Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Mark of the King: Chapter One

Hello! This begins the tale of Skandar (cool name, eh?) and a story that I have been plotting for a while now. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter One

The messenger scurried down the dimly-lit stone corridor. His message came from across the borders and was of the utmost importance. He broke into a run down several more passages until he finally entered the king’s chambers. Upon Edmund’s arrival, the king straightened and leaned forward in his wooden chair.
            “You have news?” demanded King Fendral of Corrthaine. His graying hair fell to his shoulders, framing his pale angular face. His beard, which was a slightly darker gray than his hair, was neatly trimmed around his jaw and chin. The king’s piercing ice blue eyes glared at Edmund beneath his bushy eyebrows.
            Timidly, Edmund answered, “Aye, Sire.” Bowing low before the mercenary king he quietly spoke, “The knights you sent to fetch the sword either perished or vanished, same as the others. We received word from Talahm Glas that they passed through Scioból and were traveling to Feirme, but they never reached the village.”
            King Fendral leapt to his feet and made a low, guttural sound, almost a growl. “All of them?” he hissed between clenched teeth and sent a goblet flying across the chamber with a back sweep of his hand. Red wine spattered the wall as the cup hit the stones, its sound echoing off the wall.
            A shaking servant replaced the goblet and shrank noiselessly into the safety of the shadows as the king spent a moment studying the map spread out on the desk. After several minutes, he glared up at Edmund as if demanding his response.
            “Yes, Sire, all of them,” Edmund explained slowly, choosing his words. “Some of them were attacked by something in the forests. We have heard tales of beasts, though none are consistent from one person to the next; and still others simply disappeared. To our knowledge, no one inhabits the forest of Cosaint.” He paused for a long moment and looked around before adding quietly, “Whether they encountered a band of renegade outlaws or some other evil, no one knows.”
            Drawing his own sword, King Fendral stepped around the large table. Pointing the sharp, glinting tip at Edmund, he threatened, “Tell Durrendale I order him to send out more of his knights. If they too, fail, tell him their families will be punished.”
            Edmund, trembling, bowed after the king dismissed him. He turned and strode hastily out of the king’s chambers and down several passages. Quickly, he half-ran down many long flights of stairs and through more corridors until he entered the throne room.
            The throne room itself was constructed entirely of stone. Two doors allowed entrance to the room; one near which Edmund stood. The second below him, admitted entrance to the immense chamber from the kitchens, dungeons, and lesser rooms of the fortress. A single golden throne stood unoccupied near the back of the room. The high windows and flickering candles cast eerie shadows on the cold undecorated walls.
            Edmund scanned the vacant room for Sir Durrendale. At a sound from the doorway behind him, he spun around, groping for the knife at his belt.
 “Easy, Edmund.” The smiling woman, his beloved wife, spoke to him as though speaking to one of the horses in her father’s stables. She wiped dirt and other grime off of her hands onto her stained apron and ran into his arms.
            “Sybbyl,” Edmund murmured, his face in her golden hair. “Sybbyl, gather your belongings. We leave tonight.”
            The kitchen maid pulled away and studied Edmund’s face. “Why? What has happened? How is my brother?” Sybbyl placed a hand on his ruddy cheek.
            Gazing into her worried, silver eyes, Edmund drew Sybbyl close to him once more. He quickly scanned the room. Once certain they were alone, he whispered, “Andrew and the knights the king dispatched are safe.”
            “They arrived?”
            “Yes. But that places you in greater danger. I am working on a plan- one that will allow us to slip out of the castle and into safety.” Seeing uncertainty written on the young woman’s face, Edmund explained, “King Fendral ordered me to tell Durrendale to dispatch more knights on the quest. If he discovers your eyes…” his voice trailed off. He finished the thought in his head, He will take you.
            “To Durrendale then,” Sybbyl marched down the stairs and out of the room through the lower door.
            With a heavy sigh, Edmund followed his wife.
            He quickly caught up to the young woman, and they walked the shadowed passages in silence.
