Once Tim’s story had been retold to them and the forthcoming dangers clearly outlined by Peter and Isaac, most had decided that the time had come where the only sensible thing to do was to clear out. Peter’s prediction was proved incorrect. Their faith in Jane had blown away like smoke on the wind once they realised the undeniable appeal she would have with The Crookeds, something that had been pointed out to them by Isaac during the meeting.
“And it won’t be long until they come looking for Jane once and for all. They will surely know about her by now. To be honest I’m surprised they have waited so long. With her gone, there will be nothing to stand in their way. I know we have always found some comfort in her presence but I don’t think it can be denied that she is after all, just a sixteen year old girl.”
Jane wasn’t surprised by his words because he was a traitor. The way it made her feel though, was a surprise to her. She realised, that for once, Isaac was right. It was no longer safe to be in her company.
Frank had been utterly furious with him. It was all her father could do to stop himself punching Isaac square in his pretty face after the meeting finished.
“Are you trying to scare everybody senseless?” Frank growled, turning a violent shade of purple.
“They need to know where they stand,” Isaac replied boldly. “And Jane should be made to acknowledge the danger she is in if she stays put. You should take her and run.”
“Leave him. It isn’t worth it. He was just telling them all the truth,” Jane had snarled at him as she walked past the petrified villagers who were now looking upon her with terror, like she was bomb that might go off any moment.
“He’s right. It’s not safe with her here. We’ve never considered it before but perhaps she is…dangerous,” she heard Billy’s father say to a small congregation as she stalked by. The realization stung bitterly, that perhaps she was not destined to be a hero after all. Perhaps she was just a very appealing target, she was at the centre of a rather bloody dartboard and Evelyn’s remarkable genes could not possibly be enough to save her now.
The villagers had been given a day to decide what to do, which path they should choose. She could see now that their choice would be an easy one.
“I am dangerous,” she whispered to herself as she walked away from them all and started a slow journey down to the river, not even thinking to check if anyone was following her. It was the first time she had ever felt afraid of her own company, she felt trapped inside a rather valuable skin that the poachers were hungry for. The villagers choice was an obvious one, they must run for their lives, as fast and as far away from her as they could. But Jane could not allow that to happen. And there was only one way to stop it.
In order for her plan to work Jane knew that she must appear unruffled, she must act as normal. She returned to the house that afternoon and was greeted by five anxious faces, all demanding to know where she had been.
“Oh settle down,” Jane smiled at them. They peered at her suspiciously but nothing more was said on the matter.
The day passed by slower than any she had ever known and it was a great relief when she was able to turn in for bed that night.
“Jane, are you alright?” Nora asked anxiously, before she managed to slip away.
“Yes,” Jane replied and planted one last kiss on her mother’s cheek before turning her back on them and heading up the stairs.
Her pack was ready; she’d crammed it with essentials. Warm clothes, scraps of food that she had stolen at intervals through the day, Oliver’s old tent that she was fairly sure was full of holes but would have to do. Thank goodness her family was a practical one, thank goodness there was always spare matches and a spare compass kicking around in a draw somewhere.
She wrote a note that read, “Please don’t look for me. If all this blows over one day I will come home. Until then, stay safe and stay together.”
She placed the note on her pillow and waited for the click of the last bedroom door, which on this night was Peter’s. He must be beside himself with worry, Jane thought to herself. The responsibility of all of this rested on his shoulders. She hoped that this move of Jane’s chess piece would make the whole thing a little bit simpler for him.
She knew that in leaving, she would damage the family deeply; after all they had done for her. She was about to throw all the trust they had invested in her back in their faces. But it would also save their lives and that was the thought she clung to as she crept down the stairs and out of the house. She was surprised, she was sure her mother had suspected something was up. She was only slightly disappointed not to see her frame gently rocking away in the chair by the fire, with a reproaching look on her face, waiting to stop her.
Once outside she took one last glance at the house and whispered “I’m sorry,” before sweeping silently down the hill. She had already decided the path she would take; she would avoid The Dark Woods where possible, even she wasn’t stupid enough to think that was a good idea. She would instead take the path that ran from the village, the one that lead past her river and then she would go on from there, to where and what she knew not. It seemed very foolish to her now that she had never been further than a few miles out of the village in her whole life.
