My heart was pounding rapidly and I had gained a new gash on my cheek, from the branches. As silently as I could I ripped a piece of my dark green tunic and held it to my cheek. I froze when I heard them below and behind me. I was not far enough away to escape them. I leaped down from my hiding place on a branch and ran through the trees. I stopped mid-stride. I had almost run into an open field; that would have ended my time here.
Across the meadow was a group of the Hunters searching for me. I had the one device that they had held fiercely, until, of course, I stole it. It was the only key to ending the war.
I soundlessly crept back and slid behind a mossy tree. The moonlight shone brightly through the branches of the trees and cast dancing shadows. I saw the searchers stop and speak in their whispery language. It was different from what we were taught, so I couldn't figure out what they were saying.
I tried to keep my labored breath quiet when I looked down and was shocked to see a bright light coming from the pocket of my grimy breeches. "Shit," I muttered.
Suddenly, I heard a twang of a bow and ducked swiftly: I had almost got decapitated. Still crouching, I got on my elbows and crawled past a few trees, felt for a rock and threw it. Not a very good diversion, but it would give me a little more time. I jumped into the nearest tree and climbed almost to the top and sat on one of the limbs.
Once I was settled I took the time to wrap up the gem more securely in its package. Making sure there was no glow visible. I carefully stood precariously on my perch to see were my killers were. There was no sound in the woods. The only thing that was heard was the swish of branches. Otherwise nothing no scuttle of little creatures, no calling of night birds, or the occasional breaks of a twig from a bigger creature. Something was wrong.
I felt the blood from the would on my cheek run down to my chin and before I could dab it with my already bloodied cloth, It fell to the forest floor. I stood there wide-eyed. I had failed, the people of the woods were known for great hearing and I already knew they were near. It was only a matter of time until they found me.
I sat down once more on my perch and waited. It was no good to run they knew my location. They did before, but not as well. I was too lost in my sorrow of my failure to hear another twang of a bow. It barely missed its mark, my heart, but struck into my shoulder. I gasped in pain and almost fell out of the tree. I cursed at my stupidity.
I heard them gathering around the tree. An individual started to climb. Ignoring the pain I broke the feathered side of the arrow. The arm hung uselessly I must have broken some important piece because I couldn't move it. I drew my dagger and as silently as I could climb down with one hand, I had the dagger in my mouth. I took notice of them quieting down, felt the tension growing in the air. I looked below me and saw the shaking of branches as a single Hunter climbed. I waited until he was right in front of me and was going to slash his jugular. When he blocked my hand and shoved me down. I yelped as well as tumbled to the ground. As soon as I landed I bound to my feet and took off running. They were as silent as shadows following me.
I was getting tired and my shoulder was burning. Plus, it seemed as if they were waiting for me to tire out to finish me off. I was unprepared for the root that seemed to jump into my path. Inevitably, I tripped. I did a face plant and skinned my hands, chin, and tore my breeches. My hair had also fallen out of its not and hung around my face. I went into a squatting position. Listening carefully I heard them making a circle around me. Slowly they appeared, the moonlight made them look not of this world.
I looked at them warily, wondering if I should even try to fight. There was one of me and ten of them. I extracted my dagger that was in my boot, dropped it on the ground and backed away. Hoping they wouldn't know about the hidden dagger in my sleeve.
"Good, now give us the Gem." Said one of them in the customary language all of the kingdoms knew. He stepped away from the circle and held out a waiting hand.
I smirked and swiftly I drew the concealed dagger, slashed it, cutting his hand off. He cursed loudly in his own language and brought the handless arm to himself. He shouted a command threw clenched teeth, "Seize her!"
One of them quickly dispatched me on the ground and tied my hands behind my back. I screamed in agony, they had moved the arrow tip. The one that had tied me kicked me in the ribs. There was a crack and I gasped in pain. They dragged me to my feet and started to search me. The Hunters only found two more daggers and traveling bread; the gem was nowhere to be found.
My heart dropped to my stomach. Where had the gem gone?
The Hunter that searched turned to his leader with absolutely no expression on his pale face.
"The woman does not have the Gem." He said almost if he didn't believe it himself. The leader turned his gaze upon me as if searching my eyes for some clue. He walked leisurely up to me until I had to look up at him.
"Where is it?" he whispered
With his eyes bore into mine I whispered, "I don't know." Where could I have lost it? How the heck had it escaped from my pocket? How? I stared at the ground as if it would give me the answers I needed.
When I looked back up the leader was looking expectantly at me; knowing I had more to say. He turned back to his Hunters and gave some curt order. Half them disappeared into the night. I backed quickly away from this strange man. How had he known?
I knew that my fright shone in my eyes, but I did not understand these people of the woods. I glanced up to the sky and wondered why they chose us to complete this hopeless mission. We were not as experienced and we weren't really prepared. They never told us about the Hunters. The only reason I had survived this far was because of my ability to not be noticed. Since I was the one that had the Gem the rest had to guard me, I was the one with the stolen prize. My fellow soldiers all had died protecting me from the Hunters, but they did it all for vain because here I was captured and waiting to be slaughtered.
I was snapped back into the present when something caught my eye. It was a faint glow coming from a far bush. The leader noticed my interest and went to where the beam was shining. The light flickered and when the leader of the Hunters was almost there. Something screeched and flew out of the shrub into the night sky. I was completely dumbfounded.
Before the bird was taken up by the darkness, I recognized it as a trained falcon of the Imperial Avian. I barely stopped myself from smiling. Then it turned into a grim line. I waited for an arrow to shoot it down, but it never happened.
I gave a fleeting look at the leader; he was standing there by himself. None of his Hunters were there. His injured arm had been wrapped and was held close to his body. His dazed eyes were still staring at the bush; they flickered back to life. When I took a step back, rustling the dead leaves. The leader unsheathed a dagger and with a quick flick threw it at me. I let out a curse, barely dodging it. Although a strand of my hair fluttered to the ground.
An expression of frustration passed through his face. Picking up my own daggers that were stuck in the soil, he put one in his belt. The other he held in his hand, he strode toward me and stabbed me in the stomach. I let out a hiss of pain. Spots danced before my eyes and everything became out of focus.
Then I collapsed to the forest floor. He pulled the dagger out and stuck it into my hands. I took a quick intake of breath and shut my eyes tightly. I heard and felt the tendons in my hands snap.
"Why?" I said in a hurt filled voice. I inhaled taxing breaths.
"So you'll stay in place, you silly women. I can not believe that any man would allow a women to fight," He scoffed. "Your falcon will not escape my Hunters, we will get our Gem back you can sure of that, but your king will never know what happened to you and your soldiers. Your bodies will lay forgotten in these deep woods."
I watched his receding boots with watery eyes.
My eyes turned to the forest floor and observed my life's blood soak into the soil. I never thought I was going to die like this.