother’s rejection is too much to handle. Her father didn’t want her, and neither did Lord Dunkan. How was she supposed to find a husband if no one wanted her? That’s why she has to take care of herself like her father did.

The gnawing pain in her tummy told her she had to eat. “Well, you got what you wanted, mother! You are free of me and free of other people’s judgments.” Laurissa said angrily through tears.

She stood up and took Parnell’s wrist, and began dragging her body to the hole she dug. The body is ice cold and frozen stiff. Laurissa used her bonnet to shield her small hands against the dead skin. Parnell’s body is extremely heavy. Laurissa quickly worked up a sweat. By the time she got Parnell’s body to the hole, Laurissa felt so weak she had to sit to rest. Her heart pounded in her chest as she panted for air. Her back hurt, her legs were wobbly, and her newly blistered hands burned. “You are heavy, mama!” Laurissa rested until she could catch her breath, then pushed and rolled Parnell’s body into the hole.

The hole is not quite big enough. Parnell’s feet stuck out of the hole. Laurissa became frustrated. It took an entire day to dig the hole. She is extremely hungry now and thirsty. “I’ll be back, mama. I need to find food.” She left her mother and went back to the house to retrieve two gold coins and a copper one, then went to the market. No one was around. The entire town seemed to have disappeared.

She wandered the streets looking for any kind of food or an adult. She saw a homeless woman wandering in an alley. Laurissa kept still as she observed what the woman is doing. She is homeless too. Maybe she will learn how to survive by watching what the old woman was doing.

The woman is dirty. Her skin looks like she rolled in the mud with pigs. Her hair is greasy and tied back with a single strip of cloth. Her clothing is ripped and worn and just as filthy. Laurissa wondered why? This town is near a river. Water doesn’t cost anything. Looking at her own clothing, she guessed she needed a bath as well. She was dirty from digging a hole, but not nearly as dirty as the woman.

Laurissa continued observing the woman in the ally. She started digging into a pile of trash. The woman found something to eat and began gnawing on it right away. Laurissa guessed this wouldn’t be considered stealing.

Someone threw it out. It was unwanted, like her. Laurissa felt like she is unwanted trash. She knew better. She had one quality she could offer. She is an excellent listener and could keep secrets.

There is a lot her mother didn’t teach her. She regretted not paying more attention. Perhaps she would have been able to make her mother proud of her, and she would still be alive. Laurissa traveled the ally ways looking for trash to rummage through. She found stale bread, rotten fruit, and animal bones.

Just as she reached for the moldy bread, a loud bell rang. It startled her, making her look in the direction the dongs came from. Her instinct told her to run. She knew she needed to learn, so she asked herself what the bell was and went to investigate.

The village became alive with people once more. Children chased each other around adult’s legs. Everyone seemed to be wearing nice clean clothing. As she passed the on-coming crowd toward the bell, Laurissa could see adults look down at her disapprovingly. Laurissa ignored them and continued walking until she saw where they were coming from.

A very large building with a symbol on its roof had its doors open, and people were standing around it, having pleasant conversations.

A man dressed in black stood in the doorway, shaking hands with the people leaving. Several people called him father, and he referred to them as ‘child’. He looked much too young to have been a father to all these people. He looked younger than her mother, and Laurissa was only eight years old.

It must be a ritual. Parnell had told her about rituals. When people started calling her a demon, she asked Parnell what that meant. Parnell said people worship a god one day a week. This god has a set of rules that everyone must abide by. If you break a rule, you are considered evil. Parnell did not marry the rouge as was commanded by this god, and so she was considered evil, and Laurissa was part of the evil Parnell brought upon herself. This must be the god’s day. Laurissa will not be able to buy food this day.

She walked the different alleys looking for slop piles and found an ear of corn, mostly rotten. She didn’t care. She inhaled the good parts then left to finish digging Parnell’s grave.

