The Last Lantern
Chapter 31 - Trapped
@copyright Jean G Hontz 2009
Molly, dressed in Phillip’s change of clothes, the pant legs cut down and mended for her height by a surprisingly competent Vaal, was feeding Tansy and Phillip’s Max. The small lean-to attached to the side of the hut for sheep to keep them out of the terrible weather was barely large enough to hold the horses. Still, they were protected and fairly content in there. Molly was whispering to Tansy when she thought she heard hoofbeats. Horses. More than one. The sound echoed off the frozen ground of the high pasture.
Molly’s heart was in her throat, pounding loud, in time with the hoofbeats. Vaal and she had talked, and he’d told her what to do should someone come. She heard Vaal’s voice in her head, calm, sure. -Go to the trees.- He said. -Go, out the back. They will not see you.-
She ran to the wall facing the pasture and peeped through a slit in the boards. They were Black Brothers! Come to help them. She felt herself relax. She wouldn't need to run.
Then, even as she watched, Vaal was pulling Phillip’s sword free of his swordbelt. He said in Molly’s head, -GO! NOW!-
Something in the way she sensed it, not fear, well maybe a little fear, got her moving. She slipped out the back half-door and crawled toward the evergreens that brushed up against the shack. She crawled under until she was at what she thought was the deepest middle of them, and backed up to stand against the giant’s trunk, deep in gloom under its massive branches.
Through the branches she could just see the group of riders approaching. They were Black Brothers clearly, so she wasn't sure why Vaal was being so cautious. Surely they were no threat.
Then her eyes opened wide in horror when she saw the riders pull out their swords and ride at Vaal. He was ready for them though. He merely flicked his sword and the first two were down on the ground writhing in pain. The others though, they’d overwhelm him!
Molly hesitated. Shouldn’t she help him? She could pick up a sword and ... No. He’d worry about her and likely get himself killed in the process. So she shrank back against the trunk of the huge evergreen and stood there, still as wood herself, watching helplessly as rider after rider came at Vaal. Tears streaked down her cheeks. He’d die! He'd die for her! Not fair!
Bodies were piling up, blood staining the snow red, Vaal was obviously tiring, and he had a long deep cut on one arm, his life’s blood draining away.
Molly closed her eyes and wished with all her might... When she opened her eyes Vaal was on a knee and one of the riders had a sword to his throat. Another, who’d dismounted, came up behind him and took hold of him by the arms forcing Vaal down to both knees.
“Give us one reason we shouldn't kill you where you kneel, bastard,” the man who seemed to be in charge hissed in Vaal’s face.
“It is said that he who slays a Black Brother is cursed for eternity,” Vaal replied quietly.
“It is said,” several of the men repeated, looking nervous and suddenly uncertain.
Their leader laughed at them. “Superstition! Nothing more! Search the shack. Find the girl!”
“She isn’t here,” Vaal replied.
“We’ll just make certain of that!” the leader replied.
Several men burst into the shack. One called out, “Both horses. She has to be here.”
Molly, terrified, shrunk further, plastering herself against the tree. One of the men was opening the half door from where Tansy and Max were, he’d see where she scuffed up the snow. He’d see HER! For certain!
Then the tree ‘moved’. It flowed and changed and she felt it embrace her. She'd have cried out in terror if something hadn’t covered her mouth. She stood there, staring at the man crawling toward where she stood. Her body seemed to sink into the tree itself, even more frightening than this man who was nearly to where she stood.
Then the man was near her feet, brushing branches aside, clearly searching for her. He stood and looked directly at Molly. But... But.... She suddenly realized he did not ‘see’ her.
He turned and fought his way back out of the thicket that was the evergreen branches. “I saw footprints going up to the tree, but she is not there,” the man announced.
“Climb it! She must be up there!” the leader ordered. The man returned to the tree and began climbing. Finally he called down, “No. She’s not here!” He scrambled back down to earth, dropping to the ground nearly beside Molly who still could do no more than watch.
Molly had her eyes on Vaal then, who visibly sagged. With relief maybe, that they hadn’t found her? The leader pulled him upright. “Where is she!” he hissed into Vaal’s face.
“She’s with the Guardian. I dare you to take her from him!” Vaal retorted, earning him a backhand across his face which left him with a split lip. A cuff to the side of his head left him unconscious, from what Molly could tell.
She couldn't move, couldn’t cry out, couldn't take a weapon and try to free him. She had no choice but to stand there a silent, suffering witness. For her! No! Don’t let him die for her!
“He won't speak,” said one mounted man, who held the reins of the leader's horse. “It is said no Black Brother has ever broken under torture.”
“I do not want to hear ‘it is said’ ever again!” the leader screamed at him. The man, however, did not even flinch.
“Get the horses. We’ll take him with us. Perhaps the Lord can find a way to break him.”
“And the girl?” asked the man who’d spoken earlier.
“We’ll leave two men here. You,” he added, pointing at one of his minions, “and you, Ethan!” he added, pointing at the man who’d spoken up earlier. “If she returns grab her and bring her with you. Dead if necessary,” the leader added with satisfaction.
Molly could see several of the black brothers leading Phillip’s Max and her Tansy out of the shed. Ethan and the other man designated to stay exchanged a look, but neither said a word.
Several men picked up Vaal’s slumped body and slung it over Max, who whinnied and shied. Tansy panicked at that moment, pulled the reins free of the man who was holding them and bolted.
Run! Molly thought at her. Run, Tansy!
The leader cursed and stuck a knife into the gut of the man who’d let Tansy escape. The man sank to his knees looking shocked. Blood gushed out of the wound. He dropped to his side where he writhed in pain as he died.
“Idiot.” the leader said, as he pulled his knife back out of the dead man. “The horse might come back. If not, don't worry about it. Ethan, I suggest you come back with the girl. One way or another.”
Ethan nodded once, his lips set in a hard line. The second man had gone pale, at the implied threat regarding what would happen if they didn't return with her.
Molly, still trapped with a tree wrapped around her, felt hot tears coursing down her cheeks. Vaal... She’d die here, trapped in a tree. No one would ever know....
Then the riders rode off, taking Vaal with them. The two left behind looked at one another. Ethan said, “Pile the bodies over there. Strip them of anything usable. I’ll see what I can find inside the hut. Perhaps that Bastard will have left us a map to detail where they were heading. Perhaps the girl set off on her own.”
“Who is she?” the other man asked, as he bent down to begin his task. “Why are we going to all this trouble for a little girl?”
Ethan frowned. “I’m not sure. But then it hardly matters to us, does it? It’s our lives if we don’t find her.”
Ethan walked toward the hut and Molly heard him muttering to himself. “The least I can fo for her is to kill her, so they won’t be tempted to do far worse.”
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