Bright morning sunlight reflected off the broken canopy of Chetwood forest. The soft beams that managed to find their way through the branches rarely found the forest floor. A large spider crept past a pile of leaves gathered in a shallow dip in the land; it smelled something. Its mandibles chittered as it circled back to the pile of leaves. Flesh. It could smell flesh.
Before it could explore beneath the brown pile, a coal black lynx sprung out sending the leaves flying in all directions. Growling, it swiped at the spider which reared and hissed with its front legs batting at the sudden shadow. Undaunted, the lynx’s claws slashed at the spiders multifaceted eyes and sent it scurrying. Spitting with contempt, it prowled around the pile seeking further challengers before returning to the disturbance from whence it emerged.
A small, feminine hand appeared among the leaves and the lynx gave the palm a gentle head-butt. It pawed at the debris, digging out a young woman in a dirty, travel-worn hood and cloak and robes that at one time could have been found behind a merchant’s counter.
“Get off me, Oli,” a soft and low voice said. The woman tried to burrow deeper into the warmth of the leaves. “Go on, get off me.” She gave the lynx a shove, but it nudged her side until she growled.
“Oh, all right then, you stubborn cat.” Pushing herself into a sitting position, the woman looked around with bleary gray eyes.
Around them, the woods were active with morning sounds. A jay called from the branches of a nearby tree, and Anya could smell the dew on the leaves. It would be a warmer day, though the relative temperatures still made it a cold winter for travelling.
“You woke me too early,” she said to the lynx who simply sat back on its haunches and stared at her. Anya stared back for a long moment before she looked away covering her eyes. “All right, all right. You win. I’ll get up.” Climbing to her feet, she brushed the bracken from her robes and turned a circle, seeking the waypoint she made for herself before turning in the night before.
A hundred meters off, the large rock stood a sentinel to her passage. Without looking back, Anya set off at a steady pace toward what she hoped was civilization. The dark shape of the feline loped close behind.
As the sun rose in the sky, she grew hungry. She was tired. Her body longed for a proper bed if only she could find a town where one was located. Their caravan had been on the way to Bree, and Bookie had said they were less than a day or so away. When the bandits struck after nightfall, she had fled north of the road in a panic, though she couldn’t be certain that she had maintained a northern heading in her flight. She could only hope that by travelling south she could find the road again.
When her feet finally found cobblestone, she realized she had not fled as far as it had seemed. She had travelled only a half an hour or so before regaining the road. West, he had said, is the land of mystery and adventure where ancient ruins lay undisturbed just waiting to tell their stories to any who braved the ghosts of the dead. Looking up at the sky, she found her direction and set off to follow the road into the West.