My longest chapter yet! Maybe that can somehow make up for the extreme lateness? I must apologize for this. I had written this over and over and then over again, unable to decide where I wasnted to go with this story. I finally got fed up and haven't touched it for months and then just finished it tonight. Hope you enjoy! Thanks for the awesome reviews in the last chapter!
No Father of Mine
"Hey, you, what are you doing?!" A guard yelled with a slight accent as we passed into a small square courtyard.
I stopped walking when he shouted, anxiously watching the said guard. It was easy to tell we were not where we were supposed to be, with my dirty rags that acted as clothing, Jammie's commoner clothes, and the out of place shinning swords that hung at our hip.
The guard sounded an alarm at his station, alerting everyone to our presence, before he came towards us. I let go of Jammie and he stumbled backwards until he was resting on the stone archway that connected the courtyard to the wide hallway. I pulled out my sword and readied myself, getting into a wide fighting stance, and watching as many guards began to file into the place. I ran forward and away from Jammie, hoping he would blend in enough against the wall and that everyone would be too consumed in the throng of excitement to notice the lone figure.
Our swords clanked as I met with the first guard, the one who had sounded the alarm. We were at a standstill for a few seconds, neither able to remove our swords or attack from another angle. More and more, I noticed small groups of one or two soldiers come into the court and head our way. There were already a lot of soldiers here and there would soon be even more. I knew it was a hopeless cause to fight all of these soldiers when I was only one man. I drew back the force I had been pushing into my sword, spinning to the side so the opposing sword would not slice me and bringing my sword down diagonally on the back of the first guard's exposed neck as he stumbled forward at the sudden loss of pressure. I quickly moved over to the next soldier, blocking his sword with my sword and throwing my other hand through his guard and into his face. He stumbled back and I used the opportunity to impale him. Three soldiers advanced on me, surrounding me in a tight circle. They smiled knowingly, thinking that I would not be able to get past them. They were sorely mistaken.
Back home, when I trained and practiced my position as a Foot Soldier, the instructor would throw us into groups. Most everyone paired up evenly, two people to each side, but no one had ever wanted to pair up with me. Rather, everyone wanted to gain up against me. More than once I had been made to fight against four or five grown men by myself. I knew I could beat these men, even if I was outnumbered, but I also knew that more men would come to take their places. Over and over the cycle would be repeated, and I would wear down and lose energy. It would happen even faster since I was malnourished and hadn't even eaten that day, and my body was weak from the many beatings.
One of the soldiers rushed at me, thrusting his sword forward. I blocked, twisting my sword around his and slicing open his arm as I stepped aside to avoid impalement. The two other guards shouted and rushed simultaneously. I grabbed the fallen sword with my left hand and, wielding both swords, blocked one soldier and slashed through the other. My block faltered though, and the enemy was able to inflict a deep gash across my stomach. I yelped in pain. He came forward again, trying to catch me in my moment of weakness, but I ducked under his swing and knocked him out with a hard punch to the side of the head.
I stumbled forward, picking up one of the two swords I had dropped when injured. I wouldn't last much longer; my breath was heavy and blood loss was high from the lashes earlier that day and the various cuts and scrapes I had been awarded while fighting. I looked over to where I had left Jammie, wondering if he might be able to run and save himself, but staggered when I found him missing from the stone archway. I panicked and searched for him wildly even as I was nearly beheaded when even more guards came upon me. I couldn't find him anywhere. Even as I evaded and parried the next soldier's swing, I couldn't help but worry for my friend. Had he already run away? Did he join the fight and get knocked out or killed? Did a guard restrain him and take him back to a cell? I had no idea and began to panic, making my movements disconnected and slow. Within the next few minutes I was very nearly captured again, but was just able to twist out of the reach of the attack that would have knocked me out. Faintly, I heard a repetitive beating noise. I knew it was from a ways away because even as it was a soft sound, it steadily grew, becoming louder and harsher. I finally discerned it as a running horse. Even more hopelessness and dread welled up within me at the thought that I would be fighting soldiers on horseback, a feat much tougher than soldiers on the ground.
I deflect another onslaught, not having the strength anymore to attack, and using all my energy just to block and sidestep all of the attacks being thrown my way. The horse's stomps were still growing louder and echoing off the stone walls. They were coming straight towards me and at a very fast pace, fast enough to trample over anyone in their path. That was exactly what they were doing when they came into sight, for anyone who did not move out of the way quick enough was run over by a pair of horses, one a deep chestnut and the other a pure black. The black horse was in the lead, mounted by a very familiar person, while the chestnut ran right behind. They bowled through the mass of Foot Soldiers and slid to a halt right in front of me. The person mounting the black horse looked exhausted but determined as he tossed me the chestnut's reins. I smiled, sheathing my sword and jumping on to the horse's unsaddled back in the confusion.
