Life After Life

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Chapter 13 - Everose

“So, what do we do now?”

“They know I’m alive, and that we have her. Didn’t you see Hayther trying to get to us. I thought he was going to start slashing down his own people!”

A chorus of laughs echoed off the walls. It was strange being suspended in the dark night sky like a star. I could hear what was going on around me, but I couldn’t open my eyes, move my arms or my legs. I was suspended away from everyone just able to listen. I discovered that Eric had kidnapped me and all that was left of his followers were five men. Their names were Apole, Lettie, Trent, Galiver and Axel. I heard all their voices but Axel’s, he hardly ever said anything, it didn’t make me hate him any less. I dreamt of Hayther’s face, of him coming to rescue me wherever I was.

I felt someone lift my head and put something to my mouth, it brushed against my lips and I realized it was water and I started to drink. “I think she’s waking up finally!” I heard one of them say. I tried my hardest to open my eyes and finally they started to crack open. The first thing I saw was Axel’s face near mine, I didn’t even think my arm automatically came up and punched him hard across the jaw, the water cup dumped on my face and I sat up sputtering. The man who had been closest to us screamed and I turned my head to look at him. He had a big nose with silver eyes peering at me, his face was very young looking maybe 16? His hair was dark.

“Lettie, shut up! Do you want to alert everyone to where we are?” Eric said as he walks towards me.

Lettie scrambled back from me, “I just didn’t expect a Princess to be so violent!”

Axel shifted away and scratches at his jaw I tried to scoot back from the approaching Eric, but my back was against the wall. He slapped me hard across my face and grabbed my collar pulling my body up, my face burned. “You’d do well to listen to me princess. Never hit one of my men again.” He let go of my dress and I fell back down, and curled into a ball, I was too dazed to even cry as I watched him walk back to the other side of the fire.

Eric’s limp was very noticeable although the others looked away when he walked. I looked around and saw that we were in what looks like a cave. I made a sound that was sort of like a snort and a laugh. I saw Lettie look at me puzzled at why I would I think anything was funny. I went to speak but my voice came out scratchy, so I cleared it and tried again.

“You are rebels from Carastil, where it is cold and hard to live and we’re in a cave where it is cold and hard for anything to live.” Lettie just stared at me until someone else called his name and he turned away.

I saw that his dark hair was tied back behind his neck, and it swung down to his lower back. I finally sat up again, and I noticed that the fire was outside the cave. I could see stars just past the opening. Axel sat away from everyone else, though they called his name often and kept him in the conversation. Eric studied Axel from across the fire like he was not sure what to do with him. I reached up and felt my cheek it was tender to the touch. I stood up and stretched, my legs felt unsure of themselves. I felt something hanging on my ankle and I lifted my skirt to see a rope attached to me. I realized that the other end was tied to a metal weight near me. I sighed and tried to move it, but it was too heavy, even for me.

I looked to the fire again, trying to think of a plan. Of the six men that sat around the fire, the only three who had shown any interest in me, and two of them I would rather never be alone with again. But Lettie, he seemed unsure and awkward, maybe if I could get him alone I could escape. I called out “I have to use the bathroom.”

I saw Lettie glance my way but other than that no one moved.

I sighed loudly and said even louder “I really have to use the bathroom.” I saw Eric sigh and stand up. I felt my body tense even though he was the farthest away, I tried my luck and said “Maybe Lettie should take me? He’s closest to me, and I promise to be quick.”

Lettie looked surprised to hear that I knew his name, and he shrunk a little on the log that he was sitting on. Axel’s face turned hard as he faced Eric, who seemed to consider for a moment.

“Not unless you feel like losing your purity tonight” he paused and then said “Princess” as if it was an insult.

I looked to Lettie not understanding and Eric threw his head back and laughed “Our little Lettie here is known as a lady’s man, can talk any girl out of her undergarments even married ones. He has no shame.” I would beg to differ about the no shame part because even in the fire light I could see that his ears were flaming red.

