In the afternoon of the next day, after a night of drinking and crying, only partially related to her previous recollections, and then a day of cleaning up and moping, and a bit of exercise and food, the small towhead sat down to write some more.
'It ain' like anyone's goin' read this ever, I reckons,' she mused to herself, 'but still oughta try an' make it co'erent as I can, an' not jus' leave thin's undone.' She took out her quill, cleaning it and sharpening it, along with the flaking ink-brick and a new sheet on which to continue writing.
I left off last time writing about how Wren died, and how Magpie and me was having a hard time with that. We carried on as best we could, and still did all right for ourselves in staying fed and clothed. Well, clothed by our standards of the time, I mean. We had clean rags that covered us like clothes, and we were warm enough, anyways. Being only two girls would have been tough, but both Magpie and me was getting pretty good at our knife-fighting, at least in so far as we had need of it against the kinda cobbers what kilt Wren.
Besides, Magpie was young enough it was pretty obvious she wasn't just a whore with a kid, even as little as I have always been. Between that being not quite normal, and the fight we both put up, we mostly got left alone. Not always, but with two of us making trouble for the cobbers, it took a real mean and drunk and big one to force himself on Magpie, and even them left me alone. Until I started to get a bit of curves, too, that were.
That made things a lot worse for us at night. It was mostly aright for a while, but Magpie was getting too broke up about it. She told me she couldn't lose me like she lost Wren, and she knew she would iffen she stayed with me. I don't know but maybe she was right. Doesn't really matter iffen she was, though. She made her plan, and found herself a way out.
See, Magpie always was a great talker. People listened to her stories, and she could talk lots better than the rest of us gutter-snipes. She could pass for better, excepting her clothes. She figured with that, and talked her way into learning some sewing. I learnt some of it too, watching her, but mostly she was fixing herself up some better clothes from pieces of good rags we snatched.
After a while, she had herself a couple of nice dresses, and started passing for more upscale. She put her plan into working, and got herself a man who didn't mind that she didn't have any dowry or nothing. She got herself married to him, and off the streets. Bad as that was for me, I was glad for her at the time. Later I learnt he knew better about her, and once he got her good and depending on him, and away from her friends, he started beating her and such when he run out of money. She didn't have nowheres to run, and tried to fight back. She weren't hitched quite a year afore he kilt her on one of their fights. I were told they hanged him. I don't know iffen that's true. Maybe my friends just told me that to keep me from trying to kill him myself, and maybe get kilt.
Anyways, that's kinda getting ahead of myself. In the meanwhile, that left me in a bad spot, being alone on the streets, and all. The other girls were hooked up with boys, and I didn't like what I saw of those set ups. I didn't want to trust no boys that close to me when I was sleeping, especially not after what already been happening to me from strangers. Looking back, how I was reacting makes it clear I just don't like boys, and likes girls – which is plenty clear now. I didn't know at the time such a thing was even possible, though. I just figured I didn't like those boys much.
So rather than doing what the other girls were, which looked to me like trading one kind of whoring to avoid getting used or having to take up the more regular kind, well, I started finding sneakier places to hide out at night. A few others of the older gutter-snipes were already doing something similar, so I had to look around a while, but I found some good spots on roof-tops I could use that were still up against chimneys. I had to have a few, though, because that could run me afoul of folks what owned the buildings at times, iffen they noticed, so I needed spare places.
Being strong for my size, and small, I didn't have too much trouble climbing things, though, and I got good at jumping across the gaps, so it worked out most times. I could still run into trouble with the cobbers what started drinking early, or were up early still drunk, so my nights weren't entirely safe from such abuse, but it was a whole lot better than it could have been, I reckon. That was no kind of life to keep living, though, and I knew that. I started looking for my own way out – one that wasn't going to leave me stuck with no man what I didn't want anyways to abuse me or kill me for daring to want better.
I didn't know anything about how the travelling traders operated, but I figured them as my best way out. I kinda figured I'd have to be useful to them, or at least not too much burden, or they wouldn't let me come along. The farther away from the Lake-town we got afore they knew about me, the less likely they'd be to send me back instead – or so I was hoping.
So I started watching the traders what came through town. I reckoned too much sneaky-type watching would get them nervous, so I came out and sat around where they could see me, and didn't get too close to their goods. They were curious at first, so I talked to them, asking them what their travelling was like, and if they could tell me stories. Some of them did, even, but others decided I was too much bother. They didn't try very hard to chase me off, though, since I didn't make them any trouble.
I thought I learnt a lot about how they did what they do. Maybe for a street waif I even did, I don't know. Sure seems like I didn't learn near as much as I was thinking I had at the time, anyways. Even so, I did learn something about the routes some of them took, and managed to make sense of those routes against stories I was being told by the friendly ones.
I knew by then that I was in a spot of land between nasty, rocky areas on one side, and a scary forest on the other, that even its own elves didn't like a whole lot – not most of it, anyways. But there was this trade road through the forest, leading west, to places where other people lived, and where I might like to see. After almost two years of talking with the traders, or just being around them, I picked the friendliest ones what used that trade road through the Mirkwood, and waited until they were getting ready to head west again. A couple of times with some other groups, I trailed them out of town that way a night or two, so I'd have some idea what I was getting into. I didn't like it much, but it was still better than watching for drunk cobbers looking to use me during the night.
Anyways, I left a bit afore they did, and kinda waited on the path, and snuck along their trail until almost the fifth night out, when they surprised me by stopping to climb a tree for a look-about. I didn't know they did that, so I didn't hide from it, and they saw me. They didn't know it was me, or maybe didn't know whether I was out for stealing, so they kinda snuck around themselves until they got in behind me. From that close, they knew who I was by then, and they called out to me, asking what I was doing.
Well, I was caught, and five days seemed maybe to be good enough anyways, so I told them I wanted to join up, at least to travel with them. They weren't none too sure about that, seeing as how I didn't know anything about cooking or hunting, but they decided my skinning and sewing might be some help, and I could climb trees faster than any of them, so maybe their look-abouts wouldn't have to take so long. Besides, just as I was hoping, they were too good-hearted to want to just abandon me that far out from town, but they didn't think they could take the time to haul me back.
That night they camped a bit early, even counting the delay in finding me. That's because it was the last night outside the Mirkwood for a long while, and they didn't want to go in until morning. That suited me, since it gave me a night with them where, if I was wrong about them, I could still run away and try a different group or something later. The night was just fine, and nobody tried anything. Far as I could tell, they didn't even think about it. Maybe that's because they were more decent sorts.
Other folks have writ about travelling through the Mirkwood, I reckon, and we didn't go having adventures about it. I did get a surprise – and so did they – when it was time to butcher a stag they shot, though. It didn't occur to me that people don't just use both hands with a knife in each when doing skinning and cutting. They hadn't seen anyone do it that way afore, and thought it something special. I guess they figured I was for real about my knife-fighting, anyways, even iffen I was a loss for hunting.
After about a month, and lots of tree-climbing every few days to be sure there weren't no fires and such, we came out of the forest again. And that's enough practice for now.
She sighed at herself, shaking her head. 'Tryin' t' justify m'self to a piece o' parchment now? Mebbe I needs to go socialise a while, no matter 'ow depressin' it gets after a while.' After some time spent cleaning up after her writing, she left her room and went out into the evening.