The Red Sapphire

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Chapter 5

How could her friend of eight years betray her that way? This Aliana asked herself a thousand times over. He befriended her just for the power he could gain after he had convinced her to marry him. She knew that if he had gotten more time, she would have. She questioned herself on whether anything he ever said or did for her was out of genuine feeling or was he just playing a role to get the ultimate reward of a kingdom.

How could she have been so blind or so stupid or so naive! Her father had told her countless times how gullible he though her to be. Had he seen through the Whitby’s’ ploy all along and had been trying to warn her? Had her own hard-headedness and ego blinded her all this time?

She wiped away another set of tears as Milos rode up beside her. “We are almost at the border. After you cross the Hone, a mile upriver you will be in Garion.”

“We should go then.” she said steadily as she didn’t want her voice to crack in front of this stranger. He might have saved her from an unwanted marriage, but he was still a man and she refused to look weak in front of another one of them today.

“No, this is as far as I will go Princess as I cannot go back into Garion.”

She turned to face him. “Are you a criminal there too?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.” he said as a strange look crossed his face. “It would probably be in your best interest not to be seen with me.”

“Well it wouldn’t be in your best interest to stay in Arnay either. You do realise that Lord Whitby and Doranand are probably going to lie to the court and say that you abducted me. Doranand might be the most hated man there for leading me into danger, but you will certainly be the most wanted man in the country.”

“Well that would be a first.” he laughed darkly. “I am aware of all that, but I still cannot come with you. I will take my chances in the Ashlands.”

“But there is nothing in the Ashlands.”

“Exactly! So that would be the last place anyone would look for me. Nilian is exactly north of the crossing. It would be impossible to miss unless something goes terribly wrong. Find an inn, tell them that your family got taken by grim and you barely escaped with your life. No one will bother you then even though you are Arnayan. That’s the best I can do for you.” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a compass which he dropped into her hand.

“You are going to abandon me too. Betray me like everyone else. Use me to achieve your goal and then leave me hanging in the end.” she swore that she wasn’t going to cry in front of this stranger yet here she was doing the same thing.

“Throwing a tantrum gets you absolutely nowhere with me princess. Our acquaintance has been much too brief for me deciding to go my own way to be called a betrayal.” he was about to say something else but he stopped suddenly listening.

“I am not...” he reached over and covered her mouth looking wildly around him. “What do you think you are doing?” she asked as she swatted his hand away.

“Someone is coming.” he slapped his hand over mouth once more. She listened as well but didn’t hear anything.

“Pull the hood over your face.” he whispered as he pulled out a red cloak of his own and put it on. “We are going to try to get out of the trees. Go slowly.”

The horses let out nervous neighs as they prodded them along. It didn’t take much encouragement as it seemed that they too could sense the imminent danger and were eager to leave the cover of the woods.

“It isn’t fully dark. Why are the grim coming out this early?” she whispered.

“I don’t know but something is drawing them out of the deep woods. Something they must want badly.” he whispered back.

The temperature around her plummeted and she could feel an unearthly chill creeping up her neck. “We are too late. They have headed us off.” She saw the smoky figures coming from out of the trees, seemingly materialising out of thin air.

“They can’t see us but they know we are here because of the horses. Climb down and we are going to allow them to pass us.” said Milos.

“What about Sidna oil?” she whispered back.

“Left it back at the tent. Now keep quiet and do what I say. They are coming closer and will hear us.” he said as he started scaling his own horse.

Her feet shook as she climbed down. There were close to twenty of them all ghosting towards the horses. Her heart skittered as she felt something touch her on the shoulder. She was about to scream but Milos had his hands over her mouth in an instant.

He took her arm and led her toward the smoky crowd. Every instinct within her told her to run but it was Milos’s firm arm that stopped her from bolting.

She could hear their voices like disjointed whispers. “I smell the blood. The blood burns with fire.”

“There are two. Their blood burns together.”

“But we cannot see. We see only red.” whispered another.

Aliana’s breath hitched in her throat as another of the creatures ghosted past her and Milos. With each contact she felt as if a small part of her had frozen over and was being dragged out of her body. The cape and hood suddenly felt suffocating. All she wanted to do was to rip it off. She was about to do just that but she felt a sharp tug coming from beside her.

It was Milos who had come in front of her. He took both her hands in his and forced her to look into his face. The icy feeling of dread melted away as his presence calmed and steadied her.

The trees around her shook as a heavy breeze passed over head. It was going to rain soon. A stronger gust blew over them which tore the hood from Milos’s head. The creatures opened their gaping mouths and screamed in triumph as they flew towards him.

He let go of her hands and turned to face them. A gold falchion ripped from under his cloak. He moved with grace and speed that she couldn’t fathom that he possessed.

The creatures let out unearthly screams and he carved through the masses.

“Princess get on the horse and go!” he said.

“Princess...princess....she is here...she is here...her blood burns....but we cannot see...” screamed the ghouls.

They were here for her she realised. She was what was drawing them out. “I am not going to leave you.” she said taking out her staff and pulled it out to its full length. The blades at the end were glowing red, something she had never seen it do before.

One of the grim was about to grab Milos from behind, but she drove her staff through its cloak and watched as it fell away into dust. It didn’t reform.

“You just killed it.” said Milos surprised. He hacked off another limb from the grim and like smoke it came back immediately.

Aliana was quicker as she stabbed it and again it shrank away permanently. She made quick work of nine others that Milos filtered to her. They made a good team as he distracted the grim while she delivered the killing blow.

Night had fallen and her blade glowed red in the dim light. The wind was picking up and the rain would start any moment now. Fire didn’t like water much and she had a feeling that if it started her blade would suddenly go dull.

Milos had his back to her and the rest of the grim shrank away wanting to come close but not daring to. Its eyes darted between them and the horses.

“Milos stop it!” she said as she noted that the creature darting towards the horse. Blood spurted from the horse’s throat and it fell heavily.

It was headed towards the other horse, but Milos was quicker as he lopped off its clawed hands and forced it backwards. She then ripped through its back scattering its dust into ether.

She went beside the thrashing horse. The bay mare had been one of her favourites. There was nothing that she could do for it now but to end its pain.

“It’s ok girl.” she said as she stroked its face once before driving the thin blade through it eye. It twitched once more and then fell still.

“We need to go.” said Milos touching her on the shoulder. Stiffly she got up. The wind picked up more and she felt a fat cold drop of water fall on her forehead.

“You are coming with me to Nilian?” she asked.

“Nilian is the closest thing to safety for both of us at this time.” he said. He gathered what he could from the packs on the horse and saddled his horse with it. He allowed her to mount first and then climbed on behind her.

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