“Where am I?” Thought Owen, looking around at his surroundings. He sat in a clean stone room, with a tapestry on one wall. In the other corner, on a stool, was a small pretty woman holding a baby. She sung quietly to him, looking at his chubby little face with such love as only a mother can have for her child. A man walked in. He had concern on his face as he looked over the woman and child.
“I have received a new assignment.” She looked at him in surprise. “You agreed that you wouldn’t until Owen was older!” The man spoke again, walking up and taking the baby carefully into his long lean arms. “This mission is important, so important that the survival of the kingdom may depend upon it.”
“But you could be killed!”
“I know, but, sometimes you must put the greater good before our own lives.” He knelt down, wrapping his wife in his arms. “If I don’t come back, Stephan and Keegan will take care of you. They are good men.” Owens mother burst out crying.
“You are a good man!” She lay her head on his shoulder, sobbing. He held her that way for several moments, than put the baby back into her arms and walked out.
Owen woke up. Another dream had come upon him. It was strange, but he knew what it showed. He had seen his parents. He thought of the other dreams, but this was the only one he was sure of. He was the baby, and he had seen his father the last time he would see him alive. His heart ached to think of how his father had died at the hands of renegade soldiers from his own army.
He rolled over, looking out the entrance of the cave. It was still dark, but he could see the very beginnings of dusk starting to show. He sat up, and then tapped Kallan where he lay, snoring.
“Wake!” He whispered loudly. “It is time!”
Kallan groaned. Owen poked him hard again. Kallan finally sat up.
“What is it?” he said out loud, rubbing his eyes.
“Shhhhh!” Owen motioned him to be quiet. He turned to where Marcus lay, but the older boy was already awake. Owen turned and began to pack his supplies. He strung his bow, strapped it to his quiver, and checked his arrows. He had an almost full quiver. Kallan stood up and began packing his own supplies. Marcus had few supplies of his own, so they rationed out food and clothing so he would have some as well.
They started trekking toward the camp, slowly and quietly. Everything was quiet. Not even the nocturnal animals were out, and the half moon was still high in the sky. The stars faded as the light slowly grew, but the sky was clear.
They circled carefully around the camp, coming in from a different direction then the first time. They stayed out of sight. The wind picked up, blowing snow into their faces, but they kept on, knowing it would obscure them from the sight of the barbarians. Finally they reached the camp, and stealthily made their way from tree to tree. At last, Owen knelt, ready to fire an arrow, but the camp was gone. He swore, than carefully began to creep forward, until he stood in the center of the devastated village. The camp was gone, and no sign of the barbarian camp remained, except the tracks of their footprints heading southeast, towards the end of the valley.
Owen swore and kicked a worn helmet that had been left behind. It smashed his toe, and he swore again, hopping up and down on one foot. Marcus came out behind, holding his bow ready. Kallan followed, grinning at Owen as he hopped up and down, holding his toe. Owen scowled at him, then set it back on the ground, limping slightly.
“Where are they?” said Kallan, voicing the question on all their minds.
“They left.” Replied Owen. “The man must have wanted them to come. That was what the conversation was about. They are going to him.” He looked around at the destroyed village. Once again, he had failed. It kept happening. Now they were all gone. His eyes lit again with green fire. He would track them down.
“What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go while the trail is still fresh.”
Marcus nodded. “First let’s search the buildings though.” He walked over and began to dig through the wreckage. Owen went to another building, and Kallan went to a third, searching for anything they could find that could be useful.
As Owen dug, he realized he was in the wreckage of Rory’s house. He found a box of woodworking tools and some hammers, which he took outside, and he also found something else. After lifting a heavy beam out of the way, he found a small necklace. A small stone hung from the chain, and he recognized it as the necklace that Nai wore. He picked it up, cradling it in his hand. He bowed his head in sorrow as memories flooded back, memories of picnics in the summer, of games played. He took the necklace and undid the clasp clumsily, then put it around his neck.
He climbed back out of the ruin. Kallan still rooted around in the wreckage of the hall, holding several small items. Marcus was pushing a log out of the way. Owen grabbed the box of tools and walked to the center of the village. He pulled a large beam, and began to dig a hole in the ground. He pushed the log into the hole, lifting it, and then kicking dirt in around it. Once it was solid he tamped down the dirt and began to pile the rocks that surrounded the fire pit around it. Soon he had piled them almost to the top. Then he got a short board from the wreckage and got the tools. Using a hammer and chisel, he slowly began to put letters into the board, glad that Keegan had seen fit to teach him to write. He worked over it for a long time, and then nailed to the pole. He noticed that Marcus and Kallan were standing behind him, watching him build. He stood back, taking in his creation. Marcus nodded.
