I didn’t care who was hear for me. This declaration wasn’t new. Everyone was out for me these days. The only thing I wanted was Arsan. I wouldn’t leave without him. Not even if it put my life in danger. I pushed away from Mr. Deddub, searching the darkness for him. “I won’t go without Arsan.”
Mr. Deddub wasn’t surprised at all by my demand. I think that he even expected it. “I will find him. Stay here hidden in the underbrush. If you don’t see me come back soon, you must run and don’t look back.”
I nodded, but the smiling sailor was already disappearing into the shadows. My hands clasped over my mouth as I tried to compose myself, but this time not even my magic was helping. There was too much going on around me. I could almost feel the souls of the dead slipping from their lifeless bodies.
Concentrate, Tabri. I told myself, trying to keep my mind off my surroundings. The forest was dark. Not even the light from the burning hull of the Stallings was penetrating more than a few yards beyond itself.
Decker’s men where stumbling out of the wreckage. They were being picked off with flaming arrows one by one, but I couldn’t tell where the origin was coming from.
Then I saw one, just a faint glimpse of an attacker near a tree. He was crouched down low to the ground so only his head and top of his shoulders were visible. His face was painted with the colors of the forest to help him blend into his surroundings. I couldn’t breathe. It was Farenan’s men.
The blood red of his army’s jackets were apparent now. I knew what I was looking at. I was almost sick knowing that he had found me. But how? We had left no trail behind us. His dark magic must have brought him here. I didn’t know why, but somehow he was here.
Out of the shadows stumbled Mr. Deddub and right behind him stood Arsan. He was no worse for wear than I was.
“Miss, are you here?” Called Deddub quietly.
I emerged from my hiding place and threw my arms around Arsan’s shoulders, elated to see him and I didn’t want to let him go.
“Miss, please. If you don’t run he will find you.” Mr. Deddub begged for me to go.
“Come with us.” Arsan beckoned to the kind hearted sailor who helped save him.
“I would only slow you down. Please Miss, you must…” His words cut off suddenly. The look in his eye was something I had never seen before. It was of shock and disbelief. Then it turned into pain before there was nothing in his eye at all. They were dead. His body fell to the ground, lifeless in front of me with an arrow in his back.
I stared in horror. My legs wouldn’t move. My mouth wouldn’t speak. I just stood there attempting to say something, anything to help my mind rationalize my thoughts that were in shock. Arsan pulled on my hand getting me to move. “We have to go.”
Footsteps crunched through the underbrush nearby, coming closer with every step. We ran without looking back, trying to forget the life just lost. The dark air of the forest pulled at my limbs and hindered my sight. These trees were unfamiliar to me. I had no plan as to where we were going, but I knew we had to get away.
I heard the whizzing of an arrow, then the thud of its jagged head as it plunged into a nearby tree. It was lit, setting the tree ablaze. The light illuminated our path, but only for a split second before we changed course and plunged back into darkness again. I knew they weren’t shooting arrows at us, but Deddub’s lifeless eyes still haunted me. The terror of dying drove my tired limbs onward, begging for safety.
Another flaming arrow lit our path. The tree just to my left went up in flames in an instant. I jumped out of the way of a falling branch that was severed by another arrow head to my right. Would they ever stop pursuing me? I knew the answer. It was no. Farenan would never stop looking for me, even if he was the last man alive.
I heard an odd whipping sound sailing through the air behind me, followed by the snapping of branches and twigs. My heart raced with the fear of what was gaining on us. My hand automatically reached for Arsan’s, weaving my fingers into his as we ran. Somehow, his touch made me feel calmer.
Something caught my feet and sent me skidding across the forest floor. I lost sight of Arsan in the dark as I struggled to free myself. It was no good. A cord was wound tightly around both my ankles, holding them together so I couldn’t move.
“Tabri!” I could hear Arsan somewhere in the distant darkness, calling to me, trying his hardest to find me.
When another arrow lit a tree on fire nearby I knew it was too late. Arsan needed to run. Get as far away from this place as he could. It was the only way to save him from Farenan who would surly kill him.