Axel’s shoulders relaxed a little, until Eric looked directly at him.

“Axel will take you,” he said.

My stomach turned over at the thought of having to even pretend to do my business in front of him, but I didn’t see any other way though. Axel’s looked tense, like every movement was a tremendous effort. I watched as Axel untied the rope from the weight and my ankle but then he ties it around my wrist. I tried not to let my anxiety show as we walked into the night. The air felt a little chilled, I reached and pulled Axel’s cloak closer to my body.

As we walked deep into the woods I looked at Axel the torch that he carried made the side that I saw dark and shadowed. I could feel my hatred for him start to bubble over.

I spit out “Hayther will be here by the end of tonight. He will rescue me before you’ve even had me one day.”

At this Axel snorted “Princess you’ve been gone for 2 days already. We are in the forbidden forest.” I stopped dead in my tracks, but Axel kept going, pulling hard on the rope attached to my wrist. I stumbled forward, repeating the words two days in my head. He walked farther out until he found a tree with a low enough branch.

He tied the rope to the branch and told me “I’ll be standing over near another tree.”

I went behind a bush at the base of the tree and squatted down acting like I was taking off my petticoat, when I was furiously trying to rip the rope off of my wrist. I saw a sharp looking stick and jammed it into where the knot was. The rope gave slightly, I looked up and saw that Axel still had his back to me, I quickly untied the knot. I took a deep breath and started to crawl in the opposite direction of Axel and the camp. Unsure of what direction I was even going in, it felt like I was crawling forever when I heard a yell. I assumed it was Axel discovering that I had gone missing. I got up and started to run, pushing tree branches out of my way.

My lungs started to burn almost immediately, and I wished I would have practiced this, Hayther told me my stamina was not good and that if I had to run or if a fight lasted longer than a few moments my strength and endurance would drop quickly. I heard someone crashing through the tree’s behind me, and it made me run even harder than I thought possible. My mind was a whirlwind of trees and roots as I tried not trip, suddenly I heard a loud crack behind me I looked and saw a tree was falling, the heavy footsteps began again. I quickly realized that it was not Axel who was closest to catching me but something entirely else. Memories of Veryan telling Hayther and I horror stories of monsters living in the woods.

My mind lost its focus and I tripped over something hard on the ground, I fell hard on my knee and could feel my hands scrape a tree, my palms now burning. I heard a low, deep growl come from behind me and slowly I looked over my shoulder. A creature out of my worst nightmares stood behind me. It was bigger than any bear I could ever imagine, four large red eyes stared at me, I could see the strong muscles hiding just under its ebony coat of fur, its dual tails twitched in anticipation. It stepped closer to me sniffing the air.

It was close enough that I could see that it didn’t have paws it had almost human like hands. Its face was inches from mine now and it opened its mouth to expose huge fang like teeth. I screamed so loud, could probably hear me at the castle. The monster jerked back and one of its hands came across and knocked into my body, sending me sprawling into a tree. I hit the trunk hard and slid sideways onto the ground.

I stared at the beast as it approached again quicker now and then I saw a yellowish glow behind it, the glow gets brighter and closer until even the beast noticed it as well. I started to imagine I heard a rough battle cry as warm glow blazed brighter. I realized I was not imagining it, but it really was a person with a hastily made torch. Embers fell on the ground and I could see where some had landed on his hand.

Axel screamed out at the beast and waved the 2 fires closer. The beast curled its lips and exposed its fangs to Axel, but he pressed forward. Finally, he got so close that he threw the second torch at it, it howled in pain before taking off into the dark woods. Axel sagged to the ground and sat on his knees, staring at me. Another ember fell off his torch and onto his hand, he hissed in pain and quickly dug a small hole to put it in, so it wouldn’t go out. He scooted closer to me, still on his knees, and started to look me over. He used his hand that got burnt to smooth down my hair around my face and I could smell burnt flesh.

