"Aelle, hold your bow more steadily. You look too timid. How many times have I told you that a wundraithol will sense as much? They always attack the weakest in a group, just as most beasts do," Jisindritha cautioned.

"That would be me." Aelle-eryrfnii flashed a smile, laughing softly. Jisindritha gave her a stern look. Aelle adjusted her bow, raising it proudly as she crouched behind the shrubs and large rocks near the lowest slopes of the Quassandraxxain Mountains. Living so near the rocky border of Urih-teliean was not an easy task, but something in Aelle's nature preferred the close proximity to a heaven that she could never have. It was better than living in the middle of the Wild Lands, where the forests were thick and the people were cruel.

"Keep your focus," the older woman added, seeing that Aelle was distracted by thoughts of vastly different pursuits. "If you get mauled, then it won't have been my fault, Aelle. You're an intelligent young woman, but too confident by a half. You cannot go through life with only a slight amount of focus paid to the world around you." Perhaps sensing a weak spot, Jisindritha continued, "In Urih-teliean, that might work, girl, but it won't do for the Wild Lands, and that's where you are."

No longer in the mood to tease and play as she had done before, Aelle-eryrfnii turned her attention to the small valley below them. She knew that Jisindritha meant well, but she did not understand why the older woman sometimes favoured using the lowest routes possible when attempting to prove a point, nor why Jisindritha was so impatient. As far as Aelle saw, there were no wundraithols currently in the valley, but there was Jisindritha, demanding absolute attention to the task that would soon arise.

"She's trying to help you," said Uolli, leaning close to whisper the words into Aelle's ear.

Aelle nodded. "She is. I think she carries her concern a bit far, though."

Jisindritha must have heard that, for she turned to give Aella a strange look. Aelle met her eyes, and there was something that passed between them: a long, searching moment. Jisindritha probably knew what that meant, but Aelle did not. At the last, Jisindritha shifted, returning her focus to the land below them. Her eyes were suddenly fixated on something.

Movement, Aelle knew, but she saw nothing. Jisindritha's senses were keener than hers, however. Jisindritha was the sort of woman who had seemingly been born to handle the Wilds. She had originated in the northern deserts, as was evidenced by her tanned, leathery complexion. She might have been an attractive woman once, for all Aelle knew, but she was not so now. Her face was angular and sharp, white in places with the scars that knives had given her. She had been exiled from one of the desert tribes after having lost a battle, one that had apparently been started on account of Jisindritha having bedded another woman's husband.

"Though I was younger then, and stupid," she had told Aelle with regards to that incident. "You do not take what belongs to another. Not because of morality as those in Urih-teliean are concerned with, but because it is disrespectful to yourself. You lower yourself when you take what belongs to others, so you must use only what you have earned, caught, or purchased."

Uolli was tense, almost shaking with excitement. Looking at the girl, Aelle wondered why Jisindritha had not criticized Uolli. Aelle liked to flatter herself by assuming that it was because Jisindritha saw more potential in her, thus she was more critical, but in truth, Aelle had no way of knowing. She did not ask because it would have been impolite to shame Uolli.

Jisindritha broke into a sprint, running down the hill, loosing an arrow even as she did so. Uolli and Aelle exchanged glances. Uolli was clearly bewildered, unsure of what to do. After hesitating momentarily, she ran after Jisindritha. Aelle followed, quickly surpassing Uolli. Uolli was a strong, somewhat thickly built young girl. She could wield a sledgehammer, or a great axe, but she was not fast.

Aelle was the image of a waif: thin, short, and not very strong. She held her bow out before her as she ran, but she did not shoot any arrows. She had not seen the animals yet, and she had precious little arrows in her quiver. Jisindritha always took most of the arrows for herself, but that was fair, given that she had made the majority of them, and given that she was the best huntress.

As Aelle was running, taking care not to hit any small stones while progressing down the hill, she saw them. The bushes parted and there was the herd, moving in a long, slow procession. Aelle's heart was beating quickly. Adrenaline filled her. Her senses went in many directions at once. She had to be careful not to lose her footing. She had to watch the wundraithols. Lastly, she had to know when to release her arrows. Somehow, she managed the first of those.

