Chapter 2 - Hunting memories

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When I wake up, the sun's shining to my face. I creak open my eyes and get blinded by the light. Sighing, I rubbed my eyes roughly to wake myself up and swing my legs off the bed. There's enough light in the room to see Laila. We share the same room. Her hair is splayed across the bed and her face is facing the wall, snoring.

I sighed at the sight, wishing I can do the same and quietly slipped into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a simple blouse and put on my hooded robe that falls below my thigh. I took my long hair, put it into a bun and grab my sack and flung it over my shoulder.

I go downstairs and find my spear leaning against a wooden chair. I pick it up and slip outside, walking the dirt road that leads to the forest. The men and women are already up. Men and women with hunched shoulders. swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the dirt of their broken nails. The horses that pull carts of people to the farm. There are children too. Who play with wooden swords, pretending to be knights. That is one of the happy things here. Dreams.

One of the children, the baker's daughter, came to me. " Are you going to hunt, Cathellyn?" she says with a sweet smile. I can't help to smile back. I pick her up the ground and she squeals. " Aye, Nala. What are you doing here, anyway? Your father told you not to play too far from the house," I said. Just then I hear the baker's voice calling Nala. I turn around, Nala still in my arms and go towards the voice. The baker grins at the sight of me and Nala. "Aah, Cathellyn. Going early today, eh?" he then turns his glance to Nala. " And where have you been? " he says and he pinches her nose. She squeals and lets out a small laugh and I put her down. The baker gently ruffles her red hair. " Go help your mother, Nala. "

She nodded and walks into the bakery. The baker turned to me. " It's the anniversary, eh? " he says. My smile slowly dropped. " Aye, it is. " He gives me a sad smile and gives me a slice of bread. I mutter a thank you and continue to walk along the road.

I continued until I see a broken sign, made out of wood that hangs loosely from a tree. It reads ' GO AWAY. THERE IS NOTHING HERE. JUST DEATH'. That's not true, of course. There's food there. The sign has been there for as long as I can remember. Nobody bothers to pull it down so we just leave it there. I pass the sign and step into the forest. I go deeper into it until I come across a long river that goes up a hill.

The water is clear. So clear that I can see the bottom that is mostly rocks and few plants. The fish are swimming freely. And the bank is muddy. I kneel down on both knees and lay down my spear next to me and scooped a handful of mud. I dump the slimy substance on my hair and lather it carelessly. Some of the mud slip onto my face. I ignored it and continue to cover the rest of my hair with mud. Mud helps me to blend into the woods. Helps to track game too. I scoop water from the river and washed my face and hands.

I catch a glimpse of my reflection. Muddy hair, black circles around the eyes, pale skin and a few fading scars along my chin. I got that a while back. Not even visible if not stared at. I stand up and pick up my spear and continued to walk up the river. I stop when I reach the top of the hill. The hill is not too high but it overlooks the forest. There is a mountain not too far from here that is much, much taller than this hill. I look around for predators. Bears or cats that I rarely see but I always do check. They prefer the deeper part of the forest. And as always, they're nowhere to be found.

I climb up a pine tree. Not too high. Just so I'm not spotted by anything. I almost always sit in this tree every morning. It somehow gives me peace. As I lean on the pine tree, I gaze up. I have a better view of the forest up high. The forest is usually flushed with green. But now the leaves are red, orange and yellow, signaling that autumn has come. The site gives me a sense of security. It envelops me as the cool wind breeze run through my hair. I pull out the slice of bread given to me and break it into little pieces, eating it slowly while I gaze into the distance.

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It's a good hunting day. By the end of the day, I manage to get a few rabbits and a bag full of greens. But I had another place to go. I make my way into the forest until I come across a patch of flowers. I smile to myself, relieve that it's not yet wilting. I pluck an arm full of various kind of flowers. Primrose, Fresia, Dahlia and a few I don't remember the names but know it is safe enough to hold. I sit next to the patch of flowers. I begin arranging the flowers, carefully weaving it into a bouquet. I finish it as I watch the sun slowly fall. I stand up and carry the bouquet with me, the sack flung over my shoulder.

I slip away from the forest and pass the wooden sign. Twilight is closing in as I drop off the half of my game at the one-leg butcher, Bronya. She lost her leg a few years back in the forest. She said that she was attacked by a pack of wolves. The wolves didn't bite off her leg but it was badly hurt. Almost minced. The friar did the best but couldn't heal the wound. So he cut her leg off. Somehow she manages to survive and now she has a wooden leg. She gives me one price, and I took it. You don't haggle with Bronya. You can take it or leave it, but it's a fair price. She throws in a couple of venison steaks I can pick up after the butchering.

I thank her and make my way to the square. When I get there, Laila and mother already arrived. Mother gives me a hug, which I let myself drown in her heat. Laila avoids my gaze and stares at the small stage made out of wood in front of us. You can still see the blood stains from years ago. This is the place my father was executed. I know by the look of her eyes that she's relieving her memory. I remember the day like it was moments ago.

I close my eyes as if I'm trying to get it away from me. But I know it won't. Few leaves fall from the nearby maple tree as we stand in silence. The sun falls completely and I kneel and place the flowers onto the board, covering the blood stains that will hunt me in my dreams.

There are other flowers too. From other people. I spot a single stalk of daisy, no doubt from Nala. Father was always kind and helpful. Many respect him or at least remember him. Mother puts her hands on each of our shoulders. " Come now, children. Let's go home. " Her voice coarse, trying not to spill her tears.

She turns away and I and Laila follow her quietly. Until we hear the sound of horse trotting furiously, the sound of people shrieking and shouting, alarming each other. It's far but loud enough for us to hear. We freeze and Laila and I exchange a glance. She looks scared and we both know why. The Valarians has come again.

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