Hello again everybody! Thank you to everyone who liked and followed my blog in the time since I posted Prologue. I now have 29 followers, which is fantastic! Also thank you to the people who messaged me with your support, it really means a lot, and I am glad that people enjoyed the set-up to this book. As with many fantasy prologues, we will not be hearing from Wright for some time, but rest-assured you will meet him again in future. The main plot, however, is about to begin. I will not give too much away, but I really enjoyed researching this chapter in terms of the hierarchy of medieval villages and learning the theory of how to set a rabbit snare. I hope you enjoy, and as always, all feedback is appreciated, and thank you so much for giving this your time!
P.S. I am still working out transferring the formatting from Word to WordPress, so please forgive any sudden changes – these aren’t stylistic, they are just me being a novice!
Nadir took one last look over his shoulder before he scattered the crushed apple within the confine of the snare. The sunlight glittered through the airy canopy of the forest and lured the butterflies out from the crevices where they hid from the night. The moths on the other hand had long since retreated from the threatening haze of dawn and returned to the cold comfort of pure darkness. As soon as he saw the first butterfly of the morning, he knew he had set his last trap. An itch took the soles of his feet and he ran.
As he ran through the forest, he daydreamed of the rabbit’s flesh dripping from the spit over the red glow of the firewood. His bare feet were hard and calloused. It was satisfying crushing the twigs, leaves and deadwood under them as he swiftly sidestepped saplings, brambles and thick-trunked trees until he emerged onto the grassy mounds near his home. He stood for a moment and gazed over the thatched roofs and bunched yellow crops that were beginning to flower. A welcome breeze cooled the sweat beneath his messy black hair and he closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose as he felt the corners of his lips curl up towards his cheeks.
Nadir let out a deep sigh and collapsed onto the dewy grass. He grasped a handful of wet clovers and pulled them up from the ground, then heaved the roots and the small lump of dirt that clung to them. He threw his arms over his head, rested his biceps against his ears- and he rolled. Sky and earth and horizon blurred into a watery smudge, his mouth was filled with grass and water, his hair was tussled and out of place and when he finally stopped, he opened his eyes and his mother stood over him brandishing a large carrot as if it were an axe.
Nadir’s mother was a stout woman with straight black hair concealed by a head-veil that tucked in her neck and chin like a wimble and draped over her shoulders. She had warm brown eyes and full cheeks, but all Nadir noticed were the crinkled folds in her forehead when she yelled at him. She rolled her eyes, dropped the carrot, hoisted him up by his armpit and dug her fingers in until he yelped.
“You think that is pain?” Mother scoffed. “Just wait until…”
“…I get inside and you’ll show me pain?” Nadir mocked. Mother took him into the hut and pushed him onto the chair. Nadir smiled at her and she turned away. He knew that she was smiling too, though when she turned back she wore a scowl like a scorned banshee.
“Are we rich, Nadir?”
“Do I have time to gallivant in the forest?
“Then what makes you think that you can spend half your morning playing silly games?”
“I’m sorry, mother,” Nadir looked at the floor and twiddled his thumbs.
Mother sat down beside him, took his fingers and held them sandwiched between her palms. “You have only ever known good harvest, short winters and a fair lord…but you are young. It may not always be this way. That is why we work – not to make better what we already have, but to protect us should we lose it.”
It was a sermon that Nadir had heard at least once a season since he could remember, yet every year the harvest was grander than the year before. The village of Ashfirth had doubled in size since he and his mother arrived when he was just a boy of three, though to him it never seemed to change, if anything, it felt smaller and smaller the more he grew. Mother readjusted her blouse, refastened the lacing on her skirt and straightened. Nadir got to his feet and could almost look her in her eyes. Mother was a small woman with broad shoulders, hips and short legs- the opposite to him- he was slender and tall for his age, yet they shared one thing. They had the same brown skin, a hue that made them unique to what must have been the entire Earldom.
