Away

The injured merchant clung on for dear life as blood oozed from his injuries. His shoulder had been sliced, but the stab wound to his midriff was worse. He was losing consciousness and leant forward. But at least he was heading away from the robbers. With fear in its eyes, the horse galloped along the stoney track. As the black steed thundered away, fading sunlight penetrated the wooded hill to one side. The man’s glistening blood poured down the animal. Dust kicked in the air left a clouded trail in its wake. One man was escaping from the carnage in the forest.

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Saved

Ned stood over the dead soldier and saw his father still fighting off the other warriors. He could taste sick. Stumbling, he tried to move toward the fight, but fell to his knees. Pushing himself up, everything was spinning. He could hear swords clashing, but everything was blurred. With his vision blackening around the edges, he fell face down. Waking to a tugging at his sleeve, he saw Skar trying to pull him back. Ned closed his eyes and woke a brief moment later with the dog licking his face.

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Almost Home

Ned continued through the forest until daybreak. In the half-light, he hunched down by a gorse bush and ate the last of the supplies Krea had given him. And he took in some water. He had been on the move for more than a day and a night without a proper break. Weariness was setting in. Ned sat on some grass and looked at the glistening dew. But he could only afford a brief stop as he had to get to his father before Kroll. And the boy was nearly there.

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Familiar Territory

Crawling toward the grassy verge of the river, Ned got as far as he dared. Stepping over some moss-covered rocks, he slipped into the water and drifted downstream. Opposite the encampment, he saw the fire and dark shapes of sitting men. Harsh voices rose above the trickling water. The river took him away until all signs of the Malaxians were no more. Ned meandered along with the flow of the water for a long time afterwards. Eventually, he swam for the riverbank and hauled himself out. The soldiers were way to the North now, but he had to be careful. If his trail was picked up, they would hunt him down. He could not afford to be in that position again.

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