I kicked the belly of my stead and galloped off, Jammie taking off right before me and leading the way out of the castle. We raced through the palace halls on the back of our horses, scaring servants and startling the lady in waiting. Word had spread fast of our getaway and by the time we reached the palace entrance, men had already began to close the gridiron gates. They were only a quarter of the way closed when the giant gate first came into view, but by the time we were upon it, we were just barely able to pass underneath them.
We wove through the crowded and unplanned streets of the city, jumping over piles of sleeping, homeless people and galloping through the narrow, dirty pathways as, a ways behind, a group of soldiers on horses trailed us. We ran fast, not speaking or looking about, and putting all our efforts into going faster and escaping. Finally, we made it to the end of the city were the houses turned into farms and a thick dirt path marked the trading route from city to city. We veered left, our horses panting heavily with nostrils flared, as we spurred them to keep running across the vast flatland.
The grassy plain circumference the city for about two miles in every direction before it slowly started producing brush and eventually a small forest sprouted up. We kept running until we were well within the forest and our horses needed a rest. I pulled my horse to a stop in a small clearing and wearily stepped onto the ground, exhausted now that all my adrenaline from fighting had begun to wear away. I tied my horse's reigns to the trunk of a tree and walked to where Jammie still sat atop his black horse. He looked down at me with a grimace before his eyes fell shut and his body grew slack. I quickly held out my arms and caught him as he toppled off his horse, unconscious. The fresh wound on my stomach screamed in protest as it was forced to help hold the weight of a full grown man, and it nearly caused me to drop Jammie. I gently set him on the grassy earth and picked up the black horse's reigns, tying him on the tree next to my horse. I walked back over to where Jammie lay and sat down in front of a nearby tree, leaning back and letting my body and mind rest in the moonlit night. I let my head fall back and softly thump against the hollow bark of the tree. My eyelids grew heavy, but I forced myself to stay awake and keep alert. We had made it this far, even if we were a little worse for wear. I was not about to risk our freedom and possibly our lives for just a little sleep. We were still too close to the city for my liking and King Westar would surely be sending out a search party to look for us.
I sat a few minutes in silence before I crawled over to Jammie's side. I gently shook his shoulders and called his name.
He awoke from his unconscious state and weakly looked up at me.
"Hey," I said softly, "we need to keep on moving. Can you get up?"
He took a shuddering breath and nodded slightly. I could tell he was still in a lot of pain and figured all of the commotion hadn't helped one bit. I grabbed his hands and pulled him up with me and letting him lean his weight on me once standing. My new wounds flared in protest and the scabs on my back crackled painfully, but I ignored them.
I helped Jammie get on top of the black horse and then mounted on my own chestnut horse, taking both horse's reins in my hands.
"What are you doing?" Jammie asked in a low voice.
I smiled even though he wasn't able to see it and turned both horses and ushered them onwards into a steady walk. "I'll take the lead so you can relax for a bit." He hesitated but in the end nodded. We moved onward, under the cloud and smog covered starry sky.
I kept us moving forward at a steady pace for hours. Jammison slept the entire time; his body leaned heavily forward onto his horse's neck. I would have considered him dead if it were not for the faint rise and fall of his chest. I was growing tired and weary; a lack of sleep, food, and blood attributed to this. We rode through the night. My legs were numb and my back sore; the gash on my stomach flared with each rocky step the horse took and by back cracked each time I moved. I could barely keep my eyes open by the time the sun started to creep over the horizon; I kept dozing off and was asleep more often than I was awake. My head was spinning in circles and my vision blurry. When I saw a farm house and some men heading out to their fields, I wondered if I could have been dreaming it. I let the horses walk forward, wherever they may take us (I had not been steering them for some time by now). The men in the field seemed to grow bigger and get closer. They soon noticed our approach and one of them pointed in our direction. I was relieved that they had seen us. A small smile crept onto my face as my sight slowly grew dark, closing in on itself. My body grew slack and started to slip of the side of the horse. I watched as one of the men shouted and ran towards me, and I hit the ground with a thud, blissfully closing my eyes and falling into unconsciousness.
