A familiar woman’s silhouette was seated on a thick, low lying branch of a nearby tree, nocking her next arrow carefully.
“You’re a liar!” She shouted from her perch; even from the vast distance I could see her bow shaking. Her raw emotion was so potent it made me sick to my stomach. “You lied to me, Fyn!”
“Wait! You don’t understand!”
“Understand what?! That I should have left you in that cage!?” I grimaced as the words left her tongue, cutting like a cold steel blade. It was one thing to know it in your heart, but to hear it said aloud…
“It never mattered what Harold said!” She let go of the string, the arrow flying towards my chest. Terror enveloped my being, time slowing as I watched the iron arrowhead slice through the air. Beatrice’s eyes slowly widened as she realized that I wasn’t going to move in time, Ash screeching in fear. I closed my eyes, accepting my fate. Maybe that’s what I deserved; a fitting punishment for my crime. When a knight abandons his King, they’re charged with treason and sentenced to death. Was I not the same, abandoning the leader I’d sworn to follow?
When you come face to face with death, the experience changes you. As memories long forgotten rise to the surface, you question the nature of the random, irrelevant thoughts taking precedence over what you believed to be important, pivotal events. But that’s just it; the subtle, deafening reminder that you need to keep on fighting, for all the memories you’ve yet to make!
‘To live!’ Ash’s high pitched voice echoed through my mind as he dug his claws into my head. I could feel as they punctured my skin, but it didn’t hurt. A familiar heat ignited throughout my body, the painful sensation travelling much more quickly. The sheer intensity was overwhelming as a shockwave of blue electricity erupted from every pore of my body, eviscerating anything within a meter’s radius. The incoming projectile had literally turned to dust, leaving Beatrice in a state of shock. Every inch of my body was exploding in pain, and I crumpled to the ground in agony. I looked at my hand, noticing the glowing silver veins that slowly subsided back into the depths of my arm. I tried to fight the ensuing darkness, but I was weak. It only took mere seconds until I fell unconscious, completely exhausted. The last thing I remember was Beatrice sprinting towards me, and then darkness.
‘You’re finally awake!’ Ash’s boyish voice rousing me from my unconscious state.
‘Beatrice was certain you were dead, but I knew you’d be okay!’
I smiled faintly as my eyes slowly opened, my body aching terribly with the slightest
movement. The little creature could hardly sit still, nearly vibrating with joy.
“Thanks, Ash.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, but the little creature seemed content as he jumped down from the cot I was currently occupying. Judging from the canvas tent, we were likely back at the Princess’s camp, the realization accompanied with an impending sense of dread. “Ash, what happened? After I…”
‘Beatrice brought you back here. Harold wasn’t happy about it, but she didn’t listen.’
The young creature would sporadically glow as he spoke, activating the hot sensation in my back each time. Whatever Ash was, he didn’t belong to the same world as we did. I did want to learn more about his origins, and the nature of this new power, but there were more pressing matters to attend to. I could hear the arguing of Beatrice and Harold coming near, and my stomach began to churn.
“You shouldn’t have brought him back here! He’s a waste of resources!”
“Harold, I’ve listened to enough of your mockery! You’ve already overstepped your authority once, and I won’t allow a second offence! Dismissed!” The whiny knight stormed off, Beatrice entering the tent.
“You’re awake…” Our lighthearted dynamic had completely shifted, catching me off guard. I was so relieved to see her, I’d almost forgotten what happened. But the disconnect in her voice was a cold slap of reality. Her smile was faint, the kind you show a friendly stranger in passing. It was disappointing, but I preferred it to the alternative death sentence.
“Yep. Still alive, unfortunately.” She didn’t laugh, crossing her arms.
“So what was that? That…thing you did?” I racked my brain for some kind of viable explanation, but I already knew the answer.
“I…I don’t know.” She wasn’t impressed with my answer, her foot began to tap rapidly.
“Fyn, please… We’re passed the lies at this point. As far as I’m concerned you’re nothing more than a prisoner right now.”
My jaw nearly dropped as the words came from her lips. A prisoner?
Her eyes widened for a split second as I stood from the bed, wincing.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m nobody’s prisoner. I appreciate your help, but unless you have something else you’d like to talk about, I think this is where we go our separate ways.”
“Fyn, sit down!” I clenched my teeth as I fell back to the cot, Beatrice rushing to my side. Our eyes locked for a split second as she guided me down, both of us quickly turning the moment we realized.