            Both blinked when they entered the courtyard. Not a single cloud hung in the pale mid-morning sky. A crisp autumn wind whipped through the open space; bringing about the pleasant aroma of flowers from the orchard and gardens that littered either side of the intricate walkways. This courtyard, unlike the one on the front of the castle, possessed a cheerful air, where the other, its sole purpose defense and punishments, reeked of death and pain.
            Servants milled about the courtyard, picking flowers, tending to the gardens, or passing through on their way to work in the castle kitchens.
            Then, a young man strode out of the orchard on the far side of the courtyard. Curly dark brown locks fell in front of his startling sky blue eyes, which crinkled at the corners, indicating he smiled often. He possessed a slender, yet noble frame, and walked with the self-confidence, but not arrogance, of a noble’s son. Waving to the couple, he greeted them, “Fine day, is it not?”
            “Greetings, Reuben,” Edmund smiled and embraced his childhood friend.
            “What is the word from the border?” Reuben circled in front of Edmund and Sybbyl; walking backwards to see their faces.
            “Where is your father?”
            “In the Knights’ Chambers, why? Is it about the-” he stopped waking mid-sentence and stared at Sybbyl, and then at Edmund. Seeing their hopeful expressions, everything suddenly became clear to Reuben.
            “They made it.”
            Edmund inclined his head slightly and relayed the king’s orders.
            “He’s insane!” roared Reuben.
“I know, I know. Hence the reason we,” he motioned to Sybbyl and himself, “leave. Tonight. If the king finds out about her eyes like he did Andrew’s… I must see your father.”
            Reuben walked with them across the courtyard, and then he suddenly grabbed Edmund’s arm. “I want to help you.”
            “What? Have you any idea how much trouble this will cause?” Sybbyl and Edmund spoke over each other in strained voices, wishing to avoid the attention of the servants.
            Reuben, who had a knack for finding himself in and out of trouble, smiled. “Of course I do. Which is the very reason I wish to help you.”
            A grin slowly spread across Edmund’s face, and he clapped a hand on his friend’s broad shoulder. “Many thanks,” he said with gratitude.
            The small group walked, quietly and quickly, through several more dark halls and emerged in a part of the castle where the Knights’ Chambers- four massive halls -were located.
            “Remain here, Sybbyl, until we have finished.”
            The slender young woman met Edmund’s concerned amber eyes and nodded with understanding.
            Without another word, the two men opened a large, heavy oak door and stepped inside.
            “I’ve been expecting you,” Durrendale said gruffly, not bothering to look up from a scroll he was examining on his desk. Weapons hung on racks around them: swords, bows, daggers, pikes, axes, and other tools of battle. Scrolls and ledgers varying in size were piled in corners and on tables around the quiet office.
            Reuben cleared his throat. “Father.”
            Sir Durrendale lifted his head, his steely blue eyes locking on the two younger men before him. Edmund crossed his fist across his chest and knelt in salute to the lord.
            “Sir, the king requests you dispatch more of your men on the Quest to find the sword. The men you recently sent out failed to reach their destination. Some never even arrived on the soil of Talahm Glas,” Edmund spoke clearly, meeting the knight’s cold gaze.
            The middle-aged man was silent, though Edmund could see fury boiling in his eyes.
            “He wants more?” Durrendale fairly shouted. “Already we have lost so many!”
            Reuben, attempting to calm his father, pleaded, “Father, do not heap the fault upon Edmund; he is only the messenger. Please refrain from yelling at him. If anyone deserves a good shouting, it is King Fendral.”
            “Ah! Now there is a bit of truth,” growled Durrendale. “You can tell the king I must wait several months to train more men.”
            “Right away, sir.”
            Outside the Keeper’s chamber, Reuben wrinkled his brow in agitation. “Well that went exactly according to plan,” he groaned. “Now we have angered both my father and King Fendral. Brilliant!”
            “You managed to anger both in one day?”
            Edmund and Reuben jumped at the sound of another voice.
