Chapter One: The Army
I sat motionless staring at the flowing water in front of me. Just sitting here staring. My mind was empty of any thought. Almost like I was sleeping, but with my eyes open. The buzz of the water in my ears and the brush of wind against my face. Complete isolation. Totally away from the world I no longer understood. Here where there was nothing to bother me.
I leaned against a big old willow tree, rubbing against the rough bark. I remembered when I was little I would always climb the trees and my mom would watch. She would yell stuff like ‘Leo, be careful!’ or ’Not that high Leo!’ I seldom listened.
Missing her more the last couple of days, seemed inevitable. I think it’s because my eighteenth birthday is around the corner and I would have liked it if she could be here with me. A day, however, doesn’t go by when I don’t think of how she died. I might’ve gotten used to not having a longing for her, but her death was something else.
I gripped onto the grass for support because the day replayed in my mind. A memory so distant, yet so fresh as if it just happened yesterday. A day that would change my entire life without me knowing it at the time.
I refocused on the wind whisks and the water’s hum to force the memory down and away from my thoughts. Staring back into the water, drifting away and slowly releasing the grass from my grasp.
It was almost midday and the sunlight sparkled on the water through the willow trees. The summer around me left the grass and leaves with all shades of assorted greens. Leaving me to smell the freshness in the air.
I brought my little sister here a couple of times, but she doesn’t seem to appreciate the deepness behind this place. Not the way I see it, however. She was too young to remember anyway, so I don’t mind being here alone. It’s a place where I can be alone and think. A place that held so many memories.
Startled by the sound of something knocking over my bag, I turned to find Abrus standing next to me. His head halfway in my brown bag sniffing for a treat. The stallion could be annoying sometimes, but he still was like one of my best friends. I smiled as I watched him. The sun jumped off his black fur back to the trees.
“Silly horse. Here, let me help you.” I stood up and made my way to the bag to feed him the treat he just couldn’t seem to reach, a red apple.
I planned to eat it myself but gave it to him. Since he wanted it so badly. He ate the apple out of my hand leaving some slime on my palm.
“Did you like it, buddy?” I brushed his muzzle, wiping the slime off my hand.
He only stared at me blankly as he sometimes does when I talk to him. I think he doesn’t know why I can’t understand that he can’t answer me, but this usually just lets me talk to him more. He was the most delicate creature I ever came across in my seventeen years on this earth. That made me love him even more. I washed off my hand in the little river and decided to lose my gloomy attitude after taking a long look at the cold water that rushed passed my hand.
I started walking downstream with Abrus walking next to me. The stream wasn’t wide and you could see the black rocky bottom, the current slowly battling its way past them. The entire terrain next to the stream was as rocky as the stream’s bottom with the willow tree roots sticking out from the ground. It seemed like they were trying to make their way to the stream. There was a small green hill where the tree roots grew out of that acted somewhat as a border for the river. The situation gave the entire landscape an earthy feel with the grass rolling over the border. It was almost as if everything was frantically trying to grow its way to the water. I couldn’t blame them to get near it.
At one point, the roots were so near the water that Abrus and I had to walk into the stream. I could feel that the water was a little cold considering it was summer. However, I didn’t mind. It felt good to feel the cold.
As I threw a stone letting it skip on the water, I remembered that I should go to the bakery to get a fresh loaf of bread. I climbed onto Abrus, slashed the reins and he started running.
In no time, I was making my way into the village to the bakery. The village wasn’t that big and was mostly peaceful, despite some minor arguments like which butchery was better. There were only two in town, so that could sometimes cause a little commotion. Other than that, not much happened here. Unless someone passed through, and they would be the topic of most people’s conversations for days. That was it.
There was only one covered in dust street, in and out of the town. With houses and shops on both sides. The baker, Mr Morley, was one of my dad’s good friends because my dad was the grain farmer. Not to mention the only grain farmer near here. His daughter, Katherine, was one of my best friends, or more like one of my only friends, besides Abrus. I had other friends, but I knew they were the two that would always be there for me. I mean I have known her since childhood. And it wasn’t like there were a lot of other people my age in the village I could pick from.
I didn’t like the small town so much because I was a little shy. It wasn’t fun for me that everyone knew what was going on in my life. I would just have liked to disappear into the chaos of a big city. However, I knew Katherine liked the cosiness a lot. She used to say we were all more like family than a community was.
