Admittedly, despite her curiousity and memory of stories as frightening as madness in a dog, Herring saw nothing exceptional when she looked down on the prone form. Dark elf or not, she’d seen more than her fair share of bodies in these woods. Irritation was prone to have her exaggerating the number and the fuss, but it was not complete fabrication. Despite the foreign pigment of his skin and that shock of hair, his sleeping face was remarkably alike to a dead one. Slack, inanimate, and utterly banal.
He had himself a nose, lips, two eyes, two ears, albeit she could see that one was pointed. Supposedly the other was, as well. Nothing much to remark upon otherwise. And caught so easily by shadows, was there really anything to be frightened of?
He’d been rough, the day before, gruff and sharp and she’d thought he’d had a certain arrogance about him, making demands without no by your leave. But when she’d surprised him, hadn’t he acted like a scared little rabbit? Surely some dangerous creature would have attacked then, taken advantage of the moment, and her lack of suspicion. So, what was he? Dangerous monster come wandering out of his hole and gotten lost? Or victim of a good story’s wont to build itself up beyond recognition. His eyes certainly hadn’t been glowing beneath his hood yesterday, though, she couldn’t remember seeing them either. Not when he’d spun around, nor when he’d made pleasant suppositions about her life. She hadn’t appreciated that moment of release on his part, letting loose at her over troubles she’d been no part of. Still, if anyone might be able to understand the disparity between hearsay and truth, it was surely the woman living in a cursed wood without concern.
When his eyes flickered beneath closed lids, she tensed, despite her growing certainty that he might not fit the ideal she’d created in her head. Appearances could be deceiving, and though he’d had little reason to try tricking her into thinking himself harmless instead of merely killing her, he might have liked playing with his food. Who was she to judge his character before she knew him? (Ignoring, if you will, the fact she’d done just that before ever even seeing his back.)
Needless to say, Herring was frowning down at him in consternation when he finally opened his eyes, though she’d relaxed her arm so the knife was at her side rather than held ready. Dangerous pretender or no, she didn’t expect he was capable of doing much harm anymore. Besides, with him lying in that stream, she had the advantage of being up the bank and almost out of reach of him standing, which he most definitely was not, at the moment. And his eyes were brown. Nothing bright or alien about them. She wasn’t even sure he could see her, though he seemed to be staring right through her. Had he hit his head?
Ah, no, there it was, the slightest widening of those eyes and, finally, motion.
Slipping back beyond his reach as he sat up, and raising an eyebrow at what must have been a laborious effort, Herring evinced a natural caution that had not been evident the day before. That he was a still alive unknown in her forest merited the extra suspicion, but it certainly did not help that he seemed to belong to a race of elves she’d never heard a kind word about. If he wished to stand, she was not going to stop him. But she wasn’t going to help him either.
Had he been facing her, letting her see his pained grimace, she might have been more inclined to offer the advice of staying sat, if it was so much trouble to stand, but he seemed not the least bit interested in her company. In truth, had she not discovered his secret, Herring might well have left him to it. He was wobbling so much she doubted he’d make it far before falling on his face or his ass. But now that she knew he wasn’t human, she found herself curious as to the reasons a dark elf, already plenty dangerous as the stories told it, would come seeking the promise of strength here. Maybe it didn’t matter where a man came from, they were all simple fools, powerhungry and eager to chase after any stray hope no matter the risk. Or was it something else had drawn him here? What, she wasn’t sure, as he’d already asked her to show him where the dragon lived, but maybe he didn’t want to kill it.
Either way, as he picked up his pack and shambled off like the living dead chasing after Halla’s tailfeathers, Herring glanced ruefully at her neglected basket and the task she’d set herself for the day, already knowing full well she was about to abandon it. Then, guilty conscience and future regrets acknowledged so she could say she told herself so come some near morning when she was lamenting the lack of good bread, she followed her curiousity.
Her easy, quiet steps after him were a strong contrast to his wobbly shuffle. Bare feet leaving hardly a mark behind and movements so obviously easier that her caution felt nearly like making mock. Even so, she kept her knife out and a good ten paces between them, dogging his shadow and wondering if he had any notion as to his direction, or if he was simply walking because he still could. Moving forward rather than leaving himself to rot. She’d seen the same in mortally wounded beasts, merely struggling to take that next step to somewhere. Maybe he hadn’t the presence of mind to realize he was wasting energy now, or maybe he thought the nightshades wouldn’t find him again if he only moved far enough away. Well, rate he was going, there was nowhere far enough. They ran the whole woods through when they came, and it was only getting beyond its borders that would keep him safe.
Either that, or climbing a proper tree, or lighting a bonfire, or being behind the door of her own house, though she’d certainly not be inviting him there. He wasn’t liable to outrun them as the deer did. Nor hide in holes too small for them to creep through, as the little creatures did. Was he even thinking about the night to come? Given the angle he was leaning at, Herring was inclined towards believing he wasn’t thinking at all.
Peaceful sort of way to go…
Though the path he was taking wandered like a brook, all wide turns and no direction, until she finally couldn’t take it anymore. He obviously wasn’t planning ahead or trying to reach some goal. And his stumbling pace and lack of any threat towards her had long since ruined her remaining vigilance. A soft breeze could have knocked him over!
Stopping where she was, feet set on the log she’d been stepping over, Herring finally sheathed her knife and crossed her arms, taking a deep, calming breath in of rotting wood and damp earth before she broke the stillness surrounding them. “Isnit a one thing worth th’walk thataway, Rabbit. What’s movin’ yehr feet any road?”
How was he still standing? And where, on this good earth, did he think he was going?