“Fourteen rings,” I replied, squaring my shoulders a bit.
The old woman let out a harsh sounding cackle that quickly turned into a cough.
“Fourteen eh,” she said once she’d recovered, “and decided to become an old one already?”
My brow knit together in confusion. How did she know where I was going? Then she answered my silent question.
“No one comes out of that forest unless they’re journeying to the place of the souls child.”
“How old are you?” I asked as I finally worked up the courage to sit by the fire and accept her offer of meat.
“More rings than one tree can hold. As many rings as the entire forest,” she replied.
Deciding that it was best not to answer such a blatant lie, I bent over my meal and savored the hot juices that filled my mouth.
When we had finished the old woman declared that it was time to move on; apparently she planned on joining me. I offered to carry her heavy pack and she accepted with a nod.
We walked for days, though walked might be a bit of an exaggeration. Bryony was knarled and bent, she was as slow as a snail leaving its trail of slime along a branch. If she hadn’t had an uncanny ability to find water holes, I might have considered leaving her behind. If I was being honest though, I felt better for having her there. She was my only company in this lonely place, so I checked my pace and allowed my mind to wander on endless daydreams.
That’s why I noticed the danger a few steps too late.
What should they encounter?