Red coats immerged from the darkness, rushing forward to subdue my struggle. My hands fumbled at the rope around my ankles, trying desperately one last time to free myself and escape. Their hands grabbed mine, forcing them together and tying them with another rope. I rolled on to my stomach facing the shadows and screamed. “Run!”
Somehow, if Arsan was able to escape, he could come back for me.
Farenan’s men were cruel, laughing at any sound of pain that escaped my lips. They dragged my bound body across the forest floor. Every downed branch and rock that lay on the ground became my personal torture devises. I could feel the bruises forming on my shoulders and back every time they contacted with a hard surface.
The warmth from my magic was spreading up my arm, attempting to repair the damage that was being done, but no amount of help was going to right this quick enough. I could feel the strength from the ancient magic filling my veins, willing me to fight back, but why? What good would it do? Even if I was able to free my hands and feet, how many men would I be able to render unconscious before I was overcome by pure numbers? And how many more men did Farenan have hidden in the dark forest? I would only make things worse for myself. The only chance I had of escape was to stay calm and wait for help. Wait for Arsan.
My head smashed into the ground again as I was dragged further from my capture point. It seemed like the trip back to the burning hull of the Stallings took hours. I couldn’t remember running for that long, but my memories were clouded from the traumatic events of the night. Who knew how much time had passed.
The small clearing the ship had made was brightly lit by the burning wreckage. I could see some of the ship’s crew on their knees in a line nearby, with their backs to the Stallings. Decker was with them, his nose bloody and broken.
“Take that cuff off her wrist.” A figure came out of the darkness and stood over me. It must be Farenan. His straight black hair and sharp features cast shadows across his face in the fire light. I was shocked at how young and handsome he was. His smirk looked sadistic, evil. “It has powerful magic and I want to study it.”
He bent down close to my face. His proximity made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t shy away. He watched me as his men ripped the cuff from my arm and handed it to him. He placed it in his breast pocket.
“So, you are Tabri. You are as beautiful as I’ve been told. I will have to keep you for myself. You haven’t been spoiled? Have you? I was beginning to worry this ship’s captain had hurt you and I would never get to meet you.” Farenan’s hand slipped over my cheek and down my neck. I shivered at his touch.
Anger burned behind Farenan’s piercing eyes, his breathing quickened in his chest when he turned to the soldiers. “We had a deal, Decker. Bring the girl to me and you would be richly rewarded. What made you think you could take her for yourself?”
The venom that spat from his mouth made my heart jump. Farenan was angry and Decker was the target. The captain looked shaken when he spoke. “I… I was bringing her here to you. I thought that it would save you time if I brought her all the way north.”
The words that slipped from Decker’s mouth were lies and I knew it. I’m sure everyone knew it. Decker wanted me for himself. He wanted the power he thought I had. I don’t know how he figured to get away with it when Farenan was involved, but he was dumb enough to try.
“I’ve had enough of your insolence.” Farenan shouted. “Bring that bastard Captain Decker to me. It’s about time he learned who has the power and who is just my pawn.”
Two red coats jumped at their leader’s orders with a singleness of purpose they had drilled into their minds. Quickly, they pulled Decker to his feet, with much protest, and half dragged, half carried him to Farenan.
“Kneel before me, pig.” There was a look in Farenan’s eyes that scared me. It was one of pure sinister rage. He liked making people squirm and that’s what he planned on doing to Decker.
The Captain laughed and spit a bloody ball of saliva on the ground at Farenan’s feet. “Make me, dog.”
The red coats didn’t need a verbal order to know what their commander wanted. It only took the look in Farenan’s eyes to send Decker to the ground with a club to his knee. He fell down hard. A cry of agony escaped his lips.
“You were told to kneel before me, Decker.” Farenan loomed over the captain with a sadistic smile on his face. “This would have been much easier, if you had just done what you were told. Now I am forced to teach you a lesson, and we both know how messy that can be.”
I didn’t want to watch Farenan hurt Decker, but I had no choice. Still, it was against my nature to hurt anyone. My mind begged me to stop the violence, but blow after painful blow landed on Decker’s bloodied face and I did nothing to stop it.