Survival (Peregrine x Jalapeno)

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  1. As Sayvel looked down at her hands, she wondered if the cracks at bruises that covered her skin would remain there permanently. The insects were even worse, though thankfully she had picked up a few remedies from Creya, otherwise all of the bites and stings would have been unbearable. She had regretted fleeing into the denser parts of the forest before the first day of her traveling had even ended. But when one was in danger, the only thing that mattered was finding somewhere that was safe. And while these conditions were harsh, at least she was not being burned alive by a dragon.

    It had been less than three days since Noror was reduced to little more than ashes, ruins, and corpses. Sayvel was not sure if anyone else had escaped. She felt guilty knowing that it was possible she might be the lone survivor, and she was not even Halanese. Had she even had an ounce of courage, she might have turned back to see if she could help anyone else escape. But all she did was run. That's all she had ever done when faced with such disasters. She fled Makkan after her family was killed by the rebellion, and she fled Noror after it was destroyed by some force she did not know.

    Her brothers Aldrec and Dondis would have known exactly what to do in situations like this. They had traveled plenty of times and knew how to live off the land easily enough. They would not have been afraid to help others escape from the attack either.

    But they were dead, and not a day went by she did not miss them. Aldrec had been slain by Ser Robyyn Vancen during the war. And less than three months later, Dondis was killed defending the capital, as was her father. Both were killed by Presebal Himarath. And where had she been? When the war broke out she was spending time in Verisa, a small city on the west coast of Makkan just a few leagues south of Rhayne. By the time the rebels had reached the capital, she had already been safely smuggled into Halan. It was then that she had changed her name to Sayvel. Her true name was no longer safe to use.

    But just as she had changed her own name, the rebel victors had changed the name of the capital from Rukyma to Darmon. Sayvel easily recalled how enraged she had been when word had reached her of this, and she wanted nothing more than to see all of them killed for their atrocities. Her home, her family, her life... all of it was gone.

    And now it was happening again. She had enjoyed her time in Noror. They had welcomed her openly, and they taught her many things in such a short time. She learned how to cook over an open fire, how to distinguish between certain plant types, some customary healing techniques, and even had a few lessons in wielding a knife. That would have been unacceptable in Rukyma. And she was more than willing to learn more of their language. At home she had been taught many of the basic and intermediate levels of Old Halanese, but now it was like a second language to her.

    It was all gone now. The new family and home she had found was gone. She was on her own now. Why she even continued at this point was a mystery. It was a miracle that she had even survived for almost three full days, though it felt like weeks. She was sensible enough to stay close to the river, but food was hard to come by. She had learned quite a lot about plants during the past few years, but there were so many in these parts of the forest that she had never seen before. Few were familiar to her. She had tried her hand at fishing and hunting as well, but one could only go so far when armed with nothing but a knife and a small dagger.

    Sayvel sat lazily against a tree trunk, still looking at her hands. There was a long cut on the back of her left hand and similar one on her left leg, but luckily she had found some loringes leaves to treat them both. She knew she could not rest here for long, but the prospect of continuing a trek in this brutal forest did little to motivate any movement.
  2. He breathed with the forest.

    On days like this, when there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the sky and the sun touched down on the tops of the trees and lit the whole forest to the most brilliant shade of emerald, Aldan would find one of the massive trees with a low hanging branch, wrap his large hands around it, and heave himself up into the sky. Towards the top, the tree would start to split into finer branches that could no longer support his weight. This far above the ground a fall would be deadly, but he didn’t act worried. Quite to the contrary, the higher he got the faster he moved, swinging like a primate until he found a fork in the trunk. He settled into it, drawing his legs up, and stared out at his home.

    The forest stretched on seemingly forever before his eyes, and he gazed at it fondly, a soft look coming into his hard, brown eyes. He scratched roughly at his thick, blonde beard, before rolling a few strands around his fingers. He was in no hurry today, and had no plans to roam far from the temporary base had set up. He had caught a deer only a couple of days ago, and the many canteens he carried were still mostly full of water. There was no point in exerting oneself when there was nothing to do, as the need to do would always come back. So Aldan took his moment of relaxation happily, leg swinging absentmindedly as he watched a flock of birds take off suddenly from the forest, hover above the canopy, before gathering together and wheeling away. There was something over there they had objected at the presence of. Most likely the monkeys had climbed up into the tree, trying to see if they could catch the brightly colored birds in their grasping fingers. But the birds would not have stirred unless it was something that they considered a threat.

    Shrugging mentally, Aldan closed his eyes, smiling bushily at the feel of the sun touching down on his face. The corners of his eyes creased heavily at the motion, the sign of a happy life, if one full of trials.

    When the sun peaked for the day, he roused himself from his position, descending the tree and landing lightly on the forest floor. He rolled down his patched, well tanned and thin leather sleeves, making sure as much of his skin as possible was covered, both to protect him from the swarming insects as well as any scratches. He had skinned the deer carefully, laying out her hide to be treated later. He would eventually use the leather to make a new pair of shoes, which had been worn down over the past several months of travel.

    He wouldn’t be able to move for several days until the tanning process was complete, and he could only pray that the sky would remain clear until he was done. Rain would quickly ruin his work, and he would likely have to dispose of the hide and try again at another time.

    He bent low for a moment, his head dropping below the bush level, and he quickly scanned the forest, looking past the bushes closest to him to see the natural breaks in the undergrowth that would allow for easier travel until he came to the trails with which he was more familiar. He had checked his snares and traps last night before dusk, but that meant that there had been time for something else to be sprung. He did not need the meat right now, but if he left the animal there it would either damage itself to escape, or be devoured by some other beast.

    Aldan set off quickly, his stride rolling, hips rotating from side to side as he flashed through the bushes, disturbing little. It had taken him a lot of time to learn how to travel through the jungle, but now he moved by instinct, stride lengthening and shortening as he needed to avoid objects in his path. His routh seemed circuitous, but it was far better to go around obstacles and cover the extra distance than try and go through them. It wasted energy, and there might be things in the foliage that would not be happy about being disturbed.

    His first two traps were empty and untouched. His third had been sprung, but had captured nothing. He reset it with care, before heading off to his last trap. However, before he drew close, he slowed, his hand coming to rest against the long blade strapped to his thigh. there was something moving through the woods up ahead, something that did not move with the familiarity born to all jungle animals.

