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Authors: Dan O'Sullivan

The Fallen (Book 1) (11 page)

BOOK: The Fallen (Book 1)
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What is it?’ he called as he neared the place where Borgulnay stood staring into the woods to the west of the campsite.


I was just calling David and Araas, Highness. They went out early to do a bit of scouting. We need to be sure we’re still on the right track. Oh, did I startle you?’ Borgulnay noticed Kelian’s dripping hair.


That was just a signal?’ asked Kelian, wanting to punch Borgulnay for the shock he’d received.


Yes. You did ask me to gather everyone.’


So I did. It would have been nice to have finished my lovely warm bath though, Borg. Where are Gil, Tim and Alex?’

‘Playing monkeys,’ answered Borgulnay, pointing to some tall, dense trees on a nearby hill, where the three men clung to topmost branches, gazing around at the surrounding terrain. He gestured to them and they swung quickly down through the branches, landed lightly on the ground and jogged down the hill.


We couldn’t see anyone, Highness,’ said Alexander, pulling twigs and leaves from his dark red hair. ‘Though it would be fairly stupid to assume that meant no-one was following us.’

Kelian flinched
as Borgulnay let out another piercing whistle. A whistle sounded in response and several minutes later David and Araas appeared and made their way up the hill to where Borgulnay and Kelian stood.


Cassic is dead,’ said David bluntly, a mixture of anger of grief showing on his face. ‘His body is about three miles from here and there’s no sign of either Mathis or Kyle.’


Are there signs of a tussle?’ asked Kelian.


No Highness. It looks like Cassic was ambushed and then chased before he was killed.’

Kelian
’s face darkened in anger. ‘Captain Cassic was a good man and a loyal soldier.’


Highness, there was something strange. We could barely see Cassic’s tracks until he started running. Then we could easily see where he went. It was as though he was making his path as clear as possible. He went through the scrub like a rampaging bull. He made a deliberate turn south and got himself caught up against a cliff face which he should have foreseen would be a problem. He should have kept running west.’

Kelian stood thinking about this for a moment.
‘If the fallen were openly chasing him, then he knew he had no chance of survival,’ he said. ‘Maybe he was leading them away from Mathis and Kyle.’


If the fallen were that close they could probably sense where Mathis and Kyle were, particularly if they were tense or scared,’ Araas commented.


So he was running west then deliberately turned south making a path as he went,’ said Borgulnay. ‘Maybe he was trying to tell us something. He would have known after the massacre at Three Ways that the King would send trackers and perhaps even guardians. He may have even been counting on the King sending me. In fact I think he was.’ He turned to David. ‘Dave, what would you do if you were leaving me a trail and you wanted me to turn any particular direction?’


Break a leaf sir,’ David replied without hesitation, understanding suddenly glimmering in his eyes. ‘Supreme Majesty! He broke a leaf!’


Borg?’ Kelian prompted. ‘What does ‘broke a leaf’ mean?’


Actually there aren’t any leaves involved, it’s just a saying. Um...’ Borgulnay was about to explain when David spoke.


Highness, it started a long time ago, within our garrison at Castle. If I’m travelling along an obvious path and I want you to leave the path and turn in a particular direction, I would leave you some sort of sign telling you which way you should turn. As Captain Borg said, we don’t use leaves, but I
could
take a leaf, crush it so it shows damage and then leave it in the middle of the path with the tip of the leaf pointing in the direction I wanted you to go. You would see a broken leaf and know I wanted you to leave the path and turn…whichever way it pointed.  It’s not a bad little plan.’


Unless it’s windy,’ added Alexander.


Or snowing,’ agreed Gilgarry.


Or raining heavily,’ put in Timbul.


Or if there are no trees,’ David went on.


Or too many leaves on the ground,’ said Gilgarry. ‘That’s why we don’t generally use leaves, in fact, we never use leaves. They’re unreliable.’

Borgulnay snorted and shook his head.
‘It’s the general idea; leaf, stick, bark. We’ve actually become fairly good at interpreting all sorts of weird signs.’


Let’s work out a plan over breakfast,’ said Kelian, and the group followed him over to where Borgulnay had left the prepared food.


There was something else, Highness,’ said Timbul coming to stand beside the Prince. I have felt a familiar presence several times in the past few hours. Though I saw nothing, I know we’re being followed.’

Kelian
frowned. ‘Familiar. Who?’


Jaralina. I seem to be able to sense her very easily.’

