Using her staff, Ash digs a trough in the ocher dust large enough for Mae’s slender body. She covers it over as best she can so Mae will not be found and abused by raggedmen.
There are no longer any prayers to say, and nothing to pray to, but Ash sits beside Mae’s makeshift grave for a while, trying to comfort Mae’s spirit, if it continues to linger. She wonders how she will tell Odile about this.
She says goodbye to the elder. Then she continues on her way.
Odile was right; the trip is long and difficult.
It takes three days to get to the town where she found the book, then she turns north and follows the bay. The hardest part is staying away from the raggedmen who also tramp north. Do they know where to go? She wondered if they had found their own book, or if it is just something men know. Or if they have a source of information that the women do not have.
Or, more likely, they just follow the men they see walking ahead of them, with no more idea of where they are going than she has.
She has no interest in getting close enough to any of them to ask.
The first part of her trip takes her through what used to be called the Canadian Shield, an arc of solid rock formations that are ages old. All the trees of the voluminous forest are dead, skeletal shapes good only for shade at certain times of the day, and to hide behind when men get too near.
It is rugged terrain. The rocks tear through the rags she wears around her feet. Here and there she finds men who have collapsed from exertion or sickness or starvation. She takes rags from their body to wrap around her feet, which are growing bloody and blistered from her walk.
She is not able to go as fast as she could when she started out. She covers less ground. She grows more tired by the day.
She makes her water rations last by mixing them with water from the bay that she follows. The water is drinkable, but she has no illusions that it is safe. She takes her chances. She just needs to survive long enough to find Odile’s communities and return to the settlement with the knowledge of where they are.
She walks for two more days after her supply of food runs out. She is shaky and light-headed, but forces herself to continue, with more frequent stops.
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