EVIL MAGES CHAPTER 3
She did the best she could. While the boy rested, she did everything she could, for his sake and her own. She found them some shelter under a half ruined roof, and made up a little fire so that they would not freeze when the night got colder. And she looked for food. There was a forest nearby, it would not take too long to walk there, so she left him by the fire and told him to rest while she looked for something to eat. She told herself she would find something she could carry water in, too, but deep inside, she knew it was hopeless. A wooden bucket could not possibly have survived the raging, burning, devouring fire when everything else did not. But she would not die, no matter if they did not find any water, or food – she would not die, and neither would he.
She entered the dark forest just outside what had once been the village, with a torch as only light. Deep shadows crowded around her as the night came closer, and she tried to hurry up as much as she could. There had to be something they could eat. Mushrooms, berries, anything. It was hard to see anything at all on the ground, where the weeds and flowers grew wild, and rotting branches and stones lay as a carpet. But as soon as she caught sight of something they might be able to eat without getting poisoned and die, she picked it up. They would probably have to eat everything raw, but it was better than nothing.
She was a little unwilling to leave the boy alone, but she told herself they were safe here, for now. She had not seen the slightest sight of a wild animal that could be dangerous, and the Mages would not come back. They had other villages to burn, maybe towns.
“What has happened to the world I once knew?” she whispered. “Where did all the good times go?” she swallowed hard and let the anger and disappointment take over the fear and grief. Sadness was no good when you had to fight to survive. It made you weak. She turned around when she thought she would find no more, and began to walk back, holding the torch out in front of her.
Zhaine opened his eyes when he heard the girl come back. His throat was dry and every breath he took hurt, so he left her to the talking.
“I didn’t find a lot”, she said, “but this should be enough for keeping us alive for a few days. She sat down at the ground beside him, and put the “food” on the ground. It mostly looked like small, round stones and knobby roots full of clay. But as she picked up one of the stones, cracked it with her hands and started to peel it, he noticed what looked like a stone actually was some sort of berry. It did not look appetizing, though, and he weakly shook his head as she tried to make him eat it.
“You have to,” she said, “You’ll need all the strength and energy you can get.”
“What is it?” he asked, and did hardly recognize his own voice – it sounded like his throat was made of thick sandpaper.
“I have no idea,” she replied honestly, “but I think you should be able to eat it.” She put the berry in her own mouth, and slowly chewed it. “Look,” she said, “I’m not dying.”
“Maybe it will take a while?” he suggested. “Before the poison reaches your heart?”
She laughed. “It tastes okay, a little bitter, but sweet, too. Try one.”
She peeled one more, and this time, he had no chance to say no before she had pressed it between his teeth. He found it hard to chew – his jaws felt oddly stiff, but as the juice of the strange fruit ran down his throat he felt ten times better than before, and he did happily eat three more, which made the girl seem very pleased.
“What is your name?” she asked suddenly, and he looked up at her.
“My name? Oh, of course… Zhaine,” he replied.
She nodded. “I’m Tirin. Do you know how happy I am you’re alive?”
Zhaine hesitated. “I guess…” he said slowly. “But you’re not as happy as I am. I’m alive thanks to you.”
She smiled again, and he suddenly realised how happy he felt when she smiled. A little piece of kindness in a world that had turned as cold as ice over a day. He knew that was what was going to keep him alive in the end.
They stayed at the ruins for a few more days – Tirin claimed he needed to get better before they could move, and that would take a while. She told him how close he had been to loose it, that at first she thought he would never open his eyes. And when he finally did, that had made her day. That was what she said anyway, and it made him happy. He needed someone to care about, and someone who cared about him, too keep the loss of his family and friends a little distant. Talking to her made him relax and forget about the severe situation they were in for a while. When he didn’t talk to her, all he did was sleeping and once everyday, she changed his bandages, and when she finally found something she could carry the water from the river in (it was a bucked with a hole in someone probably had thrown away, but still a bucket) she was able to clean the wounds, too. She was still worried they might get infected, and every minute – at least it felt like that – she checked him to make sure he was not the slightest feverish. And she spent many hours a day looking for the herbs she claimed cleaned a wound as good as anything. She seemed to know so much about everything, at least a lot more than him, and sometimes, when he lay on the ground, staring up at a dark, starry sky, he though about how lucky he was to have her there.
When Tirin finally found those herbs she looked so hard for, she crushed the dark green, tiny leaves and mixed them with water. He let her spread it over his chest, but when it started to burn like she had put him on fire he wished he had not. He lay in pain for a few hours, and then it switched to a light throbbing. But it worked – he healed faster, and the wounds were kept from getting infected.
Soon he could actually walk with the help of a rough wooden stick he could lean against, and she told him they soon could be on their way again.
“But where will we go?” he asked as she told him that, “I’ve never been far away from this village, I don’t know anything about the world outside.”
Tirin frowned and seemed to think hard, but then a spark lit in her eyes, and she hurried away to her backpack. She turned it over and looked through all her things, and when she had found what she looked for, she showed it to him. It was a map. It was old and full of black dots and at some places the tiny text was almost invisible, but it would work. Tirin put the map on the ground and unwrinkled it with her hands.
“Look,” she said and pointed at a spot on the map. “I think that must have been the first village they burned. I remember I could see the smoke from my village a few weeks ago. Then, they came here,” she pointed at another spot just beside the first one, “to my village. Or what was my village. That’s the second one. The third village is here, almost right beside mine. And this one… where we are right now…” she followed a straight line with her finger until she came to another black dot, “is the fourth village. It’s a straight line, and I suppose the next village they go to is the one closest to this one. Right here.”
Zhaine looked at the map. “I know people in that village,” he said quietly, “not many, and I don’t know them well, but I know them. When will the mages be there?”
“I don’t know,” Tirin replied, “but I want to get there before them.”