Kelian relaxed then laughed.
‘Why do you think she follows? Why doesn’t she contact us?’


Because if there are others out there she would be revealed if she came to us. As it is, she watches those who watch us. When she thinks we need to know something, she’ll come to us.’

Kelian couldn
’t help glancing around at the nearby woods.

Timbul laughed.
‘Kelian, if Jaralina doesn’t want to be seen, there’s no way you’ll be able to see her. If you want, Araas and I can go and get her but I doubt the fallen will catch her. They hold her abilities in high regard considering she’s human.’


No. We’ll do nothing at all to draw attention to her, but if you sense she’s in danger you go after her. Understood?’


Of course.’

They sat on the trunks of several f
allen trees which had been ring-barked and left to die. The practice was quite common among farmers, but whoever had started this work had not returned and the trees eventually rotted and fell uselessly.

Kelian spoke first.
‘Let’s assume Captain Cassic’s path was a broken leaf. We could already see that the path of the fallen was beginning to turn south, so this doesn’t change much. I can’t believe they’d cross Skeleton’s Rest. They’ll be unsure if we have some sort of massive military blockade at Sheldon’s Mark. The garrison there is huge and very well trained under Colonel Ronden.’


The fallen draw further away from us every minute. We can track them but we can’t keep up with them,’ said Alexander. ‘Araas and Timbul could keep up, but the rest of us can’t.’


If they’re heading south, by the time they cross the Ice Coast and get to the Barren Lake it will have thawed and it will be swollen with the snowmelt from the Barren Mountains. There’s no way they’ll cross the southern tip of the lake in early spring,’ Timbul observed.


Perhaps once they clear the Ice Coast they’ll go north through Weema and up to Mirri, then…’ Araas paused. ‘No. That makes no sense or they would be travelling north now and risk going west through the wasteland.’


Maybe they don’t mean to go past Weema. What if that’s their destination?’ suggested Kelian. ‘The southern track along the Ice coast would make sense if they only had to go north a short way to Weema.’ Everyone considered this possibility. Kelian stared into the distance, an intriguing idea beginning to form in his thoughts.


If the fallen take the southern trail and navigate the Ice Coasts and then move north-west, and if we took Sheldon’s Quest and made our way south across the Plains of Old Sagria, and if you were willing to guide us…’ He looked at Timbul. ‘Who would arrive at Weema first?’

Timbul grinned.
‘It would be close Highness. Pride compels me to say we’d arrived first.’

Ar
aas laughed. ‘I couldn’t live under the shame of running second to the fallen.’ His smile faded. ‘But this could be very difficult. What do you think Tim?’


I think it’s worth a try.’


Now…if we do this,’ said Kelian, ‘it must be on a voluntary basis – including Timbul and Araas. I will order no-one to follow me into Nyinaku.’


I volunteer!’ said Alexander cheerfully.

Gilgarry
nodded; his face serious and sad. ‘They’re
my
sisters, sir.’


Me too!’ agreed David. ‘I mean, they aren’t my sisters, but I don’t want it to become
obvious
that I’m a coward. I volunteer too.’


I will also go.’ For once Borgulnay was serious. ‘But I don’t think you should go, Highness.’

Kelian comple
tely ignored the Captain.


I wish to go,’ said Timbul.


As do I,’ said Araas, ‘and I agree with Borgulnay. This isn’t a journey from which it will be easy to return.’


Then if we’re all in agreement,’ said Kelian, ‘we’ll leave now.’


Highness...’ Borgulnay began.

Kelian
’s hand made a sideways chopping motion. ‘The matter is closed. Pack up!’ He turned away, frowning. With a flick of his hand he gestured for Timbul to follow him away from the group.


Tim,’ he said with a cautious look on his face. ‘I’m the slowest in our group. Is that why Borg doesn’t want me to come?’

Timbul smiled down at Kelian.
‘No, Highness. Borg doesn’t want to see you killed.’


Is this a terrible plan, Tim?’

‘Not a terrible plan, just a very, very dangerous one.’


You think we’ll be killed, attempting this?’


Yes, I do. Or worse still, we could start a war.’


Ah…Father would kill me.’


You would already be dead.’


He would find my body and kill me again.’

Timbul
laughed. ‘So we must keep you alive. It saves him the trouble of digging you up.’

Kelian sighed.
‘I have to find them.’


