Ch. 11 - On the Hunt

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Lacey crept back to bed and proceeded to have the worst night’s sleep of her life. Once, she drifted into a fitful dream but then startled awake, certain that someone was hovering over her in the dark. 

After that she didn’t sleep. Her instincts told her not to trust Goeden. He had only just been at the head of a mob bent on killing her. But her instincts were what had gotten her lost in the Wish Wood in the first place. Her instinct to chase the rabbit, her instinct to follow it home, her instinct to run from Blayd. It was even her instincts that had caused her to drop the eggs and fight Devan. The only thing she could rely on them for lately was to get her in trouble.

Mama was right. She was not an animal. She had to think things through, and make the right choices. Stumbling around in the Wood trying to find her way home was definitely the wrong choice. Letting Goeden guide her to the road seemed to be the most logical choice.

Dawn crept through the cracks of the hut at an agonizing pace. Finally someone rapped loudly on the lopsided door to Cooper’s hut. Lacey jumped up and fumbled with her boots. She cursed her bandages. It would have been easier to sleep with her boots on.

Cooper sat up slowly rubbing her eyes. “Wha—Where are you going, child. You need your rest.”

“Goeden is taking me to the road. I’m going home.”

Cooper leapt to her feet. “No, you don’t want to go out with Geoden. Rest a few days. Talk to Ezerelle about a proper escort.”

Lacey paused, but then shook her head. “I need to go now.”

Cooper opened her mouth to say something, but then held back whatever it was.  

Lacey stopped at the door, one hand on the knotted burl that served as a handle. “If I have a chance to get back today, I have to take it. I don’t want to…worry Mama any longer than I have to.” That was part of it but, the truth was, Lacey couldn’t be here another day. She couldn’t share breakfast with people who had been ready to kill her, only yesterday.

Cooper’s face fell. “You are a good youngling. You’re mother is probably beside herself.”

 Lacey looked around the crude hut one last time. “When I get back, I can talk to the others. Tell them about you. Maybe the Wished could come live in the Village, or at least start trading for things you need.”

“No! Do not tell your Village about us. It would not end well.” Panic rose in Cooper’s voice.

Lacey thought of the children who tugged her ears, and more subtle unkindness from some of the adults. How would they react if they learned about an entire camp of people like her? She remembered the hatred in the faces of the mob, and imagined it on the faces of the villagers instead. It was not as difficult to imagine as she wanted it to be.

“Ok, I won’t tell them,” she said, leaning down to hug the little raccoon woman. “Goodbye Cooper. Thank you for the stew.”

“If—when you get to the road, don’t hesitate, just go.”

***

The sun had not risen yet. The world was colorless except for the crescent of the red moon, as it crossed paths with the white. There was nobody outside Cooper’s hut, but there were people over by the fire pit. Maybe Goeden was among them.

Lacey unwound the bandages from her hands. A giant bruise painted each palm. Her knuckles were scraped raw. She flexed her hands, and sucked in her breath at the sting from numerous cuts re-opening. They would need to be redressed when she got home, but she didn’t want to have explain where she found bandages in the middle of the woods.

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