Nadir hated weeding, but he had neither the strength to plough nor the patience to sow, and the only Ox-cart in the entire village was being used by the monks who had access to it on every fourth day of the season. This day marked the eighth of Summer on the tenth year since the peace was declared. Every year Ashfirth along with all villages in the Twin Kingdoms celebrated, and on the tenth day of summer, their Lord would provide a feast on the lawns of his manor for every man, woman and child under his protection. Sometimes when Lord Tigos felt exceptionally generous, he even provided them with furs, clothes and shoes to help see them through the winter and reward them for a good harvest.
Lord Tigos was an older man of about forty years with a round face, red cheeks and a large belly that overlapped his belt underneath his tunic. His hair was black and swept across to one side so that he could constantly dab at the sweat on his forehead with his handkerchief. He would often walk out into the fields whilst Nadir and his mother worked his land. It was always the same. He would chat with his mother for a few moments before walking over to Nadir and ruffling his hair, then his mother would follow Lord Tigos back to the Manor House and emerge again not long after.
The house was the only one in the village that wasn’t made of ash timber, thatch and clay, instead it was made of a grey, hard rock known as cryptstone, named-so because it was mainly used for crypts, churches and castles. It was popular because it was cheap, plentiful and hard-wearing. The roof tiles were slate, made of a combination of fire-hardened clay and volcanic ash that the scholars said came over on a cloud from the Molten Isles centuries before people even stepped foot on the continent. It made him think of the house as a volcano, and he felt a sense of awe in knowing that something so ancient and dead could contribute to the majesty of something so full of life.
He tugged at a troublesome weed on a crop patch that sat in the shadow of the western wall and felt the drop in temperature that gave him an extra ounce of strength to yank it from the ground. The force pushed him onto his backside and covered him in dirt which he hurriedly brushed off. He heard a giggle. Nadir peered around the corner of the wall and saw the servant girls, Emma and Emily walk past carrying wicker baskets filled with wet linen from the river. They glanced at him briefly and giggled to each other again.
“What’s so funny?” Nadir blushed.
“Now your hose match your legs,” Emma laughed, brushing her curled blonde hair behind her ears.
Nadir looked down and saw that the dirt smudged on his white linen shorts were almost the same shade of brown as his skin. It made him laugh, and they laughed together.
“I should get back to work,” Nadir grumbled.
“I wouldn’t worry about that. Lord Tigos is too busy to worry about us today, he is preparing for his trip,” Emily told him.
“Still, if Prior Adrian or Jon the Bailiff were to see me not working…”
“They’re with him. They’re all inside the house, and they’re all going away,” Emily raised her eyebrows.
“Then who will be in charge of the village?”
“Marc the Reeve. I’m sure it will only be a few days,” Emma shrugged.
“What about the celebrations for the tenth?”
“There won’t be any. Didn’t you hear-” Emily started.
“Sh Emily!” Emma chaste her. “You better get back to work.” Emma shot him a look and pulled Emily back into the house by her wrist.
The girls disappeared around the corner and left Nadir on his backside. No celebrations, he thought. There had been a celebration on the tenth of summer for as long as he could remember. It made him sad to think that they would miss out on the feast, but the thought of Marc the Reeve being in charge of the village worried him most. Marc was elected by the smallfolk to be their representative in court and was by far the richest peasant in the village with several cottagers under his employment. Nadir and his mother were serfs and bound to the Lord in which they served, without their Lord to protect them, they were vulnerable.
Marc was a cold man with a shaven head and sunken black eyes and a twisted nose with wide, flared nostrils. His jaw was hard and square with a near-constant frown spread across his lips. Marc was in his thirties with broad, muscular shoulders like an ox, though the exposure to red meat and wine left his belly softer than it might have been otherwise. Nadir didn’t see him much, but when he did he would either ignore him completely or push him out of his way.
When dusk began to fall upon the village, Nadir snuck back into the forest. He never had long until twilight drifted past and the moths and owls began to emerge back into the darkness. The days were long enough in summer so that he had more time to set traps and recover them. Mother would punish him for it, but it never stopped her using them in her stews and so he always thought it worth it. Of the five snares he set, one of them had been chanced upon by a lucky fox that left only the bones, one had clearly been set off by a dormouse that was too small to be caught and two hadn’t been set off at all. As he approached his final trap, he saw that it hadn’t been tricked or stolen … it had already been taken down.