The corn did little to satisfy her hunger, but she knew she would survive the night if she could stay warm. It took the rest of the day to dig around Parnell’s feet. Laurissa immediately started shoveling dirt back onto her body. Once she was done, she stood up and stretched her back. It is freezing. The snow will come very soon. She is too tired to search for wood. She went back to the shack and buried herself in the wool to try to keep warm.

Loud Thunder and rain woke Laurissa. She forced herself to get up and go to the town. She felt weak and exhausted from the strain of the last two days. She must find food, or she will die. She refused to feel sorry for herself and refused to stay there to catch her death. Laurissa stood up and collected a few coins, then left to the market.

The rain is harsh and cold. It went all the way through to her skin. The streets are empty as people stayed in their homes to stay dry. The mud sloshed into her shoes and between her toes. There is hardly anyone in the town square. The vendors stayed under their tents and canopies. She found a vendor selling corn and potatoes and a vendor selling bread. The one selling bread is desperately trying to keep the bead dry from the rain. Laurissa stood in front of the bread vendor. The counter is as tall as she is. She raised to her tiptoes to view the choices.

“Would you like a loaf of bread, child?” Laurissa nodded. “It’ll be three copper for a loaf.”

Laurissa has seen her mother buy items for vendors. She never gave what they asked. If there was a way to get the item cheaper, she would ask. She stepped away and pointed to the sky, then offered one copper for a loaf.

“Give me two, and I will give you a whole loaf.” Laurissa only had one copper coin and a couple gold coins. She gave the vendor her gold coin and waited for her change. “I’m sorry, child. I can’t give you money. I don’t have enough.”

Laurissa is heartbroken. She would have to give the merchant the gold or walk away. The woman saw the disappointment. “If you give me your gold, I will give you two loaves every day until it’s spent.”

This seemed agreeable, and Laurissa nodded. The woman gave her two loaves, and Laurissa put them under her shirt. She quickly went to the vendor with the potatoes and pointed to them.

“A sliver for a dozen.” the merchant said.

Laurissa handed him a gold coin, and he gave her nine silver. She didn’t want to waste time bartering the price. Her bread will get too soggy to eat. thankfully the rain is very light, like a mist that blows with the wind. “Take your pick, child.”

Laurissa looked helpless. She did not think about how she was going to carry all the food. She looked around for some type of bag or cloth. “Hurry up, child.”

Laurissa looked at the man then began taking her shirt off. “Whoa, there! I only meant for you to take your potatoes.”

Laurissa paused, then continued taking her shirt off. The loaves fell into the muddy street. Frustrated, she put the loaves on her shirt and began picking potatoes.

The man understood and took a box from under the counter and went around to help Laurissa. She dropped everything and backed up a step. She didn’t want to get caught like she did with the sheep man. She doubted Lord Dunkan would come to her rescue again.

“Put your shirt back on, child. It will do you no good to catch a cold.” Laurissa only stared at him. She has been taken advantage of before. The man squatted down, resting on the balls of his feet, and looked at her. “I won’t harm you. Here are your potatoes and bread. You can have the box.” He raised the box up to her. She wasn’t sure what to do. He seemed honest enough. Laughter broke her concentration. She turned to see a boy about her age, laughing at her. The man scowled at the boy to stop him. “Come, now. Dress and take your things.”

Laurissa kept a watchful eye on the man as she reached for her shirt and put it on. Laurissa very carefully took the box then backed up. Once the man returned to his position behind the counter, Laurissa quickly ran back to her home. She didn’t have the money to pay for a box. He gave it to her. She didn’t want to give him time to change his mind.

The bread is soggy but editable. She ate half a loaf then set out to explore. She needed firewood. She would not be able to survive the cold without a fire. Mother was not able to purchase any or gather any before she died. There are woods on the other side of the prairie. When she reached the woods, she noticed everything is eerily quiet. The whole place seemed to sleep. She looked for fallen branches or logs and filled her arms as much as possible, then returned home. The logs were too wet to burn. Laurissa sat to nibble on more of her bread and quickly fell asleep. The last few days were draining, and her belly is full once again. It is more full now than it has been in a very long time.

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