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“Did you hear?” mother asked as she plaited my hair tightly so it wouldn’t get knotted during the night as it would definitely do if I didn’t leave it free and open. Like my mother’s, my hair was red, fiery, and untameable, and unlike anyone else’s in the village. We often kept it up in a bun during the day but that made sleeping uncomfortable, so a plait it was.
“Hear what?” I asked, not all that curious as I aimlessly stared out into the darkness through the window we were yet to close off with the shutters.
“We’ll be getting some visitor’s soon.”
“Visitors?” I frowned, but groaned when my hair was tugged as mother secured the plait with a band. “We never get any visitors.”
“Not us,” she huffed. “Rumours say that the chief will be getting some visitors soon, and they’ll be staring until the spring. You know what that means.”
“No,” I frowned and shook my head. “What does that mean?”
“That means they’ll be making an offer of marriage to the girls here!” mother stated, her eyes wide with disbelief, as she couldn’t believe what part of her statement wasn’t clear to me.
“We can’t possibly know that.”
“Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport.”
“Well, regardless of whether they make an offer of marriage or not, however many this party of people are, I don’t see how this can possibly affect us.”
“What’s wrong with you, Renalia?” mother groaned and rolled her eyes. “Don’t you get it? We must get you married to one of them.”
“I don’t even know any of them.”
“You have plenty of time to get to know your husband after marriage.”
I hummed and nodded my head, knowing from past experience that it was best not to argue with my mother on this specific matter. The older I got, the more obsessed she became that I get married and start my own family. Now that I was nineteen moons, the obsession bordered on unhealthy.
“Well, I’m off,” I announced as I rose to my feet, moving to close the shutters before heading out.
“Don’t you see how dark it is outside?” mother absentmindedly ran a towel through her hair as she berated me. “It’s cold, too.”
“It’s not that dark,” I denied even though it was. “And I’m wrapped up warm.” I wasn’t. The jumper I had donned over my smock was thin and would do nothing to protect me against the chilly, winter wind which refused to budge this year even though spring was only a few weeks away.
“You never listen to me,” mother huffed, a deep frown on her face as she watched me walk out of the hut. Ignoring her words, I smiled brightly before closing the door behind me and beginning down the winding path which led away from our hut and onto the path which led all around the village. Except, I crossed it and headed toward the village which, unfortunately, had no path to lead to it.
But alas, that had never been something to deter me. For as long as I could remember, I loved taking long walks through the woods, regardless of the weather or time of day. There was just something peaceful about being alone and at one with nature.
My mother, on the other hand, had never been a fan of this trait of mine. But then again, not heeding well to instructions was yet another trait of mine. Trenching through the forest nearly every day also meant that the bottom of my dress was never as pristine or clean as all the other young girls around the village – yet another thing my mother disapproved of. And my dress not being as nice as the other young girls meant that I was often passed upon or missed when it came to anyone searching for a bride. Not that I minded in the least.
All in all, I was probably my mother’s worst nightmare for a daughter.
Mother’s words rang through my ears as I walked through the forest, my head hung lower and my mood more dimmed than usual. But perhaps that was down to the fact that I was trudging through the forest later than I usually did. Of course, mum was against it but after a whole week of extra washing as spring was nearly soon upon us, I needed some time to myself to clear my head.
Unfortunately, the opposite of that was happening right now.
Every spring as it did every year, the proposals started travelling through the village. Eighteen moons had passed for me last year and that was when most girls started to get married. Unlike our male counterparts who could often stayed unmarried well into their thirty moons, us poor females were all but shunned if we didn’t acquire a husband by twenty moons.
If the chiefess wasn’t a distant cousin of my mother’s, the same would have happened to us.
My train of thought was rudely interrupted when I heard some rustling in the distance. My breath hitched in my throat at the sudden sound, and I stopped in my tracks. My breathing evened out and my actions were slow as I turned to glance over my shoulder to pinpoint the source of the sudden sound.
Was someone following me?
I had been trekking through the forest to clear my head for as long as I could remember, often on a daily basis, but shivers had never gone down my spine as they just did.
“Renalia, stop scaring yourself,” I murmured the worst to myself in hopes that it would calm me down slightly. However, when I heard rustling come from a different direction, I couldn’t help but audibly gasp. “Okay, maybe it’s time I head back,” I inhaled sharply and turned around.
My actions were rushed as I began retreating, taking the same steps I had taken to make it this far into the forest. It was only about half of how far I usually went, but there was just something freaky and unsettling about tonight that made me think that maybe, just maybe, my mother was right.
The louder the rustling got, sounding like it was encompassing me from every possible angle, the more I hastened to escape the forest but one unfortunate trip over a single branch I had missed, I went tumbling to the ground.
“Mother is going to be so mad I got my nightdress dirty,” I groaned as I slowly rose back to my feet, frowning deeply as I stared down at my soiled and scratched hand. The twig that I had tripped over was unfortunate, but the rocks nearby had been sharp enough to tear my dress on the side. “Great. Now mother is going to be really mad,” I groaned louder but when I looked up when a dark blur caught the corner of my eye, the sound was quick to be swallowed by a sharp scream.
I managed to take two fearful steps back before I tripped over yet another twig and went tumbling to the ground. This time, my scream was trapped in my throat as I stared into the deepest, purest, most inhumane pair of golden eyes I had ever seen.
And then, everything went black.
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