“Are you okay? Did it bite you?”

“No” I barely whispered, “What was that thing?”

“It was a Golonath. Its spit is a strong paralyzer.”

I shuddered at the thought of being paralyzed but awake.

I looked to Axel’s hand and said, “You need healing salve to put on that.” I thought of the castle and said, “We need to go back to the castle, I can tell them that we were both kidnapped that you were trying to protect me.” I wanted to keep going but a strange look had come over Axel’s face.

He shook his head “Princess, I hated the castle every day I was there. I am from Carastil and make no mistake that I am loyal to my country.”

I sighed and felt tears of frustration well up in my eyes, I wiped them away hating that I cried so easily. Axel secured the rope to my wrist again and tied it to a low hanging branch, although after what just happened I wouldn’t be so careless again. As we began to walk back to the cave, I wondered how he knew which way to go. We walked for a while in silence the only sound the crackling of the torch.

Finally, I had to ask, “Can you at least tell me one thing?” Axel didn’t respond he just looked at me through the corner of his eye, so I decided to ask anyways.

“Where were you going when I saw you in the castle?” he stayed silent for so long I figured he must not have wanted to answer.

“I was coming to kill Hayther and kidnap you.” he gave a short laugh “But I guess you saved me the trouble.” My heart beat stopped for a moment at the thought of Hayther being killed.

Axel pushed a lock of his hair behind his ear and for a moment he looks almost vulnerable “I’m honestly glad that I didn’t have to kill Hayther. He’s a good man.” That comment brought me some relief. Suddenly we heard footsteps coming down the path towards us, Axel pushed me behind him and he held out the torch. A burly man with short black hair that had been around the campfire came towards us, his torch light meddling with ours.

“Galiver,” Axel laughed “You scared me half to death man, what took you so long?” Galiver just shrugged and turned to start walking back towards camp. Axel still looked tense as we continued. We came around from a thick patch of bushes and I saw the cave and the fire. I heard laughter and chatter coming from around the fire.

Lettie spotted us first and says “For the love of Seren. Where have you been? We thought something happened to you since we heard a howl!”

Eric gave a dirty smile and said “I thought maybe you’d run off with our princess. I’m glad Galiver brought you back.” Eric nodded his head at Galiver who had returned to his seat, throwing his torch into the fire.

Axel didn’t look amused at this joke “No we were attacked by a Golonath.” he tossed his torch into the fire as well and looked at the burns on his hand.

Lettie saw the burns and looked to a tall willowy man standing with his back against the stone “Apole go get some of that salve that we still have left.” Apole nodded and walked into the cave, Eric nodded to Galiver, an unspoken conversation between the two, and Galiver got up and followed Apole inside the cave. When they both came out Apole held the salve and Galiver had the weight from inside.

He let it go and it made a hard thud sound. Galiver untied my hand, I thought about trying to make another run for it, but the image of the Golonath’s teeth froze me in my spot.

“Could you lift you dress a little?” Galiver’s quiet voice surprised me.

I lifted my black mourning gown up a little and I felt the roughness of the rope reattach around my ankle. He tied the other end to the weight and then smiled at me as he carried the weight. I followed him to a log that he placed the weight next to. I assumed that he wanted me to sit.

I looked at the man sitting on the log as well, his hair was a light brown and he had green eyes. He glanced at my disheveled hair and reached toward me, I flinched thinking he meant to strike me, but instead he pulled a twig out of my hair. He threw into the fire and I saw it catch quickly, he smiled and leaned close to me again. I thought he was pulling another branch out of my hair.

Instead he said in a voice like honey “I love fires” he paused and said, “and explosions.”

I looked to his face and saw that he had a big grin on now, and that the fire was illuminating his face, his green eyes almost glowing.