Jisindritha's arrow must have connected. One of the great, shaggy beasts fell. That alerted the others to the existence of the predators above them, and they turned, roaring in fury and shaking, proceeding to move up the hill. Aelle was terrified and cursing their misfortune in having to hunt such difficult prey. Wundraithols were omnivores that spent some days grazing lazily and some days actually hunting their own food. They had four legs, each of which ended in claws, and they had fangs, as well. Of course, the biggest problem with wundraithols was that they were intelligent enough to become directly offensive when you attacked them. Running away was not really a part of their nature unless they saw that the odds were truly against them.

Her breath fled her body all at once as Aelle released her first arrow. It glanced one of the wundraithols, injuring the beast, but it did not fell the thing. As Jisindritha had taught her, she quickly drew another arrow from her quiver and let it loose. It struck a different wundraithol, but the second was a better hit. The creature tripped and fell, slipping backwards and down the hill, likely snapping its neck in the process.

Aelle winced. She had never liked killing animals, but a person had to eat. She had informed Jisindritha of her feelings on the subject once before, and Jisindritha had criticized her for being too soft of heart. True enough, Aelle knew.

Another of the creatures tumbled down. That must have been one of Jisindritha's arrows, or one of Uolli's, though the latter was not very likely. Uolli had a habit of waiting for quite awhile before ever shooting anything.

And then it happened. Aelle-eryrfnii tripped and fell. The bow and arrow flew from her hands, landing somewhere down the hill. She hit the ground hard upon her belly. Her knees and abdomen were instantly raw from the rocks that scraped them. Her face hit a rock, skinning her chin and drawing blood from her lips. The only thing that she could think about in that instant was that if she did not get up, then she would die. Panicking, she jumped to her feet and saw a furious wundraithol rushing directly toward her with malice in its eyes. She turned away and ran awkwardly in some unknown direction, scrambling across the rocks. She was sore, bleeding all over the thin shirt and roughspun pants.

Jisindritha came between Aelle and the wundraithol, drawing her blade. Aelle coughed and spat blood, watching in wonder. She had so rarely ever seen the woman draw her blade for anything but skinning kills.

Time seemed to slow down as Aelle's horror increased. The wundraithol reared, displaying its gleaming fangs. It was a large brown and black mass of fur, and it smelled wretched. It moved a paw, aiming to strike Jisindritha's head off.

She lunged forward and swiped, slicing the creature across the chest. She tore through the heavy coat of fur and parted the skin, but her blow had little depth. The wundraithrol made a loud noise and moved forward. Aelle wanted to scream. It was just so obvious that Jisindritha was going to die. Somehow, though, the woman moved backward in an instant, then forward, plunging her knife upwards into the beast's chin. Without pausing, she jerked the knife outwards and slipped it into a small sheath at her hip. Then another arrow was drawn and she was firing, felling another beast. Then another. And still one more.

Uolli was whooping at having collected a kill. Aelle saw enough of a space between the scattering wundraithols to move through. She did so, grabbing her bow and arrow. She fired one of the arrows, hitting a fleeing wundraithol. It flailed, waving and groaning loudly before falling down into the valley and making itself vulnerable enough to strike once more.

Luring the beasts onto the higher lands had been a wise move. Wundraithols, for all of their aggressiveness, would have been wiser to flee like dumb brutes. They did not like being easy prey, and really, who did? But in their anger, they had not considered that their huntresses had an advantage of height, being so far above them. They had not considered that running up the hills was strenuous, and that should they fall, then it would be almost certain death. They had moved directly into the slaughter.

Soon enough, the wundraithols that remained alive were running away, having seen the error of their ways. That left a valley and some lower hills that were strewn with corpses. Most of the corpses had been made by Jisindritha, of course, but a few belonged to Aelle-eryrfnii and at least one was Uolli's. Dragging them back to their house would be a difficult task, one that would take the remainder of the day, probably.

"Are you alright?" Uolli asked as she moved close to Aelle, extending a hand to her.

"It is nothing," Aelle responded, touching her bleeding lips. "Lips always bleed a lot, but it's not that important. I'm not really very injured. I need a cloth to press on my face, though."

Nevertheless, Uolli appeared concerned. She was a sweet girl, Aelle mused. Not very intelligent and not very fast, but strong and kind. She would make a good wife and would have strong children, if she chose that route.

Jisindritha ripped a piece of her shirt off and handed it to Aelle-eryrfnii. "Here, girl," she said. "Press your face into this."

The fabric was rough, like a towel. Aelle pressed hard, murmuring a thank you to Jisindritha.