            “Quite a feat!” the chestnut-haired young man standing behind them with Sybbyl grinned.
            Reuben and Edmund bowed mockingly to the prince, and then their faces broke into large smiles.
            “Why, good morning Prince Garren.” With teasing smiles still lingering on their faces, Edmund and Reuben each grasped their friend’s forearm in greeting.
            “I was returning from fencing practice,” explained Garren, “when I bumped into Sybbyl. She told me of your,” he hesitated, “situation concerning my father. You are correct in believing her safety is compromised. If you desire my aid in any way, please, do not hesitate to ask,” offered the prince. “My father is not all he once was. He listens to the counsel of people who mean him harm. Power and wealth now consume him, and I fear the worst is yet to come.”
            “You are a good friend, Garren, to help us,” whispered Sybbyl.
            The four exited the corridor, hurriedly making plans in hushed whispers for that night.

            Later that evening toward dusk, four cloaked figures met in a huge, dimly-lit room at the top of the castle.
            “Father,” pleaded Garren in a quiet voice, “the quest for the sword Bródúil is a failed cause. Your people fear you. I beg you! Let it go! Innocent people lay dead because of your-”
            “Sire!” the second man drowned out the last of the prince’s words with his rough voice. “I beg you not to listen to the lies your son whispers in your ear. Grief over the lost clouds his judgment,” insisted the man. He smiled, his teeth glittering in the firelight.
            The king’s fierce stare scanned the flickering faces until he found that of an old brother-in-arms. “What is your opinion on this, Durrendale?”
             “Sire, with respect, I agree with Prince Garren.”
            The pallid young man across the huge circular table scoffed, “Sire, again, I beg you not to listen to these fools.”
            “Silence, Joran,” commanded the king. “I shall hear your opinion later.”
            “With your permission, my king, I shall continue,” Durrendale fumed. King Fendral nodded his approval.
            “As Keeper of the Knights, I firmly agree with your son. We have lost too many knights on this frivolous quest!”
            “Frivolous?” King Fendral bellowed.
            “Yes, Father! Frivolous is indeed a good word.”
            King Fendral pounded a gloved fist on the table and the room grew eerily silent.
            “My apologies, Highness,” continued the Keeper.
            “You and my son are dismissed,” the king stood and gestured to the door back behind him. Prince Garren and the Keeper rose from their chairs and exited the room without a word.
            “What is your pleasure with me, Sire?” inquired Joran, running a calloused hand through his long hair.
            “Stay,” the king stopped speaking until the prince and the Keeper’s footsteps faded. “I have need of your private counsel.”
            Meanwhile, Sybbyl and Edmund met Reuben in the stable yard. Sybbyl’s father, the stable master, prepared them with enough food to last several days in two old and unused saddle bags. Mournfully, he embraced his daughter and son-in-law while Reuben stood guard.
 The royal stables stood just outside the castle walls with a large gate for the knights and horses to pass through into the castle between the fortress and stable. A large enclosed field surrounded the stable that allowed the horses to graze and run about.
“Where’s Garren?” Edmund questioned the other young man.
“I do not know. He said he would meet us here with the final preparations.”
Edmund shook his head, deciding that he and Sybbyl would leave immediately, whether the prince announced himself or not. “We head north to my hometown, Daingean, in Tir Thuaidh.”
“No!” Garren stepped from the large gateway connecting the stables and the castle’s main courtyard. “The borders of Corrthaine and Tir Thuaidh are guarded; you as well as I know that. Go south, to Tiem.”
“Tiem?” questioned Sybbyl.
Garren pulled a piece of parchment from a leather pouch hanging at his belt. It was a map. “Take this,” he said, handing the map to Edmund. “Go past Carn and then follow the Straight Arrow River through Old Wood. There, at the town Riverside,” the prince traced the route with his forefinger, “the Straight Arrow merges into the Light Water River, which flows by Tiem. He lives there. Find him, and he will help you.”
