Meggie stepped through the forest carefully, her leather slippers didn't protect from any sharp rocks or sticks she might encounter. She let her hands drift along the low hanging branches, feeling the leaves which were just starting to harden and fall to the forest floor. It was autumn here, and the air was crisp. The deer she sometimes caught glimpses of were becoming more skittish in the thinner cover. She saw the filtered light on the ground grow stronger, and smiled. She must be nearing the clearing, with the inn near the road.
The inn was the farthest Meggie ever came from the forest. As she stepped from the protective cover of the trees, she smiled. She began to walk down the hill, but she could already see the stableboy taking a set of reins from a man, then bow and take the mount to the stables to brush down. The traveler removed his hat and went to the door, and as he opened the door Meggie heard the music and voices coming from inside. She began to run, slowing only when the hill became too steep, and walked to the mouth of the inn. "Dragon's Belly" the sign said, Meggie smiled up at it before pushing the door and going in. It was bright with lantern light, and the crowd sang merrily with a man who was fiddling in the corner. She walked over to the bar, and the man behind it smiled at her as he walked over cleaning a glass.
"Hello, lass." He said with a grin. "You've been a while."
"Have I..?" she frowned. "How long?"
"Don't you keep time in those woods?!" he chuckled. "Nearly a week since I saw you last."
"A week… Wow."
Darwen smiled. "Can I get you anything?"
"Yes, soft wine please?" they didn't have water here, and Meggie always felt deliciously wicked when she drank the watered down wine.
He nodded and went to get her a goblet, and she sat and turned to the minstrel. She smiled as the man picked up the pace of his playing, and people cleared the space in front of him as a few younger people began dancing. She giggled and clapped in time, until Darwen brought her the wine. She sipped it with a smile, still watching the dancers.
"It's getting late," Darwen said as she reached the end of her glass. The guests had already begun drifting to their rooms for the night. "Do you need someone to bring you home?"
"No," she said with a sigh. It was true she felt tired, but she wasn't ready to leave yet. "I'll make it on my own…"
"It isn't my job," he said as he took her goblet. "But it is getting about time for you to think of marriage young marauder. You won't be a child forever, and the woods are a dangerous place for a woman to stay…"
"Darwen!" she shook her head. "I've told you before. I'm sixteen; I don't intend to settle down yet."
"Meg," he said as he shook her head. "Sixteen is well past marrying age. Sometimes I believe you get your notions from another world…"
"Yes," she said as a mysterious smile graced her lips. "I suppose they do… Goodnight, Darwen. I'll be seeing you."
"Travel well, maiden Meg…" he said with a nod, then smiled. "Don't let the fairies take you from us though, eh?"
She giggled and nodded, then grabbed her cloak from the chair and put it around her shoulders before walking out. It was much colder than it had been when she arrived, though it hadn't felt like long. Things always felt odd here…
With a passing nod to the eldest stable boy, she began up the hill. She made it to the edge of the forest, and looked over her shoulder with longing for a second before sighing and walking into the trees. It happened like it always did… The ground began to feel softer. Like she wasn't really walking on it. Then the trees began to fade, it became difficult to keep her eyes open… And just as the trickling stream came into view she faded out of the forest… And she woke up.