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.
I thought I saw my mum again today. I had been in the creek doing the washing, and I wasn't thinking clearly, I was so cold. I thought I saw her across the other side of the clearing, waving at me. I ran all the way over there, but when I got there, she wasn't there. She never is. Which stands to reason, since she died. But why do I keep seeing her? Am I going crazy?
Aunt was angry with me, of course. She didn't hit me, but I can see the bruises coming on my arm again where she dragged me back to the stream.
They've left me behind. They'll be gone all day, and I'm the only one here.
I don't mind. I don't have to clean up much. I didn't even have to make bread this morning! I can write a big long diary entry today.
There's such a lot to write about, because Dro came to visit yesterday, and such a lot happened!
I've been getting better at writing too. I'm glad I'm keeping a diary. It's not as good as going to school, but it's better than nothing. I just have to remember to keep the diary hidden. Really well hidden. Uncle doesn't like words. He was talking about that this morning. People who write things down are just trying to cheat you, he said. But I know better.
Anyway. About Dro.
Dro is from my old village. He works for the soap maker. He takes a cart that is loaded with soap and sells it to everyone within a day or two of the village. He visits us about once a month. Nobody else comes to Uncle's cottage, not just because of the scary forest, but also because Aunt has no money to be a-wasting on fripperies, as she calls them.
But soap, we buy soap. As well as for cleaning, Brot uses it to clean the deerskins. If he didn't, we couldn't sell them for as much money. Dro didn't use to come — they had to go meet him at the edge of the forest. But once I came to live here, he started to come right to the cottage.
He used to try to talk to me at the cottage, but Aunt would stand over us. So now he comes at lunch time, and then I go with him as he takes his cart back out to the edge of the forest, where the King's road will take him to the next village.
It's so wonderful to talk with Dro! I can stop being scared for a while, and talk to a friend. I've known Dro as long as I can remember. He's a few years older than me. The best part is that he brings me news of the village, and about Scotten.
The last time I saw Scotten, he was lying on the ground crying after Aunt slapped him and called him a wicked little runt. He had nothing, no future. I was really afraid for him. I imagined all sorts of terrible things happening to him. But some baker near in a village near ours didn't have any children, so he took Scotten in as his boy. Scotten has to work really hard, but he's eating well, and he's not getting beaten.
Dro says that it's good, and Scotten is very lucky. If he works hard enough, eventually the bakery will be his. I'm happy. Scotten has a Future. I wonder what my Future will be?
So I was walking back to the cottage when all of a sudden I noticed that the forest had gone quiet. A shiver went down my back. All the scary stories Uncle or Brot tell me, that's what happens when the monster finds you!
Then I saw a massive horse. It was huge, and it was pawing the ground in front of it, and looking at me. I froze.
One of Brot's favourite scary stories is about a ghostly white horse, and this horse was pure white. I was terrified. I could hear my heart beating. I couldn't breathe, or move. Uncle always says that in his stories, but I didn't think it was really like that.
We looked at each other, and I waited for the horse to knock me down, like Brot said. But gradually I realised that the horse was as scared as me! Why would such a big horse be so afraid of little me?
I lifted my hand and stretched it out towards the horse, talking gently to it. The horse flinched and leant backwards. I could see it was even more afraid than me, so I very slowly crept forward. When I got closer to the horse, I could feel its breathing, shallow rapid breaths that almost matched the shivers running up and down the horse. It was so afraid, I felt so sorry for it.
When I saw that the horse had a saddle and a bit in its mouth, I knew that it wasn't a wild horse. It belongs to a person, but it was lost in the forest! A big horse like that shouldn't be scared. But it was, just like me. Maybe it has an Aunt too?
The horse flinched when I finally touched its nose, but didn't run away. I spoke to it as gently as I could. "Hello, big horse. You don't need to be afraid of me. I'm not going to hurt you. You're so big and so strong, and I'm so little, but you're so scared. What could have happened to you?"
The horse looked at me, almost as if it understood what I was saying. It pushed its head gently into my chest, so I reached up and rubbed it along its neck. "Someone's been really nasty to you, so you've run away, huh?"
I didn't know what to do. I should have taken it back to the road, and tried to find its owner, but I didn't have time, and I decided that I wouldn't take it back to a horrible owner. I didn't want Uncle to know about the horse. So I decided to take it to the glade that I like to visit, on the other side of the creek.
"My name is Tenni, and I live in the forest," I told the horse, when I saw it was still scared and nervous. "And I know what it's like to be treated badly." I told the horse all about Aunt while I took it there. It liked the sound of my voice.