“Thank you,” the red-haired man took the map from his friend and tucked it securely into one of the saddlebags littering the grass and stone pathway.
     Sybbyl spoke up once more, “I slipped the drug you gave me into the sentries’ food, Garren. Reuben checked moments ago, and they sleep soundly.”
“Well done. Now, gather your things.”
Edmund and his wife simultaneously hoisted their bags onto their shoulders and together, they slipped out of the stable yard and disappeared into the silent streets of the Capitol, looking back once to wave farewell.
“Farewell friends,” whispered Garren into the night air.
Reuben waited until Sybbyl’s father walked slowly into the stable before turning to Garren.
“Do you believe they will make it to Tiem?”
“With His help, I believe so.”
Together, the two young men knelt and prayed.

A cloaked figure watched from the top of one of the castle battlements as two people made their way out of the stable yard and into the streets. Two more remained kneeling on the paved walkway between the stable and the courtyard below him.
The hooded man smiled wolfishly, and vanished into the intricate passages of the castle.

Though their journey proved difficult, Edmund and Sybbyl arrived safely in Tiem several weeks later. They located the man whom the prince mentioned, but only once did they speak to him.
Two years passed, and in that time, Sybbyl bore a son. They named him Skandar, after Edmund’s father who lived north in Tir Thuaidh.
The red-headed toddler squealed with delight as his chubby legs carried him across the grassy yard in front of the cottage and into his mother’s arms.
Her eyes creased at the corners as her lips spread into a wide smile and she laughed.
Edmund came around the corner of the small wooden house, wiping sweat from his brow. Affectionately, he ruffled his child’s fiery-red hair before kissing his wife.
“Peter and I finished planting the wheat today,” the man announced.
“Wonderful. Have you heard any word from the castle?” Sybbyl inquired the daily question with worried anticipation.
“No, Love. None.”
The family of three sat in the middle of their yard, the parents watching with joy at their two-year-old’s discoveries while the sun began its descent toward the western horizon.
Fields of grain, wheat, and barley surrounded the cluster of wooden homes of Tiem, a quiet village located in the south of Corrthaine. Although the village possessed no walls, the brave hearts of the men who called it home defended its people. Among the houses in the heart of Tiem, a large stone structure stood smaller than a castle, but large enough to hold many people. There lived the sheriff, Falkes, and his guards who maintained the peace in the village.
   One evening, the small family sat around their wooden table when someone pounded impatiently on the door.
They froze, their food halfway to their mouths. Edmund set his down as an all-too-familiar voice demanded, “Open this door on behalf of Fendral, King of Corrthaine!”
Edmund rose slowly, glancing nervously at his wife before striding across the dirt floor and opening the door.
Joran stood outside the door, accompanied by the sheriff and a dozen armed knights.
“Well, well,” the pale man laughed. “Two long years spent scouring the countryside and we find you here. Of all places.”
Edmund stepped outside and shut the door behind him.
“”We searched Tir Thuaidh, Tir O Niwl in secret, and even attempted to search Talahm Glas, but storms prevented us from making the crossing.”
            “Joran,” Edmund tried again.
            “But we never believed you and your wife would be foolish enough to remain in Corrthaine,” he sneered.
Joran paused to breathe, and Edmund took the opportunity to speak, “What is it you want, Joran?”
            “‘Lord Joran’ now, and you see, there waits a bit of unfinished business in the Capitol. Uncomfortable, nagging business, you understand.”
            Edmund shifted his gaze from his foe to the sheriff. He had only once met him in person; afterward he saw him riding his ebony horse through Tiem, surrounded by his knights. The sheriff refused eye contact; his wavy black hair fell to his shoulders and across his rough face.
            Joran continued, “The Sword.” He grinned, barring his teeth.
            A slight breeze blew the sheriff’s hair out of his face. Edmund set his jaw in a stern grimace. Except for their hair, Lord Joran and Sheriff Fawkes appeared very similar. Too similar to be mere acquaintances.
