We Make Another Stand
Rossannah eventually got used to living in the forest, although it was clear that she would never fully fit in with the tribe. One or two of the people of the tribe attempted to teach her to hunt and forage, but ultimately gave up because Rossannah was just no good at things like that. She contented herself with washing the dishes and other small tasks around the clearing that were similar to what she had done before. Many of the tribe members liked her simply because she did the things that were boring to everybody else, but they still had a hard time having a conversation with her.
Rossannah’s body became hard and weathered from being exposed to all of the elements, just like the rest of us. She looked more like us every day. She began to smell like the campfire just like we did as well. She mentioned once or twice that she enjoyed that smell and I agreed that it was one of my favorite smells too. She spent a lot more time at the fires than I did, so she was always covered with the scent.
Cub slept inside of a caravan with Sheena. Rossannah and I slept by the fire every night unless it was raining or especially cold. It was still summer, so we were able to sleep outside most nights. Sometimes, the bugs would bother us, but I preferred to live with the little annoyances than to be cooped up in the caravan because I felt as if I had been kept a prisoner inside for too long. I just wanted constant freedom. I think Rossannah slept outside because that is where I was.
A couple of times, Cub and I would bring Rossannah into the woods with us. There we could talk about things that others in the tribe would not understand, which was mainly my obedience to the king for the last two years. The others in the tribe had this idea that I had fought him during my captivity and looked upon me as some sort of hero. This view of me made me feel guilty of how I had actually dealt with my imprisonment and I regretted not being the person that they all saw in me. I let them think what they wanted, for the sake of keeping hope alive inside of them, but it weighed on me every day. Cub and Rossannah were the only ones that I could talk to about it because they were right there with me.
“Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is hold back until you have a weapon or a way to defend yourself,” Rossannah reassured me whenever I brought up the subject. “Who knows what would have happened if you fought him. Now you are both back safe in your tribe and I get to be here with you. I am lucky. If you would have fought him, I would still be serving him his meals.”
The way that Rossannah laid it out made me feel extremely proud of myself. She always had a way of making me feel that I saved her as well.
It took two or three months before the king caught up with our tribe. Rossannah, Cub, and I were in the woods picking raspberries. Rossannah really liked this chore because she never really got to taste anything fresh before. We always brought her along because we knew how much she liked to pop the raspberries right into her mouth as she picked them.
We weren’t far from the tribe when we heard the men yelling from the clearing. I told Cub and Rossannah to stay where they were and got close enough to peer through the trees and see what was happening without exposing myself at the same time. The men who were yelling were the king’s soldiers, and the king was there on horseback. He wasn’t saying a word. He wasn’t barking orders at them. He was just directing his horse silently around the clearing, trying not to miss anything with his eyes.
The men were lining everybody up. It reminded me of when his father had lined all of us up so long ago. When the tribe was all there, he dismounted his horse and walked slowly from one end of the line to the other, sizing them up.
“Is everybody from the tribe here?” he asked. The man that he was standing in front of began to open his mouth.
“Yes,” Sheena cut in abruptly, before the man could answer. “This is everybody.”
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” The king approached Sheena. “You look very familiar, in more than one way.”
“I should look familiar,” Sheena said, bitterly. “You took my daughter and her sister from me two years ago.”
“Are they not here?” The king perked up, a little too enthusiastically.
“They are not with you?” Sheena asked, shocked. I giggled a little. “I have not seen them in two years.”
The king peered into Sheena’s eyes. I could tell that he did not trust her.
“Search the forest around this clearing.” The king ordered his men. “If you find Joby, Cub, or even Rossannah, the tribe will be killed for hiding fugitives.”
I backed away from the clearing and then ran to the place that I had left Cub and Rossannah when I knew I was out of sight and any movement of foliage around me wouldn’t be noticed. I panicked slightly when I could not find them but breathed a sigh of relief after hearing Rossannah call to me from above.
“We heard, Joby,” Rossannah hissed. “Get up here.”
I laughed to myself as I climbed up into the trees. I had forgotten that Rossannah’s survival instincts were starting to strengthen and that she could now climb with little or no help. I got up to where they were and gave her a warm nod of approval and then we silently watched as the men came bounding through the woods.
We couldn’t see them that well this time. We were in a thick patch of evergreen trees. It is a little harder to see through them than other trees. We could hear them talking though, and we could also hear sounds coming from the clearing as well. At first, they sounded optimistic, and then they seemed to become more frustrated, but they didn’t act like they were going to give up anytime soon.
We were in that tree throughout that night and halfway through the next day. Rossannah and I took turns holding Cub when we realized that she was involuntarily falling asleep. We settled ourselves on sturdier branches a little farther down, confident that we wouldn’t be seen because of the thickness.
Eventually, they did leave again. The king told the tribe that if we ever came to them, they were to turn us in, or the consequences would be fatal to all of them. We heard everything they said. We heard the tribe agree to it, knowing that they were all lying and risking their lives to make sure that we were safe from him. Then the king and his men left.
