How could it go so wrong? Why did this have to happen to us? Right on the first day! Why us of all people?’ I stood there trembling and stuck to the ground beside my mom who was frozen stiff as I was while two men were pointing their knives at Mr. Smith. However, she was not as shocked like I was. It seemed as if her fears were taking shape. As if she had expected this all along. What is it that these people know that I don’t? Right now, I couldn’t care less about that. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think. Like I said, I was only dazed with shock as I stood behind Mr. Smith’s cover like a mannequin.
‘So, it looks like we are doing this’ he said to the two aggressors as he drew his own long dagger out. I wanted to look to my mother for comfort but I just couldn’t move. My gaze was affixed on the sharp blades hanging steady in those motionless hands. I’ve seen foxes hunt before. They stay stationary for a while before they pounce on the prey. There’s no room for error. One small miscalculation and you stay hungry for a day. While these men wore the same stature of a fox ready to pounce, they knew that this was no simple prey. They were facing another predator who was cornered. Miscalculation won’t cost them hunger. It’s going to cost them their lives.
‘Edward! Mirriam!’ he called out to us. I was still shook with fear but at least my mind had started working when I heard his voice call out to us as it gave me a sense of direction. ‘Take the horses. Run as fast as you can. You know where to go.’ Me and my mother finally looked at each other. We finally had something to do but we were still scared stiff. Our feet just wouldn’t move.
‘Randall’, my mother called out to him softly. She had the same concern that I did. What about him? Were we just going to leave him here with these people? How can he fight two people half his age? Deep inside I wanted to flee from the place as soon as I could but I just couldn’t let him stay behind for us. I didn’t even know why this was happening.
‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll catch up with you soon…. I think. Just take your horses and go. All the supplies are in your saddles. There’s also a bag of gold. Hire someone to accompany you if you want. Now GO! Go find him’ he was clear about what he wanted us to do. It gave us some comfort, even the fact that we couldn’t sense much fear or hesitation in his voice was helping. My mother grabbed my hand and pulled me back while my gaze was still fixed on Mr. Smith. With all her strength, she put me on my horse as I was petrified to the core. She got on hers and pulled the reins on both Diddy and Dixit, our strong mustang twins.
We galloped forth to a place I didn’t know as I watched Mr. Smith crouching in front of two armed men. The battle hadn’t begun yet. As my eyes blurred with tears and dust, I faced forward and saw my mother leading both our horses away. ‘Where are we going?’ I asked her in a faint tone. She didn’t respond. Maybe she didn’t hear it or maybe she was just ignoring me. Either way, I didn’t want to repeat the question. When I started regaining control over my body, I took the reins myself and followed my mother. We had left the town we were in and were on a desert track now. I looked back at the town. He could have been dead or injured by this time. Or he could have escaped. Maybe he talked his way out. Recalling their startling reactions, it wasn’t likely that there was any negotiation from that point on. Even though the chances were faint, maybe he could have won. It didn’t seem likely. An old man like him fighting what looked like two fighters in their prime didn’t seem very fathomable. Again, I asked myself ‘How did it come to this?’
I was surprised to see all that commotion when I came home that day. The man I met in the forest was in my house talking to my mother. For some reason she looked terrified and was trying really hard to suppress it when she saw me. As soon as I showed up, she sent me off to my room and asked me not to come out till she herself called me out. But did she expect that I would just sit back and ignore everything that was going on? I leaned on the door trying to listen in on the conversation outside. Suddenly my mother started shrieking angrily but the man she was dealing with remained calm. A few moments later, I heard him: Lord Fawk.
The other kids used to make fun of him because of his perpetual drinking habit I always felt bad for him. To me he seemed like a lonely soul who had nothing much to offer and the guilt seemed to be eating him up all the time. He had casually spoken to me and my mother a few times but it was the first time he had come to our house as far as I could remember. Soon after his appearance, it seemed like my mother had calmed down. A few moments passed but I could hardly hear anything. I knew they were talking and it was something important. Not knowing what they were talking about was eating me up.
