The Orphan and The Runaways


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2. Chapter One (Alec)

It was my family’s turn for the census. Every single person in Convale had to travel to their nearest approved city at every birth, death or when called. I had gone when I was born, and once when my grandfather died. This was the first time I had ever been called. So my family had no choice but to go to Emperia, which led me to drag a heavy leather bag along the ground whilst my parents sat astride the horses. 

“Mother,” I wheezed between pulls of the bag, “don’t you think it would’ve been wiser to rent another horse for me?” I didn’t really mind pulling the bag but I had always made a point to complain and it didn’t seem like the right time to stop.

“Alec, some muscles will do you good. And besides, it’s only another hour’s travel until we reach Ivy. You can sit down when we get on the train.” My mother had barely turned her head and I was certain that my dad had fallen asleep on his horse. They enjoyed riding and knew that I didn’t particularly enjoy riding. I looked around at the dirt path and squinted to see the town with the train station. My mind moved onto other things quickly. I was devising the sword-fights I’d have once I reached the city. After all, there were rumours of another war in the near future.

I would arrive in town just in time to see some injustice occurring and leap in. It would be a man assaulting a lady, no… a group of women and children. I would leap in their midst, pluck a sword from the ground and shout to the attacker to back away. But he wouldn’t. He would only tut and draw his own sword. No doubt by this point the King or some other important person would be near enough to witness my prowess. I would leap upon the nearby barrel and shout “Aha! Now I have the upper hand!” Our swords would meet repeatedly until I disarmed the man. I would dive off whatever I was now standing on, a crate maybe, and restrain the man until the city guardsmen came. The King would then come through and congratulate me and offer me a position on his personal guard. I would accept and live to be a famous swordsman.

I blinked and returned to the present. It was a wonderful fantasy but a fantasy was all it was. I had never held a sword. The most aggressive weapon in my little seaside village was the slingshots that the children played with. I sighed and tried to catch up with my parents who had sped up while I was preoccupied. 

I hated slowly walking but with a heavy bag, I had no choice. I had been dreaming about Emperia for the whole journey and the train station that looked so far away was now quite near. I had only been to Ivy a few times before, once when my father wanted a new horse and a few times for trading. It was a small town with only three buildings: an inn, a stables and the train station. 

“Okay, so your father and I will go pick up some food from the inn and you can go tie up the horses.” I nodded and my mother smiled, handing me the reins. I ambled towards the stables pondering when the train would arrive. The horse on my left, a chestnut coloured Danish Warmblood, tugged me sideways. I leaned sideways and tried to regain my balance by pulling the reins of the other horse, a bay Danish Warmblood. The gelding reared and I fell to the ground. I never got along with horses. Both horses pulled away from me and trotted over the pile of hay, which had distracted the chestnut in the first place. 

“Brilliant,” I muttered under my breath as I picked myself up from the ground and lugged the bag along the ground. I had decided to be clever and to put it on the horse while I took them to the stable. Apparently the bay had had different ideas. I moved closer to the horses and snatched up their reins. I tugged a few times and they gave in and followed me into the stables. I nodded to the stable boy as I walked past. My father had already arranged for stalls for the both the horses and I led the horses into their respective stalls. 

“Alec! Come to the platform!” I heard my mother shout. I rolled my eyes and picked up a pitchfork to move some hay for the horses. I was sure she could wait a few more minutes. 

“Alec! The train is going to leave soon!” A sharp whistle accompanied her shout. That got me moving. I picked up the bag and ran to the door of the stable. I knew the platform wasn’t that far away, twenty metres at most. 

“Alec! Hurry up! There’s only one train a day and we do not want to miss it!” shouted both my parents from the train. They had alternated sentences, which would’ve been funny had I not been stuck with a heavy bag in the stable. I shook my head and ran for the train. The heavy leather bag that I could only just drag before was now lifted over my head. Just comes to show the things you’d do to not get abandoned at a train station by your parents. I threw the bag onto the train and grabbed onto the side. It had only began moving and I could still run alongside it. In my mind, I played out the scene exactly how I wanted it to happen. 

I would leap from the platform. The train would be going far too fast to just normally jump on. I would nearly miss, my fingers gripping a bar hanging off the end of the train. Onlookers would as in amazement and horror as I would swing around. My fingers would let go at the perfect moment and I would land safely on the train and swagger through to my parents.

Real life wasn’t quite as perfect. During my daydream, the train had sped up causing my foot to clip a post as I swung around. I howled in pain and tucked my legs closer to me. Both my hands were holding onto the side of the train and I realised too late that the window I had thrown the bag into had closed and I had no way in. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold onto the handles jutting out forever. And my parents had disappeared, presumably because they were trying to locate me and the bag. The train was picking up speed and I realised soon enough that I had to let go. I considered the consequences for one moment before looking down to find the best place to fall. But all I could make out was gravel. I pondered over how much gravel could hurt me then sighed. My hands were aching and I could feel them loosening. The wind buffeted my face and I tried to pull away. A leaf blew into my face and I automatically drew my left hand near to swat it away. My mistake became obvious ridiculously soon. My other hand slipped straight out of the handle and I started to fall. My heart sped up and leapt into my throat. I forgot about the pain in my foot and kicked out for some sort of foothold but I found nothing. My face drew ever nearer to the ground and I could suddenly see the gravel very clearly. I breathed a silent prayer to the gods and closed my eyes, preparing to face-plant onto the ground at speed. But it never came. I was just above the ground when a window opened on the train. A hand was thrust forth and gripped my ankle right where it had hit that post. Another hand joined the fray and pulled me into the train. I didn’t even react immediately. My eyes were still squeezed shut and unaware of what was happening.

“Oi! Kid! Open your eyes!” A thick accent cut through to me and I opened my eyes to see a train worker. “That’s better. Let’s have a look at you.” He looked me up and down and muttered some things to himself. I blinked a few times as the whistle of the train cleared my head. I felt a little sick and turned away from the man. Slowly, I started to acknowledge my surroundings. I was in the coal store of the train, not dead. The man looked up at my face again. “Kid, you were nearly a goner. You’re a lucky one.” His eyes glinted from the light of his lamp and his beard heaved with every syllable. I sighed and felt my heart slow down. It all seemed far too eventful for one day.

 

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