“This stream is dried out too,” I say weakly, patting my horse’s chestnut side more to comfort myself than her, as I stare at the winding sand pit that was flowing with water only a week ago.
Arden snorts into my dark brown hair affectionately with her black snout, mussing it up even more than it already is, but the action does not help ease the tight swelling of anxiety forming knots in my belly. It’s been three days since either of us has had anything to drink. We won’t make it another day like this.
The forest has become brown and crunchy within the last month. There has been no rain, and the mid-summer heat is torturous. Even the deep rooted oaks are suffering along with the rest of us, so no amount of digging will render any water. Not before I die of a heat stroke anyway.
The only sure-fire way to get water is from a well, but the deep wells that never run dry are only found inside villages, protected by walls and guards, and I get run out of nearly every one of those I try to ride into.
The dark hood pulled over my face is more to protect from the overbearing sun than to hide from people, as no guard will let anyone in who refuses to show their face. My white eyes, devoid of any pupil, upsets people. They don’t consider it natural, and it scares them. The only way people know how to react towards fear these days is violently, much to my misfortune.
Clansmen mark themselves with tattoos on their faces, and no one wants to do business with them on this side of the river. The lot of them are savages, always fighting amongst each other, so it is no wonder most people request, or more frequently demand, to see your face, but it sure makes my life harder.
Distraught with the lack of water, I sit down on the dry sand-bed of the stream, and dig my fingers into the hot white powder. I imagine cool water running languidly over my legs, and lean my head backwards, soaking in the sunlight filtering through the tree canopy above me. If I could be anywhere but here right now, life would be grand.
The distraction of my daydream is fleeting. The sand under me has been heating in the sun most of the day, and is fast becoming unbearably hot on the back of my legs. Not to mention the sun is searing on my face. What I wouldn’t give for some relief from the oppression of this cursed weather.
With an unsatisfied huff, I push myself off of the ground, and drag my feet back to the sorrel mare. Arden waits patiently, watching me with eyes that hold more wisdom than any animal’s should. She is pushing on, but I have not been blind to her weakening over the last day.
I made peace with the prospect of my death a long time ago, but the idea of losing my best friend somehow hurts more than my own impending end.
Too dehydrated to conjure up any tears, I whimper dryly, burying my face in her ebony mane. She wraps her head around me, her form of a hug, and my hands automatically encircle her neck, holding her to me. And she lets me as she always has.
It is only the sound of footsteps that pulls us apart.
I turn towards the sound, pulling my dagger out in the process. Arden, bless her soul, is smart enough to remain quiet, and I follow the sound of the footsteps through the forest with my eyes, waiting for someone to appear. The sounds halts for a moment, and the knots of anxiety in my belly roll like thunderclouds in a high wind.
After a breathtaking moment, the sound continues on, fading into the distance. From my experience, the threat people pose is worse than dying of thirst. At least I can do the latter in peace.
“Let’s carry on then,” I say in a muted voice, so as to not be heard by our fellow forest rat.
Arden nips obligingly at the linen fabric of my hood draped over my shoulders to protect my arms from the sun.
We settle into a slow lumbering pace, our feet heavy from exhaustion and dehydration. After hours of this, I lose focus, unaware of my surroundings—a very dangerous thing, but I cannot help it. It’s the side effects of my body beginning to shut down.
I stop walking when Arden does, and I sink down into her side as she finally gives up and lays down. I am too tired to feel anything other than a hollow numbness, but I know unless there is a miracle to be had, neither one of us will ever get up again.
To be continued…