Cannot Be Broken
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.
“Who did this to you?”
Ned bit his lower lip, nervous energy racing. “I… I don’t know Sir.”
Kroll hissed and stood facing his men. “If I see any more damage to this lad, you will answer to me. Am I clear??!” he shouted.
Sporadic replies of “Yes Sir” returned.
As they set off, Ned tried to bottle his emotions and just ran. He carried more weight on his back now. The boy kept a straight face, but his eyes betrayed a hint of anger. He ran past several soldiers and pulled alongside Big Nose. He looked over at Ned, but they were going too fast to say anything. The boy quickened his pace. In the lead again, Ned breathed deeply and his heartbeat pounded.
When there was an incline, he sped up, making it hard for the soldiers to stay with him. On flat ground, he slowed down for a while then, without warning, increased the speed for long periods. It kept the men tired while Ned seemed able to continue forever.
Ned ran in the lead for the final three days through the forest. He felt strong and breathed steadily throughout. But he remained aware of his immediate surroundings, always alert to any sign of danger. He brought the soldiers to a halt whenever he spotted movement. It was only deer or rabbits, but his senses were attuned to the environment. On the final day in the forest, Kroll accelerated to the boy’s shoulder and pointed to some tracks.
“Tell me who they are,’ Kroll said.
“Malaxian soldiers,” Ned replied.
Kroll smiled. “You never know boy. One day, you might make a good soldier.”