            “Thank you, brother,” the Lord turned to the sheriff. “Edmund, have you met my elder brother, Fawkes?”
            “No,” Edmund lied. “Listen, Joran, I have a family!” he shouted, shaking with rage. “My wife!”
            “I have a wife as well, Edmund.”
            He stared at Joran. The knight’s words almost sounded sympathetic. But then Fawkes laughed smugly.
            “Alas, I have not been with them for many months. I long for them terribly.”
            Edmund stepped back and pressed himself against the door.
            “What, pray tell, are you saying?” he spat.
            “King Fendral ordered you return to Corrthaine Castle and embark on the quest.”
            Edmund breathed, relieved it was him and not Sybbyl the king requested. Still, he pleaded, “As I said before, my wife-”
            “Can live without you,” the blonde man hissed. “If you fail to comply,” he drew his sword. “I shall be forced to kill you, and Fawkes will throw your wife and child in the dungeon.”
            Edmund stiffened, his features rigid.
            “You heard me. On your knees.”
            Shaking with rage and humiliation, Edmund obeyed and uttered hoarsely, “Please, Joran. I beg you to leave me and my family in peace.”
            “No.” Joran sheathed his blade. “Gather your belongings. We depart at dawn tomorrow.”
            “Surround the house! See that no man escapes!” yelled Fawkes.

            Sybbyl held Skandar and sat, praying in silence.
            When Edmund closed the door slowly behind him, Sybbyl knew something troubled her husband.
            “I must go, Sybbyl.”
“The sheriff’s men surround the house. They wait, and if I refuse,” Edmund paused. “If I refuse, Love, no one can predict what Joran, Fawkes, or the king will do.”
            Edmund hung his head in defeat.
            Tears spilled down his wife’s pale cheeks. Edmund’s strong, tanned arms encircled her and held her close.
            “I love you,” he whispered. Then they both felt two small arms wrap around their legs.
            Skandar gazed up at his parents with an expression of pure innocence. His face contained the very likeness of his father, except his eyes, which burned like liquid silver.
            Edmund hoisted the child and held Skandar between Sybbyl and himself. After several long, silent moments, he released his family and set his only son on the floor.
            “Sybbyl, whatever you do, please do not go into Tiem alone unless you and Skandar feel threatened or you are in danger. If he notices your eyes, Joran will come back, next time for you.”
            Sybbyl nodded. She cradled Edmund’s ruddy, freckled face in her hands and kissed his lips. There they stood for several agonizing moments, their son at their side before Sybbyl moved away. She took her husband’s calloused palm in one hand and her son’s tender hand in the other.
            Then alone, Edmund walked out the door and met the men surrounding his home.

            The last clear memory Skandar had of his father haunted him every day. He and his mother stood on a hill, watching as a large group of men on horseback wound their way through the valley below. One man turned around, smiled at Skandar, and waved.

            Less than six months later, Sybbyl opened the door to receive an old friend.
            “Reuben!” she exclaimed, throwing a rag over her shoulder. “How good to see you.”
            His only response was to smile sadly and gesture toward the little boy tugging at his mother’s skirt.
            “Edmund told me about your son during his time in the Capitol. I assure you he told no one else,” he said.
            Sybbyl smiled, patting the boy’s shaggy red hair. “His name is Skandar.”
            “Hello young friend.” Reuben extended a well-calloused hand, which the normally shy child took readily.
            “Please, Reuben, come in.”
            As he stepped across the threshold, Reuben looked down at the child walking beside him and said, “I have a daughter almost your age. Maybe someday, when all is put right, you shall meet her.”
            Sybbyl, overhearing Reuben’s comment, smiled for the first time in many weeks. “When did you marry Morgaine?”
            Reuben pondered this for a moment. “We wed three months after you escaped.”
            Sorrow blanketed his features once more. Sybbyl noticed this and inquired, “What troubles you, Reuben?”
            He sighed and gestured to the chairs. “Do sit down, Sybbyl.”
