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❝ ᴅᴇsᴘᴇʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴ ❞

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The crackling sounds of water flowing over rocks suddenly filled the princesses ears, causing her eyes to flicker open. Sunlight poured down onto her body as she laid in a pile of crushed leaves that sat directly next to a small stream that traveled down far beyond what her eyes could see. She raised her arm to block the bright sunlight from her squinting eyes as she sat up. Upon sitting directly up, there was a sharp pain in the back of her head. She reached up and fingered through her long brown hair towards the back of her head and rubbed the spot that felt as though it may be bruised. Thankfully, it was dry, which meant there wasn't an open wound that would cause her any trouble.

"My guess is that you tripped and hit your head on that boulder, then rolled down to the edge of the stream." A sudden low voice spoke from behind, causing her to jerk around to see what the voice belonged to.

She screamed.

Behind her sat a man that was facing the stream, one leg propped up with his arm resting on it. He sat doing something with his hands, but what it was she could not see.

He barely turned his head towards her after she screamed, his eyes also squinting at the sun. "Why is it that whenever a maiden sees a man in the woods she screams as if he's harmed her?" He asked, though it seemed as though he was not speaking to her in particular. He looked back out towards the woods on the other side of the stream.

"Perhaps because men have proven themselves to be barbarians and monsters towards maidens." She stood up, carefully backing up a few steps.

He breathed out in a way that made her believe that he was surprised by her answer. He looked back over to her, "And you? Do you believe that?"

She swallowed. "Of course I do."

He stood up, which made her take a few more precautionary steps back. "Good. If you were to believe anything else, you might as well go and chop your own head off to do the barbarians a favor."

She reached up for her neck and let her fingers brush against her skin. Chop her head off? She shivered at the thought. Her eyes nervously moved down to what he held loosely in his left hand: a knife. And in his right, a stone for sharpening. He was sharpening his knife. 

She swallowed hard at the sight, hardly able to move her eyes back up to his face. Was he going to kill her?

"Now," he said as he tucked away the knife in his belt and tossed the stone aside. Had he seen where her eyes had been looking? "What is a maiden such as yourself doing out in these woods alone?" He took a step forward, causing her to take a step backwards. "Given what you just said about men, I assume that you have better intellect than most out here, which makes me believe that you ought to be smart enough to bring someone with you out here. But you didn't."

She swallowed. "What makes you think that I am alone?"

"I've searched the surrounding areas and found no one. You either came out here alone, or you've lost your company." He said.

She said nothing in return.

"My guess is that you're lost. Otherwise I wouldn't have found you lying here alone and knocked out."

"What if my company ran to get help?"

"In Tir Woods?" He scoffed. "The most help that you'd find around here in less than a days travel would be from the woodland creatures, and I doubt they'd be much help." He let out an amused chuckle.

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