Katherine was the only other person, besides my dad and sister, which I took to my place by the river. She comes there with me sometimes, I even taught her to swim in the small pond about half a mile downstream when we were little, but she didn’t come with me there a lot. I think it’s because she knows it’s my place and a place where I can be peaceful. She says everybody has to have a place like that. Just to be quiet. Like a sanctuary of some sort. I asked her where hers was, but she simply told me that she didn’t find hers yet. In a way, I felt sorry for her about that.
I was a little side-tracked with my thoughts as I rode up to the street that leads into the village and I could see Katherine sitting by the window in her room. The sun was shining on her long black hair, braided over her shoulder and exposing her light skin. Viewing the road with an excited look on her face, it almost looked like she was a thousand miles away on a cloud daydreaming. She got that long-distance look a lot when she was thinking. Although she didn’t normally look as excited as now.
We haven’t talked much since she turned eighteen a couple of weeks ago. I could feel something was wrong but when I would ask her she would just turn me down.
Katherine was a month older than I was, but I was a little higher. Only a few millimetres at best, but I counted the win. Her blue eyes almost looked like they were sparkling like the sun on the river I saw before. I found myself fascinated by the colour of her eyes in the last couple of months. I think it’s because I couldn’t quite decide what colour or shade of blue they were. It was a much darker blue than the sky and yet lighter than a royal blue.
When she saw me coming, she smiled as she closed her little black sketchbook that I didn’t see she had with her. She loved to draw and was quite well actually. She waved at me. I waved back climbing off Abrus. The dust floating away from where I landed on the ground creating swirls that landed back on my boots.
“Good morning Leo,” a voice said behind me and I wanted to get on Abrus again.
I looked up at Katherine who seemed to laugh before she walked into her room. I turned facing a fifteen-year-old boy with short brown hair and green eyes.
“Morning Daniel, where’s Sa-”
“Hello Leo,” I turned forward once more, looking at the same green eyes. Only that it was Daniel’s twin sister, Sam.
They were the most irritating two people I’ve ever met in my life and it seems like they graced me with their presence today.
“Where were you?” Sam asked.
“I was just at the farm and I ha-”
“What are you doing today?” Daniel asked as I started walking with Abrus towards the bakery.
“I’m going to buy bread and then go home.”
“You’re boring!” both exclaimed in unison, which was just annoying, so I didn’t even answer.
“You should come with us,” Daniel said.
“We’re going to go steal one of Mrs Aubrey’s chickens and then go put it in my dad’s room,” Sam told me.
Now, this might just seem silly, but it gets worse when you know that their father is the towns butcher and Mrs Aubrey… A florist… With four hens, that had pink ribbons around their necks, for pets.
I had to smile a little because that would create a very funny town scenario.
“That’s fun,” I told them.
They stared at me dumbfounded.
“We know,” Daniel said.
“We are fun,” Sam added and they both walked off together.
I just stared at them as they walked. There was no point in trying to understand them.
I tied Abrus to a wooden pole that was behind the bakery next to the stables, which he didn’t seem too happy about. I could just imagine how I would feel if somebody tied me to a pole. But the town had rules about horses not wandering around everywhere.
I looked over the bakery as I started walking back to the front door. It was a three-storey wooden building with a small porch at the front door. Which was cleanly swept by Mrs Morley this morning, no doubt? It was nothing special but it was enough. About the same size as our farmhouse. The only difference was our house was one storey.
Going into the bakery I greeting Mr Morley and bought a loaf of bread. Mr Morley was a big man and didn’t seem anything like Katherine in any way. He had a round belly, a grey beard, and grey hair. The only thing they had in common was getting that distant look in their eyes. I liked him a lot though. He didn’t talk or worry himself about anything that went on in the village. He was just happy next to the warm oven and creating his baked masterpieces.
The bakery always smelled so fresh when you would walk inside, you almost never wanted to leave. There were usually many racks with loaves of bread, cakes, and a bunch of different grain made foods. Although it seemed that most of it was swallowed today already. I guessed that business was probably good today and felt lucky that I remembered to come.
The room had a small counter that you looked upon when you came into the door with the warm ovens at the back. I usually stood in between the two awkwardly, waiting for Katherine to come downstairs. Mr Morley wasn’t the most talk active person while he was working so the silence wasn’t odd.
It was just interesting to me how Mrs Morley wasn’t able to keep quiet while she was busy. I guessed everything had to have some sort of balance.