“Adventures come in all shapes and sizes,” she said, trying to convince herself that she was not afraid.
The village was all in darkness, she knew they would all be tossing and turning with the weight of the decision they all had to make. She noticed that already there sat some trunks outside houses in preparation for the departure the next day.
“You needn’t have bothered,” she smiled sadly.
Evelyn looked down at her, a mirror image of her own face.
“Is this what you would have done?” she asked. But truthfully Jane knew that it was. It was the only noble way of keeping everyone safe, for the time being at least.
“Goodbye,” she whispered to them all then. Evelyn seemed to nod her approval.
She walked slowly; there was no sense in rushing. No one would follow her. She knew the path well and did not need to concentrate on the direction of travel, even through the darkness that the night takes on during the hours after midnight.
She wondered what they would all say the next day when her note was discovered. She wondered if her family would listen and leave her to herself or if they would take off after her. Of course, she expected that they would follow. It was her job to make sure she could not be found. She wondered what Isaac would say. She wondered if he would care at all. She wondered if they really would feel safer without her there.
Whilst she was wondering this and not concentrating on where she going, she tripped. She tripped over something at about knee height. She didn’t even have time to wonder what it was that landed her heavily on her backside when an enormous and ominous “Clang! Clang” burst forth from the centre of the village. It was Peter and Isaac’s warning system. The bell was faithfully ringing out signs of trouble. The entire village would already be sitting bolt upright in their beds. Fearing that the moment they had all been waiting for was finally upon them.
Jane could already hear cries of fright coming from the heart of the village. If she was going to go, it had to be now whilst everyone was distracted. She fled. She ran as fast as the darkness and heavy backpack would allow.
“Idiot,” she hissed angrily at herself.
“It’s not The Crookeds!” Peter cried, as he came hurtling into the midst of the villagers gathered together in the square, all clad in their pyjamas. Children were crying and clinging to their mother’s nightdresses, people were dragging their belongings from houses and preparing to run; others were holding shovels, knives, heavy saucepans as weapons, preparing to fight. Isaac was pale as the moonlight that illuminated the square; he was grasping a kitchen knife in his hand, looking as though he wasn’t sure how it had got there and fruitlessly trying to calm the situation.
“It’s not The Crookeds!” Peter repeated, trying to make himself hurt over the cacophony. “It’s Jane!”
“What?” Isaac asked.
“Shut up!” Peter bellowed, he had landed right in the middle of them all now and stepped up on to Evelyn’s plinth so he could be seen. He brandished a small piece of paper as though it were the cure to the common cold. The rest of the family had also made it into the square; Oliver and Frank, propping up Nora who was breathless with worry.
“It’s not them! It’s Jane, she’s gone!”
“Gone? Gone where?” Isaac asked.
“She’s run away. She doesn’t want the village to split up over her so she’s taken herself out of the equation,” Peter explained. Isaac snatched the note from Peter’s hand.
“We should have known she would do something like this,” Isaac spat.
“This is your fault!” Frank hollered, pointing an accusing finger at Isaac. “You convinced her she was a danger to us all!”
“Where? Which way?” Peter asked, his thoughts not ringing clear in the confusion.
It only took Isaac a second to decide which direction was the right one. He kicked up his heels in the direction he knew she would have travelled, Peter following in his wake.
“Find her!” Nora wailed after them.
“Everyone, settle down!” Frank roared over more rising panic. He looked in each terrified face, each face belonging to a person who he thought he knew and thought he could trust. Strangers stared back at him.
“My daughter has run away. She has run because you stopped believing in her. And I am ashamed of you all. I am ashamed.”
They stared back at him, their cheeks stained with tears, apologies sitting unspoken on their lips.
“You better hope they find her,” he growled. Only the sound of Nora’s sorrow broke the silence.
Of course they were following her and she was so predictable that they had even managed to pick the correct path to take. She could hear them thrashing around somewhere behind her, her name flying through the night towards her like an arrow. She had a head start, but not a particularly long one and they could run an awful lot faster than her. She abandoned the backpack in some bushes, hoping that she could double back on herself later and pick it up again. She hadn’t a hope of surviving without it.
