Running

With their homes in flames, and soldiers cutting a bloody swathe through their land, two best friend have only one option; to run. It soon becomes a race to get to the king before those black armies. As they run, they start to battle with other forces..this time emotional.

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3. Three

“We need to find survivors, food and supplies.”  He cut the two women off, offering them a chance to escape for a short time. They women nodded and all three set to work with a renewed fervour, desperate to save lives.

The search began to find survivors but they all knew the chances were slim.

Jehan veered left and found himself in a narrow alley, choked with smoke. Soldiers had been down here and who was to say they had all left. He crept forward, aware that the only weapon he had on his hands was his fists.  Carefully, he stepped over bodies and the fragments of smashed pots and splintered wood.

The ash from the now dying fires fell in tiny flakes that clung to him, latching onto the only living thing they could find. A loud crunch startled him and panic came in waves through his body. Then he looked down and saw his foot had fallen on something blackened and charred. His fear dissipated but his heart still thumped inside his chest. He pushed on.

As he came parallel with two fallen barrels, he heard the tiniest sound, like a mouse squeaking. Half fearing what it would be, he prised aside the barrels and drew in a breath. Sitting with skinny legs drawn to an even skinnier chest was a small child of about eight or nine. Her hair was thin and stringy and covered in dirt, as was the rest of her skin. She was barefoot and her clothes were nothing more than ragged tatters. Her eyes were black pools of fear.

He gently knelt and extended his hand. She withdrew, pushing her back against the wall and again there was a small whimpering sound.

“I’m Jehan. I’ve come to save you.”

There was a pause.

“Are you one of those nasty men?”

“No, I promise you I’m not. What’s your name?”

“Almera.”

“That’s a beautiful name. Now, if you come with me, I can take care of you. How does that sound?”  

Slowly, she unlocked her arms from around her legs and Jehan saw a nasty, filthy gash that oozed blood on her leg. Almera caught him looking.

“It’s when I fell. Those soldiers were chasing me. I fell over but then I hid.”

 Jehan detected a hint of pride in the tilt of her chin and the ring of her voice. She drew up to her full height. He carefully took her hand and together they walked back down the way Jehan had come.

“Do you want to help me find more people?”

 She nodded.

 

Whilst Jehan had been talking to Almera, the two other women had ventured into what once was the market place. Striped awnings now lay dirty and bloodied on top of collapsed piles of timber, and vegetables had been strewn to all corners of the market square. Haywise turned to Celeste her companion.

“This place has been stripped bare. I doubt we’ll find anyone.”

 Celeste nodded forlornly and as the two woman turned to go, they heard a shout. Turning with blood pounding in their ears, they saw a man come shuffling across the square towards them.  A sticky trail of red dribbled down his face from a gaping wound.

The ladies hurried over to him and each one took an arm. He felt limp in their arms but underneath, Haywise felt a fierce, uncoiled strength. At full function, she reckoned he could be quite dangerous. As it was, he was wounded and she had to help.

 He turned to Haywise and this close, she could see the tiny crow’s feet that spread from the corner of brilliant blue eyes. An unkempt blonde beard with streaks of glinting grey framed a dirty, worn face. The hair that was close cropped was also filthy, playing host to a number of small stones and earth.

“One of the lucky few?” His gruff voice resounded in the silent desolation.

“I wouldn’t say lucky but yes, we seem to be the only other living people around here.  The soldiers didn’t leave many to escape did they?”

He shook his head and a slight tremor shook his body.

“The only reason I’m alive is because I was knocked out and they left me for dead. Anyone who got in the way with their heart beating away was food.”

It was Haywise’s turn to shudder.

       “We’re trying to get to the king. He can help us. If we reach him before the army, then we can get him to fight back.”

He nodded in approval.

Celeste and Haywise settled the man down on an upturned bucket and Haywise walked to the edge of the market place. Jehan had been gone a long time. “Jehan!” she yelled in a half shout, half  whisper.

Celeste grabbed her arm and hissed “What do you think you’re doing? If there’s soldiers out there, you have just brought them to us.”

“They have long gone Celeste. Trust me. Jehan and I waited until we were sure they were far away. It’s alright.”  The other woman was shaking and tears glistened in her eyes. Haywise drew the woman to her, wrapping the shivering woman tightly in her own arms.

“Haywise!” Jehan came into her vision just over the woman’s shoulder and she softly pushed Celeste away. Jehan was holding a small child by the hand. Immediately, her eyes were drawn to the seeping wound on its leg. She would have to clean that up as soon as she could. She ran over to him making herself known to the child first.

“Haywise.”

“Almera,” the girl whispered, hiding behind the long straggle of a fringe.                       Haywise turned to Jehan.

“We found someone as well. A man. He seems to be alright apart from a cut to the head. Now can get out of this god forsaken place?” A shiver crawled up her spine.