Katherine came (flying down the straight staircase on the left side of the room, just next to the counter) and she asked her father if she could go with me to the farm. She pleaded with her eyes like she always does, making it impossible for anybody to say no. All right, maybe it was just me that couldn’t say no because her father was a very firm man and almost always would say no. No matter how hard she tried. She wore a light blue-buttoned dress with short sleeves.
Her dad said yes and we walked out of the bakery making our way to the stables behind the house. In silence, I opened the stable door with a “shriek” and I let her walk in. She made a small bow in a joking manner.
“Thank you,” she teased me.
Her horse was already saddled up almost like she planned that we would take a ride. She climbed onto her dark, grey horse that she called Glimmer.
“Hurry up there’s something I have to show you!” she said excited and rode out the door.
I didn’t argue and there wasn’t time because she was gone. I walked out and climbed onto Abrus, untying him. I rode after Katherine, only to find that she was waiting for me in the street, near the bakery.
“We’re not going to the farm are we?”
“Nope,” she said almost mockingly.
“So where are we going then?” I asked.
“This wonderful place I found, now stop asking so many questions and follow me.”
She pulled on a white sweater that I didn’t even see she had with her and she was off. I followed her wondering where we were going.
We rode along the side of the stream where I sat before. I thought of all the days I’ve spent sitting there alone while Abrus was eating the grass that was growing over the border. I seriously had to stop coming here but for some reason, it made me concentrate and think.
Great, now I was trying to convince myself to come here.
I realized I did come here with Katherine many times before. I remembered the last time we were here she told me she could see I was thinking too much. I did tell her about my birthday then. Also, me missing my mom. She didn’t say anything in return, but she was thinking hard about what I said. It seemed like she was trying to tell me something or trying to give me advice. After a while of her thinking, she looked at me and said that it was getting late. We went immediately without her saying a word further.
After that, she didn’t come here with me again. That was about three weeks ago, one week after her birthday.
It wasn’t long before I realized where we were going. Moreover, after about a while my notion was satisfied when I started to see the white coldness in front of me. We were riding towards the edge of the Winter Forest.
The Winter Forest was one of the most peculiar places. Acres of white pine trees stretched out in front of us as far as my eyes could possibly comprehend. The snow was everywhere inside with cold-weather completely in contrast with the summer we were having.
I could see the thick layer of snow, covering the pine trees and ground, the yearlong winter inside brought with it. It was a mixture of wild and whiteness as far as the eye could see. Just about five meters inside there was a small waist-lined dark wooden fence that outlined the entire forest so far I knew. I could feel the cold breeze blowing out from the forest into my warm face. When I was young, I stayed clear of it but I’ve been in there a few times, without my parents knowing.
The place didn’t seem to hold anything interesting though. I think most of the town’s people had to have some sort of repelling story about it. Just the mystery surrounding how nature seemed to allow the phenomenon, scared people. The place just didn’t seem to have a real thread I heard from anyone who went in. There was nothing but coldness so there was no need for it really. I guess mystery just didn’t sit well with everyone, that might be the one bad influence Katherine had on me. Our curiosities together were just guidelines for trouble.
It was beautiful though. This piece of untouched white land so near to us.
After I tied the horses to the nearest pine tree, I could see that Katherine was already halfway to the fence. I, however, hesitated before I went in.
“Don’t worry!” Katherine took my hand, leading me into the forest.
It was cold since we weren’t dressed in winter clothes. I helped her climb over the fence and we walked a little more inward when she threw me with a snowball. I was entirely blown away because I wasn’t expecting it.
“Don’t tell me you brought me all this way just to do that?” I said picking up some snow and throwing it at her.
We laughed a lot in the process because we were acting like little children. My hands were freezing from the snow and were turning a bright coat of red but it was worth it. We eventually stopped and started walking again, after she convinced me that she really had a reason for bringing me here. It was starting to get seriously cold and I hoped whatever she wanted to show me wouldn’t take that long. Her cheeks turned red from the cold but she seemed to have some method to help: she stroked them occasionally with her hands to get warm. After she warmed her hands by rubbing them against her white sweater.
We walked for about half a mile, passing rows and rows of pine trees that looked alike. My thoughts just couldn’t seem to go in any other direction. I could only think about white. The shades of white. The corners surrounding me, which were white.
Katherine suddenly stopped. Signalling me to be quiet. She went down on her knees and started crawling like a tiger that was about to jump its prey. At first, I wanted to laugh but she didn’t seem like she was joking. She then stopped and pointed at me to join her. I did the same she did, without the crawling like a tiger bit, and ended up lying next to her.
