1- In which a story gets interrupted and Effie gets lost
"A long time ago…"A young, brown-haired woman was trying to read a story to the girl sitting next to her.
"Not too long." The lighter-haired and lighter-headed child interrupted.
"Okay. Not so long ago in a kingdom far, far away…"
"Not too far!"
"Right. Not so long ago in a kingdom pretty close by there was a princess."
"How about a crow?"
"Nope, a sparrow."
"Oh. Um…there lived a princess trapped in the form of a sparrow. Every day she flew from her window and circled the great oak tree outside. Three time clockwise, three times back she circled the tree, in order to summon the dryad who could…"
"Circle the tree four times!"
"Argh! Emmie, that's enough!" Effie dropped her book on the grass beside her and slapped a hand down on it. "I know you've heard these a million times, and I'm trying to make them different, but stop interrupting!"
"But…! I'm so bored!" Emmie whined.
"Then you can help with dinner," the girls' mother called from the doorway. Effie groaned.
"Now look what you've done," she hissed at her sister. Emmie grumbled in return, but got to her feet, snatching the book as she went.
"Next time, I'm telling the story," she whispered, clutching the book as they headed for the house.
"Fine by me," Effie whispered back.
The stories had been fun years before, but now she was getting tired of them. No matter how many times they were told they never changed, even when she tried to change them.
"I wish I were a princess," Emmie said as they set up the dinner things. "Then I could listen to stories all day, and have more than one book and somebody else would help with dinner." Effie shook her head.
"Don't be silly," she snapped and went outside to draw some water from the well.
As the bucket tumbled into the depths, Effie kicked the wall sullenly. She knew this wasn't good behavior for a girl almost eighteen, almost an adult, but Effie had never been very good at acting her age.
She was bored.
There were really only two things a girl her age could do in a small farming village like this. Either stay home and help her mother with the younger siblings, or find a nice young man and get married. Emmie, at nine, was nearly past the age when she needed 'helping with,' and Effie didn't know anyone in the village she could even think about marrying without groaning.
Effie had always been plagued by a desire to see things. She didn't know what, or where, or why; only that there were things in the world other than the village of Bentram-by-the-woods, and she wanted to know what they were. Her father said she was being silly, that the minute she set foot in the outside world she'd find out it wasn't nearly as interesting as she thought, and a lot more dangerous.
Well, there are some things you shouldn't say to an impressionable young girl, and when Effie was fourteen, danger sounded very interesting indeed. She ran away that very summer. Unfortunately she hadn't got much further than Hapford, the third village over, when she'd run out of money for food, knowledge of directions, and patience with people. Frustrated, she'd turned around and gone back home. Since then, she had always wondered where she might have gone if she had just kept walking.
Hauling the well's bucket up to the top, she filled her own with water and headed back to the house.
"Mushrooms," her mother said, taking the bucket in the doorway. She held the handle carefully with her apron and turned to go back in the house, as if one word explained everything.
"What?" Effie was startled.
"Mushrooms, we need mushrooms," her mother was distracted by watching Emmie stir something behind her.
Effie thought about it, then snatched her chance to avoid helping more intimately with dinner. "I'll just…go get some, shall I?"
"Huh? Oh, yes dear. You do that, but be careful. You know how the woods get after dark. Don't go too far."
Effie looked at the sky. It was nowhere near dark. "Of course. Where do you think I'd go, the Enchanted Forest?"
Her mother looked amused. "You'd better not, young lady, or you'll never come home."
Effie rolled her eyes. Her parents had been frightening the girls with tales of the Enchanted Forest for years. Decades, almost. "It's not even within walking distance, mom. I'll be fine." With that, she turned quickly and ran for the trees before her mother could think of anything else.
The woods were beautiful at this time of year. It was late spring and all the trees were dropping flowers on the heads of lucky travelers. Effie caught a huge one before it hit the ground and suddenly wished she'd thought to bring a basket. The mushrooms would get crushed in her pockets.
"Oh well," she sighed, tossing the flower behind her. She began checking the areas around logs and under fallen leaves for the right kind of fungus. She had gone quite a long way, half lost in her own thoughts, before she began to wonder why she wasn't finding any. The type she wanted was really very common, and she should have found a whole patch by now. Pausing to lean against a tree, she frowned at the sky. It was still light. Effie decided to go a little further.
Suddenly she heard voices from one side. Standing straight, she listened, and decided it was only one voice, and not too far off. It seemed to be calling for help. Deciding that stopping to help someone would give her an excuse for not finding any mushrooms, she turned in that direction and walked very quickly.
Despite this, the voice didn't seem to get any closer. Effie stopped, worried. Strange things were known to happen in the woods near nightfall, at least that's what all the stories said. The voice came again, pleading. Effie shrugged off her doubts and began to run towards it. Finally she had to stop again, panting, leaning against a tree. She was beginning to think she'd never find the voice, and had gotten herself terribly lost besides.
"Hey! Watch where you're stepping!" A voice piped up from near her foot. "Nearly crushed me. Big people, blind as bats, and without the ears."