(Note: This is meant to be read after Hope Victorious- Prologue)
Chapter 1: The Outlaw
“My Lord, everything is in place. Your followers are ready to fight.”
Turning from the cold stone wall of the cave, Ciaran looked at Donal. “It is not time yet. Just wait.”
(Note: This is meant to be read after Hope Victorious- Prologue)
Chapter 1: The Outlaw
“My Lord, everything is in place. Your followers are ready to fight.”
Turning from the cold stone wall of the cave, Ciaran looked at Donal. “It is not time yet. Just wait.”
Donal bowed and left the cave, going out into the mountains. Ciaran had chosen a large clump of caves for his hideaway, high in the mountains so they could do as they pleased unnoticed. And that was exactly what they had been doing. Ciaran planned to take over Olandern and eventually the whole of Edaled, but things would take time. The first place to reach would be Llyanta, that was where the king was – usurp the throne, then get the people on his side. After that, it would be easy. With all of Olandern for him, it would not be too long before Stargonia was his, then Byshan, Ladylan, Cathonys… and the other kingdoms of Edaled, until he ruled all nine.
Something in his mind nagged him, though: the story of Fàolan told in the history books of all of Edaled. Fàolan had dominated Edaled, and the people had tried to throw off his grip but had not succeeded. This part made him glad – with the whole of Edaled under his rule, there would be many people to follow him and he could easily keep peace. But a tyrranical reign was not the end of Fàolan’s story. The Creator, who many call God or Lord, sent a man, a stranger whom nobody knew. Prophets in many cities had foretold the coming of this man, and Fàolan was secretly terrified of him – this man would be the one to kill him, overthrow his kingdom, and the Creator alone knew what would happen then.
Ciaran was worried it would happen again. The Creator was all-powerful, and although Ciaran did not follow him like most of Edaled, he still feared the power the Creator had. Ciaran also was afraid of the people. Many knew he planned to usurp the throne and had begun making plans to overthrow him, or at least have an system to help those Ciaran was trying to get rid of. This system would have to be crushed, but first he would take over, and there was still some time until then. With the system, their hopes would also be crushed. They thought they had hope that lay in a promise from the Creator – yes, maybe it had been the Creator that rescued them from Faolan, but then why was the Creator not saving them still more from Daron? The dragon and his minions were still present, albeit in hiding, but existant nonetheless and ever watchful, looking for ways to trap the Creator’s followers. His followers still clung to their weak hope, though, and waited for a supposed rescue.
Ciaran laughed. In that time that they spent waiting, final touches to his plans would be made, the weapons would be forged for the latest group of his followers, and he would like livery for his men as well, so all would know who he was and that he meant business. The people of Olandern would fear him, and he would rule at last, after many years of impatient planning and suffering disrespect.
Pleased with his strategy, Ciaran nodded and then went out into the mountains to visit his men. He wanted them to know he cared for them, but what they didn’t need to know was that he cared for them as a whole, not individually. His army would be the strongest, most disciplined army Edaled had ever seen. He almost pitied the King, there was such a small army to defend him in Llyanta, and not much of an army elsewhere. Relying on their hope, Ciaran presumed. Even if there was another army in existance, it was definitely not as well trained as his, thought Ciaran proudly. His soldiers spent hours each day preparing for battle – running, dueling, climbing, anything to increase their strength and endurance.
Olandern would pay for his history, they would pay for when he had been outlawed and sent to live in the forest with other outlaws and strange folk that no one knew much about. He had not gone, of course, instead he had slipped away and journeyed to the caves to hide. Donal had followed him and become his right hand man. He had not really been a criminal when he was outlawed; someone else who had been plotting against the King and Ciaran had been blamed. Now, however, it was him plotting against the king, and there was nothing that anyone could do about it.
But the people of Olandern knew something was up and they were doing something about it. Under the leadership of a man in Jarel named Der, a chain of underground tunnels were planned. Before a month of planning was complete, they had moved into the digging stage, and able-bodied men and boys worked in shifts to dig the tunnels. Word was passed along to the other cities, and they received the plans for the tunnels.
Meanwhile, Ciaran continued to gather men and forge arms for his army. He managed to outfit most of them with plain black tunics, and he had a flag made, green with the head of a wolf on it. He had chosen green because it made him think of Daron, who was a green dragon, and with thoughts of Daron, thoughts of victory always entered Ciaran’s mind. And the wolf? That was something most people did not know about Ciaran – he was a werewolf, a man by day and a wolf by night. He needed very little sleep, and often wandered about during the night, searching for troops, supplies, or even wolves – he wanted all the help he could get for his attack. Thinking ahead, the cities of Olandern would need troops there until he had them fully subdued, which would not take too long, he had many ways to dispose of those who opposed him in anyway. Yes, he would make them pay. He was no outlaw until they had made him one – he had been a loyal subject of the king. A loyal subject of the king who would soon be king. It was almost ironic.
There were no winter celebrations that year.
Ciaran struck hard a week before the festivities would normally begin, and silenced the joy that usually reigned in the hearts of the Olanites.
Chapter 2: Betrayal
Outside the castle, in a small barn in the city of Llyanta, a small girl and her brother hid in the hay.
“Where’s mama?” She whispered.
“Shhhh…” Her brother said. They heard footsteps a few feet away from them, and the girl stifled a gasp. The boy put his hand over her mouth, and neither dared to move. If they find us… thoughts ran through the boy’s head as he waited, tense and silent. Oh God protect us! I’m so scared, God. So scared. I don’t want to be here protecting Ri’na right now, I can’t do this… I’m afraid…
More clunking footsteps, then voices. The boy closed his eyes, silently pleading for protection.
“It doesn’t look like they’re in here anywhere.”
“They could be in the hay.”
The hay near the boy’s head moved, and he shut his eyes more tightly. “It’s too shallow for anyone to hide in here, even anyone of their size.”
As the men walked away, the boy let go of his sister, breathing a sigh of relief. “C’mon, R’ina, we’ve got to get out of here. Get on my back.” He murmurred.
“Where are we going?” She asked, pushing her strawberry-blonde hair out of her blue eyes, then quickly clambering onto her brother’s back.
“Somewhere,” he replied. “Just be patient.” He poked his head out of the straw, glancing around before going any farther. “It’s clear,” he breathed. The boy broke into a run, dashing out of the barn and around the corner towards a field.
“There they go!” A soldier shouted.
“I told you they were in there!”
The boy glanced over his shoulder, and his sister slipped off of his back and took his hand. They ran to the field, and as they neared it, he pushed her down in front of him. Something scratched at his back. Pain seared up to his neck, and then all went black.
The soldier stood and wiped his dagger off, pleased with what he had accomplished. “He’s dead, Cap’n, All taken care of.”
The Captain nodded, then turned to his men. “Our job is done. It’s time to go back to the castle.” He brushed a few grains of wheat off of his boot, then put away his weapons. The soldiers did not notice a rustle in the field. If they did, they passed it off as a gentle breeze. But it was more than that.
Ciaran studied a map, tracing his finger over the main river running through the mainland of Olandern.
“Yes… three leagues east of the forest… six North of Stargonia…” he muttered under his breath. “The Rom usually camp around here. It’s far enough from the forest to be safe from the Keltoi, and they have access to water. Derek, I want you to take your men here and search the area. I want no Rom left alive, they’re too free and hard to control. Is that understood?”
“Aye, Highness. We’ll not return until we can’t find any more.” Derek bowed and left the room, running down to the courtyard, and into the first barracks on his left. “Men!” He shouted, and the soldiers in the building dropped whatever they were doing and stood to attention. “Get your things together, we leave in an hour for river (word for “Winding” in Hebrew). Ciaran wants the Rom out of Olandern.”
Derek turned on his heel and left the barracks, hurrying to his quarters in the next building. He opened a drawer in his dresser and took out his chainmail and jerkin. Taking off his tunic, he pulled on the jerkin, followed by chainmail. He grabbed one last thing from the drawer, his plain black uniform tunic. Derek placed his helmet – a round, bowl-like piece of metal – on his head, then buckled his sword belt around his waist. The empty scabbard hung at his side, and he took his sword out from under his cot and sheathed it. I don’t want to do this, Derek thought. Just because…he shook his head. They’re my orders, no matter what. I don’t want to loose my life.
An hour later, he was marching at the head of his men. Left, right, left, right… the sound of their feet trodding on the ground scared villagers back into their houses as they passed by. The birds in the trees were silent, and there was no wildlife out on the open plains. They marched until nightfall, then made camp. The sun was barely rising as they finished breakfast and marched off again, ignoring their aching muscles and pressing onwards. It was no more than three days later when they reached the river. Derek commanded his men to split up and search the riverbanks for any signs of the Rom. He gave the order that if they found any of the gypsies, his men were to kill them immediately. Derek himself took five men with him and they ran ahead of all the others upstream. They moved quietly, wanting to ambush any Rom there might be nearby. Before long, they heard faint voices from nearby.
“Gillie, take that pan there, would you? Pass it on to Tawnee, she needs it for dinner.”
“No, it’s alright, I’ll get it, Gillie.” Tawnee said.
“But Lela told me to get it,” he protested.
The soldiers saw a small boy with thick black hair and matching eyes step out from behind a bright red wagon, carrying a large pan. He wore a faded red vest, a white shirt, and loose black trousers. The shirt was dirty, and the trousers had gaping holes in the knees. Somewhere in the large gypsy camp someone played the fiddle, and someone else was singing. The jangle of bells told the soldiers that someone was dancing.
Derek gave the signal to his men, and they closed in on the camp. Derek ran into the center of the camp, drawing his sword and grabbing Gillie as he passed. Derek put the sword to the boy’s neck.
“Everyone get around the wagon.” Derek shouted, his face hardened with cruelty. The music stopped immediately , and gypsies began moving toward the wagon, slowly and silently, almost as if they were in a trance. It was not a trance, but shock and numbness that caused them to move this way. They had thought they were safe from Ciaran, they thought they were free.
“Ciaran has ordered for all the Rom to be killed. However – I will give you a week to get out of Olandern.” Derek sheathed his sword, the brutal expression on his face slipping away. “I only work for Ciaran because my father is one of Ciaran’s advisors. These men are in similar situations. If you will leave Olandern, we’ll be coming with you, but we must move quickly, before the rest of my men catch up with us.”
The gypsies immediately began to pack up camp, and they did it faster than Derek imagined they could, for within a few minutes they were on the run. The leader of the Rom, and old man with a long, greying beard, ran next to Derek.
“We can’t go away by sea, we’d have to leave our wagons behind, and crossing the river would take too long.” he said worriedly.
“There’s a bridge over the river,” Derek replied in between gasps for air. “Up ahead. Then we’ll cross the river and go into Stargonia. We’ll be gone before anyone knows it.” Derek tore off his helmet in frustration. “This stupid armor,” he complained.
The man grinned. “We Rom need no armor, just our skins.”
Derek laughed a little. “Aye. Unfortunately – or perhaps now fortunately – Ciaran’s men do. We’ll outrun them by a long shot.”
“You’re telling me that one of my Captains, Derek, my most trusted captain to say the least, left you and the other men wandering near the river and ran off with the gypsies?” Ciaran played with his Sgian Dhub, smiling slightly as the man’s eyes looked on at what he was doing.
“Aye, Highness. We followed them to the border, but we weren’t able to catch up with them...” He trailed off as Ciaran plunged the sgian dhub into the table angrily.