I never noticed how beautiful her eyes looked until now, lying here under the winter light. I saw that she was staring down at something. Her big blue eyes not having a care in the world about what was happening around them. Only that one thing she was staring at mattered. I think that was one of the reasons I admired her so much. The fact that she felt so strongly about something.
She even had a small smile curling at the edges of her lips.
I still couldn’t decide about the type of blue in her eyes but her eyes seemed a little lighter against all of the whiteness of the snow. She breathed out slowly creating small clouds that drifted into the surrounding coldness.
I looked in the direction that she was looking breaking my gaze from her. At first, I didn’t see anything. She tilted my head down as I felt her cold fingertips on my skin.
There, just a few feet away was a small village under the snow-covered mushrooms, in the roots of the trees and the trees themselves. The entire ground where they lived seemed parted from the snow.
There just underneath the trees were little fairies. I never saw anything so spectacular. It was hard to make out what they were wearing or how they looked from a distance so all I could see was little white dots flying around. I’ve heard stories about fairies, and how beautiful they were, from my mom. However, I’ve never actually seen one with my own eyes. The idea made me shrug because I never thought that it might be real. I just figured it to be some sort of children’s bedtime story.
By the looks of them, they were Winter Fairies, known in the old days for making snow and bringing winter, I believe. That is what my mother told me in her stories at least. I started wondering where she might have heard the stories or even came to know about fairies? The idea was bizarre because I somehow saw my mom crawling here on the floor along with the fairies. I had to smile though.
I had no idea how Katherine found them.
Katherine looked over at me and I knew in a second what she was about to do. She stood up and walked towards them.
All the fairies flew in various directions around the trees and mushrooms, hiding from us.
“Don’t be afraid we won’t hurt you,” she said in a reassuring soft voice.
They looked at her from behind the trees almost like they were judging her to see if she was worthy of their meeting. Then one courageous fairy came out of her hiding place and flew up next to Katherine. Katherine opened her hand and the little fairy stood there looking at her with delight.
I didn’t even realize that I was now standing next to Katherine admiring this beautiful creature. She had on a white dress that you could hardly see because her skin and short hair was a glowing white colour. She had the smallest, tiniest, fragile hands and feet I ever saw. Her wings had a silver raindrop glow to them as they fluttered around restlessly. It seemed like they had a mind of their own as the fairy kept her eyes trained on both of us like we were the strange creatures. I didn’t know why but it seemed like her expression looked close to pity. Like she felt sorry for us.
There were now a few of them flying around us as they got interested. They didn’t come to close but I think after they saw we didn’t hurt their friend they got relaxed. They even started doing a little dance while flying.
The one that was standing on Katherine’s hand immediately joined them.
They moved around our heads in circles. Their little wings were beautiful as the sunlight shined through the trees on them. As they danced, they created little snowflakes that were now flying all around us. The snowflakes swirled in the wind and landed all over us.
I looked over at Katherine and found that her blue dress was now white from all the snow. Besides, I realized by the look on her face that I probably was too.
At that moment, everything was perfect. I could just stand there and admire them for hours. No worry in the world, the silence of the forest, the greatness of the fairies and the small snowflakes falling on my skin creating a tickling sensation from the cold. I couldn’t help but smile.
Katherine’s face turned from happy to sad with a concerned look in her eyes. A little frown line formed on her forehead that she sometimes got when she was thinking with that distant look.
“Leo I have to tell-”
What she was going to say looked important but she stopped when we saw the fairies didn’t dance anymore. There was a distorted feeling between them as they started moving among themselves. They scattered into the trees and flew away. In the blink of an eye, they were all gone.
I looked around confused. Somehow, the forest seemed lonely and colder without their presence. And I couldn’t understand what was wrong?
There was nothing around but us, and I didn’t think that we did something wrong. Then I could clearly hear the noise of a thick laugh in the distance.
I grabbed Katherine’s hand and led her to a big boulder where we hid behind. We had our backs against the bolder but I slightly started to turn to see who it was. We looked over the boulder and saw two soldiers that were wearing black uniforms and helmets so we couldn’t see their faces. The uniforms were made out of a hard material like it was some sort of armour. I noticed that they didn’t have any weapons with them, but didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t have my sword with me either and by the looks of things if they spotted us. There wasn’t much I could do.
