Cat puke, I thought sleepily as I sat down to rest and watch the sun set. That’s what the sky looks like. Cat puke, if your cat’s been eating lots of salmon. The clouds, with their pinkish tint, did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by a high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold.
My stomach rumbled at the thought of salmon, or any food, for that matter. It had been two days since we’d eaten anything. I was increasingly worried about Lytling, who cried whenever she wasn’t asleep. She was simply sobbing now, too tired to wail.
A rabbit hopped unconcernedly at the base of the hill, pausing to drink from a puddle that had gathered in crook between two hills. I stiffened, staring down at it hungrily. I hadn’t had meat in awhile. The rohirric family I had been with had eaten meat rarely, choosing to live off the small garden outside instead.
I glanced down at Lytling, who had finally drifted to sleep, though she was still sniffling. Maybe I could leave her for a bit. The grass made a good cushion, and I’d just be down the hill aways. Not too far.
My mind made up, I set her down in the grass, and cautiously made my way downhill.
The rabbit’s ears went up. It froze. Flattened itself out on the ground, using an old lepine trick that fooled hawks, (who could only tell the difference between prey and grass if the prey was moving), and most all of its other predators. But it was too late. I’d already seen it.
Even with my lack of weapons, I was pretty sure that I could capture it. I’d spent many a year of my childhood chasing’ my pet rabbits in our large yard, and occasionally chasing the wild ones behind our houses. I had become pretty efficient at catching rabbits. I hoped that I still was.
I pretended I didn’t see bunny, walking nonchalantly to the left, and heading away from it, keeping my eyes fixed on another spot, though I was watching it out of the corner of my eyes. It remained still.
I turned as fast as I could and pounced, only to have it wriggle out of my hands and shoot away into the night. I howled, angry, and scrambled after.
I’d no idea I could run so fast. I suppose it was hunger that drove me to race after the poor rabbit, who was frantic by now. Even when I lost sight of the actual rabbit, I could follow the ripples in the long grass. I pounced often, but each time I was unsuccessful in catching my prey. C’mon, Ally!I chided myself, this was easy when you were a kid! But the plains of Rohan offered more places for the rabbit to run than my walled-in backyard, or the flat, open parks where I used to chase rabbits.
I was panting by now, and the ripples in the grass were far ahead. I gave up, feeling ready to cry. What was I going to do? Even if I’d caught the rabbit, there’d be nothing to feed Lytling with! Tired, I headed back to where I’d left Lytling.
The return trip took much longer than on the way out, and when I finally reached Lytling, the stars were out, and peeping through the clouds. She was awake, and whimpering again. I hugged her to my chest, wishing with all my heart I could give her food.
“Please, God, ” I prayed as I held her, “Help me to find food for Lytling. Please. Shhh…” I whispered to baby, as she began to cry even louder. “I don’t want her to die, God. Please, help.”
With the morning came a sort of calm. I was more determined than ever to find a settlement, any settlement. I walked as fast as I could in my exhaustion, heading in no particular direction. Lytling slept most of the time, her little golden head leaning against my shoulder. That alone was enough encouragement to keep me going.
I saw smoke on the horizon at about noon. At first, I was excited, thinking that it was the smoke of village fires, but as I drew closer, I saw that the smoke was much too dense and dark to be a cluster of small fires. With a sinking heart, I realized that it was another burnt-out village. The wild men must’ve been busy.
I sat on one of the many rocks, and simply stared at the smoking, blackened ruins, feeling nothing. I was, I suppose, too tired to think or feel. I coughed as the smoke filled my lungs. Lytling blinked at the village, seemingly not really seeing them.
I sat, watching the now small flames lick the ruins, and die. The feelings seeped into me slowly. The realization of what this meant came first, and with it despair, knowing the next village had to be over a day’s walk away. Most likely the Wild men would get there before me.
Lytling’s blue eyes looked wearily up into mine as I explained to her why there was no food. Even though she couldn’t really understand me, I felt that I owed her at least that much. I finally broke down crying, not able to bear that tiny, sorrowful face. As my warm tears splattered on her face, Lytling took one of her chubby hands over her face to block my tears, and began to cry as well.
This was altogether too much for me. There had to be something for her to eat! Anything! I set her down, and rushed at the burning wreckage. My bare feet singed as I ran through the hot ashes. I scrambled over blackened beams, and dug franticly, trying to find something, anything, to feed Lytling with.
“Come on!” I yelled, furious at the hot wreckage that laughingly, (or so I thought in my anger), hid all food from me. My skirt caught fire, and I franticly beat it with my hand, not caring if I burnt my hands in the process.
I threw a smoldering wooden shield out of my way, frantic to find food. There! A cracked clay jar was sitting on the ground. White liquid was leaking out of the crack. Milk! I grabbed it, and whooped, happier and more delighted than I’d been since I’d come to this godforsaken country. I hastily took my skirts and used it to plug up the crack, which was as long as my middle finger.
The jar was hot from being buried under all that ash for who knows how long, but I held tight onto it, and refused to follow my reflexes and drop it. I ran, excited, to where Lytling lay, still crying.
Hastily, I set the jar on the ground, knelt, and picked her up. I poured milk into my other hand from the crack, and held it to Lytling’s lips. She stopped crying as she tasted the rather warm milk, and eagerly began to drink more. I smiled as she ate, my heart slightly less heavy. Some hope at last.