As you may have gathered from my replies to several comments, I was almost panicking at the amount of no-idea-ness that was in my head for option one:
Yeah...I don't often do that many capital letters in a row...
But, since I'm actually doing a post today, you can safely assume that I thought up something reasonable, and didn't die with splitting my head open on the desk. (I didn't even have to get rushed to hospital as there was some reviving pizza handy.) (Actually it was reasonably good after I worked out what was going to happen.)
The hermit laughed. “Sure an’ go ahead. I’ve got a couple of fugitives in the back o’ this cart.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, the hermit was meant to be a friend! And now he was giving us away?
The soldiers’ horses snorted and pawed the ground restlessly, and the soldiers seemed unsure what to say.
“But first, is the market open t’day?” the hermit asked in a conversational tone.
I racked my brains, trying to think of some way out. If I could just get out somehow then maybe the others could get away while the men were chasing me. Except they’d probably catch me, and that was the last thing I wanted.
But what other option did we have?
On the other side of the cart the soldiers continued to converse with the hermit, I moved my arm slowly to the edge of the wagon. My fingers curled around the rim and I shifted my body closer. No warning came from the soldiers.
A hand gripped m ankle, Maree’s dark eyes met mine. She shook her head frantically, but I pulled my foot away. It was the only way. I pulled back the cover slightly, peering out.
“Ye know, I’ve gotten quite a likin’ to these here donkeys, named ‘em both, and even taught ‘em some tricks,” the hermit was saying.
He whistled sharply in a series of high and low notes. The donkeys leapt straight up in the air, legs flailing madly. The cart jolted wildly and I lurched forward. On the spur of the moment I flung myself out of the cart, hoping against hope that the soldiers would be busy watching the donkeys as they came to earth.
I landed on the ground in an ungraceful heap, freezing in place instantly.
“What was that for?” one soldier bellowed. “You could’ve killed us!”
“Nah, me donkeys are far too wise for that sort of thing, they know the penalty for harassing soldiers is certain death,” the hermit said.
I closed my eyes, already wishing I’d stayed in the cart. In a moment the soldiers would remember their duty and search the cart, and then Maree and Jack’d be caught, and who knows what would happen to Leonora and Eumin. I had to move, and it was now or never.
I crawled away from the cart, lying as low to the ground as I could. From behind I heard the dreaded words. “We’ve got to search your cart anyway. It’s orders.”
I stood up. The soldiers had dismounted and were moving toward the skins, one had started to lift the corner. “Watch out! Soldiers!” I yelled, and as their heads snapped up, I turned and ran.
“It’s the fugitive!”
I sprinted down the street, trying to get my bearings. The thudding footsteps and yells of the soldiers spurred my legs ever faster. In the surprise of seeing me they’d forgotten to remount their horses and where chasing me on foot, one up for me, but they were still faster, and gained on me steadily.
My heart pounded as fast as my legs and I skidded around a corner, ducking into a side alley. I burst through the door of a house, dodging around the shocked owners, and squeezed out the tiny back window into another alley. The soldiers would have to find a different way out and any delay would do me good.
Entering a main street, I slowed my pace, looking around for the first time. People were on their way to the markets or back from them having made an early start. In a moment the peace was interrupted by the appearance of the soldiers, they spotted me again, and resumed their yells. I ran forward, the crowd clearing a way.
Surprised and curious stares followed me, but I felt no hostility. In fact, the people moved unobtrusively to block the soldiers. I dashed out of the open street and down another side road.
The soldiers were close behind, and wound my way deeper still into the complex of the town’s back streets and alleys. I shouldered open a door to an old looking building, closing it behind me. The soldiers would catch me soon, I couldn’t keep running for very much longer.
I turned to find a startled old man looking at me. “Sorry, don’t tell the soldiers,” I gasped. I’d hoped that the house was abandoned. Footsteps thundered closer.
“Is there anywhere t’ hide in here?” I asked. “Any other way out?”
The man shook his head silently.
I looked around in an agony of despair. The cold fireplace caught my eye, in a moment I was beside it, peering up into the sooty depths.
“We’ll check the houses!” The yell was all that stopped me from changing my mind then and there. I scrambled up into the chimney. To my relief I found a ledge on which I could stand. In the room beneath, the door burst open.
“You there! Did a girl come it here?”
Silence greeted the question and I covered my mouth with a shaking hand, stifling the strong need to cough. The darkness seemed to press in on me, closing around me. My breath came tight in my chest.
“Alright then, we’ll look in the others,” another voice spoke.
The door slammed shut.
I dropped down, stumbling into the clear. I gasped for air, looking to the old man in gratitude. He was staring at me with the same surprise on his face as before.
“Thanks,” I said.
He shook his head. “You go find some’ere safe t’ hide,” he said.
“Granda? What’s go’n’ oon?” a young girl poked her head around a door.
“Don’t worry, m’ girl,” the old man said, patting her hair idly. He turned back to me, “You’d best leave now afore them men come back.”
I nodded, and opened the door carefully, peeking out. The door of a nearby house banged, and I caught the glimpse of one of the men. I crept out into the alley, slipping down another narrow gap.
I started when I came face to face with a boy of around fourteen. He jerked back, his light hair falling into his eyes, and then flattened himself to one wall so I could pass.
I nodded a greeting and continued on, glancing back once. The boy had disappeared.
I had become dreadfully lost among the labyrinth of streets and alleys, and now I wandered around in confusion. I decided to head uphill, that way I’d at least have some aim.
My legs ached and now the adrenaline had faded I realised how tired I was. It was with feet dragging that I emerged into a bright sunlit area crowded with people. I looked up in surprise. Before my gaze had been on the ground, and I hadn’t noticed the wide street ahead.
Stalls and tables were set up around the place and...there, right in the middle, was the hermit in his cart. I ran forward, forgetting my weariness. The hermit turned quickly in his seat when I jumped up. “Yer alright!” he cried joyfully. “My, your friends were ready t’ kill me, but now they’ll ‘ave no excuse, though I think they’ll still want to.”
I remembered his words at the edge of the town. “Why did you say that?” I asked, suddenly angry.
“I can’t lie, girl, I’ve taken m’ vows and shan’t break ‘em for even the likes o’ you,” he said kindly.
He drove from the market quickly, commanding me to keep down until we were safely away, lest someone recognise me. We rumbled along the streets until the donkeys drew to a stop in front of a house.
The hermit ushered me inside. Closing the door he led me along a long hallway and into a dark room. “Don’t worry, ‘tis just me an’ yer straying friend,” he said before entering.
Maree stepped out from beside the door, sheathing a knife. “Looise! Ye’re okay?” her face broke into a crooked smile, grasping my hand in a death grip.
I smiled back, entering the darkened room. “So, this is our quarters for the rest of the day?”
Maree nodded, gesturing to the wall along which everyone else was sitting. “Take a seet an’ ye can teell us what ‘appened.”
The hermit rubbed his hands together. “I’ve got to get back. You’ll have enough food for a couple of days at least, and ye’ve got the horses from them kind soldiers that’ll help ye git wherever y’re goin’ faster.” He turned to the hall, “I wish ye all luck.” Then he disappeared.
His footsteps scraped down the hall and the door opened and then shut. Jack sighed softly, and everyone relaxed just that little bit.
A few seconds later the door opened again.
1. “I forgot to tell you somethin’.” The hermit’s voice rang down the hall.
2. The even steps of marching soldiers came through the door, it sounded like there were dozens of them.
3. The door closed again. Silence.
Phew! I actually worked out what was going to happen! It's always nice when that happens. Hope you enjoyed it. :)
Fare Thee Well!