The War Takes A Nasty Turn
We had been fighting for nearly four years. I felt bad for Cub because she rarely saw the outside of our cave. She never complained and I was happy for it, because I don’t think I could have taken another minute of not living out in the open if it wasn’t for her.
I thought to myself on many occasions that life shouldn’t be like this for me. Here I was, sixteen years old, and everything I had been for the past 8 years shouldn’t have happened until this year. I didn’t have time to feel jealousy for the little ones this time though, and even if I did, the jealousy would be unfounded. We were all suffering. Everybody was growing up. Nobody had time to be a kid.
I thought about what it was like before all of the trouble had started. River and I used to climb the trees and yell at the top of our lungs as if we were some crazy animals living up there. Now there were no sounds of children in the trees. There were no sounds at all. Everybody was completely quiet. Noise was something we couldn’t afford because the king and his men could be anywhere. I felt sorrow, rather than jealousy for the kids of the tribe.
Sometime in the middle of all the fighting, Joseph came to live with us. It became easier to have him always there, because we needed to be able to leave at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t that Joseph could not have joined in the fighting; he was just better at things at home. He was tenderer with Cub than either Sheena or I was. We all loved Cub, but Sheena and I never possessed the right kind of softness that Joseph had, the kind that the sensitive little girl needed. Maybe it was the fact that they were both born within town. Townspeople seemed to be more emotional than the people in the forests.
Joseph and I enjoyed each other’s company very much. He never fully took the place of River as my best friend, neither was our relationship ever the same as it had been with River. Joseph and I reacted with each other in a much more soothing manner. We spent our moments together softly, whereas River and I were in constant competition with each other. We must have fallen in love sometime in the last year, but I don’t remember it happening. One morning I had woken up and decided that I had loved him, and I told him so. He returned the emotion, and we had become partners. It was simple like that in the tribe.
After our mutual declaration of adoration for each other, going off to fight became harder on everybody. Joseph visibly showed his emotions as I would leave the cave, and that had an effect on Cub, who was now six and able to effectively show her emotions. This stressed Sheena and me out as we left, because she would beg us not to go. By showing his emotions, something he had been able to keep silent until we had come together, Cub had realized that Joseph was afraid for us to leave. She realized at this point that we were in danger.
Cub began to fake illnesses and injuries when it was time for us to leave. We caught on after the first few incidents, but she never stopped trying just the same. We tried to tell her every time we left how far ahead we were in the war. Nobody could find where the tribes had hidden themselves and there was always very little danger on our side. The king and his men were slowly being wiped out by hunger, disease, and us. It wouldn’t be long and we would have won.
Then one day, it all changed. They had somehow been led to where we would hold meetings. The word spread fast among the tribes that there was a trap waiting there, but it was too late. Half of all our people had been captured and brought back to the town, which was where they had their base. The rest of us decided that we would attempt a rescue mission to save the others. We were all going to attack at full force on their camp that night and hope that we would take them by surprise to such an extent that they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves. We thought about wiping them all out right there at that moment.
They had expected us, though. That was the reason they were taking our people alive, instead of killing them. They wanted to give us hope so that they could snuff us out, all at once. My story should have ended here, if it weren’t for the intense need of the king to seek revenge.
We were all waiting in the trees, watching for a sign that it would be a good time to attack. We saw a few men standing guard around the camp, and we assumed the others would be sleeping soundly in the houses. We didn’t see or hear the soldiers creeping up behind us, swords drawn and ready to attack. Apparently, they had been watching us to learn something from us.
I felt the sword being poked into my back. I took a deep breath and turned around slowly. I watched as the rest of my friends did the same. I looked over at Sheena, waiting for a signal as to what to do. She stood there like a stone, silent and pale. We had spent so many years reveling at how unorganized and dumb they seemed to be and we never expected to be taken like this.
We were pushed into the center of the town by the swords. I heard some of my people crying and begging for their lives. They weren’t harming anybody, though. Then they brought the rest out from the houses and pushed them to the center with the rest of us. I prayed for a quick death. I would not get one.
Then he came out. He swaggered over to us all, with a smug look on his face. He laughed obnoxiously, rubbing it in our face that he had won. He had grown tall, and he wasn’t a boy anymore. I looked him over. He had tan skin with black hair and green eyes. He wouldn’t have been bad looking, if it weren’t for the evil smile. You could tell just by looking at him that he was a tyrant. He could either get what he wanted by how nice he could look, or by scaring you with that evil smile of his.
He walked around us in a circle. He was looking for someone, I could tell by his eyes. I instinctively moved deeper into the crowd because I knew it was me, and I was afraid of what would happen to the rest if he found me. I knew that we were all dead, but I wanted it to be quick and painless for us.
“Your Majesty,” I heard a soldier call from far away, towards the forest. His voice sounded amused. “Look what we found hiding in a little hole in the ground.” I peered over the crowd to see what was going on, and was horrified to see Joseph holding on to a frightened Cub, while being pushed into the group.
“No!” I screamed and attempted to make a run for them, but two hands caught me and dropped me to the ground. Those hands belonged to the king. He frowned at me for a moment, and then his face twisted in recognition and he sneered at me with that evil smile of his. I felt like he was taking my breath away, and began to panic.
“Let’s play a little game,” he said to his soldiers, all the while never taking his eyes off of me. This game was for my benefit. “This girl right here is going to choose which of these people lives or dies. She gets to choose five people out of this crowd, who will get to go on their way if they pledge allegiance to me.” He held out his hand to let me up.
