The blisters on Jorrid’s feet began to burst, but still he ran. By the time the guards realized he was gone, he needed at least 70 kilometers separating them, if he could manage it. They would saddle up their mounts and release the bloodhounds to stalk him the next day as the sun rose, but that left him the rest of the evening and all night to stumble on.
The creek ahead gurgled and splashed as he scrambled into it’s water. An elder once told him that walking up stream can distort your scent trail, and help you get away. The stooped old woman had whispered about her time before the new establishment, and how foxes would use that tactic to avoid hunters. He traveled another 40 meters or so on the other side of the brook before backtracking and making his way up the hill against the flow of the steady stream. He could practically feel the rasping breath of the crone against his ear as he remembered her words.
His legs and back shrieked at him to stop. Rebellion had broken out in him, his body against his mind; the former demanding a halt, the latter knowing it could not allow rest. Flashes of the last few days popped into his conscious thoughts. The horrific scenes played in a jumbled order, but the reel was infinite and inescapable. Phantom gunshots still rang in the air around him, and the weeping of his sisters haunted him. With no family remaining, Jorrid had no one to protect, no reason to stay. Soon after the stench of their blood seeped into the dirt, his fear dissolved into rage, which settled into resolution. He did not take the time to plan an intricate escape. While the others gathered for the evening meal and nightly ceremonies, he fled into the darkening forest. Had the guards not grown so lax and comfortably lazy over the years, exit wounds would already riddle his chest. But for now he forced himself to concentrate not on his losses, but on each consecutive step. “Just one more” he told himself repeatedly. “Just one more.”
The sun peeked over the horizon, gingerly spreading it’s soft light through the trees, like gentle fingers parting the leaves to caress Jorrid’s face. He had no way of knowing how far he traveled in the gloomy night. Already his running had deteriorated into a clumsy lope. WIth a sigh he gave himself permission to lumber along at a slower pace. The onset of day stood brightest to his right, though he could not see the sun itself through the trees. Southward he continued, no destination in mind.
Suddenly, he felt the weightless sensation of freefall before landing with a sickening crack. Rivets of pain seared through his shin, and his left leg refused to bear weight. Tears clouded his vision. Waves of exhaustion and anguish swept him away.
When he awoke, Jorrid was shocked to find his leg crudely splinted with a straightish tree-branch and a few strips of his own shirt. A few meters away a feral looking woman watched him with unblinking eyes. Her clothing was tattered and barely covered her. Her hair sat tangled on her head, the color of jet, but without luster. Twigs and leaves clung to her head. Her bony arms criss-crossed her chest, as she hunkered against the wall of the earthen enclosure. Her frame was small, but did not seem even remotely delicate, with cords of lean muscle and taut sinews holding her together.
Jorrid asked for her name, but she merely glowered. His stomach tightened into a knot as the sound of barking approached the opening through which he had fallen. He could hear the shouts of guards as they followed the beasts. The dogs circled the hole and began to howl. Deftly, the wild one clambered up the wall of the cave. Her slender arms and legs reminded him of the crane flies that used to flutter around the lights of the compound. One of his pursuers peeked his head into the hole, and quickly she grasped his collar. She pulled him down, drawing a sickle shaped bone knife from some unseen place in the folds of her clothing. Before Jorrid could react, the victim of her vicious attack yanked her from the ground. He heard growls and yelps, both human and canine, followed by gunshots, and at last silence.
Eternity passed before the woman crept back down the side of the cave, head first, as easily as she had scaled it. In her teeth she had a makeshift cloth pouch. When she reached the floor, she untied her bundle and revealed a haunch of what he could only assume was hound meat. From her pocket she withdrew a flint and steel, taken from the now dead guards, and set about making a fire.
As they ate, she continued ignoring his attempts to converse. Eventually he concluded she must be deaf or mute, or both. The fat of the meat drizzled down his chin; he savored his first meal in over 24 hours. Neither of them made eye contact opting instead to quietly consume their food in isolation. Upon finishing, she crawled off to a dark corner of the hole where he could no longer see her at all. Still confined by his bum leg, Jorrid drug himself over to the wall, propped himself up against it, and slept.
Lethargically, the fugitive’s eyes opened, but would not focus in the weak morning light that managed to enter the hole. In the night, chalk had grown on Jorrid’s tongue, or so it felt. He wondered where the savage had gone off to, and if he could find out how to communicate his thirst. He stretched his arms. Slowly, he pushed himself up, grabbing at roots and vines that protruded from the earth. His leg still ached, and he couldn’t put enough weight on it to even limp. Even so, it felt wonderful to be standing, and he could feel circulation returning to his lower extremities. Turning carefully about, he realized that the dark corner his protector had retired to was actually a tunnel that led away from this pit. The woman rounded the corner of her tunnel, and with her was a similarly uncivilized looking group of men and women, seemingly older than her.
They each carried long wooden poles with sinister steel blades fastened to the top. The two men pointed the dangerous ends at Jorrid, whilst the women ascended back to the surface. He could hear them rummaging around, but for what he didn’t know. After a few minutes, they returned with the ammo from the guards’ firearms, and proceeded to break them apart and pour the gunpowder into small leather pouches they had brought. then they strung the shell casings on a piece of string, and slung them over their shoulders. The bullets themselves were given to the men, who examined them breifly, and then cast them aside. Turning to him, they spoke a few words in a language he didn’t recognize. He shook his head in despair as they repeated the words again and again. They began to speak furiously and quietly with each other, gesturing to Jorrid and making other noises, whistles and clicks. At last one of them threw his arms over his head, and walked away, clearly frustrated by the outcome. The other turned to Jorrid, said something to him in a mournful tone, and thrust his spear into Jorrid’s chest.
Confusion flooded Jorrid’s brain. He grimaced with pain and coughed up blood. He could feel his life draining away and his limbs grew cold. Slowly, his vision faded to black. Then, unspeakable joy.
“Welcome to the real adventure!” His sister said, motioning for him to follow her into the beautiful gates.