Chapter 29 - Dining With The Queen

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The Gable Forest


Jeanine screamed, urging the villagers of Kaljah onward to escape the Gobelins. "Run," she cried. "Run!"

When she looked at distance they had yet to cover, their fate was obvious. They wouldn't make it. A cold panic set in. They had been fleeing Kaljah for little more than an hour, and already her flock was scattered, with those in the back far behind the leaders. The gap between them grew larger. Those in the back were losing speed quickly. No one could run forever.

She turned Storm sharply around then backtracked, cantering to the back of the group. "You must hurry!" she cried.

She saw a woman near the rear stumble and fall, crying out as she fell. Her name was Norah and she was middle aged with four children grown and moved away. Jeanine led Storm over, jumping from the mare's back. She bent to help Norah stand.

"I canna go on," Norah cried. "I canna! Silah...Silah is back in the village. He's gunna die! We are all dead." Her anguish was a thing of nightmares.

"You mustn't cry! It will only make breathing harder," Jeanine said, losing her patience. "We are not going to die. Keep running. Keep going for Silah, for your children." She gave Norah a push from behind, spurring her forward.

The villagers continued to run. Every time she counted there were fewer. Some of the women were dropping like flies, scattered far enough back that she could no longer see them. There was only so much she could do to motivate them...

Their progress slowed even further. After a while she stopped looking behind her. She no longer wanted to see those who could not keep up. She had done all she could to help them. She had to ensure that the children reached safety.

By midday, even those in the lead stopped to rest. The children were crying for water—there was none. In the panic of escaping, water was forgotten. She dismounted and lifted the young boy from Storm's back. He still held the young child. The mother of the child was likely dead—very few of the older folk had made it this far.

She bent over and took hold of the boy's shoulders, where she held him firmly. "What is your name?" she asked.

"Jorn," he said, whimpering.

"Nice to meet you, Jorn. I am Jeanine. Do not let the baby out of your sight. Do you understand?" She kneeled down to his height. His eyes were wide and scared, his face fearful. He nodded and stood there, too stunned to move otherwise. 

Rising, she began to assess the others. It was then she noticed that there were no men with them. Most of the children were barefoot, and many were crying. The few mothers who had made it were trying to comfort them. Everyone was in utter shock.

The hilly plains held little life and no promise of quenching their thirst. Any further west and they would be in the desert. She dared not take them eastward into the mountains crawling with Gobelins—that would be even more dangerous. They needed to reach the forest. She could see the green smudge looming on the horizon. They were close. Would they last another day and a half?

To get a better look at her surroundings, she climbed atop Storm's back. With extreme care, she first put her feet into the stirrups, and then worked her way onto the top of the saddle, slowly standing up and holding her arms out to the side for balance. Turning her head in the direction they had come, she squinted to see better. What she saw stilled her heart.

"They are coming!" she screeched. All around her fresh cries rang out. Pitiful wails echoed from the lips of the few mothers remaining as they realized escape was impossible.

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