"Don't dally. We need to collect these corpses before the birds do. I'm going to need your strength." She eyed Uolli. "Your strength will be especially needed, girl. We did a good job today. These shall last for many meals, even into the winter, and the gods know that we shall need them when the dark winter arrives." On that thought, Jisindritha tilted her head, gazing at the sky. There was still a fair amount of daylight left, but dragging the bodies back for skinning, cleaning, salting, and storing would be no easy labour.

Aelle-eryrfnii did not want to think about the blackness of winter, yet she had to. Summer was coming to a close, and autumn always seemed so short, perhaps because of the knowledge that winter was nearby. It was widely said that the winter in Urih-teliean had as much of Rusili Bya's light as the other seasons did. If that was true--

She forced her thoughts away, focusing instead on her sore body and the kills that they had to prepare for storage and food. Urih-teliean was distant and wonderful, but just a dream. Aelle pulled one of the heavy corpses along. The thing stank, but it would provide good meat for the winter. Despite the odor, hunger was rising within her and gnawing at her insides, making her mouth water. It took many minutes, perhaps an hour, before she was able to drag one of the corpses back. She muttered curses beneath her breath, wishing that she and her would be sisters had better tools. They had one wheelbarrow, and Uolli was using it. By the time that Aelle had reached the hilltop, she saw that Jisindritha had already brought ten corpses to their little house. She was skinning them as Aelle approached, salting the meat so that it would last for sometime.

Aelle marvelled at her strength. She could not help but do so, though she had been witness to this strength for many years. Had it not been for Jisindritha, Aelle would never have survived the destruction of her home village. The woman had been a mother, aunt, and sister to her all at once. Sometimes, Aelle wondered if Jisindritha thought of her as more than that, but she doubted this. Jisindritha claimed to have been wanton in her youth, but she had abandoned all interest in romantic companionship some years back. Aelle had not, but she had never been particularly interested in finding a mate, either. There were so many more important things in her life that she needed to focus on right now.

"Stop gawking, girl," criticized Jisindritha, not looking up from her work. "Either help me clean and prepare this kill, or work on your own, or, if you wish to be physically useless, then go study. Your mind needs honing as much as any blade does."

"Studying shall avail me nothing," Aelle said glumly. "I've heard that they have tests which allow you to enter Urih-teliean. I bet I'd stand a good chance of passing one of those, but I don't know where to go to take them, or what to buy to study for them, and they probably cost money, too." She sighed. "I bet I could pass one of those exams, though. I'm pretty intelligent for a Wilds girl, wouldn't you say, Jisindritha?"

"I don't believe in praising. If you're intelligent, Aelle, then your brilliance shall speak for itself, so stop paying service to your traits with your mouth. Your tongue running so doesn't make you any smarter or prettier or stronger." Jisindritha had opened up one of the corpses and was gutting it. She flashed Aelle a severe look, one made all the more severe by the hard angles of her face. "You need to stop these flights of fancy, girl. You were born in the Wilds, and the Wilds are your fate. Sitting around dreaming of Urih-teliean is just going to make you lazy and useless. You need to study and increase your strength, but only for your own sake and for no one else's." Jisindritha pointed her blade at Aelle. "You'll learn, I think. I was young once, too, believe that or not, and I thought much the same as you did, back then. Same childish notions and everything. Urih-teliean, despite its claim, isn't a Utopia, girl."

Aelle did not believe that, but she did not with to argue with Jisindritha. Jisindritha had an aggressiveness about her, whether it was intentional or not. Every one of her movements was fast, sudden, jerking, and strong. When you neared her, you could almost think that she was going to jump forth and bang her head into yours, so quickly and so forcefully did she move. She could strike suddenly and sharply. When they all had lived in the same village, Aelle had seen Jisindritha strike off the limbs and particularly the fingers of those who had challenged her. She often drove upward suddenly, shattering a bone or opening an artery. Aelle knew that Jisindritha would never have a physical fight over something as minor as a disagreement of opinion, but all the same, she did not like arguing with the woman. Jisindritha's tongue was fast and often laced with just enough venom to make Aelle recoil.

Laying the carcass down, Aelle went into the house and found a knife. Determined to please Jisindritha, and herself, she sat down and began to skin the kill. It was late into night before she, Jisindritha, and Uolli were done with their work. Above, stars, moons, and a bit of the World Beyond were visible in the sky. The World Beyond, though beautiful, made Aelle feel tense and unnerved. Its growth in the sky was a sign that the black winter was coming, and soon.