            Her face blanched and her hands trembled as she sat and placed her son in her lap. Reuben sat opposite and folded her hands in his.
            “It is Edmund, is it not?”
            “Yes, Sybbyl,” Reuben’s voice grew husky. “He departed several months ago with a company of knights. We received reports that they made the crossing into Talahm Glas, but they were attacked. From what little information we accumulated, there were no survivors.”
            Sybbyl covered her face with her worn hands and wept audibly. Skandar patted his mother’s shoulders and looked lovingly at her with understanding eyes.
            Reuben, who had seen this expression written across his best friend’s features, let a single tear slide down his bearded cheek. “I am so sorry,” he choked.
            Reuben left before twilight that evening and never returned to see Sybbyl or her son in Tiem again.
            A single candle flickered in the darkness of the home, illuminating the small figures of a heartbroken woman and her young son.
            Peter and his wife, Elaine, the neighboring family, aided Sybbyl and Skandar by bringing them food, water, and supplies. Skandar befriended their three daughters, and they in turn adopted Skandar as if he were their own brother. 
             One afternoon when Skandar numbered five years of age, he and Peter and Elaine’s youngest daughter ran into his home to find their mothers speaking in low tones. The children stopped laughing.
            Curiosity won, and the young boy asked simply, “Momma, what is wrong?”
            Sybbyl, who had become thin and frail, glanced at Elaine with tired eyes. “The Plague has swept through Tiem, Skandar.”
            The child stared at his mother, confused.
            “Many people have died. We want- need- to keep you children safe.”
            Elaine’s eldest daughters sat quietly in a corner of the room, playing with small, plain, faceless dolls.
            The middle girl looked up from her play and said in a nasal voice, “Momma says we can’t go into Tiem anymore. She says we might fall ill and die.”
            Fear gripped Skandar’s small heart.
Elaine scolded her daughter, “I offer my apologies, Sybbyl.” She then took the hands of her daughters and led them toward the open door. “If you need anything, Sybbyl, please do not hesitate to ask.”
When they were gone, Sybbyl placed on the table the bag of grain brought to them from Peter’s fields.
 “Are you going to die, Momma?” the little boy moved close to his mother’s side, his arms outstretched.
“By the grace of the True King, no,” she patted her son’s head and held him to her side. “No, by His grace, I shall remain with you for a little longer.”
But Sybbyl did fall ill, and like so many before her, she died. Elaine and Skandar sat motionless at Sybbyl’s bedside when she faintly squeezed her son’s chubby hand, looked at him one last time, and did not breathe in again.
Skandar stared at his mother’s face. Peace blanketed her features and she appeared to be sleeping.
“Momma,” he said, shaking her arm. “Momma?”
But she did not awaken. Skandar did not understand; his mother always aroused when he called. 
“Momma?” he tried again.
Elaine’s cool hand rested on his shoulder. Wet tears rolled down her face as she knelt down to face Skandar, cradling his head in her hands.
“Your mother is gone now, Skandar. She will never wake up. I am so sorry.”
He shook his head, unwilling to believe his mother was gone forever. “No.”
Skandar touched his mother’s hand. “Momma!” he wailed, pleading with the True King to bring her back.
Elaine stayed with him that night. Finally after several hours it seemed, Skandar cried himself to sleep.
Sybbyl was buried the next day in the graveyard of the church in the center of Tiem. Peter and Elaine were there, as were Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, and several other men and women from the town. Sheriff Falkes and a dozen of his armed men sat on their steeds. They remained completely motionless except for their eyes, which kept a careful watch on the people and forest outside Skandar’s home.
Skandar stood in silence, his face expressionless as his men lowered his beloved mother’s body into the ground. After the funeral, Sheriff Falkes dismounted and approached Skandar. As usual, the sheriff dressed in black. The dull buckles decorating his ebony leather vest moved and clinked together with each step. Halting directly in front of Skandar, he peered down at the small child, his muscular arms crossed. He knelt, and Skandar felt Fawkes’s black eyes bore holes into his own.
