You can find Chapters 1-5 in the tab up top, Aiden’s War – http://jm-harrison.com/aidens-war
Chapter Six – A race south
The tracks hugged the wood-line south. Numerous horse hooves, too many to distinguish their exact number, left sharp imprints in the soft ground. It had only just rained a few days ago and in the shade of the forest, the ground hadn’t dried yet.
Aiden raced on. Setting his pace at a little more than an easy jog. He would run until he couldn’t see the soft marks anymore when night came. The rill ran not too far off on his right. There were reeds and dried grasses. He could make a torch without too much difficulty. He had flint to strike a spark. Even without a torch, his night sight was almost as sharp as in daylight. They would stop, he felt sure. He would not.
He ran and didn’t pause or even slow, except a few times when he found the track running along the rill. He paused to drink, maybe as they had paused to water the horses, before he went on. He ignored the growing pain in his legs, the sweat that soon sheathed his body and dampened his clothes. He kept his breath as even as he could and kept going even after it felt like his lungs might burst.
The day started to dwindle as evening settled over the land and cast lengthening shadows into the wood. Overhead, a swoop and chitter of birds flew along with him. He realized he couldn’t hear them over the noise of him gasping for air. He pounded to a halt and leaned on his knees. That didn’t last as the ground caught him as he fell. Black spots swam before his eyes. His heart pounded in his chest, but he dragged to his feet and started walking. He forced slow, measured gasps of air in and out in an attempt to recover his senses.
He became aware of the sound of hooves striking the ground some distance behind him and off to his left. Someone was riding at the tree line, more than one it sounded like, coming on fairly fast. The trees were thin where he was now, few and not one of them large enough to hide behind. He had to find cover quickly. The bank of the rill was the only alternative. He grabbed a protruding root and slid down the muddy sides and stopped just shy of the water’s edge, trying hard to catch his breath. He needed to know who was following him and pulled himself up to peer over a clump of reeds.
He couldn’t believe it when he saw her, the flaming red hair leaving no doubt that his sister had come after him. Aiden turned around, his back pressed into the embankment, swearing as he stared at the sky in disbelief. He saw at a glance that she had both horses and had to wonder how she’d gotten off the farm with them.
He swore under his breath again. She was nearly abreast of his hiding place and would ride right by him if he let her. For a moment, he thought he should. Surely, after a day of not finding him, she’d give up. The risk that she might catch up to Jaelith’s captors and end up in trouble herself put a quick stop to that thought. He was still swearing when he called her name.
She pulled to a stop, reining her mount down by turning him in a tight circle. The animal danced around the other as she searched the wood. Her eyes closed in relief when she saw him.
“I can’t believe you!”
“Did you really think—”
“You’re not coming with me,” he said, grabbing Flash’s rein from her. “You can’t. It’s too dangerous. Mother and Father need you at home.”
“I talked to Father. He wanted me to—”
“I’m not going back,” Aiden said.
“Neither am I,” Krysta said and wouldn’t listen to reason from that moment forward.
Nothing his said changed her mind. The passage of the day beat against his thoughts. The delay she was causing him was infuriating. The longer he stood there arguing with her, the larger the gap grew between he and those he pursued. There wasn’t anything to do for it except go on. She wouldn’t go home. He couldn’t leave her. He pulled himself up onto Flash and with Krysta beside him, set off after the trail.
He made better time riding. The tracks in the soft ground soon showed signs of more recent passage, but still Jaelith’s kidnappers remained ahead of him. Hours later, light left the sky. With the horses, it wasn’t possible to keep going and Aiden resented it, even though he had to admit that he couldn’t see the tracks left by the troop. If he kept going, he could miss it if they turned. He told himself that they had the same restrictions of movement. Their horses would tire and need the same rest. Not that a pack of men capable of kidnapping an innocent woman would care so much.
A cold knot of dread centered in his chest over the choice he had to make. He reined to a halt, thinking over his options while Krysta drew up beside him. She started looking around the area, dense forest surrounded them with cutting rocks strewn across the forest floor. Bramble weeds covered everything else. This wouldn’t make a comfortable campsite.
Or a safe one, Aiden thought, nodding to his sister. He turned his horse for the bank of the rill, careful to guide the animal across hard packed ground less likely to take marks. He didn’t want to be found. They crossed the rill and backtracked to a clearing where the horses could eat grass. Aiden strung a rope around the trees, making a pen. Before it was fully dark, they had the camp set and the horses tended.
Krysta solved another problem by pulling from her pack a ration of dried meat, along with a few carrots from the garden. None of it needed flame to be eaten, which was good, since Aiden didn’t intend to start a fire. They ate in silence. He was too preoccupied with what tomorrow might bring and too terrified of what Jaelith might be enduring at the hands of her captors.
“We’ll find her,” Krysta said.
He turned and saw through the dark the glint of her eyes as she watched him. She leaned against her saddle, one arm under her head. He wanted to believe her. “Why would anyone even take her?”
Krysta pulled in a breath as if to answer, but she looked away and shook her head, making him think for a moment that she knew something. “They probably mean to sell her.”
That was a common enough occurrence, as horrible as it was. That was the way of the world, but he didn’t think it was so in this case, even when he had nothing more than instinct to tell him differently. He supposed it didn’t matter why.
“Get some sleep,” he said. “As soon as it’s light, we’re moving.”
“You should do the same.”
“I will. In a little while.”
She didn’t answer to that and it was too dark to see anymore. Silence deepened. Even the night sounds of the forest were strangely quiet. There was on the air the sense of a predator nearby, but the only danger that revealed itself was time and the pressing dark.
Like what you’ve read so far? Please let me know what you think. I love hearing from readers!