The day was bright, the sun moving lazily over a sky that couldn’t quite decide what shade of blue it wanted to be. Small, puffy clouds shone a dazzling white. Tima lie on her back in the tall grass. The fresh blisters on her hands ached and wept, making her hiss through her teeth in pain. She felt like crying again and hated herself for it. She had cried far too often in the past two weeks and she felt like an ungrateful wretch every time the tears poured down her cheeks unbidden.
Suck it up. You have been so blessed. You still have your life, after all. Others were not so lucky.
Before her thoughts could travel back to that horrible day, she gave her smarting hands a little shake and sat up, her stringy blonde locks falling over one shoulder. This small respite from her daily chores had neither calmed her mind nor left her well-rested, but at least her blisters had a minute to breathe. She clumsily stood up without using her hands, a fresh grass stain appearing on her dress in the process. A month ago, that would have meant a scolding from her governess and an immediate change of clothes. Then again, a month ago she had worn lavish gowns with satin sashes and fine jewelry that shined as bright as the stars; not this faded, plain dress of a commoner, was one of only two she owned now.
Much has changed. I have changed with it, though I do not think for the better.
Heaving another sigh of self-pity, Tima flinched when something brown darted at the edge of her vision so quickly that she could only see a blur of color. Whipping her head around, heart in her throat, she just managed to stifle a shriek. They found me. All is lost. Will I be dead before nightfall?
A dog stood nearby, watching her.
The breath that rushed from her lungs almost brought her to her knees. “You scared me!” she called to the animal. Glancing behind her at the tiny cottage, she saw no movement outside. May must be inside preparing dinner. She could have sworn that May said no one lived within ten miles of this place. Where had a dog come from?
Turning back, she took a tentative step towards the mop of brown fur to get a better look. When it saw her moving closer, its tongue lolled out. A purple tongue. The light brown fur covering its body was thick and fluffy, longer on its tail and around its neck. Tima had never seen such a breed of dog before. It wagged its curved tail as she drew closer, seeming to smile at her. At least it’s friendly. When she was only a few steps away, she noticed how filthy the animal was. Dried mud coated its underside and muzzle. Bits of grass and burrs littered its body, stuck fast to the thin hairs. When she stuck a hand out slowly, the dog made a high-pitched, happy sound in its throat, as if excited to see her, as if it knew her. Any anxiety she felt breezed away when it jumped over and licked her hand.
“Well, look at you! Who’s a good dog? Are you a sweet dog? I think you are!” Even the pain in her hands couldn’t keep her from rubbing the dog’s scruff affectionately. A small voice in her head told her it was a bad idea, that the filth would agitate her wounds, but she didn’t care. Tima was smiling for the first time in what felt like forever. Hands be damned; she needed to pet a dog.
Convincing May to keep the dog wasn’t as hard as Tima thought it would be. The older woman must have seen how miserable she was and took pity on her. “It would do you good to have some company around here. Aye, I would feel better to have the beast around when I’m away at the village to trade. I don’t like you here alone.” Swiping a sprig of dark hair from her eyes, May put a hand out to pet the dog’s face, then withdrew almost immediately. “Oh, but it needs a bath. We can’t have it inside so filthy.”
“Do you know what kind of dog it is? It seems almost familiar, but I have certainly never seen one like this before,” Tima asked. The dog rolled over on the dirt floor, as if to show her he was a boy. Or to ask for belly rubs. She decided to oblige his request.
“Oh, aye, I have heard of these before. I don't remember the exact name. They don’t breed them here but in the far lands across the sea. This one must have been brought over by a traveler. Wonder what happened to the owner?” May said over her shoulder as she went back to work chopping vegetables for a stew. “I have seen plenty of drawings of such dogs. If I recall correctly, they usually have light tan fur, the color of wheat.”
Perhaps I have seen illustrations as well and that’s why he seems familiar. Tima listened carefully, stifling a giggle at the adorable way the dog kicked his leg when she scratched a certain spot on his stomach. May knew plenty about dogs; her late husband had been the castle’s breeder. He had taken care of all the dogs: the hounds used for hunting and the pampered pets that accompanied the late queen wherever she went. Tima had never had a dog to call her own, but there had been plenty to keep her company around the castle when she had played as a child.
Well, there used to be, she thought. Despair tried to settle around her heart again, but, as if sensing it, the dog hopped up from its back and began licking her face in earnest. She couldn’t stop her laughter then.
“Oy, now! Out of here with any jumping up! He’ll ruin dinner!” May shooed them out the door. “And give him a bath before you get back to your chores!”
May had been right about his fur. Once the filth was washed away, the dog had a lovely wheat-colored body of fur that was extra soft when dried. Tima decided to name him Biscuit. She told herself that if anyone came around asking about the dog that she would hand him over without a fuss. He had obviously belonged to someone not so long ago, judging by his healthy weight. But honestly, she hoped no one would come for him. May was right: she needed a friend in her new life. She had never felt so lonely before, never been in a place so quiet and desolate. A friend would certainly help her keep her mind off of everything she had so recently lost. Biscuit, who followed her around everywhere she went, even leaping into bed to sleep beside her, seemed to be up for the job.
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