    It was a person. A woman, if he could judge correctly from this angle. Aldan blinked, his brow wrinkling in surprise. How long had it been since he had seen another person? He had been living alone in the jungle for so long that he no longer knew. He eyed her hungrily, momentarily forgetting for what he had came. He remembered, quite promptly, however, when he saw that the woman was about to walk right into the snare he had set. It wouldn’t hurt her, and certainly wouldn’t kill her. But she was about to be in for a very nasty surprise.
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  3. The trees seemed to be growing closer together in this area of the woods, and that was not a pleasant thought. At night it would be to dark to see anything at all in such a densely packed forest. But Sayvel had to continue north. With any luck, Greino would still be whole and thriving in the northern mountains. But that was leagues north of this jungle, and she was not sure how far she had even gone just yet. How long had it been since Noror was burned? Three days? Seven days? A fortnight? Her body felt like it had been exerting itself for nearly a month.

    As she looked up at the underbrush, Sayvel could see golden flowers blooming on the near side of a tree trunk. It reminded her of the same ones that grew at home, though this one was much smaller and had only four petals rather than five. Not in Noror, but in Rukyma. There had been times during the past few years she spent dwelling on her old life and how much she missed it. Now she longed for it even more. She longed to see her brothers jousting in a tournament for her father's birthday. She would give anything to taste the spiced wine from the capital's enormous array.

    What she missed most, however, were the nights in which she would on the cliff that over looked the Green river. She had met Bulrik there on so many occasions since the day he arrived in Rukyma. He had even presented her with a lei he made himself, consisting of the golden flowers similar to the one she was looking at now. He had never been the type of man who participated heavily in such artistry, and it showed in his design. But she had adored it all the same.

    But he was gone. Maybe he was dead, or maybe he too was in exile. Either way, the chances of her ever seeing him again were next to none. Had it not been for the rebellion, she might have been married to him already.

    She should not be thinking about these things. It only tormented her to lament the life lost, and it was doing nothing to help her on this journey.

    However, she saw no reason why she could not pick this flower. Maybe she would never return to her old life, but collecting a token that was similar to the ones she was so used to at home would ease her spirits. So she went for it. It was a tall tree, but it looked easy enough to climb from this vantage point.

    There would be no climbing today, unfortunately, for she did not even reach the tree before she found her self caught in a thick net made of vines, moss, and some weeds she could not identify. A piercing shriek escaped her mouth when she felt a vine wrap tightly around her ankles and suddenly pull her into the air, dangling helplessly upside down.

    Perfect. This was exactly what she needed right now. If there was any solace in this situation, it was that someone must have set the trap, which meant that there were people nearby.

    Her theory proved correct, as her eyes landed on a figure standing a good distance away. She could not make the face, but the stature of the body seemed to suggest it was a male. She wasted no time and began flailing her arms at him. "Please, help me!" she yelled to him, hoping he was friendly in some way. Then again the tails of some of the things one found in the forest were enough to make an experienced traveler cringe.
  4. Aldan watched her quietly for a second as she was flung upwards by the trap, swinging for a moment before spinning around in his direction. For a moment he held perfectly still, dark, mud covered skin and clothed blending in with the foliage. it didn't take him very long to see that this human was, or at least appeared to be, perfectly harmless. He stirred, standing up straight to reach all of his massive six and a half feet.

    she called out to him at a moment, and his impressing that she was harmless was promptly reinforced. Still, he hesitated before approaching. A lifetime living in the jungle had taught him that not all things that appeared harmless truly were. In fact, many times those things most deadly appeared the most innocuous. He had been lucky enough never to need to learn this lesson with the snakes that populated the jungles, but the mushrooms had taught him that lesson many times over.

    And so for a moment he watched her swing, his hand resting lightly on his long, sharp blade. But, after a further moment's contemplation he began to move forward, his stride low and rolling like the giant jungle cats'. It wasn't as though he could leave her hanging there. That would be a death sentence, especially with as much noise as she was making. How long had she been out here? She certainly didn't feel like the forest, which meant that she hadn't been out here long enough to absorb any of its essence. What was she doing out there in the first place.

    He skirted around her carefully, his eyes flicking back and forth between the girl and the spot towards which he was heading. A lock of matted hair swung in front of his face, but he ignored it. Once he was about fifteen feet from where the woman was hanging he bent down tot eh forest floor. His fingers rummaged carefully through the detritus littering the forest floor, very careful to disturb as little as possible. His fingers quickly found the end of the rope, which he unlooped from the tree nearby with a seemingly causal flick of his wrist. For a moment the rope holding the girl went slack, and she would drop a stomach-wrenching inch or two. But he held the rope firmly in his hands, and she came to a stop when the rope once more snapped taught. The muscles in his forearms bulged, but he seemed to struggle little with keeping her held off the ground.

    He lowered her gently to the ground, slowly passing the rope through his hands. Luckily, the trap she had sprung was not one of those designed to kill instantly. She would have bruises around her ankle, and perhaps some soreness in her leg, for several days at the least. But her ability to walk would not be impacted in the least.

    Now that she was down it would be easy for her to get herself out of the trap. Aldan stayed where he was, his whole body tense. Now it was time to see if he had released something that's only intent had been deception.
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  5. As the strange looking man approached her, Sayvel wondered for a moment if he planned on ending her life right then. He looked brutish and barbaric, and for a moment she wondered if he might elect to eat her. Some of the villagers in Noror would often tell each other stories about cannibals that lived in the remote areas of the forest, waiting for unsuspecting travelers to wander by. Of course Sayvel had never read much truth in these tales, but at this point she was fearful of just about every possibility.

    To her relief though, he untied the other end of the rope and began to lower her to the ground until she was resting on the grass and leaves underneath her. She fiddled with the tough knot still wrapped tightly round her ankle. Whoever this man was, he certainly did not lack in his knot tying ability. She required more than a few frustrated attempts to undo the thing before she finally reached for her knife and cut the rope away from her ankle. All the while she mumbled to herself, questioning why she had not just escaped with Ledaki and Creya. Was she so afraid of returning to Makkan that she would put herself through the hell of trekking through this accursed forest? Apparently so.

    While she grumbled to herself, Sayvel soon realized that man who had set the trap had said nothing at all yet. Even more discomforting was the fact that he was staring at her with hard, watchful eyes, not moving a muscle. Did he intend to do anything to her? The thoughts of what ideas might be running through his head were unnerving. Judging by the state of his garb, he did not talk to other humans much, so it was unlikely he had spoken to, let alone lain with, a woman recently. She desperately hoped he was not thinking such things now.