“Jane!” she could hear them calling. “Jane!” She put her head down and ran faster than she knew was possible. She stumbled, lost her balance and stumbled again, they were getting closer.
Then of course, she tripped once more and something in her ankle twisted and the race was over.
“No!” she howled, beating her fist on the earth. She heaved herself up and hobbled along the path once again, knowing it was futile now. The sprain was not a bad one but it was enough to end the chase.
Moments later she was enclosed in a set of arms and turned roughly around within them to face her captor.
“Why would you do that? Have you lost your mind?” Isaac gasped, his face screwed up with anger. Peter was bent over double, several feet away trying not to vomit.
“No, no!” she said, beating her fists against his chest. She broke free briefly and stumbled away from him, only to be snatched up once more.
“You have to let me go,” she pushed against him, knowing his grip on her would not be broken. “It’s the only way. Can’t you see that? They are scared of me now. What you said at the meeting, it’s true. What can I possibly do?”
“Stop it. Stop it. You’re frightening me,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her in a fierce embrace.
“All they want is me, Isaac. With me out of the way you’ll be safe. You can forget about this whole mess. You were the one who said I should leave!”
“Not on your own! Not without us! Stop it. You can’t give up. You hear me? You’re the one! You’re the only one who can end the war. Don’t you ever stop fighting for us. Because if you give up, that’s it. It’s all over,” he cried, shaking her.
After everything Isaac had seen, after the horrors his young life had been haunted by, she had never seen him react like this. This was frightening to behold. The whole thing felt a little more serious with this warrior of a man weeping in her arms.
“How could you leave me? How could you?” he cried, his body wracked with the type of fear that only happens when you think you have lost something that cannot be replaced.
Jane allowed herself to be carried back to the village by the boys. She allowed her mother to berate her and then she allowed the village one sentence of explanation.
“I am injured, so I won’t be running away again and I apologise to you all for that.”
“Please stay. We can fight this together,” Jane begged as the villagers filed silently past her the next day, leaving the town behind them with sacks and crates loaded onto their backs and carts. They walked in time with each other, each step sounding like betrayal.
She saw her school friends, trying to avoid detection as they heaved themselves past, accompanying their families into the unknown, too ashamed to even look at her. And then to her utter disgust, even Rupert was wheeling a barrow full of belongings alongside them.
“You can't go,” Jane cried, limping along beside him. “What will we do without you?”
“There's no other way Jane. We have to leave. You must see that? I don’t want to admit it to you, but you really are in terrible danger.”
“I never thought you would leave. Didn’t you believe I should be Protector, Rupert? Where’s that faith gone?” she snapped. He walked on, pulling his hat down over his face.
“Dad! You have to stop this!” Jane cried to her father. He was stood by Evelyn’s statue, holding on to Nora’s hand, trying to stop her running after people who she thought were her friends.
“It’s done,” he replied, grimly.
Her brothers and the others who remained were also keeping their distance. They were too appalled at the scene before them to even try.
“Billy!” she spotted him moving hastily through the crowd.
“I'm sorry. My family, they want to go,” he whined. “It wasn’t my choice.”
“What about Lilia? She'll be heartbroken,” Jane yelled.
“Tell her that I'm sorry.”
“What good does that do her? You're a coward Billy!”
“I know, but we can't stay. It’s too dangerous to be around you,” he glared over his shoulder at her. She realised then that the few people that were remaining in the village were the people that truly believed in her. That trusted her. That still remained Hopeful. All in all a mere thirty two people stayed behind. There was her family, Isaac's family, Lilia and her parents, Martin and Freddie and their parents, the old couple that lived just down the track from her house, a few lonely old men and women that had nothing to live for anyway and couldn't move even if they wanted to, and a few more brave families that wouldn't hear of leaving.
The world around them suddenly turned so quiet. The procession of abandonment finished and the last back packs disappeared over the horizon. Who knows if they would ever see any of them again? Jane furiously picked up a stone and heaved it after them all, knowing they were far enough away to not get hit.
“Good riddance!” she screamed, knowing they were close enough to hear it.
“Well, that’s that then,” Frank said, pale faced and woeful. “I never thought I would see the day.”