“I won’t take any excuses, Corporal. Either you caught them, or you let them go. Since you didn’t catch them, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
“Yes, I mean you’re no longer in my army. Be thankful I’m not making an example of you like I did the last time somone disobeyed my orders… I had him roasted alive, I believe… Go!” Ciaran was shouting now, and the Corporal shrank back in fear, then bowing, he turned to leave. Imbeciles, Ciaran thought, annoyed. Today had been an endless stream of incompetent soldiers with news – some good, some bad, coming in to Ciaran.
As the corporal left, a spy from Jarel rushed in, panting. He bowed as he entered the room, then approached Ciaran. Not another one, Ciaran thought.
“Your highness, we have news from Jarel.”
“The rebels there… they are planning to rebel.”
“Thank you for bringing that news, good sir,” Ciaran said sarcastically. Then he whirled on the spy, grabbing his shirt collar and pinned him against the wall. “But let me guess – you left before you found out more, like last time.”
The spy struggled to breathe. Grabbing Ciaran’s arm, he continued. “Highness, I know when… they plan… to attack…”
Ciaran loosened his grip, though only a little. “Alright then, when?”
“They’re leaving Jarel to come here in a week’s time.”
“No, your highness.”
Ciaran released the spy. “Go back to Jarel. Take with you one hundred of my men. I want Jarel conquered before anyone sets foot outside of the walls. Once it’s under control, I want you to build a barracks there. Jarel will no longer give us any trouble as long as I am in control.”
Platoons of Ciaran’s men marched to Jarel. The gatekeeper heard them before they reached the gate, and began to crank it open, knowing what would happen if he didn’t – death, perhaps torture. Not bothering to thank the gatekeeper, they marched past, into the city. The spy began giving out orders, pleased with the power Ciaran had given him.
Inside a small house, a curtain moved.
“Someone has betrayed us,” a man said.
A group of men jumped to their feet, grabbing their sword belts.
“We’ll have to fight them. There’s no other way.”
“We have no chance against them, are you sure it’s wise?”
“If we defend ourselves, we’ll give our wives and children time to escape. Maybe they can go into the forest or make it across the border before anyone gets to them.”
“It’s the only chance they’ll have,” someone added.
“But look how many men they have. It might be better if we just let them come.”
“And be killed in our beds one night?”
“It’s here or there… which will it be?”
The men looked around the room at each other’s faces. Worry lined the creases in all of their foreheads. Fear was etched in the eyes of the younger men. We’re all going to die, everyone seemed to say silently. The same question was on all of their minds – What do we do?
“Timothy, go ring the alarm bell.”
A young boy, maybe eight years old, ran out the back door of the house and made his way to the bell tower. A soldier saw him running, and began to chase after him. Timothy glanced over his shoulder and pressed on.
“I’ve got… to make it…” He said under his breath, trying to go faster. Then it was into the tower, and up, up, up the stairs to the bell. He jumped onto the rope, ringing it once. Bong. The soldier was almost up the stairs. The bell rang a second time. Bong. The soldier was at the top. Bong. He reached out to grab Timothy, but the boy slid down the rope, ringing the bell one last time, grinning up at the soldier as his feet hit the ground. Bong! Enraged, the soldier slashed the rope, and the bell fell, clanging for the final time. BONG! Timothy was caught under the bell, and the soldier ran down the stairs to the bell. Using his sword as a lever, he pulled Timothy out, then grabbed the boy and dragged him out to the town square. The other soldiers had started storming houses, killing people, both rebels and those loyal to Ciaran, too bloodthirsty to care. All over the city, screams were heard, from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters… The soldiers showed no mercy, slaying anyone that got in their way. Timothy watched all this in horror, trying to break free from his captor. He prayed that most of the women and children had run out of the city when the bell rang, and that they were on their way to safety. He knew that was not likely, but if even some escaped he would know his mission had been accomplished. Timothy saw a blade coming at him, and then everything went black.
It was dark when the city finally quieted down, and shrieks and wails were still heard all through the night. A small boy cried in the streets, sitting with a broken body in his arms. A cloaked woman picked him up and held him, then carried him inside the inn. He latched his arms around her neck, glad for a shoulder to cry on and someone’s strong arms around him, holding on to him. Never let go… he begged inwardly as he sobbed.
The surviving men and boys were commanded to build a garrison for the soldiers, and though they did so, none wanted to. All through the long night, they worked. Log after log, brick after brick. Each movement, each brick, a symbol and reminder of pain. The men were weary and heartsick. They worked in silence, each wanting to run to their families – if they had any family left. The walls slowly rose higher, and the men slowly grew more tired. When the sun rose the next morning, they began to clean up Jarel, pushing aside their weariness and running through the streets, crying over the bodies of comrades, throwing aside those of the enemy. Many tears were shed as the people of Jarel walked through the streets, finding the lifeless bodies of people they had lived with, laughed with, and loved. Later in the afternoon they burned the bodies of both friend and enemy alike, then returned to the reclusion of their homes.
After a few weeks under Ciaran’s rule, the people of Jarel settled into a routine, and all the survivors became rebels after what they had witnessed. The evil of Ciaran was ever-present in the city, and fear lived in the hearts of many, but there was still hope. The tunnels they had dug when Ciaran first began to take over Olandern were now being used, and the rebels seemed to speak their own language, a simple “How do you do?” could mean “meeting tonight in the bell tower” or “Ciaran is sending more men.” However, although they could correspond on the mainland of Olandern, there were people living on the islands that they could not communicate with because the tunnels could not go under the sea, and the bridges to the islands were closely guarded. The soldiers knew the rebels were still around in Jarel, but they also knew they would not dare try anything while soldiers were posted at every corner, watching everything that happened… or so they thought.
Chapter 3: Hope
July 552 – Eight years later
Angry shouts came from outside. A set of small ears picked up the sounds of heavy footsteps, booted feet – soldiers. She crawled over to the young man sleeping nearby.
“Nathan!” She whispered. “Nathan! Wake up!”
“Not now, Anya…” He mumbled sleepily.
“Nathan! I’m scared, wake up!”
“What is it?” Nathan rubbed his eyes, groaning. “It’s too early to get up.”
Anya shook her head, frustrated. “But I’m scared!”
Nathan lifted his blanket. “Here, come into bed with me.” She scooted in next to him, snuggling up against her brother’s body. “Was it another bad dream?” he wondered.
The screams came before Anya had a chance to reply. Puzzled, Nathan sat up in bed. Suddenly, Anya sat stiffened. “They’re here, Nathan. Outside. Listen!”
Gruff shouts and the sound of metal on metal echoed through the streets of the city. He only needed to listen for a few seconds before he knew what was happening. “Oh God, help us,” he said under his breath. “Anya, put some food in a bag, quickly!” Nathan grabbed his cloak and Anya’s, then pulled his boots on and grabbed a few other things, like his dirk and a bag of money. “We have to get out of here. Don’t make any noises.”
Anya grabbed his arm. “I’m afraid, Nathan… what if they… what if they get us like got mama and papa?” She was on the verge of crying, her lower lip trembling and eyes overflowing with tears.
I’m scared, too. “We’ll be safe if we can get out without them finding us. Let’s go out the back way. It’s like we’re playing hide and go seek. We can’t let them see where we’re going.”
Anya nodded hesitantly, still unsure. She trembled as Nathan took her hand, and they slipped out of the back entrance to their hut. Nathan glanced behind them quickly, then shuddered when he caught a glimpse of what was going on behind them. He closed his eyes briefly, shutting out old memories.
Then they were off, running to the foothills. They only ran for a few minutes before Nathan slowed and they walked over one last hill, then they stopped for the night. He nodded. “We’ll sleep here.”
“Will we be safe?”
“I hope so.” But I don’t know, Anya… I don’t know!
Morning light forced its way into Nathan’s eyes. Birds twittered nearby, and he opened his eyes. Thank you, Lord… thank you for Anya…thank you for protecting us. If she hadn’t woken… Nathan snapped out of his thoughts and rolled over, getting to his feet. Anya slept nearby, murmuring something about cats chasing birds. Smiling briefly, Nathan stirred the dying embers of the fire with a stick, and then added more wood. When he was sure the fire was stable, Nathan jogged to the crest of the hill they had journeyed over the night before. Blue eyes flecked with green and hazel scanned the ground below as the wind blew his shaggy, dirty blonde hair about. Lips pressed tight in frustration and jaw set hard, he shook his hair out of his face and continued his search. His hands lay limp down at his sides, and he stood with his long legs spread a foot-length apart. Nathan’s broad shoulders rose and fell as he caught his breath, and then he began to move cautiously down the other side of the hill from where he could see the ashes of Bywyn.
He bit his lip grimly. So it had been the raiders. Oh, how cruel they were. They claimed they didn’t work for Ciaran, but everyone knew they did. They wandered by use of the sword, not refraining from its use as the Rom did. Yes, they were without a home and in that way like the gypsies, but they were ruthless killers. Nathan sat down on the ground, playing with the grass. Having made it safely out of the town, he was now forced to make a decision that would affect both him and Anya, possibly for the rest of their lives. In addition to this, Nathan did not want to stop his search for his younger sister. Technically, Anya was not his sister Nathan had found her wandering outside of Bywyn a few years before and since then he had taken care of her and been like her older brother. He had hoped they would be safe in Bywyn. Anya had known too much terror in her six years, terror Nathan had known when he was younger, too. But somewhere in Olandern or one of the neighboring kingdoms, his real sister lived, hiding from the same things he was hiding from, living in secrecy and safety from Ciaran and his men. He looked at the smoldering ashes again. Servants of Daron, he thought angrily, using all of his self-control to keep from calling them worse things. Then the thing he had been fearing for the past few years seemed the closest it had ever been. It’s time to go back to Olandern. But where there can I be safe? I can leave Anya at the convent in the mountains, she’ll be safe there. And then, what of me? Will I be running for the rest of my life? Perhaps I could hide on one of the islands…
Down below, Anya stirred. “Nathan?” She called, terror rising in her voice. “Where are you, Nathan?”
Nathan turned and ran down the hill. “It’s alright, Anya, I’m right here,” Nathan said.
“I thought you were gone. I thought they’d gotten you.” Anya’s big, hazel eyes began to fill with tears. Nathan hugged her, stroking her straight, light brown hair. Anya drew closer to him, not wanting him to go anywhere away from her. Nathan kissed the top of her head and held her away from him to look her in the eye.
“I’d never let them do that. Come on, let’s eat some breakfast and get going.” Rummaging around in the burlap sack, Nathan pulled out two apples. As he handed one to Anya, he was thankful that he had been able to grab the bag before they left Bywyn. “Will you thank the Creator for our food?” He asked.
Anya took the apple and bowed her head. “Dear God, thank you that Nate and I escaped the raiders. Bless this food and help us to find a safe place to stay. In Your name, Amen.”
“Amen,” Nathan echoed, biting into his apple. “Eat quickly. I know where we’ll be safe, and we should leave as soon as possible.” And hopefully get there as soon as possible. Nathan added in his mind, not wanting Anya to know the danger they could be in at the moment. He knew why the raiders had attacked Bywyn he knew what they were after and who they really were. The raiders were Ciaran’s men, and they were after him. He shuddered as he thought about that night, nine long years ago. Closing his eyes, he moved his hand to the back of his neck and ran his finger along the scar that he had gotten that night.