    Sayvel finally managed to stand up after removing the rope, still weary of his watchful gaze. What was she supposed to do now? He wasn't moving at all, and his intense stare was growing burdensome. But he had helped her from the snare and seemed more than capable of navigating the forest without issue. Perhaps he could help her reach the northern mountains. But what motive would he have for helping her travel that far? She had nothing to give him in return.

    She stood stock still, trying to return his stare as confidently as she could. "Thank you, sir, for your assistance." He said nothing and continued to make no gestures or movements of any kind. She took that as her cue to continue speaking. "My name is Sayvel, and I am trying to reach the northern mountains. Do you have a name?"

    She subconsciously spoke more and more slowly. Did he even speak at all? How long had he been out here on his own? He seemed completely ignorant in communication. But at least she was not alone anymore, though she had yet to determine if that was good or bad.
  6. Aldan watched her speak to him, head tilting slightly to the side, his brows wrinkling in confusion. The words sparked an old memory in the back of his mind, something so long forgotten that it no longer seemed to be real. After nightfall, sitting with a couple of giants, his head pressed to their sides, listening to them exchange words... It was a warm, comfortable memory, something entirely foreign in this lush, unforgiving home.

    What did she want from him? Why did she speak? There seemed to be little point to the words, as they were not relevant to anything in their situation. He knew what the words meant, even if there seemed to be many words that were entirely unnecessary, and could have been removed without changing the meaning of her words. Was this inefficiency a part of her being? Perhaps that was why she was roaming through the jungle alone, with no supplies, no obvious weapons, and no apparent purpose.

    Sayvel. He rolled the name over inside his head, committing it to memory with the same careful attention he paid to the mushrooms that he occasionally harvested for dinner. But why did she want his name in return? What was so significant about that exchange. He knew what he called himself. Aldan. It was another one of those echoes of an age long past, one that had meant enough to him that he had never dared relinquish it.

    He had spoken to himself once, too. He remembered that, the long, lonely, dark nights where his voice was lost under the crackle of the fire, the chirping of the night insects, and the screams of the howler monkeys. Eventually he had let that go, too. It had served no real purpose, and had only ever resonated quietly with the loneliness inside of him.

    Now he couldn't remember how to shape the words. They were there, sitting on the back of his tongue, waiting for the right muscle spasms to bring them to life. He grunted, the sound loose in his mouth, but was not able to make any discernible words from the rush of air.

    Her words created an ache in his chest, something long lost and willingly buried under the needs of basic survival. He looked at her hungrily, desperately waiting for her to make another sound.
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  7. He continued to stare at her blankly, and Sayvel was growing more and more frustrated. In fact his unblinking gaze was beginning to make her uncomfortable. She wondered for a moment if she should just leave, but it had been days since she had last talked to someone. And she did not doubt that even if she did leave him, he would no doubt have a pretty easy time following her. But so far he had made no indication that intended to harm her, so that was a plus.

    But did he even know how to speak at all? Perhaps he was born or abandoned in the wild and never learned how to interact with humans. It would be difficult to hold a conversation with someone who only stared and listened, assuming of course that he even understood what she was saying. If not, she was unsure how she would communicate with him. Maybe she could attempt to draw whatever she wanted to say in the dirt.

    "Do you know how to speak? Can you understand me? My name is Sayvel, and I need help." Sayvel's ability to speak Old Halanese had improved greatly over the last couple of years, though she still kept her old accent. She had been learning it since she was a young girl, but it was not until her exile when she realized just how important it was to know more than one language. If there was any language this man understood, then it had to be this one. What others made sense? The common tongue of Makkan was likely outside of his knowledge, and not even she knew the dialects of Cassifan well enough to speak them fluently.

    Again, he did not respond and he did not move. "Alright, let's try it this way," Sayvel muttered impatiently. She picked up a fallen branch that was about the same length as her forearm and began to draw in the dirt. She was the farthest thing from a skilled artist, but there were few options at this point. She outlined a picture of the southern mountains, the forest, and a path to the northern mountains. She put an X by the area they were, or where she assumed they were anyway, and then another X on the northern mountains in the general area she expected Valtos to be.

    The more she looked at it, the more Sayvel thought her map looked like a bowl of salad. Then again that could just be her hunger getting to her. But her new friend seemed interested by her drawing anyway. Sayvel pointed to herself as she spoke. "I want you to take me from here," she gestured towards the first X, "to here," she gestured to the second X. Could he even tell that those were supposed to be mountains? The God above had certainly failed to give her any abilities in map-making.
  8. At one point, back when he had been younger, and the simple acts of living had not been enough to keep him engaged, he had tried to join the monkeys in their play. They had watched him warily at first, uncertain of the lumbering thing that had trundled its way into their midsts. He had, however, watched them for several days before making the attempt to communicate, and he bent down on his hands and knees and imitated some of their friendly postures. It took them a little while to get over the shock of him being him, but once they figured out that he was not going to hurt him they were willing to include him in their games. The monkeys did not know how to be gentle, and they had broken his unprotected skin multiple times during that unexpected playdate. But they had quickly tired of playing their games on the ground, and had rapidly climbed into the tree. They waited a few seconds to give their new friend a chance to join them, but when they understood that he was not going to be able to keep up with him they had left him behind without a second glance. And he had sat down there in the middle of the jungle, nursing his injuries, and feeling more lonely than he had before he went to play.

    Watching Sayvel was nothing like spending time with the monkeys. Though they might look somewhat like him, they were, ultimately, monkeys. But she... Aldan could see traces of humanity in every move and sound she made. She was different from him, there was no doubt of that. But it was a difference of small similarities, and it left him hollow and empty inside as he had not been for a long time.

    For a moment he just wanted her to go away. If she went away he could go back to his life. The emptiness would once more slowly fade from his chest, and he would be happy. A touch of sunlight branching down through the tree would put a smile on his face, and he would climb up to the top of a tree and watch the forest. The rain would pour down from the sky, and when the sun once more appeared through the clouds it would leave everything glowing with refracted light. These images flickered through his mind, and the rather austere expression on his face faded.

    She was moving, bending down to the ground. He obligingly redirected his eyes from her face to the ground, although they kept flicking back to her face, as much to reassure himself that she still existed as to make sure that she wasn’t going to do anything strange and completely unwarranted.