"It's only late summer," Uolli noted, seeing Aelle's tension. "Why are you looking so upset?"

"Autumn never lasts for long, and then there's darkness."

"But we got lots of meat now, 'least."

Aelle nodded, forcing a smile. "That we do."

Putting all of the meat into the cellar was another task entirely, and one that took more of the night away. As Aelle emerged from her third trip into the cellar, dirty but accomplished, she looked into the sky and smiled at the white, red, blue, and yellow stars. She was becoming familiar with the constellations. Since the village had been destroyed, she had paid so much more attention to the stars. Because it was comforting, she liked to think that some of them were her parents and her friends from long ago. It was refreshing to think so, and it gave her warmth during the winter.

When they had finished everything to do with the kills, they all went inside their modest cottage. Uolli brought some wood in, and Jisindritha fixed a fire in the fireplace. Aelle went into the kitchen and cooked some of the meat over a fire stove. Jisindritha knew how to make fires, whether through wood and stones or through small amounts of magic. She lit the kindling and Aelle would often set a pot over the fire and watch it boil, stirring intermittently. She knew how to cook. She could season and spice the food and give it flavour with the little bits of seasoning that they owned. Jisindritha gave Aelle full discretion over how much spice to use, and because today had been such a successful day--not to mention so much hard work on all of their behalves--Aelle used a little more seasoning than usual. They deserved it, she reasoned. She was weary, yet she felt invigorated by the thought of how much she had managed to do today.

Aelle liked to watch the food as it sizzled, smoked, and popped. Sometimes she boiled the meat and sometimes she fried it. Tonight was a frying night, she had decided. Jisindritha and Uolli could cook as well, but not as efficiently as she could, and besides, both of them had tasks that were more suited to the particular gifts. Aelle's parents had been grooming her to own a small restaurant, as they did. That had been before.

She took the meat off in good time, careful to avoid touching it with any bare flesh. Once she thought it had cooled a bit, she dipped her finger into the grease and licked it. Enjoying the taste, she took a bite. It was good and tender, just as she liked it. For good measure, she took the bottle of mixed spices and sprinkled a bit more onto the wundraithol steaks. Uolli would like that, though Jisindritha seemed mostly indifferent to how flavourful her food was. She had eaten the driest deer jerky that one could imagine in her travels, she had announced before. Tender or not, it did not matter to her.

Aelle washed her hands before eating. For now, her hands were the only parts of her that she would wash. She took the plates into the living room, where she sat upon the bare floor and ate with Jisindritha and Uolli, both of whom had crossed their legs as they sat near the fireplace.

As they ate, Jisindritha told stories, as she always did. The girls loved to live vicariously through her. Well, Uolli did. Aelle loved the stories, but she did not envy Jisindritha's life. The woman had been through many hardships, including exile, the death of most of her family, five miscarriages, slavery, and, more recently, the destruction of Katapalonia. Still, Uolli was wont to forget that she listened to Jisindritha speak of how she had tamed beasts, fought slavedrivers, of how the desert had looked and felt and smelled at night, and of how she had sparred beneath the moons with men and women who might have been her rivals.

Aelle could not help but be impressed. When she told her stories, Jisindritha seemed more than mortal.

It was when the story ended and Aelle saw the woman before her that she knew better. Jisindritha was strong, still, but tired. Her skin was dark and somewhat leathery, having been made so by the harsh desert sun. Her dark blue hair was often a dried, brittle mess. It never wanted to take any kind of soft or beautiful shape. Her dark eyes were fierce like a hawk's, but also strangely mournful, strangely sad and fatigued. Her face was sharp and angular, as was much of her body. Her bones looked as though they were on the verge of tearing through her skin, especially her sharp elbows. She was not a fighter, she told Uolli and Aelle. She was a survivor. Life had given her obstacles, and she had taken each of them in turn. She had sought out no grand adventure, nor had she ever wanted anything but stability.

"I had one living child," she had told them, and as she often reminded them. "And he was taken from me when I was exiled from the others who lived in the northern deserts. We were many tribes, and we intermingled. I was condemned, as I've told you before. Not to death, but to exile, which some would call death." She chewed at her meat. "I saw no reason to make a death of it, though."