“Nathan Take your sister and go” Nathan grabbed his sister’s hand and began to run. Her short legs had trouble keeping up with Nathan, but he kept moving onwards, as he knew from his mother’s tone of voice that this situation could kill them all if they did not run. Seeing the barn up ahead, he dashed inside and dove into the hay, his sister right behind him. They heard boots nearby, and then voices. As soon as they were gone, she climbed onto his back and they ran out of the barn. Suddenly a soldier appeared in front of them, and Nathan skidded to a stop, turning to go the other way. As he turned, he saw one of the enemy charge at his mother and run his sword through her. Nathan screamed and began to rush towards her, but then stopped, realizing he was heading straight into danger. His sister noticed this, too, and they turned to run the other way when a foot soldier began to run after them. Unsure of what to do, Nathan pushed his sister ahead of him into a wheat field outside of the farm where they were hiding. As Nathan dove into the field, he felt something sharp scratch the back of his neck and he blacked out.
Anya tugged on Nathan’s sleeve and brought him back to the present. “How long will it take us to get where we’re going?” She bit into her apple, chewing thoughtfully as she watched Nathan intently.
There’s no fear in her eyes. She trusts me. Nathan thought before he replied. “A while - possibly two weeks or more. When we get there, though, we will be safe at last.” Safe at last, the words echoed in his mind. Nathan sighed happily at the thought. He took one last bite of his apple, and then buried the core. Tossing dirt onto the fire to extinguish it, he watched silently as the flames died out. He pushed the remainder of the bad memories into the back of his head, not wanting them to overwhelm him as they so often did. Anya finished eating her apple, dug a hole in the ground, and buried the core. She stood up and Nathan grabbed his sack, then he motioned to Anya and began walking away from Bywyn. Anya followed him, humming and sometimes singing quietly as they went along, happy to be out and about. Her mind was filled with questions about things that they passed.
“Nate, why is the sky blue?”
“I guess because the Creator made it that way… I don’t know, Anya.”
“What about the flowers? Why are they different colors? And birds? And everything!”
“You’re so full of questions, Anya! So full of questions that I don’t have answers to!” He picked her up and spun her around, and then he picked a bright purple flower and tucked it behind her ear.
Chapter 4: Ashes of Bywyn
Breacon quietly surveyed the wreckage. “It’s alright, Joel, you can come out now,” he said. “They’re gone.” There was no reply. He moved closer to where the bedroom he had shared with his brothers once stood. “Joel?” Breacon held his arm close to his chest. He was sure it was broken, when he had come to, a large piece of their wall was on it, and now it was swollen and hurt to move it. Am I the only one left alive? With his foot, Breacon poked around in the rubble, hoping to find that someone still lived. There was Jeremy, his best friend, lying dead on his back near where the door used to be. Jeremy had come to visit Breacon that evening, and the two boys had stayed up late into the night talking. Breacon’s father had gone across the border into Olandern for trade, but was supposed to return the next morning, and all of Breacon’s family was preparing the house for his return. Eventually they all went to bed, Jeremy staying the night at their house. They had gone to sleep greatly anticipating the dawn.
But now, Jeremy was dead, and the dawn that had been hopeful was now full of the worst sorrow Breacon had ever known.
And there, there was his baby brother, not yet a year old. Dead.
He pushed more debris aside with his foot. There. A glimmer of gold, gold like Alia’s hair.
Oh God, let her be alive, he begged. Dropping to his knees, he dug. Progress was slow with his broken arm, but soon he uncovered Alia’s head. Her face was covered in dirt, yet she was still as beautiful as always. One look told Breacon that the news he dreaded was true. “I love you,” he whispered aloud. His only sister, the gem of gentleness among a family of six boys, and she was gone. In desperation, Brecon felt her pulse. There was nothing. Gently, he lifted her head from the rubble and cradled it in his lap. Only now did the tears fall. Only now, after an hour of consciousness, did the reality hit him. He was sobbing.
Oh God, why, why did you have to take her from me? Why did you take them all? If Da hadn’t gone to Olandern when he did, he’d be dead too, or this wouldn’t have happened… Da would have known what to do, he would have gotten everyone out when the raiders came. Instead, they tore our house down, with us inside… Breacon’s voice trailed off, his heart too full of sorrow to continue.
As the minutes passed, his mind cleared, and one thought alone stayed with him: What do I do now? How do I – how do people – go on living when the people you love are dead?
He stood, and surveyed the wreckage once more. I’ve got to find da.
Although he knew he needed to leave, Breacon could not tear himself from the remains of Bywyn. He spent the day pushing through the rubble. He found some cloth to tie up his arm with and put it in a sling. It still throbbed with pain, but that pain was nothing compared to that he felt in his heart. The raiders were evil men. Yet he felt that the raiders did not work on their own. Bywyn had nothing to offer, it was the poorest of the cities in Stargonia. The raiders must have had some other reason, something to push them to attack Bywyn. But who could he tell? Even if he could journey across the kingdom to Itheial, the king wouldn’t listen to someone from Bywyn, much less a fifteen year old boy. Breacon climbed to the top of a ruined tower from Bywyn’s wall. He sat there and watched as the sun began to set. Then he lay down and closed his eyes to sleep, praying the night wouldn’t be too cold.
Morning came all too soon. Da should be back, was Breacon’s waking thought. He should have been home yesterday morning. Breacon stood and looked out over the countryside from the tower. Water. He needed water. I’ll get some water, then head to the border to find Da. What if Da came, but… ? Breacon pushed that thought to the back of his head. Da hadn’t come at all, he had just been delayed, or stopped at the border. Weakly, Breacon climbed down from the tower and stumbled through the debris to the other wall of Bywyn, where he exited and ran to the lake. At the edge of the lake, he knelt down and drank ravenously. Then he rolled over and rested on the shore. Slowly, his strength came back, and when it did, Breacon stood and walked back through the town, hoping to find some food. I’m stealing from my dead neighbors. He thought subconsciously, but ignored the thought when he found a loaf of bread. It was covered in dirt, but he ate it anyway, chewing as he walked.
Nathan crossed the border early the next morning. Ciaran had set up guard houses in Olandern, near the border, so he could guard who entered and left Olandern. It was only the hand of the Creator that allowed them to pass without trouble.
“Did you know, young man, that you’re about to enter Olandern?” A guard asked Nathan.
“What intentions do you have in entering Olandern?”
Shrugging nonchalantly, Nathan explained. “I’m on my way home.”
“And this? Is this your sister?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Where are you coming from?”
Nathan hesitated. If he said Bywyn, and if his guesses about the raiders being sent by Ciaran were correct, he and Anya would find themselves in jail. Then he would be executed, and Anya left alone. Oh Creator, please!
Just then another guard stepped out of the guard house. “Who ya talking to, there?” He asked.
“A young man and a girl, going home to Olandern.”
“What were you doing in Stargonia, boy?” The second guard asked.
“Helping friends with farming,” Nathan said.
“And your sister?”
“Keeping me company.”
The guard waved them on. “Have a safe trip home.”
“Thank you, sir.” Nathan tried as hard as he could not to run. He wanted to be away from those men as quickly as possible, but running would attract attention, and that was the last thing he wanted. He had heard that the guards rarely kept good records, but if they did, he did not want to seem out of the ordinary. Thank you for your protection, Creator. Anya skipped along beside Nathan, oblivious to the danger they had just gone through, and happy to be traveling with Nathan. Besides, “going home,” sounded like something good to her.
“Where’s home?” She asked Nathan.
“I don’t have a home here anymore,” he said. “I used to, but Ciaran took it.”
“Then why did you say you were going home?”
“Because Olandern is my home, even though I don’t have a house here anymore.”
“Oh… are you ever going to get your home back from Ciaran?”
“It’s not very easily done, Anya, I can’t do it on my own, I’d need the help of a lot of people. But come, we have a long ways to go still today.”
“So where are we going if you don’t have a house here?”
“The mountains.” We’re going to the mountains, then escaping to one of the islands.
When he reached the border, only a day after Nathan, Breacon hesitated. Do I cross? Or do I just wait here, hoping Da will come? Would the guards know anything?
“Hello?” Breacon shouted. He stayed far from the guard houses, not wanting to leave Stargonia for fear of Ciaran.
A guard, heavily armed and dressed in one of Ciaran’s uniforms, stepped out and walked toward Breacon.
His heart beating wildly, Breacon searched for the words in his head. “Has a man come by here lately, trying to come into Stargonia?” He asked shakily. “He’s about this tall,” he put his hand about half of a head above his own head. And is built and looks like me… it would have been yesterday morning.” Do you have water? And food? Breacon wanted to ask, but he held his tongue.
“Where was he going?”
“From Olandern, Jarel, I think, to Bywyn.”
“If he came we would have taken him prisoner. Ciaran wanted everyone in Bywyn destroyed.”
Breacon was silent. He nodded, then began backing away. The guard stepped closer.
“Why do you ask?”
Breacon shook his head, and then turned and ran. He hoped – more like prayed – that the guard would not follow him into Stargonia. As entered the small dunes of the desert, he did not slow down. Finally he came to a halt in the middle of the sand, his lips parched. Sand stuck to them because he had licked his lips. Now grit filled his mouth, but he pushed on. At the edge of the desert, he collapsed and slept. He reached Bywyn the next afternoon, and once more stumbled through the ruins. It hurt so much to see his old home, but he felt that he had to, just one last time. When he reached the edge of the lake, Breacon halted, once more drinking deeply from the water. Then he sat back to gather his thoughts.
He thought about the guard’s words from the day before: Ciaran wanted everyone in Bywyn destroyed. So the raiders were not operating of their own accord. They served Ciaran. I knew it!
“But word of this must get out,” Breacon murmured. “We can free Olandern, if only we would fight… but now, we’ve been aggravated.” He leapt to his feet. “I must get to Itheial!” I must tell them what has happened. I must do it, for Da, for my family. For revenge!
No, not revenge, he thought quietly. Vengeance belongs to the Creator. Oh Creator, help me not want revenge, but only justice, and justice according to your law, not to my wishes!
Breacon started walking. South, he told himself, Itheial is south. He looked at the sun, which was just getting to the noon-day point. His stomach growled.
But it’s a long journey, and where am I going to find food?
Chapter 5: Traveler’s Rest
By this time, Nathan and Anya were well into Olandern. In the distance, they could see the faint outline of the mountains. They traveled deep into the foothills all morning, Nathan telling Anya stories farmers had told him, and Anya listening intently. By mid-afternoon, Anya was tiring and was having trouble keeping up with Nathan.
“Nate, I’m tired.” She sighed, looking up at him.
“Want me to carry you?” Nathan offered, stopping to turn around and look at her.
“I don’t to make you tired… then we’d have to stop.”
“You won’t tire me too much, don’t worry. Here, climb onto my back.” Nathan bent down to help Anya onto his back, and then broke into a run. As he ran, the cool mountain air blew on his face, and from time to time he sang softly to himself. By nightfall, the two were high up in the mountains and they could feel a change in the air. Anya fell asleep, her head resting on Nathan’s shoulder. Still he continued onward, slowing a little as the stars came out. Shivering slightly, Nathan laid Anya down on the ground and put his cloak around his shoulders, then picked up Anya again, carrying her farther up. Anya woke as the sun was rising, and then they stopped for a light meal. It was only when he stopped that Nathan noticed how sore and tired his muscles were, but he knew they did not have time to stop and rest. The Creator would give him the strength he needed, that also he knew.
“Anya, we’ll have to travel quickly today. I’m going to carry you as long as I can. It will be necessary to travel on through the night again, and sleep in the morning when it’s warmer.” He blinked back the sleep that tried to overcome him.