“Looking for something?” A voice came from behind him. Nadir span around startled and saw a man with a sapling trunk in one hand and the leg of rabbit in the other- cooked, half-eaten and dripping with grease. He had long blonde hair down to his waist and a patch of light fluff on his upper lip, he wore a burgundy surcoat, but Nadir could see the mail emerging beneath the point of his sleeves. He didn’t recognise the coat of arms, but he had seen them before somewhere. It was a pink man holding a longbow on a zigzagged field- the bottom half grey and the top half sky blue. Nadir’s mouth went dry and his palms were clammy. The man took a bite of the rabbit leg. “Did you set these traps?”
Nadir shook his head guiltily.
“You know it’s illegal for anyone but the Lord to hunt in the forest, don’t you?”
“And you know what would happen to you if the Lord found out you’d been snaring rabbits, don’t you?”
Nadir shook his head.
“Well you’d have to pay a hefty old fine for one, then I’d imagine he’d take your hands off so you couldn’t do it again,” the man grinned. “You don’t want that now do you?”
He shook his head again.
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul, just as long as you don’t tell anyone that you saw me here. Okay?”
“Good. Now run along back to your village. It’ll be dark soon.” Nadir’s legs froze. He stared vaguely at the man for a moment until he snapped the sapling in two. “Go!”
The following day, the village gathered in the church before dawn to pray for the safe return of the party. Marc the Reeve gave a short speech and the crowd gathered by the bridge to wish them all good fortune. Lord Tigos looked at them sadly, dressed from head to toe in his military uniform. His surcoat was made of linen and hemp and coloured pine green. It sported the coat of arms of House Tigos – a beige rabbit leaping over a blue river on a field of green.
Their party was only fifteen-men strong, due to meet with the Earl of Bankwater a day’s ride from Ashfirth. Nadir saw the sun rising over the trees and couldn’t help but feel relieved Lord Tigos was leaving. He had nightmares about Marc the Reeve gleefully hacking away at his wrists with an axe whilst his mother cried and Lord Tigos comforted her with a wry smile. His night was spent thinking of the man he met in the forest. He dreamed of the archer on his emblem and wondered what house he represented. He wondered whether he was alone or whether there were more men in the forest, but as long as Lord Tigos wasn’t around to find out about his rabbit snaring, then he would be safe.
Nadir watched as the convoy exited the town and vanished over the horizon and into the hot wavy air. Marc the Reeve turned around to face the expectant villagers. He surveyed them for a moment and all of a sudden his face turned to a scowl. “Well…what are you all looking at me for? We’ve got work to do! Come on, the lot of you, back to work!” The villagers fragmented slowly and mumbled their way back to their land, disappointed that their brief respite from work had been so quickly snatched from them.
As Nadir followed his mother, she stopped in her tracks and turned around to him. “Nadir, be a Godly boy and pay a visit to Old Enid,” Mother told him.
“Old Enid?” Nadir complained.
“Don’t be so petulant, she is sweet and has no one to care for her. I pity any woman who has to live so long as her- go and make her tea and listen to her stories…you might even hear something you enjoy,” she smiled.
“I doubt it.”
Mother clipped him around the ear. “Go.”
Of all the huts in the village, Enid’s was by far the oldest, but also one of the largest apart from Marc the Reeve’s and of course, Lord Tigos’. Enid’s family had lived in Ashfirth for almost a century and had produced more knights and men-at-arms than any other peasant family in any village in the Earldom of Bankwater.
Before Nadir knocked, he could hear Enid singing. He pressed his ear against the door and listened for a moment before he entered.
“Wait, wait, good Knight stay here and lay with me
I can’t bear to find you swinging from the branches of our tree.”
He remembered the song from when he was boy. The women used to sing it when their husbands, sons and fathers went away to fight for their lord. It was to remind them of the dangers of war and to cherish those they held dear while they could in case they didn’t see them again. The tone was always sad, but the bards always tried to make the tempo higher to lighten the mood so it felt like less of a dirge.
