- 6th day of Hanotë -
Part 4 - The Enemy amongst the Trees
Allana looked around once more. She had been traveling since daybreak and, although she had managed to get some sleep, the uneasy feeling that had accompanied her the night before had greeted her the moment she’d opened her eyes.
The forest, all around her, was plunged into a deep, unnatural silence, and the hooves of her horse sounded like a heavy drumming noise she was sure could be heard from miles away.
The only good thing was that her advance was progressing as planned, she thought when she finally reached the small bridge that crossed over one of the Silver River’s tributaries, leading her straight into Melkar lands.
Brushing her damp hair from her face where it stubbornly stuck to her skin, she urged her horse forward, grimacing as the sound of its hooves echoed all around her.
However, as she approached her goal, another kind of sound reached her ears, making her heart jump, telling her she wasn’t as alone as she’d initially thought.
Pulling her horse to a halt she looked at the bridge, still a few steps away, considering the possibility of galloping across it as fast as she could and getting away from that place once and for all. And yet, against all inner warnings and alerts that left her stomach tied in knots, she decided otherwise.
Dismounting, she tied her horse to the closest tree, and made her away through the bushes to check the origin of the sounds that the abnormally quiet forest carried out to her. She moved as silently as she could, avoiding stepping on dried leaves and branches, and squatted behind a mass of bushes, peering between the leaves.
Voices, she could now easily identify; voices echoed from in front of her, sounding like acute screams as they cut the deep silence all around them. She pushed forward, opening a path through the bushes and then stop, her heart beating on her throat as she realized what she had come upon.
Right in front of her a group of men had made camp and were sharing a meal around a dying fire, they’re figures rude and harsh, making her pay attention even to the way she breathed for fear she might be discovered.
“I still say it’s stupid to divide us. Together we would have a much better chance of winning,” one of the men was saying, his mouth full, making him almost unintelligible.
“But at least that thing won’t be there anymore,” added another one, looking relieved, and the others nodded in agreement. “Because, let’s be honest. It gives me the creeps! We’re all Human Beings! I say let us Humans fight our own wars!”
“That’s pure stupidity!” another countered with despise, while sharpening his huge and heavy-looking axe. “It’s much better when it comes around. Most of our work is automatically done for us!”
“It isn’t a fair fight!”
“And who cares about fair? As long as we win and keep living to enjoy our rewards!” the axe man replied and the group fell silent for an instant.
“I wonder when it’s leaving … I can’t stand this ominous silence any longer!”
“Stop complaining and shut up!” another men said. “It can hear you from miles away. Besides, the White Ones always know what we’re thinking!”
“Don’t tell me you also believe that crap!” the first man questioned sarcastically.
“I saw it with my own eyes! And I tell you. It’s one really scary shit to behold!” he answered, throwing some dried branches into the fire.
“And all because of some stupid piece of jewelry! When there are so many precious stones in the world, so much easier to get your hands on,” one of them blurt out and the rest looked at each other with frightened expressions.
“You shouldn’t criticize our Lord’s ways …” one warned him quietly, as if he really were afraid someone might overhear him.
“Besides, it’s not only that jewel we’re looking for, haven’t you heard? We’re to apprehend all practitioners of Magic we might find. Which I totally agree with! Those damn wizards, always meddling where it doesn’t concern them!”
“Like the one that transformed your treasure into road dust?” one of the others asked and they all laughed, although the treasure’s owner didn’t seem to have enough humor to join them.
“Who wants to have their brains scattered along the road today?” he asked, furious with all the mocking, and another man stood up, facing him.
“Sit down! I won’t allow disorder amongst my squadron, even if you’re all moronic bastards!” he ordered, his strong voice echoing above everyone else’s. “And if it weren’t for these damn wizards you talk about you wouldn’t be able to carry that monstrous axe of yours, so shut up!”
The other men obeyed and the camp was silent again.
Allana pulled back as silently as she could, but as she did so her cloak got caught on a branch and the whole bush shook, the soft sound echoing all around her, making the men in the camp rise to their feet, fully alert. She crouched as still and quiet as she could, trying not to breath, her heart drumming inside her chest.
The man who seemed to be in charge peered towards the place where she was hiding, looking for further signals of movement.
“Go check it,” he told one of the men who didn’t seem all that pleased.
“Probably just a rabbit …” he countered but the threatening glare he received made him shut up and obey.
Allana watched as he approached her … If she stayed where she was she’d end up being discovered. Her only chance was to try and make a run for it, she decided. And, taking a deep breath, she simply stood up. The man looked at her startled for a split second, which gave her a head start as she ran for her life. She heard the alert being sound right behind her and the heavy footsteps of the men that now chased her. She didn’t stop, nimbly jumping over roots and fallen trees, until she reached her horse. She untied it as quickly as she could and was on its back the next moment, galloping as fast as her horse could run towards the bridge right in front of her.
“Stop! Just let him go!” she heard the command coming from behind her, the voice sounding even louder as it broke the forest’s deadly silence. “On the other side of that bridge is Melkar’s territory. Let them hunt him down.”
The sounds of chase stopped and silence surrounded her again. Even so she didn’t slow down, her heart racing just as fast as her horse. Suddenly all she could think of was how she wanted to leave that forest as soon as possible.