I think it's too late. I hope not, but there was a reason why...I was unconsciously...trying to get it off. Thanks, dad, but this is really a case of just enough, too late.
She's such a small child, barely past eleven, and yet she walks with neither worry nor care. She's lost but walks as if she has a destination. When she gets bored she runs for a while, enjoying the wind against her face. She's not tired.
The first person she comes across is a woman, past her middle years, but not yet burdened with age.
"Child," the woman asks, wondering what so young a girl was doing alone, in the vast hills. "where are your parents?"
She shrugs, and replies cheerfully, "somewhere." She giggles, as if she too is aware of her strange circumstances.
The woman pauses, taken aback. Her dark brown eyes survey the girl for a moment, taking in her messy but clean hair, her generally carefree but cared-for appearance. Her clothes are not of fine material, but they are well made. Apart from a few smudges of dirt, they're clean - a description that matches the state of the girl. She looks healthy and happy, and surprisingly unconcerned about being alone.
"Well." The woman murmurs, as if to herself. Speaking louder, she asks, "then do you know where's the nearest town?"
"That way." Her small hands points behind.
"Around there," the girl shrugs again, and smiles.
The woman returns the smile. "Thank you."
"Sure!" They start walking at the same time, the woman heading in the direction indicated.
A pale purple butterfly flutters past and the girl chases after it.
She spots him as a small, moving speck in the distance. She doesn't care, but the direction she walks in coincides with his. The man comes into view slowly, and the first thing she notices are his cool, blue eyes. The rest of him seem to materialize as decorations, details that appear the closer he gets.
His hair is dark, like his clothes. He carries a small brown travel pack on one shoulder. Unlike the woman, he makes straight for the girl.
She seems to view his focus on her with curiosity only. "Hello," her voice is bright, unworried.
He is a thief. He makes a living by stealing from others, taking things that he has worked for, but has no right to. He is experienced in his craft, and he has never been caught. That doesn't mean he has never been punished, but he is who he is.
"Hello," he speaks, and she tilts her head at his strange inflection.
"Hello," she replies reflexively to his tone. "Are you headed to town too?"
He shakes his head, a wry curl to his lips. "I..." he begins, then he seems to think of something. He looks at her, pauses, then bends down. Up close, his eyes are even more striking. "I'm going to meet my family," he says slowly, and she wonders if he thinks she cannot understand.
"Your family?" She asks, curious.
"Yes. It's my daughter's birthday today."
"Yes, she's lovely...about your age, I think. But I forgot to buy her a present...and she was looking forward to a ribbon, too, one just like that one." He points towards the bright yellow ribbon on her dress.
"This?" The girl looks down at it. "Well, you can have it," she slips it off and holds it out to him.
He blinks. That was easy. "You sure?" He asks, surprised.
He takes the ribbon. "Thank you. Is there anything I can do for you? In exchange."
"Oh..." she considers. "Why do you speak that way?"
His expression freezes, and then, for a second, his expression is genuine. She catches a flicker of sorrow on his face. Then he stands slowly, the yellow ribbon fluttering in his hand. He smiles, a practiced expression. "You're sharp to notice," he says easily. "I'm deaf. I suppose that's why I speak different."
"What?" She exclaims. "But you can hear me!"
"No, I can read your lips."
"Really?" Her eyes are wide.
She thinks about this for a brief moment. "You can't hear me," she says slowly, thinking.
"That's right." He nods.
"Can you hear yourself?"
For a moment, she can tell what he's thinking. He wants to walk away.
He wants to drop my ribbon that he doesn't need and just walk away.
She doesn't understand why.
"No..." His voice is odd, for a different reason. His eyes are hard, and cold as ice.
"I'm sorry," she says honestly, and his expression softens slightly.
"Thank you." He stands for a moment, looking at the child.
She smiles, and waves. "Goodbye!"
He watches her skip in the grass for a while, then turns and continues on his way.
"...and she tricked me, the wicked girl, I was lost for half a day, and what would I have done if I hadn't come across a traveler. I thought I was going to wander there forever. If I hadn't met him, I just might have, those meadows are endless." A woman complains heatedly to her cousin, cradling a mug of cold tea.
"You walked by the meadows down past Helmer's place, you say?" Her cousin asks.
"Yes, many hour later than I would have liked."
Her response is greeted with a frown. "Helmer doesn't have a child. He's not married."
"I know?" A pregnant pause. "Oh..."
The man searches his pack, sure that he had left it inside. He opens his pack in the inn and starts emptying it, ignoring the strange looks directed his way.
One by one, he places his possessions on the rickety table. Some he leaves inside, the ones that he would rather people not know he have. His thorough search produces everything he knows is inside, save one.
That night he tries not to think about it, like he tries not think about the child in the meadows.