We overheard the one soldier saying to the other in a deep voice, “Hurry up! We have to meet with the rest of the army at the edge of the forest.”
“I know I just have to get this snow out of my shoe,” the other replied.
He sounded much younger but there was no telling what they looked like.
“Hurry! We have been walking for days and if the king of this land finds us, we are as good as dead. The sooner we get out of this place the better. I hate winter. Everything is always full of snow,” the older one sounded irritated.
“Fine, I’m done!” The other one said while he was putting his shoe back on. “Luckily after this town, we can head home.”
Town? I thought.
They started walking again. It was strange that two soldiers couldn’t notice two, almost children, looking at them from over a bolder. But I guess the snow and trees did create a good camouflage.
We waited until we couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore before we started whispering. We looked at each other trying to figure out why there would be an army? Why would there anyway?
“They might attack the town,” I said in a stressful voice as I looked at Katherine.
“But why would an army attack our village?” she countered.
She had a point. Our town didn’t offer much. I could see the army marching down the little street yelling at people to give them stuff they didn’t have.
“They might just be passing through?” Katherine said.
“Well, let’s find out,” I said. “Warn the town at least?”
Without hesitation, we both started running to the place where we tied the horses, keeping in mind the direction the soldiers walked off to.
I didn’t like the idea of an army. Even if they just were passing through. There was no sign of more soldiers in the forest though.
The snow was layered on thicker than when we came. It was tough running through it because every few meters you would fall and had to get back up again. At least the running made me a little warmer.
Halfway there we saw that the horses have broken free and were strolling along with the trees. I was so relieved to see them and not to have to keep running through the snow. I jumped onto the saddle, slashed the reins and Abrus started running to the edge of the forest where we came in. I could hear Katherine riding just behind me.
When we reached the edge of the forest, it was too late. Those two soldiers were probably way behind the rest of the army because it was still a good ten kilometres to the village and we could already see the smoke as high as the clouds. There wasn’t enough time for me to react as my immediate instinct kicked in and I slashed the reins harder. I headed straight towards my father’s farm, Katherine riding alongside me. I was freaking out. What if they did something to my father and Violet? I could almost see the fear on her little face. I completely forgot about her.
I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what just happened. Or why an army would come to attack a small town.
When we reached the farm, the crops were on fire but seeing how high the flames were, just made me gasp. The smoke fumes lured its way into my lungs and made my eyes sting. The heat radiating towards us was immensely pressuring. I moved Abrus away from the flames and started to guide him to the house having some trouble as I could feel his natural nature was to run away.
Running along the crop fields that were on fire felt terrible. All our hard work was simply gone. There was nothing you could do to stop it. Unless you had a huge supply of water that, we sadly didn’t have. The rapid pace at which the fire was burning didn’t allow for much time to think of prevention plans. So all you could do was watch as it all burned to the ground.
I could see the house clearly now. It was luckily not on fire since we had a ground perimeter all around the fields. I climbed off the horse and ran inside. The entire house was empty with signs of a struggle so I ran back outside. Violet! Where is Violet?
“There is no one inside!” I yelled at Katherine.
It was hard to read her expression but it was something close to fear and panic as she got her horse to move in the direction of the village. I jumped onto Abrus and followed her. I was trembling because I had no idea what was going on? What had happened? Everything was fine a while ago and now things seemed luckless. I kept hoping that the village would be fine, that my dad just panicked and went to go help. And that my sister was just hiding.
Once we reached the village, we started slowing down, as there was almost nothing left. A peaceful, calm, happy and small place was now a place of disaster. It looked like the stars from the sky decided to fall on this specific spot. The houses and shops were almost in ruins and if not, they were in flames. People were running, trying their best to help out where they can. Putting down some flames with buckets of water, but they themselves knew it was hopeless. People yelled, some cried and others just stood. They were too stunned to move.
We headed to the bakery that was now only a wall structure of some bricks because all the wood burned away. There was no more smell of burned bread, only the smell of burned wood.
We found Mrs. Morley sitting on the stairs crying. Her white baking apron was full of black burn marks, along with her hands and face. Her dark hair was pinned in a bun that was almost falling out on all sides. Katherine ran to her mother’s side asking what happened and I was short to follow. She hugged Katherine and smiled as if in relieve that Katherine was safe.
“Where’s father?” Katherine asked in a sad voice.
She studied her daughters face, as her eyes became watery, “He’s gone dear.”