“I can’t do this anymore.” Her back was turned, refusing to look at me. I could hear the sob in her voice she was so desperately trying to hide. “You’re well aware of what’s at stake here. What little strength we had is gone, and we only have one hope at restoring that strength.”
She turned her head slightly, looking at me from the corner of her eye. I could feel her somber gaze as blatantly as I could feel Ash sitting in my lap. I looked down at the creature, trying to cower further into blankets.
“Last I checked, I was still a part of your rebellion.” She turned slowly, a flicker of hope in her eyes. “Beatrice, I know what I did was childish. I shouldn’t have let Harold get to me, but…”
“It’s alright Fyn. I’m surprised you didn’t run away before that.” We both chuckled, even the soft laughter causing pain to shoot through my torso.
“Under different circumstances, I wouldn’t have to put so much pressure on you…but we’re all out of options.” I offered a comforting smile as she trailed off.
“It’s alright. I understand what my role is in the grand scheme of things.”
“I’m truly grateful for your understanding, but I need you to promise me that you won’t go running off this time.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not so easily frightened anymore.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it.”
“But before we go any further, I need to know who else I’m looking for in there. I know this isn’t just for ‘Uncle Gavin’s’ sake.” Her eyes shifted, finally letting out a sigh.
“You’re right. The man’s name is Callum. If things do go badly in their, he should be in the dungeons with the other prisoners, including Gavin. Please, Fyn. It’s important that we don’t leave without him” I didn’t want to read into anything, but her tone suggested they were close.
“Understood.” I was relieved by her faint smile, but there was something else stirring my anxiety. I’d yet to speak with Harold, and after our last meeting, I wasn’t about to kid myself that our next would be going smoothly.
A few more days passed before I was fully healed, my bones only aching slightly. That pain never went away, no matter what kind of therapy I tried. Once I returned to full strength, it was time to have a conversation with Harold. Beatrice said he was still mentally unwell after his fight with Graves, that something had finally snapped. It wasn’t like I was going to look for a fight with the man, but I needed to clear the air.
I found him in Beatrice’s tent. It was strange seeing him without his plate mail on, dressed in only his britches. I was surprised by how scrawny the man really was, his armor making him appear much larger. The left side of his face was wrapped in bandages, as was his torso and left arm. The burns must have been worse than I’d realized.
“Oh. What do you want?” I’m not sure what I was expecting him to say, if anything at all. He was a husk of the man he once was, not a shred of emotion in his voice.
“That’s it?” I stood there, dumbfounded. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
He sighed, standing from his chair and facing me. “What do you want Fyn, an apology?”
The man tried to glare, but even his eyes were weak. “Don’t you get it? We’ve nothing left. Not a single ranger survived that slaughter…” He winced painfully, the memory still fresh. I could feel my inner rage surfacing as he complained.
“Doesn’t that inspire you? Doesn’t that make you want to try in spite of it all?” He shook his head at my words, walking past me and out of the tent.
“You’re too young to understand. Sending you into that fortress was a death sentence to begin with! The young Princess means well, but the logic behind her plan is absurd. There’s nothing more we can do, Fyn…”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe we should just roll over and give up, and maybe I am too young to understand. But you know what I do understand? I understand that if we don’t at least try and convince the bandits to join us, you and I are as good as dead. I know that if I don’t at least try and save Gavin, you may as well kill me right now, because I won’t be able to live with myself. ”
Harold looked down to his feet contemplating my words, his emotion unclear. “Fyn, have you and her Highness forgotten that we’ve been fighting against these men since the moment of the rebellion’s inception? Not to mention we don’t even know for certain if any of these ‘prisoners’ are alive. But despite all that, you’re still willing to walk unarmed into a death trap? I don’t know what happened to you since we last met, but you must have a least a lick of sense to know this is idiotic…”
“I do, and I’m going to go anyway.”
He leaned over as I passed, whispering in my ear.
“If you go through with this, you’ll die.”
“Then you’re more foolish than I thought.”
The familiar burning in my lower back returned, Ash’s paws growing hotter. Whatever the root of this power was, it fed on my emotions. I wasn’t sure if it was mine or Ash’s doing, but it felt like a natural flow. Something that you never really learned, but always knew how to do.
Beatrice stopped me as I walked by, placing her hand on my shoulder.
“Fyn, don’t think I’ve forgotten about that… ability. I’m wanting an explanation sooner or later.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll let you know after I find out myself.” She looked surprised by my sarcasm, and I honestly wasn’t sure what had come over me. It was like the confidence I’d lost in my youth had been returned tenfold. “In the meantime, we should really get moving. I’m sure Gavin’s getting impatient.”