    If he hadn’t known what she wanted from her earlier words, the picture certainly wouldn’t have done anything to aid her explanation. The fact that she was standing across from him meant that the “M” she drew for the mountains looked far more like a “V.” Why would she want to go to the mountains anyways? The jungle could provide for all needs, if you knew where and how to look for those needs.

    Then again, as blindly as she had walked into his trap, Aldan doubted quite a bit that she did know for what to look. And, to those who knew little, the jungle could be a dark and terrifying force with which to contend.

    That simply meant he would have to take care of her for a while. The thought eased the emptiness in his chest, and brought a small smile to his lips. There was no reason for her to go to the mountains. Not when she could stay here with him. He would take care of her. So long as the weather held he would use the hide he had taken from the deer to make something nice for her. Maybe a jacket, like he wore.
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  9. Sayvel's map was less than stellar to say the least, but was there any other way to draw a range of mountains? And the forest just looked like a bunch of disorderly scribbles that a child would draw in the dirt when he was bored. And of course she then realized that she made the mistake of using letters. He was obviously not very adept at speaking, so what made her foolish enough to think he would understand scripture? Her exhaustion was clearly doing little to help her mind function properly.

    In any case, it's not like she knew for certain this stranger would take her to her destination. He might even just leave her here to fend for herself. Did he care for other humans at all? Since it was likely he had not met many in his travels, the likely answer to that question would probably be "no" if he could speak at all. Perhaps she was just wasting her time now. There was no way she was going to get him to understand where she wanted to go anytime soon. He could not comprehend speech, and he could not read her map, though she could hardly put all of the blame on him for that second reason. All this was doing now was frustrating her.

    Sayvel's inner monologue stopped momentarily when she saw a smile appear on his face. What did that mean? Did he understand? God be gracious, if he understood what she wanted then it must have been a miracle.

    "You know what I am saying?" she asked with a sudden excitement. She pointed to their current location on her map again, then to the mountains. Maybe he needed a little more edging on to fully realize what she meant.

    "Please take me hear quickly," she repeated. "I can pay you for your services." Then again she was not completely sure what a man living in a jungle would consider a worthy payment. But he probably understood none of what she was saying anyway. Simply having someone to talk to, even if they did not return the conversation, was a nice change from the loneliness of the jungle.

    He still wore the smile on his face, but whether or not it meant he was going to take her to the mountains was still a mystery. But the smile itself was almost nostalgic to her. It reminded her of Bulrik's. His jaw had the same brutish shape and sturdiness. Of course this man looked much older than Bulrik, but the way he wore that smile almost made her want to weep. She had not seen her love since he fled Makkan during the war. Had she known he was leaving she would have left with him. As fate would have it, they were in completely different parts of the kingdom when she received word of his departure. She had hoped to run into him accidentally during her exile, but she was kidding herself if she thought that could be anything more than a little girl's fantasy. She was not going to be rescued by her graceful warrior anytime soon.

    But given the current circumstances, she would settle for being rescued by a mysterious barbarian without much hesitation.
  10. He watched the glow of excitement on her face with joy, and allowed himself to forget what she had just asked afterwords. Aldan had been alone in his head for long enough that sometimes he no longer even remembered that the rest of the world was separated from his mind. And, in that moment of excitement, he allowed himself to believe that she was just as happy with the idea of staying with him as he was to have her around.

    He got quite suddenly to his feet, moving with all the grace and speed of a coiled snake. The jungle had honed him into a deadly creature, a survivor. It had trimmed every drop of fat from his six foot four inch form, but had replaced it pound for pound with muscle. There was a reason even the big cats left him alone, preferring to pick on easier prey. Now, however, he moved gently, desiring not to spook his new friend. He approached her hesitantly, hand outstretched as though to touch an injured doe. The smile still played on his lips, more firmly in place now that he was sure of his course.

    He had a couple other traps to check, but he could take care of that once he made sure that Sayvel was safe in his camp. He would stoke up the fire a little bit to keep away anything that might want to harm her, give her some of the food he kept hanging in a bag, out of reach of all but the clever monkeys, and then coated in the sap of a tree that would fill the mouth of anyone who tried to bite the bag with a harsh, bitter flavor. The food, wrapped in various leaves and hides, would remain safe and untouched by any curious visitors.

    Convinced that she was following him, Aldan stood and began to walk to the south. He turned around almost immediately, glancing at Sayvel. The path he was following was hidden among the underbrush, and he wanted to make sure that she would follow in his footsteps, and not make extra work for herself by trying to walk through a plant it was not necessary to disturb.
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  11. Sayvel nearly fell backwards from the suddenness with which he jumped up. He was more energetic than some of the villagers at Noror, and they were some of the most spirited people she had ever encountered. She wondered how she was going to keep up with him when he had this much endurance in such a harsh environment. Hopefully he would not expect her to have the same survival abilities as him, or she would end up looking rather ridiculous. Not that it mattered anyway, given that he seemed to have no speech ability whatsoever.

    She could not help but smile when he turned back to look at her. He must have wanted her to follow him, which meant he was leading her to the mountains like she wanted. Maybe this meant that he had some ability to communicate after all, even if it was with only simple gestures and signs. Now she was on her way to her destination again, and she was being led by someone who knew where he was going and would be able to protect her if they were caught in any danger.

    As he led her through the thick flora, he easily brushed aside anything in his way, but somehow he kept it all completely intact. Sayvel wondered how much time it had taken him to understand how each and every form of life worked out here. Not even Creya would have understood this much about so many different plants. He was even careful not to step on any small wildlife, or at least the ones that could be seen easily. How a man was capable of living by himself for so long in such a remote place was beyond her. She missed the palace life. She missed being surrounded by her friends, her family, jousting competitions, wonderful musicians, and elegant food. It almost made her feel spoiled, but her time spent in exile had already showed her just how well off she really was before the war.

    They found themselves in a small clearing, and she spotted what appeared to be a campsite. She could only assume it belonged to her new friend. "Do you always come back here, or do you move to a different place everyday?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. Now she was talking mostly because the silence was uncomfortable. "I wonder how far the mountains are from here."

