Chapter 4:

Deeper in the forest

The Stray Princess


 A new morning arrives, Xena opens her eyes and finds herself laying on the ground inside the tent, she is covered with an object like a blanket but realizes that is the furry cape that the hairy man uses. He is still sleeping, the water of the rain was enough to extinguish the fire but not enough to leave totally wet the insides of the tent.Bookmark here

“What will I do now?” Xena thinks. “I can finally leave the forest, but where should I go?”Bookmark here

She moves a moment and stays in a position that looks like the great Sphinx of Giza.Bookmark here

“Should I search for the girl? Should I search for the neighbor?” She turns her head and looks at the sleeping face of the hairy man “Should I stay with him?”Bookmark here

Moving her head again, now her eyes are facing that tree that didn’t let her escape the forest for days.Bookmark here

“Why was I abandoned? Was I bad? Did the girl abandoned me with the neighbor and then he did the same? If I stay with this tall dog… will he abandon me too?”Bookmark here

“What are you looking at?” Says the man, he was awake now and the first thing that saw was Xena in a really static position and in total concentration “Is there something there? An animal?” He follows the vision path and ends up looking also at the tree “Well, I don’t see nothing… Maybe is a ghost?” He stays in silence for a while and scratching his chin, but finally says “Yeah sure, as if ghost exist hahaha”Bookmark here

The tent is destroyed and turns again in a plastic that is put inside the backpack along with the other elements used last night.Bookmark here

“All done, let’s leave the place” The man started moving.Bookmark here

Xena keeps her eyes looking at him, but she stays in place and doesn’t know what to do.Bookmark here

“Oh? What’s the matter? Don’t want to come with me?” He says, then tries to call her producing a soft whistle but there is no response “Well, it’s not like I expected you to be my friend or something… but if you don’t wanna then I won’t force you” He turns back to pat her head a bit and then leaves into the forest.Bookmark here

She sees how his figure starts to vanish, her stomach begins to spin and the memories of the neighbor leaving her behind appear. A pain in her heart is born along with the feeling of being alone again.Bookmark here

“I don’t want that to happen again” She thinks while leaving her sitting position. “I’ll follow this tall dog”Bookmark here

He didn’t notice her presence until she was just two meters behind.Bookmark here

“Oh! You do want to be with me! That makes me so happy!”Bookmark here

They both travel inside the forest for various hours, the trees get taller and taller as they move, the trip gets complicated when the terrain is not plane anymore but it has an inclination from which they move downwards.Bookmark here

“It must be here somewhere” he says “Oh! I can hear it! Come on Xena, hurry!”Bookmark here

Moving through the tall grass is a challenge but the hairy man is motivated and keeps walking forward, Xena only follows the hairy man’s steps because the grass has such height that covers her visual range and is only capable to look to the sky and to the back of the man that is ahead. Bookmark here

Suddenly the hairy man starts running, Xena gets startled and follows with haste. They arrive to a new flat surface, laughter comes from the man’s mouth as he leaves behind his backpack, shoes and clothes.Bookmark here

SPLASH!Bookmark here

“SO COOOOOOLD!!” He yells after coming out of the water.Bookmark here

“What a big puddle!” This is the first time Xena sees a river so she doesn’t understand what it is.Bookmark here

The hairy man splashes with happiness and uses his hands to take water and wash his face.Bookmark here

“It’s been so long since last time I washed, I couldn’t stand my own smell anymore, my head is itchy and my hair oily. Come to the water Xena, you’ll like it even if it’s a bit cold”Bookmark here

He gets out of the water and searches something in the backpack, founding it and pulling his hand now is grabbing a ball of soap made from many tiny little pieces of many previous bars of soap and which has a wide variety of colors in it.Bookmark here

Getting back in the river he washes using the ball of soap and a lot of dirt leaves the body. He starts humming and is a different song this time. Xena gets closer and wonders what is he doing. The hairy man’s body has fuzz all over the torso and legs and taking a better look his ribs are visible even with the skin covering them, in fact without all the clothes covering him, he really is very thin.Bookmark here

After bathing, he goes from the river to the backpack a couple of times taking some bottles and filling them with water. With the last one filled he stays inside the river drinking from it.Bookmark here

“Come girl. Fill yourself with water now that we have such a big supply, that way you wont need to worry about food. Trust me, this is the best piece of advice I can give and only a dog is hearing it haha”Bookmark here

Xena starts drinking from the river near him, her eyes open widely due to the fact that she believed that this was only a big puddle and wasn’t on the mood of tasting mud, but as soon as the water made all the way to her stomach she increases the speed and drinks a lot.Bookmark here

“So tasty! Not muddy!” The flavor was also new, so far she had tasted tap water and puddle water but this one is someplace in between so she keeps drinking even if the last time she did was yesterday, thanks to her imprisonment in the tree Xena was getting used to the idea of drinking water every other day based on the weather.Bookmark here

“We should really take this opportunity and also wash you Xena” He said.Bookmark here