As cautiously as I could and without making a sound, I slightly pushed the door open leaving a tiny opening for me to peep through. I peered through the narrow gap and saw my mother sobbing on Lord Fawk’s shoulder while sitting on the couch while he comforted her. The stranger stood in front of them with his head bowed down. I felt cold inside as I saw her cry not because this was something new to me. I’ve seen her cry before, on many occasions. She tries her best to not do it in front of me but it has happened so often that I’ve happened to catch her at it. Maybe it’s because she misses dad. It has to be. She talks about him so lovingly all the time. I don’t remember him much as I was quite young when he died. It has been so long that I hardly remember what he even looked like. All I remember was that he was nice. Nice to me and mom. Maybe him not being around anymore is the reason she cries but I’ve never known for sure. I was never brave enough to ask her or even comfort her.
Right now I felt cold, because this was the first time she was breaking down in front of someone else. It just felt wrong. I wanted to know what this was about but I also knew that I shouldn’t be peeping in on them. Just then the stranger caught me looking. He critically shook his head to tell me that I should stop spying at the conversation. Without a moment’s thought, I slipped back inside and as furtively as I could, I shut the door close. Right now it was highly unlikely that she was crying because she missed my dad. This was something else. Either of those two men were bearers of some kind of awful news.
An hour later my mother called for me. With slumped shoulders and a hanging head, I slowly walked out. Lord Fawk was not here anymore. It was just mom and the other man staring at me. She had wiped off her tears but I could notice her faint trembling. She walked up to me and crouched down to meet my eyes as she put her warm hands on my shoulders. “Hey big boy. The both of us have to leave on a long journey. I know this is sudden but we need to leave now.” She smiled but her voice squeaked as she spoke. She was still shook from whatever had peeved her. “We need to pack. I’ll get all the supplies ready. We won’t need much as we’ll get them on the way. Right now we need to take everything that’s irreplaceable to us. Things that we shouldn’t be away from far too long like the first wooden sword I made for you or the crown that Uncle Mikhail gave you on your last birthday. Leave behind everything that we won’t need because there’s only so much that we can carry.” I kept shifting my gaze around on both her and the man standing behind. They looked really serious about this. I had so many questions. Where were we going? For how long were we leaving? Why now of all times, why so suddenly? All these questions kept stacking up in my mind but I couldn’t dare ask something now. It seemed clear that it was important. Knowing that I’d get my answers eventually, I turned around without saying a word and went back into my room. For a second I turned to look at mom and she was stunned that I had agreed so willingly.
I took three sacks. I filled two of them out with my best collection of clothes, belts, hoods and boots while I filled the other one with my favourite books: The adventures of Hilgett and Traut, The Cursed Angel and The Tales of Bremmingway along with a pouch of marbles. I was never much into toys but marbles could always keep my interest. It was then that my eye caught a glimpse of that. The emerald medal that lay on my desk. I’ve had it forever and I still don’t know how it came in my possession. My mother said she didn’t know anything either but she asked me to keep it because it looked important. I’ve kept it ever since and now I felt the need to carry it along only because it was probably was as old as me. It had been untouched for a long time so I wiped the dust off of it. It glimmered so bright that as it seemed as if it was just crafted. I put it in the bag with the rest of the books. I laced all the sacks up tight and dressed up myself. I wore a fresh cotton shirt on the same pants I had been wearing all day. I put on my leather riding boots with wooden soles and the only overcoat I owned. Finally, I wore my belt on which I hooked my wooden sword, my coin pouch in which I carefully placed the crown I received from Uncle Mikhail and my dad’s dagger which my mother didn’t know about. I then took the most important possession of mine; a bone ornament that a friend gave me a long time ago. It had a narrow hole lining through it . My mother did me a favour and turned it into a locket by running a thread through it.
With the sacks, I walked outside and noticed that my mother had already finished packing. She was frantically walking around the house while the stranger stood waiting outside the main door. ‘We’re taking Diddy and Dixit. Lord Fawk has arranged it so that the rest of the horses and the farm animals would be taken care of when we’re gone. Don’t worry about them’ she was still running around as she said that. It was time to leave and I had a strange feeling churning inside me. On their own, my eyes started tearing up for some reason. Like a baby, I asked her, ‘What about my friends mom? What about Shugu, Shawna and Randall? What about the rest of them?’ She stopped for a second and looked at me. ‘They’ll be alright Ed’ she paused again and said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon’. She looked away from my eyes as she said that and broke into a jog and went inside her room. I rubbed my watery eyes on my sleeve and hauled all the sacks outside. Our guest was staring at the farmlands in the windy moonlit night. Without bothering him, I went to the stables and saddled up both our horses Diddy and Dixit. With all the luggage hooked on, I brought them out and stationed them near the door. Just then the man came up to me and said his first words since he last met me in the forest. ‘Those are two beautiful mustangs. Larger than any I’ve ever seen.’ They seemed quite normal to me but I was thankful of the compliment. ‘Yes, they’re quite nice. You’ve got a nice horse too. What breed is that?’