Nadir knocked on the door and heard a crash of pottery. He nudged the door open and called inside to announce himself, and as he stepped in he saw Enid standing over the cracked pot with a strange mix of confusion and acceptance written across her face. “Perhaps I will use a different pot…to what do I owe the pleasure, my dear?”
“I wanted to see if I could listen to your stories if I made you some tea,” Nadir said sweetly, he had learned that Enid hated pity, so he always propositioned his company as a trade that benefited him.
“I suppose that is a fair deal. You know where the cauldron and the leaves are?”
Nadir was entranced by the glowing firewood. Ash wood burned slowly and emitted a deep, vivid orange radiance as if the sun had rained fire down onto it. He was only torn from his trance when the water bubbled and spat at him as if ready to explode. He pulled it from the fire and filled the clay teapot with water before placing it in Enid’s waiting hands.
“You wanted to hear a story?” Enid asked as she took a sip of the scalding tea, which was too hot for Nadir to even grasp for more than a moment.
“One of the boys in the village told me that you had a son and something about a boulder…” Nadir began.
Enid laughed heartily and her face lit up. “Oh my dear son, Peter…what a man he was, and boulder…oh my yes he was. Built like a boulder, they would say…and he was. No more than five-feet tall, but round-shouldered, pot-bellied and a perfectly circular bald head. You wouldn’t find a man in all of the New World who wouldn’t cower in fear when he charged into battle. They should have called him rhino. He’d fashioned his helmet to feature a spiked horn that emerged from the top, and he’d run so fast and have so much force behind him that he would impale his rivals before they even had a chance to run away. A brave boy…not too bright…and not the prettiest, but my word he was good,” she beamed.
“What happened to him?”
The old lady sighed. “What happens to all of them eventually. They prove themselves in battle, get knighted for their service and spend the rest of their days fighting until they run out of luck. In truth, more have died from dysentery and famine than fighting, but it doesn’t make the pain any less. Peter was the last of them mind, part of me thought that maybe he might be the one to make it, and to live out his days until he was old, but it wasn’t to be. That fate was left for me.”
Nadir leaned forward on the edge of his wooden seat and gave her a sympathetic look. Enid stared out the window behind him and he turned around to see what she was looking at. It was Anton, one of the boys in the village hitting a tree with a stick like it was a sword. Anton was a fat child with straw-like blonde hair, freckles and small blue eyes, but he swung the sword with the energy and enthusiasm of a much fitter boy. Nadir looked back to Enid and the sadness had left her eyes. Suddenly a stag beetle scuttled across the floor in front of him and Nadir instinctively pulled his legs up onto the chair and let out an involuntary squeak, Enid chortled delightedly and let the beetle run across her chubby toes and back onto the floor.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Afraid of what? A beetle? Ha! There are far worse creatures in these forests my darling. If only you knew what lurked beyond the trees…deranged goblins with pointy ears and razor sharp teeth, banshees that lure men to their deaths with songs sweeter than honey and paths that change direction and pull you into a circle of wolves that tear the flesh from your bones. Oh yes, the true horrors of our land hide amongst the trees and dare not emerge from the dark. A beetle…a beetle is a naïve thing, it does not realise that the giants who share its world fear its presence, what a thing to imagine. Yet here you are, squealing like a branded pig,” she laughed again.
“I suppose it is silly,” Nadir admitted, lowering his feet back to the floor. “Is it true what you said…about the goblins, the banshees and the wolves?”
Enid softened her face. “There are many tales of men who claim to have seen them or heard from another who has, but they are just stories. I have lived in this village for almost a century and I have never once seen a banshee or a goblin, though that is not to say they don’t exist. You and your mother were the first brown-skinned people I’d ever seen, but for a large part of my life, the stories I heard were just stories. Now I know you are real, who knows what else is real that I do not know about? That is the excitement of life, just when you think you have seen everything, you see something new and your entire world shifts.”
“I never thought about it like that,” Nadir said as he heard a tap on the open wooden shutter. He turned around to see Anton standing there was a wide smile on his face, holding up two sticks. Nadir turned back to Enid.
