Dairine pulled her cloak tight about her as the rain poured down on her. It had been a month since she'd fled the lands of her birth, seeking but never finding a permanent shelter. She constantly looked over her shoulder, fearful even now that her stepmother would find a way of hunting her down.
The last village she'd been in had driven her out at the point of pitchforks because they didn't know her. She'd stumbled into the forest. She tried to keep near the edge but having to avoid fallen trees and dense brush, she'd been forced deeper in.
Dairine glanced up, trying to reckon her position. But without the sun or stars, she couldn't do it. She stumbled and slammed her shoulder into a tree. She cried out as the pain radiated down her arm. She leaned against the trunk. Sobs stole her breath and hot tears mingled with the cold rain on her cheeks.
She allowed herself a few minutes to grieve before standing up and wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She shifted the pack she'd purchased at her first stop to a more comfortable position before moving forward. Peering through the gloom she was at first unaware of the thin tendril of smoke. It wasn't until she smelled it that she noticed it.
Dairine looked around and saw, in the distance, what looked to be a cottage. She knew that there were woodcutters who lived in the forest. Perhaps they'd be willing to let her spend the night. She couldn't offer much in payment since her pouch of coins had been reduced to only a few coppers. She'd learned a few things along her journey. Perhaps they'd be willing to trade work for a patch by the fire.
It took longer than she expected, but she reached the cottage. She looked around. It was more worn down than she'd thought. The door was leaning inwards and one of the windows was broken and had been repaired with a piece of wood propped against it.
Dairine knocked, but there was no answer. Hesitantly she pushed the door open. It stuck a little but finally allowed her inside. Water continued to drip down on her head. She moved to the side and saw that the roof leaked in a few places. As she looked around she noticed that the only piece of furniture was a battered table. There was a sink with a hand pump to fill it. Off to one side were what looked to be half a dozen piles of blankets.
Dairine found a corner and tucked herself into it. She leaned against the wall and allowed herself to start crying again. Exhausted, she didn't even realize she'd fallen asleep.
Rough hands seized her, startling her awake. “Well, lookie here. We got us a thief.” A man had yanked her to her feet, and one arm went across her throat. “What should we do with him?”
“Your eyes are as bad as ever,” another man said. “That's a woman.”
“Don't matter,” the first man said. “She's a thief either way.”
“How do you know she's a thief, Eamon?” a third voice said. “Did you see her steal anything? Everything that was here before is still in their normal spots.”
“Then why was she hiding in here?” the man named Eamon asked.
“Let her go and let's ask her,” the third man said. Eamon released her and gave her a little push forward. “Now, young lady, why are you in our house?”
“I was just trying to get out of the rain,” Dairine said. “That's all. I didn't touch anything.”