‘She’s a gimper. They’re slow but can travel long distances. She’s quite old now so she’ll be even slower compared to your young mustangs.’ He seemed quite proud of her.
‘Oh, she looks quite lively’. I walked up to her.
‘Hey, easy. She doesn’t like strangers. She’s quite defensive’ he warned me but was too slow. I was already caressing my hand across her neck as she was nuzzling up against me. He seemed quite shocked at how soon it all went down but he didn’t say anything. As soon as I was done petting his horse, he spoke again. ‘Her name’s Sheena and I’m Randall Smith. Randall, like your squirrel back in the forest. I’ll be tagging along with you on this journey.’ I kept thinking about how it would be best to respond. Seeking answers from him about where we were headed seemed easier than asking my mother but it wouldn’t feel right.
‘Well, you know my name.’ I said, without any idea of what I could say back to him. He then pulled a corked glass vial out of one of his pockets and popped it open. It was full of a milky white liquid. ‘Here, chug this vitadite in one go. We need to ride all night so I don’t want you to feel sleepy on the way. Slowing down isn’t an option. Me and your mother can manage but I can’t risk things with you. It’ll keep you awake and alert for the next 12 hours but it will tire you out and make you feel hungry very quickly. You need to keep eating along the way. Your supplies should suffice.’ I reluctantly took the vial and chugged it in one gulp like he said. It tasted like sour milk and smelled like rotten eggs and vomit. I don’t know about the medicinal properties but the taste itself could keep me awake for all that time. I felt like throwing up but luckily the feeling died down instantly.
From the window, I saw the candles go off . My mom was wearing a full length black cloak over a nice grey tunic. A lot of things plagued my mind when I saw her hook up an axe and a cleaver to her belt aside from the large money pouch. She brought the last two sacks with her and saddled them up on Dixit. After putting the hood on, she was the first to climb up on her horse. Me and Mr.Smith followed up by mounting ours. ‘Lead the way’ she said to him. With a nod, he started out for the forest path, the place where we first met.
‘Mom, weren’t we forbidden from ever crossing the forest’s border?’ I wanted to know how great the degree of importance was.
‘Yes. But we haven’t had the need to leave this place Ed. Only the merchants go out because they have good reason to. The world outside isn’t very kind. You remember what happened to father when he last went out, don’t you? But now, we too have good reason to leave.’ We both looked at each other for a few seconds. ‘I know you have a lot of questions Ed. I promise I’ll tell you everything. In time, of course.’ I compliantly nodded to indicate my obedience. I had to respect her wishes and give her the time she needed.
I frantically looked around at the thick jungle around me as we passed through the forest path. This was my second home. The place where I spent most of my time. The place where all my friends lived. Wondering if I would ever see them again, I looked back at the times we had. Once the path cleared, we were out of the forest and rode into a dry land. For miles ahead I could see nothing but sand. There was no road either. I had never been so far out. I hadn’t even been to the edge of the forest which was why I never knew that there was an expansive desert right outside. This was something entirely new for me. Mr.Smith kept riding hard in front of us while the two of us followed after him. After two hours of riding, we slowed down to let our horses relax. I could now hear my tummy growling the sound of which were louder than Diddy’s grunts.
‘It’s the vitadite. You need to eat up. Keep eating throughout the whole ride. You’re going to need it.’ Mr.Smith said to me with a smile. I could see that my mother was tired but he was as energetic as ever. I wondered how he could stay that way after such a long day.
‘Where are we headed right now?’ I asked him. I felt like there was no end to this desert.