    An eagle cawed out above them, and she glanced up at the creature as it landed on a large branch well above them. It was a magnificent bird to say the least, and for the first time she found herself truly taking in the wondrous beauties of nature, those that she had never appreciated before.
  12. Aldan traveled slowly and carefully, constantly keeping Sayvel in mind. Normally he traveled as quickly through the jungle as most people would walk through an open field, but now he moved with far more care. He did not think that his new friend was very used to the jungle, and, now that he had promised to take care of her, he intended to fulfill that promise to the best of his ability. Until she grew familiar with the paths of the jungle and was able to spot the natural trails that wandered everywhere, he would guide her.

    Despite the fact that they were going slower than Aldan was used to traveling, any forest guide would have said they made great time. He paused briefly just before entering his camp, checking that things were how he had left them, and that there would be nothing unpleasant waiting for the pair. More than once he had returned from a brief span away from the camp to find it inhabited by some beast, drawn by the smells that naturally gathered around any place of long-term residence. Most of the time the visitors were curious and harmless, but sometimes they were more aggressive.

    But no unwelcome visitors waited now, and Aldan wandered into camp comfortably. He paused briefly to listen to Sayvel speak, but the words to answer her would not come to him. he had been silent for so long now that it was far easier just to remain silent now.

    He ducked briefly into a rudimentary shelter, enough to redirect the frequent rainstorms and leave a small patch of dry ground, and pulled out a leather blanket. It was a piecemeal blanket, sewed together from the various soft pelts of small mammals until it was large enough to cover even Aldan's hulking frame. The underside had been scraped clean and carefully smoked and rubbed with beeswax and various oils so that it would repel water and the various forest detritus that might cling to it. He shook it out carefully, dislodging the couple of spiders that had adopted it as a temporary home. They tumbled to the ground before scuttling off to find more secure homes.

    Aldan spread the blanket near the fire, fur side up, before glancing over to Sayvel. He stood up and gently guided her over to the blanket, before pushing down on her shoulders until she sat. Once she was down he moved over to the tree from which he had hung his food. He grabbed onto one of the lowest branches before hauling himself into the boughs. He moved agilely, jumping from branch to branch with the movements he had learned from the monkeys. He untied the bag from where it was hanging, allowing it to fall to the ground, before jumping down after it, landing surprisingly lightly for a man of his mass. he untied the strings carefully, not letting his fingers touch the outer side of the sack. If he did his fingers would pick up some of the bitter residue he had coated on it, spoiling the taste of any of the food he then ate.

    He pulled out one of the leaf-wrapped packages inside, and brought it over next to the fire. He unfolded the leaf, revealing an assortment of dried roots, berries, other plant matter, and some smoked jerky. He took a small handful for himself, dumping it into his mouth, before pushing the food over towards Sayvel. While she ate he built the fire back up to a steady burn with some of the dry wood he kept under another waterproof tarp. This camp had been his home for longer than he usually stayed in one place, and he had taken the time to get some of the standard amenities more readily accessible. He stacked some thick, damp pieces of wood near the fire, giving them a chance to dry out before they would be added to the blaze, and therefore ensuring that the smoke would be kept to a minimum.

    Normally, while he worked, half of his attention was given to the task at hand, while the other half was dedicated to watching and listening to everything going on around him, making sure that nothing was out of place. However, he found that second half of his attention often drifting away from its assigned duty, as he watched and listened to Sayvel. He shook his head from side to side, blonde mats waving wildly. Some guardian he was. It wouldn't do him any good to be watching her, especially not if something bad was drawing close. Then he might never get a chance to watch her and listen to her again. For the most part the jungle was peaceful, but that did not mean he should ever be unaware. Things could change in the blink of an eye.

    Once Sayvel was set to his satisfaction he took what was left of the food mix back from her. She could have more when he got back, but it would never do to leave food sitting around. That was the most certain way to draw in the unwelcome visitors. He put the leaf wrap back in the sack, and quickly returned the sack to its hanging position in the trees.

    A part of him didn't want to leave her here unattended, but nor could he reasonably leave his traps unattended for the day. He could bring her with him, but it was likely that the whole process would take three times as long with her tagging along. Most things would leave him alone, but it was less certain with a delicate thing like her. He contemplated briefly, before drawing one of his makeshift knives and setting it down near her. He added a small sack, which contained made of a mix of dirt, downy seeds, and strands of fiber. To each little bolus he had added some of that same bitter substance he had used to coat his food sack. Shoving that down any animal's throat was often more than enough to get them to back off. He wasn't certain Sayvel would know what they were for, though. He mimed opening the bag and reaching a hand inside. He withdrew the hand, placed a finger on his tongue, and made a face. Then he smiled, set the bag down near her, and made for the edge of camp.
  13. It was an odd place for one to live, but given her lack of expertise in forest living she was not exactly one to judge. Sh was, however, more than impressed by his resourcefulness. The way he hid things, the way he stored them, it was all so brilliant. He probably spent a great amount of his time preparing and setting up these contraptions. Sayvel had never been a fan of manual labor, and she could not imagine taking so much time out of her day simply building places to keep her food. With that in mind, she figured it was unlikely she would last very long in these woods without the help of her new friend. Maybe he could spend some time teaching her how to build some of the more simpler contraptions. It would be more than helpful if she were to get lost during their journey or if they had to separate for some reason.

    The fire was warm, so she stood as close to it as possible, letting the bright flames sooth her discomfort. The silent man returned to her with a large blanket that looked to be made of some animal hide. A bear? A deer? Whatever it was she was obviously meant to sit on it, because she found herself being forced to down onto it without much of a warning. "Wait, what are you... oh, I see... I... okay, then I'll sit right here if that is what you insist upon." Even if she didn't want to sit, she was not exactly capable of resisting his enormous strength. And why she continued to speak to him as if he would understand was still a mystery. But the animal fur was soft. At home she had many different furs given to her as gifts, though she never would have used them for sitting on. But she would probably cherish this one more than any of those. During the past few nights she had been forced to sleep on the cold, uneven dirt with nothing but plants and grass to use as a makeshift bed. This was far nicer. For a moment she wondered if she was back home living the life of royalty again.

    He returned again, this time holding a small parcel of some sort made entirely of leaves. He opened it and pulled out a handful of assorted berries and other items. He immediately scarfed down the handful, rather messily she might add. Of course it would be foolish of her to expect him to eat with anything even remotely resembling proper table manners. He handed her some of her own. She had avoided eating most of the plants she saw before today because she was vastly unfamiliar with what was edible and what could make her sick. But she trusted this man to know these facts, so she accepted them without question, munching on them hungrily. She guessed her last proper meal was likely in Noror, though even now she would hardly consider this a proper meal. But she was not complaining.

