The explanation as to how Jane managed to survive her torment in the prison lies in the pages of the past. In order to find a satisfactory reason we must look to Evelyn, because it is her story that holds all the answers. And her story goes something like this.
Like Jane, she was born into a little time of peace. The Great Flood had already rushed forth and swept The Kingdom clean and The Hopefuls had been banished for many years by the time Evelyn arrived. She and her parents lived in a small settlement, not too far from The Dark Wood.
Three years after Evelyn was born, her mother passed on in child birth as her brother, Michael, came calling. One enters, one exits. That is the way it was looked at.
Their lives were lived quietly, in the hopes that the less noise they made, the more easily they would go unnoticed. They lived in silent dread that any day, any time they saw fit, The Crookeds might arrive and destroy the hesitant peace that lay over the land. Speculation on The Crookeds whereabouts was always rife. They waited patiently for suspicious sights growing on the horizon, jumping at the sound of rabbits crying in the woods.
She was a shy girl, but only around unfamiliar company. Put her in a group of her friends and she was fiery and impatient, demanding of attention and an insufferable know it all. And to boot she was stubborn to the point of arrogance, which often landed her in heaps of trouble.
“You are your own worst enemy!” her father would bellow. Then he would swing her around until her dress opened up like an umbrella and she was crying with laughter.
Then one day, just like they had always known it would, everything changed. All it took was a spark. It is a day that is written about in books as the most gruesome blood bath, the most heartless attack that has ever occurred in the sorry history of The Kingdom. Everybody knows what happened on that day. It is what happened in the years that followed that are a little foggy. There is the story that The Hopefuls teach in schools, the tale which is accepted as true and factual enough to be considered as history. But closely interwoven with that is the truth that nobody knows.
Of course, everybody is aware that Evelyn entered the woods that night with thirteen other children, she kept guard during the night and she waited for the morning to come. Once she had stolen herself and grasped onto what was left of her sanity, she left a boy called Noah in charge of the little ones and she and her brother travelled back to the village.
Still smoking, their home was a pile of stinking ash. Particles of which picked up and danced tauntingly on the wind, flying away from her, disappearing from right underneath her nose. Blackened bits of humans were strewn amongst the rubble, a pair of hands still holding on to each other. She stood right in the middle of the cloud of debris attempted to imagine it all away. They could only stare, hoping with each blink that their eyes would open and all would be righted again.
They salvaged few things from the wreckage. With the exception of the children in the woods, The Crookeds had done a very good job of ruining things. There was only the odd knick knack, squirreled away in the odd drawer or trunk that had survived. She found a compass, a spade, a lantern with an old stump of a candle miraculously still inside, three large iron pots, a tin bath. And in one tumble down house there was a large chest that contained some of the most remarkable pieces of life assuring things that she could ever had wished for. A great pile of thick, woolen blankets, a map, a mirror, a sharp and heavy knife, a big pile of netting, a paper envelope which looked like it contained seeds for growing plants, three books, one of which was about recognizing plants suitable for consumption, some rope and a selection of soft gloves, socks and jumpers. If Evelyn were in a position to believe in miracles she might have assumed that that was what this box was. Perhaps somebody had left these things here on purpose, as though they had known what was coming. As it stood, she no longer believed in anything except the power of a fire and how destructive such a thing as hate combined with flames could be.
The siblings moved their treasure back to the children and their new lives began.
The first few months in the woods were simply at battle to keep them all alive. Evelyn felt as though she were pushing all thirteen of them up a steep hill, constantly, desperately trying to stop any of them rolling back down to the bottom. Every day one of the little ones had some new ailment to contend with. Sniffles, fevers, shivers, unexplainable rashes and on one unfortunate occasion a broken arm. Evelyn was no nurse; she did not know how to fix it. But that didn’t stop her feeling guilty when John had a permanently wonky arm for the rest of his days.
It was a blessing that it was summer; the woods were full of life and food. With the help of the book she had found in the trunk she was able to provide careful meals of mushrooms and leafy plants. The river provided them with water, a place to wash and once they had worked out how to use the net from the trunk it was also a place to fish.
Noah, Evelyn’s second in command being only a year younger than her, proved himself a worthy hunter and fisher. She would send him out each day and told him not to return until he had something to present to her. His boundless enthusiasm never let any of them down.
For shelter, Evelyn wanted to recreate the huts they had lived in before the fire. If they were to survive past the warm summer nights they would need something solid. Their days of lying on the ground, pretending they were not uncomfortable were numbered and already time was passing and the sun was moving further from the earth.
Her first attempt at a hut would have been large enough for a dog perhaps, getting smaller and smaller with each additional reed until it finally collapsed in on itself. The next one was bigger but fell over in the slightest breeze. The next one was small and wobbly. She collapsed to the floor next to her collapsed hut and wept at her lack of skill, her lack of strength. And most of all, knowing that the only way they would survive was if she achieved things she knew she didn’t know how to achieve.
And then, just when despair was inching itself towards the girl, Pearl lowered herself onto Evelyn’s lap and looked up expectantly. Then a few more of them crept forward, not sure what was wrong with her. And then, because tears are catching, they started to cry along with her. Little drops of confusion falling onto their cheeks. Then a pair of arms came and encircled her, she wasn’t sure who they belonged to but it was enough. The sight of the children crying simply because she was crying reminded her that for better or worse, they were together in this. And she did not need to feel alone anymore.
“Shall we try again?” Noah said, holding out his hands to help her from the ground. Evelyn felt reassured for the first time in three months, the three months since the fire had come and changed everything.
A few more weeks went by and they had assembled two sturdy, homely, if slightly wonky mud huts. She took a step back to survey their work, slipped her arm around Michael’s shoulder and said, “We might just be alright after all.”