Yes. I agree. They cannot be left to suffer with the fallen. Even if you hadn’t chosen this course, Araas and I are duty bound to attempt this rescue. Are you ready to go?’

Kelian shouldered his pack, wondering if he had just made the worst decision of his life.

 

Chapter
11

Revelation

 

Immosey screamed
in pain as the man lifted the plaited leather strap and brought it down hard across her shoulder. She dropped to her knees, sobbing as he lifted his hand again.


You will stay in the cart,’ the man said coldly.


We’re freezing! We need more blankets!’ Immosey sobbed, then she screamed again as the man brought the lash down hard. She fell forwards onto her hands.


You will stay in the cart.’ He raised the lash again.


We will die of cold soon! We can’t even move around to get warm!’ The lash struck her again. She collapsed entirely and lay sobbing in agony with her face pressed against the cold ground.


Say it. You will stay in the cart.’

Immosey
gasped and tried to stop crying, but she was unable to answer being lost in pain and misery. She didn’t even move as the lash struck her shoulders repeatedly.


Put her back in the cart.’

A strong set of arms lifted her and dumped her roughly over the side of the
cart. She landed hard, striking her elbow on the wooden sideboard. The cart gave a jolt as it began to move forward.


Oh Immy!’ Elena cried, trying to lift her sister onto a blanket. ‘Lou, help me please!’

Louisa
moved to where Immosey lay and helped to sit up. She was still crying and blood was seeping through her dress from the many cuts on her shoulders.


Elena, we have to dress these wounds somehow. Otherwise they’ll go bad and she might…get very sick.’ Elena flinched as she understood what Louisa had been going to say.


We have nothing. No clean cloths, very little water, no useful herbs.’ Each day Elena became more discouraged.


Elena, we mustn’t lose hope. If nothing else we must do our very best to keep Immy alive. Her temper and her boldness will be her death.’


I’m alright,’ said Immosey. ‘But I’m still freezing.’


You can have my blanket, Immy.’ Louisa smiled at her. ‘I’m not cold at all. I never really feel the cold.’


No. You’ll freeze. If we go any further south without more blankets we’ll all freeze.’


I’ve heard the Ice Coast isn’t as cold as we think - but that we’re just so unused to the cold,’ said Louisa.


The fallen don’t seem to feel the cold. I’ve never seen them wearing more than-’ Elena stopped as she heard raised voices from the group riding ahead of the cart.


Telas, you will do exactly as I say!’ one of the fallen was shouting angrily. ‘This will delay us by no more than a day!’


We were ordered to hurry, Milgorry – no delays!’ The men stopped and the cart also slowed and stopped.


We were ordered to deliver the girls,’ Milgorry replied. ‘I don’t imagine Nandul wants them delivered dead.’

Elena
’s heart sank. They were being taken to Nandul. There wasn’t a soul in Alkira that hadn’t heard of Nandul, and her heart raced with fear.


What’s wrong with them?’ Telas glanced towards the frightened, shivering girls. ‘They’re so weak.’


The Governor’s daughters are human, Telas. They aren’t like us. They feel the cold far more and the heat in summer, they need more food than we do to survive and they need far more sleep than we do. It’s just the way they are. If we don’t give them food and find something to keep them warm they will die as we cross the Ice. Also,’ Milgorry said decisively, ‘they will be allowed to move around more often. Even we get weak if we’re confined for any length of time. The occasional walk to relieve themselves isn’t enough to keep them strong.’

Telas
grimaced. ‘I guess I don’t want to be the one to tell Nandul that they died.’


Then stop beating them! They’re covered in bruises and you’re responsible for most of them.’


They’re pathetic. I can’t believe they’d even make decent slaves. They’re so fragile!’


Listen to me carefully Telas.’ Milgorry’s voice lowered menacingly. His hand rested on the knife at his hip. ‘I intend to get them to Nandul alive. I’ve seen you whip them, beat them around the head and throw them to the ground. They won’t be strong enough to survive if this continues, so if it does continue I’ll return you myself and finish this task without you. Do you understand me?’


Are you threatening me,’ asked Telas furiously.


It’s not a threat. It’s a fact. If you don’t believe me, strike one of the women again and see what happens.’

Telas watched him coldly
for a few seconds but said nothing more.


Scout ahead,’ Milgorry ordered. He glanced towards the cart. Louisa’s heart leapt. This was definitely the one who had been bringing them food and probably the one who had left the blankets. She felt unable to draw her eyes away from him and he stood looking at her curiously for a moment before he turned and moved away. They travelled for several hours before the cart stopped once again. Milgorry appeared beside them.


