The Moor shuffled through the snow. Her braids were stiff and frozen. She carried a wooden basket in the crook of her arm.
She had begun the evening foraging for dried winterberries but had gotten distracted tracking a hare. She’d lost the hare after a couple of miles, only then realizing that she had wandered far outside her normal foraging territory. She was usually extremely careful in her travels.
The children hadn’t wanted her to go at all. They had been restless and fussy. But she’d reminded them of their empty bellies. They were asleep soon after.
She hadn’t slept a wink. Under the cover of darkness was the only safe way for her to forage outside of The Deep Wood. Perhaps she had simply been too tired to pay close enough attention to her surroundings.
Now she found herself dangerously close to The Mountain. It loomed in front of her. She feared falling under its ominous shadow.
She turned and began to backtrack to where she’d first seen the hare, just outside The Deep Wood. It would take some time. She had to move slowly and carefully. She couldn’t risk being seen here. It was forbidden.
She crouched to make herself less visible, but it slowed her progress even more. She ducked behind shrubs and low-hanging tree branches for cover.
She crawled until her hands and feet were numb. She couldn’t keep it up for long. She would have to stand, and risk being seen. This filled her with dread. She mustn’t be captured. The children needed her far too much. She cursed herself for having allowed this to happen.
There was a howl in the night, just ahead of her, from the direction of The Deep Wood. She froze in place. It was the howl of a man, one she knew all too well. It was The Wild One. The hair on her neck stood on end. Another howl followed soon after, this time behind her.
Her attempt to conceal herself had been in vain. She prayed the children had not been found. She veered off course in hopes of leading them astray.
The howls were louder now. And they were closer. There were at least two of them, and they were attempting to surround her.
The Moor ran. Her dress, tattered and frozen, dragged across the snow behind her. Much of it had been torn away by thorns. Her body was bruised and bloodied.
The Mountain had nearly disappeared behind her. The clouds of an incoming snowstorm enveloped it like a shroud.
As she ran, she circled back to where her detour earlier that night had begun. She saw the shrub the hare had been resting under when she’d startled it.
The howling silenced abruptly. This was even worse. With the howling, at least she had known where her pursuers were.
She inhaled deeply, trying to calm her racing heartbeat. She had reached the most dangerous part of her return journey: the wide, open clearing that lay just before The Deep Wood. She might be seen as she crossed it. She waited breathlessly.
The storm had covered The Northlands as far as she could see. Snow spat down in sheets of blinding white. She waited in the brush for as long as she could bear.
The Moor readied herself to begin the trip across the clearing, but then she saw movement in the middle of it.
She pulled herself close to the ground once again and fixed her gaze on that spot. A brief gap in the storm clouds sent moonlight cascading across the clearing.
Standing in the center was The Wild One.
His hands were covered in blood.
The Moor gasped. She shook her head furiously, hot tears flooding her face.
“Are you there, Moor?”, said The Wild One. “Sitting out there, somewhere in the cold dark, thinking of the children?”
The Moor watched him carefully. He didn’t seem to know exactly where she was. It was a slim ray of hope amidst this waking nightmare.
“Keep thinking about them, Moor.”
Panic overwhelmed her. It gnawed at the pit of her stomach. She knew at once that something terrible had happened.
The Wild One clicked his teeth together loudly. It was an animal sound. The Moor shuddered.
“The boys and girls. So innocent. Do you see their faces?”
His teeth chittered one last time and his jaw snapped shut loudly. The Moor stifled a groan. The Wild One spoke once more.
“Are they safe? Are they sound?”
He cackled maniacally, then stopped and scanned the clearing. He had expected The Moor to attack.
But she was already gone, dashing across the edge of the clearing under cover of snow. Her basket lay abandoned and forgotten.
She ran into The Deep Wood and followed her tracks back toward the deadfall where she’d left the children sleeping, though she knew it was already too late.
Echoing in the dark of the night, The Wild One’s insane laughter rolled through The Deep Wood after her. She ran, and she wept, and she screamed curses at him as she sped toward the deadfall.
SOUNDTRACK 03: “Down By The Water”, Polly Jean Harvey
CONTINUE TO CHAPTER Three (Coming Soon.)