Continued …..

“Neigh!” The palomino horse reared its legs. Hanna could hear the gravel of the old road scrape against the horse’s hooves. She felt dizzy. She felt herself being reared off the saddle, her head tumbling backwards. Her black plaits jerked backwards, and everything went black.

Hanna had been travelling for a few days now. She had hugged her beloved father, goodbye. She had silently given thanks to the mountains and river that surrounded her little hut. Many tears were shed, but she knew she had to leave. At the beginning, the terrain was rough and harsh, but soon  the land became flat. Hanna knew this would and could not last.

Now it seemed, her horse had reached a bit of hard terrain. When Hanna regained consciousness, she felt dizzy and light-headed. She stumbled up and looked around. At first glance, she couldn’t see the palomino anywhere near. But then, she saw a silhouette galloping of into the distance, looking boundlessly happy.

“Horse! Palomino! Come back!” She shouted, running after the leaping figure. It was no use, and she knew that, but she continued running, knowing she could not outrun a horse. Hanna had never been a fast runner, but she was now running blindly. So blindly that she did not notice the large, jutting rock in front of her. Her foot flipped backwards and hit her ankle.

Hanna fell forwards, tasting dirt on her teeth. Her dress was now in a shabby state, with rips on the hems and dirt at the front. She tried to stand. “Yowch!” She yelped and felt a burning sensation in her ankle. This was not good. She could not stand. She hated this. She was helpless. Hanna heard a squeak, a high-pitched squeal.

Realization struck her. Mri-Mri! The purpose of this journey! The cute, yet soon to be fearsome beast leaped over to her and squeaked again. “I know, I know! We have to get going!” Hanna gritted her teeth. This was frustration more than she had ever felt before. Her journey was finishing already, before they had reached even their first stop!

Mri-Mri seemed to be running into the distance, trying to signal something to the weeping girl. “Yes, I know, we should go!” The child’s voice had an edge to it that surprised even herself as she replied to the beast’s unworded call. But that was when she realized something, obscured in the screen of mist. A few wooden and thatched roofs peeking out of the beautiful haze.

A town. A town! Hanna would run (if she could), leaping and shouting (if she could) to it. She realized that keeping a Karlmaetra in a small town would be virtual death, especially in this time of ignorance. She glanced around. A spot of wet, brown mud was lying nearby. It was nearly, in fact the exact same color as most of Mri-Mri.
Hanna hobbled closer and closer to the yellow roofs.

More of the hurriedly made huts were quickly becoming visible as she crawled along the grassy plain. A pure brown Mri-Mri (“brilliantly” disguised as a common Muddenowl) hopped cheerfully along.

The jumpy creature had both the appearance and disposition of the ordinary creek creature, thought Hanna. Maybe too cheerful, she proceeded to consider, as the animal made a sound almost like laughter. Oh well. The girl did look rather funny, in both senses, with her limp leg being dragged behind her and her hands caked with mud.

They were now in the confines of the village, near the tavern-the hub of trading and life that dominated the village. Summoning all her mental and physical strength, she stood, still limping. She leaned on the tavern door and pushed it open. The rough talking, shouting and hum of chatter ceased as the burly occupants of the building turned and saw the young and small girl enter, an almost non-existent arura of confidence around her.

After a full 5 seconds of hush, a large and muscly woman spoke, in the rich and deep accent typical of the plains. “Who ar’ ya, eh?” The sheer force of the voice caused Hanna to shrink and lose her effort of will, and so collapsing once again. The last thing she saw before her vision lapsed was a small boy striding up to her with the confidence of a grown person.

Hanna’s eyes slowly, and with much effort, forced open. A circle of rough and unfamiliar faces peered down at her. Closing the rough circle was the same boy she had briefly glimpsed before collision with the wall. As her vision cleared, and the blurry lines of the figures straight, she noticed the boy’s most prominent features. Foremost, he was large. Really large. 

His hair was brown and curly, and his eyes wide and brown. In short, there was nothing unusual about his looks. The glint in his eyes were a different matter. He had that unmistakable sense of confidence, even so for a plain’s boy, where responsibility was thrust on from a young age.

But something else brought Hanna’s thoughts away from the self-assured boy. Her leg. Her broken ankle. It was now covered in a putrid, fish smelling mix of… Hanna had no idea. It looked simply like a black glop, with sticky golden patches throughout the rough mixture.

“W-what is t-this?!” She enquired timidly. “Wot, the ward? Cure. For evil spirits in the ankle. Get all the nasties oot. ” Speaking this time was a burly woman with blonde, rough hair in rough and tangled buns. Her face and dress were covered with flour which contrasted harshly with her red, grim face.

Hanna fainted. Again.

This time, as soon as she woke, she felt a hard, meaty and warm hand slap against her white cheeks, vibrating stingingly. “Weak, are you?” The boy spoke. “Annda, do not slap our guest.” He said again, referring to the angry-looking woman. He didn’t say this cruelly, or even jeeringly. He just said as if it was a fact, in a curious way.

“My name’s Claemes, and I’m nearly 13. What about you?” This he said kindly. “I’m Hanna. I’m 12. I’m going to the ca-” At this point, Hanna, emboldened, stopped abruptly. She mentally beat herself. She could not afford to give the purpose of her journey away. No, the country folk here were too suspicious.

“You’ll be right. We gave you bread, butter and water. Tell us if ya need northing.” An old, crooked and grumpy looking, though still muscly and large, man spoke now. The curious circle of villagers left, all except Annda and Claemes. ” You forgot ya Muddenowl. Thought I’d gid it a bath, eh? Brought the basin ere? Good place a’ any.”

Annda brought a thin, steel basin out, full of soapy water, and a struggling, squirming, Mri-Mri. Holding the fearsome beast between to chubby fingers, Annada attempted to place the mud-caked creature in the illuminating water. But not before Mri-Mri had stuck her razor-sharp teeth into Annda’s huge thumb. “Yaehh! You-!”Mri-Mri fell, tumbling and curling. Hanna watched in slow motion as the water was impacted, the mud soaking off the tummy.

“Hah! I knew thr was somein’ wrong! You’re a witch, with your baby beast of the devil! Witch! Witch!” Annada spoke triumphantly, her voice rising with glee as she shouted every word. Hanna could hear the thumping, hollow footsteps of the villagers running up the stairs. It seems her death would be inevitable, and she thought the punishment of -well- more than imprisonment, was not a nice one.

But she forgot that there was one more villager in the room. Her eyes met instantaneously with Claemens, and she (her leg healed) pushed her thin blanket off and leaped off, grabbing Mri-Mri.

Claemens and Hanna were now galloping down the stairs. When they reached the floor beneath them, the mob of villagers’ yells, hubbub and footsteps getting louder, Claemens signaled to the open window and ran there. Hanna followed his every move.

The pair climbed out of the window, leg after leg. They darted over to the village stables, there now bare feet thudding along the straw, and irritating their skin. They hopped on two gray and white horses, and galloped, away from that village one had called home.