To the Outlaws of the Mountains
So that they may be remembered
For the first time since the battle Owen felt the urge to pray. He bowed his head.
“Our father, God, give us your peace, and help us to rescue those who we love. May you be with those who need you. In your name of power.”
It was a short prayer, but Owen felt new hope surge through him, new purpose. He would find his loved ones, rescue them. But not alone. No! Marcus and Kallan would follow him. They too wished for revenge and to rescue their family. But he would lead them. He would lead them to the end.
The supplies they had found were not large, but they did find a number of useful things. Owens extra quiver was full of arrows, although some of them were bent or broken. They gave this to Kallan. A few hidden weapons were found in the hall, including a hatchet, which Owen took, and another knife for each of them. Owen had a knife already, and now he had another and a hatchet, besides his bow. Marcus took another knife, replacing one that had broken during the battle. Kallan had his sword, and he added a knife and the bow they had kept at the cave. Kallan also produced a bag of silver coins.
“I’m not sure if we’ll need them, but you never know.” He said, shoving them into his pack.
Marcus had also found some dried vegetables in the cellar of their old house, along with more dried meat and a barrel of Wentwerths ale. He had also found a leg of lamb, which was mostly good, and some loaves of bread. They packed the dried food away, and then ate the other stuff that was still good. They had a good luncheon on some boards that served as a table.
The food, however stale, was a welcome change to the dried meat they had been eating, and it raised their spirits a great deal. Afterwards, they rested for a bit to let the food settle, then packed up and began to follow the barbarians trail.
The ground was very torn up, and the newly fallen snow helped to see where they had run. It was not hard to tell, for they had not attempted to hide it, breaking branches and running over large patches of snow. One thing was evident, though. Although they were carrying heavy loads, the tribe was moving at a breakneck pace. The boys kept going at a trot, but they could tell they would not catch the tribe with a head start as long as they had.
They ran for hours, only stopping to take a swig of water or ale out of one of the water skins. They rested in the night, but would wake long before the sun rose to follow the trail once more, trusting Owens superior sight to see the trail. They crossed streams, climbed over large rocks, went through dense forest, but never did they get close to their quarry. They found their camps, but were always at least a day behind. Even living in the mountains could not prepare them for such a trek.
The elevation grew steadily lower, descending into foothills of dense forest. Three days after they had left the village, Owen climbed up a large hill and looked out. He looked back toward the mountains, seeing how far they had come. Hidden somewhere was the village, but all he could see was Beartooths mighty peak ascending into the clouds. Then he turned.
In the other direction he could see trees, but not far away the trees grew thin, and turned into grassland. As far as he could see, plains covered the earth. He strained his eyes to see the end, but could not. To his right more mountains went north. To his left, the mountain range came out in a jagged spur. At the bottom of the spur was a village. Just out of the trees, he could see smoke rising from its chimneys as the day grew late. Nearby, he thought he could see smoke rising, as if from a large camp. Excitement filled him to see the war party so close. Owen could see that they would be going no further.
He ran down the hill to where Kallan and Marcus were setting up camp.
“They are in sight! They camped not far from Moransford, and we can catch them if we go now.” He said excitedly, throwing his pack onto his back.
Marcus and Kallan jumped up, although weariness was in their eyes. Quickly they packed up the camp and began to run, following Owen. They ran for miles, late into the night, but when the moon was high in the sky they reached the edge of the trees. The moon illuminated the plain, and they could see the village below the massive spur of rock. Fighting the tiredness that came suddenly upon him, Owen continued running toward the village. Kallan grabbed him by the shoulder.
“What are we doing?” He glanced out toward the plain. “I thought we were going to the camp.”
Owen turned to him.
“They will be there tomorrow. It would not be wise to attack tonight. Remember? The man wished to meet them in 3 days. It has been three days. They will not leave. We will find somewhere to stay, and then go tomorrow.”
Kallan raised his eyebrows.
“It’s the middle of the night. Will they even let us in the village?” Owen shook his head.
“Most likely not. We’ll have to stay outside. In the morning we will go in and get what we need. Then we can find them, and rescue our family.” He looked out across the plain, and the few trees that broke up the endless horizon. Out there, somewhere, were all the ones he loved.