Owen punched the leather bag hanging from the wooden framework, his hands wrapped in cloth to prevent them from blistering. He was outside the castle, in an area used by the rebels as a physical training area. A few men sparred with weighted wooden swords, and several lifted heavy weights. Owen pummeled the leather dummy, gritting his teeth. He looked back at the castle door. Marcus had barely left his room that day, except to get a small amount of food from the kitchen. The rebels were moving the boys and the slaves to cabins outside the castle. Owen smashed his fist into the bag, imagining Cardowac’s face on the side of the plain leather bag.
He wondered if Marcus would stay, or if he would leave, and head out on his own. Owen wondered if Marcus was ready. While in some ways, he was a knowledgeable, sensible, and self-sufficient young man, in some ways, he was less mature than both himself and Kallan. He was not ready, Owen thought, to be by himself. How would he survive, when he couldn’t bring himself to kill an animal? And how would he deal with people, when he was so stern and even obnoxious about his beliefs, when he was so close-minded. Owen didn’t think that he really understood the world. He thwacked the leather bag. Kallan, at least, was good with people. That could get you a long way in this world, Owen thought. He looked over at the two brothers, and couldn’t help but think how different they were.
Kallan was practicing his sparring, spinning the sword as he fought another young recruit. He was in his element, toying with the other inexperienced fighter. Owen paused from his pummeling, and looked at Kallan. They were so different. He sighed, and returned to beating the bag with his fists.
He stopped after a few more minutes, his muscles beginning to ache. He unwrapped the cloth around his hands and stuffed it in his pockets. He walked toward a long wooden bench, and sat down, leaning back against the stone wall. He looked to where the former slaves were packing their bags into a cart. They were all moving. Owen stood, and headed inside.
He pushed open the doors, slipping inside. He skirted the edge of the hall, quickly glancing at the table, where the council pored over maps. Noren shot him a friendly glance, but Owen averted his gaze and headed for his room.
Marcus was sitting on his bed, toying with the dagger in his hands. He looked thoughtful. He didn’t look up as Owen came in. Owen sat on the other bed, looking carefully at Marcus, than began to pack his remaining things into his trunk. He neatly folded all his clothes, and lay them at the bottom, then added his bag of supplies. He closed the wooden box, and latched it tightly. Marcus turned his head.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re moving to the barracks, did you not know?”
Marcus nodded, and sat up. “They’re finally getting rid of us.” His trunk was already packed. He looked at the door sharply as it opened. Kallan walked in, his face flushed, and a grin on his face. Owen lifted his trunk, and headed toward the door. Kallan turned toward Marcus, still grinning, but his smile faded as he beheld Marcus’ scowl. He lifted his own trunk and turned, following Owen, now looking troubled.
They walked out of the castle, to the hand carts where people were packing their things. Owen set his trunk in a cart, fitting it into a gap at the bottom. Kallan shoved his on next to it. The door behind them opened, and Marcus walked out, setting his trunk as well on the cart. He stood nearby, quiet. Kallan looked at him quietly, and then turned. His eyes lit up. Owen turned, and saw the slave girl he had seen before. Kallan walked toward her, grinning. Owen chuckled to himself and turned back to Marcus.
Marcus was still frowning. Owen was suddenly serious.
“You shouldn’t be so hard on him.”
Marcus was silent. He turned and walked out the castle gate. Owen sighed, as the carts began to roll one by one out of the gate. Owen was about to follow them, when he had an idea. He turned and went into the keep. Noren still sat, looking at maps with a few other men. Owen went up to him.
Noren turned. “Yes, of course.”
“Do you think that I could possibly go hunting?” Owen asked.
Noren thought for a moment, and then looked at him. “I don’t know, but I may be able to pull a few strings and get it allowed.”
Owen nodded. “I just feel so cooped up in here, I wish I could get out.” Noren nodded, and then looked up. “Anything else?”
Owen shook his head, glancing across the maps and charts that the council were discussing. Noren turned back to his meeting, and Owen walked back out of the keep. Maybe he could get a hold of his bow again, and his daggers. It was a step in the right direction. At least he would have a weapon. He exited the gate, and headed out. He followed the road down, through the cave. He turned, heading toward a group of small cabins.
All the hand-carts were stopped in the center. A few guards directed people to their cabins. Owen saw Kallan carrying his things toward one of the cabins. He quickly picked his crate out of the cart, and followed. One of the guards stopped him, and directed him toward a different cabin. A moment of confusion came over Owen. He realized that there was no organization by friends or family. Frustrated, he ducked behind a cabin, out of the guard’s sight, and headed for the cabin into which Kallan had disappeared.
