When the light faded from his eyes, Ryan found himself at the base of a Willow tree surrounded by woods. It was very dark, except for the light coming from the many fires that were lit in the large camp nearby. Lewd singing and ruckus laughter could be heard all around, but it was the sounds that came from the big tent that horrified Ryan the most.
A woman’s screams emitted from that place. Vial clutched to him Ryan darted though the shadows to get closer. No one needed to tell him that he wouldn’t want to be caught by one of these men. Men who were ignoring the screaming and carrying on with their own drinking and carousing.
Before Ryan could duck into the big tent a man strode out of it. He was tall and imposing. His short cropped hair was begging to show grey, but his shorted well groomed beard betrayed no sign of the man’s age. He was buckling on his sword as he stepped out. There was a pull to him, an aura of power that Ryan found fascinating. Then he noticed the sobbing coming from inside.
The man turned around, “Be silent woman or I shall throw you to my men. I guarantee they won’t be nearly as gentle.” The man laughed, a sound which grated upon Ryan and he knew who this man must be.
As General Wholawski stepped into the night, Ryan slipped in under the tent flap. “Chester! Lieutenant Chester! I want a report, now!”
The tent was well lit and Ryan could clearly see the young woman. She lay in a crumpled heap, clothing torn, blood seeping from somewhere slowly soaking into her skirts. She did not see Ryan in his approach. There were tears streaming down the girl’s face as she lay weeping silently.
Ryan gently touched her only to have her flinch. “I, I, I won’t hurt you,” he said, keeping his voice soft. The sounds of chaotic ruckus continued on. The young woman’s eyes fluttered open.
“You, you are not one of them,” she whispered.
“No, the Gods sent me.”
“The Gods?” she cried. “The Gods have forsaken me.” Tears began in earnest again. “I thought they sent him to me. He promised me riches, a beautiful betrothal, an extravagant wedding. His tongue wrought lies as he took me away from my family. He was not sent by the Gods to reward me for patience, he was sent to punish me. I have done nothing wrong!”
“But, but they gave me this.” The girl’s speech confused Ryan so he held the vial out to her. “They said it would save you from great pain.”
“To late for that,” bitterness crept into the girl’s voice and she knocked the vial out of Ryan’s hand.
Ryan quickly scrambled to retrieve it. “Then I am too late?” his own tears were forming in his eyes. “They told me they hoped I would not be, they told me you had to drink it.” His eyes turned up to look into hers. “Please, they tasked me to give this to you, tasked me to get you to drink it. Please, please just drink it?”
The girl did not look at him. Her eyes were closed, her body shaking. Ryan kept talking, more to himself that the girl really. He didn’t know what was going on, why the girl was so against the Gods. Somehow he had to get the girl to drink it.
“If she doesn’t drink it I’ll never get to see Sarah again, or see her betrothed to Phoenix. Or, or,” Ryan looked to the young woman. “You have to drink it, or I will fail, and if I fail then we might all fail and if we all fail then General Wholawski will win and, and .... “ Ryan didn’t know why but he held the vial out towards the girl again.
Suddenly the General’s loud voice was heard, combined with a nasally one. The tent flap moved. Someone called out. The flap was half open, the General facing outside, snarling at the person who had interrupted.
The girl snatched the vial from Ryan and drank it all in one gulp. “Get out,” she hissed, “get out before he sees you.”
But getting out wasn’t as easy as getting in. Ryan had barely managed to duck into a shadow when the General turned. There was a shout as he scrambled under the tent cloth. Ryan ran for his life back toward the Willow tree. It was hard to see it glowing beyond the fire light. The tents were suddenly a maze that he had to zigzag through.
“Get that Boy!” The General hollered as he and the Lieutenant ran after Ryan in the dark.
Ryan hit the tree and he stood, back against it, little heart pounding, eyes wide in fear.
“You can’t escape that easy,” a hissing voice sounded in Ryan’s ear.
Without thought Ryan turned and scrambled up the tree. A hand tried to grab for his leg and missed. Ryan climbed further and further up the branches till he thought he might climb all the way up to the Gods. Light blinded him and the shouts faded and he found himself sliding down a branch into his own yard.