“Wake up. Come one, Serena, you have to wake up.”
A persistent shaking woke Serena from an uncomfortable sleep. Her head pounded with a terrible ache. “Ugh! What is it? What is going on?”
Jïera sat next to her, sitting up against a wall of bars. They were inside a large wagon filled with other woman and young children from their village. Jïera’s two children slept between her and Faeliel and her own child. A thin layer of hay blanketed the cold wooden floor beneath then. “We are prisoners,” she replied grimly. “The older children and the men are in different wagons.”
“I don’t remember much of anything that happened.”
“You fainted from the excitement. It’s probably best you didn’t see it. Those monsters killed anyone who tried to fight back. We had no choice but to surrender.”
“Did anyone manage to escape beforehand?” Serena asked.
Jïera shrugged. “Possibly. Everything was too chaotic for me to tell.” She held up a waterskin. “We saved some for you.”
Serena looked through the bars, trying to find anything familiar. “Any idea where we are?”
“We’re someplace east. I think we’re leaving the Westerlands. I’ve never been so far from home before.”
“None of us have been this far,” Serena replied. She sat up stiffly and rubbed her belly. Would she have to deliver her first child like this? A cage was no place for a baby.
Jïera noticed this and quietly handed her the waterskin for her to drink. “Do you feel all right?”
Serena nodded after drinking her fill. “Just stiff.” She sighed. “I’m scared for my baby.”
“I know. We all feel the same for our children. So far, the enemy hasn’t bothered with the children. For now, at least.”
“What do they want from us?”
“I have no idea. They have already taken twenty others, but they never returned. They were probably left for dead.”
A flash of lightening illuminated the sky, immediately followed by booming thunder. The children shrieked and huddled closer to their mothers.
Jïera wrapped her arms tightly around Jehoïn. “I’m scared, Mama,” the boy said.
“I know, darling. It will pass soon.”
Serena looked around the wagon and noticed something she hadn’t noticed before. “Jïera?”
“Where are they? My mother and Taëlenna…?”
Jïera frowned. “I’m sorry, Serena. They fell in the battle.”
Serena fought back the tears, her throat stinging in pain. “What about the rest of my family?”
“I don’t know about your father, but I know that Kay and Ciaran are in one of the other wagons.”
Cold tears slipped down Serena’s dirtied face, leaving two pale trails behind. “Perhaps…it was for the best,” her voice trembled.
“Serena…” Jïera gently held Serena’s left hand.
She broke down into broken sobs, unable to hold it back any longer. Why was this happening? After all of this madness…why? She paused when she felt another hand. A much smaller hand.
“Don’t be sad, Auntie Serena,” Jehoïn said. “We have each other.”
Serena sniffed and smiled sadly. Her nephew was so much like this father. “Thank you, Jehoïn. You are very brave.”
He grinned and lay back in his mother’s arms.
The wagon then came to a brief stop and Jïera grasped Serena’s hand firmly.
“Are you all right?” Serena asked. “Are you feeling ill?”
Jïera shook her head and released her hold on Serena’s hand once the wagon started rolling forward. “It’s just better for us when we’re moving,” she answered, her voice shaking.
They traveled for days on end, only stopping to rest now and then. The leïfaes’ numbers were going down. Every other day, one or two died of hunger or thirst. Others were taken away, never to return. If they continued like this, it would not be long before they were all gone. If this was their captors’ goal, then what was the point of them remaining as prisoners if just to die out?
One day, Serena noticed two men approaching one of the wagons ahead. “Who is it today?” she asked Jïera, disturbing her from falling asleep.
She sat slouched against the cold metal bars, weak from hunger and thirst. There was never enough food and water given to them. They had all lost track of the days. Day blurred with the night in a grim flow of despondency.
Jïera looked over her shoulder as the men led a group of fifteen people away from the wagons. Old, young, male, female. It didn’t matter anymore. “It seems they are in need of more than usual today,” she said sadly.
“Who did they take?” Serena tried to look through the bars, but it was impossible with the low tree branches in her way.
“Looks like Covick, Eidifae, Rionara, Wyolis, Rren, Belwall, Loohwell, Danga, Imadria, Dorwynn, Meryem, Ioëbe, Zennifer, Dallegar, and Kathia.”
“What do you think happens to them?”
Jïera shrugged. “Same as the others, I suppose.”
“I don’t want to lose anyone else like this. It won’t be long before they take one of our husbands or children. I’m so tired.”
“I know you are,” Jïera replied.
“What will happen to my baby?” Serena rubbed her round stomach. “We barely get enough food and water as it is. What if my child has no chance of living?”
Jïera frowned. “We will try to figure that out when the time comes,” she said. “There might always be a chance in the future for us to survive this.”
A sudden bang on the bars startled them. Black eyes stared at them with a dark hunger. The man snarled at the two women. “What are you two doing? Not planning an escape, eh?”
They remained silent; too frightened to say a word.
He chuckled revealing two jagged rows of rotted teeth. It sent a shiver through Serena’s pine. “You would never make it out alive anyway. Especially you.” He pointed at Serena. “Even if you did manage to get out of the camp” he shifted his gaze to the forest and back to the wagon “our friends would find you.” He started to walk away.
“Wait!” Serena exclaimed, surprising herself and everyone else in the cage as well as the man outside. “The others you just took…”
“What of them?”
“What are you going to do with them? Why keep us alive? We are of no use to any of you.”
The man’s smile returned and he walked away without saying a word. He just bellowed a laugh. It was a laugh that could be in the nightmares of many. That which held knowledge of an evil secret that would make itself known in time