In the days that they had been travelling, Eirian had made two friends. A brother and sister who were unaccompanied by any adults, they were quiet to the point that Eirian did not even know their names. The boy was slightly taller than his sister, with tanned skin and messy brown hair– the girl was obviously the younger, with a freckled face hiding behind scraggly brown hair as she clutched the arm of her elder brother.
They had made it through the mountain pass in good time, and the weather had begun to clear as they’d reached the forests. Now the dilemma was carving their way through untrodden earth – a wonder to the guards that the path had been lost so quickly to forestation. They were making little progress, stopping every hour or so to clear away debris. The men and able women were called on to help, though none were given tools to aid them. The youngest children huddled together in groups as the adults attacked the vegetation with ferocity. Eirian sat beside her two new friends, her clothes were torn and her skin itched, she craved the warm tickle of bath water.
“Get out the way boy!"
Eirian looked up, just in time to see one of the guards swipe at a small figure. The boy yelped, crashing into the earth below. Eirian was on her feet in an instant, she rushed to the downed boy, her heart pounding in her chest
Owen had lost weight since the last time she’d seen him, his skin was clinging to his skeleton – lacking in any fleshy form. His hair was long, draped down his face and resting on his shoulders. His clothes and hair were coated in mud, matted with animal fur and faeces.
“Owen,” she crooned, kneeling beside him.
Owen looked up at her, his green eyes burning. “What are you doing here?” He hissed at her through clenched teeth, “Eirian do you know what you’ve done?”
Eirian was surprised to feel wetness on her cheeks, and she couldn’t help but smile. “I found you, I finally found you.”
Her friend rolled on his side, and she helped to pull him to his feet. They moved away from the crowd of people at work, Eirian smiling all the while.
“Eirian, do you realise what you’ve done?” Owen asked when they reached a quieter place.
“Yes, I do” Eirian confirmed with a nod. “I’m going to live with you, no matter what.”
Owen was shaking his head, lifting his hands up in frustration. “You don’t understand, you’re not like me – when you’re older, they will do things to you.”
He looked at her with desperate eyes, and Eirian vaguely understood what he was implying. She had told herself not to worry, that her father’s laws weren’t as popular in Iridia, and that no man would come along hoping for fair looking children from her.
Eirian took Owen’s bleeding hands in her own, “We’ll still be together” she whispered.
There was a resounding crack from behind them, and the pair turned to watch the fall of a great hunk of wood crashing down from the trees above them. All the people dived for safety, the children began frantically crying for comfort and the loud rough voice of a guard rang out above it all.
“Set up camp for the night!”