    "Thank you so very much," she mumbled through a mouthful. In Makkan these berries and roots would have tasted bitter and unappetizing. But here they were more than welcome to her stomach. "You must teach me how to find these and which ones are okay to eat. Oh, and how you made that shelter for your food." Again, there she was talking away when he clearly had no understanding of what she was saying. But he seemed to be listening intently to her. In fact after he had given her the food he had not taken his eyes off her. It was a little unsettling, but she did her best not to sway under the discomfort. But she was puzzled as to why he was paying such close attention to her voice. Maybe he simply enjoyed hearing the sound of another human's voice. Whatever it was, it gave her an excuse to continue talking. She was never comfortable in silence. "You have been a wonderful host. I cannot thank you enough for what you are doing."

    She placed the small parcel off to the side. In truth she was not completely full, but it would be rude to take so much from her host when he probably did not have much to spare. After he returned it to its proper place in the tree, the silent man took out a small knife and set it down beside her. "What's this for?" she asked dumbly, though she guessed it was so she would not be so defenseless. He then placed a small sack on the ground, the contents of it being completely unknown to her. But she was even more confused when he placed a hand inside and touched whatever the substance was to his tongue, making and odd face before smiling stupidly. So she was not supposed to eat it? "I'm sorry, but I don't know what you are getting at." But he still did not seem to understand, for he then stood up and went off on his own.

    Though she had spent most of her time alone since the attack on Noror, she suddenly felt unsafe after his departure. He would return, she knew, because all of his materials were still here. But it was an eerie silence that filled the forest, one that she did not trust by any means. She quickly took the knife and clutched it tightly against her chest. Nothing has approached the fire yet, so she at least had that going for her.

    Sayvel did not dare lie down though. She would fall asleep almost instantly with how tired she was, and she did not want to be unconscious while so out in the open without protection. So she sat there quietly. She thought of Noror and all of the new friends she had lost in the dreadful attack. She thought of her home in Makkan and how much she missed her family, all of them long dead. She thought of her knight in shining armor, her Bulrik. Wherever he was, he was probably in better condition than she was.

    She felt her eyelids drooping, but she would not let sleep take her yet. She would wait for er silent friend to return before that happened. He would watch over. He would protect her.
  14. One thing about the jungle was that it was never silent. There was always movement, always life going about its business. The hum of insects always filled the air, the rustle and noise of birds, the sound of wind passing through the endless passages of fern and tree.

    Once, when he had walked through the jungle, a quiet had followed and preceded Aldan. The forest had sensed his presence, and had marked it as foreign. The little animals would alarm in the distance, altering their fellows to his presence, and then fall silent and hide as he drew close. Now, however, the forest did not mark him as out of place. Most of the time, the forest simply ignored him. And Aldan was happy with that. When the forest ignored him, it meant he was safe. It meant he could watch its natural rhythms to learn more about the world around him, and it meant that he belonged where he was, how he was, in that moment. He only wished he could belong as perfectly in the forest as the other animals which instinctively made the forest their home.

    Only one of the few traps he had set had caught anything. The rabbit had been young, probably only a few months out of the den, and exploring the world at high speed. Maybe some predator had spooked it, causing it to race heedlessly down the path and right into his snare. It’s little neck had snapped in a second. Aldan unlaced it gently, and hung the limp body from his belt, before carefully resetting the snare. He had two mouths to feed now, and he was going to need to make sure that she had plenty of good food so that she could grow strong under the tutlage of the jungle.

    Aldan made his way back to camp slowly but efficiently, pausing only to gather a handful of mushrooms that grew on a tree, pull a single, massive leaf off of a tree, and strip a group of leaves from a strongly scented plant. He wanted to gather more food, make sure that they had a good meal for the evening, and enough for breakfast as well, but he also was concerned about leaving Sayvel alone in his camp. He didn’t think anything threatening would come, but he also was not sure that, if something did, Sayvel would know how to properly defend herself.

    He let out a slight whimper at the thought of her being caught unawares, and increased his pace a bit, the rabbit attached to his belt swinging with every step. He slowed only a moment before entering into the camp. If there was some unknown visitor, he would not wait for it to get at Sayvel first. But the camp was empty except for her limp form by the fire. It was clear that she was falling asleep, but had waited up to make sure he would be coming back. A smile flickered over his lips at his belief that she was just as worried about him as he was about her.

    He gently tucked a portion of the blanket over her, scraping off a piece of half-decomposed bark that had clung to the underside of the blanket. Then he settled to the ground on the other side of the fire, pulling the rabbit off of his belt and setting it on the giant leaf, which he had unrolled on a clean patch of ground. He quickly and efficiently gutted and skinned the rabbit, keeping all of the splatter onto the leaf. Once the rabbit was cleaned, he set it on one of the large stones that served as the fire ring. He rolled the guts and fur up into the leaf. The next time he left camp he would bring it with him, and scatter the scraps where they wouldn’t lure any dangerous animals close to his camp.

    Finally, he encased the cleaned rabbit in a mix of leaf matter and mud, before burying it in the ashen coals of the fire. It would cook in its own juices for about forty-five minutes, and be ready to eat as soon as it cooled enough for him to break it open.
  15. There was a time when Sayvel would spend hours making herself look as presentable as possible whenever she was someone's guest. She would spend hours in front of the mirror studying her features for the slightest imperfections while her handmaidens helped her dress and sculpt her hair into varieties that befitted a woman of royal blood. The eldest handmaiden, Tarina, would often say things like, "Everyone dresses to impress the princess, which means the princess must try even harder to impress," or, "Everyone expects the best when they see you, as they should." It would often grow annoying to hear such words every day, especially during large events. Tournaments especially had forced her to look as beautiful as she could. Knights from all over the world would enter the competitions and ask for the favors of the ladies they deemed the most beautiful. Needless to say, Sayvel had been asked to favor quite a few knights at those events.

    And now she looked the complete opposite of that. Her hair was a mess and she looked absolutely filthy. Her clothes were torn and ruined, though she wondered if this man might be able to help her fashion something more suitable for traveling. He was already wearing clothes that looked like they were made from different things around the forest, but it would probably take some time. She intended on reaching the mountains within a few days if that was possible. Frankly she was not even sure how far she had come since she left the burning pile that was once Noror, but there was no question that this man would be able to help her reach her destination in a timely manner. And he would also no the potential dangers lurking everywhere, making it a much safer trek. But would he be willing to leave his home unattended for her?