“Yes Nathan.” Anya clambered back onto Nathan’s back, and Nathan set off at a slow but steady pace. The day was fair, with the sun shining down on them through a few clouds. Nathan and Anya took in all the beautiful scenery, dotted with trees here and there. Anya enjoyed watching the forest animals playing out in the open and the birds flitting from tree to tree. Nathan wished he could be as free as the birds, without the worries and troubles that weighed down on his heart. Yet he was glad to have time walking quietly with Anya, because it gave him time to think about what might lie ahead. Sometimes fear consumed his heart, and he would do all he could not to start shaking. But sometimes he felt love and joy, as well as a little peace. Whatever happened, he knew the Creator would be in charge of things.
He felt Anya playing with his hair as he trudged onward. “You need a hair cut, Nate,” she said. He could imagine her crinkling up her nose behind him, the way she always did when she didn’t like something.
“Maybe you can cut it.”
Anya giggled. “I couldn’t do that, I’d accidentally cut you instead!”
“Yes.” Anya replied seriously. Nathan suppressed a laugh.
“Well, then, my hair will just have to grow a little longer before we find a place to cut it.”
Anya let out a small sigh of frustration. “Or I could try to cut it.” She turned back to watching the mountainside pass by.
“Nate?” She said after a while.
“What now, Anya? Do you want to know why clouds are different shapes?” He teased.
“Yes, but not now. Who were those men?”
Nathan didn’t reply.
“They are very evil men, Anya.”
“Followers of Daron?”
“Well, they certainly don’t follow the Creator, do they?”
“And they have fallen into many of Daron’s traps, though I don’t know if they have done so knowingly.”
“Why did they come to Bywyn?”
Anya, Anya, do you have to be so full of questions? “They were searching for someone.”
“Did they find them?”
“So will they keep looking?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“I don’t want them to find us.”
Nathan lowered his eyes. She understands so much more than you would ever guess… Although Anya kept chattering away, Nathan remained quiet until they stopped at dawn the next morning. By now they had made fair progress into the mountains. Exhausted, Nathan stopped and set Anya down and together they started a fire and ate, then Nathan lay down to sleep while Anya kept watch. She watched him as he slept peacefully, giggling every now and then when his nose twitched. Anya sat cross-legged on the ground, she played with pieces of grass and twigs, making little houses out of them. Nathan woke as the sun was setting, and after a chunk of bread and cheese each, they set off again.
He had had no food for almost five days now. As dawn of the fifth day broke, Breacon thought he saw a village on the horizon. He had left the lake behind him the day before, after drinking his fill. Already he felt as if he would die soon. His feet dragged as he walked, but he forced himself to keep going. Hope is in sight! A few feet from the village, Breacon felt the world spinning around him. Then something fell on his chest, and pushed him down, down, down to the ground. All he saw after that was black.
“Shh, don’t wake the lad. He needs his rest.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He looks dehydrated, and his arm is broken. I’ve set it now, though, while he’s out, so he won’t feel the pain…”
Breacon heard voices as if they were coming from a dream. Then he blinked and saw blurry figures above him.
“Here, lad, drink.”
Breacon felt a strong arm come around his shoulders and lift him up. Then there was water, cool, sweet water, running down his throat, and out of his mouth, down onto his tunic.
“Food,” he said weakly.
“Moira, some of that soup, please,” The man said, gently letting Breacon fall back into the pillows. “What’s your name, lad?”
A small child pulled at his shoe. “What happened?”
Breacon started to speak, but his voice trailed off feebly
“He can tell ye later, Caddie. Go help your mother.”
“Aye, papa.” A small girl, between two and four, ran off. Soon she came back, carefully carrying a bowl of stew.
“Can ye sit up, Breacon?” The man asked.
Breacon nodded. “I think so.”
The man and Breacon worked together to get Breacon into a sitting position. Then the man fed Breacon. The stew felt so good… food felt so good!
“That’s enough for now, lad, I don’t want to hurt ye.”
Breacon nodded. He remembered his mother saying things about not eating too much after going without food for a long time.
“Where am I?” He asked.
“The village of Yeld, in the house of the apothecary.”
“How did I get here?”
“One of the men was out for a walk in the early morning air and found you outside of the village. He brought you here, knowing I could help you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’ve tended to your arm, it was badly broken.”
Breacon nodded. “Aye. The raiders… they came to Bywyn. They destroyed everything. My family, my house. I’m the only one that survived. I was unconscious, and they left me for dead. My da’s alive, but he was in Olandern, and they wouldn’t let him over the border, because he was going to Bywyn. He’s probably dead, too.”
“What do they have against Bywyn?”
Breacon shrugged. “It’s Ciaran,” he said faintly. “That’s what the guard at the border said.”
“So he’s trying to take over Stargonia, is he?”
“Aye. I’m on my way to Itheial… to tell the king. They’ll ignore it as just an act of the raiders… but it’s more than that.”
“You’re welcome to stay with me and my family until you’re better, lad, and then we’ll supply you with food for your journey. We don’t have much, me, my wife Moira, and our little Caddie, but what we do have, we will willingly share. My name is Ezra.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Ezra nodded. “I’ll leave ye to get rest now, Breacon. If ye need anything, let us know. I’m sure Caddie will sit right by you whenever her mother lets her. She’s taken a liking to ye.”
That night everything seemed to look the same – each bend in the mountain, each tree they passed, each rock. Somewhat unsure at times, Nathan trudged onwards, Anya drifting in and out of sleep on his back. Near mid-afternoon the next day, they reached the convent near the beginning of the mountains. The convent’s walls rose high up out of the mountains. The walls were constructed with large rocks cut out of the mountains and inside, a steeple rose out of the center. Nathan set Anya down on her feet near the front gate, and put his hand gently on her shoulder.
“I’m going to leave you at the Convent, Anya. You’ll be safe here.”
“I want to go with you, Nate. Please don’t leave me here What if the raiders decide to come here, too, Nathan? What if they get me?” She hugged him tightly to her, hands grasping the coarse weave of Nathan’s tunic. “Don’t leave me, please!”
Nathan heard the undeniable fear in her voice, and when he looked into her eyes, he knew how she felt. He had seen that look before, in his mother’s eyes, and his sister’s. At some point, his eyes had probably been wide with fright, panicking, ready to run at the smallest thing. He remembered how scared he had been those nights when he was a boy, running from Ciaran’s men.
The darkness closed around him as he ran, trees seemed to come alive and tear at his clothing… He had thought they thought he was dead… he had thought so as well. How they found out he was alive, he didn’t know, and that didn’t really matter. All that mattered was that he was running again, he was alone, and he was afraid. R’ina was safe, hidden away where no one would think to look for a princess, but he was still running from Ciaran’s men.
And he was terrified.
Nathan couldn’t let Anya go through the same things he had, especially when he could do something about it. He closed his eyes to shut out the memories and then sighed. “You’re right. I can’t leave you here. But we’ll stop here for food and shelter.” He rapped loudly on the thick wooden door. A small window opened and a nun peered out.
“How may I help you?”
“We’re travelers, madam, seeking lodging and food for our journey,” Nathan explained, gently taking Anya’s hand.
“Lodging, in the middle of the day?” The nun asked, bewildered.
“Aye, madam. We found it easier, and perhaps wiser considering the weather, to travel at night. We will only be here until dusk, and then we’ll go. We’d also like food for the remainder of our journey, if you have provisions to spare.” Nathan explained, trying to hide that it was also the fear of the raiders that kept them from traveling during the day and sleeping at night.
“Come in.” The nun unbolted the gate and Nathan and Anya followed her in, as she led them up a few flights of stairs and into a small room. The room was only about ten by eleven feet, with two cots on the floor and a small dresser and wardrobe.
“You may stay here, and before you leave we will provide you with the food you will for your journey.”
“Thank you, madam. We are traveling to the islands, however many days that will take I do not know.”
“I will see what we can do.” The nun closed the door behind her and silently went down the stairs.
Nathan sat down on a cot in the middle of the room, and took off his boots, followed by his cloak.
“You sure you won’t leave me here?” Anya asked.
“I won’t leave you, Anya. I promise.”
Satisfied, Anya lay down on a second cot and soon was fast asleep.
Nathan lay in bed for a few minutes, letting his body relax and begin to rest. We’re safely here at last. Oh, I wish I could know I’d be safe here forever. But I don’t know how long the peace in the mountains will last. At least for tonight, though, we will be safe…these thoughts in mind, Nathan fell asleep.
Shortly before dusk, a sharp knock sounded, waking Anya. Nathan, however, kept snoring steadily. Quietly, Anya walked across the floor and opened the door.
“It’s almost dusk – the Mother Abbess wanted me to tell you.” A young novice said, and set down a knapsack. “This is enough food for your journey – May God protect you and go with you.”
Nathan rolled over in bed, a sign he was beginning to wake up.
“Thank you, ma’m.” Anya replied, taking the food and setting it inside the room, then closing the door. Nathan sat up in bed, groaning groggily.
“Sleepyhead.” Anya teased.
“Hey” Nathan returned, “I haven’t gotten much sleep lately.” He got to his feet, stretching slightly. “Anyway, it’s time to get going.” Nathan put the bag of food into his own knapsack, tied on his boots and grabbed his cloak. His muscles ached, but it was a good sort of ache, one that seemed to say things would only get better.
Anya followed him out of the room, and after a quick word of thanks to the nuns, they left the convent and continued their journey through the mountains.
It was mostly downhill from the convent; the mountains got smaller until they were almost to the foothills again. The following two days the travel went smoothly. Anya enjoyed stopping by streams and playing by the water while Nathan rested or they ate. They hadn’t seen any sign of the raiders for almost twenty-four hours now, and Nathan hoped that was a good sign – that the raiders had passed the area by. But what if they hadn’t, and were on their way across the mountains, too? What if tomorrow as they slept, the Raiders crept up on them and slaughtered them in their sleep? Or what if they waited in ambush?
Chapter Six: To Madiela
Six days later, Nathan and Anya arrived at the ocean. Here Nathan was faced with another decision: to go by foot to the land bridges at the islands, and pray for safety at the guard houses, or to make a boat and cross over by water. Coming to a stop near the edge of the beach, Nathan explained to Anya that he needed to search for supplies, but would be back shortly. He ran a short distance away from the water, but could find no sufficient supplies to use – trees, wood, or anything that was hard, flat, and would float. The land around the ocean was fertile farming land for the most part, but the tide was unpredictable, and the salt water killed the plants, so no one planted anything near it. Walking back to Anya, Nathan set about making a fire.
“Now that we’re out of the mountains,” he told Anya, “it’s safe to sleep at night – we won’t get so cold.” And out in the open, we’re no safer at night or during the day from the raiders.
Anya smiled, then rummaged through the food the nuns had given them, pulling out a loaf of bread and a large hunk of cheese. Nathan took out his knife and sliced the bread and cheese.
“I can give you a hair cut now!” Anya said, seeing the knife.
Nathan laughed, handing her a piece of cheese. “Eat your fill – we have enough that we don’t have to ration it.”
Anya grinned. Nathan smiled back at her, and then bent his head to say grace. After he did so, both travelers ate until they were full. Anya lay down to sleep near the fire, resting her head on a small pile of leaves. Nathan kept watch close by, softly singing under his breath. His eyes watched the gentle waves lapping at the sand on the beach. A cool sea breeze blew, and Nathan shivered. It was all he could do not to fall asleep to the peaceful sounds all around him – Anya’s gentle breathing, the crackling of the fire, and the waves on the beach even a few crickets chirping. Nathan sighed. He missed home, if he could call anywhere home – he was more of a wanderer than anything else. Nathan had been an orphan since he was eight and for those nine years since he was on his own, doing farm work wherever he could, until he had found Anya, that is. It had helped to have a companion, even if that companion was twelve years younger than he was. Not that he minded – he loved children, and at least they both had someone now.