At first, I didn’t understand what she was saying. Did she mean he was dead, taken, killed?
“What?” Katherine and I said at the same time, which made me feel a little uncomfortable, but nobody seemed to worry.
“Your father and Leo’s father have been taken captive by the army that attacked the village,” she started crying.
It took a moment to take in and I somehow didn’t want to understand what she was saying. The entire world stood still as I could feel the conflict inside of me. On the one side, I was relieved that their not dead but on the other side who knows where they are now or what will happen to them. If they wouldn’t be killed anytime soon? The only thing I would hope for was that they wouldn’t go through all this trouble to capture people if they were just going to kill them someplace else. That seemed like the best thing to think, so I repeated it a few times to myself.
“Violet?” I asked Mrs Morley but I could see she didn’t know.
They wouldn’t come to capture people just to kill them somewhere else.
And if she was taken then my father would’ve been with her.
One thought dawned on me.
Who was going to take care of me and my sister, or just me? Suddenly I felt selfish that I would think something like that. My dad was taken away (my sister maybe as well) and I worried about myself. Still, I panicked.
I looked over at Katherine holding her mother. I sat down next to them, fingers in my hair staring down at my shoes. I was trying to figure out what to do.
A bucket of water that someone was probably running with fell next to my feet letting the water spill over the stone to form a perfect round puddle. I stared at myself in the water. My grey eyes almost looking as dark as the water on the stones. Thinking to myself what I could do?
The thought that was circling my heart pulling it into itself was the fact that I still didn’t see my sister. Was she dead? I didn’t even want to think about that because the circle grabbed hold of my heart so tight.
A girl and old lady were standing in the middle of the street frozen. It was Sam and Mrs Aubrey. That would mean Daniel was gone too, and their father. That would probably be the first time Sam and Daniel were separated. Ever. And, that was sad. I looked around and saw that there were many mothers with children crying and I noted quickly that it was only woman and children. It put me a little at ease about Violet because it meant that she might still be here somewhere. She was smart. She would be safe.
So that meant that only men were taken by the army. Why would only men be taken?
Too many ideas popped into my head and I thought that I should first try to figure out who they were and where these people came from. If I knew who they were, I would know where they would take my dad. Or even if they would’ve already killed all of the men which I hoped wasn’t the case. I turned towards Katherine and her mother.
Katherine’s eyes were teary but she somehow looked like she was more worried about her mother’s state than her dad’s.
“Don’t worry Mrs Morley; someone will know something about where they came from. And we will figure out where they are going.”
Mrs Morley looked very calm about the idea like she knew that there was almost nothing that two children could do. I couldn’t blame her because I doubted if there really was.
“The people who stormed us weren’t normal Katherine,” she sniffed. “It seemed like a trick of the mind at first but the flames just came from everywhere. They had no torches, no means to make fire. Our houses just erupted into flames themselves. Like witchcraft.”
How? Can they create fire with their bare hands I wondered? It was impossible. I thought that maybe Mrs Morley was maybe just in shock because it was a little unnatural.
“That probably was the reason why they didn’t have any weapons with them when we saw them in the forest,” Katherine said. It sounded like she believed her mother. I wondered if I would’ve believed my mom if she told me something like that?
Mrs Morley looked at Katherine with concern, “You were in the forest?”
“Don’t worry mother I’m fine,” she said assuring and kissed her mom’s forehead.
We sat there for a moment as I saw that most of the fires were out.
“Alright, I’m going to my parent’s house to see what happened?”
“Go help him find Violet,” Mrs Morley told Katherine.
Katherine didn’t want to leave her mom. That much I could see.
“Go,” she assured Katherine. “I’m going to help here.”
“I’ll join him,” Katherine said to me and hugged her mom. “I will come back if we find her.”
I climbed back onto Abrus and Katherine climbed onto Glimmer.
Together we rode back to my parent’s house without saying a lot. There wasn’t much to say, and frankly, I didn’t want to talk to someone about any of it.
The entire grain field was completely burned to the ground by now. There were still some faint signals of smoke all around the black field. It seemed like the flames themselves didn’t even want to stick around for this awful sight.
We walked onto the porch after leaving the horses outside. As I saw before, the entire house was empty and it looked like there was a struggle in the kitchen. The kitchen chairs were all around the floor, the tablecloth was in the corner of the room, plates and culinary items laid everywhere. I yelled my sister’s name on the porch and inside the house but there was no answer.