He quickly went up the steps, ducking into the small doorway. Inside were a number of bunks. The cabin was poorly built. A flash of memory hit Owen as he thought about Rory. What would he have thought of this shoddy craftsmanship? Owen sighed, and looked around. Several slaves were setting up their bunks. Owen slipped over quickly to the bunk next to Kallan. The slaves paused, and followed him with their eyes. He felt uncomfortable, and tried to ignore them, as they slowly went back to setting up their beds.
Owen put his box down, and opened it up. He brought out the two blankets, and his cloak, and attempted to make a makeshift bed on the thin mattresses and wooden frame. He lay down, rolling a bundle of clothes for a pillow. He sat up, looking at it ruefully. It was not as comfortable as the bed he had begun to get used to. He sighed, and shoved his box under his bed. He looked at Kallan.
Kallan looked around.
“They’re keeping us separate, aren’t they.” It wasn’t a question.
Owen nodded. “They tried to put me in a different cabin, but I slipped in here.”
Kallan frowned. “They want to keep an eye on Marcus, I think. And father. They don’t trust them.”
Owen looked out the door. “They want them in a different place, so they don’t influence us, maybe.”
Kallan nodded. “I won’t be influenced.” He looked steadfast in his belief in himself. Owen looked worried, but didn’t say anything.
He stood, and headed out the door, sitting on a bench in front of the cabin. He saw the handcarts heading back to the castle, their work done. He sighed. He looked up at the castle. This place seemed like less and less of a solace and more and more of a trap.
He heard the sound of lightly running feet. He turned his head, and saw Marcus running toward him, his hair undone and his clothes askew. He was out of breath.
“Come quickly. They have father.”
Owen stood up in confusion. “What?”
Kallan ran out of the cabin. “What’s going on?!”
Marcus grabbed his arm and pulled him.
They began to run, Owen lagging a bit behind. Up the hill, weaving through cabins and stalagmites. There was uproar near the castle. A large crowd had gathered outside the gate. Marcus pushed through, Owen and Kallan close behind. Owen craned his head, trying to see above the crowd, but he couldn’t quite make out what was going on. They burst through, and stopped.
Several guards were tying Keegan to a ring on a post used for tying horses. One held a long whip in his hand. The three boys moved forward, toward him, but a guard stopped them. Owen stopped, an expression of anger on his face.
“What is going on?”
The guard looked at him in surprise. “You didn’t know? That fellow’s being whipped, for insubordination and disobedience.”
Marcus cried out in anger, and swung at the guard, surprising him. He took the blow full in the face, and then a kick to the gut, falling heavily to the ground. Owen stood still in surprise as Marcus dashed forward, knocking down several more guards before he reached the pole. He reached down for his boot-knife, but a guard’s mailed hand caught him in the back. He fell, with a cry. The crowd stirred with excitement. Kallan and Owen stood still, shocked.
A guard lifted Marcus to his feet, dazed. He swayed on his feet, as the guard tied his hands behind his back. Marcus tottered, then suddenly, his eyes jerked wide open again. He kicked the shin of guard, as he tensed like a cat ready to strike. The guard swore, and swung at Marcus face. This time, he dodged, but another guard grabbed him around the neck. He was pulled to the ground. Several guards shoved him back against the pole. He slumped.
Owen started forward, but Kallan grabbed him, keeping him from going forward. Owen looked toward the castle gate. Several men came out. Among them was Noren. He had a look of surprise for a moment, followed by a look of anger. He quickly paced toward the pole. He spoke quietly with the tall guard holding the whip. Owen tried to hear what he was saying, but he was speaking too quietly. Marcus glared up at Noren. Noren spoke to him where he sat. Marcus looked angry.
Their voices grew steadily louder. Noren finally turned and began to stalk off. He turned one last time. This time his voice was loud enough for Owen to here.
“You have betrayed my trust.”
Marcus muttered something and glared daggers at Noren. Noren turned to Owen and Kallan. He spoke in a low voice.
“I would suggest you keep your distance from them.” He scowled, as if the earth would open and take the ‘traitors’ into its depths. He turned with a flourish of his cape. Owen turned as the soldier raised his whip. He began to run as the whip cracked down.
He tried to block out the noise, but he could still hear the loud noise of the whip on flesh. He ran down the hill, toward the cabins. He was torn inside again. Right and wrong? Confused. And he had thought things were black and white. He shoved the door open to his cabin. It was empty. He fell onto his bed, covering his ears.