We waited for an hour before we came down to make sure that they were not watching the tribe to see if we would come to them. Most of the tribe stayed within the clearing during this period and went about their daily routine, but a select few, led by Sheena, were searching for us through the trees. They passed through, looking up all the time of course, and Sheena was the one who caught sight of us. I immediately brought my finger to my lips to indicate that she shouldn’t call out my name. She nodded and motioned for the others to follow her back to the clearing. As a second thought she took her bow and shot an arrow up into a random tree. There was a rustling as a bird fell out of the tree at her feet. She picked it up as if she was looking for a meal the whole time and proudly stuffed it into her sack. Then the search party went back to the clearing.
When we felt that we would be safe, we climbed out of the tree and cautiously reentered the clearing. The other members of the tribe stared as us, nervously. Everyone’s eyes darted around the trees, looking for any sign of the king and his men. When night came, we sent the children to bed and sat around the fire, discussing our options.
It was no secret that Cub, Rossannah, and I were all dangerous to the tribe. Therefore, we had to figure out a way to be absent whenever the king and his men were close. There was no way to know that, however, so the only other option would be for us to stay out of the clearings altogether. We would still hunt and forage for the tribe, and the tribe would bring us supplies that we needed as well. They would cook our food and bring it into the trees for us. However, that didn’t solve the problem of what we would do when it got cold, or how we would be protected from the wild animals. Somebody suggested that we build beds in the trees, but that would be too dangerous. The tribe began to squabble about our fate, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Give me up,” I said, when I had heard enough. “I’m the only one he really wants anyway. If you give me up, maybe you can negotiate for the other two.”
“That’s too risky,” Sheena disagreed. “The tribe would be safe, but we don’t know what would happen to you three.”
“You’re right,” I conceded, but I still felt that the answer was to drop me at his feet. “Give me tonight to think about this. I know I have the answer, I just need to think about it a little.”
The next morning, I approached Sheena with a new plan. I had thought about it that night, and realized that in order to eliminate the constant threat of being discovered; we had to eliminate the person who was posing the threat.
“Think about it, Sheena,” I explained, “he has no heir. There is nobody around to take his place and punish us if we were to figure out a way to kill him, and I think that I might know how. We have to ambush him, like he did us two years ago. He’s not prepared for it. Let’s get the tribes together and I will explain my plan to them.”
Sheena sent out the word that we were going to take another stand against the king. It took about two weeks but every tribe that was left after the war was united in our one little clearing. The adults sat around the fire as I explained my plan to them all.
“It centers on giving me up,” I began and there was an immediate outcry of dissent among the tribe. I held my hands up to settle the noise and show that I had more to say.
“You won’t really be giving me up,” I explained. “You will be lulling them into a false sense of security, as if you were now on their side. The king did not seem to have too many men with him. I think that there are more of us. The trick is to get them all out into the open, including the king, and then we kill them all. We leave no witnesses. Nobody will ever know what has become of them, and we will be safe. We will not have to worry about revenge, because he has no close living relatives that I know of besides his mother, and she really cannot do much of anything.”
“What if something goes wrong?” Sheena stood up. She took my head in her hands and looked into my eyes as tears began to form. “I just got you back.”
“If this works, you will never lose me again,” I reassured her.
The plan was voted on by all the members of the tribes and it was decided that we would try it. The only person who voted against it was Sheena. She sulked away to the caravans that night, looking sullen and defeated.
Rossannah and I lay down by the fire that night and talked about the possibility that I might never return. She tried not to act concerned, but I knew by the sound of her voice that she was also feeling distraught about this new course of action that I would be taking.
“If I thought there was any other way,” I whispered to her, “I would be taking it.”
She reached out her hand and put it on my cheek and I did the same to her. She sighed heavily and we just watched each other for a while. The she rolled over and acted as if she was asleep. I decided to follow suit and pretend to go to sleep as well. When she thought that I was sleeping, she began to sob. I wanted to comfort her, but I knew that she did not want me to know that she was crying, so I just continued to pretend to be away somewhere in dreamland. Inside, however, I was dying.
The next morning, Sheena and I chose the two who would deliver me to the king. We decided on strong, young men who looked as if they would be able to handle me without a problem. For extra assurance, we had them hang on to my arms while I tried to wriggle out of their grasps and get away. We decided that it would be easy to put on a good show with these two hanging on to me.
I said my goodbyes quickly, especially to Rossannah who I sensed would break down if I dragged it out. I told myself that it wouldn’t be long before I was back in the tribe again, so a long goodbye would be sending a bad message. I needed to keep up morale for everybody’s sake.
Then, my “captors” and I were off to try and find the king and his men. We were followed by the tribes, but at a distance so that we weren’t an obvious trap. We weren’t even within shouting distance of each other. We figured that while the two men who brought me to the king discussed their reward with him, the tribes could close in and attack while nobody expected it.
It only took us a day to find them. The king and his men were always completely clueless as to how to hide the traces of their trails. I was brought forward, kicking and screaming the whole way. At first, I was acting, but as I got close to that evil, but somehow attractive sneer, my fear kicked in and I found myself truly trying to wriggle myself free and run in the other direction.
