After weeks of walking, only a few stale crusts of bread remained. Rel yawned and crawled out from the rocky overhang. He slung the nearly empty sack over his shoulder and headed toward bushes near the river looking for anything edible. Dyree had stuffed as much food as she could into the sack, almost more than the village could spare. They both thought it would be enough for Rel until he found a caravan willing to take him on. But the terrain he crossed had been too barren for foraging, and his stomach complained day and night. His love for Dyree was the nourishment that pushed him on.
This morning he was lucky. He frightened away a few birds and hastily stripped berries from the bushes where they had feasted. For each greedy handful he stuffed into his mouth, he poured another handful into his sack. He licked his lips, savoring the sweet tangy juice that dribbled down his chin. His hunger sated, he turned toward the narrow river for a drink.
On his knees, Rel plunged his head under the cold water, relishing its crisp, refreshing taste. He sat up and was about to shake the wet hair out of his face when he heard voices. He was in the open, no hiding place near enough to disappear into. Rel reached into the pouch belted around his waist and brought out the short knife that was his only weapon. He backed slowly away from the river, listening.
Three children carrying small baskets meandered into view, sprinting forward when they spotted the berry bushes. The oldest, a girl, saw right away that the bushes had been picked over. Shading her eyes with one hand, she looked around, searching. She found Rel.
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