“I offer my condolences for your loss. I am certain it must be very difficult for you.” Though the sheriff’s words held sympathy, his tone was forced. “I have been ordered to offer you a home either with me, or in the Capitol.”
At that moment, Elaine walked over and put her hands protectively on Skandar’s shoulders.
“T’was his mother’s wish that the boy remain with us. If you have any honor, fulfill her last request m’lord I beg of you.”
Sheriff Fawkes stood. Elaine was a tall woman, but he towered over her. His dark eyes flashed and the corners of his mouth lifted into a sneer. “As you wish.”
Fawkes marched back to his horse, mounted, and quickly rode off with his men to his home in the wealthy part of Tiem.
From that day on, Skandar lived with Elaine and Peter as a member of their family. Soon after his mother’s death, Lord Joran seized Edmund and Sybbyl’s land, leaving Skandar with no inheritance and little money. Each week, however, someone left a small sack of silver coins on Peter and Elaine’s threshold. They never discovered the donor, but they accepted their gift in gratitude as it helped Peter and Elaine buy food each week for their family.
As he grew from a boy to a young man, Skandar aided Peter in the grain fields, becoming stronger by the day. During his spare time, Elaine taught him to read and write alongside her daughters. One day, he happened upon a scroll containing a map of Corrthaine. He stayed awake every night studying the parchment and learning the lands surrounding his country with the hopes that someday he could journey to find his father, or at the very least learn of his fate.
Skandar worked hard, pouring everything into his duties around his home. By his fifteenth birthday, he earned a position trading in the village markets every Tuesday. Once there, he began to notice something unsettling as he worked with Elaine at their stand. No matter where he ventured within Tiem, the sheriff’s men were never far away. At first, he ignored their presence, believing they upheld their duty to keep the peace, but as they became more and more frequent, he developed the nagging sense that they watched him.
The winter of Skandar’s seventeenth year, Sheriff Fawkes suddenly fell ill and died, and life went on for Skandar as usual: working in Peter’s fields, trading in Tiem, and reading during every spare moment.
One evening after harvesting the fields, Elaine knocked on his bedroom door. Hastily, he threw on a clean shirt before opening the door and admitting the woman.
“Skandar,” she said in a hurried voice. “I want you to buy meat in Tiem.”
He glanced around the room. “But we have plenty here, and market day is tomorrow.”
She gestured for him to draw closer with one of her slender fingers. “Lord Joran arrived in Tiem today, Skandar.”
He staggered back. “Lord Joran? The man who-“
“The man who took your father? Yes.”
Skandar walked quietly to his open window and stared at the green fields of Tiem. “But… why?”
Elaine joined him at the window and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are a clever lad. Why do you think?” she inquired.
Skandar slowly turned his head away from the window to look her in the eyes. “Me.”
She nodded sadly.
“Why then,” Skandar questioned, walking away from the window, “do you want me to go into Tiem if he is there, searching for me?” In that moment, something unknown to him entered his heart. Uneasy, he dropped his head as he realized his mistake. “He is coming here.” Skandar went to a shelf and took from it a leather satchel, which he filled with another pair of pants and shirt. He took his belt from his bed, fastening it around his waist before exiting the room.
Elaine followed him all the way to the door. She handed him a small bag containing a few coins. “Take this. Buy food in Tiem, anything you need to survive on your own for several days. Do not travel through the open. Go through the woods instead. Hide there if you have to, and please promise me you will stay hidden and safe.”
Skandar noticed that she repeatedly cast glances out the window as she uttered a rushed goodbye. Turning, he saw a cloud of dust moving quickly on the outskirts of the fields. Metal glinted in the sunlight. Weapons, he thought.
He quickly embraced the woman who cared for him like a mother since the death of his own, and slipped out the back door. He bolted across the barren field, his satchel slapping his legs as he ran. He breathed hard from the exertion when he came to the bottom of a hill and began climbing the steep grassy slope. Gasping for air when he reached the top of the incline, he turned and melted into the wood.