I wrote this up a bit ago, as something for the palisade, and I just edited it a little now. No prizes for guessing what it's about... Spoiler : [TAB]The little girl peeked over the windowsill and ducked down quickly. Somebody was guarding the village gate tonight, though she couldn't make out quite who. That made her cross, though not surprised; the adults had guarded the gate each night since spring, on account of the shadows creeping in the forest. This made things harder, though. [TAB]Nevertheless, she slipped into her out-clothes as quietly as possible, picking out her thickest skirt and her woollen mittens as it would soon be Fall. [TAB]At last, she crept to the other bed, in which her brother was a softly snoring, blanketed lump. Picking a likely spot on the sheets, she gave it a gentle poke, then a harder one. The sheets blankets shook for a moment, but then nothing. Wrinkling her nose in irritation, she looked towards the window again. There was plenty of night left, but she wanted to be far away once dawn came. If she could have, she'd have left him there, but as the lady had said, he was family, so she grabbed a pin from her pack and started thrusting it. A muffled squeak later and he ripped the sheets off, tearing the pin from her fingers. His plump face stared at her accusingly. [TAB]"What do you wa-ant?" he moaned, far louder than she'd have liked. [TAB]"We're going tonight", she hissed in a far lower tone. "Get dressed and tie your boots on tight!" [TAB]He blinked at her owlishly for a moment, then collapsed back into the bed. "Don't wanna", she thought she heard him mumble. [TAB]She stood motionless as his left arm rooted around the bed for his sheets, and tried not to bite her lip in anger. How could he be such a slug on such an important night?, she thought to herself. Her foot started trembling as she held back the urge to kick him, but that would just make him cry in that high-pitched, accusing voice of his. She'd have to do this the quiet way. [TAB]"Don't you remember what I told you?" she whispered over his squirming form one last time. "She's got all those sweet things! Like pears! And syrup brittle! And pork! And - " (here she ripped the sheets again from his head) " - honey apples!" [TAB]He lay there with his eyes jammed shut, but his jaw moved as he swallowed a bit of saliva. [TAB]"An' we never got to go back?" [TAB]"No!" [TAB]"An' she won't make us do any chores, or washing, or anything?" [TAB]"No!" [TAB]A few minutes later they were sneaking through the back doorway, laden up like miniature soldiers on a campaign. She led him around the outer path, squeezing between the backs of the houses on their right and the wooden wall on their left. Finally they got to the granary, which was jammed too close to the palisade to squeeze by, at least for grown-ups. That was why nobody had ever noticed the little gap in the stakes in the wall behind it that they now worked their way through. [TAB]Finally, they trotted out from the wall and worked their way to the forest's edge under the starlight. Her brother seemed to be cheering up now, perhaps already tasting the sweetmeats he'd been promised, but she was having to hold back a shiver. They were out of view of the village now, but the stars above seemed like little eyes watching her from impossibly far away. Thousands upon thousands of eyes. [TAB]She nearly sprinted for the trees near the end, and had to wait for her brother to catch up with that roly-poly gait of his. Under the safety of the tree's shadows they stumbled forwards over the roots and vines, scraping knees and catching their clothes on twigs. Suddenly she found that he was in the lead, and she had to struggle to keep up with him as he barreled forwards. Sweat blocked what little vision she had, but it seemed the branches up ahead had a reddish sheen of light on them. [TAB]"Wait for - wait up!" she whispered hoarsely, but he paid no heed and they rushed on towards the glowing light. At last she burst through some bushes after him and tumbled into the middle of a clearing. [TAB]"Child. Children." [TAB]She brushed the sweat from her face with her sleeve, and blinked with her brother in the flickering hearthlight at the lady sitting there. The hard leather and gaunt face made her look like a man, but her hair was long and black, and her face had a quiet smile etched upon it. [TAB]"So I hear the two of you would like to have a new family?"