"You've done so much," said Uolli, leaning forward. Her eyes were wide with eagerness. "I wish I could do as much as you've done. I wish that I could have a fantastic adventure from my life, instead of this meager little existence. Maybe, someday--"

"Girl, have you heard nothing that I've spoken to you of?" Jisindritha's eyes hardened, narrowing. "Don't be stupid, girl. Aye, I journeyed around much of the Wilds. I've suffered and experienced death until I learned to shed no tears. It was either that or spend my days crying, and that would have been a waste of fluid. In the desert, you cannot waste your water so." She ripped another piece of the meat off. "Yet you envy me, like some stupid animal. You'll learn, if you go through anything that I've gone through. You'll learn. At least Aelle does not envy me, though her dreams are no more plausible."

"I dream for what you dreamed of, Jisindritha," Aelle told her, feeling her cheeks grow warm. She was somewhat embarrassed by Jisindritha's remark, but she kept that to herself. "I dream of stability and happiness for a long time, maybe my whole life. Why do you think that this is so impossible? You never came by it, no, but I don't understand why you think that others can't find what you didn't. People get lucky, sometimes."

"Don't count on luck, girl." Jisindritha looked down, taking a drink of her water. "He is the most unkind of gods."

"Not to those in Urih-teliean," Aelle whispered half-unconsciously.

"Urih-teliean. Girl, that is enough." Jisindritha's eyes were instantly raised once more. For an instant, Aelle thought that she was going to spring to her feet and lunge forward to grab at her. Instead, she sat there, legs crossed, a plate in one hand and a glass in the other. "Urih-teliean! Girl, we may be physically close to Urih-teliean, as only the mountains lie between it and us, but socially, we are in different universes. Grow accustomed to that idea, girl. You'll have no respite in Urih-teliean. The sooner that you accept that, the easier your life shall be."

Aelle looked down, considering Jisindritha's words and accepting them. She was right, and Aelle knew it. Her harsh tone made Aelle want to argue, if only because Jisindritha was so forceful in stating her opinion, but Aelle held her tongue. Arguing would not make her any more right. It would only make her look foolish and stubborn in her wrongness. She did not wish for that, so she remained silent, eating her food in peace as Uolli prompted Jisindritha to tell more stories.

She could dream, but she wouldn't hope. Dreaming was a good way to keep her mind occupied as she went about her work. Hoping was a way to be disappointed when nothing came of her hopes. She did not know what her future would be. For all she knew, she might spend the rest of her days living in this little cottage that Jisindritha had bought, but she did not think so. She was half a girl and half a woman. She had had her blood, but she was not fully mature, and she knew this. She had nothing near the life experience that Jisindritha had. She might gain that, in time.

The thought of suffering so much made her uncomfortable. Plainly, it frightened her. She knew loss. She had lost her parents, but the thought of every day being a fight with some new enemy, or the thought of five dead children and one lost to her, or being exiled, or even more deaths--Aelle could not stand to focus upon these things. It was cowardly of her, she knew. If she faced so much suffering, she wondered if she could be as brave as Jisindritha had been. Plainly, she doubted as much.

She looked at the other woman as she thought of this. Perhaps at first she could not be so brave, but thinking upon Jisindritha's strength might lend her some determination and endurance of her own. She was glad that she had met this woman. She admired her, and, in a fashion, loved her. As emotionally cold and distant or as fiery and hot-tempered as Jisindritha could be, she had taught Aelle more than anyone else ever had. No matter what Aelle went through in the future, she knew that this woman would be her model, her guide and inspiration.

When she was done eating, she drew a few buckets of water from the well and poured herself a bath. It was cold, but in the last days of summer heat, she did not mind. The fire needed to be saved for better things, for now. She would use fire to heat her baths during the winter. For now, she only cared about sloughing the dirt off of her skin. She had enough of it to deal with, given how she had earlier fallen, and given the day in general.

The water was as cold as she had anticipated, but refreshing. Aelle rubbed herself down with lye soap until her skin began to turn red. The flesh itched painfully when the lye soap caused the first layer of dead skin to wash away, but Aelle didn't mind. She rubbed harder. The redness meant that the lye was ridding her of excess. She needed that. She needed to be fresh. She dipped her head into the water and ran her fingers through her hair, straightening out the tangles with her fingertips as she shampooed with the herbs that Jisindritha and Uolli had earlier collected. If nothing else, the herbs made her smell nice, though that would do nothing for her, not in the Wilds. She liked it for her own purposes, however.