‘We’re going to the town of Hirridunn. It’s about 8 hours from here and happens to be the closest settlement from your town. Yes, your town is that isolated. But this place that we’re going to is quite small. Not even a tenth of Vereen.’
‘I’ve never been outside. I never thought I’d leave.’
‘It’s not pretty out here boy. You’ll soon realise that there’s nothing like home. Nothing you’ll ever see will be as amusing as the place you live in.’ He then turned to me. ‘Listen, I’ve told your mother this and you need to keep this in mind too. You both can use your names but never mention the name of your town. You both are from the town of Kirkpod and are travelling to the capital with me. Got it? Never ever mention your town.’ He turned back to face the desert again. ‘You both are too well dressed which adds to our troubles. I should have told you beforehand because it makes you a target.’
‘A target for what?’ I asked him
‘An attack! It’s easy money. One man with a wealthy looking woman and kid. Anybody would pounce on such easy targets.’
‘Why would someone do that’. Suddenly, he started laughing at my question. ‘Why, you ask. Haha. People don’t have enough out here boy. They’re not as well off as the people in your town. Making money is no easy feat here so they survive by taking it from others.’
‘We have a lot of money. If someone needs it we’ll give it to them.’ Again he started laughing as if I had cracked a silly joke. ‘You don’t have enough. You’ll never have enough. These people don’t understand the concept of sufficiency. Their hunger is endless and they’re beyond saving. Keep your money to yourself boy. Hide it well if you can and forget about handing it all around.’ I stopped saying anything further to avoid being laughed at or be mocked again.
‘By the way that’s a nice dagger you have there.’ I concealed it well. How could he have seen it. Quickly my hand clasped the dagger so that my mother couldn’t see it. She was quite ahead of us. Dixit was trotting faster than Diddy and Sheena and my mother’s mind seemed to be partially lost because of the fatigue.
‘Do you even know how to wield it?’ I nodded. I clasped the hilt and pulled it out of the leather sheath whilst waving it around mid air.
‘Hmm, that’s a reverse grip. I don’t think it’ll come in handy for someone like you. Try holding it out. Right now, the blade is under your fist while the hilt is in your grip. The blade needs to over your fist.’ I switched the positions and now the blade was pointing outwards. This was how mom used to cut meat in the kitchen. ‘Now put your thumb on the outer edge.’ I looked at him to confirm if it’s safe. ‘Don’t worry, the outer edge won’t cut you. Instead, it’ll give you a better hold on your dagger.’ I held the blade like he instructed. ‘This, is a sabre grip. It’s excellent for stabbing or even slicing something, or someone. Also don’t swing it around like an idiot. Thrust it forward the fastest you can and only when it’s required. It’s best if you never have to use it.’ I put it back in my sheath after thrusting it a few times.
The journey went on and I kept eating all the way. Mom seemed to get more and more tired with every passing hour. Slowly, dawn approached and the bright sun started gleaming on our faces while blinding us. ‘It should be less than an hour away. We’re almost there’ said Mr.Smith as he led us forward.
Suddenly a lot of fatigue started to kick in. The effects of that disgusting potion were wearing off but luckily, I could see something popping up on the edge of the horizon. The sun was brighter than ever and was hammering down on us. ‘Only a few more minutes. Then we can sleep’ my mother said to me smilingly. In full speed, we darted forward and broke into the town. Like Mr.Smith said, this place was ugly. The houses were tiny and shabby. People wore clothes that looked a century old – dusty and torn. Everybody here looked weak and underfed. They seemed tired. But they were looking at us the way we were. Just as astonished. Maybe it really was the way we dressed. He warned us about this.
Mr.Smith stopped in front of a big wooden structure. It was the largest structure in the town but was still smaller than our barn. We got down after him and he handed a piece of parchment to mom and whispered something into her ear. She nodded in agreement and then he went inside while we waited out for him. A few minutes went by while we stood there waiting for him and all the people passing by kept staring at us. Some jobless folk had even gathered around us as if were something of an item. Right then he came out. He noticed the crowd’s attention around us but ignored it and came straight to us.
