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Aiden’s War, Chapter Six – A Race South

You can find Chapters 1-5 in the tab up top, Aiden’s 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.


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Aiden’s War, Chapter Five – Krysta’s Choice

You can find Chapters 1-4 in the tab up top, Aiden’s War –

Chapter Five – Krysta’s choice

Her father saw her and knew something was wrong by the tears left glistening on her face. She tried to rub them away, but belatedly, and then it was too late. There was another man with him in the barn, her supposed suitor, and her voice caught in her throat.

He wasn’t so horrible looking, not as awful as she imagined someone of thirty some years would look. He had brown hair cut short, a plain face that was broader above his eyes than below, a narrow nose, but a firm, square jaw and even a pleasant smile. He wasn’t the monster she expected. His eyes, also brown, took in her appearance with one sweep. She bristled at the appraisal, even though it seemed he approved.

He lowered his gaze then and stood back, allowing her father to get the answers she knew he wouldn’t be able to bear. She still couldn’t believe it was happening. All that came out in her voice as she explained, trembling and cracking from the strain to not start crying again. She was the eldest now, for it was certain that all her brothers were gone, if not dead already.

“He went after her?” Bruin said in a voice filled with confusion and disbelief.

He pondered the massive shift of reality for hardly more than a moment, but it was too long for Krysta to stand still. She moved to the stall where Flash and Dancer were housed and got first one out and then the other.


“I’m going after him,” she said in a tone of voice her father was unaccustomed to hearing. Her suitor smiled.

“You most certainly are—” Bruin said, but Krysta cut him off.

“I am, and you can’t stop me—”

“Don’t take that tone—”

“…unless you mean to lock me in a cell and in which case, I’ll escape and never come back. Father! I’m going after him. He doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know because you’ve waited too long to tell him. He’s out there now and the moment he turns twenty you know what will happen. Everything we’ve ever known about him will start and he won’t know, so someone has to be there. I’m going after him.”

“Stop talking, girl,” Bruin said sharply, his teeth clenched so she wondered if they might crumble under the pressure. “You’ve no idea what you’re getting yourself into. We made commitments.”

“And I’ll keep them…once I’m back,” she said and turned to the man who was quietly watching them. “If you don’t give my family any difficulty, when I come back, I’ll go with you.”

The dread of those words filled her throat, locking her voice off. She pulled in a breath and tried to look un-terrified. He seemed mildly amused.

“Where are your children?” she asked when her voice came back.

He smiled and gestured toward the house. “I brought the whole unruly brood with me, to see if you could handle them, which I can see already you won’t have any difficulty with.”

“Do you have boys?”

“Four of them.”

“And the oldest?” she asked, glancing at her father. He was listening now.

“He’ll turn fifteen in a few days. The one after is fourteen.”

“Leave them here,” she said, and moved to tack-up the horses. Her father didn’t move to stop her.

“And the youngest,” he asked. “Other than the baby?”

“The youngest boy is 5”

“You’ve a wet nurse for the child?”

“Yes, but she won’t stay more than another month.” The man’s face scrunched in consternation. “You want them all?”

“If you’ll leave here without causing my family a problem,” Krysta said. “They’ll care for your children while I’m gone.”

“And in the mean time,” Bruin said, “if you find yourself another wife, I’ll release you from the contract, no questions or difficulties from us.”

The man couldn’t quite believe it, but when Bruin held out his hand to shake on the deal, he didn’t hesitate to take it. He seemed the kind of man who didn’t especially care about his own kin. They were a burden to him, one he meant to slough off on Krysta the moment he could. She wondered, if they gave him leave to go, if he’d ever come back. The burden for her family, for her father really, had just grown five-fold. But he saw like she did, that the older boys could be helpful and maybe, just maybe they’d grow and learn some skills and be grateful for the change in their life. She wouldn’t be around to find out. Continue reading

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Aiden’s War, Chapter Four – Taken

You can find Chapter’s 1-4 in the tab above – Aiden’s 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. Continue reading

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