Traders moved carts aside and the elite warriors strolled through, staring with hate-filled eyes. More soldiers patrolled the edge of the swamp, stabbing swords into clumps of grass. They neared the boy’s position and a warrior thrust steel ever forwards. Ned remained still as a sword hit the water near his face. The blade was close and splashed his eyes. The black waters frothed and bubbled. With a grunt, the soldier withdrew the sword and moved on. It was going to be difficult and dangerous to get away. There were so many people congregated in the openness. And Ned was getting cold. He shivered in the foul decay of the waters. Continue reading
Ned moved through the waters at the edge of dry land, away from the pathway. He hid in the swamp and silently looked at the hordes of men in the open land ahead. Merchants had amassed carts near the pathway over the marsh. They were herded into a line and those in the lead had already begun to make the final stage of their journey to Malaxia. Ned could see into the back of the nearest cart. The moonlight shone on barrels and boxes of wares ready to be transported in. Continue reading
Ned moved while carefully navigating across the path over the wetlands. He kept a steady pace while looking through the lens. A green-blue haze led the way. The moon was bright, so anyone ahead could be seen well in advance. His feet squelched in the sodden grass and he slipped. Moving slower in order to stay upright, he heard a noise and froze. Continue reading
Ned crouched on the swamp path. He looked into the instrument and squelched forward. With the full moon overhead, he stepped into the mud and found solid ground. Another step. Then again. He walked along the pathway. Wind rushed through the reeds. If the moon became obscured again, he was doomed. The water rose over his feet, and he slowed when it was knee deep. He waded through tufts of grass and continued to peer through the instrument. Splashing his way through, the ground underneath remained firm. Freezing fog hung over the swampland. The air was icy on his hands and face. About halfway across, the path was almost dry. He broke into a run as moonlight glistened on the water-logged lands. Ned sprinted into the night. Continue reading
Ned peered up at the full moon and then through the instrument. The moonlit path illuminated across the swamp. But the pathway faltered and faded into darkness. He stared up at the night sky again and narrowed his eyes. Dark clouds edged over the moon. Without its light, he was stuck on this side of the swamp. Harsh shouts cut through the biting wind. He looked back at the farmhouse and a contingent of soldiers gathered at the front door. Ned could almost feel the fear of Gundred and Krea.
He turned to face the swamp, deep in thought. It was pitch black out there. All was lost if he could not make his escape. He looked through the instrument, but the path had disappeared. Lowering it, the foggy swamp vanished into the darkness. Dejected, Ned pulled his coat against his neck. A cold was setting in. The frosty night was heavy and black. If escape was impossible, he knew this was it.
Raised voices rose from behind, but Ned could not make out the words. Some glass smashed inside the farmhouse. A fire smouldered and silhouetted the soldiers. Then an eery quiet descended as the soldiers panned out toward his old outhouse. He could not see anything, but heard the pigs and chickens inside. Ned held his breath. Everything was coming to an end.
Then a faint light came from above. A bit brighter, it pierced the fog. The rain clouds cleared and moonlight shone down. Part of the starry sky was back again. Ned looked through the instrument and there it was. With relief, he saw the path illuminated. Ned took one last look behind. White mist hovered above frosty fields. Soldiers stood outside the farmhouse. He saw Krea’s face in an upstairs window. A pang of regret gripped his chest.
“FIND HIM!!!” Kroll shouted. It disturbed some birds, which flapped away into the gloom.
Ned took the bag and slipped the map inside. Holding the instrument in one hand, he stood before Krea. The fire crackled. She meant a lot to him. He tried to speak, but no words came out. Ned moved toward her and buried his face in her hair. She wrapped her arms around him. Krea’s tear-stained cheeks glowed against the light of the fire. Continue reading
On the way back to the farmhouse, Krea saw men, horses and carts lining up toward the edge of the swamp. Before she could get back inside, Krea spotted soldiers running through the wetlands. Moonlight shone on the waters and the splashes from their boots were clearly visible. As they hit dry land, the soldiers were a lot taller than the other men waiting in the cold, who stepped aside. The serious warriors marched in her direction and she put a hand to her mouth. Anyone caught outside would be taken away. She ran around the back of the nearest barn and hid in the tall grass. She heard boots stamping nearby. Continue Reading
Boots trampled over pine needles and browned leaves. Blurs of leather ran downhill through tall pine trees. Hardened warriors carried bows, arrows, swords and daggers as they ran. Kroll was at the lead. He knew the route by heart so there was no need for a map. Eight warriors ran without talking. They had been on the move for over two weeks and were nearing their journey’s end. Light was fading, but they must reach the swamp by the next night in order to cross. They would have to march all night and the next day without a break in order to make it. To bright moonlight, Kroll ran harder when ordinarily they would have rested. Focussing his mind on the boy, Kroll pushed his men to the limit. Continue Reading
Happiness burst inside Krea when she realised Ned was still there in the morning. As ever, she was dressed in rags and had straggly, unkempt hair. She ran up and hugged him. Out of the corner of his eye, Gundred noticed and raised an eyebrow. Ned was a good worker, but he would have to impress upon his daughter the boy was just a slave. In the evening, Gundred sat his daughter down. Continue reading