‘Good, they’re not here yet. If they had to come to Vereen, they’d have to make a stop at this town and I don’t think they’d stay anywhere but this inn. I’ve booked two quarters for us. Take your stuff inside. I’ll station the horses in the stable behind the inn. Can’t risk losing them to some delinquents’ He seemed glad about finally reaching here but who was he talking about? Just when I was about to ask, three hooded men wearing black robes on dark horses came and stopped in front of the same building as us. They looked at Mr.Smith for a couple of seconds and he looked back. ‘Oh no’ he muttered under his breath. ‘Not now.’
Suddenly my heart started thumping hard. What was he so scared of? Who were those three scary men? They got down from their horses and walked forward with them. Mr.Smith went and met them halfway. They were close enough to be audible.
‘You guys got here on time’ Mr.Smith was the one who initiated the conversation. It seemed like he knew them well. Were these the guys he was talking about?
‘The ride was tough. We spent two whole days on the road. You should have given us an easier path here. It would have taken us longer but at least it wouldn’t have been so treacherous’ said the tallest one in the group. ‘So, how’s the place?’
‘Dusty old shithole! It was a total waste of time coming all the way here for that piece of disappointment. Not only is it so far away but there’s not one redeeming factor in the place. It’s best we move on to better things. Next in line was this new settlement down south called Shundung. We should head on to that place.’ Why was he lying about our town. I knew best to keep quiet.
‘Yeah. You go on. Like always, we’ll be two days behind you. We’ll just rest here for a couple of hours and head over to Vereen for our report. We might find something that you missed you know’ said the tall man. He then looked over to us. ‘Hey, who’s that? Don’t tell us you’ve had a secret family all this while.’ The three of them were chuckling as they took their heavy hoods of. They were all quite young and looked tough.
‘Nobody of interest. Don’t mind them’ said Mr. Smith as he was looking at us. He then turned back to those people. ‘Hey come on now, don’t tell me you’re doubting my scouting skills. My word’s enough isn’t it? Now then, save your energy, take a day off and we can go over to the next place on the list. Let’s not waste any more time and effort.’
‘Hey, the boss expects us to go there too, you know? We have to report stuff too’ said the guy on the right and the tall guy in the centre agreed. ‘Bah! Don’t worry about it. Say the same things I do or if you want, I can talk to him about this myself’ Mr.Smith was trying his best to hold them off.
‘Don’t joke around Randall. You know how meticulous he is about protocol these days. Not following a system was the reason we fell apart first place. We need our necks in their rightful place when we go see the boss’ the tall guy was stepping forward as he spoke. Mr.Smith was trying to stop these guys from going to Vereen and it seemed to be failing. The guy on the left was staring at us all this while.
‘What do you want Randall?’ asked the same guy who had been staring at us till now. Mr.Smith stood ajar for a few seconds.
‘I want you guys to forget about Vereen, Oliver. Forget you were ever supposed to go there and just move on.’
‘Hey, I’m not going to betray the boss’ shouted the guy on the right.
‘Do me a favour just this once Bumper. Believe me when I say it’s important that you never go there and just drop it’ said Mr. Smith, clearly pleading.
‘Why is this so important Randall? What are you hiding? You need to tell us. You can trust us right?’ asked the tall guy.
‘I’m sorry Bishop, I can’t tell you. I just expect you to not go there. No matter what. I would also like you to not talk about this with anyone. Anyone in the world.’
‘Do you hear yourself Randall? Do you hear how unreasonable you sound?’ said the Bishop guy.
Mr. Smith just stood there. He stood there looking right at them and giving them a look that clarified how unreasonable his demand was and yet he expected them to oblige. ‘Well, if you don’t want us to go there, then consider me out. I’m sure you have a very good reason.’ said Oliver, the one who was still looking at us. ‘I’m going in to get some sleep. I’m not gonna decide for you guys so thechoice is up to you. I don’t intend to get mixed up in this stuff.’
‘Thanks Oliver’ said Mr. Smith while giving him a wave. He casually turned around with his horse and headed off to the back of the building.
‘Hey, where do you think you’re going Ollie!! We need to stick together’ shouted Bishop.
‘All I am today is because of Randall. His word is the final word for me. If he wants me to stay out of this, then count me out.’ He was quite clear on his position as he didn’t even turn back to say it.