“I believe our trade is done,” the old lady smiled.
Anton was strong, but Nadir was quick. When the two swung their sticks at each other and clashed, the force would drive Nadir’s wrists back until he had to roll out of the way. As long as he kept moving, Anton would eventually tire and be weak enough for Nadir to send a flurry of swipes and slashes at him until he surrendered. They were a good match and whoever made the most of their strengths usually won the fight.
Anton lumbered towards him, Nadir carefully watched his chubby fingers until they twitched, which usually indicated the start of an offensive move. As soon as he saw a movement, Nadir would go for the killer stab to his round belly. Just as he was about to land the blow, Anton twisted his body away just before the contact was made, but Nadir had committed to the attack and the momentum threw him onto his stomach. As quick as he could, Nadir turned onto his back and up to a seat, but it was too late, Anton held the stick over him.
“Do you surrender?” Anton asked triumphantly, his fingers loosely holding the stick.
Nadir dropped his head and smiled to himself. “No,” he whispered, pushed himself back on his hands and kicked Anton’s wrists causing the stick to fly through the air and across the grass. Nadir grabbed his stick and pushed himself onto his ankles as he crouched underneath Anton, holding the stick tightly in his fists to Anton’s throat.
“Do you surrender?” Nadir felt a smug grin form on his face.
“That’s not fair!” Anton moaned. “You can’t kick!”
“Says me,” a gruff voice came from behind them. Nadir turned around to see Marc the Reeve standing over both of the boys with his arms crossed. “What in Natos’ name are you boys playing at? Back to work or I’ll flog you both!” Anton dropped his stick and ran, but when Nadir tried to do the same, Marc collared him and put him back down. “Not you, you come with me,” he said and walked away from Nadir. Marc began walking towards the river by the Manor House and Nadir followed him. Neither of them said a word and Marc walked so fast that he struggled to keep up with his long strides. It wasn’t long before they stood next to the mill and looked across the river. The midges swarmed around his messy hair and he flicked his wrist to get them to move, but they lingered around him all the same.
The reeve pulled him away from the insects and pointed at Nadir’s mother whilst she pulled the weeds from the dirt. “Your mother works every hour of every day to make sure that you can both eat. She will never own any land, she is not allowed to marry a man who can provide for her and she’ll likely never have another child. The only happiness this woman has is you, boy and whilst you’re off playing silly buggers and pissing around in the forest, she’s wishing that you were standing beside her, helping her and keeping her company,” Marc told him in a lowered voice.
“I never thought about that,” Nadir said as he watched his mother wipe the sweat from her brow.
“None of us are angels, lad. Well, perhaps not us at least,” Marc whispered as he gazed across the river.
The church bells rang and Marc walked away without another word to him. Nadir crossed the bridge and ran towards his mother who was leaving the field to join the rest of the villagers at the church. He caught up to her and grabbed her by the elbow and the forearm before placing his palm in hers and linking his fingers. Nadir looked up to her with a smile across his lips and though at first she looked at him strangely, she soon returned the smile and drew him close with her free hand. They walked together towards the church.
The monks gathered around the back of the room, allowing the women and the children to sit whilst the men also stood within the aisles of the tiny church. The benches were masterfully crafted as all of the woodwork in Ashfirth was. The abundance of fine ash wood meant that attractive furnishings were cheap in the Earldom of Bankwater, and even Nadir’s tiny village benefited. The seats were smooth and had detailed swirling patterns engraved into them, linking together in mesmerising symmetry like the veins of a leaf. Nadir traced it with his finger before being pinched by his mother who stood next to him.
Brother Thantus stood before them with the robe of his hood covering his face as his head hanged. The brothers around the church each held a candle and raised it as the humming began. Brother Thantus strolled around the nave, lighting the candles with his. Dusk began to gather around the village earlier than usual, the cloud gathered in the late afternoon allowing the sun an early retreat. The brother started to sing in an old language that Nadir had never learned. He knew it was a sad song, their voices joined together in a deep cacophony that sounded other-worldly, as if it came from the God of Death himself. It was slow and sombre and drained the church into silence as their voices echoed off the walls. Every note was in time and tune, every word pained and sorrowful. Silence came slowly afterwards as the last note drifted into the forest. Brother Thantus removed his hood as he lit the final candle, which gave the church a needed circle of light that caused shadows to dance against the crypystone walls.
