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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2. Two

Haywise stirred, feeling the cold morning air seep through her bones. Beneath her back she could feel the dampness of morning dew. Groggily she sat up and winced at the pain that lanced through her arm.  Hesitantly, she peeled back the makeshift bandage, afraid of what she would see. What she saw made her breathe a sigh of relief. The skin around the wound was smeared with black and blue blobs but the wound itself was beginning to close.

Running her fingers through her tangled hair to get rid of some of the knots, she walked down to the river’s edge and scooped handfuls of water over her face. As the water splashed against her skin, she jerked backwards with a small utterance as something opened inside. Too many memories of the night before came flooding back.

       “Haywise?” Jehan’s voice was thick with sleep and his brown hair stuck out wildly. His eyes were narrow with fatigue and his skin was an unhealthy white.

       “I’m fine,” she murmured, heading towards him. Trying to break the silence between them, her stomach growled. With heat rushing to her face, she clamped an arm over her stomach as if that would make it stop.

       “I’ll see what I can find,” Jehan grinned, his features immediately brightening.

He grunted as he got up, slowly lumbering off into the forest.

Haywise watched him become smaller and smaller until the darkness of the trees swallowed him. Her stomach swooped. She was alone. Too alone. Nerves that had been smothered by Jehan’s presence were reborn and her fingers started twisting around each other. She started moving side to side, peering into the dark veil as if she had the vision to see Jehan. Of course she couldn’t, she was being stupid.

Resolved to do something to take her mind off her nerves, she edged nearer the forest, making sure she only stayed at the very border. There were plenty of dry twigs and leaves here that would serve their purpose well. Gathering a handful, she moved slightly away from the dappled shadows and scrutinised the ground. Spying a patch that didn’t sparkle as much as much as the rest of the green, she dumped her load down, taking a seat.

She started to rub two twigs together in opposite directions. She wasn’t even sure this would work but she had seen Jehan do it once when they were hiding from their parents in the wood.

Haywise’s rubbings grew quicker and more frustrated as nothing happened. Just when she was on the verge of giving up completely, a small, lone spark leapt from the wood and landed smouldering on the pile. Heartened by this development, Haywise rubbed with a renewed passion and at last flames, small at first, started to burn. With gentle encouragement, she coaxed them higher until at last, she was able to warm herself on the leaping flames. The heat banished the chill from her damp clothes and she watched delightedly as gold and black danced across her skin.

A crashing from the forest brought her back to reality. Cursing, she felt fear take over again. Looking around, she panicked as her eyes detected nothing worth using as a weapon. Standing up and starting to back away, she watched as Jehan came sauntering towards her, one hand on hip and the other holding two conies. Her shoulders visibly sagged.

“You could have warned me,” she snapped, glaring at him.

“I didn’t think I’d need to.”

       “A little bit of consideration would have been nice.” Fear was making her vicious. Jehan’s eyes widened. Annoyance flared for a moment. He had been doing the hard work, he had been making sure they ate. Looking at her wide eyes and her trembling hands, the way she had planted herself defiantly, the anger vanished. He set to making the fire, averting his gaze before she latched onto his sympathy. Weak and scared as she was, he didn’t think pity was what she needed right now.

 

The warm, rich taste of rabbit lingered in their mouths and sat in their bellies. Haywise was quite content to stay where she was.  For the briefest of moments, she forgot all the suffering she had been through. She would be content to stay here all day.

 Jehan had other ideas. Whilst Haywise stared at the fast river, Jehan was covering the ash and remnants of their breakfast.

“What are you doing?’ Haywise asked lazily.

“I’m trying to rid any signs we were here. If those soldiers are moving, they will soon be on our tail if we’re not careful.”

Haywise inwardly groaned. She hated all this skulking and creeping about.

“Come on.” Jehan was already stalking away into the dark woods and she grudgingly followed. The forest was cold and dark and the great trees blocked the sun. The air was still and quiet with only the cracking of twigs underfoot. Haywise shivered. As she looked up, she caught glimpses of an iron – grey sky.

“Looks like snow.” Jehan too had been observing the skies and now had a worried look on his face.

“Why don’t we stop in the next village we come too? If you know where you’re going.”

Jehan snorted. “I’ve been in and out of the woods more times than I care to remember. I think we’re alright.”  

Haywise didn’t respond, just wrapped her arms around her body. Jehan’s momentary look of anger passed and he walked back to the shivering girl. He gently put his arm around her shoulders. Feeling slightly more reassured, Haywise nestled closer to him.

It had started to snow. Flakes were gently floating in the breeze and settled on trees and leaves. Haywise scooped a flake off her own sleeve. This snow was odd. It was a dark grey and fell apart like parchment. Jehan too had stopped to examine these curious snowflakes, so unlike the diamond white they had seen countless winters before.            

A wind blew, sharp and wintery bringing with it a smell that the two friends recognised. Haywise felt a chill ripple through her. She broke free of Jehan’s protective arm and began running. Behind her she heard Jehan’s shout and his heavy footsteps scuffing through the leaves. Instead of obeying, she burst into a sprint. They couldn’t have reached that village so soon. Through the trees, she now saw the unmistakable ripple and flicker of orange flame and the air was now thick with an acrid stench.