    After a while she felt her exhaustion threatening to morph into sleep, something she desperately needed. It had been days since she had a good night's rest, but she did not dare fall asleep until her protection returned. She did not like to feel weak and helpless, but she was smart enough to know that if an animal of some sort attacked her she would not put up a good fight. The relaxing heat from the fire was not helping her to feel more awake. She clenched the weapon in her hands ever more tightly, fearful that she might accidentally drift off in the face of danger. But her eyelids felt heavier with every passing moment, and she kept seeing flashes of her subconscious fade in and out of her mind. For a split second her mother was reprimanding her, then a moment later she was staring only at the fire again.

    She gasped all of a sudden when she heard a twig snap near the site, but it was just her protector returning from his trip. She felt him cover her with a part of the blanket she sat on and smiled comfortingly. It had forgotten the feeling of what it was like to have someone care about her. The people of Noror rarely ever displayed such affection for anyone other than their close families. The furs of this blanket would have seemed rough and dirty had she still been living as royalty, but now they were more than welcome.

    She watched him skin the rabbit and she frowned a little. Though she had eaten all kinds of meat in the past, she had never watched the process that went into it. It was disturbing, but she would not complain. Her stomach would welcome any food that was offered to her. "I have never seen a man skin an animal so expertly. I hope it has enough meat on it." There she was again, talking more for herself than for him. But she was starting to grow more comfortable with the idea of talking to a silent man. It meant she could say whatever she wanted without being ridiculed for it. That was a nice luxury.
  16. While he waited for the rabbit to cook, Aldan took the opportunity to relax. The jungle never allowed him to relax in the way that people used to living in the security of a village would understand, one always had to be aware, and if there was no one else around to share in the burden of that awareness, all of it had to fall on him. But that did not mean that he could not relax. The smell of the cooking rabbit would not be easily detectable until he broke through the mud casing, and the leaves, roots, and jerky he kept suspended above the clearing. There was no reason for anything to disturb them at the moment.

    Normally this would be the point that Aldan would pull out the blanket, and spread it beneath the boughs of a tree. But, right now, there was someone else on that blanket. So he devoted himself to watching her. A part of him desperately wished that he could return her words, that his tongue and throat would be able to make the refined sounds that passed as language, and their connection might grow a little deeper. But the sounds still caught in his throat, and even the animal noises he could make with such skill would not be transformed into words when they reached his mouth. So he remained silent. And he watched her.

    And so he sat for the entire time the rabbit was cooking, his attention rarely wavering from her. There was nothing harsh or scrutinizing about his stare, just a relaxed curiosity. The jungle continued to hum around them, a peaceful noise that spoke of things at peace.

    Occasionally, Aldan would take a stick and probe the cooking rabbit. It didn’t take long for the mud to become perfectly dry, but there were subtle signs that would tell him when the rabbit was done. The easiest of those signs was when the small cracks in the mud caused clear juices to run into the fire, creating brief splutters and hisses of steam.

    He fished it out carefully with the stick, and sat it on a cool rock a little distance away from the fire. It cooled quickly to touch, and as soon as it was done he broke it open. A stream of hot juice ran out, and a couple of drops fell on his hands, but he didn’t even flinch. Hands were sensitive, but after they had become subjected to some of the trials that Aldan had put them through, some of their sensitivity failed.

    He moved over near Sayvel, and set the rabbit down next to her. It would still probably be too hot for her to fish out many pieces, but the rabbit would cool quickly, and the flesh would be soft and well cooked, flavored slightly with the herbs he had stuffed in its abdominal cavity before covering it in the mud.
  17. Sayvel watched hungrily as the rabbit cooked over the entrancing fire. All of the fires she had attempted to build herself were less than adequate for keeping warm, much less cooking something over. Not that it mattered since she had the hunting expertise of a newborn lamb. This would be a nice change, almost a luxury in fact. The fragrance of the meat beginning to cook filled her nostrils, and she made a conscious effort not to let her mouth salivate at the thought of sinking her teeth into the freshly cooked meat.

    She was so busy staring at the fire and the rabbit that was slowly but surely cooking over it that it took her more than a few minutes to notice that the silent friend of her's was staring at her from across the fire, barely letting his gaze flicker away at all. It was not a menacing expression, nor was it a kind one. It was calm and emotionless, as if he was lost completely in thought. But she could see from the occasional flicker in his eyes that he was indeed thinking about her. He obviously did not know any better, but it still made her uncomfortable. She fidgeted a little under his gaze and decided to simply make conversation, if one could call it that.

    "I hope I'm not too much of a burden on you. I never learned how to survive on my own. I was raised in a palace in the city of Sarvayl. It was the capital of my father's kingdom, until a rebellion toppled the regime. My entire family was killed. I was lucky to escape when I did." She was not supposed to tell anyone of her true identity, but this man seemed to have spent his whole life in isolation. It was unlikely that he knew how important her secret was. And he could not even understand her anyway.

    His eyes remained fixated on her for a long time. She was used to men staring at her back in Makkan, for who would not stare when the princess walked by? Even so, his gaze was uncomfortable, and she breathed a sigh of relief when he finally removed the rabbit from its spot over the fire. Although that might have also been because of her immense hunger.

    When he placed the rabbit next to her, she realized that there was not a great deal of meat on it, though she wasn't expecting much with such a small animal anyway. But the smell was intoxicating, and when he made no attempt to take any just yet she decided to try and rip a small piece of it flesh from inside the abdomen. She immediately cursed herself for it and pulled her hand back, biting her lip to stop herself from shrieking. The burn was not serious, though she felt rather foolish for not being more cautious.

    The second time around she attempted to rip some of the pieces out with a fallen twig. The first one was too thin and broke within a second. But the next one stayed firm and she managed to rip out a small piece of the meat. She was about ready to stuff it in her mouth, but she felt a pang of guilt come over her. Here she was, such a helpless little fool being looked after by a man with experience, and she had done nothing for him in return. So despite her hunger, she held out the small piece of rabbit towards him. It was meager compared to what he had done for her so far, but it was a start.
  18. A small grin flitted across Aldan’s face as Sayvel tried to grab a piece of the rabbit, and quickly withdrew her hand from the fire-hot meat. It wasn’t any sort of pleasure at her pain, but only an echo of a memory of the countless times he had done that to himself.