I tried to discreetly scoot away from him as he continued “I wanted to make a diversion and blow up half the royal guard, but everyone said no.” at this he pouted, I heard a collection of groans and sighs from the rest of the group.

Lettie was the first one to speak, obviously they had had this conversation before “Trent give it up man! You didn’t even have the stuff to make a bomb! Now pass along the water.”

Trent wilted on his log and I thought I heard him mutter something, but I didn’t quite catch it. He hands me a leather pouch that was squishy to the touch, I saw it quivering in my hands and I did my best to stop my hands from shaking.

I stared at it for a moment and then decided to put my mouth to the opening, water covered my tongue and I realize how thirsty I was. Not wanting to take more than my share I passed it to Galiver who was seated on the log next to mine. I stared into the fire and let the noises turn into nothing but mumbles.

Everything that has happened in the last month races through my head. I sighed thinking of the last words I said to Hayther, wishing I could take them back. I was no closer to figuring out how to break this curse on me, and my now apparent death was looming closer every second I sat here.

I sighed in frustration and tuned back in. I looked over and saw Apole staring at me from across the fire, his eyes pinned me down on the log. He finally moved to come stand next to me his hands behind his back as he walked. He knelt and took my hands in his. My palms stung when he moved them.

He saw the pain in my face and asked quietly in a deep gruff voice “Do they hurt?”

I nodded and watched as he put some of the healing salve on my palms. His hands were so gentle, careful not to put too much pressure on my palm. I looked up at the fire and saw that Eric sat with his back to the opening of the cave and was looking the other direction with a sour face and I worried for a moment if he would punish Apole for being kind to me.

A soft wind picked up and gently rustled the trees. I craned my neck back to stare at the tops of the tree’s, their branches were so gnarled. The moon sliver that was left was almost gone, but the stars around it were shining brighter tonight than I had ever seen. I remembered to when they first tried to kidnap me and how scared I was. I was still very nervous but something else had replaced that now, curiosity, in this life I have never been outside the kingdom walls. I mustered up my courage my curiosity burned like an ember on the back of my hand.

“So, Eric, if I may ask, where are we going?” Eric turned to slowly look at me, Apole’s eyes shoot up to my face and he looked like he was begging me not to do this.

He finished wrapping the bandage around my hand and returned to his post on the wall.

Eric just shook his head and said, “Not tonight princess.”

He got up and motioned for Axel to follow him. They both walked into the ebony darkness of the forest that surrounded us.

Galiver came over and picked up my weight “Time for bed your highness.” I sighed and followed him back into the cave. As I laid down, using Axel’s cloak to offer myself some warmth I realized how exhausted I was from running from the Golonath. My eyelids were heavy from exhaustion and I fell into a dreamless sleep quickly.

I felt like I could just sleep forever but eventually I opened my eyes to see rays of sunlight filtering through the tree’s. I sat up, stretching my arms out and looked around, I saw that they were all asleep in a circle around me, everyone except for Eric who stood near the cave entrance. I looked back to Axel, he had one arm tucked beneath his head, the other rested gently across his chest. His face looked so peaceful, I think back to our kiss, but it soured my stomach to think about it. It meant nothing it was just him hiding me, so he could take me.

I stretched my legs out and Eric had noticed me awake now. I stand up and try to pick up the weight to go by the cave opening but I couldn’t even budge it. He quietly came over and grabbed the weight with one hand sweeping it into his arms. He sorts of pulled me and I almost fell over on Trent. He set it down right in a ray of sunshine, the light fell on my dress, but it was so thick I felt no warmth, so I pulled up my dress so all the way up to my calf was being kissed by the light. I could feel the sunlight and a small smile laid on my lips. I looked to Eric and saw that he was watching me his stormy eyes back to normal from the delirious state I saw him in the dungeon and the broken man on the stage. Now that I had gotten used to it, his head shaved suited him very well, if he hadn’t kidnapped me and been the reason my mother died he would have been handsome.

