Chapter 9: A Friendly Face

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The farther I walked, the more my legs ached. Night had fallen hours ago. So much so, I'd lost track of how many miles I'd walked, thus far.

I was afraid of leaving the path I was on in order to search for suitable shelter. My mind refused to let go of the constant image of a bandit coming after me. I kept my eyes on the trail ahead of me, wishing I had a weapon of some sort on me for protection. I'd forgotten to ask Rumpelstiltskin for one before he'd disappeared for good.

The sound of a twig snapping behind me drew my attention. I whirled about, eyeing the surrounding darkness.

"Who's there?"

Footsteps echoed to the right of where I stood. A sudden burst of light blinded me.

I raised my right arm, holding my hand in front of my eyes. "What the heck?"

"You must be stupid if you're travelin' alone like this in the middle of the night," a sardonic masculine voice said.

The burst of light shifted. I caught a glimpse of a pair of silvery-yellow eyes. The person's face soon materialized.

"Wh—Who are you?"

The young man snorted and assessed me from head to toe. "I'm just a weary traveler. You, on the other hand, must be out of your mind. Don't you know there are bandits in these hills?"

My face grew warm. "I do, yes, but there's nothing I can do about it, can it?"

He sighed with exasperation. "You're damned lucky I've swung by this way. Had I gone the other way . . . Well, no matter. Follow me. We'll set up camp in Willow's Hollow and spend the night there."

My brow furrowed. "Willow's Hollow?"

The young man pointed to a spot in the distance. "Over yonder. It's not much. Just a cave, really, but it'll keep us warm and out of the bandit's noses. Not that they'll come after me, mind you. You, though, they might take a fancy to."

"Are you from Gwendolyn, too?"

He chortled. "No. Well, kind of. But no. My brother lives there. I'm on my way to visit him. Never expected to find a girl skulkin' around these parts, though."

The heat coursing through my veins intensified. The boy made me feel like I'd done something wrong when I hadn't.

A knowing smile spread across his lips. "You're weary of strangers. I like that. Means your mom taught you proper."

Sadness filled me at the mention of my mom. She'd taught me to be a proper lady. To mind my manners, speak when spoken to, and be kind to my elders. A lot of good it did me, here and now, however.

He juggled the torch between his hands and stepped forward, curling a hand around my left elbow. "Come on. We shouldn't dilly-dally more than necessary. Wouldn't want to come across any unsavory folks, you know?"

I nodded and pulled my elbow free of of his hold before trudging after him. "How well do you know these hills?"

The boy glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. "Well enough."

"So you've grown up in the area, then?"

He laughed. "No. But like I said, my brother lives in Gwendolyn. I used to sneak away from home to visit him whenever possible."

"I see."

"No, I don't think you do."

I ignored his subtle jibe. "Do you have a name?"

He turned left and darted between several trees. "Eothaine. And you are?"


Eothaine stopped walking and turned around to face me. His lips formed a perfect O.

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