“Leo. What do you think they could do to them?” Katherine said with a glimpse of a tear in her eye.
I didn’t want to answer because it was a question I tried to avoid myself. Katherine usually acted strong but she didn’t seem to want to put on an act for this.
I hugged her without saying a word. There wasn’t anything I could say.
“What can we do Leo?”
“I- I don’t know,” I admitted.
I wanted to find my sister more than anything else at this point. Katherine started to rearrange some stuff but I told her we needed to go help in town first. Violet might have made her way there somehow. Then I heard a cry coming from outside. As I walked out, I found my little sister running towards the house. Her light blonde hair was hanging all over her face and I could see that her light green eyes filled with tears. The little red dress that she wore was dirty.
I was so relieved to see her. She made a faint smile as she saw me and I ran towards her, giving her a big hug. For a ten-year-old to go through something this dramatic shouldn’t ever happen. The only way I could describe her shocked look was how she would have looked if she saw a ghost. Her little baby face had black marks from ash.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” she said as I wiped the tears from her face. Like she was the older one who worried about me.
“I’m so glad you’re safe too. What happened?” I asked.
“These people attacked our farm and burned the village,” she said.
“Yes, I noticed.”
“I wasn’t in the house. I was outside in the grain fields when they attacked. They set the field on fire and I ran into the woods to hide. When I got back the house-” she cried again, “It was empty and I couldn’t find dad. I didn’t know what to do...” She held me tighter crying her heart out.
I felt so horrified for her. No little child should witness that. I imagined myself seeing my home in flames at that age.
“Don’t worry we will find the people who did this and make them pay,” I told her regretting the fact that I said I would make them pay. I couldn’t possibly do anything against an army. I helped her inside and Katherine started making a warm pot of tea.
There wasn’t much discussion as we drank and I took Violet to her room for some sleep. It was already sunset and she was tired out from the day.
Katherine stood by the door as I held Violet until she fell asleep.
“We have to figure out where these people came from and who they are,” Katherine said.
Violet must have fallen asleep quicker than I expected because Katherine wouldn’t talk about what had happened in front of her. I got up and stood in the hallway.
“What can we do?” I said.
“We can’t just sit here and do nothing. We have to find out what happened and who they were.”
I didn’t return a word. I know I told Katherine’s mom I would help but I remember the doubt in her eyes too.
“Look at your sister!”
I did as Katherine said. Violet was hugging a pillow on her bed where I laid. Her eyes were still puffy from crying and there were lines formed on her cheeks. I wanted to go hold her again. Just to let her know she wasn’t alone.
“What is going to happen?” Katherine asked.
I thought about it for a moment. There wasn’t a life for us without my dad. I mean I could try keeping the grain fields alive but everything burned to the ground. We would starve before I could gather enough grain to sell and I know we had supplies but...
I was agitating myself and it was too much for me to handle. I would be able to figure things out if I had to.
“Alright,” I said simply.
I asked Katherine if she and her mom wanted to stay the night since she still looked stunned by everything that happened today. But she left to go find her mother. She said they might rather stay in town to help there but would be here first thing tomorrow morning. If everything was all right with her mom. Although I had a feeling that no matter what her mother said she would still come. I saw her to the door, took the horses to the stables and climbed back into bed with Violet. Cradling her like a baby.
That night I couldn’t sleep though. I kept having nightmares about this soldier in black clothes that tied me to a post and kept burning me with the fire that he made with his bare hands. The pain almost felt real and I can tell you to be burned with fire isn’t a pleasant feeling. So, I just stared at the roof for hours wondering what tomorrow would bring.
I remembered at one point that Katherine wanted to tell me something before we saw the soldiers but I had no idea what she wanted to say. I thought to myself that she would tell me tomorrow, or someday, and that I wouldn’t bother her with it. If it was very important to her and she wanted to tell me once, she would in the future again. I hoped.
I also remembered that one of the soldiers in the forest mentioned something about a king living in the Winter Forest. They seemed scared of him, so maybe he would know something.
That was going to be my first move. I would leave early tomorrow morning to go look for him. I’ll leave a note for Violet saying she should tell Katherine and that she and Mrs Morley should come live with her. They can watch over her and I’ll be gone before anyone will notice. If somehow something goes wrong there won’t be that much harm done. I might not be the best plan but it was all that I had now. It seemed to work out in my mind. I hoped they would understand. I looked at the roof for a while longer and eventually fell asleep.
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