Having finished her bath, Aelle arose from the tub, allowing the water to stream down her nude body and drip from her fingertips. She grabbed a cloth and rubbed herself down. When she was done with that, she stepped out of the tub and made her way across the cold floor. She took another slim, soiled cotton blouse from her closet and garbed herself in it. Then, she found a pair of khaki leggings and did the same. She had lost all her belongings some years ago, but she had since purchased a few new outfits from one of the nearby villages. That had required more money than Jisindritha had deemed worth spending upon clothes, and they had been forced to sell a number of crops to pay for the expenses, but Aelle needed something for summer and something for winter, as she had pointed out to the older woman.

Aelle did not consider herself irrational for this. She simply did not wish to freeze, nor did she wish to constantly wrap herself in blankets, as she had once done. The blankets were growing ragged and moth-eaten, anyway. Uolli needed some new pants. She had spent a considerable amount of time weeping when she had earlier soiled her clothes with her first blood. Jisindritha had criticized her for this, saying that there was no point in being vain, for they lived in a place where no one would see her. Aelle let Uolli borrow her pants, all the same. The heavier girl had almost burst them. She had stretched the pair so much that Aelle had finally simply smiled and given her ownership of the pants. Uolli had been shamed, though Aelle had meant her offer in the spirit of kindness.

In a way, though, Aelle envied Uolli. Not much, but a little. It would be nice to be sturdy and strong, in the Wilds. Uolli was not intelligent, though. Aelle did not envy her that. Aelle liked to read and study, when she had the spare time. She enjoyed learning about religions. Try though she might, Uolli could not read. She was obviously dyslexic, judging from the comments that she had made about her inability to read. In Urih-teliean, Aelle had announced, you could get that dyslexia treated, and you could read. Aelle pointed out that she had read about as much. Uolli had cried at that--long, wailing sobs. Jisindritha had taken Aelle aside and criticized her for making Uolli feel bad.

"Intelligence isn't her gift, girl, and apparently tact isn't yours. She's big-boned and will do well to farm and kill any animals that she can catch. You don't need to go filling her head with thoughts of reading and writing and diplomacy. That's not for her. It doesn't mean that she's less for that. She's not less than those diplomats from Urih-teliean. She's just different. This is her route, what she was made for, and you don't need to lead her astray with silly notions about other things."

Aelle had not argued with Jisindritha that day, just as she had never truly argued with Jisindritha's points. She had felt a kind of defiance surging within her, though. She had wanted to ask Jisindritha what she thought her route was, if Uolli's route was farming and doing hard manual labour. She had wanted to know what Jisindritha would have said to that, given Aelle's little frame, her solid mind, and her ability to read.

She had not asked. She had not wanted to hear the answer. She thought that she knew. She thought that Jisindritha wanted her to become a priestess.

"It's the best a woman in the Wilds can do for herself," Jisindritha had said one day, while chewing some ciuyn leaves in one of her cheeks. "You'll be surrounded by likeminded women. You'll not be degraded. You'll not be forced to do things you don't wish to do. You'll not be forced to fight for your bread and meat. You'll have support. You'll have a ring of intelligent, gifted women around you who shall comfort you and support you in all that you do. You'll not be out getting yourself into any trouble, Aelle. It's the best that a woman in the Wilds can do for herself, being a priestess of Tishala."

"I don't know anything about Tishala," Aelle had protested. Jisindritha had been speaking offhandedly, or so she had said, but Aelle had known that it was more than a casual desire on Jisindritha's behalf. Aelle knew that Jisindritha had already made up her mind about Aelle.

"Tishala is a benevolent goddess. She's good to her servants. What more do you need to know?"

It sounded good, but it terrified Aelle. Frankly, anything in her future that did not involve Jisindritha terrified Aelle. She was used to having the older woman's guidance and protection. She was not used to dealing with other humans, with other creatures of any species except those that she killed.

That evening, Aelle fell into a restless, fitful slumber. She awoke at Rusili Bya's rising, looking out of the window over the fields and wondering what her future held for her. Before her eyes, there was the Wilds, and in the Wilds, there was terror for a slim-boned, uncertain girl with no skills of her own for survival. She chewed her lips, hands tightening upon her sheets.

Then, she stepped out of bed and put on her thin brown shoes. There was work ahead of her, and winter would soon be upon them. For now, that was all that she needed to focus upon. That was her immediate future, her fate. The rest would be decided in time.