I'm so excited! I've found an empty book in the stable! And it's a small one too, so I can hide it. So that means I can use it for a diary. A diary!!!
I know I'm not very good at writing. But old Caron who used to teach me my writing said that I should keep a diary, so's I can practice my writing. Well, now that I've found this book, I'm going to write a little bit every day.
If only I could show Caron. She could help me write. But that was back before Aunt.
I suppose I should introduce myself and tell you about my family. My name is Tenni. I'm eleven years old. I live in a little clearing near the edge of the forest with Mandy and her friends. I sleep in the stable (except when Aunt says it's too cold. Then I am allowed to sleep by the fire).
Aunt and Uncle and Brot and Ruthy live here too. Brot and Ruthy are much older than me. They've got their own rooms. And I'm not allowed inside them. Except everyday when I have to clean them. I have to clean the whole place every day. That's why I can hide you, diary. But I hate sweeping the floor.
I miss Scotten. And my Mum and Dad.
Washing day today. I hate washing day, even more than sweeping the floor. It's always the same. We take all the dirty clothes to the stream, and then Aunt will stand and talk to me while I stand in the cold water and wash all the clothes.
I wouldn't mind so much if she helped me. But all she does is talk, talk, talk, talk.
I wouldn't mind so much if I had more than one set of clothes, so that my clothes could dry out before I put them back on. And so I didn't get so cold in the stream.
I wouldn't mind if Aunt would stop telling me how lucky I am to live with them.
I hate my Aunt.
I live with Uncle's family because Mum and Dad died from the plague. They both got sick the same day. Mum died two days before Dad did. Scotten and I are orphans. Scotten is my older brother. He's thirteen.
After Mum and Dad died, we slept on the village headman's floor while we waited for Aunt — she lived a whole day's journey away, but it was nearly a week before she came. Aunt is the only family we have left. When Aunt came, she called Scotten a wicked and dirty runt, and refused to take him. Then she'd grabbed me and dragged me away without even a proper chance to say goodbye to Scotten or to get my things.
I still cry at night.
I didn't even get any time to write in my diary yesterday. Aunt made me help Brot with the skins in the afternoon. Yuck! I hate the smelly skins.
Aunt says I'm lucky to live here. She says that I'm lucky because she doesn't make me work much in the afternoons.
If I was lucky I'd be able to go to school. I wouldn't mind doing all the cleaning and cooking if they let me go to school sometimes. I'm an orphan, so I know that I have to work. But if I don't go to school, then I won't learn my words and numbers, and I'll be stuck doing boring stuff like cleaning and cooking all my life. But Aunt says that there's no money to pay for me to go to school. "What a waste of time that stuff is for poor folks like you and me," she says.
But I know the real reason. She doesn't want me to do better than Brot or Ruthy.
I'm so lonely! No one in the family wants to talk to me. Except Aunt, and I don't want to hear it all again. She never says anything new or interesting. No one else wants to come out this far into the terrible forest. There's no one.
Except for Mandy.
Mandy and Tenni friends forever!!!
Mandy is my best friend. She's always listening, always watching me. Mandy's been my best friend as long as I can remember. She wanted to say in my old village, but she's such a nice friend that she came with me anyway.
She doesn't really like it here. She says it's dark and gloomy in this house, and the stable stinks. And she hates Aunt. She was going to leave once I felt at home here, but now she says that she's going to stay as long as I want her to. Mandy's made lots of friends here. Mandy even found some of her family living up in the huge tree on the edge of the clearing. It's getting hard for me to keep track of them all — they live such complicated lives.
Mandy even tries to help me out when I'm scared, or when Aunt is horrible to me.
If only Mandy was real.
After I made lunch yesterday, I was tired, and I wanted to write here in my diary. But Aunt wanted me to help Brot with the skins again. She couldn't find me at first, so she lost her temper and yelled at me. So I froze up, scared, and tried to hide under the table.
She always finds me. Then she calls me a lazy girl, and drags me out from under the table. I can see bruises on my arm where she did it.
But I'm lucky, because she doesn't hit me. She says I have to remember that.
Brot and Ruth are much older than me. They call me a bratty cousin, and they won't talk to me. But they aren't allowed to tell me what to do, except when I have to help Brot with the skins. That's why I hate doing it.
Uncle doesn't have a lot of money. We live in a little cottage in a clearing in the forest. We keep a few animals in the clearing — chooks, pigs, and a few goats. We sell things that Uncle and Brot scavenge from the forest, and also animal skins, mostly deer.
No one ever comes out here. People are afraid of the forest. But Uncle won't leave the forest. He goes and trades with the village folk right on the edge of the forest. I think he's an outlaw, but he won't talk about it.
The cottage is small. There's the living area, and two walled off bedrooms, one for Uncle and Aunt, and one for Brot and Ruthy. They have a blanket dividing their room up into the girl bit and the boy bit. The girl bit is much easier to clean. There's a stove in the living area, Uncle's pride and joy. There's also a little storeroom where we keep food.
There's no place for me here. I can't even sit at the table when we eat. I sit on the dirt floor. Except when they make me serve them.
There's also an outhouse and the stables. Where I sleep with the animals. I've got a secret box in the stables where I store my things. I've got my diary, and a weird old dress and musty old blanket I found in the stable, and a good luck charm that I found. Mandy is the only one who knows where it is.
I miss my mum. But I mustn't cry. Aunt will get mad if I do.
Uncle's cottage is just a little into a huge forest. It is the start of the great Older Forest which reaches into the unknown wilderness and surrounds the huge mountains that I could see in the distance from the village where I grew up.
The forest is dark and gloomy. Everyone is scared of the forest. They say that there's scary dangerous magical creatures. No one ever goes into the forest: if they do, they'll never be seen again. Most people won't even come as far as our clearing. I know they say that Uncle is crazy.
I don't know why. There's tall majestic trees dropping soft pine needle leaves onto the ground, and lovely enchanting shafts of light drifting down through the forest canopy in the early morning and late afternoon. There's not even any wild animals there — just the timid little deer that Brot hunts.
Uncle says he's not afraid of the forest. But I've watched, and they won't go across the other side of the creek that makes the edge of our clearing. They've told me not to go over there either. In the night, they tell me scary stories about the monsters that live on the other side of the creek. At first, I was really scared of the monsters.
But I'm not stupid.
Every story is the same. Some child (usually a girl) crosses over the creek and ends up getting eaten by a horrible ugly scary monster who never ever lets anyone escape. So if the beast never lets anyone escape, how do they know what it looks like?
And it's just a small creek too. The scary monsters could just step right over it.
So when I don't want to be found, I cross over the creek, and explore the forest. I thought that I'd be scared, at first, but Mandy comes with me, and keeps me safe. She won't let me get eaten by a scary monster.
The forest is darker and gloomier on the other side of the creek, because there's a different kind of tree with much more leaves. But there's beautiful towering waterfalls, water holes full of clear water - just perfect for swimming in (even warmer than the creek, yay!), incredible views across the great bowl shaped valley, and a stand of trees so tall that I've seen them reach into the clouds.
Also, there's all kinds of deer, squirrels, some strange kind of goats, and lots of birds. I found this lovely glade, a clearing full of long grass. I love to just lie on the ground and listen to the songs of the birds.
I have to come back quickly if I don't want them to come looking for me.
I think its day 15. I think it was only two days that I didn't get to write in my diary. It's hard to keep track of sometimes. I've been very busy. We're getting ready to visit the village to trade skins and things. I wonder if I'll get to go? I've never been allowed to go before. Aunt stays home with me, but I heard her say that she's going this time.
.... There is more of this story ...