It was market day. A bustling crowd gathered to buy livestock and slaves. After the chickens, horses and cows had been sold, the dealers waited for the slaves. Kroll walked into the market, but stayed toward the back. He was interested to see the price paid for the boy. He may be small, but the kid was strong. Kroll had primed the auctioneer to make it clear the boy had run with Malaxia’s finest troops and held his own. He was confident of a high price. Continue reading
The next day, the wooden panel was lifted again and Ned was manhandled out by Side-Kick. This time, the boy managed to stand. Ned was bruised and the skin around an eye had blackened. A series of wooden bowls were laid out on the table containing near starvation rations for the prisoners. He was not sure what the rancid food was, but the smell was pungent. A groan came from a nearby cell and Ned looked in its direction. Continue reading
Ned sat on the floor and trembled. The cell was in near darkness and he could not see the far wall. He crawled over and reached into the black. He flinched as a large insect scuttled near his grasp. The wall was damp and puddles formed on the floor. In a corner, he found some dirty blankets which he wrapped over his shoulders and sat on the material in an attempt to keep the cold at bay. Someone was in the cell opposite, but the lack of light meant he knew this only due to the dull moans and an occasional clank of a chain. Continue reading
The jailor opened a thick, wooden door and yanked the chain attached to Ned’s neck. The door slammed shut. The corridor was lit by burning torches on the wall but they were far apart so parts of the passageway descended into darkness. The jailor pulled the chain and forced Ned to stumble.
“Come on you louse, time to meet hell,” he spat.
At the end of the long corridor was a large door. The jailor fumbled with a set of keys and inserted one into the lock. A loud clunking noise and the door creaked open to a circular stone staircase. He shoved Ned inside, locked the door behind and lit a hand-held torch. The jailor pushed Ned ever downwards into the bowels of the fortress. The walls dripped with water and the air was dank. At the foot of the staircase, another door was pushed open and they entered the dungeon.
At the near end was a table and chairs, with a flame torch on the wall. Another jailor was sat by the damp wall. He had pockmarked skin and crooked teeth. The man ignored Ned as he was forced inside. A narrow corridor with a stone floor disappeared into the darkness. To each side, areas had been carved out of the stone and enclosed with iron-barred doors locked shut. No windows. As Ned was shoved down the corridor, he saw inmates inside the cells. Some were chained to the wall, others lay on the floor. The unlucky ones were suspended by chains from the ceiling with their feet only just on the floor.
An empty cell was unlocked with a big clunk. The jailor hit the back of Ned’s legs with a wooden club. The boy buckled and fell on the damp floor as the jailor secured the other end of the chain to a wall bracket. Ned saw the thin-lipped man looking down at him. A blackened smile revealed rotten teeth. As the jailor walked away, the boy noticed his hind leg dragged behind.
Within an hour, they made it to the far reaches of the forest. At the tree line, Kroll brought them to a halt at the edge of a seemingly impassable swamp. Upwards of fifty Malaxian warriors were in an encampment and at least as many merchants with horses and carts by their tents. Kroll ordered his men to make camp away from the others, and walked over to speak to some soldiers. Continue reading
In the morning, breakfast was brought over to Ned. His eyes were puffy and the side of his face swollen. Dried blood marked a cut above an eye. The boy ate his food quietly and squeezed the bridge of his nose with a finger and thumb. Kroll approached and grabbed Ned’s chin. The boy flinched. Continue Reading
As dawn approached, they packed their gear up and formed into a line. Kroll ordered his soldiers to move out in a rough voice. They ran across the plain, trampling over the dwindling heather as woodland rose ahead. It was a long, hard day’s march. Ned began in the middle of the pack but, after a few hours, he was forcing the pace at the front. Sweat stung his eyes as he doggedly pushed on. It was as fast as they had ever run and for a more sustained period of time. Ned breathed heavily but held firm. They reached the forest as the sun silhouetted the trees and set up camp. Continue reading
A steely expression swept over Ned’s face. The heather was thinning out to scrubland and Kroll brought his column of soldiers to a run. Within hours, they were on the edge of hills and interconnecting valleys. Rather than going over the top, Kroll led them on a level bearing to avoid gaining or losing too much height. Ned surprised himself by keeping up, even with the extra weight. But he was weary before even the sun rose to its highest. They kept going and sweat trickled down his ruddy skin. The boy’s chest heaved with the effort, but somehow he pushed on as a pigheaded determination set in. Continue reading
After a food stop, the troop formed into a line and began to run. Ned was toward the back and, with the weight lifted from around his neck, he did well. The boy kept up with the men for the whole day, at the end of which they camped at the edge of a pine wood. Ahead was a remote moorland, and it looked like more difficult terrain. A fire licked flames upwards as a boar roasted. Ned felt stronger the more he ran. Every step carried him away from the Foijen, but each one also took him closer to survival. He understood now that failing to keep up with these hardened warriors meant death. An in-built stubbornness was all he had to stop him falling by the wayside. Continue reading