Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chapter Six

  We continued to ride for hours, I don't know how long exactly, but it was until my whole arm ached and my stomach roared. When we did stop, Peter and Michael were huffing. "I thought you were never gonna stop," Michael laughed. I smiled at him, but flinched when a branch grazed my injured arms. "That looks bad," he added.
  "We'll rest for a while, then continue on," I said, looking for a place where a fire wouldn't burn the forest down. "Over there." I nodded towards a small clearing, bare except for some dead wood and dying flowers. My arm screamed in pain when I hopped off of King and I squeezed my eyes tight as dizziness swooped over me. When I opened them again, I was relieved to see that the ground stayed still.
  "Ariana, we're going to go hunt down some lunch, you stay here. Okay?" I narrowed my eyes to slits at Michael.
  "You think I can't hunt because I'm a girl?" I challenged him. His eyes widened and he quickly shook his head.
  "No! I mean... It's just that... I just meant that you should stay here because-" he sputtered.
  "It's because you're hurt, Ariana. You have to save your strength if you're even thinking about riding for the rest of the day," Peter explained, shooting a look at the floundering Michael. "Plus, how are we supposed to finish the mission if our leader is worn out from hunting when she should have been regaining her strength?" I felt really stupid for overreacting.
  "Oh," I said lamely. Peter smiled at me and pulled his blanket out of his saddlebag. 
  "Lay down, we'll be right back." He handed me the blanket and started back into the shadows. I did as he had instructed and spread it out, untying my cloak and using it as a cover while I drifted into an uneasy sleep. My arm sent stabs of pain through  me and I woke up before I'd even got a minute's worth of rest. I knew sleep would not come as long as I felt like I did; like I was being watched. Grimacing, I stood and wrapped my hand with the spare rags we had brought. Bushes rustled, to big to be a deer or anything else I could fight off in my weakened state, but too small to be a bear. 
  Alarms went off in my head and I hurried with my swollen arm, then mounted King, strapping the sheath on and tying my robe again. Something moved again and I squeezed my thighs, urging King forward towards the forest. "Peter! Michael!" I called, hoping it was them who answered and not some unseen force. But there was no reply, I had no idea what part of the forest they were in, or how far they had traveled away from camp. I wasn't sure if I was comfortable going out on my own while I was injured and not sure of my friends' location. But if there was something or someone stalking me, I needed to move. Preferably fast.
  King melded with the darkness and the rustling stopped, out jumping a man whose face was covered with red tattoos. He hollered and more men jumped out, all of them carrying swords. They had to be the Huntsmen of Galelie, and they were probably due for a sacrifice. Which just happened to fit the same profile as me. Great.
  I looked behind me and in doing so, missed seeing the branch surge up in front of me and knock me down. They gained some ground before I could catch my breath and start running, but not enough to capture me. At least not without some magic.
  I guess I should have thought about the color of my robes before; wearing white during the season filled with vibrant colors and a silver cloak probably wasn't my best idea. But it was the dress easiest to move in, the lightest one I had. Plus it had a hood too, so I could cover my head even when I could not wear my cloak. But still I knew I could get away from the Huntsmen of Galelie if I could just get out of sight for a few moments. Or, if I could find Peter and Michael we could fight them. It didn't matter; I didn't have time to do either, because I had found my way to a cliff. A steep cliff, with jagged rocks like a cougars teeth at the bottom. There was no way I'd survive the fall or the trip down if I dared to try one or the other. Even I wasn't crazy enough to do that.
  They moved stealthily closer, moving slowly as if not wanting me to get scared enough to jump. I brought out the sword and they shrunk back ever so slightly, then proceeded in coming closer. "Stay back, or you'll die right here, right now, by my hands," I warned, my voice strained from trying to breath around the pain from running, getting smacked by a branch, and falling once more on my injured arm. They laughed, a jovial but dangerous sound. 
  "You do not truly believe you could harm us, do you, girl?" The one who spoke laughed again. I laughed at them, but it was a hollow sound.
  "Do you not believe in miracles?" I countered. "And do you think the only reason I can't fight is because I'm a girl? Or are you just being cocky?" He smiled again and I saw that he was only a year or two older than me.
  "Maybe I believe both. Or perhaps I just don't think you could harm us. And yes, I am quite cocky, but I have a good reason to be." I rolled my eyes at him as I stood up, looking utterly relaxed.
  "Then fight me, one on one. I win, I go. You win, well I doubt that'll happen, but if you win I stay." He grinned. 
  "Shake on it, I want your word." He took my offered hand and I pulled him closer. "But just know this; I won't be good. I'll fight back, kick, scream and do just about anything I can to get away. And you should know that I will get away." He smirked.
  "We'll see about that." And the fight began.

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