“A boy is dead,” Brother Thantus wailed. “It is a tragic thing, a horrific accident, a stark misunderstanding. Prince Edward, the boy born of peace across the mountains has been murdered in cold blood…his throat cut,” he growled sourly. The gathered villagers murmured and voiced their discontent as some of the children cried. Nadir felt a detached sympathy, but wished the crowd would be quiet so that Brother Thantus could continue.
“Who would kill an innocent boy?” Marc the Reeve roared.
“He was no boy,” Mother replied. “He was the heir to The Hartlands, there are many who would gain from his death.”
“Aye, Prince Asher for one!” Linn the Miller conjected.
“Silence!” Brother Thantus called and the church simmered down. “The church is not the place to voice your accusations. On the orders of King Aron, Lorne the Queen of the Hartlands, and our dearest exported Lady has been imprisoned, accused of Prince Edward’s murder.”
This church erupted. The infants beside him cried at the noise whilst the older children cried from the news, Nadir looked up to his mother who squeezed his hand and gave him a look of concern. Mother had often told him of how she had escaped war across the seas to find refuge in The Blacklands, eventually being bought by Lord Tigos. Now, two nations who had spent nearly a decade at peace were now caught in the midst of a scandalous trial.
“This will mean war, brother!” Marc the Reeve shouted.
“What kind of King accuses his own Queen of murdering their child? It is a conspiracy!” Linn interjected to supportive roars from the men in the village.
“Silence!” Brother Thantus called again impatiently.
“It is not our place to comment on such matters. Our duty is to mourn for the dead and pray for the living,” Brother Thantus preached. “Let us pray for the soul of Prince Edward and for the soul of Queen Lorne. Let Natos guide the boy, and let Jivana guide the lady.”
When the darkness set, the crickets in the forest chirped their songs. Even at night, the heat was hard to bear and Nadir struggled to settle on the straw next to his mother who held him close to her. She had been quiet since the church and gazed into the distance like a lost child. Nadir kept talking to try and hear her voice, but she just smiled and nodded before returning to her deep stare. She eventually drifted to sleep and Nadir waited until her breathing settled before sneaking off the straw.
I can’t sleep anyway, he justified to himself as he snuck out of the hut and across the village. He often went to the church at night. He felt peaceful in there and liked the feeling of the cold stone on his bare feet. As he approached the church, he noticed that a candle had already been lit and sat on the podium at the chancel. Behind the podium, Brother Thantus stood before a large book, slowly turning the pages. Nadir cleared his throat so not to startle the monk, who looked down at him curiously.
“You should be in bed,” Brother Thantus said, not unkindly.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Neither could I,” the monk frowned.
“What are you reading?”
“Not so much reading as researching. I am trying to find a particular story in the Book of Life & Death about the first battle between Natos and Jivana.”
“Battle? You mean they fought? I thought they were both good.”
“Good can fight with good, as much as bad can fight with bad, it is rare to find one side completely despicable and one side wholly Godly…even angels can go to war,” the monk shrugged.
Nadir thought for a moment. “What about Gods?”
Brother Thantus considered him for a moment. “Some believe they have been at war since the dawn of time, and that Earth is their battleground.”
“What about you? What do you believe?”
“I’d like to believe that we were not pawns in the politics of life and death, I’d like to believe that we serve a greater purpose than that.”
“What purpose is that?”
Nadir heard a scream. Brother Thantus’ head twitched as he scanned the church. He looked down to Nadir and took his hand. “We must go,” he said sternly, his eyes glazed with panic. The monk pulled Nadir with him towards the outside and forced him away from the village towards the Manor House. There was another scream and the sound of galloping hooves across the hardened summer earth. Then the shouts of men echoed in his ears. Nadir tried to pull away, but Brother Thantus pulled him back. “We can’t go back lad. You’ll be safe with us.”
