Trava woke up later than she normally did. The sun was already above the horizon. She saw Sajag walking around where they had camped.
Trava rolled onto her side. She and Sajag hadn’t talked much before sleeping, probably because they’d been overwhelmed by the events of last night.
Trava screwed her eyes shut. She didn’t want to think about what had happened at the tavern, but it sprang into her mind.
Her home was gone and her father was dead. She felt like cast-off clothing, separated from what she cared about.
You still care about some things, Trava told herself. She still cared about finding her mother.
Trava sighed. What had seemed like the logical thing to do last night seemed unrealistic and impossible now. She’d never been far from the village. The furthest she’d ever gone was to the sea, once, when she was a young girl.
I don’t even know where my mother is, Trava thought. She couldn’t search everywhere for her mother, that would take a lifetime.
Arden, Trava thought. She hadn’t heard any other location where her mother might be. The old man had told her to go to Arden to find her mother. He’d given her the only clue she had about her mother’s location. And then he burned down my home, Trava thought.
She wasn’t sure her mother would actually be in Arden, but she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Her father hadn’t known where her mother had come from. Her mother had been in his village for a year, then had left for parts unknown.
What do I know about her? Trava wondered. Her blind father hadn’t ever seen her mother, so of course had not described her mother’s looks to her.
But Trava thought she might look like her mother. She knew parents and children looked alike.
Trava reached a hand up to her closed eyes. I have a gold eye and a brown eye, Trava thought. Everyone else who’d been born in her village had brown eyes. Her father had brown eyes too, but his eyes had turned white from blindness.
Sajag had grey eyes and he was from Arden. Maybe Arden has people of many different eye colors, Trava thought. It was supposed to be a big city, so that seemed possible.
So I will look for a woman with gold eyes in Arden, Trava thought. She patted her clothes, making sure she still had her money. She had enough that she and Sajag would be able to stay at inns and taverns on the way to Arden. She blinked back tears. It wouldn’t be the same as sleeping in her old room at the tavern.
“Are you awake?” Sajag asked.
Trava opened her eyes and sat up. “I am,” she said.
She met Sajag’s eyes, but he broke away from her gaze before speaking. “What did you mean last night,” Sajag asked. “When you said that you wanted to find your mother?”
Trava pursed her lips. She supposed she should let Sajag know her reasoning, since she’d be traveling with him. “My father,” she said, “asked me to find my mother. Those were the last words he spoke before he died.”
Sajag met her eyes again and his expression softened. “I’m sorry,” he said. He paused for a moment, then spoke again. “I thought you said he asked you to take care of the tavern.”
“He did,” Trava said. “But I failed at that.” Trava was the one to break eye contact this time. She felt like crying.
Sajag laid a hand on her shoulder, then immediately jerked it back. Trava looked at him, startled, and saw his burned hand. It looked worse than it had the previous night.
“We need to deal with your burns,” Trava said.
“They’ll be fine,” Sajag said. He opened his mouth to continue, but Trava cut him off. “No, Sajag, they won’t be fine if we don’t do anything. We’ll soak them in the stream. We need to get water anyway.”
Sajag nodded agreement, and they walked toward the stream.
“How are you going to find your mother?” Sajag asked.
“We’re going to go to Arden,” Trava said.
Sajag looked at her with something resembling fear. “I don’t know if I could go with you, then,” he said.
Trava’s eyebrows furrowed. “Of course you can go with me. I have money enough to pay for our food.”
“I’m not talking about physically being able,” Sajag said. “It’s a three-week walk to Arden. I could walk that. I’m saying I shouldn’t go to Arden.”
“Why not?” she asked. She wanted Sajag to come with her. She was leaving behind her village. Everyone she had known. She didn’t want to leave Sajag too.
“I killed someone in Arden,” Sajag said. “I’ll be killed if I go there and get caught. You’ll probably be caught too, if you’re with me.”
Trava looked away. Her eyes rested on a black bird watching them from the trees. She gazed at it as she asked her next question. A question she didn’t want to ask, because she was afraid of the answer. “Why would you be killed?” she asked. “Didn’t you kill someone by accident, or in self-defense?” She didn’t want to think of Sajag as a murderer.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Sajag said.
“Then what under the sun was it?” asked Trava. “Why would you-”
“He had already killed several dwarfs.” Sajag interrupted her, and for the first time he sounded angry. “I did what I had to do.”
Trava swallowed. Sajag had told her he’d killed someone, but he’d tried to help her, time and time again. What a person does now is more important than what they’ve done in their past, Trava thought. She remembered her father saying that.
“I’m sorry, Sajag,” Trava said. “I’ll trust that you had a good reason for what you did. Please come with me.”
“Don’t go to Arden, Trava.” Sajag said. “Stay. Or go anywhere else. I’ll go with you. But Arden isn’t worth going to.”
“It’s worth it if my mother is there,” Trava said. She turned and walked away from Sajag.
She could hear him following her. “Trava, wait!” he yelled.
Trava spun around and started walking backward. She didn’t meet Sajag’s eyes when she spoke. “You don’t want to go to Arden,” Trava said. “I do. We may as well part company.”
Sajag frowned in consternation. “You’ll be better off in Arden without me, anyway.” He lowered his grey eyes.
Trava turned back around and walked for a while before going behind some foliage. She peeked through it, but she couldn’t see Sajag.
Trava leaned against a tree and cried. She’d left Sajag behind. She didn’t have anyone left.
She saw a black-feathered bird – the same one from before – watching her from the tree branch above her head. She stared at it for a moment. She was surprised she hadn’t left the bird behind, too. It must have flown after her.
She stood there, letting the tears pour off her face. She considered going back to the village and scraping together a living in the only place she’d ever known.
She squeezed her eyes shut. She knew it wouldn’t be the same. Her father was dead and her home was gone. She wouldn’t gain anything by going back.
But what do I gain by going forward? Trava wondered. She’d be going forward alone to Arden. All because of a random tip from a drunk old man.
But if she did find her mother, it would be worth it. She’d be able to tell her mother that her father had loved her.
Trava steadied her breathing, then felt something brush past her shoulder.
Trava opened her eyes, but saw only black cloth in front of her. She tried to scream, but the cloth went into her mouth and muffled the sound. She struggled forward, but she couldn’t push herself away. She reached behind her head to feel for where the cloth was tied, but she felt only the tree trunk. It must be tied around the back of the tree, Trava thought. She couldn’t reach that far. She felt her heart beat faster. She couldn’t think who might have trapped her. Had Sajag decided to kill her? That didn’t make any sense. He had a bow and could have killed her easily earlier. And he wasn’t tall enough to reach up to Trava’s head and blindfold her. The cloth was still jammed in her mouth, but Trava peeled the cloth from her eyes.
And saw who was in front of her.
If Trava could have spoken, she would have said, you’re supposed to be dead. But she couldn’t speak, so her eyes just widened.
His beard was still white and long, and only looked slightly singed. His brown eyes met hers, and he smiled.
“You’re surprised to see me,” the old man’s shrilly stated.