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Chapter 7

My entire body shook, and I was worried that we would be rooted out of our hiding spot because the chattering of my teeth. Jon’s muscles were tense. I closed my eyes, pinching them shut against the never ending darkness, but it didn’t drown out the noise. I could tell he was in agony, unable to do anything but sit quietly and endure.

I focused on the beating of his heart again, which had become a bit more rapid. The screams were mingled with deep laughter. I felt as though it would never end, like my descent from the Mountain. But I had learned that all things eventually end. After what felt like eternity and then some, all became quiet, save for the loud snores. I wondered if we would try and escape now, or if that were still impossible.

I found I wasn’t so afraid for myself anymore, but instead I was afraid for Jon. I imagined someone hurting my siblings, and the pain of watching that would be unendurable. I found it surprising how quickly I’d come to care for Jon. This notion made me uneasy. Was it right for me to develop an attachment to someone I hardly knew? Especially since I still held some hope that I’d one day be reunited with my family? Yet what other choice did I have at the present?

Sometime during my fitful musing, I dozed off into a light sleep. Jon shifted suddenly, waking me. The early dawn began to creep into the cave, flooding it with orange light. I exhaled in relief that the sun had decided to rise another day. I began to worry that the cover of darkness would soon be gone, though. As the light crept farther in, Jon, too, became more restless. Almost as if he were waiting for something or someone.

In a rush, I heard the thundering of hooves—enough to make the ground quake. My heart leapt into my throat. Jon sat up, pulling me to the entrance of the cave quickly. I resisted, not wanting to be seen. Shouts and angry curses erupted from the group of sleeping men. Jon was obviously taking in the sight before him, and I plucked up my courage and peeked around him into the morning light. Taking in the chaotic scene before me was overwhelming. I counted twenty horses, with only one saddle empty. Angus.

Jon rushed past me and into the fray, his sword glinting in the bright rays of sunlight that streamed through the tree limbs. I reached after him, only clutching at empty air. I fingered the small knife in my boot, hidden there at his suggestion. Would I need it? I focused solely on Jon, everything around him a complete blur. He fought as though it were effortless. Swords clanged against one another over and over, the metallic sound grating at my ears. My widened eyes ceased to blink, even when Jon’s sword would sink into flesh as easy as one would bite into a ripe peach. Shouts, screams of utter agony, moans, pleas and cries echoed in my ears while images of brutalized bodies and blood and pale lifeless forms littered my sight. All was now quiet. My eyes snapped tightly shut, willing my brain to not accept what it had witnessed.

“Burn them.” an unrecognizable, breathless voice spoke from far off. “And take the girls back for a proper burial.” My eyes unwillingly sprang back open, only to rest on the angelic faces of two girls, not much younger than myself. The sources of the screams from the night before stared back at me with dead, blue eyes.

Everyone began to move at this command. Jon kept his eyes down, helping to move the bodies into a heap. His once white shirt was stained and ripped beyond repair. I could fix that, I thought rather irrationally, considering what I’d just witnessed. Jon pulled away from the group, silently sneaking over to our cave. Who were all these men?

“We have to go.” he muttered hastily. I snapped myself out of my trance, wringing my hands together. I followed silently, unsure of what to say. Angus stamped his front hoof and threw his head as we approached. Jon helped me settle into the saddle, jumping up behind me. I continued to stare at the bodies. A brown horse trotted in front of us, interrupting my line of sight.

“Who’s this?” a deep voice asked. I glanced up. A man, a bit older than Jon, peered curiously down at me. I looked away, my hair becoming a curtain between us.

“None of your concern.” Jon bit back bitterly. Angus swayed beneath us.

“It is my concern if I sent twenty of my men here to save you, losing two of Raga’s daughters in the process.” his voice was even, lacking emotion. I chanced another look at him. His black hair was cropped short, his nose straight and pointed. He sat with his broad shoulders squared. I squinted at him, and his dark eyes flashed to me. Jon’s eyes.

“You’re coming with us.” he said, turning his horse to lead us away.

“That doesn’t mean I’m staying.” Jon said rather defensively. He stopped, now glaring openly at the both of us.

“No, but you will entertain me with the tale of how you came across the heiress to Mount Tier.” I was shocked at the realization that he meant Me. How could he know I was the princess? And what did my rank and status mean out here? He turned and trotted away. Jon urged Angus forward.

“Jon, I-“ I began to whisper.

“Shh.” he commanded. I had the feeling we were headed into dangerous territory. Not an immediate physical danger like the fight that had ensued before my eyes just moments before, but a quiet danger that required more wit than brawn.

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