I told the horse that it would be safe in the glade, but that I needed to run. Then I gave it a huge hug and hurried home.
Diary, I've got to go visit the horse now, and check that it's okay. I'll write how things go tomorrow.
The horse is going to be my secret. I'm not going to tell anyone else about it. Except for Mandy, of course. I've told Mandy not to be jealous now that I have a new friend. Mandy can be friends with it too.
The horse likes the glade I gave it. It should. It's a magical spot — the grass is rich and long and there's a gentle brook running past one end of it. Yesterday I took all the things off it. I know how. I was a bit scared, especially when I had to take the bit out of its mouth, but it didn't bite me. It did take me almost all afternoon, and my fingers were so sore afterwards. I'm not used to working tough knots like that.
Diary, I'm going to change when I write in you. Aunt come back from the village with a little lamp for me in the stable, so I'm going to write in you at night. That'll mean that I can write in you every day. I thought I might have to stop writing in you so I could visit the horse. Aunt says I won't be sleeping inside the cottage now that I have a lamp, until winter comes, so I will be able to write every night, as much as I want to. I think she was a bit surprised that I wasn't as upset as I should be. I'll have to try and pretend to be angry.
Today, when I went to visit the horse, I took two things with me. The first was an apple, because I've heard that horses love apples. We don't have lots of spare apples, they're quite a treat. So this morning I worked extra hard, and then Aunt said I could have an apple when I asked her. Instead of eating it, I took it to give to the horse.
Also, I found an old horse brush in the stables, and I cleaned it all up. It certainly doesn't belong to Uncle, they've never had any horses, so it must from whoever lived here before that. I wonder who they were?
As soon as I walked into the glade, the horse came running over to see me. He pushed his nose up info me chest to say hello, and I gave him a bug hug around the neck. Yes, I checked, and the horse is a boy — a big stallion.
I led the horse over a rock, and then I stood on the rock and brushed him down. He's so big, and it took me so long! But he liked it, I could tell. I found some bruises, spots where he hurt when I touched him. Poor Horse. When I finished, I pulled the apple out of my pocket. He grabbed it out of my hands straight away, and gobbled it straight up. Then he made this funny snorting sound and tried to get into my pocket to see if he could find another apple. I squealed and jumped off the rock, and then he chased me around the field. When I stopped, he nudged me again, and then we both laughed and laughed.
It's so nice to have a real friend.
I led him all round the glade, telling it about all the reasons why this is the perfect place for it to stay. I hope he stays. We can be friends forever. And when I'm bigger, I'll put the saddle back on him, and learn to ride him.
I'm glad that I have this lamp now, so I can write at night. It means I can write for longer. And I have so much to write about after today. A real weird thing happened. The horse, he
No. I should tell the story from the start, I think.
Today Aunt said it was washing day, but even that couldn't upset me. I have a friend to visit! Anyway, it was a nice warm day today. I did the washing as quickly as I could, so it would be done. But then Aunt asked me why I was so happy. I didn't know what to say. I'm happy because I've got a friend, and because it's my SECRET. But if I tell her that, then it won't be my secret anymore. And there's no way I'm going to tell Aunt about my horse.
I know I'm not supposed to lie, but I told her it was because I'm getting used to living with them, beginning to feel like home. As I was telling her, I could hear my dad inside my head, telling me that telling a lie is like a juggler: he's juggling and he's going to add another ball. How many bells are you going to juggle, he'd ask me, when I got caught lying to them. But what else could I do? Aunt smiled and smiled.
I wanted to run off to see the horse after lunch, but Ruth made me braid her hair. She's going to go visit a village with Aunt to see if they can find her a husband, and she keeps doing her hair again and again. I don't care how nice she makes her hair, she won't get a good husband with that piggy look on her face.
So I was late to the horse, and I didn't get to spend much time with him. But I talked and talked to him, about everything. I've never had anyone that I can talk to so much before. But ... the way he looks at me. Weird. As if he understands me. But what would I know?
It's strange. I think the horse really does understand me. I was talking to him today, telling him about Aunt, and Ruth, and he cuddled up to me close when I was upset. I'm sure he understands me.
Diary, am I going crazy? I know that Mandy isn't real. So that doesn't make me crazy. But a horse that understands? But I know what I saw.
But whatever happens, he's my best friend. And Mandy likes him too.
When I come to the glade, Horse runs over, and we have a big hug. He's my best friend.
And he must understand me, because he snorted like he was laughing when I told him that Ruth didn't get any husband when she went to the village. Her and Aunt were both in a foul mood all day yesterday.
Diary, I don't know how to say it. The horse talks to me.