Arthur Dallas Elden, You are destined for great things.”
Faced with the death of his father, a shocking discovery, and a war at the heart of his homeland of Elismire, seventeen year old Arthur Dallas Elden sets out, putting the comforts of his mountain home behind him, and joins in a struggle for freedom, a war that will change the lives of all men, and seal the fate of Elismire, forever.
She allowed herself one quick glance at the small babe. A smile flashed briefly at the glimpse of a tiny fist clutching the edge of the blanket.
The young woman’s gaze returned to the edge of the forest, so near now, and she set one foot in front of the other. Her lungs burned with exertion and the blood pounded in her ears.
The thud of hooves grew louder now. Her pursuers had found her, it wouldn’t be long before they caught up. The cover of the forest was her only chance of escape. One foot in front of the other. Her heart beating hard and fast. The pounding in her ears grew louder still, blocking out every other sound.
The seconds slid by, slow and blurred. The forest was the only object in her line of sight, and it grew nearer and nearer until at last she reached the first tree. Her knuckles grazed the rough bark as she passed it. Another tree loomed up next to her and then another and another. The light grew dimmer, filtering through the canopy of trees.
Another arrow found its mark in the tree next to her. The horsemen were close now; she only had seconds to get away. She had practiced her route many times in her mind. She knew the woods, and she knew the easiest way to the meeting place. Every step was mapped out in her mind. From here on it was simply a matter of time. If she made a mistake, it would mean capture and death. She took a deep breath and dove deeper into the woods without a backward glance.
The young woman did not need to look back to know that the men had reached the edge of the forest and there they would have to halt and dismount to pursue on foot. It would give her a head start of only a few seconds, but that was all she would need.
The trees flew past in a blur of brown and green. The young woman carried herself quickly through the thick brush, careful to leave the path unscarred by her movement. ”Only a few moments more.” was the thought that filled her mind. “A few moments, and he shall be safe.”
* * *
A tall man at the front of the band, his manner stating that he was, undoubtedly, in charge, stopped and signaled the men to follow suit. They stood in silence as his dark, deep-set eyes studied the forest. He turned to the right and, motioning for the men to follow him, moved forward deeper into the forest.
A young officer at the leader’s left side spoke up, his voice a hoarse whisper, “Where are you going? The trail of the maid leads that way?”
“You think I don’t see that, fool?” the leader’s eyes flashed with anger as he glanced at the officer. “I don’t need to follow her path to know where she is going; I am taking a short cut.”
* * *
The young woman sat with her back against the largest of the five boulders which formed a half-circle at the center of a small clearing in the depths of the forest. She pressed the bundle tighter against her and took a slow, deep breath in a vain attempt to steady her shaking hands.
Suddenly, she jumped to her feet and ran towards the cover of the trees. A hissing sound cut through the silence, and she felt a stab of pain as an arrow pierced her shoulder. She stumbled and fell forward with a gasp, lying still for a brief second before fighting her way back to her feet and starting forward again towards the edge of the clearing, her vision blurred with pain.
Two soldiers moved out from behind the line of trees in front of her. A scream froze in her throat as she spun around, her feet skidding in the dirt, and ran to the left. More soldiers moved from behind the trees to the right and to the left. The clearing was surrounded.
She stumbled again, and this time she fell to her knees and did not move.
The leader moved forward until he stood a few yards from his wounded prey. His eyes held a strange look of hunger and excitement as he drew his sword from his side and smiled coldly. “Well now, what have we here?” He flicked the womans hair back from her face with the tip of his sword. “A lovely maiden lost in the woods, are you waiting for prince charming to rescue you?” he sneered.”I hate to disappoint you, but he won’t be coming for you. Not today.”
The woman did not look up as he spoke. Her gaze was fixed on the bright green of the grass beneath her, as if avoiding looking at him would simply make him disappear.
“I’m talking to you, lady.” His sword tip twitched, nicking the top of her left ear. Still she did not move. Frustrated he bent and, with a quick twist of his sword, cut the bundle loose from her chest. It fell limply into his hands and her eyes widened slightly as he lifted the bundle to his own chest and stabbed his sword downward imbedding the tip in the soft dirt. “Ah, here at last.” He smiled and knelt in front of the woman. “He is in my hands. My son. My son. At last I have him.”
“He is not your son, and never will be.” The woman spat the sentence out without lifting her gaze, anger and distaste filling each word.
“He will be.” the dark-haired man replied with a cold smile. “He will be.” he repeated the words as his hand moved over the bundle and pulled back one of the blankets. A hiss of anger escaped his lips, and he dropped the bundle to the ground. “Where is he? Where is the child?” he demanded his hand closing around the woman’s throat as he stood, pulling her to her feet. “Where is my child?” he screamed again.
The woman smiled and shook her head. “He is safe from you and that is how he shall stay. He is long gone now, far from your reach.”
The leader’s eyes were alight with rage. He spun, throwing the woman against one of the tall boulders. Her shoulder struck the smooth surface with a crack, and she fell, biting back a scream of pain.
“Find the child!” his voice filled the clearing with inhuman volume and men around him scrambled for their weapons, tripping over each other in their eagerness to get away from the wrath of their master. One unlucky officer, slower than the rest, was caught in their leaders gaze. “Lieutenant Stan, come here.”
Stan moved quickly, keeping his eyes down. “Yes, sir.” He bowed his head as he spoke, stopping a few feet in front of his leader.
“Why did she not have the child? You said that she had the child and would bring him here.”
“She did, sire. She must have traded the child for the empty bundle before we reached the clearing.”
“And how did the child slip through our fingers? How did we not catch whoever took him?” the man hissed, his voice shaking with wrath.
“Sire, please, I do not know how.” Stan faltered.
“Threatening your cowardly slaves will not help you find the child. He is gone. I told you; you will not find him,” the woman interrupted.
“You will not win!” the leader shouted, snatching his sword from the ground as he spun on her. “I will find the child, and you will die, but you will die knowing that you did not beat me! You cannot beat Zenas, Lord of all Elismire, Master and King of all men!”