Roldan snuffed out the torch once they’d found the exit, confident he could guide his mother to their safe haven by the starlight alone. The old hatch was rarely used, well covered in soil and roots. It took both of them, the boy and the lady both, grunting and pushing with all their strength to open it. What they saw through the opening took their breath away.
After the dark of the tunnel the brilliant, flickering blaze of light came as quite the shock. They crept out into the grassy field, alive with light, and stared, crouched amongst the tall grasses. Their home, the Dwennon castle was a bright beacon before them, smoke tendrils obscuring the sliver of the moon above. Screams echoed in the distance, an occasional body tumbled from the top of the wall.
Their people were suffering, and yet, here they were, escaping into the night. Roldan clutched his knife and grit his teeth.
“If only I were older…” he muttered.
His mother hugged him close. “You’d be dead,” she said softly. “Like your dear father.” She rose to a crouch and took his hand. “Surly you can guide your mother to safety. I do not know these woods as you do.”
The outpost was dark and silent when they arrived. No one, it seemed, save them, had escaped the attack. Exhausted from the rush of adrenaline and long flight through the night, Roldan found sleep with surprising ease. His mother, on the other hand did not. She sat, waiting, a vain hope of rescue holding her weary body upright through the long night.
Her prayers were answered not long after dawn. Roldan was sorting through their supplies when there was a faint knock on the door and a whisper of a familiar voice. “Lady, do I dare hope you are in there?”
Silent as a mouse, she went to the tiny peephole while Roldan went to check through the small opening in the loft. With a nod from her son, Dulcina unbolted the door.
“Oh, Aldrich! You came!” she exclaimed, taking his hand, and pulling him into the hut. He was ragged, his features lined with dirt and blood. Yet the old man was the dearest of sights. “How on earth did you escape?” She led him to the chair while Roldan scrambled down the ladder and re-bolted the door.
“The Lord, he bade me promise to guide you to safety before the attack. It was shameful, my lady, to forced into hiding while the lord fought off those brutes. I searched the hidden passages, your rooms, all through the night, narrowing escaping the blade on several occasions. You can not imagine my relief finding you here well and whole."
Dulcina nodded, her features sagging with exhaustion. “Well enough, dear Aldrich. We were gathering our supplies in order to head north. There are villages along the way. We hope we may find shelter through the winter.”
Aldrich nodded, solemnly. “I fear we must fly farther, my lady. These men will not stop until your son is dead. They did not find his body, and will not be satisfied until the Dwennon line is extinguished for good.”
“But we have no horses! No means to travel beyond the reach of our own lands!” the lady cried, desperation creeping into her voice for the first time since their escape.
“I will guide you, my Lady. They rest is in the hands of fate,” the old watchman assured her.
They wrapped Lady Dulcina’s feet with leather bindings and divided the supplies amongst them. Each laden with enough to live off of should they be separated, the rest as evenly as possible, though the old Watchman took the heaviest load. Despite his age, he assured the lady he was quite capable. And so, they made their journey north.
Within a day and a half, they found a cottage, well hidden at the edge of the forest and foothills. The family of five had seen the smoke from the castle, but had heard little about the attack on their lord’s castle. With a flash of Dulcina’s ring, they did not doubt the story of the weary travelers.
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bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...