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Return to the Forest

The hollow of her tree was a welcoming sight. Bending down to place her bow, quiver, and pack inside, her hands trailed over the cool, packed-down dirt. Gods, how she wanted to curl up there and nap. Even after days of sleeping like a corpse, her strength was still pitiful and sparse. But there was a more pressing matter. 

The matter of a bath.

Sweating out a fever is no pleasant matter, nor is remaining in the clothes in which you sweated. Food would be next on her list of must-haves, but for now, the nearby stream was calling. Fat and gurgling with late spring-melt, the water would be deliciously cold. She stood, panting a bit, her head slightly dizzy with weakness still. Her hands were shaky, but determined, as she peeled off her shirt and trousers, throwing them over a nearby rock for scrubbing that she would do later. Small-clothes soon followed, and with an eager sigh, she crossed the glade on bare feet, descended the muddy bank, and dipped into the water.

A smooth boulder parted the stream halfway across, and it was to this spot that she waded. Propping her backside against the rock, she sprawled out backwards, letting the icy water rush over her, whisking away the traces of sickness and bedridden stink, pulling her coppery-red hair out into the current, leaving only her face above the water so she could breathe.

So. The fever hadn't claimed her life after all. She couldn't help feeling a faint surprise at this revelation. She'd been half-convinced that it was her punishment, and that Death would snake its cold, heartless tentacles into her hand and draw her off whether she liked it or not. 

Because of what she'd done. What they'd done.

So many countless hours, days, weeks of confusion and conflict. Things weren't any simpler now. Were they? Why did she now feel such a lightness, such a relief? It wasn't just the return to her isolated home in the forest. The fragrant, mossy earth, the dappled sunshine, and the music of the little river rushing through its channel. What, then? 

Perhaps it was because everything had finally been said. She was through with holding back, biting on her tongue, swallowing her feelings. And while the future was just as blurry and uncertain as it had ever been, she no longer felt the aching guilt of holding the strings, trying to steer it this way or that. Alone, she could finally breathe. Having told him everything she needed to tell him. Nothing held back. Not clinging anymore, not chasing, not running, not hiding. No regrets. Sincerest wishes for his well-being and happiness. And now...waiting.

A faint ringing sound caught her attention suddenly. A sound of something small and metallic. Her eyes flew open, she sat up abruptly, only to catch a sunbeam glinting off something just inches from her hand. Something being rapidly carried away by the stream's current. 

The pendant. 

A frantic gasp tore through her throat as she lurched forward, grabbing at the water. Small though it was, it was heavy enough to begin to sink. Her fingers plunged into the stream, scrabbling desperately at the rocks and twigs below, inadvertently stirring up clouds of mud that obscured her view.

"No, no, no, no!" she whispered, her hands clawing into the sandy stream bed. Sinking to her knees in the water, she began patting about more calmly, her fingertips tracing over every pebble, every feathery weed. Her chest heaved with her labored breaths, and she began to feel herself growing dizzy again. Not now! she thought furiously. 

But it was only then, when she paused in her desperate groping, that her eyes were lifted enough to catch the flicker of sunlight once again. A small branch leaned over the stream a few feet away, its twigs half-submerged in the water. She crawled towards it, too weak-limbed to stand. There, snagged by its broken chain, the necklace bobbed, caught in the swift current. A trembling hand wrapped around it, pulling it loose, and clutching it to her bare breast.