“Where is the other two?” The king demanded when I was placed right in front of him. I spit in his face and felt myself swell with satisfaction as he wiped it off with his sleeve.
“Answer me!” He yelled, angrily. Then he slapped me. I opened my mouth in shock. In the two years that I had been his prisoner, he had never hit me once.
“Th-they are safely hid,” I managed to stammer out. “I’ll never tell you.” My cheek hurt. I couldn’t get over my confusion at what had just happened to me. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, he had hit me before, but he seemed to like to torture me in other ways rather than resort to physical violence.
“Put her down and leave,” the king ordered the two men holding me.
“Do we get a reward?” The bigger man asked him.
“Your reward is that I will not kill your tribe,” the king said coldly, “Go.”
They pushed me to the ground and left. It didn’t matter because they would double back and bring the tribes back to rescue me within an hour or less. I would probably have to withstand a bit of torture until then, but I knew that it would be the last that I would feel at his hand, so it didn’t bother me too much. Besides, I knew that if he was busy providing me with punishment, he wouldn’t see them coming.
He strapped me to a chair, as he had done when he had captured me the first time. I knew that he did this to keep me from fighting back. He was probably stronger than I was, but he was a coward that didn’t want any resistance from his victims. Then he just let his hands fly at me, one after the other. I tasted my blood, but it tasted sweet to me. It was almost satisfying. I knew he would never be able to hurt me again after this, and I welcomed every last contact of his palms across my cheeks.
He would stop every few minutes and rest. He would pace back and forth. Sometimes he would call for someone to bring him water or food. He would sit down and enjoy it while watching my blood drip from my nose onto the ground.
Time seemed to drag on, and then it got dark. I lifted my head to look around the forests for some sign of the tribes. Then he would begin to beat me again. It took me a little while to realize that they weren’t coming after all. I hung my head, defeated, wondering why they did not come for me. Then he called out for a whip.
“No more!” I cried out, exhausted and torn. “Please, you’ve made your point.”
“No whip,” he commanded, waving away his men. “There’s no more fight left in her. I can kill her now.”
The fear rose up in me when I heard these words. I knew that my chances for survival were slim. I let the men untie me and I fell off the chair onto the ground, waiting for some sort of pain to tear through me that would signal the end of all the pain that I would ever feel. I looked up to see the king, carefully fingering a multitude of weapons, deciding which one would bring about my end. I looked around me and noticed that if I ran I still had a chance to get away alive. There was not even one man close enough to me who would be able to grab me without having to chase me a little first.
I decided that I would run for it. I took a deep breath and jumped to my feet. I ran away from the king as fast as I could. I heard him screaming at his men behind me. I heard footsteps running after me. Then I felt them take me down. They were holding me down on the ground. Two of them had me pinned by my arms. Then the king approached slowly. He was holding a sword down at his right side. He reached down and grabbed my leg to pull me toward him so he could get a better angle at my heart, but then he just stopped.
He looked at me, confused. I suddenly remembered my necklace in my boot and realized that he must have felt it while squeezing my leg. I mustered just enough strength to break away from the two men holding me down and lunged toward my boot, trying to guard him from exposing my secret.
“Hold her down!” the king ordered, and the men pinned my arms back to the ground. “She obviously has something very important that she doesn’t want me to see.”
I began to kick wildly and the king called more men to come and hold down my legs. He flipped up the leather on my boot to expose the little pocket that had been a secret for so long. I cried and screamed as he pulled out the necklace and then I went limp with exhaustion when I realized that it was all over.
The king held the necklace up by the chain and examined it. I heard him gasp in surprise. The men around him stared at it, intensely. The one that was holding onto my left leg let go of it in shock. I realized that it was something very important to all of them to warrant that kind of reaction.
The king stuffed the necklace back into my boot and folded down the leather quietly. He stood up and paced around for a moment or two and dropped his sword to the ground. Then he ordered his men to tie me up and put me on a horse.
I didn’t understand why I was not going to be executed all of a sudden, although I realized that the reason weighed heavily on the fact that I possessed the necklace. I began to get nervous as to what this meant for me when he brought me to where he was taking me. I quickly realized that he was taking me back to his castle, but something told me that I wouldn’t be making him breakfast ever again.
He returned me to my room and locked me in as soon as we got to the castle. It was only a few moments before he appeared again with the Hawk.
“Show it to me,” she ordered, forcefully. I hesitated. She repeated the request again and the king took a threatening step forward to show that he was willing to take it from me by force and that it would not be a good situation for me. I leaned forward quickly and pulled the necklace out from my boot.
The Hawk immediately covered her mouth. She stared at the lion for a moment, and then put her palm out to feel its weight. She let it go shortly after and turned to the king.
“You will have to marry her,” she declared, “if you want to keep your crown.”
“No!” I exclaimed, panicking. They left the room, without acknowledging me, and I felt more apprehensive than I had ever been in my entire life.