I had no idea where I ended up or how long I had been asleep. I slowly sat up out of the small, lumpy bed, pushing the layers of blankets off of me as I did so. I first noticed that my stomach and arm had been wrapped in bandages, and ointment had been placed on my back to make the numerous incisions less painful and less susceptible to cracking open. I rubbed my eyes of the bright morning light that was pouring in from the window into my eyes and looked around the room. There was another bunk bed besides the one I had slept in, not to mention the two bed pallets on the floor right where my feet landed when I swung them over the bed. The ratty clothes I had been wearing were nowhere in sight. Instead, I was wearing a worn, but still intact pair of brown, baggy pants. I walked slowly to the door, my legs not wanting to work from riding for so long and then sleeping for a length of time. I was bombarded with sounds and smells once I had opened the only door in the room. It was only after I had stepped into the main living area and kitchen that the cluster of people noticed me. Everyone stopped what they were doing to turn and stare at me, like a ghost that had come back to haunt them.
A shaggy haired teen was the first to speak. "He's awake…" was his ingenious comment.
It didn't look like anyone had the urge to say anything else, and after scanning the room once more, I decided to speak up, "Where's my friend?"
The only woman in the room wiped her hands on her apron and stepped around the table and group of boys, "He's out getting wood for a fire." She came closer and set her warm and gentle hands on my shoulder.
I flinched at first even though I knew she wasn't one to inflict harm upon me. I had never really experienced a kind and gentle touch, especially in the past two months. My body tensed and I tried to pull away like a scared puppy, but she held firm and led me forward.
"Your friend, Jammison, said your name was Nathan, right?"
I tensely nodded.
Her warm smile and caring eyes brushed away my anxiety. "I'll introduce you then," she said, turning to the group of boys. "This is Warner and Cleneth," – two older boys that looked around the same age as I. They almost looked like identical twins, except for the fact one was taller and more muscular while the other was a tad shorter and had very little muscle mass on his skinny bones. Cleneth, the smaller of the two, stared at me with heavy, drowsy eyelids while the other had his head buried in his arms on the table – " this is William, but he mainly goes by Will," – the brunette, shaggy-haired boy that had spoken earlier smiled brightly and waved in greeting – "Bren, our quietest," the woman said with an extra smile, - the boy pointed out was considerably younger than his older brother; his completion hinted that he was in his pre-teen years. Bren stared at me blankly with his arms crosses – "our baby girl, Robin," – a young girl with long, dark brown pigtails, who wore a dirty floral dress and gave a weak, shy smile – " and our youngest, Addy and Jase," – the last two twins were identical, from each little brown freckle to the color of their bright blue shirts.
Right as the woman finished, a young man came through the door, carrying a pile of logs, followed by Jammison, who also carried a few logs in his arms. "Us older boys help Dad out on the farm…" the older boy was saying as he entered the door. His speech came to a halt as he noticed the stillness and quietness of his family. Jammison, too looked around, confused, until he saw me.
"Ah! And last, but not least, this is our oldest, Charlie," the woman said, motioning towards the young man.
Charlie nodded, "Pleasure to meat you, uh…"
I cleared my throat and spoke softly, just loud enough to be heard. "Nathan," I said, as one more man walked in behind Jammie, carrying a small box of eggs.
"That is my husband, Charles Hill, and my name is Sheila," the woman finished.
Charlie and Jammie walked throughout the room, setting the logs down near the stove and Charles placed the eggs on a small counter.
"Come take a seat at the table; breakfast will be ready in just a little bit," Sheila spoke, ushering me forwards to an empty seat in between Warner and William.
Jammie and Charlie came and sat at the table too.
"How are you feeling?" Jammie asked as he took the seat right across from me and scanned me over. The boy's, plus Robin, looked to me expectantly.
I smiled and ran a hand through my disheveled hair. "The best I've felt in over two months," I said, being extremely serious. I had honestly not been so pain-free and well rested in months, even with the slight soreness in my legs and my tender injuries.
Jammison smiled, pleased, but the other boys looked at me with a combination of surprise, disbelief, and shock. "I would hope so, you've been asleep for two days now." Jammison laughed.
"Nathan, how did you get all those cuts anyways? Jammison wouldn't tell us; he said it was up to tell us if you felt like it," Will asked from my right.
I glanced at him and looked down.
"Maybe you can tell us later," Charlie saved me. He had stood and retrieved a stack of plates and glasses from a cupboard. "You all have jobs that need to be completed before breakfast, so stop sitting here and get to them."
A chorus of mumbles and grunts filled the room as all the kids stood in a flurry of motion, squeezing past each other to do their jobs. The older boys went outside as the younger ones set the table, and the two youngest twins, Addy and Jase, worked together to sweep the floor. Suddenly, Nathan found himself sitting at the table alone with only Mr. Charles and Jammie. Charlie, too, took a seat once he had retrieved the plates from a high up shelf and handed them to his younger siblings. I looked over to Jammie, examining his features. He looked very well rested and as if he had never been injected of the painful poison. There were no bags under his eyes and his skin has resumed his normal, lively color. Jammie noticed my eyes on him and looked back at me, giving a friendly smile.
