“You should not be here.”
The man slowed his horse, drawing the now-empty cart over to the side of the road where the young woman continued walking steadily, sturdy brown boots making a solid trail that seemed to stream for miles behind.
She wore a long, dusty cloak and carried a large satchel over her shoulder. Clearly, she was heading somewhere and had been traveling for some time. Still, he felt the need to warn her.
He cleared his throat and called out once more.
“Young lady!” he said. “You should not be here. It is unwise for a young woman such as yourself to travel alone….. Perhaps no one has told you, but this place is dangerous.”
She turned to face him, pulling the hood off of her long dark hair and gazing stolidly up at him.
“Many places are dangerous,” she said. “What makes this one so special?”
He swallowed a lump in his throat, suddenly uncomfortable. Her clear blue eyes looked up at him, her gaze hard.
“There are wolves, Miss,” he said. He pulled off his cap and started twisting it between his fingers, his hands betraying the discomfort he didn’t dare allow to creep into his voice.
“Maneaters,” he said. “The villagers stay inside at night and don’t venture far during the day…. We’ve lost enough good people. They usually hunt at night, but they’ve been known to attack during the day, if they see someone alone at the edge of the wood.”
He looked warily at the woods, which ran parallel to the road in the not-too-distant vicinity. He thought he heard something howling.
“There’s been a hunter sent for. One that handles this sort of thing,” he added. “But Lord knows when he’ll get here, or how many we’ll lose before that. Best be careful.”
“I see,” she said, giving him a brief smile. “I appreciate your concern. But I’m sure I’ll be just fine.”
He nodded, certain, somehow, that she would be.
She moved to continue on her way.
“If I were you,” he said, nonetheless. “I’d run to the village and seek shelter for the night. You should be safe there.”
She turned back to face him.
“Safety,” she said. “Is overrated.”
“I won’t hide,” she said, hitching her pack higher up on her shoulder. “I have nothing to hide from. But perhaps you should.”
He thought he heard a low growl emanating from the woods. And he wasted no time striking his horse into movement. It was not much farther to his farm and he was determined to make it before dark. He told himself that this was the reason he was driving his horse harder and faster.
And he pretended not to hear her laugh, low and cool, as he drove away.
To be continued….