Dropping his wooden sword, Ned ran. He made it through the main door from the clearing. Once on the other side of the thicket, he crawled over to his secret entrance where he kept some camouflaged clothing. He could hear his father’s angry voice beyond the foliage. Ned hurried to change his trousers and top. He would have to get away. But his father was not playing back there. He knew harm was intended. If only he did not live there, life would be so different. Ned smeared mud on his hands and face. Once fully kitted up, he wrapped a cloth around his face and moved out, careful to make no noise.
Ned was upset and scared. All he wanted was to get as far away as possible from his father. He knew his mother would not stand up for him. He and his father had never come to blows before and he did not want to go back. His father would be in a rage. He walked through the forest in a daze and, as his fear relented, Ned realised he had walked beyond the Foijen. He had been this deep into the forest only once before, so he slowed down. His mind had been in a whirl and he had not been concentrating on his surroundings. Ned stopped and focussed. He was not in the best frame of mind, but he needed to switch on.
Moving over a rise, a faint smell of woodsmoke drifted in the air. Treading downwards, he heard the running water of a stream. And then guttural voices. He crept through tall fern until Malaxian soldiers sitting around a campfire came into view. They were roasting a wild pig on a spit and cleaning blades. One stood over the carcass and brandished a knife. Ned dropped, crawled forward and listened.
“We will find him. It’ll just take time,” a warrior growled. “Come on, let’s eat!”
They banged knives against metal plates.
“Shut up you lot,” a large soldier snapped. “This isn’t an exercise. We’re close to enemy territory, so act like the fighting machines you’ve trained to be!!”