Aiden’s War, Chapter Four – Taken

You can find Chapter’s 1-4 in the tab above – Aiden’s war – http://jm-harrison.com/aidens-war

 

Chapter Four – Taken

He charged the hilltop, cresting it in time to see her dragged across the back of an armored warhorse, lain across the saddle horn like a sack of wheat. For a heart stopping instant, Aiden thought she was dead, but he saw her fighting against the man who held her.

He was cloaked and hooded and the others with him were the same. Aiden counted six of them in the moment he had before Krysta dragged him to the ground.

“What are you doing? Let go!”

“Don’t let them see you,” she hissed in his ear.

“They’re taking her!”

“And you can’t stop them. They have bows. They’ll shoot you down if you try. You’re not even armed. They’re soldiers, Aiden.”

He jerked away from her, rolling to stand, but listened to her and stayed crouched down. He looked over the lip of the hill again and through the trees saw Jaelith, still clutched in the arms of a man, upright now, pressed into his chest, engulfed by thick, brutish arms that she stood no chance of escaping. Aiden dashed along the top of the hill, bent almost double to keep them in sight as the troop prepared to move. When he next looked, the horses were gathered and starting off along the waterside track. Just before they wheeled away, cutting into the wood, Jaelith looked back, white hair streaming around her face. She looked to the hill and saw Aiden, the fear in her face striking him cold.

And then she was gone. Taken just that fast. The horses pounded away, up over the hill on the opposite side of the rill. The sound of their passage dwindled. The moment they were out of sight, he leapt down the hill, almost falling he ran so fast. Krysta raced down beside him, calling to him to stop in a voice just above a whisper.

She grabbed him when he reached the tree line, before he could take the track by the water to the fallen tree where he meant to cross the rill and follow. “You can’t go after her. You’ll never catch them.”

Aiden turned on her and threw her off hard enough that it knocked her down. “I am going after her.”

“You can’t leave us!” she screamed, louder than she meant to. When he stopped and turned to her, hearing in her voice the edge of desperation, he knew she felt he was turning his back on his family.

The hard truth came in. He was. He’d only just told her that he would fix the nightmare her life was about to become, and now he was walking out on her. On them all. He was the only son. That reality bolted him to the ground and held him fast.

“Krysta, I love her. How can I—” He looked at the empty wood in the wake of the soldiers’ departure, feeling the silence enter his soul. “I can’t leave her to them.”

“But you can leave me, leave your family just the way Calen and Forb did? How do you think we’re going to manage without you? They’re sending me off tomorrow with a stranger. How are Mother and Father going to manage without you here? You can’t go after her.”

He nodded when he didn’t want to. He couldn’t accept either choice, frantically trying to sort out how to do both. He couldn’t. He would have to choose.

“Go back home,” he said finally, knowing he would regret for the rest of his life if he stayed and did nothing. He thought then he would regret it either way. “Get word to the Village Marshall that Jaelith has been taken. Tell them, Krysta. Tell Mother and Father I’m sorry. They won’t send you away now. You’re the only one who can hunt. Take my bow. I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

He turned from her and started down the track beside the rill. He didn’t look back. He didn’t tell her goodbye and felt his eyes sting from fear that he would never see her again. She didn’t try to stop him, but the last thing he heard from her was her tears as she wept.

He crossed the fallen tree. The basket was set on the ground, full of the blooms she could reach without climbing. Aiden paused as he jumped down, pushing down the flare of anger and desperation that sought to fill his mind. The day was supposed to have been so different. He didn’t understand why she had been taken like this. What was the purpose behind it? What possible reason could there be?

The answers that came back left him cold and certain he had to keep going. Jaelith was a woman and they meant to use her, maybe sell her into slavery when they’d had their fill of her. They were soldiers, their territory and allegiance unknown except that they weren’t from here. Avenden soldiers wore the green and brown uniform to match the standard that flew from the Rothrin estate on the big hill in town. The soldiers he saw might not have any honor in their veins.

He picked up a few of the blooms she had set with such care, smelling the delicate fragrance. He wore a small pack that he kept odds in, things he found that might be useful, some string, a needle, a feather, some pieces of shale to make an arrow with. He put a couple of the blooms into the pack after wrapping them in a spare piece of leather.

The ground around the tree was marred with hoof prints, the heavy mark of shod animals, more signs of the accoutrement of war. They led off from the rill, heading south.

Aiden searched the area, stilling his impatience to start after them, to look for any sign of who they might be or their true number. He found another mystery instead. A dead man lay some fifty paces from the rill, his sword drawn and bloodied, wearing the uniform of the territory guard, the green and brown. The Rothrin emblem stood out, a winged leaf, stitched into the uniform collar. The tree the leave came from, an Alder, no longer grew, extinct from some calamity from a hundred years prior, but the wood from it remained in some of the very old homes of Avenden.

He didn’t know what a guard was doing here to end up being killed by Jaelith’s kidnappers. Of course it was his duty to stop such a thing from happening. Maybe it was a coincidence. Aiden didn’t have an answer and couldn’t get one from the dead man. He hesitated a moment longer, looking after the track of hooves. Time wouldn’t wait, or allow him to properly tend to the burial of this man. That would be a task for others. Aiden took the man’s sword and the belt he wore with the sheath. He had arm bracers as well, but no bow or arrows. Aiden wasn’t trained at all in the art except for child’s play with wooden sticks and his older brothers chancing him around. They almost never caught him.

He took the weapon and the man’s purse, that had a good bit of silver in it, reasoning that the dead didn’t need that coin as much as the living and in Aiden’s case, might be necessary if he had any hope of succeeding. There might be supplies he had to buy.

“You failed of your purpose, sir,” he told the corpse, “but with a little luck and a little help, maybe I won’t fail of mine. I take this charge in your stead. May your soul rest with that knowledge. I will find her and I will bring her back home.”

The dead man didn’t answer. Aiden turned, his gaze tracking after the marks in the ground. He sprang away as if he were a galloping horse himself and began the long race.

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