He lay there on his face for what seemed like hours. He rolled over. The door creaked open. Kallan slipped in. His face was blank. He sat down next to Owen, and leaned forward, putting his head in his hands. Owen put a hand on his friends shoulder. He could understand why this was so hard. It was hard for him too.
He stood, and walked to the door, looking up toward the castle. The crowd was beginning to dissipate. He sighed, and stood, craning his head, but it was far enough off that he could not see what had happened. Suddenly, Marcus appeared from behind the cabin. His face was bruised and a trickle of blood came down the side of his face. He spoke quietly and quickly.
“Pack your things. We are leaving.”
Owen glanced back, and saw Kallan. Kallan stood there for a moment.
Marcus looked up, a look of utter surprise on his face. “What?”
“No. I am staying here.”
Marcus narrowed his eyebrows. “You are not.”
“Yes. I am.”
Marcus stood. “You are coming with us.”
“We are not welcome here!” Marcus grew angry.
“I am!” Kallan moved forward, angry.
Owen stood, not sure what to say. Kallan moved forward again.
“I am recognized here, and can separate myself from you and you’re unpopular, idiotic ways! These people know what they are doing, and they appreciate me.”
Marcus scowled. “They have almost killed father for speaking out against their tyrannous ways.”
Kallan was silent.
Marcus stepped forward, and put his hands on Kallan’s shoulders. “Kallan…”
Kallan struck out. Marcus fell back, slamming into the cabin. He jumped back at Kallan, scraping his nails into his brother’s arms. Kallan swore, and kicked Marcus between the legs. Marcus fell down to his knees, and Kallan jumped atop him, wrestling him to the ground. He held him there. Marcus reached for his boot, his face utterly angry, and not a good sight. Owen realized what he was doing. He jumped, smashing his knee into Kallan’s shoulder. He fell back. Marcus had his knife out, and spun, still on his knees. Owen turned around, and slapped the knife, cutting and bruising his hand. It spun, and clattered on the ground. Owen kicked Marcus in the chest, letting him fall back on the floor. Owen stood, tucking his bleeding hand under his arm.
Both of them lay on the floor. Marcus stood.
“Fine, do not come. I care not.”
Kallan spit at Marcus’ feet. Marcus swept up his knife, shoved it in the boot sheath, and dashed toward his cabin.
Kallan stood. He looked at Owen darkly. “What was that for?”
Owen looked at him. “I couldn’t let you kill each other.”
Kallan sat heavily on the bench. He leaned back, still breathing hard. Then he stood, and stalked around the back of the cabin. Owen stood silent.
“No, no…” He turned and grasped the doorframe of the cabin. He punched it, bloodying his knuckles. He leaned against the cabin. He looked up as several slaves came back into the cabin. A few of them looked at him darkly, but he ignored them.
He looked across the stony street, and saw several men carrying a figure between them. He began to walk quickly, and then realized it was Keegan. He began to run.
Keegan’s head was on his bare chest, and blood covered the several clothes that had been put onto his back. Owen followed them to the door into a cabin. Kaylee opened it, pushing the children back so they wouldn’t see. They peeked around her skirts. Owen followed them as they lay him on a cot, and then left, nodding to Kaylee. Owen let them pass. Kaylee quickly began to ready. She carefully pulled the bloodied clothes off of his back, and began to carefully wash his back with clean rags. He groaned, and shook, beginning to regain consciousness.
Marcus came to the door. A pack was slung over his shoulder, and he wore his old travelling clothes. He held his old bow in his hand. Owen walked quickly to him, speaking softly.
“Are you sure, Marcus.”
“I am. If we stay, we will only receive the same treatment.”
Owen looked at the bow, and raised an eyebrow. “How?”
Marcus raised a finger to his lips, and slipped inside. He went to Kaylee, and they had a whispered conversation. Marcus set down his things and quickly began to repack small sacks of provisions and clothing. The children surrounded him, helping him to ready their bags. Owen choked up. He was torn once more. What to do, where to go. He glanced back, out the door. Kallan leaned on the side of their cabin, staring at the ceiling of the cave. He looked at the group, his family. He looked back and forth for a moment. Then he turned, and made his choice.
Owen and Kallan sat behind the cabin, leaning on a stalagmite. They heard footsteps, and looked up. It was Keegan. He was on his feet again, after only a few hours. He was a tough old man, Owen couldn’t help but think, with great respect. The man looked slightly angry, but he kept his composure.
“Are you coming, or not, son?” Kallan shook his head.
Keegan sighed. “You are not making a wise choice.”
“These people have the right motives.”
Keegan shook his head sadly. He seemed to have lost hope. He turned to Owen. Owen hesitated.
“I will stay with Kallan.”