Chapter 5/1 - Going Down
I sat on the windless plateau for a time, watching my knees bleed, and didn’t know what to do, or what to think. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t anything, just stunned and totally at a loss for what to think at all. A movement in my peripheral vision caught my eyes, and I saw the procession of tiny insect villagers weave around the bend and into the shelter of the trees. They would be emerging from the upper end of the forest in a short time. I had to get the children out. Even if I didn’t believe still that he would be able to kill me, I knew I had to get the children out and to safety. I called to Reyna and nearly instantly, she appeared at the doorway, the baby still firmly in her arms and the other children hanging on to her cloak. They all looked around themselves fearfully, and then began to rapidly scamper across the open plateau and towards me.
I got up, straightened my garment and picked up the small boy and the girl once more. They were a little less stiff this time and the boy actually put his arms around my neck.
Without a word having been spoken, I led the way down the steps and onto the steep pathway, making myself think of each single step I was taking, and the next one after that only, one at a time. We met the villagers as they were just about to leave the last remnants of the forest and before the path got really steep, a gaggle of about 20 men, of all ages, poorly dressed in the villager’s rags, most of them I recognised well enough, all of them petrified within an inch of their lives, all of them not wanting to go up to the monastery at all. They stared straight ahead with their fear rimmed eyes and hardly seemed to notice us, and so we stood aside and let them pass in silence. In the last row, the same fear imprinted as in all of them, walked my own father, a small, sharp shouldered ragged man with bleached out hair and deeply lined sun burned skin. I found it hard to believe that he should have ever appeared so enormous and frightening to me. He walked by me and never even saw me standing there. It was as well.
A sound caught my attention and made me break off my watching of the straggly men’s progress up the hill towards the monastery. A way behind, an old man wearing a straw hat was driving a pony cart and trying to get the stubborn beast to move faster by repeatedly striking at it with a long piece of wood cut from a green tree. I stepped out into the middle of the trail and stopped him in his tracks.
“I will have the cart. You are to take us down into the village,” I informed him, but inside his head was placed like a fresh brand Lucian’s command and instruction to make for the monastery post haste or else forfeit his life and the lives of everyone dear to him into the bargain. I didn’t want to touch anything that was of Lucian’s at this time but I wanted the cart more, so I reached inside him and erased the fire brand command as easily as you would wipe away a cobweb.
The man startled and came back to full awareness, looking around himself in a confused fashion and then looking at us with no little fear – even tiny children and a straggly woman in Serein blue could do that to a grown man.
“Take us to the village,” I instructed him again, more kindly this time, and the old man cracked a toothless smile, relieved that his moment of confusion had been replaced by a new clear set of instructions. He turned the cart around precariously and with much shouting and beating of the old roach backed pony, and I lifted all the children, one by one, into the back and finally joined him on the driver’s seat.
The pony was well pleased to be going downhill instead of up, and willingly set off at a brisk pace. I turned around for what reasons I don’t know, but the monastery was well out of sight. I shut out all thoughts then and kept my eyes and my mind on the pony’s flicking ears, all the way back down to the village where I had grown up.