vacant fever

Sneak

He’s still there and by the looks that he’s shooting in her direction, he’s well aware that she’s lurking nearby and hiding poorly.

She grits her teeth and clenches the strap on her bag in irritation. This was just so ridiculous and over the top! To hire a sentry was a new low, even for Raji’s father.

The headman at the village beyond had no business trying to keep people away from the ruins that resided halfway between the two towns! He didn’t own them! True, they were considered sacred grounds by all who knew them, but they were honored with reverence.

She knows why he has gone to such lengths to keep a guard on post and it bristles her even more to know that he’s done it as a means to keep her out and away. Some of the best herbs and plants for medicinal purposes grow in the forests surrounding the area and the headman has taken personal offense to his people preferring a woman for their healing needs to his own son’s.

She refuses to give in, to roll over or give up. Those people need her help; the last bout of sickness has brought with it a nasty fever that has nearly claimed the lives of several of the village children and it makes no sense to let innocent people perish for the sake of one’s pride. Stubborn and foolish man!

She knows these woods like the backs of her hands, having explored them and their life forms early on in her childhood. She knows that there’s more than one way to get to the medicine that the villagers so desperately need and she’s relying upon her memory to deliver her there. She just hopes that the stranger isn’t nearly as observant as she fears he is.

Shirayuki adjusts her hooded cape and tries for the third time today to skirt around the persistent guard upon one of the older and lesser used paths into the ruins. She watches every footstep, keeps her weight evenly distributed upon the balls of her feet as she steps over fallen branches and gingerly rearranges her footing to sidestep any twigs or leaves. It’s slow going, but she doesn’t see any sign of him or hear him approaching; then again, she never hears him.

She sees the beginnings of the clearing ahead of her, relief and almost giddy elation being cut short at the feeling of the pointed end of a blade being held against her spine.

A small growl of frustration escapes her as she freezes stiffly, glaring a hole into the path before her at his low voice, laughter dancing merrily in his tone as he murmurs close to her right ear, “You don’t know when to quit, do you?”

She shoots a sharp glare at him over her shoulder, green eyes swirling with fury meeting gold glazed with amusement. “Not when people’s lives are at stake, no.”

The pressure of the blade increases ever so slightly. “Even at the exchange of your own?”

Shirayuki faces forward once more to return her eyes to the front, the clearing before the beginnings of the holy ground stretching out before her, peeking at her tauntingly through the trees. “I’d rather die than to see what atrocities Raji has in store for the villagers…” her tone drops as she thinks of Rona, so sick and frail in bed, her eyes so vacant with fever and unable to focus. “Especially the children…”

The blade pulls back ever so slightly, still present but not nearly as threatening as before. The heat of his body that has been so close ebbs as he takes a small step back. The sound of rustling and his own heavy sigh has her puzzled as he murmurs, “You do seem determined…you know your way around these woods, too. Didn’t know there were so many paths around this place.”

She half turns to face him, her guard slipping as she watches him stow away the rather menacing looking dagger behind his back. “I’ve been known to guide people to the sacred grounds for prayers…” Her gaze falls to the ground as his brows quirk up in interest. She takes in a deep breath to steady herself. “I…I just need to pass. I have medicine to make…please…”

His arms cross, his weight redistributed but lithe muscles still at the ready. If she were to take off in a sprint, there is no doubt in her mind that he would catch her almost immediately. Her only hope is to barter, her eyes studying his shoes and tight foreign clothing. He doesn’t appear to be wearing more than one layer, and that can be dangerous around this particular area. Her eyes pulse wide at recognition and she knows that she has her leverage with one glance at the area around which he is standing.

“I’m getting paid a pretty fair amount to keep people out,” he states as he rubs at his shoulder while staring off to the side absentmindedly. At her silence he glances at her out of the corner of his eye. “Why should I let you pass? What’s in it for me?”

Straightening to her full height and squaring her shoulders, she looks him straight in the eyes, determination and triumph written all over her face as her hand delves into the depths of her bag, her small fingers wrapping around a familiar jar and pulling out a cream to hold up to his befuddled expression. “Based on how much wood nettle you’re currently standing in,” she pauses as his wide golden eyes shoot to his feet, where he has trampled rather thoroughly upon and around the poisonous plant. “You’re going to need a salve to take away that sting.”