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The howls of the gore-hounds filled the night air. Vanda stopped to catch her breath. Sounds echoed off the trees, throwing noises at her from odd angles. Her pursuers were close. When they caught her it would be the end.
She peeped at the precious cargo she carried, strapped across her chest in the sling she’d fashioned from an old shawl. The night was dark – of course – but there was just enough starlight to see Abha’s tiny face peeping out, wide-eyed in wonder, oblivious to what was happening. Vanda envied the baby. Abha had no idea that the gore-hounds, if they caught up, would rip her to pieces like a rabbit.
Vanda set off again, ignoring the stomach cramps tearing at her. The ground was rising. She’d heard the Chronicler lived in a ramshackle hut on a hill in a wood. That was all she had to go off. It was entirely possible the whole thing was no more than a story. When it came to the Chronicler, the lines between truth and tale weren’t always clear.
She glimpsed a light through the shifting boughs: a single yellow candle shining from a cottage window. In one of his tales it would have been placed there as a beacon for the desperate. She raced into the clearing and rapped on the door, gaze darting around. She expected the hounds, black as night and red of eye, to lope from the woods at any moment. Away over the treetops the thinnest of crescent moons sliced through the night sky. As it always did.
The door creaked open. An old man’s face peeped through the gap, regarding her over the top of his half-moon spectacles. His wrinkled, veined skin might have been the map of an imaginary land. A red birth-mark, a blotch like the shape of some island, adorned his cheek. He didn’t look surprised to see her.