They slept long and peacefully. No doubt they had been living with difficulty and much fear these past few days. I watched from the safety of a Sycamore tree. They were low-built, well designed for climbing and spying, with thick leaves to conceal any watchers.
I don’t know why I watched them. Perhaps it was loneliness. I had always had someone with me, usually Bhar. Now I was alone. Or maybe it was that I couldn’t bring myself to let them die. From my position, I could easily pick off anyone who tried to sneak up on the trio.
After some time, man woke. He sat up stiffly, stretching his long arms before turning to look at the baby.
He looked at the child tenderly. I began to wonder if perhaps he had had the child, and not the boy. Or perhaps he was someone who stood up for the boy, such as an uncle or even a father. Nay… not closely related. The structure of their bones were too differed.
I watched as he cared for the child. There was a sort of wistfulness about his face, the sort that most fresh Outcasts had. Longing for their old life, the family members and things they would never see again.
“My children used to call me Eno-no,” Said the man sadly as he bent to care for the infant. “Perhaps you will too, one day. I think we will be here a long time, Yasri…”
As he spoke softly, I heard another quiet noise. A simple snap of a twig, but enough. Such a simple sound, yet it meant the ultimate for the one who had stepped on it. For them, it meant death.
An arrow was nocked and drawn in a matter of seconds. The bow strained, arrow trained on the source of the sound.
A man. One I’d seen before. Little wonder… nearly all Outcasts had met another at some point. There were relatively few of us, particularly compared to within the city wall. My muscles began to grow weary of holding back the bow.
The man, Jev, was watching the trio. I could almost see him weighing whether or not they were worth killing. They had little on them, but they were new. Their deaths would affect no one. Or maybe he could befriend them.
I loosed the arrow.
The arrow slid between the man’s ribs. He froze mid-action and then slumped forward with a thud on the earth.
The man looked up quickly at the sound. I dropped out of the tree, landing in a crouch beside the fallen man. I slipped a finger under his jaw, feeling for a pulse. He was dead.
I placed my hand on his back, arrow shaft between my thumb and finger, then pulled it loose.
The man nudged Alahn with his boot. My eyes flicked up, eyeing the footwear jealously before I stood up.
“Peace,” I said, walking out. I held out my hand as he had done, in hopes of calming him in the same way he had I the night before, but regretted the action when I realized the bloody arrow was still in my hand. Grimacing, I slid it into the oil-cloth quiver noting to clean it later.
“Enoah,” Alahn said urgently, getting to his feet. Enoah said nothing, but put a free hand on Alahn’s shoulder. Alahn looked at me. “Who was that?”
“Jev,” I answered, shouldering the bow. “He is not one of your concerns now.”
“Do we have other concerns?” Enoah asked.
For a moment, I was merely stunned into silence. They had no weapons or shelter, no means of defense or gathering food. I could hardly think of any danger they needn’t be concerned about, save Jev.
“Yes,” I finally said. Alahn and Enoah didn’t move, as though waiting for me to elaborate.
“What do you suggest us doing?” Alahn asked in his gentle manner.
“First I believe we should know who you are, child.” Enoah said.
Child. Was I a child? I was not innocent or carefree, and I was not immature or careless. I was not a child. But if such knowledge would change Enoah’s attitude towards me, he would learn on his own.
“I am called Crest,” I answered. “And if you don’t do what I say, you will most likely die.”
* * * * *
I didn’t mean for it to sound dramatic. Drama has little use. It had to mean, then, that the situation was dramatic all on its own.
Enoah looked at me thoughtfully, holding Yasri closer to his chest. Alahn took a defensive stance. It was subtle, as only an Elite would be trained to do.
“Why would we die?”
“I have no wish to kill you,” I said. “But the Sycamores are not merciful.”
“The Sycamores,” Enoah said calmly. “Are sacred. They will protect us.”
A harsh laugh left my lips. “Then you are an ignorant fool,” I snapped. “The Sycamores are just trees. They do not choose who they hide or what those people do."
Enoah frowned. "Are not all Outcasts caring for one another?"
There was silence as this idea pounded my head. Then I stepped forward.
"The Outcasts are not bound together. We fight for survival, kill for food and shelter. Whatever idyllic dreams you had of camaraderie, you can leave them here in the clearing right now."
The trio were silent for a moment. Then Enoah nodded slowly. "What would you have us do?"
I tilted my head. The news that there were fresh Outcasts would travel quickly.