The hush of the forest hovered around them. No one mentioned the tension, nor complained about the silence. Maleah assumed it was because they were all accustomed to it each having come from long-term solitude.
It wasn't until the sun rode its peak in the sky that they came across a village. Abandoned, Maleah scouted the graveyard. At the edge of the clearing, she could see the skeletons of homes in rows. Glass lay shattered under sills and pits of fire were left untouched throughout the village.
"Welcome to Borstal Village. Or what remains of it," Cam, the boy from the mountain, said.
"What is it for?" Maleah wondered.
"It was once sleeping quarters for borstal guards before the King moved them inside the walls for warmth and close keeping. Now it's used to store resources."
"What kind of resources?" Rhys stepped forward into the clearing.
"Food. Blanket. Clothes." Cam led the way to the other side. Passing by the abandoned quarters, Maleah observed the village with curiosity and resentment. She could see rotting cots on rotting floors through broken windows. Rain puddles gathered in small patches throughout the village. Yet the water did not seem to penetrate the earth.
Cam propped his pack against a crooked shed and pried open the door. Reaching in, he retrieved tins and held them out. Maleah took one, handed the other to Rhys. Opening it, she found breaded rolls inside. Inside Rhys' they found jam.
"We can rest here." Together, they shared the contents of the tins and soaked in the midday sun.
"Why are you hiding from the King's Men?"
"Rhys," Maleah scowled.
"What? I do not trust strangers and if you want me to trust him to fulfill his promise, then I must know more about him."
"You trusted me just fine," Maleah countered.
"I had no choice. You were the only way out of that prison. But him," she nodded to Cam as he chewed another roll. "I have a choice."
"Not if you want off the island," he said.
"I can find my own way."
"See you've been doing that yourself already. Say, how long were you stuck inside the borstal?"
Rhys sneered at him; Maleah intervened. "Fighting will get us nowhere."
"We are not fighting," Rhys said through grit teeth. "Not yet."
"If we want to escape this island, we must learn to trust each other. Strangers, though we are, we all have our own secrets and reasons to do as we must. So, until we are off this island..."
"Alright, I'll trust." Rhys threw up her hands. She narrowed her eyes to Cam. "For now."
"So," Cam let the word spill slowly from his stuffed mouth. "How did the two of you get out of the borstal?"
Rhys looked to Maleah, who stared at the ground avoiding the question. Understanding her silence, Rhys answered. "There was an attack during our judgment. It provided a distraction and we took the opportunity to escape."
"How?" Cam repeated. When neither answered, he pressed. "The whole place is a maze, impenetrable from the outside; inescapable from inside. The magic of the veil would send you back into the borstal if you tried to cross through it. There is no way out. How did you two manage?"
Before they could avoid his questions, Rhys' head whipped around. She rose to her feet swiftly, tossing her ear to the winds.
"What is it?" Cam asked. "What is she doing?"
"Quiet," Rhys hushed. "Kings Men. We must move quickly." Scrambling, Rhys corralled them behind the shack.
It wasn't long before a group of Kings Men rode into the village. Peering out, Maleah saw the men circle the village before dismounting their horses. They waited. One moment. Two. Three. Before their leader galloped in and shouted his orders.
Maleah watched as Lord Brae remained atop his horse as his men disappeared into homes and ravaged the place. Next to Brae, another appeared. His face was shallow and stern and his cloak swept the ground as he dropped from his horse. From the distance, she saw the deep age lines seep into his face. Unlike the King's Men, he wore no uniform or crest of the King. He walked unburdened by fealty and with the confidence of a free man.
"We have to move," Cam whispered. Maleah studied him as he began shifting from behind the shack. They followed swiftly, scurrying to the nearest shambling house. Maleah lifted herself through the window frame and dropped soundlessly to the floor.
Cam lifted his finger to his lips. Crouching in the shadow, he raised his head to peer out the other window into the village. Maleah felt her heart beat wildly as she waited.
Turning, Cam tiptoed back to them. "There is a wagon," he said. "They'll be transporting provisions and men to the port. We can hop in the back and hide there."
Rhys scoffed. "Are you mad? We'd be caught in a blink."
"Do you have a better idea?" Rhys opened her mouth, closed it. "I thought not. Look, it's a two and a half day's walk to the port from here. Take the wagon and we'd be there by nightfall. "
"What do you suggest we do when we arrive there surrounded by the very men hunting us?"
"Don't get caught," is all he said before hopping out the window.
"Does he honestly believe we'd follow him into madness?" Rhys gawked at Maleah.
"I cannot say I agree with his methods nor do I disagree with your rationality. However, he is our best chance."
Sighing, Rhys turned away. "I make no promises I won't harm him if we get caught."
Maleah thought her joking but when Rhys' face remained stale, she knew she wasn't. "I will not stop you if we do, how about that?"
Under the sill of the window, Maleah crouched, cringing at the sounds of Kings Men pillaging the village. As she slid from house to house, she heard tables and chairs falling, things being through astray. At the end of the line, they met up with Cam. He studied the village. Maleah watched him as he gauged the distance and time from them to where the wagon rested some yards away.
"Wait for my signal." With quick feet, Cam ran to the wagon, glancing occasionally around for Kings Men. They watched from the shade of the house as he crawled onto the wagon and shifted around whatever lay under the tarp. On his signal, Rhys rushed to him and slid under the tarp.
Maleah waited her turn, nervously glaring into the village. She saw the Huntsman loop around a house and bend to the dirt. Doubt crept into the space between thoughts.
What if I am caught? What if we are unsuccessful? What if . . .
A growl grumbled behind her. The man lumbered out from between houses. Frozen, she watched him out the corner of her eye and bid her time. Habitual panic set in. With a flick of her hand, she wrapped the air around the man's ankle, pulled. His face met the ground with a solid thud. His grunt wrestled with the dirt.
She didn't wait for his signal. With the Kings' Men occupied, she sprinted and hoped to the godless sky no one saw her. Once under the tarp, she dropped.
"You've got guts." Twisting her neck, she found Cam crouched in between boxes and the side. Behind her, Rhys lay flat on the wagon. Still and silent. But her face said everything: Cam better not be wrong.
Calming her heart, Maleah breathed and listened to the sounds of the King's Men outside.
"Besides the depletion of our resources, there are no signs of them," a man said.
"How long could they last on it?" Maleah recognized Lord Brae's voice.
"At best seven days. But considering they've been starved for a long period of time, less."
"How long to the port by foot?"
"Two or three days," the other voice said.
"We must be there when they do."
"Assuming they know where they are going."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"My Lord, they are on an island they know not of. They could have gone in any direction on this island. Or. . ."
"Or?" Lord Brae pressed.
"The portal could have taken them anywhere. They may not even be on the island."
Silence beat a moment. "Sully! Take your men and head to the port. Tell the pirates what we are after, to keep an eye away from the horizon. Huntsman, you and I will search the island for them. We will return to the port when and if our search is concluded."
"Yes, my lord."
Maleah let out a breath she didn't know she held as the wagon hitched forward. Closing her eyes, she let relax to the rhythm of the road.
About the Creator
From crafting second-world fantasies to scheming crime novels to novice poetry; magic, mystery, music. I've dreamed of it all.
Now all I want to do is write it.
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