The road back to the farm lay between the wide, lazy Grey River on their left and forest thick with undergrowth on their right. The sun peaked above the tips of the mountains in the distance, throwing long shadows over the sloppy road. The day had been warm, but the sun had done little to dry the road from the previous night’s storm. Fallon picked his way between puddles, keeping his feet as dry as possible.
Thoughts of his talk with the shopkeep played in Fallon’s mind. Seen some unsavory types on the road, he had said. He quickened his pace, wishing he had brought their farm horse instead of letting it rest from the plowing the previous day.
Raelle reached over her Pop Pop’s shoulder to rub a hand over the smooth surface that made what she now knew was a shield and grasped the middle point of the W. It felt right in her hand, though she could not fathom why.
A branch snapped in the dark of the forest. Fallon cast his eyes about, searching the shadows, seeing nothing beyond the edges of the road. Curse me for a fool, he thought.
It had been stupid to waste the light haggling over the price of a shield he would never need. He should have bought the hoe, he thought as the conversation came back to him again. Even if all you have is a stick, the conversation had gone. Had he bought the hoe, he would have a stick and then some. He scanned the roadside for something he could use for defense.
“Help me look for a nice walking stick,” he told Raelle, mustering more calm than he felt into his voice as he lowered her to the ground. “We’ve a ways to go yet.”
A deer burst from the forest a moment later. “Only a deer,” Fallon muttered in relief as Raelle held up a sturdy length of oak branch that seemed to have come down in the last storm. “Oh that will do nicely.” He took the branch and began stripping away the leaves and smaller branches that spread out from it.
Fallon hefted the stick, feeling the balance. “Not bad,” he said. If nothing else, he would have a spare hoe handle he thought as he lifted Raelle back onto his hip.
Her breath caught, and Fallon followed her gaze to where three men made their way out of the underbrush and into the road. They carried strung bows, and bright white fletchings were visible poking over the men’s shoulders, an easy hand reach from the quivers that hung across their backs.
“Run into the forest and make your way back to town,” Fallon told his daughter setting her feet back on the road. “Be swift and do not look back. I will find you.”
Fallon heard a thousand questions in the simple words. “No time. You run when I run,” and whispered “go” as he began to run.
He ran, thinking back on long ago training, realizing too late that he had left the stick behind, and was on the men, tackling one and raining blows down on him before they splattered in the mud. Fallon scanned the confused men, saw them recovering from where they had scattered and kicked out at them as they neared. Fallon’s heart sank as he saw Raelle frozen in terror, standing in the middle of the road. “Go!” he yelled into the night.
One of the men, running hard tackled Fallon from atop the other man, landing them in a splash of muddy water as the third added his weight to him, pinning him to the muddy road. Fallon’s breath left him in a gush and he struggled to get it back as he waited for the blows to come.
“Stop it, stop it!” Raelle screamed as she ran to her Pop Pop.
Fallon tried to move but couldn’t. The weight of two men on him was too much. He had failed Raelle. He groaned beneath the men and searched for a way of escape.
“Fallon?” the man who lay across him asked. When Fallon did not answer, he continued. “Fallon, we mean you no harm. It’s Jarrel, Bones, and Telle.”
Fallon let his body go limp in relief as he heard the stick crack across the man’s back.
“Aye!” he screamed as the stick cracked again. The men scrambled away from where Fallon lay.
Raelle stood with the stick at the ready, protecting her Pop Pop.
Telle took the worst of it. Jarrel and Bones took whacks with the stick from Raelle, but aside from a bit a swelling, they would be fine.
Fallon apologized for attacking the men and informed them of the path the deer they had been stalking had taken, though none of them looked in the mood to continue the chase.
Almost home Raelle looked up at her Pop Pop in the light of the big bright moon. “What if they had been bad men Pop Pop?”
“If so, then you run. You hear me? Don’t you ever do that again.”
Raelle did not answer, and they walked the rest of the way in silence.
This is the second installment of a serial. Every week, another portion will be posted with a target word count between 500 and 1,000.
If you missed Episode 1, you can check it out here!
I hope you enjoyed this portion of our story! I look forward to seeing you as we continue the journey.