“Good morning your highness.” His voice sent shivers down my spine, it reminded me of when we were in the dungeon.

“Good morning Eric.” I stretched my arms over my head again and yawned, trying to be appear calm and not at all afraid that if I said the wrong thing he would strike me again. My cheek still throbbed, and I’d bet that I had a bruise blossoming.

“You still haven’t told me where we are going.” I braced. Eric let out a small sigh and said

“Do you never hold your tongue?” he shifted so that one shoulder leaned against the wall, his eyes looked like they were seeing something entirely different than what I was seeing, “I thought maybe going to the coast and we get a nice little house and live out our lives all together happy and merry.” He looked at me a wicked grin on his face, he reached out towards me and I tried to step back, but his arm was around me as he pulled me close, my face was pressed against his chest. I tried to wriggle free, but he held me against him, I felt him lean down, his hot breath on my cheek.

He whispered “I am glad though that Axel saved you from that Golonath. I wouldn’t want you dying if it wasn’t from my hand.” he paused as though considering it “Don’t get comfortable, just because my men seem friendly, remember their allegiance is to me.” I let out a little whimper. Someone cleared his throat and Eric sighed his body relaxing as he pushed me away. I stared at the floor too mortified to look at who ever interrupted Eric.

“Good morning Axel. I hope you slept well.”

“Very well, thank you.” Axel said as he brushed past me on his way out to do his morning routine. Eric watched him go, his grin now turned to a lazy smile. He shook his head and went back into the cave to wake up everyone else. Eventually someone restarts the fire and Galiver suggested since they had a woman in the group I should make breakfast. I quickly tried to explain that I had no idea how to cook but no one listened. Axel came back with four rabbits and handed them to Lettie. He immediately began to skin them, I had to overt my eyes. Tears sting and a lump rose in the back of my throat, but I fought to keep it down. I tried to skewer the meat on sticks that they had given me, but my fingers were slippery from the grease of the meat. My bandages were now soaked through and only 3 pieces of meat were skewered. Apole finally came over, took the meat from me, skewered it and then handed it to Lettie who was their normal cook.

Lettie dug around in a bag and then he took out two small bottles filled with dry herbs, he sprinkled a little on the meat and then puts it into the fire. Apole wandered back into the cave and came out carrying new bandages and a small bag. He unwrapped my hands and I saw that the scratches were pink around the edges and a little puffy. He clicked his teeth together, and I’m unsure of what that was supposed to mean. He reached into his small bag and called over his shoulder for someone to bring him a small cup of water. Axel came over avoiding my eyes like how I had been avoiding Eric. Apole pulled out some dried herbs, puts them into a bowl and begins to crush it together. Axel held the cup as Apole dumped the crushed herbs into the water and stirred it until the water was a reddish color. He then told me to cup my hands and as he poured the liquid into them my cuts started to throb and bubble. Apole sighed and muttered something

“Is that good that they did that?” I asked quietly

“Yes, it means that they’re clean now. Infection was starting to set in.”

Axel gave a short laugh and said, “we wouldn’t want to have to cut off your hands.” My eyes shot up and looked at his face, he rolled his eyes obviously joking. Lettie passed out the food to everyone and we sat in silence eating our breakfast, the flavor was deep and rich. I closed my eyes and take it in, thinking of all the food I’ve ever eaten in the castle. Realizing that I had eaten in days I devour my rabbit. I finish licking my fingers and look up to find that everyone was staring at me.

“I’ve never seen a princess eat like that!” Lettie said.

I felt a smirk come across my face as I said, “I’ve never had cooking like that!”

Lettie’s smile was as bright as the sunrise and he started to mumble to himself “A princess likes my cooking!” With full bellies, they started to pack up their supplies. Trent went around the side of the cave and brings a horse.

I looked surprised from him and back to the horse.

“What? You’ve never seen a horse before?” Trent said slyly his voice gliding out to my ears.

