When she awoke the next morning, her face was wet with a fine drizzle which had dampened the grey ashes and she sat up and shook her head like a dog to get the worst of the wetness off. None of her wild friends were anywhere to be seen. She longed for a hot cup of tea, but the flask held only water. Jay didn't know how to choose wild stuff to make tea with, and anyway she couldn't get up any enthusiasm for lighting the fire again, especially not in the rain. A few large bits of wood smouldered in the fire pit; Jay stretched, then got up, knocked them against stones to get rid of the last sparks, and threw them all back into the woodland as she had the feeling that she wouldn't be staying here long enough to need them again. She lifted each of the stones that had circled the hearth and put them in various spots; then she scattered the ashes and covered the whole hearth over with leaf litter.
She looked at her work appraisingly when she had finished, wondering why it had seemed so important for the place she had slept in to look as though no-one had been there. After she had finished clearing up to her satisfaction, she hunkered down under the oak munching a piece of sweet fruity bread from the wonderful pack and wondering whether she should call her companions. She could hear drips falling steadily from the branches onto the forest floor, and no birds were singing. As she sat, a trampling noise grew louder and louder from the woodland to her right, and circled around behind her. Concerned that whatever animal it was might not be well-disposed towards her, she looked around for one of her discarded branches to use as a weapon, or a tree to climb out of its way. She caught a glimpse of an outsized pig-like animal, quite a long way off. “A wild boar!” she thought to herself, much alarmed for she had heard that they were fierce and of uncertain temper; but the noise died away and stopped. She waited for a while, uncertain, but apart from the gloomy dripping from the forest there were no further sounds.
“Hello!” came a young and unfamiliar voice behind her.
Shocked onto her feet, she turned instantly to see her visitor.
“I'm sorry,” said the boy, “I didn't mean to frighten you. I just came to see who was sitting under my tree.”
Jay closed her mouth, which had fallen open in her surprise, and took a good look. He was about her own height, stockily built and appearing to be not much older than her, with short curly dark reddish hair, dense freckles and amber eyes. His wide grin showed an expanse of large teeth below a snub nose. He too was wearing leather clothes, but not made of the soft buckskin that Jay had found herself in: his were coarse and dark and well worn. Raindrops spangled his shoulders and hair.
“Who are you? How is it your tree?” asked Jay at the same moment as the boy asked, “What are you doing here?”
He made a grand gesture around them.
“All this is mine,” he replied, “I live here, and this tree marks the middle of my forest. But you're welcome to be here for a while. My name is Barnaby. What's yours?”
Jay told him, and added: “It's a bit difficult to tell you why I'm here, it's sort of an accident really. I come from...” she paused, uncomfortably aware that although her adventure was real enough to her it might sound quite crazy to someone else, “...not round here,” she added lamely.
“Well, that's easy enough to guess. You have the smell of somewhere far away. Another world, perhaps? You can tell me, I'm a good listener. Let's sit down; the rain will stop soon.” He sat where Jay had been sitting, and patted the root next to him invitingly. The drizzle stopped.
Casting caution to the winds, Jay sat down next to him and told him about the cave, and of her quest to help her sister. The boy encouraged her from time to time, as Jay wanted to tell the story straight through from the beginning, and sometimes had to stop to be sure of what came next. When she had finished they sat together for a while, saying nothing. She was unaccountably shaky, with a trembling deep inside her. She felt almost as though she had done something wrong; but here the boy was, sitting beside her, and he had been kind and companionable and surely friendly enough. She hadn't realised how lonely she'd been for human company, that must be it, she thought, wondering why she'd told him so much.
“You don't need to worry,” he said, as though he knew what she'd been thinking. “You've done the right thing in telling me. But it's very odd, you know. Here you have been telling me about a terrible thing, and yet when you talk about it I don't know how you feel at all.”
He broke off, turning to look into the forest. A look of such fury contorted his face that he looked almost wild for a moment before he turned back to Jay quite normally and remarked: “Here come your companions. I must be going. I'm sure we'll meet again soon.”
He stood up and ran off so quickly that Jay soon lost sight of him among the trees. The branches were still dripping lazily, shedding the last of the rain. She couldn't understand how the boy knew that the dogs were coming back, as she couldn't hear them at all. She began to wonder about what Barnaby had said. Why wasn't she feeling anything? She remembered the shock and her awful fear when she first realised how very ill Grace was. She thought about how she had collapsed with the strength of those feelings in the wood, before finding the tunnel, and tried to look at how she felt about it now. All she could feel was a vast emptiness. It was as though she was sitting on a small rock in the middle of a wide, still ocean. After a while she gave up trying to think about it. Birds began to sing, first one close by, then a couple further off; very soon the whole woodland seemed filled with a clamour of sweet voices, only to be stilled by a tumult of growling, whistling and yipping from lower down the hill.
