Chapter 5

This sleep was a dreamless one, and it was late when she finally woke up. As she opened her eyes and the fog of slumber cleared from her head, the first thing that she noticed was that she had not woken up. The second thing she noticed was that she was ravenous, and sore all over from riding in front Sir Ilom the day before. The third thing she noticed was that the rabbit from earlier that day was gone, probably carried off by some wild animal, and the fire had gone out. Although she was glad that it had been the rabbit and not she that was carried off, she was still quite irritated. She rolled up her blanket and shoved it roughly into her pack.

"I've had it!!" She yelled, once more at the sky. She pitched a rock at the log where she had left the rabbit, not really hoping to hit anything, more to add emphasis. Stop, she told herself, you're getting hysterical. This is a dream, there's nothing to worry about, it's all just a very weird, very vivid dream. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She now felt much better about her situation, but as she had already discovered, knowing that she was dreaming did not change what she was dreaming.

I'll change it myself. The idea came to her suddenly, and she wondered why she hadn't thought of it before. She had just been going along with it all, and doing whatever anyone told her. But now she was going to take control of it.

"You hear me?" she asked the sky, which took this new bout of abuse unfazedly, as it had the others. "I'm not playing anymore. I don't like this dream, and so I am not going to put up with it. I'm done. I'm walking away. Into the sunset. Into a different dream." She closed her eyes, spun around a few times, and started walking in the direction she found herself facing, which was toward the stream.

Sir Ilom had chosen this spot to camp, though it had been only early evening when they stopped. It was a small clearing in the forest, near to the river, so that they could get water, and not far off the path. It seemed that they were still in friendly territory.

Ruth followed the river downstream, not really knowing where she was going, and not really caring. Now she was worse off than ever. Before, at least, Sir Ilom had known where she was, even if she did not. She had known that she was in a safe area. Now, no one knew where she was, and having left the campsite that Sir Ilom had chosen, she did not know what dangers awaited her.

But she would never admit that. She might know it, but she would never stoop to actually going back to the campsite. She refused to believe that any of this was really happening. It was no use to stay there, so she might as well continue.

She walked for most of the day, then decided to rest. As she laid down, however, she began to hear—or perhaps imagine—noises in the forest. Hostile noises. Frightened, she couldn't sleep, and certainly couldn't stay where she was. She got up again and walked through the night. After two whole days and nights of walking, she couldn't feel her legs anymore. She couldn't feel anything, but her legs just kept moving, until she doubted that she could stop them now, if she tried. After a while, on the third day, the trees began to thin out, until she could see a town ahead of her.

She stumbled out of the forest, dazed and exhausted, blinking in the sunlight. Ahead of her, a fountain bubbled, and a small crowd of people gathered around it. Her feet stopped as she heard a clear, high voice floating over their heads. She couldn't see the singer, but it sounded like a young boy. It seemed just the right pitch and timbre to match the fountain's splashing cadence, and when the tiny crowd began to laugh, they formed a trio so perfect that she could not imagine any other combination of sounds which would so well suit the song, even were a whole band accompanying it.

The boy sang a simple nonsense song, but he sang it well, and there was a dance that went with it. He was a small boy, with a mousy face and a disheveled mop of dark brown, almost black, hair. His eyes were equally dark, but for a subtle ring of blue around the pupil, and another, even subtler, around his iris.

Ruth looked down at her feet, and realized that they were walking again. "Stop that" she said to them, unintentionally out loud. They did. Now that she did not have that perpetual, mindless motion keeping her going, her body began to consider all the things it had been deprived of the last few days, and she became very dizzy. She was dimly aware of the small crowd of people looking at her now, with curiosity and disgust.

"Whoa!" cried the boy, leaping off the fountain. He caught her just as she was falling.

"What're you…what're you…doing?" she asked weakly, "Why am I sitting down?"

He looked her up and down, "Here, let's…why don't you…are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine. What happened?"

"I think you started to faint, but you came back out of it. Here, can you stand? Come with me." As he tried to help her up, she began to laugh uncontrollably. "You're mad as a hatter, aren't you?" the boy asked.

"No," she gasped, "no, not – not really, just, I've never fainted before in my life –" It was some time before she could speak again, "Ow, it hurts. No, I've never fainted before, and now twice in a few days." She doubled up again. "I – don't think – I'm dreaming."

"Who said you were?" asked the boy. "Never mind. Here, we'll get you fixed up, okay? You hold onto me…just like that, here we go. Come on." He supported and guided her a little way through the town, to a cottage not far away. "Oriel!" he hollered, pounding on the door, "Oriel, I need your help!"

There was a sound like running footsteps, and the door opened, "Good God, Amon, what're you – oh. Who-? Never mind, just bring her in. Aunt Bedelia!" she called, as this "Amon" led her through the hall and up some stairs. She was half-carried into a snug bedroom, into which a small, round old woman soon came huffing.

"Oriel, what I all this? Oh! Hello." She jumped, noticing me, "What is all this?" 'Aunt Bedelia' seemed to be an astute old lady. She was dressed simply, but her white hair was done up, showing off its few remaining streaks of red, and her lips were painted very slightly. She smelled of lilacs and cooking, and she surveyed the situation quickly. "Oriel, go get this young fellow some bananas and toasted bread, quickly, and put some rice on. And while she's doing that, Amon, you will explain to me just who he is and what's going on."

Amon shifted and looked at the floor. "I don't know, I just found him. He came out of the woods and –"

"Oh!" she cut him off, "Don't you fall asleep on us yet, young man, you need to eat something." Ruth had been drifting off, but now Bedelia sat beside her on the bed and pinched her. "Wake up, you're half dead. You'll be all dead if you don't eat something before you sleep." At that moment, Oriel ran up the stairs with some bananas on toast. "Here you go," said Bedelia, "You eat as much of this as you can, you're terribly weak."

Despite he long fast, Ruth found that she had no appetite, and the first few bites tried to come back up on her. However, with Bedelia's coaxing, she managed half of the odd sandwich before she had to stop. The three left the room, and Ruth fell asleep, again, for a very long time.