I stumbled over my words “I just didn’t know that you had one.”

“This way one of us won’t be stuck carrying that stupid weight. Of course, we’ll have the reins.”

I perked up just a little at the thought of not having to walk. I knew we were heading to Carastil although our destination was still unknown. Trent lifted me up to sit on top of the horse, I adjusted myself the best I can. As Trent tied my hands in front of me I realized how high I was and prayed that I wouldn’t have an episode while I was on the horse and go careening.

I heard Axel’s voice behind me and I squirmed to turn in my seat.

“We need to make it to the next clearing by sundown. That means no lagging behind, we walk quickly and swiftly. We do not want to get caught in the woods in the dark.”

Everyone barked up an agreement and Galiver walked towards me, grabbing the reins. Apparently, he had first duty. As we walk I looked up and saw that the sun was right above us and was slowly following us in the same direction.

Lettie called out staring up at the sky “What do you see Princess?” I laughed at his squinting face.

Apole muttered “Lettie you’re going to go blind, quit staring at the sun.” Lettie’s head snapped down and his eyes flew to Apole “Can I really go blind?”

Apole nodded in confirmation Lettie looked back to me “Princess are you trying to go blind so that you won’t have to look at Galiver anymore?” At this I let out a laugh and Galiver grunted an unintelligible response, we sit in the moment letting it wash over us, but the mood sobered as we both remembered who I was and where we were heading.

Lettie turned away and looked forwards again, I did the same and saw Axel staring at me. I looked the complete opposite way from him. I wondered to myself how I could have been so blind? A rebel right inside my palace. He had said that my father picked him, how long had he been in our home? I think back to all the times he was watching me, or it was just him and I. I shuddered at how I could have been taken sooner and no one would have an earthly clue to who took me. At least they knew it was Eric and Axel now.

Suddenly I wondered if their group had a name.

I called out to Lettie again “Does your group have a name.”

Lettie shakes his head but a loud “No” comes from Axel in front of us. Lettie came closer and stood on his tippy toes “I call us the Blood of Justice!”

I guess my facial expression wasn’t what he had hoped for, but when he said the word blood all I could see were his comrades in the library door and Jordan’s blood on the floor, the blood in Eric’s teeth, the blood splattered all over me when that guard throat was slit right in front of me. My body begins to shake at all the memories.

I heard Lettie’s voice, far away now, but all I could see was the constant replay of all the death that has happened around me. I felt myself fall off the horse, but my head did not hit the ground.

Instead Axel’s voice drifted to me “What did you say to her? I don’t think she’s having a fit, usually her mouth would be drooling, and her eyes would be open.”

I heard Lettie explain what he was talking about. I pulled myself out of the memories just a little to be able to whisper the word “blood.” I heard Axel mutter some swears towards Lettie. I was still trying to pull myself from the ebony blackness when suddenly it turned to blood. The smell of it was overpowering, I looked around me and there were bodies everywhere. I flexed my hand, it was sticky; my palms were covered in it too. I felt a scream building inside my chest and it lashed out. I don’t know if I was screaming to where Axel and the others could hear me or just inside my own head. I wanted this vision to stop, I could feel myself being lifted, but my screaming continued, I felt as though an eternity had passed. My screaming started to quiet down until it turns into whimpers.

I collapsed in the blood and it started turning back to just darkness, the copper smell no longer smothering me. I started to become aware of the voices around me again I heard a loud screech and I could feel the arm muscles tighten around me. I suddenly was jostled around, as if the person who carried me was running.

I felt their chest rising quickly and I heard Axel’s voice call out “Trent leave the stupid horse!” I felt his chest vibrate from him yelling. I heard another screeching sound.

Axel cried out “NO! TRENT! Damn it!” and then we were running again. I found the strength to open my eyes, but I wish I would have kept them shut I saw a giant black shadow looming over us in the sky, circling and then it dove straight towards us.

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