The farm work he had done had made him strong, and he had been able to learn much from the different farmers he worked for – reading, writing, logic, reasoning, everything he needed to know, and more. Many times, he stayed at one farm for a whole year, only a few times only for harvest or planting. Nathan was glad he had had that experience, and one of the farmers had led him to his faith in the Creator, which was the biggest change in his life.
As a hint of the new day dawning appeared over the horizon, Nathan lay down and slept. The few hours of sleep that he managed to get were restless and filled with dreams of his past. Many were of good times, but the last was of his mother’s death, soon after which his father disappeared. Nathan woke with a start, sitting up to find Anya awake and watching him curiously.
“You were making strange faces and noises in your sleep,” she said, wrinkling her nose as the sun’s rays reflected off of the water. The sun had now risen, and it was about seven in the morning. Anya had found Nathan’s cloak and used it as a tablecloth, getting out some more bread and a few apples out of the bag.
“You do too, sometimes,” Nathan replied. “Like when you talk in your sleep about birds and cats and rabbits.”
“I do not do that!” Anya protested.
“How would you know? You’re asleep when you do it!” Nathan teased. His teasing was halfhearted, however, for he felt that they were being followed, or at least that someone knew they’d escaped the raid.
After breakfast, the two packed up camp and started on their way around the lake. They were able to travel much faster now than they had in the mountains. Anya ran along the beach, letting the waves crash against her legs, and picking up shells here and there. Nathan watched her, thankful that she was happy, happier than he had ever seen her before. He laughed along with her when she slipped and fell into the water and smiled as she shook herself off like a dog. She looked over at him and grinned.
Only a few more days before we will be on our way to freedom and safety, Nathan thought, rubbing part of a scar near the base of his neck. Once more, his mind took him back to that terrible night.
His sister was bending over him, crying.
He groaned and tried to sit up, but pain shot through his head and neck. “We need to get help” He murmured, shivering in the cool night air. “I need you to run and find someone.”
“Nathan, I don’t want to I don’t want to leave you here, and I’m scared, Nathan, I’m scared.”
“Go, please. I’m scared, too. Let’s pray.”
His sister nodded.
“God, protect us. Keep R’ina safe and me safe here. Amen. Now go, will you?”
She turned and ran through the wheat fields, popping up and down every now and then to look at her surroundings. Nathan slept in the field. He slept fitfully, his neck hurting so badly it was almost making him cry. When he woke, his first thought was ‘Am I in heaven?’ But then he looked around him and realized he was in a small farmhouse. A tall woman dressed in a simple dress belted at the waist sat next to him, and a few children sat playing on the floor. Nathan blinked a few times, and then noticed he was lying on his stomach and something was on his neck. He tried to move, but the woman gently placed her hand on his neck.
“Don’t move your neck.” When Nathan opened his mouth to protest, she put a finger to his lips. “You have a bad cut there. It goes from your neck across your shoulder. Do you know how you got it?”
“Men dagger.” Nathan whispered faintly, and then gasped. “Where’s my sister?”
“Your sister is over there, playing with my children. She’s fine.”
He closed his eyes and went back to sleep, ignoring the pulsing pain in his neck.
Anya fell down in the water, causing Nathan to pull out of his thoughts, but when she climbed to her feet, he returned to his original thoughts.
Safety from raiders, safety from – Here Nathan stopped. He didn’t want to think about that. Safe from Ciaran’s men, Nathan finished, trying to stop hate from welling up inside of him. He knew that it were not for the overflow of the Creator’s love in him he would have gotten himself killed long ago. Silently, he thanked God that his eyes had been opened to see the light. Open their blinded eyes, Creator, he prayed. I know You told us to pray for our enemies, and love those who hate us. I can’t do it, God. Help me!
For the first three years after he had been running from Ciaran, Nathan had hated Ciaran and his men. He was angry at them, angry at the Creator, angry at everything. He didn’t understand why he was left alone to wander and never settle down while Ciaran reigned. Picking up a pebble and skipping it on the water, he remembered how the farmer had explained to him why the Creator would let things like that happen. But what of your promise of salvation from Daron? When is that to come? You saved us from Fàolan long ago. Why now are you letting another person take over Your people, Creator? Forgiveness has come, when is liberation to be?
Anya came running up to Nathan, holding a small crab in her hands. Nathan picked her up, spinning her around, laughing with her, and then carried her for a ways, the whole time listening to Anya chattering away about her crab.
Ciaran looked out of the window of his favorite tower, his right-hand man Donal standing behind him. Donal’s short, grey-flecked hair was unkempt, and he wore a leather jerkin with a long-sleeved tunic underneath it. He was short and rather stocky, his round face almost hiding his sunken blue-grey eyes. Donal’s face, like Ciaran’s, was scarred from many battles, and other scars were hidden in the folds of his tunic.
“So, Donal, any news from Bywyn?” Ciaran turned from the window to look at Donal, who stood behind him. Donal nodded, as Ciaran’s yellow-gold eyes glittered with anticipation.
“It has been destroyed, my lord. We left no one alive.”
“And no one escaped? The whole of Bywyn and its inhabitants must be destroyed. If a single person escaped, it does not matter that the whole of Bywyn, the whole of Edaled, were gone, but if the lost prince is still alive, all of rampaging the raiders have done was in vain.” He said angrily.
“Yes, my lord. To our knowledge, no one escaped. The men had the city surrounded, and it would have been incredible if anyone escaped.”
“Good. Now,” Ciaran walked to a table in the middle of the room, on which a map lay. “Where next?” He ran his large, calloused hand through his hair as he thought, chewing the inside of his lip.
“I don’t know exactly, my lord. But the city that could cause the biggest hindrance right now would be here.” Donal placed his finger on Anat. “Bywyn is gone, Maris is too tiny to be of any use to us, and all of the other cities are too far away.”
“What of Mytymnea?”
“Should be saved for our final victory. Save the best for last, the one hardest to get, so that any rebels will be crushed.”
“Brilliant, Donal, absolutely brilliant. Just one question – how long do you think this will take?”
“Anywhere from a few months to a few years, my lord. Now that we’ve started to get Stargonia under your thumb, and Olandern already completely yours, the rest should submit easily.”
“You know what happened the first seven years of my reign.”
Donal bit his lip. “Yes, my lord, I do. Now that we have a plan, though, and now that people respect and fear you,” he paused, “it should be quick.”
“I should hope so. On to the figures, now that we know our route. How many men do we have?”
“Total or in each city?”
“If my calculations are correct, my lord, we should have around twenty thousand fighting men on our side. Those numbers do not include the villagers who would fight for us should there be a battle. Then there are your fellow werewolves and the phoenixes, my lord. Grenech’s minotaurs are on our side, as well.”
“That’s not much,” Ciaran sighed, disappointed. They had much less than he thought. It would be a while until they had a large enough army to attack, and by that time, the rebels could have fought back by then. “How many do the rebels have?”
“We’re not sure, my lord. They’re very secretive about what they do, and we know almost nothing about them when they will strike, things like that.” He shrugged, trying to sound as positive as possible to stay on Ciaran’s good side. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you any of that.”
“I see. Well, try to rally as many men and creatures as you can onto our side. Even the gryphons, if you can find them.” No one knew where the gryphons had gone, and most were too scared to look for them, as gryphons are very ferocious. Whoever found the gryphons and got them on their side – whether the rebels or Ciaran’s men – would most likely win the overall fight. All of Ciaran’s men knew this, and were commanded to keep a sharp eye out for the gryphons.
“Yes, my lord.” A knock sounded on the door. Donal opened it cautiously. “Oh, hello, Grenech. Come in.”
Grenech was Ciaran’s top general, a Minotaur, commanding the whole army, but especially the other Minotaurs. He held a cutlass in his upper right hoof, and he grunted as Donal opened the door. Grenech was in charge of the army that had attacked Bywyn, and he had come with some very important news for Ciaran.
As Grenech entered the room, he bowed to Ciaran. “My lord, I come with news.” “Is it good or bad?” Ciaran asked, his dark eyebrow rising in question. He could not afford any more bad news at this point. Everything needed to go as planned, else his whole cause was lost.
“It may be of no importance, my lord. But one of the men who was on the raid to Bywyn spotted a young man and a little girl running off into the foothills just to the West of Bywyn. I do not know why he did not chase after them or tell us sooner, but there are some survivors from Bywyn.”
Ciaran’s eyes widened and he swore under his breath. “This is grave news, Grenech. Where are they now?” Fear began to grip Ciaran’s heart. From what they knew, Ciaran’s greatest nemesis was in Bywyn, and if he escaped, then Ciaran could very easily be overthrown.
“We do not know, my lord. They could be anywhere by now there’s been enough time for them to have passed the mountains, if that’s the direction they’re going.”
“The little girl will slow him down. Donal”
“Yes, my lord?” Donal straightened and left where he had been near the door.
“Send out a search party. Go through Llyanta, Jarel – both gates, and the region on the other side of the mountains. I want them found” Ciaran sank down into a chair, and then put his head in his hands. Incompetent officers would be the end of him.
By the time Nathan and Anya reached the fishing port that was their destination, seven more days had passed and they were beginning to get low on food. Nathan realized they had eaten of it too freely in the first few days, and this surprised him – usually he was too careful. Off in the distance, they could see the walls of the port, Padrea, high and strong, rising above the ground. Earlier that morning, they had crossed over the river Tharia. As they neared Padrea, Nathan heard shouting and the sound of armored men. Glancing around, Nathan scooped Anya up in his arms and began to run, looking for a place to hide. His tired body screamed for him to stop running and slow down, but adrenaline pushed him onwards. There was nowhere they could hide out on a flat plain, as he saw no rocks or tall grass anywhere. Now he could see the army marching, the sunlight reflecting off of their armor.
Anya began to cry. “It’s them, it’s them, Nathan, they’re going to get us…”
Nathan quickly put his hand over her mouth. Even if the army was not out looking for them, there would still be danger of being seen – and caught. Nathan bit his lip at the thought of being caught, it scared him more than anything else. Padrea was still far away at the moment, but reaching the city was the only hope they had. He shifted Anya over his shoulder, and broke into a fast run, knowing his life and Anya’s could depend on them reaching Padrea before the army saw them. The army came over one last small hill and onto the plain.
“Captain” A foot soldier shouted, pointing over towards the port. “Could that be them?”
Grenech smiled inside. This was better than they thought. They had practically caught them. He motioned to the cavalry. “Ride ahead to catch them. Go quickly once they enter Padrea, they will be lost.” As he shouted, the cavalry wheeled around in the direction of Padrea, and galloped faster and faster, coming closer to Nathan and Anya. Nathan stumbled as he ran, but recovered and pressed onward. He heard the horses coming on quickly. The gate was just ahead of them, and as Nathan glanced up at the walls of Padrea towering above them, he began to feel more scared, not being able to see what lay behind the walls. The gate was beginning to close after letting in a group of minstrels, and Nathan, Anya still over his shoulder, slipped inside. Looking back, he saw a single horseman wheeling around to go back to the army. Relaxing a little, he set Anya back down on her feet. His whole body was trembling. They know where we are. Will I never be safe?
“How did they find us?” Anya asked, shaking.
“I don’t know.”
“Why were they after…” Anya started to say, but Nathan interrupted her.
“Come on, we must go.”
