This man standing before her hadn't stood out at first when she'd watched them, but she'd grown used to the people she saw, so she recognized him. He often came to the lake on the single day each year that she could look through into this world. He would fill a jar with water and leave quietly. He laughed occasionally, when the play was funny, but mostly he just went about his business. What he did on his other days, she could not know. Up close and in person now, she saw how his earth-colored hair curled softly against his head, slightly damp from the day's rain shower. His eyes, also dark like the earth, were filled with concern. His voice was soothing like a cool breeze across her skin.
Though she still feared him, still feared so many things in this sweltering place, she felt her breathing begin to slow. The sweat that slicked her palms lessened. Her heart stopped racing, and she felt a moment's calm. In spite of herself, she responded to his concern.
"There is nothing that you can do," she said, shaking her head.
Again he reached out his hand, and this time she took it and allowed him to help her to her feet. "I'm sorry. I wish there was." He spoke with a voice she suspected he would use on a wild animal. Not far from the truth, she thought. "Can I at least offer you something to eat?" He stepped away and pulled off a pack he carried behind him. Still watching her carefully, he brought a leaf-wrapped pastry from his pack and showed it to her. "It's not much."
The smell of meat wafted from the leaves, and her mouth watered. Yes, it was cooked meat, but her new human body seemed to wish for that. She had eaten only meagerly since her arrival.
He nodded and watched as she devoured the pastry. He hesitated before asking, "Are you sure there's nothing I can do for you? You are obviously not from here." He gestured to her skin and hair, so many shades paler than everyone she had seen living in the village. "Are you with the traders who just came through? I can help you find them." When she did not respond, he shrugged helplessly. "You seem lost."
Almost she told him the truth then, a sudden instinct to trust overcoming her. But caution stopped her; she could not speak of her home to a stranger. She shook her head again. "I am lost, but you cannot help me." At this, her throat constricted and she turned away.
When he reached out as if to comfort her, she backed away. She could not accept comfort in this terrible place.
He smiled gently, compassion in his eyes. "I'll leave you, then. But if you need my help, I live in the village, at the end of the main street, across from the well. If you can't find me, ask for Tomas the weaver."
She nodded but did not turn around.
"May I ask your name?"
"Ivana," she whispered.
"Goodbye, Ivana. Good luck." The leaves rustled softly, and by the time she turned her head to watch, he was gone.