WARNING: Lameness alert in effect from here until about chapter nine. After that…it may or may not get slightly better. Suggestions for improvement are very welcome. …Just don’t expect me to act on them until after I finish…=P
Darkness And Uncertainty
Netya shook me roughly. Her voice was harsh with desperation. “Alasse. Alasse, help me. We have to get out of here. I think the man who was shooting at us is gone. He must have seen you and Thalon fall and assumed he’d got you both. He didn’t see me, I don’t think. But that horn call will summon the rest of Pethnor’s men, if they have truly come back. They’ll find us! We have to get Thalon out of here.”
I nodded dimly. “Do you know the way back? Where are we?”
“I don’t know,” Netya replied, looking in anxiety into the forest on either side. “I don’t know. I don’t know the way back to our clearing from here. I’ve never been this far into the woods before. We must be miles in. If Thalon could help us…” she broke off and looked away. “Come on, we have to get out of here.”
I stood carefully, picking up Thalon’s bow and stringing it over my back. Netya bent over Thalon, then looked up at me. “Do you think we had better pull it out?” she winced at the thought. “I don’t know how…I don’t know how we’d bandage it.”
“It will only bleed more without the arrow stopping it,” I said, “But…I think we had better. At least we can make a makeshift bandage to stop the blood until we get somewhere…safe.” If we can get to such a place…before anything else happens, I thought.
Netya nodded. “Alright. Well…”
“I’ll do it,” I said, wondering at my words. I had watched shooting contests often enough, and seen men from the Castle Guard coming home from battle, wounded with many arrows, but I had never seen, never cared to see, how the surgeons removed the deadly barbed points.
Netya smiled slightly and nodded, moving back out of my way. I took Thalon’s knife from his belt and began to gently ease the cloth of his tunic away from the wound. Netya watched anxiously over my shoulder. When I was able to see the place where the arrow had struck, I drew in a sharp breath. “Netya. Look. It…hardly went in at all.” I grasped the thin arrow between my fingers and carefully extracted it, handing it back to her. “It barely went in enough to stick. Look, the tip is so wide and short. I’ve never seen an arrow like this before…” I trailed off, and turned back to Thalon. “We need water…there is none around here. I guess…we’ll have to clean it later,” I thought aloud. “I don’t understand, though…the arrow is so thin and small. It wasn’t meant to kill. Why would anyone shoot something like that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he just wanted to warn us away, or something,” Netya offered.
I shook my head. “That’s far too nice, for one of Pethnor’s men. Perhaps it was just a bad shot…”
Netya looked at me doubtfully. “Even a bad shot from a trained archer would have gone in much deeper than that. And no archer would use such a thin arrow. At least, none that I know of. But hurry, Alasse, we need to get to a safer place. What can we use as a bandage?”
I pointed at my dress. “This. Here, help me.” Using Thalon’s knife, I cut a strip from the hem, binding it tightly across the wound. “Now…we need to go.”
Netya nodded, and we gently raised Thalon to a sitting position. He moaned in pain, and his eyes flickered open. I squeezed his shoulder gently. “Thalon…are…you alright? Can you walk…?” I looked anxiously across at Netya.
“You’ll have to try,” she said gently, “We can’t carry you.”
Thalon nodded, and we helped him to his feet. Leaning heavily on our shoulders, he took a few steps forward, each one growing steadier than the last.
“Which way should we go?” I asked. “We can’t get back into the ravine…not like this. I don’t know how to get back to the clearing. I’ve never been here before. And…I don’t know which way the man went…”
Thalon pointed to the right, away and to the north of the light that touched the forest floor from the westering sun. “That way,” he said, voice rough with the edges of pain. “Go that way. There’s…a cottage. Safe.”
“Alright, we’ll go that way,” Netya said. She looked over Thalon’s head at me. Her eyes were uncertain, afraid. Thalon had pointed further into the quickly thickening woods.
“Let’s go,” I said, looking up through the leaves to the sky. “It’s nearing evening. Maybe we will reach the cottage before dark…Pethnor’s men must not find us. Quickly!”
We walked quickly, sticking to the shadows of the trees. Neither Netya nor I knew just what we were running from, and only Thalon knew what we were running to. As the sun sank behind us, the trees began to grow thicker and darker, crowding out the last traces of orange sunset light from the air. I thought of the castle, realizing no one knew where we had gone. They would look for us; Thalon’s father would probably have some of the Guard searching the town. I knew they would never think to look in the forest. No one knew we had been making daily trips to the glade for years. No one but Thalon, and he was with us, cut off from escape in the woods.
Darkness began to fall fully under the trees. Just as I was beginning to abandon all hope of reaching the cabin Thalon had spoken of, the trees opened suddenly into a very small clearing. A cottage, windows dark and uninviting, stood in the center. Behind it, attached by a short covered passageway, was a second building. I guessed it was a stable, judging by the soft sounds emanating from it. The familiar noises made the clearing seem less dark, and the cabin more inviting. Thalon sighed with relief, and directed us around the corner of the building to the door. I nodded, but in trying the handle I found the door locked. I moaned in despair. “What shall we do? We can’t get in, and there’s no one here. Thalon, the door’s locked. I suppose we could sleep in the stable…” I looked uncertainly back.
Thalon smiled slightly. He stepped to the door, leaning on the frame for support. Reaching inside the collar of his shirt, he drew out a small key on a chain around his neck. It glittered silver in the darkness. He fumbled stiffly with the lock for a moment, and the door swung open. “Here,” he said, motioning Netya and I into the cabin. “It’s alright. We’ll be safe here for the night.”
Stepping inside after us, he closed the door, cutting off what little light the waning moon gave as it rose above the treetops and fell into the clearing. I heard the striking of a flint, and a small spark flashed bright and then died, replaced by the soft flickering glow of an oil lamp. The light revealed the interior of the cottage. It was clean and bare, with only a small table and two chairs against one wall. A stone hearth was built in the opposite wall, with two low bunks beside it. A pair of chests stood at the end of these.
Thalon held out the lamp, and I took it, setting it on the table. He walked slowly to one of the bunks and sank down, leaning forward in exhaustion. Netya sat beside him, laying her hand on his arm. Her eyes were frightened and worried. He turned his head, smiling slightly at her. “I will be alright,” he said softly. “It is just a shallow wound. I will be alright in the morning. But…I did not notice. What did the arrow look like?” he asked, and I saw something in his eyes that frightened me as he glanced at me.
“It was very thin,” Netya said, and I nodded.
“The tip was small and wide; not very long,” I added. “It did not look as though it were meant to kill. Who would shoot arrows like that?” I asked, puzzled.
Thalon looked down, hiding his expression. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe that was this man’s mark. When men make their own arrows, they do not always follow the usual design.”
The tone of Thalon’s voice was strained. I knew he did not believe the weak excuse he was giving me. Something was wrong, but he would not look up, and I could not tell what it was.