Winding through the streets of Padrea, they made their way to the docks, where sailors were loading the ships harbored there. Holding Anya’s hand, Nathan looked at the various vessels, wondering if any of them were headed towards Madiela, the farthest of the islands. He doubted any were, knowing Madiela was not a very safe place to be, as it was uninhabited, and there was no land bridge to it. Nathan sighed, then spotted an office nearby, the sign on which read ‘Port Management Office’. The office looked as if it were only one room, and the small window had curtains drawn over it. The roof looked as if it needed a few repairs, as did the rest of the building. Nathan told Anya his plan, and together they headed over to the office. Lights were on inside, and through the window they could see someone’s silhouette, so Nathan let go of Anya’s hand and knocked. “Come in” Someone shouted, and then came the sound of a chair scooting across the floor. Nathan stepped inside and Anya followed him in, glancing about the room as she entered. The room they were in was simple, having only a desk and a few chairs for furniture. A map hung on the wall, and ledgers and other maps were spread all over the desk. An elderly man stood behind the desk, ink all over his fingers and a quill pen tucked behind his ear, leaving a thin trickle of ink on his cheek. His white hair stuck out everywhere, and his blue eyes sparkled when he saw Anya. He smiled at her, and she shyly smiled back.
“How may I help the two of you on a fine day like this?” He asked. “We’re looking for a boat or a ship, sir, heading to Madiela.” “I’ll see if we have anything..” The man sat down, picked up one of the ledger books and began flipping through it, humming to himself as he went along. Nathan chewed on his lip nervously as the man put down the book and picked up another. Anya looked up at Nathan, her eyes filled with worry. Nathan picked her up and whispered in her ear, making her laugh. She wiggled out of his arms and walked around the room, staring at the map on the wall. Nathan shifted from foot to foot, looking from Anya to the window, then back to Anya, and then to the man.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the man looked up. “There’s nothing going to Madiela, I’m sorry. However, there seems to be a small boat for sale near the edge of town. It’s not that much money and it may be your only way to get to Madiela.” “Thank you, sir. Where can we find it?” “If I’m correct, it’s the first house after the third dock from here. It should be easy to find.”
“Thank you for your time, sir.” “You are very welcome.” He paused. “But may I caution you, sir?”
“I know not your reasons for going to Madiela, but… the journey there isn’t very safe, you see… I know a lot of people who have been killed on the way there, and those who may have made it there, I know nothing about. It may be a very dangerous Island.”
“I cannot imagine any place more dangerous than Olandern in these days.”
The man nodded. “Since you have your heart set on going, young sir, I wish you godspeed on your journey.”
“Thank you, sir. The Creator bless you. Farewell.” Nathan and Anya left the office, and with Anya counting the docks as they walked down to find the house where the boat was for sale. The house was large, and through the curtain-less windows, Nathan could see rag dolls and toy wagons and towns scattered about the wooden floor. The house looked well kept, and Nathan guessed that a large family lived there. When he knocked, the door opened a crack, and through it Nathan could see a small boy, his face dotted with freckles, his red-brown hair hanging into his lively, green eyes. His small hand wrapped around the door handle and he pulled the door open a bit more to poke his head out.
“What do you want?” He asked, his voice sweet and clear. “Is your father in?” Nathan questioned, raising an eyebrow. “Papa died at sea last year.” The boy’s face grew solemn, and his eyes lost the adventurous look they had held before. “Alfred, who’s there?” A voice called from the back of the house. “A boy and a girl, mama.”
“What do they want?”
“They’re asking for papa.” A woman appeared at the door, shooing the boy into the back of the house. The woman’s face was similar to the boy’s, although there were fewer freckles and even a wrinkle or two on her forehead. Her red hair was pulled back into a braid, and as she greeted Nathan and Anya she wiped her floury hands on her apron.
“Can I help you? As my boy explained, my husband has been dead for almost a year”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We’re here to see a boat that the man at the port management office told us was here.”
“Oh We’ve been trying to get rid of that thing ever since” Her voice trailed off and she wrung her hands.
“I understand. Can I take a look at it?” “Why, yes, of course Come in – pardon the mess, the children are rather terrible about cleaning up. Right, the boat. Come around back through here, and I’ll take you down to the shipyard. It’s in good shape still, where did you say you were going with it?” “Madiela.”
The woman fumbled with a lock on a door. “Madiela? Well, that’s interesting. I hope you get there safely. They say there are sea monsters around out there, though where exactly we don’t know.”
“Thank you for the warning.” Nathan and Anya followed the woman through a few narrow alleys until they came to a beach with many overturned ships lying on it, most needing repairs. The woman’s children followed behind them, whispering amongst themselves. “Well, here’s the boat. I’m not asking very much for it it’s just taking up space out here. This is it. The wood is still good, and unless anything has happened in the past month, then it’s still in tip-top shape. If there are holes in the sail it would be easily mended.”
The boat was rather small, about the size of a large rowboat. Most of the paint had worn off, but Nathan could tell that at one point it had been a beautiful bright blue with a darker blue edging. The wood was smooth and in good shape, and the sail was neatly woven, and although it needed a few patches as the woman had guessed, the ship was still almost as it was in its sailing days.
Nathan nodded and scratched his chin. “What do you think, Anya?” Anya cocked her head to one side and eyed the boat. She smiled. “It’s good.” “How much do you want for it?” The woman wrung her hands again. “I don’t know it depends on how much you think it’s worth.”
“I only have one hundred londqa and some food. I’m going to need some of the money for food for the journey, but” “Anything would be good since my husband died we haven’t been able to support ourselves all that well.” Nathan dug around in the pouch he kept at his waist. “Here’s eighty-five londqa. And I’ll leave the rest of our food with you.” “I can’t thank you enough. I’ll get the children to help you turn it over.” Hearing this, the seven children walked over to the boat and carefully pushed it right side up. “It’s close enough to the water that I can push it myself.” Nathan said when the children began pushing it towards the water. “And Anya and I aren’t quite ready to leave yet – we still need to get a few supplies.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you so much for all you’ve done for us. God bless you.” “And you – and your children as well. Thank you.” “No, thank you. Come along, children, let’s go home now.”
Nathan smiled to himself as they walked off. Someday, he would have a family like that. And hopefully someday rather soon. Ever since he had found Anya, he had dreamed of the day he would meet his wife, and have a family of his own. A big family, if the Creator provided enough. Nathan took Anya’s hand in his, and together they wove through the town to the market, which was bustling at that time of day. After a few minutes of going from booth to booth, Nathan finally stopped by one with breads, dried fruits, and nuts. A young girl was working there; she was about fifteen or so, Nathan guessed.
“Can I help you?” She asked when Nathan began looking at the food that was for sale there.
“No, just looking for now, thank you.” “If you need anything, just tell me. I’ll help you if I can.”
Nodding to the girl, Nathan lifted Anya up so they could look at the food herself, and they could choose them together. First Nathan picked a few strings of dried apple slices, then a large bucket of nuts, followed by a small basket of oranges. Anya picked out a dozen or so loaves of bread. They purchased a few more things after this, and then, munching on nuts, they walked down towards the beach to prepare to leave. Nathan inspected the boat more thoroughly, and found it to be, as the woman had said, in almost tip-top shape. The rest of the afternoon they spent patching the sail and loading supplies – food, rope, buckets, and a couple other things they would need. Nathan took his dirk out of his bag and belted it around his waist, ready to use it if they needed to. Anya busied herself inside the boat, and using a few blankets they had bought after their provisions, made a makeshift bed in the lower part of the boat. She wrapped the rope around the mast and secured a bucket to the mast, then filled the bucket with food. By late evening, they were ready to leave. Nathan was in even more of a hurry to leave the mainland since they had been chased earlier; he now knew that Ciaran’s men knew where he was, and that could put them in grave danger. The soldiers had not followed him into Padrea, which gave Nathan some hope. They at least had some time to get out of Olandern. If Ciaran’s men entered before they were well out to sea, all was lost. “Anya, come on, let’s go” Nathan said excitedly, happy to go out to sea. He had learned how to sail on a river outside of one of the towns in which he had helped a farmer, and since then he had been longing to sail again. Anya sat down in the boat, and Nathan gave it a slight shove when a wave came up on the shore, and then pushed it the rest of the way out into the water, where he climbed on board. Once out to sea, he stood holding on to the mast, letting the wind whip his hair around. He grinned as he smelled the salty water and hear the waves lapping against the boat.
The three days at sea were perfect for sailing – enough wind in the right direction, sunny skies, and calm water. Nathan showed Anya how to work the tiller and put the sail up and down, and they relaxed most of the day, enjoying the breeze and wonderful weather. However, when dawn came the fourth day, Nathan noticed that the sky was dark and cloudy. Anya woke, and Nathan lay down to take a nap, but just as he was falling asleep, a gentle rain began to fall. He slept for only an hour or so, but the rain became harder as he rested, and he woke to rain falling on his face. By noon, it was pouring rain. Anya held onto the edge of the boat, her breathing unsteady as she vomited. Nathan tossed the anchor in the water, and then quickly worked to lower the sail. It took him a while, fighting against the wind and rain to untie knots and get the canvas under control. Normally he would have loved to be out at sea during a storm, but with him in charge, Anya with him, and a whirlpool only miles away, he did not enjoy it. Rather, he prayed it would be over soon. The little boat continued to pitch and roll throughout the afternoon and evening, not calming with the coming of night. Soon after dark, Anya turned to help Nathan bail water out of boat, her stomach having decided there was nothing more in it to get rid of.
Around dawn, the rain began to lighten up. Anya left Nathan’s side to get some breakfast, but as she stood, a huge wave came crashing over the side of the boat, sweeping Anya off her feet.
“Nathan” She screamed as her mouth filled with water.
“Anya” Nathan reached out to grab her, but she was already in the sea, and came up to the top spluttering. Quickly, Nathan threw his cloak off and tore his dirk belt off, then dove into the water. When he surfaced, he searched frantically around for Anya. He found her floundering not far away. Anya He thought, and helping her onto his back, he turned to swim back to the boat, but he didn’t see it. Where did it go? He spun around frantically, trying to find it. The rain splattered onto his face, making it hard to see. The waves pushed him back and forth, salty water sometimes splashing into his nose, mouth, and eyes. Lightning lit up the sky, and Nathan saw the boat in the distance. He began to swim towards it as quickly as he could, not letting his eyes move away from the boat. Having Anya on his back slowed him down, but before long, they were back on board. He laid Anya down on her back and covered her with her cloak. She was beginning to cough, and water came up with every cough. Nathan began to panic. He had rarely been sick, and out at sea, days away from land with no way to navigate in the cloud-covered sky, he was helpless.
Chapter Seven: A Time to Keep, and a Time to Cast Away
Breacon leaned over and picked Caddie up, tickling her gently. She struggled to get out of his arms, but he held her tightly.
“Let me go, Breacon!” She squealed, punching his broken arm.
“Ow!” He said, setting Caddie back down on her feet. “That wasn’t very kind of you, Caddie.”
“You weren’t being very kind, either.” She retorted.
Breacon started to laugh, but then memories of his own dear little brother came flooding back to him, and he stopped short. I miss them so much.
Caddie tugged his sleeve. “Play with me more, please!” She begged.
“Not now, Caddie. I’m going to go outside and sit on the porch.”
“Can I come?”
“No, I’m going to think. Why don’t you see if your mama needs your help in the kitchen? I’m sure with her little helper off playing she needs a lot of help!”
