Elusive

The dawn sun streaked over the treetops and Ned slowed to a walk to have food and water on the go. Feeling uneasy, his eyes darted about the trees. He did the fastener of his bag up and began to run. The boy did not care if he left a trail now as the soldiers had probably lost him. Speed was essential. He was careful to check the map at regular intervals. There was no room for mistakes as any loss of direction could be fatal. The day wore on and he walked more than he ran. As the sun dipped to his right, he traversed over a wooded ridge and saw the turquoise waters of the lake through some branches.

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Upper Hand

Dusk settled in but Ned was still on the move, despite the failing light. Undaunted by his predicament, he resisted the urge to find refuge and rest up. The boy was unsure as to whether his plan had worked, but figured he needed to get past the lake before the Malaxians got there. The moon was bright, which helped him continue his journey. Over the sound of his breathing, all he could hear were snapped twigs underfoot.

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Trap

The warriors gathered back at the big pine tree while Kroll considered his next move. One soldier noticed a bent branch behind the tree and went to investigate. Standing carefully by some pine cones, he peered in. All of a sudden, a branch whipped back and a sharpened stick stabbed through his leather-clad shoulder. The man roared in pain and stepped back to the main group. Kroll’s men formed into a defensive circle and drew swords. The injured soldier was taken inside the circle and the stick was removed from his shoulder. Blood streamed down the punctured leather of his uniform. The soldier was sewn up. It was clear they were not under attack. The boy had set a trap and it worked. Kroll punched the pine tree with a meaty fist.

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Gone

Post 82

Kroll took the rest of his men to continue the hunt for the boy. They tracked him North-West through the pinewoods. Their prey was moving with care, but still left an occasional footprint. It was enough to expose him to mortal danger. The soldiers carried on the same bearing for another hour until the boy changed direction. Due North. The child was becoming more unpredictable as time went on. Kroll ordered a halt. He paced about, thinking, and beckoned one his best trackers over. Continue reading

Tactics

Post 81

Kroll gave fresh orders. Eight were to head back to the lake. On its Southernly shore was a waterfall and then the river struck toward the forests bordering the village closest to the boy’s home territory. It was where he expected Ned head for. Those soldiers were ordered to speed march and set up camp close to the waterfall. The surrounding woodland hills would make good observation areas. Kroll spread a map out on the ground and pointed to rocky outcrops where they would take up elevated positions to look for the boy. He led his other six men on Ned’s trail. Continue reading

Change Direction

Post 80Ned’s feet splashed in the shallow stream. Not wanting to move too far along, he saw a part of the forest where the floor was thick with pine needles. With eyes searching for any movement, Ned stepped on dry land and walked in a South-Westerly direction. Once out of the water, he moved like a ghost through the trees, hoping the deception would work. A few hours later, he stopped to look at the map and then up at the sun. Gauging the correct bearing, he avoided contact with any branches and only stepped on pine needles. Then he adjusted his direction Southward, each step now taking him toward the area he knew like the back of his hand. He could not afford to leave even a single footprint behind. Ned decided to go back to the lake where he had been spotted by the scout. And then keep going for home while the Malaxians wasted time trying to track him. After an hour, he ran through the trees, intent on increasing the gap between him and the soldiers. Continue reading

Night March

Post 79

With an idea to spur him on the night-long march, Ned walked with only the moon and occasional hoot of an owl as company. Trudging through the semi-darkness, his thoughts turned to his family and their life in the forest. He would try to meet up with them, but was too independent to go back to his old life. Maybe he would pass through the Snook and find another place to stay further into the Kingdom. He might join the army when he was old enough. Ned’s mind turned to Krea. If it was his decision, he would still be working on the farm. But Kroll took that away from him. A burning anger rose from within. Krea had saved his life by forewarning him of the danger, and he would be eternally grateful. He ate and drank water on the move, reflecting on his past but also thinking about the immediate future. Ned suspected Kroll and his men would be in the forest somewhere around a comfortable campfire. He knew their routines and how they operated. A beam of moonlight shone down to reveal the hint of a smile. Continue reading

Anger

Post 78

In the morning, the Malaxians packed up camp and panned out, looking for any sign of tracks. A shout from one man rang out. Footprints in soft earth heading due East. A boy’s footprints. They had picked up his trail again. Kroll pushed the soldier aside and knelt down. He looked at the soil. The imprints were fresh, well under a day old. And a snapped twig. The boy was careless. Kroll stood at the edge of the clearing and stared at the direction Ned had taken. The imposing leader’s nostrils flared. He had lost a man. His warriors gathered around. Continue reading

Hunted

Post 77

Kroll held his right fist in the air and brought the detachment to a brief halt. He knew the boy was close. Dusk settled in as it began to rain. Kroll searched the forest floor for evidence of movement. Spotting a snapped fern, he ordered his men into a run. Growling wolves were nearby. There was no time to rest when their target was so close. Fifteen men charged through the forest. The increased speed meant they made more noise, but it would only add to the stress of the boy if he was within earshot. The troops ran into a clearing. Kroll raised his head and sniffed. He turned to his men and grunted “Blood.” Continue reading

Flee

Post 76

Walking through the forest, Ned’s breathing quickened, not quite believing he was still alive. He was lucky to get away. Blinking, he looked behind. The rest of the Malaxian detachment was out there somewhere. Sweat trickling down his face, the boy stopped and took deep breaths. Calming down, he looked at the map and direction of the sun. He made a decision and moved on. The next few hours would be more about getting some distance than caution. There was enough room between the trees for him to run. But not too fast as he needed to keep moving. The boy ran and walked all day until he halted for a rest. It was early evening and Ned listened to the birds. He rasped deep breaths and sat against a tree. Continue reading