By the time the guard at the entrance to their cell wakes up and realizes what has happened, Ash is far away.
The people of the settlement are free to come and go, so the guards at the mouth of their mine paid her no attention when she appeared, wrapped head-to-toe in rags, and slipped away into the midnight sun.
She totes her pack with the map Odile had shown her in the book, which she carefully and quietly tore out of the book before she left. She also hauls as much water as her pack can hold; at night, most of the torches that illuminate the mine are extinguished, so she crept down the tunnels by touch to where the water was stored in ancient jugs and filled her carrier from that.
She also took as much food as she could find in their cell; she was certain Odile would understand. She is hopeful she will be able to find more food on her journey.
Hopeful. Not a word Ash would have used, she thinks, prior to her enforced imprisonment with Odile. But in all the time she spent with the chief elder (and Ash cannot think of the old woman in any other way), Odile has changed how she looks at their situation—not as a series of events that could never change, but as a circumstance that they might be able to influence, if they only knew how.
There might be some hope, Odile had said the night before.
And there was only one way to know for sure.
So Ash walks.
Many klicks up the road, she comes across what looks like a bundle of rags. As she draws near, she recognizes it as a body, and when she bends down to examine it, she unwraps the head and discovers the gentle features of Odile’s friend, Mae.
Her eyes are cloudy and stare unseeing into the harsh and distant sky.
She does not appear to have been taken. Her clothes seem undisturbed, which means Ash is the first to find her. There is no water container nor any evidence of a food packet. So Ells sent her out with nothing. She was certain to drag up without anything to sustain her.
Using her staff, Ash digs a trough in the ocher dust large enough for Mae’s slender body. She covers it over as best she can so Mae will not be found and abused by raggedmen.
There are no longer any prayers to say, and nothing to pray to, but Ash sits beside Mae’s makeshift grave for a while, trying to comfort Mae’s spirit, if it continues to linger. She wonders how she will tell Odile about this.
She says goodbye to the elder. Then she continues on her way.
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