"How are you feeling?" I croaked. I tried swallowing to relieve my throat of its dryness, but it didn't help.
Sheila set a glass of fresh orange juice in the table in front of me, "Here you go, sweetheart, this should help your throat."
A nodded to her in gratitude with a weak smile on my face and took a big gulp of the offered drink. It tasted magnificent. Almost godly compared to the murky, brown water they had given to me once a day in prison. I shut my eyes and sighed loudly after I had downed the entire drink, a content expression covering my face.
"I'm well enough. Mr. and Mrs. Hill have been very kind to us both by treating us and letting us stay at their house while we recover." Jammison answered. "They said that they saw you ride your horse to the field and then fall to the ground unconscious."
The boys were beginning to finish their work by now and took their seats again at the table.
Mr. Hill chuckled deeply, "It was quite a sight to see two boys ride up to your farm, one already unconscious and the other not far from it, both covered in blood from open injuries. I still can't figure out how in God's name you could have gotten so many."
"Yeah, those are some deep slashes you've got on your back." Will spoke, giving a nod.
"The ones on your stomach and arm are new,but the others look like they've just healed up not too long ago." Bren stated. He may have been quiet, but he was still a curious teenager.
I lowered my eyes to the table, tracing the grain of the wood with my finger.
"Now, now, boys, leave Nathan be – he just woke up, for heaven's sake and already you all are pressuring him to satisfy your own curiosity. Breakfast is ready anyways," Sheila spoke, setting down two bowls of steaming food on the table, going back to grab more from the stove.
The subject dropped immediately as everyone's attention was reigned in from the food. The room erupted in loud chattering, the clanking of plates and silverware, and scooting of chairs. I didn't move for any food, even though my stomach was urging me to. A sudden wave of memories had washed over me. Jammison seemed to have noticed; he kept sending calculating glances at me. I pretended I didn't see him.
"Don't be shy, eat up. You've got to be hungry, it doesn't look like you've eaten for weeks." Will nearly shouted; it seemed like that was his normal tone of voice.
I looked up. Mostly everyone had turned to look at me, just noticing that I hadn't even touched my plate. The only people who weren't were Warner and Cleneth, both sitting to my immediate left, who looked too tired to be aware of much that was going on. A pained frown slid onto my face without me knowing. My mouth moved several times without a sound but eventually I was able to formulate words through my memory-hazed mind, "My father hates me, he's always favored my younger brother over me because I was too soft and not as cruel as he…"
"Nathan," Jamie interrupted, locking concerned eyes with me, "you don't have to tell them if you don't want to— "
"No, they have a right to know. As you've said, they have taken care of us and sheltered us. It's the least I could do to tell them how we ended up here." I interrupted sternly.
Jammie nodded, accepting my decision. I glanced around at each person watching me – even Warner and Cleneth had been drawn in. I sighed heavily, "My brother had gone on a mission with my country's soldiers and had been captured. My father was enraged and bordering a breakdown when he heard his favorite son was being held hostage and arranged for a trade. The enemy soldiers had thought they were getting the heir to my father's throne, but in reality all they were getting was me while setting the real heir free."
"You talk of your father's throne and being an heir, but who is your father?" Will blurted out, momentarily stopping my story. Robin elbowed him in the side and sent him a menacing glare. "What? I want to know!"
I shook my head. "It doesn't matter; he disowned me the moment he traded me and I no longer care about him." I growled in such a way that made the younger kids flinch back from the menace. I sighed once again and began explaining how I had been beaten in prison, skipping the majority of the details since there were young ears around the table, and eventually explained how Jammie had been used as leverage to get information from me and the horrible way they had tortured Jammie. By the time I had explained our escape, everyone was shocked by all that had occurred and the hardships both boys had faced. If it had been any other time, I might have smiled at how Addy and Jase's eyes had grown to the size of saucers and were staring at me with gaping mouths, along with the others' varying but nonetheless shocked expressions. However, a wave of terrible memories and relived pain had washed over me. Suddenly, I didn't feel hungry anymore. No one else was eating either, their food forgotten on their plates. I scowled, standing up suddenly and avoiding everyone's eyes. I couldn't think of anything more to say after all I had already said. Instead, I turned silently from the table and walked back into the bedroom.
"He'll be fine eventually. As you know, he's been through a lot and just needs some rest." Jammie assured everyone.
I shut the door behind me, turning the voices that had started up into a low muddled murmur. Sliding into bed, I begged for sleep, but it never came, instead forcing me to drown in my own memories.