He pulled away again and saw horsed men trampling the crops and setting fire to the thatch roofs whilst children ran through the village screaming and crying. “Mother! My mother is in there, we have to help her!”
“We cannot help them! We must go now!” Brother Thantus begged and dragged him across the field.
“Let me go! I have to help, let me go!”
He felt the monk’s grip on his arm slip and he slid away. He ran back towards the village through a crowd of monks that were following Brother Thantus. “You are running to your death, boy! Natos be with you!” Nadir heard one of the monks shout as he crossed the bridge and ran towards the burning huts. A horse galloped past him as he snuck between two houses. He tried to take a breath, but the fire had caught quickly and spread thick, black smoke through the air. Nadir covered his mouth and ran towards his home, sticking closely to the walls of the huts that hadn’t been set alight so that he avoided the horses and the men riding them.
He saw Marc the Reeve and Linn the Miller using spades and hoes to beat a man who had fallen off his horse. Marc struck the killer blow as he drove the spade down with such force as if he was trying to dig through stone. The man lay still, but another horsed man ran by them and hacked Linn’s head from his shoulders in one cut. It rolled towards Marc’s feet. The reeve stood in shock until the horse’s hoof rose before him and kicked him through his chest before treading him into the ground.
Nadir panicked and ran towards his home again. There was so much smoke that he couldn’t see which one was his. Then he noticed Enid’s home. The thatch was burning bright and had already caught on the wood; he peered through the window and saw Enid sitting in her chair. Nadir banged on the wood, but it was so hot he had to pull his fist away. He looked again, and saw that she was sleeping. She looked so peaceful and calm, as if her home wasn’t crumbling around her. He wanted to shout her name to wake her, to get her out and to try and save her from burning alive.
Tears filled his eyes as he hurried away from the hut, and he guided his way towards his mother’s. Then he saw her. She was standing outside by the grassy mound, looking around frantically. Nadir shouted, but his voice was stopped by the smoke and the noise. He ran towards her, his arms out and his legs crushing the grass beneath him taking every breath that he needed, even through mouthfuls of smoke, to get to her. Nadir dived into her arms and knocked her onto the grass.
“Mama! Mama!” He cried and nuzzled into her shoulder.
“Nadir! Oh thank the Gods, thank you, thank you!” She cried.
They sat on the edge of the hill watching their village burn to the ground for a moment, the smoke gathering around them before his mother squeezed him tight and pushed him away.
“The monks are at the Manor House, we should go there.”
“Hey! There’s two of them up there, get them in the cage!” Nadir heard a man shout.
“Run, Nadir. Run through the forest, you can still escape!”
Nadir saw that the wooden cage was full of villagers. All of them were women and children, and he saw Anton being shoved in, struggling to fit for his size.
“Let’s go then!” Nadir shouted as two men approached them.
“They will catch us if we both go,” his mother told him with a tear in her eye. “Run, Nadir. Run to safety…please do as I say.”
“No! I won’t leave you!”
“I will find you Nadir, I promise…now run!” his mother screamed.
His legs betrayed him. Nadir ran into the forest, daring not to look back as he heard his mother shout and fight the two men who caught her. The forest was dark, but he knew it well. He ran and ran with tears streaming down his face, coughing as the smoke chased him into the woodland, the ash wood burning in the distance, his village falling to the ground. The screams continued, but they became quieter and quieter until he found himself deep in the forest, the midnight air lapping at his toes as he stopped to catch his breath.
Nadir looked up to the stars, the Great Galla shone through the thin canopy of the ash forest, the moths flicking past as his quick breaths hung in the chilly air. There was nothing but silence around him. He left the smell of smoke behind, the burning thatch, the rampaging knights and their huge horses. He couldn’t believe any of it. He looked up desperately as if trying to wake up from what he was certain was just a horrid nightmare, but every time he pinched the skin on his arm, he felt it. He wouldn’t stop. Again and again he pinched his arm to try and stir himself awake. I will wake up, he promised. I will wake up.