I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to choose Sheena, Cub, and Joseph because the king knew who I was and would probably take revenge on me by hurting the people I loved. I decided that I couldn’t chance not choosing them because they were the people that I loved the most, and I had to try to save them at least. I picked them out of the crowd and they were instructed to stay separate from everybody else.
Then I had to pick two more. I didn’t have any particular system about doing it. I just closed my eyes and pointed in two directions. Those two were pulled forcefully from the group and placed with my family.
“Now,” the king ordered, “kill the rest.” I was pushed into the group and the king ordered a halt.
“NO!” He bellowed. “NOT HER! I didn’t make myself clear, she is going to live and see all the lives that she could not have saved. You can take the other five away. They don’t have to watch this.” They took my family and the two others away somewhere. Only Sheena fought them. Joseph was trying to stay strong for Cub, and the other two were just too happy to be alive to do any more fighting that day.
One by one I was forced to watch as members from the tribe were executed while he held my face in their direction so that I could not look away. At some point, I collapsed to the ground and tried to tuck my head so that he could not force it back to the awful sight. He made the soldiers stop until he could. I saw every drop of blood spill from each of their bodies. It only made me angry, and I vowed to myself to get back at him somehow. Then finally, it was all over.
He forced me into the house where they were keeping my family and the other two that I had “chosen” to live. When I looked at them, I could not hold in my emotions anymore. I fell to the floor and began to cry tears of anger, and sadness all at the same time. Joseph rushed to me and put his arms around me to comfort me.
“Leave her,” the king told him forcefully. Joseph wouldn’t budge. “I said leave her!” The king tried to pull Joseph up by his hair, but Joseph was too large, and he stubbornly stayed planted by my side. I watched in horror as the king pulled his head back and produced a knife from his pocket. He sliced Joseph’s neck in one quick motion, and Joseph fell to the floor, gasping for breath, and then he was dead.
I couldn’t say anything, and so I did the only thing that I could. I lay there on Joseph’s body, listening to the king screaming at me to get up. I didn’t care if he killed me, too. I needed to spend a few last moments with Joseph, while his body was still warm. It took three men to pry me off of Joseph and pin me down to a chair, where I was tied up. They took his body away and I never saw him again.
I noticed at this point that Cub was crying hysterically. I looked at her and tried to give her a reassuring look, but I don’t think that I managed it that well. I had hoped that she would never see anything this brutal. I felt like I had failed her.
“Show the three adults out and make sure they don’t come back,” the king told his men a moment later. “The little girl will stay with us.” I began to get nervous again. I knew that whatever he was planning was going to be awful, but I hoped he wasn’t heartless enough to kill Cub.
“Don’t worry,” he said to Sheena as she began to fight again, “I won’t hurt the little girl. I need her.”
“Just leave,” I mouthed to Sheena as she looked at me, alarmed. She glanced suspiciously at the king one last time, and then she went with the others. I was glad that I knew she would be safe at least. She would probably form another attack in the future sometime. She might even save us all.
“Put the girl to bed,” the king ordered his men. “I have to have a little chat with this one. Leave me alone with her.”
“That girl is the one that you saved from the town a few years back, isn’t it?” He asked as if he was looking for confirmation that he actually had the right person. I thought that I could go one of two ways: I could either deny that I knew what he was talking about, or I could tell the truth. I decided not to risk insulting his intelligence and nodded that he was on the right track. I was rewarded with a slap in the face.
“Where is my sword?” His eyes flashed angrily.
“What?” I winced as he threatened to hit me again.
“My sword,” he screamed. “The one that you ripped out of the old woman and ran off with into the forest. What have you done with it?”
“You did all this to me because of a stupid sword?” I shouted. “You have got to be the most heartless bastard that ever lived.”
“WHERE IS IT?”
“I don’t know,” I screeched. “I lost it while I was trying to escape from you!”
He began to pace back and forth in front of me. Every once in a while he would reach up and pull at his hair. This went on for about ten minutes and then he just stopped. He stared at the wall for a moment and then punched a hole in it. I jumped and he seemed to take notice of me again.
“That was my father’s sword!” he informed me. “It was the only one that he ever used, and you lost it!” He kicked the chair that I was tied in over and I had no way to catch myself as my head hit the floor. I blacked out then and didn’t wake up until the morning.
Cub was sitting over me when I woke up. She had been washed and dressed and very well taken care of. She cried and hugged me tight when she saw my eyes open, and I was glad to see that she had been unharmed.
“Cub,” I whispered her name with appreciation. She held her finger to her lips to signal that she didn’t want the others to know that I had woken up. It was too late.
I heard his footsteps walk over to where I was. He knelt down beside me so that I could see his face. He was more calm and composed than he had been the night before. I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to like what he was about to tell me.
“You and Cub will be accompanying me back to my castle,” he explained. “You are going to be an example of what happens when you try to stand up against me. Cub will be fine as long as you do everything that I tell you to do. In fact, she will be more than fine. She will have the best of everything and live a privileged life without any worries, unless you upset me. Then she will feel your punishment worse because she will have lived so good for so long. Do I have your agreement that you will not try anything on the journey or after?”
I nodded my agreement to him. There was nothing else I could do. It was at this moment that I feared the worst had truly happened. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had defeated me.