After a really difficult interaction between the human and the dog where making her go inside the river was impossible, the only way of washing her was using the water stored in the four bottles that the hairy man filled earlier. He used on her the same ball of soap and told her stories of how he got some of the soap pieces that were part of it, some were obtained thanks to begging on the streets, others found in trash cans and others simply stolen. She didn’t like to be washed, not even when she had a family, but for some reason the hairy man’s voice is relaxing enough to concentrate on it and she forgets the fact that someone was cleaning her. He had to fill again all the bottles when finishing and took the chance to do the laundry, also using the same ball of soap, there wasn’t much change when he was over because his clothes were old and many of their stains would need some expert with an expensive detergent brand to leave them in a better shape.Bookmark here

Not having more clothes and only covering with his furry cape, he starts a new wood fire that will help dry Xena and the clothes hanged with a rope among some trees.Bookmark here

When wet, Xena always licks her body in an attempt to remove the water by drinking some of it, is not really an effective method but she doesn’t feel it that way. Gladly the fire’s warmth does almost all the work.Bookmark here

As soon the clothes are dry, he dresses and uses the same rope to set up the tent. The night arrives but today there is nothing to eat before finishing the day, and the hairy man spends most of the time pouring water from the bottle to a pot, boiling it and returning it to the bottle again.Bookmark here

“Its better doing it this way so I wont get sick again” He explains “Now we will let it cool and will be ready to drink again tomorrow morning, oh!” He realizes that Xena has fallen asleep hearing him and smiling continues his task in silence, only waking her up later so they could sleep inside the tent.Bookmark here

The next couple of days they walk alongside the river with only water as their source of food, sometimes the hairy man tries to hunt squirrels or birds but is not successful in any of his attempts.Bookmark here

“We can’t live like this forever, maybe we should try to change our route and go to the big city that is nearby” He tells Xena “Man, but I wanted to see the waterfall. I’ve never seen one before and this river turns into one at some point as far as I know… but looks that is farther away of what I expected”Bookmark here

They turn left and start to leave the river behind. The forest just extends in every direction, Xena wonders for a moment if it was a good idea to follow the hairy man, but being with him is much better that being alone even it there is nothing to eat, he was capable of changing the cold nights into a much better experience. After hours of walking in the same direction he decides to rest against a tree while sitting in the grass and drinking from the bottle. Realizing that Xena was looking at him, he takes a pot from the backpack and puts it on the floor, then pours some water from the bottle he had in his mouth some seconds ago. She understands and starts drinking, while looking at her his stomach grumbles.

“Man, maybe I decided to go to the city too late. Xena, seems that we are going to have water for dinner again today” She doesn’t get any of the words that he pronounces and the air is filled with silence once she is done drinking.Bookmark here

THUDBookmark here

A loud sound appears nearby, he moves his head and sees near a rock an apple. This red apple smashed against that rock and now was rolling on the ground and getting dirt on it while doing so.Bookmark here

The hairy man’s eyes open as big as possible for a human being and he runs to the fruit, picks it up with the left hand, uses the water in the bottle in his right hand to clean it as best as he can and finally bites it. He keeps biting and chewing fast like if it were out of pure instinct, before finishing he sees with the corner of his eyes the dog that has been by his side so he offers what is left of the apple.Bookmark here

Xena understands the idea that the weird thing is some kind of food so she approaches and sniffs it, the sweet aroma is interesting, but will it taste good?. She grabs it with the front teeth and moves it in her mouth until reaching the back teeth so she can apply more force when biting.Bookmark here

Another amazing new taste, so sweet and juicy. She has been having pain in her stomach due to the lack of food, having finally something to eat fills her heart with joy and in an automatic way the tail starts wagging. Bookmark here

“If we have one that means...” He says while looking up to the trees. There it was, not every but at least five of the nearby trees had apples. “What luck!” Bookmark here

With some effort he climbs a tree and starts pulling apples and trowing them to the floor making sure of not hitting Xena, moments later he comes down, picks them up and cleans each one of them with some water from another bottle. Eventually he sits and starts eating the apples, some are sweet, others are sour and there is a couple rotten. Xena gets closer to see if she can get more of that sweet food, the hairy man knowing that he can’t give her an entire apple and lacking of a knife to cut her a bit of easy to chew slices, decides to use his own teeth. He bites the apple, the piece in his mouth is not chewed but instead he opens again the oral cavity and lets the portion cut to fall into the pot were he gave her water earlier, he continues this action until filling half of the cooking utensil and then moves it closer to her. Xena starts eating and the hairy man continues the banquet while biting, chewing and eating very fast, the juice of the apple wets his beard but it isn’t the only liquid on his face, without noticing he is crying.Bookmark here

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“I’m so glad we found this place, a treasure from heaven… let’s eat until we can’t move!” The saltiness of his tears mixes with the flavor of the apples but that doesn’t make him stop chewing, in fact he doesn’t even notice that the taste changed. Each time Xena finishes, he fills her half of the pot again and when the hunger finally begins to fade, he starts humming a new song.Bookmark here

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