“Yes, as soon as we can. First we have to get supplies.”

 He turned his attention to Celeste. “Stay here with the man and child. Haywise and I are going to gather supplies. We will be as quick as we can. Don’t move away from this area and any sign of danger, let us know.”

Jehan and Haywise turned and walked into the village for the last time.

 

Thievery. They were no better than the soldiers. Haywise gritted her jaw against the guilt painfully stabbing through her.  It wasn’t their fault they had to do this. If they wanted to survive, this was the only option.  Despite her best efforts, her conflicting reasoning was all too clear to Jehan. One look and he had halted, lightly touching her elbow and steering her around to face him. There was a liquid softness in his eyes.

“What is it Haywise?”  She lowered her gaze and turned her head slightly.

“Nothing,” she snapped, her words coming out far more brusquely than she had intended them to.  Seeing the wounded look on Jehan’s voice, she quickly tried to retract the damage. “It’s nothing you can help me with. Leave it.”

She was a terrible liar, always had been and although she was refusing assistance, he knew she wanted it.  The small oval face was a mask of determination but those eyes told a different story.  A host of butterflies started whizzing around in his stomach and he flinched slightly at the strength of their awakening.

Slowly, his arm driven by an overpowering command, he snaked an arm around her waist.  If she felt anything, she didn’t acknowledge it. His heart swooped in disappointment but his arm remained where it was. She finally looked up at him and he saw tears threatening to spill.

The movement opened her up and her words slurred around each other in the rush to get it out of her mouth. “We’re thieves.  Robbing homes, taking possessions whilst they lie dead and unable to stop us, it’s not right! ”

Jehan pulled her into him, feeling her warm softness settle against his own body. He placed his cheek against the top of her head, breathing in everything about her that made her Haywise. Her body gave a few small shakes as she cried her fear out then all too soon she unlocked herself and wiped her eyes with her hand.

“Let’s go.”

They worked in silence, throwing the food they found into baskets and sacks. Some houses remained untouched and it felt like the families that had once lived in them had gone out for the day.

Haywise kept focused on Jehan to try and submerge the intense guilt she felt. Recent events had brought out a second Jehan lurking behind the surface. This one was emotionally strong as well as physically, and kind. His kindness hurt;  she didn’t know how to thank him for it or show just how much it meant to her. She couldn’t give it back.

 Her breath was emerging in fast little rushes and Jehan cast a sidelong look at her.

“The exertion,” she mumbled back, hoping he was unable to see past the lie.

As he looked at her, her stomach convulsed, although not unpleasantly. Could this be…no, she was too young and there was far more at stake. To love him in that way would be selfish. He probably didn’t want things to change between them anyway. Friends. Best friends. That was how it needed to stay. If she allowed herself to realise that she had affections for him, it could change everything. No. It wouldn’t happen. Aggressively, she thrust a fairly unspoiled cabbage into her pack, angry at her train of thoughts.

 

They returned to the group with two full baskets and a bulging sack. Quickly and silently, packs were dealt out fairly to all the party and it was with gladdened hearts they left the miserable shell of the village. The sun was setting; ribbons of purple and pink streamed against the vibrant sky but the deeper they plunged into the forest, the less light filtered through.  A brisk breeze had started to blow and Haywise jerked awake from her musings to find herself leaning into Jehan. She weighed the options of moving away but his warmth and solidness was a comfort in the gathering gloom.  

       Jehan supressed a small smile as Haywise pressed against him. He glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone had noticed. The man had offered Celeste an arm for her to lean on. Almera trotted a short way behind, close enough to create the image of a family.

       They walked for a short while in silence, each member of the party reliving the events of the day. It wasn’t until the light seeped through the shadowy trees in a darkening blue that Jehan spoke.

       “It won’t be long before complete darkness. We must find some sort of shelter.”

       Haywise shivered. The prospect of another night passing without her family, out in the cold and in constant danger came with a searing desolation and an almost tangible fear.

There was a pause followed by a scuffle of feet as the party scoured the surrounding area. No one strayed far from each other, the curtains of dusk in between the gateways of trees chilling their adventurous sides.

“Here,” the man called from up ahead. “We can stay here for the night.” As the others approached, they followed his hand to a small gap in the undergrowth, hardly visible for all the tendrils of weeds and twigs.  He stepped forward, ignoring the gasps of fear from Celeste and Almera and pulled apart a hanging curtain of leaves and ivy. Haywise recoiled in an anticipation which proved to be false. He vanished into undergrowth. “It’s safe,” he called back.

The company stepped forward and found themselves plunged into a murkiness that took their eyes by surprise. Blinking rapidly, the company managed to see again, all be it with limited vision.

It was a tiny cave, so small they could see the jutting uneven back wall. It would be a cosy night but it was sheltered and safe.    

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