“Find her! Spread out!”
“Isla! Young Isla!”
“Search the ground, the trees! Leave no blade of grass or leaf unturned!”
The cries echoed through the forest, shouts rocketing like cannon balls through the darkness. Birds rustled uncomfortably in their nests, some fleeing from the shouts leaving wakes of bouncing branches in their flight. The black of the night was like liquid, pulling the two parties of men into its depths as the light of the distant castle fires faded. Swords glinted in the milky shadow of the quarter-moon, the sound of iron brushing the scabbards as men removed them.
“We’re wasting our time,” one man murmured, barely bothering to look around him. His dark mustache twitched, wiggling with the sheer annoyance he felt at being drug out of his warm bed in the middle of the night. “If they took her in here, the child is long gone. No one survives a night in this forest.”
“Quiet, Reyfelt, search and keep your mouth shut.”
The two men hobbled off, undergrowth crunching loudly under their heavy boots.
“Even if they are still here, they’ll have known we were coming by the thundering footsteps of those clumsy fools,” another man whispered, far ahead of the two arguing. A bow lay hugged against his abdomen as he ran, drawn and prepared for any sudden movement. “Why did he send us all out here when just the two of us would’ve done?”
“Lorandon,” his companion whispered back. “The King’s orders stand. The girl deserves all the help we can provide. She’s only ten years old.”
Sighing, the younger man nodded, knowing darkness wouldn’t disguise the gesture to his friend. They were lighter footed, sure of every calculated step, silent among the stomping feet of their heavier-set comrades.
“If they made it this far, Rorian,” Lorandon quietly muttered, “they’re past our reach. He’s right.”
Both groups continued forward, loyalty to their King and oath-bound duty pushing them onward. The two parties, although brought together for the same goal, differed in every way imaginable. Six human men, solely trained for castle guard and defense, trudged noisily across the forest floor. Inexperience resulted in them overlooking patterns in the grass, too busy competing for walking space to focus on tracking. Several were roused from bed, wearing nothing but house clothes and pick-knives. Others were in full charge with armor and mallets. Several possessed the intelligence to know they were doing a poor job of searching for the child but none held any hope in their hearts they would actually find her.
The group of two preceding were lit with a beacon burning inside them which no human man could possibly possess. Standing well over six feet, their tread was so light they left not marring on the grass behind them- no trail to follow. Not a single breath escaped their lips in exhaustion, their temperatures never rising to match a racing pulse.
“Rorian…,” Lorandon forced, coming to a halt. Slowly he raised one hand to hover in the air between then; tiny goosebumps flared across his skin. “Do you feel that?”
Spinning to look directly above him, Rorian drew his bow and let loose an arrow straight into the sky. The arrow lit up the forest canopy, nothing but darkness and stars yet something invisible pulsated in the clouds above their heads.
“It’s not possible,” Rorian murmured, his bow falling limp in his hands. “They haven’t been here for over one hundred-“
Cut off by the sudden rush of a breeze that lifted his hair, Rorian turned to look at Lorandon with fear flaring into his pupils.
“The girl…” he whispered.
“Over here! I found her! Here,” a male voice yelled, yards behind.
Ten Years Later
“Rorian,” she whispered, leaning over his shoulder. The table he rested on was littered with throwing knives and dirty rags stained with blood and iron. Circling the stool, she laid her hand on his back along his spine and patted gently.”Ror. Come on, you have to wake up. You’re going to be late.”
Silence filled the armory, the deep breathing of her guardian reminding her she hadn’t slept in over sixteen hours herself. She watched his eyes flutter as her persistent shaking, blinking rapidly in confusion before falling on her. She rarely saw him so unguarded yet alone asleep; light auburn ashes fanned deep into his brow bone and his ever-present sarcastic edge was wiped clean from his features.
“Lady Isla,” he murmured, still looking up at her. Smiling, Isla leaned closer to move the tip of a dagger away from his forehead. Snapping suddenly awake, he retracted from her hand and stood with his back against the table. “Please forgive me, I never meant to-“
“You’re sleeping during the day again,” she stated, leaning back against the arrow-lined wall. She studied the dark circles hanging beneath his crystal, blue eyes and felt the familiar tug of worry. “You come in here to hide, I’ve noticed. I don’t know whether it’s sad you have to do that in an armory or if it actually makes perfect sense to me. Either way, you have little less than a few minutes to meet with my father. I’ll pray your nap rejuvenated those long legs of yours.”
Smiling, he reached down to pick up the book he’d knocked off the armory table. Holding it between his hands, he shrugged before facing the girl again.
“Respectable ladies do not speak of men’s long legs,” he said, changing the subject. His smile was arrogant, filled to the brim with condescension. Isla inwardly sighed, noting his personality was fully intact and back on track. “Thank you for waking me.”
Handing her the book, he bowed, leaning low to expose the back of his neck as a sign of respect.
“Rorian,” she stated. Gently cupping his chin as he remained bowed, she forced him to look up into her face. “What’s happening? I want you to tell me everything.”
“Now, now, I don’t think everything would be such a good idea,” a deep voice barked from the doorway. “After all, he did go through a phase where he loved to wear purple tights.”
Laughing, Isla raised her eyes to the newcomer, catching the way his posture leaned heavy against the door frame.
“You haven’t been sleeping either, Lorandon,” she accused. “You know, I’m not completely oblivious to you all not sleeping. You think I don’t hear you leave your rooms in the middle of the night? You may be silent, even deadly, but I feel when you two are away from me. I feel you pace. I feel you quarrel. I feel you both refraining from speaking your minds when you disagree. What is you two think I cannot handle?”
Sharing a look, the brothers stiffened.
“Forget I mentioned it,” she sighed, shrinking into herself. “I’ll leave you both be. You know how my father despises when you are late.”
Quite sullenly, she strode out the door, her eyes glued to her feet. Both men watched as the girl fled in anger and sarcasm.
“Well, she’s picked up on more than I expected,” Lorandon said, leading the way out of the armory. “I had no idea we were so easy to read. I thought we used to be good at this.”
“We still are,” Rorian mumbled, falling in step. “She’s just more than we’re used to dealing with is all. She thinks we don’t trust her.”
“That’s nonsense. Of course we trust her,” Lorandon whined. “Why in the world would she assume the worst?”
“She’s a twenty year old woman,” Rorian smirked. “Something tells me this is going to be a very long day.”
Turning the corner leading to the King’s main chamber, both men raised themselves to their full height and straightened their clothes.
“Oh. And they were blue tights,” Rorian whispered, opening the door to the table room.
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou