The Beginning of Chapter One of The Children of the Lost
Gradually, Lily became aware that she was being watched.
Shielding her eyes against the low, winter sun, she swept her gaze over the gnarled, bare trees that stood grey and silent around her.
But still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere, a huge pair of eyes had turned upon her.
When Lily had first glimpsed the forest, a couple of days before, it had looked forbidding – a silent, dark mass at the base of the mountains; the leafless, twisting branches clustered so thickly together that the light barely penetrated.
But as she took her first steps on the soft leaf-mould beneath the trees, she had begun to hear it – the rustling in the undergrowth, the flap of wings overhead, the occasional birdcall, so harsh in the still air that she would jump and turn, and catch only a glimpse of black feathers. The earth shifted beneath her feet, and yielded up things that moved, and writhed and scuttled. Even the trees themselves, within their thick, cold bark, were alive. She had always known that, she had seen a few trees in the orchards of the city, but these were nothing like those ordered rows. Those trees were tamed, urbanised. These looked as if they could reach for you.
Something moved in a nearby tree, and Lily jumped, letting the mushrooms she had been gathering fall to the ground. She looked closer.
Two dark, round, shining eyes, peered back at her from the ancient bark. She caught her breath.
Then, a faint ruffle of feathers. Lily breathed out. The eyes belonged to a large, grey owl, which sat, brooding, on a branch, just next to the trunk, its mottled plumage making it almost invisible against the mossy bark.
The owl regarded her with a penetrating stare, and Lily returned it, unblinking. She tried to imagine what it would make of her. Would it see this dark-skinned human girl, wrapped in a mud-streaked apron, as a curiosity, or a threat? Was she a guest here, or an intruder? The rational part of her nature laughed at her fancy that the tree itself had been watching her. But at the same time, the owl was no less fascinating.
After all, she had seen streams of pure, liquid anger, and watched a captured voice float through the air. She had known things that seemed supernatural. But in all her fourteen years of life, she had never been so close to a wild animal.
A moment later the bird ruffled its wings, and swooped down and away, breaking the stillness. As it did so, the breeze began to stir, and Lily shivered, wishing she had not left her cloak at the camp. Now was not the time for nature watching. Wearily, Lily gathered up the small pile of mushrooms again, and, feeling the ache of the cold in her steps, she made her way back through the forest.....
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