Jay stood up. “Here they come!” she thought, “but why ever are they sounding so angry?”
As they approached, Jay could see that the wild dogs were disturbed. They spiralled in towards the tree, still growling and squealing, and obviously sniffing the air and earth.
“Stranger!” “ stranger beena!” “who you see, Jay?”
“who smell badda here?” “we shouldna left you!” “who beena?”
“It was just a boy,” said Jay, “Why are you so cross?”
“What boy?” “not smell like boy” “smell like pigga” “we not likea”
“you come now” “you come with us” “gotta go now” “gotta get stuff.”
Jay sat down and closed up the pack. She felt unaccountably weary and reluctant to set out, but stood up and followed them. They led her away from where she had come the night before, not straight uphill but at an angle to the slope. It wasn't long before the trees thinned out. Soon, soft muddy ground began to squelch underfoot, and she began to choose her steps carefully.
“Over here Jay” “you gotta get thisa” “this you need soona.”
Jay looked where they were wagging their tails and nosing at the ground. All she could see was moss, grey and fluffy.
“What? Do you mean this stuff?” She gingerly picked up a piece between fingers and thumb and peered at it suspiciously. “Whatever do I want that for? Is it good to eat?”
“Nono” “not eat” “put inna packa” “is for later”
“you needa forsure.”
She examined it. It looked unpromising. She couldn't imagine whatever use the dogs had in mind for it, but, obligingly at first, started to pick it up. It compacted surprisingly small as she stuffed into her pack. She was surprised and slightly ashamed at her rising irritability and resentment, but found it impossible to curb.
“Why have I got to collect this stupid stuff?” she demanded. “If it's not good to eat I don't want to drag it all over this world. I don't want it!”
She began to pull it out of the pack, but one of the dogs took her wrist gently between its jaws. Another, the one whom Jay had yesterday identified as the leader of the pack, knocked her down and stood over her, licking her hot angry eyes before speaking quietly into her ear:
“You soona woman. You needa for womantime. Be calma, cubling.”
She scrambled to her feet, suddenly filled with rage and not caring that the friendly dog rolled over several times before catching its balance. She threw all the moss she had collected out of the pack and stormed around the swamp, down the hill, into the edges of the wood, stamping and crying and shouting.
“I'm not a woman. I'm just a kid! I'm lost. I don't know what I'm doing here. I'm fed up with it, sick sick sick of it! I don't know what to do, I don't know where to go, and I don't know how to get home. Go away! Leave me alone!”
When her throat became sore from yelling, she threw herself on the wet ground, bursting into noisy sobs first of fury, then of self-pity, and finally of shame.
At long last her crying fit eased and she sat up gingerly, for her head was pounding. She wiped the blubber off her face with some of the discarded moss and looked around her. The whole pack was sitting or lying a little way away with a patient expression on each doggy face.
“I'm so sorry,” sniffed Jay. “I don't know why that happened, I'm not usually like that. I don't remember ever being like that. Please don't go. I'm sorry!”
There was a long pause. Jay looked at the pack, afraid she was going to cry again with shame at her behaviour; and they gazed back at her. Then they all got up, wagging their tails, and began to speak all at once.
“Is gooda” “you needa” “you no worrya” “we still friendsa”
“friendsa Jay” “you drinka now” “feel better soona” “drinka now!”
Jay found she had to wipe her eyes again, touched by their steadfast kindness. She did some more apologising before she stood up to retrieve her pack from where she had flung it, and drank a long draught from the flask, which was now full of dilute wine. This time it was clear and tart with a slightly bitter tang to it, and cleared her aching head quite quickly. She began meekly to replace the scattered moss in the pack, leaving the flask and packets next to the pack so that she could put them in last. Although her head had cleared, somewhere beneath her customary steadiness was lurking an uncomfortable jangly feeling. Jay relegated this to the back of her mind, together with the slight backache that was nagging for her attention, and ignored both sensations resolutely as she went back to the task of collecting moss.
At last the pack was as full as it could be, the flask and food packets stowed close to the top and the whole thing fastened. Jay hoisted it onto her back. It was surprisingly light. She looked expectantly at her friends.
“Okay, where do we go now?”
“Yesyes” “we go now” “comecome” “we all go ”
“uppa mountain!” “come-a!” “come up now Jay!”