Seen from here, the forest seemed to beckon her to step past the white path and look under every stone. Rossa caught a glint of metal between the roots of a nearby tree. What would she find there if she left the path just for a few moments, just to check?
She pulled her red mantle closer to her form and shook her head, even as the fantasy played in her head. She would unearth some long-lost weapon, or perhaps a piece of filigree jewellery, or some other useful artefact from the Eretimes. Everybody would praise her.
Everybody would praise you.
Rossa blinked. The voice had not been her own. She stopped, looking about for the source of the whispers. They had been merely a background hissing until then but those had been words, spoken in a strangely-shrill voice that reminded her of ravens trying to imitate human speech.
“I do not really think that,” she replied to her surroundings.
No word came out.
The sun merrily spread through the foliage and the sweet-smelling needles as they creaked beneath her boots.
The wind played with her hair and everything was fine, she was just a girl on an errand.
“Yes. I do not really think that.”
Rossa pursed her lips and, still tossing a few looks behind her, she proceeded, paying more attention now to the road, even though it was a few paces wide she just did not want to accidentally stumble over the edge.
No matter what kind of precious relics might hide beneath the moss, there were other things there. The image of the metal sheets around the village, displaying their deep marks, weighed on her brow.
“Keep your words to yourself and your feet on the road.” Those were words to live by.
She would reach the end and greet her grandma with a big hug. The woman would surely praise her, and for the good reasons.
… how would it feel anyway?
Rossa was not the most popular girl in the village, not least because she liked to spend most of her time alone, dreaming up of years long lost, reading what she could of the ancient world they had forever lost. Sometimes she would raise her eyes from her notes and look at people her age or even younger talking, smiling and nuzzling against each other.
Perhaps when she would find something really precious during her research, people would see she was right all along! A smile spread once again on her lips and a spring came back to her steps.
She rubbed her arms around her torso, trying to simulate how it would feel. Sort of like her parent’s hugs, but… firmer. Perhaps it would feel even nicer.
Yes, one day…
“Rossa!” Came a male voice to pull her away from her reverie. “Are you running errands again?”
She stumbled and almost fell. Coming on from the other side of the road was a tall and broad man, dressed in a heavy coat and carrying a much larger burden that her own, a faggot of wood and jars of sweet sap.
“Oh, master woodcutter,” she greeted him with a slight bow, taking the chance to let go of her basket and setting it against the ground. “You guessed well! Should I extend your greetings to grandma?”
The woodcutter’s face, usually so stern, opened in a smile. It made him look a little less rough and angular. Rossa’s eyes roamed over his tools, the knife and the hatchet dangling from his belt, to his fur-lined boots, to his thick coat. It glistened even if it was dry – perhaps it was a similar fibre to her own coat and it came from before the war, which might be another reason why the woodsman was so confident and managed to live on his own.
He was the only other person other than her grandma to permanently reside outside Ferravia, and she often caught the whispers that lingered past his wake whenever he came to town to sell his wares or to trade.
“It has been a while since I have seen her. Yes, if you would.”
“Of course. Ah, did you find anything intriguing so far?” She inquired with a big smile. Her heart thumped with hope. They had exchanged trinkets in the past, and she still treasured the tiny plastic doll he had gifted her five years prior.
“Ah, Rossa, I am starting to wonder if you haven’t already upturned every rock on the path,” he chuckled. “But that is good! I like seeing a girl who uses her hands for something more than kneading dough. Maybe if more people are like you we will be able to bring back the old days.”
Rossa beamed. The woodcutter might be a little crazy living like that, all on his own, but he always seemed to have a good word for everyone.
“I wouldn’t go and dash at the Heart of the Forest, though,” he added with a chuckle as he pulled up and reached her, towards his hut. “That is beyond your skills and the skills of all mankind put together. So keep your hands busy, but your feet on the road!”
“And my words to myself! Thank you. Make sure to visit grandma soon!”
He looked up at the sky, licking his lips in thought.
“I just might, soon. Summer is full of promises, and if the Spirits will be pleased, we shall have a milder winter than most.”
Rossa remembered a particularly cruel one a few years back. She had shuddered from the cold and the constant, ever-increasing snow. And one late afternoon she had made the mistake of looking past the window into the snowy forest and get a glimpse of misshapen, bent things sniffing the air, their hideous form stretched too far to be animals or beast.
It was hard to think of such evil things beneath the summer sun, though.
She gave one last glance at the woodsman, and, feeling a distinct heart prickling against her cheeks, she let her eyes move from the tools dangling at his belt to his wide shoulders.
How it would feel to be held by such strong arms?
Maybe… maybe one day she might ask.
But for now she had to carry this basket to her grandma.
Author’s Notes: our Rossa would like to be praised hm? I am sure that will bring no evil consequences whatsoever. Thanks for reading!”