Caddie nodded and ran to the kitchen. Breacon sighed and pushed open the front door. He sat down on the porch steps and rested his head against the stair rail. Oh God, I miss them. I wish they could all be here with me right now. But they’re all dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead, and gone. It still hurts so much to think about it. I still don’t see how life can go on. How people can laugh, how I can laugh, how I can play, and smile.
But I must move on.
A shadow blocked the sunlight, and then Ezra sat down next to Breacon.
“Ye look deep in thought, lad.”
“Don’t dwell too long on your family. I know it hurts, but if you keep thinking about them, it will only hurt for longer. The Creator binds up the brokenhearted, lad.”
“Thank you, Ezra.” Breacon let his head fall onto Ezra’s shoulder. “I wonder where my da is,” he thought aloud.
“Maybe someday you’ll find him. I’ll pray that ye do. I pray every day that the Creator may grant that Caddie and any of my children that may follow our dear Caddie will never live without their father. But if the Creator wills that I be taken to His glory before Caddie is gone from under my roof, that Caddie will know the Fatherhood of the Creator, that I can only be an imperfect picture of. Remember that, Breacon – even if ye never find your father, the Creator is a Father to the fatherless.”
“And that everything He does is something that has a purpose. Breacon, ye may not be able to see the reason behind this suffering of yours, but the Creator says in His law that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character. It’s like when gold goes through fires to purify it. If the Creator never sent us trials, we would be trapped in thinking that we were perfect, and would have no need to draw close to the Creator. Take heart, lad, in knowing that the Creator has provided a way for us to draw near to Him even though we have committed high treason against Him.”
“Even though it was at such a great cost as His own son,” Breacon added. “Did my father know, do you think, when he said goodbye to my mother, sister, and brothers, that he’d never see us again? Did he know that?”
“I cannot say, Breacon.”
“But I will take heart, Ezra, I will. Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Law ‘Do not be grieved, for the Joy of the Lord is your strength?’ What’s that mean, ‘the joy of the Lord?’”
“It means that we can take refuge in knowing the Lord, and in the joy that the Lord has redeemed us and set us free. In the ancient tongue, the word ‘strength’ there means a fortress. He’s our fortress, Breacon, the one we can hide in in times of trouble, who will shield and protect us. The joy that comes from knowing Him is our stronghold, that gives us the strength to journey on.”
“Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is my strength,” Breacon repeated. So do not be grieved. Then the tears came once more. Ezra put his arm around the boy, and gently rocked him back and forth. Oh Creator, comfort the lad, he prayed. Then Breacon spoke through his tears.
“How can I forgive them?”
“What’s that, lad?”
“How can I forgive the raiders for what they’ve done?”
“The same way that the Creator has forgiven ye for what you’ve done.”
“Aye, but I’m not perfect like the Creator is, Ezra!”
“No, but He is beside you to help you forgive them. Trust Him, Breacon. In the day of judgment, they will get what is due to them, but given to them by the Creator. It’s not our place to punish them as those deserving as punishment ourselves.”
Breacon nodded, and wiped away his tears.
“I smell dinner,” Ezra said. “Shall we go see what Moira has cooked for us?”
“Aye.” They stood, and walked to the door. Breacon stopped with his hand on the doorknob. “Thank you, Ezra.”
Ezra only bowed his head.
The rain kept pouring. Down, down, down, it came… water fell ran off of the hood of Nathan’s cloak and into his eyes. He shivered, his cloak was no longer any use to him, it was soaking wet and now all of him was soaking wet as well. He peeled it off and set it in the prow. Anya lay motionless at the bottom of the boat, her eyes closed in fitful sleep. It was freezing cold and yet she was sweating.
After what seemed like days at sea, the sky finally cleared and Nathan pulled up the anchor and hoisted the sail. He was still anxious for Anya; however he was peaceful deep inside, knowing that God had a plan. That night he used the stars to get them back on course, and then turned his attention to Anya. She lay sleeping on the floor of the boat, seemingly calm, but when Nathan neared her he could tell her sleep was troubled. She’s burning up Nathan thought, feeling her forehead. Oh, Creator, help me What do I do? Anya coughed, and Nathan poured some fresh water into her mouth, then poured water onto a clean rag and placed it on her forehead. He knew almost nothing about nursing and healing, but he had learned some when he and people he had lived with had been sick. He lifted her up into a sitting position and tried to get her to eat, knowing she needed to keep her strength up. Eat, Anya, eat! Come on… Anything Nathan managed to get into her mouth she just pushed out. Frustrated, he helped her drink some more fresh water, then laid her back down.
It’s hopeless… she’s going to die! Nathan thought.
The rest of the journey would have been pleasant if Anya had not been ill. Even when the weather warmed up, Anya still lay shivering in the bottom of the boat, and Nathan did all he could to help her, but she was getting worse, not better. Nathan prayed over her every spare minute, and was preparing for the worst, even going as far as giving her life up to God. In between navigating and prayers, he ate and tried to get Anya to eat as well. The next day, Nathan saw land, and from then until they reached Agranthea and landed, Nathan packed up their supplies. Once on land, he carried Anya inland, where he began to make camp. Nathan had wanted to start working on a shelter right away, but his focus now needed to be Anya’s health. He tended to Anya every waking hour he had, only leaving to find more firewood or get something to eat. She seemed to be getting better for a few strenuous days, but on their fifth day on the island, she took a turn for the worse. Nathan could now do nothing but pray Anya’s life was out of his hands. On the sixth morning, Anya woke drenched in sweat, screaming. Nathan knew that she would not live much longer, and within an hour, she drifted off into sleep and when Nathan turned to feel her forehead, it was hotter than ever. Nathan held her in his arms, the tears rolling down his cheeks. Anya wrapped her hand around Nathan’s arm, and her eyes held Nathan’s gaze for a short while, then she closed them and was still. NO no Nathan’s mind screamed. Even though he thought he had been prepared, nothing he had ever known could compare to this. He was alone now, all alone. The trees seemed bigger and more intimidating as Nathan quietly picked Anya up and carried her to a clearing he had found earlier. Setting her down, began to dig a hole. He picked some flowers growing at the foot of a tree and placed them in her hands, then gently lowered her in the hole. Nathan’s eyes began to tear up, and he wiped the tears away furiously as they began streaming down his cheeks. Almost blindly, Nathan filled the hole with the dirt he had taken out of it, and taking a few large sticks, he made a grave marker and carved Anya’s name into the wood.
He stayed at her grave for a long time, praying and weeping. He knelt by her side, hands clenched and holding back screams of anguish. His face twisted in anger and sorrow, he let his head fall onto his knees. Now that his only human friend was gone, Nathan was lost. He was all alone on a tree-covered island out in the middle of the sea, miles away from civilization. What was he to do now? Nathan continued to think about these things while he sat, his knees now pulled into his chest and his arms wrapped around his legs. Suddenly weariness took over, and he slipped into a deep sleep. The sun was rising when he woke, and he sighed and got to his feet. Many thoughts went through his mind during as he walked back to shore, and he cried out to God in his confusion. He was lost, so hurt, and so confused. What do I do now? Anya’s gone, except for you, I’m all alone here. Lord, it’s so lonely down here. There’s only the animals. What do I do? There’s no one left for me to take care of here. There’s only one reason I’m on this island, and that reason is the same thing that’s keeping me alive right now. That and your love. Should I go back to the mainland? Or should I stay here until the time is right? Nathan lifted his head from his knees to wipe the tears from his eyes. Where do I go now? With a glance in the direction of Anya’s grave, Nathan ran toward the boat, wanting to be away from that sad place as much as he could. His heart was aching, and it hurt terribly to think of Anya. His face wet and tearstained, Nathan began unpacking the boat. Alone once more, memories of his childhood began to fill his mind. Fighting the sadness that filled his mind, Nathan tried to focus on other things, happy times he’d had… then not knowing what else to do, he began to build a shelter to keep him out of the wind and rain.
Chapter 8: On the Move
Moira’s cooking had done Breacon good. After two and a half weeks of staying with Ezra and his family, Breacon had regained all of his strength. His arm was still not completely healed, but Ezra assured Breacon that before long it would be. During his stay in Yeld, Breacon had gotten to know some of the other villagers when they came by to visit Ezra, Moira, and Caddie. Sometimes he ran errands for Moira, or went out with Caddie to find herbs for Ezra. He was happy in Yeld, but Breacon knew that he needed to move on – towards Itheial, and towards justice.
“I need to leave,” he told Ezra one evening.
Ezra nodded. “We will miss you, Breacon. But I knew the time was coming. You have been healed here, both in body and spirit, and are ready to move on.”
“Aye,” Breacon agreed.
Ezra opened a cupboard and pulled out a roll of parchment. “Let me show you the best way to go.” He spread the map out on the table, and both he and Breacon leaned over it. “The desert will take a long time to go through, and you don’t want to enter the forest, because most who enter do not find their way out. There is, however, a small path in between them. That is the route you must take.”
Breacon nodded. “How long will it take?”
“My guess is that you will be traveling for about eleven days.”
“That’s not as far as I though it was.”
“It will seem a lot farther when you’re traveling it.”
Ezra rolled up the map. “As long as you travel South, you’ll get there eventually. If you reach the coast line, go West.”
Breacon nodded. “Thank you so much, Ezra.” He sighed. “I wish I could stay here.”
“Come back when your task is done, lad, and we’ll be more than happy to have ye back. Caddie, Moira,” Ezra called. They came quickly. “Breacon is leaving us.”
Caddie grabbed onto Breacon’s leg. “Don’t want you to go,” she said.
“I have to Caddie. But if I can, I’ll be back.”
“I pray you’ll have a safe journey,” Moira said. “But before you go, let me get you some food and water. You’ll be needing it for sure.” She left, and returned shortly with a large flask of water and a bag of food.
“Thank you, Moira.” Breacon glanced around sadly. “I have enjoyed my time with all of you very much… it hurts to go, but I know that I must. I will never forget your hospitality or your wisdom.” He stooped and hugged Caddie, who clung to his neck.
“Caddie, Breacon must go,” Ezra said firmly. Caddie reluctantly let go of Breacon and stepped back. Breacon opened the front door, then paused.
“God’s blessing on this house,” He said quietly, and then he was gone.
The path between the forest and the desert was not hard to find. Breacon whistled as he walked, and smiled to himself as birds twittered their replies. The weather was fair, and although he walked beside the desert, there was not too much heat. The only thing wrong with the day was that Breacon was alone for the first time in his life. Alone, with no one to talk to, and not even a faint hope of someone he knew waiting to meet him at his destination. There was no brother joking beside him, no sister gently slipping her arm through his and talking with him and asking him questions. There was no toddler skipping along the path in front of him.
Is this what my life is to be from now on? Loneliness? The loss of a sibling – even just one, but many is so much worse – must be the hardest loss of all – a sibling, a companion, a friend, confidant, playmate… Oh Creator, did you have to leave me so alone?
You’re not alone.
But there is no one beside me to keep me company on this long journey!
No one that you can see. Did I not promise to be with you always? Have you not read my Law?
Breacon felt his heart bend in shame. How could he have forgotten? He had stored up many of the Creator’s promises in his heart as a young child, as comfort in times to come. Now that time when he needed the comfort of those promises was here, and he had forgotten them.
Thank you, God, for always being with me.
He picked up the pace at which he walked, his heart now filled with joy. Oh, Creator, thank you for this beautiful day. I love the way the birds echo my whistling!
Soon Breacon spoke his thoughts aloud, and he almost felt as if there really was someone by his side.
When noon came, Breacon ate as he walked.
