A Man Under Red Shadows
We slip across like the dead after burial.
We know not how tomorrow will greet us.
With my leg numbed from the salve, the man steps out to collect his daughter’s belongings and to explain and say his goodbyes. His daughter walks out, head cast down, tears on her face, and small luggage in hand. As Lukas helps me to get on my feet, I hear the girl’s quiet pleadings with her father and it sends a twinge through my heart, but something her father says catches my attention.“I want to stay here, with you. Please don’t make me go, papa. Please!” She says hushedly.
“As much as I don’t want it to be so, you must. They can get you far away from this wretched place. Somewhere where you can have a better chance for life. That’s what I want for you most.” Her father replies.
“No.” His face softens and he takes her in his arms and presses a loving kiss to her forehead. “I love you. Always know that. I will always always love you.”
“I will always love you too, papa.”
There’s silence for a moment, then, “I trust them well enough. The young man seems to know what he’s doing and I trust that he will take care of you as best he can.”
“And the girl, what of her?”
Her father pauses as he takes a sneaks a peek at me. “I don’t know as much. I do not think she will cause any trouble or danger, but something about her is unnatural. Be weary and be careful, she is a hard one to read.” His daughter nods and glances my way before giving her father one last embrace and walking towards us. I try to smile comfortingly at her, but even though she smiles back, I catch her hesitance and watch as she goes to stand on the other side of Lukas, away from me.
Somehow I am not surprised, but it causes something inside me to falter. This is my first time being outside of the castle walls, my first time experiencing the world, and already I was failing to make it well.
We rest beneath a weeping willow, the two horses given to us before we left tied to the tree. The noonday sun floats high above our heads, but the surrounding trees keep us in their cracked shield of shade. I sit with my back against the tree trunk, knees pressed against my chest, eyes out on the distance. So much has happened in a short amount of time and it feels unreal, like a dream or hallucination. I had never imagined that I would ever escape, that I would ever know how it feels to be free. But now that freedom has come to me, I don’t know what to do.
I push away my thoughts as they are too conflicting to focus on, and instead turn my attention to Aylyn. It had taken her a while to warm up to us and speak, and when she did, she told us little. Only her name. She’s a doll like girl with long midnight hair adorned with little braids, and hands that are calloused from her work. She is quick and graceful like a nightingale, and her petite upturned nose and caramel eyes are something to be admired.
While it may seem nearly impossible, I’ve never really seen my reflection. Mirrors were very sparse in the castle, but I’ve caught glimpses of myself while polishing the silver, however, the image is always distorted. At the thought, I cringe. I know that I probably look grimy and broken, but there’s nothing much to be done until we reach safety. Standing, I go to pick an apple from the bag, my stomach rumbling from hunger, and take a bite, rejoicing at its bitter sweetness. As I eat, I catch the muffled sounds of laughter from somewhere to my left. Aylyn is laughing at something Lukas said.
With a sigh, I lean up against the tree and savor the apple for as long as I can. Before long, Lukas approaches, sweeping off his cloak. “I think we could make it a few more miles before dusk begins to fall. By then we should be close enough to the border.” He says, beginning to pack our small belongings away. I just give a silent nod and toss my apple core.
Aylyn, catching sight of me, silences her giggling and promptly loses her smile. I send her a timid smile, hoping to soften her opinion of me, but instead of regarding it, she turns and is helped up onto Lukas’s horse, leaving me to stay solitarily behind them on the other horse.
Before we ride off, I take a moment to glance at the sky. In the distance, I see smoky clouds beginning to gather, warning of rain for the evening.
The rain finds us early and forces us to seek shelter for the evening, our drenched clothes doing nothing to keep us comforted. Settling into a small cave at the side of a hill, we do our best to keep warm, the small fire we pulled together flickering with the wind. I watch with some amount of wonder at the rain. Something so simple and life giving, yet so dangerous and deadly, it amazes me how nature works. Closing my eyes, I try to absorb it all. The scent of the fresh rain on the grass, the sound of it falling.
“Sleeping?” His voice breaks through my internal silence.
“No. Not yet at least.” Glancing sidelong at him, I realize that Aylyn has fallen sound asleep, her dark hair in an unkempt braid down her back.
“You don’t say much, do you.”
I shrug. “I suppose I’m just used to speaking when spoken to, which really wasn’t often.”
Lukas is quiet for a moment before speaking again. “If I may ask, how did you come to find yourself there?” At my hesitance, his eyes slip over to me, and something about the sincerity in his deep, aegean eyes causes my untold story to fall from my lips.
“I don’t remember much about how it all started, but I remember my village going up in crimson, the sudden hollowness that overwhelmed my family.” I breath in, strengthening myself for the painful memories chiseled into my mind. “Not long after, family by family, she took them to her castle. Some returned just fine, but were too terrified to ever speak about their experience. So when her soldiers streamed into our shack of a house, we were completely unprepared. She spoke cleverly, feeding petty promises to our broken hearted father before taking us away from all we had known. The last thing I remember, was hearing the sickening sound of his life hitting the floor with a thud. I've been in her service ever since. That’s all I remember, it’s all I know, and it’s all I’ve had.”
A heavy quiet tugs at the corners of our shelter, threatening to turn the once wonderful rain into a storm of smoky red shadows that prick our skin with its mist.ns 184.108.40.206da2