She stumbled as powerful, painful memories returned. She felt emptiness in the pit of her stomach and felt pity surge within her. These people had gone through the horrors and nightmares that had ruined hers and Jehan’s life. They would not have been prepared…they needed help. She took a step forward but felt a hand close around hers and drag her backwards. Desperately she fought against its steady pull but an arm snaked around her waist and dragged her back. She opened her mouth to scream but a hand and a familiar voice hissed,                                                                                                                                                “Haywise, what is wrong with you?” Jehan turned her around and for a moment they stared at each other. Haywise buried her head against his chest and let the tears slide down her face. His arm pulled her closer and he rested his chin on top of her head. Beneath the roughness of his tunic, she heard the rhythmic beat of his heart and felt the soft rise and fall of his chest.

For a moment, they stood there, with the ashes silently falling on them and onto the leaves and floor around them.  Haywise summoned her breath.

“We have to help them…see if there’s anyone left…”

Jehan mumbled in agreement and almost reluctantly they parted. He gently took her hand and crept to the edge of the forest. They ducked behind a log and what they saw took their breath away.

The same soldiers ran up and down, in and out, dragging screaming women by the hair and clashing blades with men desperate to protect their families. Smoke and flames poured out of doors and roofs and bodies looked like discarded dolls strewn onto the street . Haywise felt bile rise in her throat and felt tears sting in her eyes.

“What do we do? What do we do?” she mouthed at Jehan. He assessed the situation in front of him.

“We wait till they’ve gone and then we’ll go in and scout for survivors.”

“But they may be here days.”

“Then we will have to wait for days. We’re not turning our backs now.”

 

It was late afternoon before the brutal soldiers finally left. What they left behind was a scene of carnage, destruction and utter despair. Flames had long since consumed all that stood in their way, and what had once been buildings now lay in heaps of rubble. They had taken most of what the villagers owned and spared very few.

Jehan and Haywise warily crept out from where they had been watching. Their wits were sharp, their bodies tense for any sign of danger. They advanced slowly, Haywise avoiding debris and ashes and Jehan holding his knife. It was deathly quiet.

As they went deeper into the once civilized village, they noticed some buildings had escaped the fire but had been ransacked like the others. Doors hung lopsided and there were heaps of smashed crockery and tupperware.  Haywise was pale as she tried to hold together the emotions tearing through her.

A rending cry ripped the air apart, making both Jehan and Haywise jump. Inside their chests, their hearts began a frantic beat and Jehan noticed his hands were slightly shaking. He glanced at Haywise. Her face was deathly white and he could see silvery trails down her cheek where silent tears were falling. Her eyes darted from side to side and her lips pressed into a scar. Jehan reached for her hand as he understood. When her own hand grasped his, he felt no warmth. His fingers curled tighter around hers - he wouldn't let go.

Together they advanced towards the sound, Jehan leading; almost dragging Haywise. It was coming from  a building that was less abused than the others around them. They paused at the door, nervously listening. There was grunting and what seemed to be a woman's sobs. Haywise grew rigid, her heart stopped beating and she began gasping for air. Abruptly, her hand slipped loose of Jehan and she slid to the floor covering her ears and shaking her head. She didn't want to remember. Jehan knelt beside her and softly removed one hand.

“You wait here, I'll get this man for what he has done to you.” He gently placed her hand back and drew in a breath. He was scared, his legs were shaking but he still had that terrified expression at the forefront of his mind.

He slipped in through the open door and pressed his back against the wall, hidden by shadows. In the dim light, he could see the shape of a man bending over a frantic and screaming woman. Closing his eyes, Jehan battled with his moral conscious. He had to do it.  Before Jehan’s rationale halted him, he ran the short distance, lifted his dagger and plunged it deep into the man's back. The man groaned, arched his back, and then fell lifeless on top of the woman. This time her scream was ear-splitting and as Jehan hauled the dead man off her, she began jabbering and moaning. Jehan took her hand and she fought like a wild cat.

“You’re safe! I’m not a soldier, he’s gone.”

 Silence fell and the woman turned red eyes towards him.

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice cracked and thick.

“I'm Jehan. Our village was attacked two nights ago by the same soldiers who came here.”

Again, silence and then the woman sat upright and pulled Jehan to her in a surprisingly hard grip.

“Thank God, thank God someone else is alive.”

 Jehan prised her off him gently.

“There's someone else, someone who’ll understand. Come with me.”

With Jehan's supporting arm, the woman made it outside to where Haywise was still crouched in a foetal position. Jehan knelt in front of her and raised her chin with his finger. “She's alive.”

Haywise slowly raised her head and looked at the woman in front of her. Her dress was torn at the shoulder and the weak light unflatteringly highlighted the patchwork of vivid bruises and cuts on her face. It didn’t take long for her to extend her arms towards the woman.

“Me too,” she whispered. The woman said nothing but stepped forward and took Haywise's hands.

“Then you understand?” Haywise nodded.

Jehan had been watching this exchange, running his hand through his hair.  It was important for the two to understand each other, to offer each other a consolation he couldn’t give but the reek of danger still milled in the air.

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