By nightfall, his feet ached and he welcomed the darkness as a time to rest. He stepped off of the path onto the soft grass that lay between the path and the forest. As he lay down, Breacon felt his muscles relaxing. His eyes closed in sleep, and it was not long before Breacon was fast asleep.
The next two days passed quickly, Breacon talking with the Creator as he walked. Sometimes he stopped to smell the flowers that grew on the side of the path, and at other times he peered into the red sands of the desert, watching beetles crawl around and bury themselves in the sand. Truly, the Creator is incredible in what He has created!
Around mid-day of his third day traveling, Breacon heard singing and music up ahead. Cautiously, he approached the area the sound was coming from, around a bend in the path and up about half a furlong.
Rom! Breacon thought as he drew nearer. He had heard about the Rom before, but had never encountered them until now. His father had told many stories about the ones he had met on his trips to Olandern, and Breacon had also heard tales about the wanderings of the few Rom that lived in Stargonia – camped in Tharia, people said.
Their wagons were moving slowly, and perched at the back of one sat a man with a fiddle. A girl with a tambourine walked behind him, and everyone was singing. Breacon broke into a run. Company!
“Good morning!” Breacon shouted.
The fiddler stopped and waved, and then the whole caravan stopped moving.
“I’m a traveler like yourselves! May I join you on the trail?” He asked.
The fiddler nodded. “Come, come, all are welcome!”
Breacon fell into step alongside a Rom boy about his age.
“Where are you headed?” The boy asked.
“Itheial,” Breacon replied.
“To seek your fortune?”
“Nay, but to bring news to the king.”
The boy looked at Breacon incredulously. “You, bring news to the king?”
“Aye, of Ciaran’s destruction in the North of Stargonia. Raiders working for him butchered the inhabitants of my town, and I alone have escaped. The king would pass it off as an act of the raiders alone, and an act of little importance to him otherwise. We in Bywyn were not rich, and of little importance to anyone but ourselves.”
“We have words against Ciaran as well, but not from Stargonia. We are of Olandern, but Ciaran sent men to kill us. One of them was kind-hearted and has led us out of danger, but now we must find a new place to settle. Your land in Stargonia… all we have seen so far has been forest, mountain, and desert! Do you not have plains?”
“Aye, but all of the plains are farther south. There’s one before Itheial, and far to the East of where we are now. There are other Rom to the East.”
“Maybe we will find them.” The boy said hopefully. They trudged on in silence for a few minutes. “What are you called?” the boy asked.
“My name is Breacon.” Breacon replied.
“That’s it? Just Breacon?”
“Aye. Breacon of Bywyn, if you must have more.”
“I’m Mihai Guaril. Mihai means ‘Who is like God?’ in your tongue, and Guaril means ‘champion.’”
“I know not what Breacon means,” Breacon admitted. “But I wish I did – names should be more than names, they should have a meaning to the person who bears them, and to the person who gave them the name.”
Mihai grinned. “Aye. Names are wonderful things. Come,” he said. “The wagons have picked up speed and left us behind while we have been prattling away!”
Mihai started running, and Breacon ran behind him, his bag of food bouncing on his back as they ran. Mihai touched the side of a wagon.
“I didn’t know we were racing,” Breacon said breathlessly. “Besides, I’m weighed down with my victuals!”
“Here,” Mihai grabbed the bag of food off of Breacon’s back. “We’ll put it in my family’s wagon.”
Breacon took a swig of water. The water in his flask was getting low, but it didn’t matter – he was with friends now.
Four nights later, Breacon sat around a fire with the Rom, Mihai by his side. The fiddler was playing a lively tune, and many were dancing near the fire. The shadows they cast added a frightening effect, but it was intriguing nonetheless to watch them bend and sway. Breacon much preferred watching the dancers themselves, but people often blocked his view.
“I love your people,” he told Mihai.
Mihai grinned. “So do I. Wandering is a wonderful life.” Then he bowed his head. “But not everyone likes us. Before we heard of the Creator, many of the Rom stole and cheated. We do not live off of the land like your people. We make our money by helping people, and fixing things for them. But in the past, our people charged more than was necessary, or took things from the people they were helping. We are not like that any more, but some people are unwilling to forgive. And then Ciaran… Derek, the man who helped us, said that Ciaran thinks we’re too free and would cause trouble.” Mihai laughed. “Left to ourselves, we cause no trouble. But if you make a dog angry, he will bite you. I talked to my father, and he said we will stay with you when you go into Itheial. We will help you however we can. We know how much Ciaran goes against the excellence the Creator wants, how much injustice he has taken part in, and how he serves Daron.”
“Serves Daron?” Breacon asked, surprised. “I would not go as far as to say that!”
“He certainly does not serve the Creator. He serves himself, and the trap of serving self comes from Daron. It puts someone else in place of where the Creator wants you to put Him.”
“I never thought of it that way before, Mihai.”
He laughed again. “We Rom have a different perspective on life than most people, Breacon. We see things differently because we are different… Come, though, the fiddler is playing my favorite tune. Let’s dance!”
“But I don’t dance, Mihai…” Breacon’s voice trailed off as the dark-haired boy pulled him into the circle of dancers, his brown eyes twinkling.
“So I will teach you!” Mihai began dancing, leading Breacon through the steps as he did them.
Finally, the two boys collapsed on the edge of the circle. “You do not dance badly for a beginner,” Mihai said. “Spend enough time with us, and you will be better at it than I am!”
“That was fun,” Breacon said as he caught his breath. “Are you always this happy?”
Mihai nodded. “Aye. We have much joy in the Creator, and we are free. We have much reason to rejoice!”
“Rejoice and dance, and sing, eh?”
“Aye. You like it, do you not?”
“How could anyone not like you?”
“As I was saying earlier…”
“Aye. Maybe someday people will see what you are really like.”
“There are still some Rom, though,” Mihai said, shaking his head, “That do not know the Creator, or that claim to know him, but have not turned from their old ways.”
“There are people like that everywhere. Hypocrites leading others astray.”
“The Creator is merciful. There is hope.”
Breacon nodded. “There is always hope when one trusts in the Creator. Even hope to be free from Ciaran, from Daron.”
Aye, Mihai agreed inwardly. Even hope for that.
Breacon had been counting the days – now it was only two more days until they reached Itheial. Maybe a little more, or maybe a little less. He knew that some days he traveled faster than others. Since he had started journeying with the Rom, Breacon felt as if time had gone much faster. Maybe they were walking a little bit faster, but the company of a boy his age and of families made the journey more enjoyable. But there were families. Whenever Breacon saw a family together, he thought of his own family that he would never see in Edaled again. He prayed that someday he might find his father.
The day before, Mihai had asked what had happened to Breacon’s arm. The two boys were walking near the head of the caravan, but as Breacon told his story, they quickly fell back in line. Mihai put his arm around his friend as Breacon’s chin trembled. Breacon was trying so hard to hold back the tears. His arm made him think of Bywyn, which made him think of his family, which in turn made him think of that last joyful night they had had together.
Family was such a special thing. Breacon pitied those who had family, but whose families were not united. Mihai did, too, but now as he felt Breacon tremble beneath his arm, he felt even more strongly an urge to reach out to the fatherless. What would it be like to be without my father? Or worse yet, without any of my family? He wondered. Breacon has such strength, to journey on like this.
Mihai had led a happy life – he had never known sorrow like many people had. No one close to him had ever died, or even moved away. He knew that he had been greatly blessed by the Creator. And so, he looked at sorrow curiously. He wondered what it was like; he pictured it in his head, and imagined what his reactions to tragedy would be.
Grant us grace, Creator, and continue your blessing on the Rom to never know such sorrow.
Chapter 9: Itheial
The streets of Itheial were crowded. Breacon, Mihai, and Mihai’s father, Pesha, had decided that just the three of them should enter the city and request an audience with the king. Breacon would be the spokesperson for Bywyn, and Pesha would speak for the Rom. Pesha led the trio through the city, toward the center where the castle was. Two guards stood in front of an open portcullis.
“What business have you inside the castle?” One asked, eying the travelers. Mihai could almost hear the man’s thoughts. Rom!
“We bring news from afar,” Pesha said. “Of Olandern and Ciaran.”
“The king does not want to concern himself with the affairs of another kingdom.”
Breacon stepped forward. “Ciaran’s movements no longer just effect Olandern. I come from Bywyn, where Ciaran’s men have slaughtered many.”
The guard raised an eyebrow, but motioned for them to pass. “Wait just inside the wall, and a soldier will take you to the king’s throne room. From there the king’s advisor will decide whether or not your news is fit for the king’s ears.”
They waited, and sure enough, a soldier came up to them.
“What business do you have in the castle?” The soldier asked.
“We have news for the king,” Pesha said, feeling very repetitive.
“Come.” The soldier led them deep into the castle, then up two flights of stairs. They walked down twisting corridors, then stopped at a door at the end of a hallway. The soldier knocked. A small window in the door opened. The king’s advisor peered out.
“Messages for the king.”
“What kind of messages?”
The soldier looked toward Pesha, who spoke. “From Bywyn and Olandern, about Ciaran.”
“Is it urgent?” The advisor asked.
“Aye, if ye have any desire to save the kingdom.”
The advisor opened the door. “Leave any weapons outside.”
Breacon shrugged. “We have none, we are peaceful folk.”
They entered, and Pesha and Mihai could feel the surprise. Rom, in the king’s throne room? What did these thieving men want?
Bowing low, Pesha began speaking. “My Lord, my people lived in Olandern peacefully for many years. We are unlike the old Rom, we know the Creator and have turned from our old ways. Ciaran wanted us killed, but we escaped into Stargonia, knowing it to be our only hope. Now we bring news of what Ciaran has done to you, your majesty, that you may hear of how he has served Daron-” The king and his advisor gasped, but Pesha continued. “And decide for yourself how to respond.”
The king nodded. “What of the other boy? He is not one of you, he is too fair and not dressed like you.”
Breacon stepped forward. “You are right, my Lord. I am not one of the Rom, but I have been traveling under the hospitality of the Rom these past eight days. Word may have reached you that raiders attacked Bywyn.” Breacon paused; the King looked surprised. “They leveled all of the buildings, and to my knowledge, I am the only one who is left living. Before you pass this off as just an act of the raiders, my Lord, know this: I tried to cross the border into Olandern, for my father was in Olandern, but they said Ciaran had ordered everyone in Bywyn…” Breacon paused again, his voice breaking with grief. “… destroyed.”
The king jumped to his feet. “So Ciaran thinks he can take over my kingdom? I will not allow it!”
“That is why we have come, your majesty,” Pesha explained. “The people of Olandern have been subdued – crushed is perhaps a better word – and cannot overthrow Ciaran on their own. Stargonia has strong armies, my Lord.”
“It would take years to conquer a villain like Ciaran,” Breacon said glumly.
“It may take years, but it must be done,” the advisor reminded. “Ciaran is one who works under Daron, he is a tool in Daron’s evil hand.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Peter,” The King said to the advisor, “Lodge these three in the castle. I will consider what they have said, and we will talk about it tomorrow.”
“Thank you for your kindness, your highness, but I have my family to think of. They are outside the gates waiting for me.”
“Bring them all in, they can all stay in the castle! We do not have a large dwelling for nothing!”
So the Rom came to live in the castle for a few days. The children played happily in the courtyard, and the grand halls were filled with fiddling, tambourines, and bells. Meanwhile, Pesha, Mihai, Breacon, Peter, and the King met sometimes for hours on end, planning, organizing, and praying.
Things would take time, but hope was on its way to becoming a reality.