You’re to walk about,’ he instructed lifting each girl gently to the ground. ‘It will help you regain your strength. You will die of hunger and cold if you run away, and we will know immediately should you try to do so.’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I cannot protect you if you try to run away.’ He reached up and dropped a small metal container into the cart then he turned to Immosey. ‘When you return to the cart, use the ointment to dress your wounds. You mustn’t disobey Telas again. He will kill you with little provocation. It’s only Louisa Nandul wants.’ And with this astonishing statement he turned and walked away. The three girls stood looking at each other, confounded by Milgorry’s words.


Walk,’ he commanded from where he stood next to a camp fire. They glanced at each other uncertainly and then held hands and walked hesitantly towards the perimeter of the camp, feeling every eye watching them. They ended up walking silently around the edge of the camp several times then making their way warily towards the camp fire. After being so cold for so long, the fire felt incredibly warm and Elena and Immosey found themselves kneeling as close as they dared to get, letting the warmth wash over their bodies.

It was at that moment Louisa felt the strangest stirrings in her heart she had ever known. Milgorry was looking at her and for an instant she could sense the question in his heart.

‘Do you know who you are?’

She stood silent and shocked, staring at Milgorry, terrified by this strange intrusion. The thought came again.

‘Do you know who you are?’

No less shocked and terrified, she managed to think,
‘I am Louisa of Cullen Ringo.’

His thoughts came clearer now, with a feeling of annoyance.
‘Do you know what you are?’

She sent a question back.
‘What do you mean ‘what’ I am?’


Who are your parents?’


Governor Ringo and Lady Megan.’


And before the floods?’


Baker Raimund and Alessa of Cullen Ringo.’


Do you remember them?’


No, not very much. Not at all, actually,’
Louisa thought sadly.


Who chose for you to return to Cullen Ringo?’


My King.’


You know you’re different, don’t you. Faster. Stronger.’

Louisa
’s mind wandered over her childhood. Eventually she thought,
‘Yes, I’m stronger and faster than Elena and Immosey. And they are both more intelligent than I am.’


Do you know what you are?’
Milgorry asked again.


I am Alkiran. I am human.’

His thoughts came back, strong and filled with emotion.
‘No, guardian. You are not human.’

She
stared at him in confusion, her thoughts a jumble. Maybe she was reading him wrongly. She shook her head. What was she thinking –
reading
him? She lowered her eyes in bewilderment. His thoughts came again, a little kinder.


What else have you done that you cannot explain – other than almost breaking Orpel’s neck when we took you from the soldiers?’


Was Orpel the one who tried to touch Immosey?’
Louisa thought angrily.


Yes. Orpel is a fool. He’d love to return you, almost as much as he wants to return me. You gave him more than a fright. He now hates you and is in terror of you – in about equal measures.’
Milgorry smiled as if pleased with this thought.
‘You know you’re different, Louisa.’

Thoughts tumbled through her mind
.
‘I’m not cold like the other girls and I’m not hungry or thirsty, I just eat because it’s expected. I don’t sleep very much. And I can lift things. I’ve always thought I was just strong. I can run fast and for a long time, but I’ve always kept myself fit.’
She stared across at Milgorry, wondering if all these things were just natural gifts.


Nandul doesn’t want you because you have natural gifts. He wants you because you are a guardian.’

Louisa
’s thoughts were racing.
‘What will he do with me?’


He will mate with you and when your child is born he will return you.’
There was anger and desperation in Milgorry’s thought.


No!’ Louisa had whispered aloud. Elena and Immosey looked at her in surprise.

Milgorry
gazed at her sadly.
‘I don’t want this either, Louisa. Not now.’
His thoughts were filled with a strange longing which, to Louisa’s surprise, didn’t make her feel entirely uncomfortable.


What do you mean ‘return’ me?’


You’re a guardian, so he can’t kill you, he can only return your soul to where you were sent from.’


I don’t understand,’ Louisa said aloud.


Lou?’ said Elena. ‘Are you alright?’


I was just thinking,’ said Louisa, wanting to keep her confused and jumbled thoughts to herself and not wanting to believe what she knew must be true. ‘I just want to go home so badly.’

Milgorry continued to stare at her
. Now she could sense profound sadness but this only served to confuse her even more.

 

BOOK: The Fallen (Book 1)
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