Upwards

Scrambling up a bank, Ned stood and walked up an incline on the North-Easterly shore of the lake. He slipped on pine needles and had to hold onto tree trunks to pull himself up. As it got steeper, he used the base of trees as footholds. The trees grew close together, but it was dark up there. The denseness of the pines meant the moonlight was restricted. The boy was forced to rest many times. Sweat dripped down, despite the cold setting in. It was steep and treacherous, and he had to take time to place his feet on secure points. Ned skidded and stumbled upwards. But perhaps the greatest danger was the noise. He could not help it, but sometimes a branch snapped. And sound travelled further at night. If the Malaxians were out there and heard anything, Ned silently hoped they thought it was a wild animal.

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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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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

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

Pack

Post 75

Now for the soldier. He was still breathing, but only just. A huge man, he lay on one side close to the cliff edge. It was time to be ruthless. The soldier would have killed Ned with no remorse. And the man had almost slaughtered the wolf. Ned was still in mortal danger so this Malaxian had to go. The boy forced him up by pushing his legs and then an arm. It was no good. He looked around and picked up a sturdy branch. He shoved it under the broad body and levered him upwards. Eventually, an arm flopped over the precipice, and then a leg. Pushing the branch upwards, he tilted the man over. The soldier bounced against a rocky outcrop and crashed through foliage growing out of the cliff. He hit the angry waters, a booming froth devouring him. Continue reading

Aftermath

Post 74

The animal rose up and staggered. Growling, it limped forward, then stopped abruptly. Ned moved back and rested on his knees. The wolf leant in and sniffed Ned. It was a familiar smell. The animal hobbled toward the tree. Ned did not feel threatened. The wolf lay down and watched, submissive. For a long moment, neither Ned nor wolf moved. Continue reading

Man Down

Post 73

The warrior ran forward, but the wolf stood its ground. Within seconds, it leapt and they met near the top of the short incline. The warrior stayed low while the wolf jumped upwards. A flash of steel brought a searing howl from the wolf. It backed away, limping. The man walked in an arc as the wolf tried to make it to the crest of the hill. It looked to the right and struggled back. Blood oozed from a leg wound. The wolf staggered to a single tree on the cliff edge. Continue reading