    To his surprise and pleasure, Sayvel did not immediately begin to eat the rabbit. First she tried to offer him a piece. It was so distinctly human, so very different from what any animal anywhere in this jungle would have done, that it nearly brought tears to his eyes. He smiled, sad and sweet, and pushed her hand back towards her own body. He was used to going full days without getting anything to eat, and he had only caught that deer a couple of days ago. The rabbit was for her. He had left the rabbit’s heart and liver in its body, to cook among the herbs. To him they would be treats, and it did not occur to him that Sayvel may see them any differently. He would only eat them if she completely rejected them.

    He had to reject a couple more pieces before Sayvel began eating properly. That had the additional benefit of giving the rabbit a little time to cool. It would still undoubtedly be hot, but no longer would it scorch her fingers and the inside of her mouth.

    As soon as Sayvel was eating properly he stood and walked away from the fire. Resting under one tree was the deer hide that he had been going to make into a new pair of shoes. Now it would be converted into a loosely fitting shirt for Sayvel. Her own clothes were hardly suited to jungle travel. He picked up a moderately dull blade that was next to the hide, and began to scrape away at it. There was already several hours worth of work put into it, just getting it strung up onto the frame, but it might take days of careful labor to get every last hair off of the hide. Aldan did not mind. Patience was one of the currencies of the forest, and you could not get very far without it.
  19. To her frustration, he would not accept the offer. He had been the one to find and cook this rabbit in the first place, and now he refused to eat any of it? It brought back a memory of how she had watched her nephews, Gareth and Ormont, refuse to eat every day. They always sat at the table, turning their heads away and begging to go to either the stables or the armory. Gareth was barely seven years when he died, and Ormont only five. Sayvel felt the tears beginning to well up as she thought of them being slaughtered by the rebels. They were only children. And they died because of the stupidity of so many adults, including her own father. She felt guilty in knowing that she was the only survivor, at least as far as she knew. While living in Noror, Rallomo would often try to comfort her by optimistically stating that some members of her family were probably still alive somewhere. But Sayvel had given up that hope a long time ago, even before the day she had decided to change her name.

    She offered a few more times but to no avail. It became clear to her that he would not eat it unless she did so first. At least he was a good host. She sighed with annoyance and put a small chunk of the meat in her mouth. It was still hot but not enough to burn her mouth. It was tasteless and rather chewy, but she loved it all the same. The cooked juices spurted in her mouth whens she bit down and eased the tough fibers down her throat. She would have added some spices and garlic to it if she knew where to find some. The silent man was probably unaware of how to use such items for cooking. Sayvel had only learned after she left Makkan, mostly so she could fit in with the other women of the Halanese villages.

    She paid no heed to him as he walked away to a nearby tree. But she would leave some of the meat for him. She was terribly hungry only a little while before, but she had eaten very little over the past few days and was not sure her stomach could handle a sudden flow of food like this. And he was much larger than her. He needed at least a little bit if he was going to stay strong.

    Setting aside what was left of the rabbit, she peered over at him and watched as he removed the hairs form what looked like some animal skin he had collected. He probably got bored quite a lot on his own, so he had to have something to do. Apparently removing hairs from animal skin helped him pass the time. She wanted to ask him what he was going to use it for, but he would not have understood her words. Instead she elected to lay down on the soft fur he had given her and attempt to find some sleep. Normally she was afraid to sleep for fear of something attacking her. But tonight she felt safer than she had in a while and would have no problem drifting off by the warm fire.
  20. As a small blessing to the two new friends, the sky stayed clear that night. For most of the evening Aldan sat in front of the deer hide, scraping and scraping. If he let it sit for too long it would become unusable. And besides, it wasn’t as though he had anything else to do with his time. Occasionally he stood up and added another log to the fireplace, placing it gently so that he would not disturb her rest. At one point he paused to eat the last of the rabbit, quickly and messily cleaning up the scraps before breaking open the hardened mud and licking out the remaining juices from the inside. Never let anything go to waste. He set the baked mud down carefully near the rolled leaf with the animal guts. Unwilling to leave them sitting in his camp overnight Aldan picked them up, glanced back at Sayvel once, and quickly walked into the jungle. He jogged a few paces, before unrolling the leaf and letting the small remains fall to the ground. They would quickly be eaten, either by the insects, or something larger if it came by first. After that he quickly returned to the camp, glancing once at Sayvel before sitting back before the hide.

    Aldan woke and slept with the sun, so as soon as it dropped below the horizon he finished up the last of his work. He cleaned the knife and then set it down next to the hide, before moving over to Sayvel. One glance upwards was enough to tell him it might be the first clear night in several weeks, so rather than carrying her to the tarp he left her where she was. He glanced down at his blanket, the only thing he had to sleep in other than the waterproof tarp, but let out a small sigh. It was far easier for him to just sleep on the ground. He built the fire up one last time before laying down, ensuring that it would burn through most of the night to provide both heat and a little bit of protection from any animals that might be wandering by. He only woke once that night, just long enough to put another piece of wood on the fire, and listen to the sounds of a jungle at peace.

    The morning rays of the sun woke him the next morning. His eyes flickered open, and he immediately took stock of the situation, to the best of his ability. A small nose from Sayvel caused him to sit up suddenly, gripping the handle of the knife which was never far from him, but he quickly remembered his guest as the fog of sleep left his mind. He watched her for a few minutes, admiring the curve of her jaw as the morning light touched it. He got up quietly, stoked the fire, and then climbed back up into the tree that contained his dried food. He brought the bag down carefully, weighing it in his hand. There was still a good portion of meat left from the deer, a portion of which was going to be donated to breakfast this morning, but he would need to jerky more soon, as well as gather up more of the plants that were a large part of his diet. He looked at Sayvel once more. He was not inclined to leave her here alone all day while he went out gathering; that meant she had to come along. Maybe she would be able to help. Maybe he would be able to keep her from poisoning herself.

    He got one of the remaining pieces of deer from his waterproofed tent, and brought it over to the fire. He didn’t have the time to cook it up as nicely as he had the rabbit, it would likely be slightly burnt and have pieces of charcoal on it, but it would do for food. If the young woman was as hungry as he guessed she was, the smell of even burning meat would wake her quickly.
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