‘Fine! He’s chosen to be a traitor but I’m not going to cheat the boss. He was the one who rebuilt the guild. It’s because of him that we have a home. You know that better than anyone Randall. I’m going to follow his orders till my last breath. I don’t want to do this Randall but if you try to get in our way, we’re gonna have to use force. Please, I beg you, don’t get in our way.’ It was clear what stance everyone was taking. Bumper, the guy standing beside Bishop didn’t like the way things had turned out. He clearly didn’t seem to want to oppose Randall in such a manner but his stance had already been called out. Reluctantly, he took his friend’s side.
‘I never wanted it to come to this boys but I had already anticipated this. I knew that you would carry out your responsibilities till the end even if I got in your way. It’s me who’s the traitor here. I’m the one cheating the boss. I’m the one breaking the rules and I’m the one getting in the way of my brothers. My betrayal is inexcusable but believe me when I say it, it’s necessary.’ Mr. Smith had hammered down his apology but what betrayal was he talking about and who was this boss they kept referencing all the time?
‘I’m sorry too’ said Bishop. He drew two daggers out from his belt. He was holding them in a reverse grip, the one which Mr. Smith asked me not to use. Seeing how his friend had chosen the way of combat, Bumper too drew his dagger out. He was holding it with a sabre grip, the one I was asked to use. My mind was really confused right now. They both crouched down and assumed the stance to attack.
‘So, it looks like we are doing this.’ Mr. Smith’s comment kept looping in my mind for a while. I felt dizzy and my throat was dry.
‘Edward!! Are you alright?’ shouted my mom. We both were riding hard on the desert. I had totally phased out during this time. Reliving the events of the last day, I had totally forgotten about the present. My mom had to live it for the both of us and I felt so sorry for doing that to her. I wondered what was going on in her mind throughout this time. Even though it had been over an hour since we left that town, I could see tear streaks on her face, running up through the temple because of the fast winds. They were slowly drying up in the hot sun. What was she crying for now? Was she worried about Mr. Smith or was she scared for us. Or was it something else entirely?
‘I don’t know Ma. Where are we going now?’
‘We’re going further west. It’s a place called Braumchester. A small brick making town at the edge of the country. We’re going to meet a friend of Randall’s.’ She then looked to the front. ‘Follow the sun he said. It’s 3 towns away. Be careful he said.’ It’s going to be a tough journey Ed. I need you to stay sharp for some time okay?’ I gave her a nod and we sped even further. Whatever it was that we were doing, it seemed important and I didn’t want to be a burden on her shoulders.
We kept going on for a few more hours. Our horses were much slower now. They were practically walking. I couldn’t see what was ahead. Everything was a blur and my eyes were starting to feel heavy. I sincerely wanted to close my eyes shut and that felt like the most important thing that I had to do. Suddenly, I heard a thud and was kicked back into reality for a second. My mother was on the ground and Dixit was checking up on her. I got down from Diddy and walked up to her the way Lord Fawk walks when he’s had too much to drink.
While on my knees, I shook her shoulders vigorously. ‘MOM!!’ I shouted with all the energy I had left. It wasn’t enough. ‘MOmm’, I tried to call her out again but I was at my limit. The sand was soft and I fell onto the desert floor and curled up beside my mother. Everything was so peaceful now. I could feel Diddy’s wet tongue on my cheek. Ignoring it, I went into the most pleasurable sleep I can remember.
Ah, perspective change. Now we finally have Edward as the POV. It’s going to be a bit repetitive in the beginning. The poor lad knows nothing and a lot of questions are just buzzing in his head. He’s a good boy but he’s a bit weak and can freeze when shit starts to go down around him.
Finally some action. Well, there was no combat yet but it was conflict leading up to a standoff. Haha, sorry for the tease. You’ll get some real action soon.
Randall is an unusually good fighter for a thief but so are Bishop and Bumper from the follow up squad.
Also, I’m stealing artwork from other people to illustrate my story. Sorry fellow artists, let this lowly creature feed upon your work please.
I’m trying to work on my drawing skills so that I can illustrate these myself. I believe they go a long way and project my image to the readers. I wonder how long it will take me to learn. I’ve only started and am now trying to improve my portrait art. There’s so much more to learn. Perspective, environment, hands (toughest part of drawing people), lighting, etc. Hope I learn enough before I get this to print.