Authors: Andrew Domonkos
They held eachother for a long time, and he kissed her trembling lips and stroked her hair with his rough fingers as she began to cry.
“What has happened?”
“You were not supposed to come so soon.
I have not had enough time to pre—”
“They took everything!” she cried, falling to the forest floor and sobbing into her hands.
said with a sigh.
“Who else!” she wailed.
He felt guilty for his relief that the blood on her dress was not hers.
She simply looked up and nodded and wailed again.
pictured the old man, several hard years older than
, and he shuddered.
He lowered his hood so that she could better see him.
His face was bruised but his strange eyes still shone like two set gems.
She stood and touched a gash on his forehead and he winced.
“There is no more time to wait,” he said, taking her hand.
“This entire country will be in flames soon enough.” He pulled her close and squeezed both her arms.
“This isn’t home anymore.
We must leave.”
He had been planning their escape for months now, and had made the best of the past week by picking the pockets of drunken soldiers on the farm, but there were still so many preparations to be made.
The girl tightened her jaw and sniffed.
“Where can we go?
Who would have us?”
had given this subject a great deal of consideration for most of his life, and had never quite found an answer.
It wasn’t charity he seeking, such a thing was as foreign to him as compassion.
He only sought tolerance, which too, seemed in short supply.
“Anywhere but here,” he said finally.
She agreed and the two began to make their way through the woods back towards the farm.
The girl wanted to flee east and spat at the mention of
said he had to bring his uncle the firewood.
was sometimes cruel, but he had still taken in
when nobody else would. The firewood would be his last gesture of gratitude to his uncle—a farewell present.
He didn’t want his uncle to die cold.
He had toiled and sweated enough for
, and whatever debt he owed was paid.
He had someone else to look after now.
When they neared the edge of the woods and came to a small hill that led up to where
heard a strange commotion ahead and motioned to the girl to duck down.
Laying on their bellies the pair crept up the hill to get a better look.
They cautiously raised their heads so they could see what was happening on the farm.
whispered “fire,” and squeezed the girl’s arm, which was quivering wildly.
Across the fields where
humble home once stood, an inferno poured dark smoke into the turbulent sky.
About five hundred armored men surrounded the blaze.
Those not admiring the blaze were setting up tents and giving orders.
noticed that one group of men were adorned more regally than the rest.
They had the inflexible posture of nobility that lowborn men did not, and sat atop great steeds similarly clad in shining armor. Banners tied to the tips of long pikes whipped noisily over their heads.
knew the insignia on the banners.
The crest of
The mounted men were laughing and pointing to something.
leaned forward and squinted at the object.
Atop a tall spike that had been planted in the ground, something writhed.
Its arms moved slowly and aimlessly like a dying insect’s.
squinted and suddenly could make out what the object was.
It was his uncle
He felt a pool of sick rise in his throat and doubled over in disgust.
He felt dizzy and wretched as quietly as he could into the dirt.
When the girl saw his reaction she too leaned in and squinted at the distant pike.
By the time
regained his senses and saw where the girl was looking it was too late, her horrified wail had rose from her and reached the army.
One of the stately riders looked over curiously at the source of the noise.
He was a slender man with a long curved mustache.
He stood out among the other riders for some reason.
He smiled and pointed a long curved sword at
For a moment,
could hear the man’s voice whisper to him.
“I see you ghost,” he said.
The voice was a new horror to
He grabbed hold of the girl by the wrist and fled from the source of this terror. As they stumbled and tripped through the woods Szellum felt as if his heart might break from his chest.
The storm had found them, and heavy rain now whipped down on them. Thunder cracked ferociously overhead.
They jumped and crawled over the many gnarled obstacles and down and over each ravine.
robe seemed to snag on every branch he passed, and he cursed nature and wondered if she too was conspiring to destroy him.
The axe was cumbersome in his hand, so he tossed it and focused his efforts on navigating the girl more efficiently, which required much diligence.
Behind them he could hear shouts that promised a quick death if they stopped.
knew this was lie, and that if caught, they would suffer in ways they could not imagine.
He knew the woods better than his pursuers, who would be slowed by their heavy armor and war fatigue.
He could hear their clumsy movements as they fought their way over and through the tricky terrain.
Within a few minutes their kind voices became malicious, and they rescinded their offer of a quick death with booming voices.
The two slipped down a ravine and turned sharply to the east; following the ravine’s path as fast their legs could move them.
They maintained this frantic pace for another mile or so until finally they both collapsed wheezing.
The confused shouts of the soldiers were now distant and seemed to be heading in the opposite direction.
Lightning lit up across the sky and the downpour began to fill the ravine.
They crawled up to higher ground and lay on a bed of moss, under a canopy of leaves, clutching onto each other, desperately trying to catch their breath.
The storm surged all around them and the rain filled the ravine until it became a small river and water began to pool on the sides.
began to think the rain might flood them all to the heavens, the storm’s fury calmed and the downpour suddenly stopped as if whatever divine wrath had issued it had been spent.
stood up in the eerie calm, soaked and cold, and looked around for an indication of where they were.
All around water dripped and babbled.
He couldn’t stop shivering.
He looked at the girl, and noticed her ivory skin had taken on a bluish tint.
He spotted a tree he had marked with a rock some weeks ago.
It had a long carved gash in its base, and from this marker he knew that the Danube was only a few miles to the southeast, and from there they could follow it northeast into Moldavia where
was certain he could acquire two horses and enough food to flee north.
With horses, they might even make it to Germania, a place his father once spoke longingly of.
had pinched plenty from the Turks and he imagined the coin would go a long way if Moldavia was in the same desperate state as his own lands.
He could feel the heavy coins woven into a pouch in the sleeve of his robe.
He rallied the girl to her feet.
She coughed and looked at him with frantic eyes.
She was now shaking uncontrollably.
He told her to be calm, that they were almost home free.
His hope was bolstered by the sound of his own words.
would not waste the time or resources to track two peasant farmers very far.
began to march across the wet moss on the ridge with renewed hope, when a voice spoke and plucked his hope from him like a grape.
“Stop boy,” the voice said.
The words were heavy with a German accent.
turned and looked at the man.
His armor was as black as night.
were spatters of blood, no doubt belonging to the raucous band of unwelcome guests that had gone north,
The blood was being carried down his armor by the rain, forming rust-colored rivulets.
His golden hair was soaked and slicked back away from his eyes, and although his armor was dented and nicked, his face bore not even the smallest of scratches.
His eyes were as green as emeralds, his face sharp and cunning like a fox’s.
He seemed to be amused by the look of terror on the two lover’s faces.
His curved sword was unsheathed and held casually at his side.
The solider began to speak again, but was interrupted by the sound of someone approaching from behind him.
Another armored man came over the ridge and then descended and took a position in front of the German, who stepped back and gave a little bow.
The new arrival was slightly older than the German, with two slivers of grey in his dark hair, right above the ears.
The man hardly glanced at
, keeping his steely blue eyes fixed on the girl alone.
He seemed genuinely surprised by her beauty.
“What is your name, sweet flower?”
He said as warmly as if they had just bumped into each other on a stroll.
The girl spat at his boots.
“Murderer,” she said with venom in her voice.
She folded her arms defiantly and stared daggers at him.
balked and began to plead for their lives—pitiful blubbering that made the German scoff in disgust.
A small area of skin on
back began to itch furiously, right about where the pike would enter.