I followed Hurst’s lead and headed away from the main road and into the trees that stretched out for an eternity on either side of the main road. It was harder to tell where we were going traveling through the sea of trees and bushes, but that also meant it would be harder for the King’s guard to find us if they were trying to look for us.
Unknown to the rest of the group, I tried to get Hurst on his own and voice my concerns.
“Do you know where we’re going?” I asked. “This part of Handrin isn’t well documented and I’m not familiar with it so I’m leading everyone blind. Please tell me you know where we’re going.” I felt so pathetic pleading with Hurst to help me but in truth I was scared. The run-in with the King’s guard had been too close, a few moments later and we’d have all been dead meat. And it would have been my fault.
“I know this area in general, but only the people who were born and raised here know all its pathways.”
“This isn’t making me feel any better. I’ve got all these people relying on me to get them home safely and how can I do that when I have no idea where I’m going?”
"I think we're going to have to trust our instincts on this one. There are no roads small enough for us to travel along without being seen and risk getting caught by the King's guard. We have to travel off the beaten track."
"I just don't feel comfortable trusting my instincts when it could mean the death of all the people travelling with us, including my sister."
"At the end of the day you make the final decision," Hurst said shrugging his shoulders. "I can guarantee that the rest of us will follow you no matter what you choose, even Alexandra."
My brain was buzzing as I tried to work out what to do. Walking along the main road to the south was dangerous, some might say stupidly so, but it didn't seem any more logical to wander around, lost and with no idea where we were meant to be going in a forest that was beginning to seem endless.
When we finally stumbled into a clearing as the sun began to disappear behind the trees, casting long dark shadows over everything, I decided we should stop and set up camp for the evening. It was as good a place as any and I didn't want to keep walking in case we could find another clearing.
The men began setting up camp while Nellie and Alex disappeared into the trees to collect firewood. I called Hurst over to discuss a plan for tomorrow.
"If we keep walking like this then there is no way we'll be able to get out of here. But providing the sky is clear tonight I'll be able to find the Northern Star and from that work out which way is south and we'll head that way. I know it's not the best plan in the world but it's the only one I've got."
"Then why are you asking me for my approval? You are our leader. You make the call."
"Do you think it's a good idea?"
"In the absence of any other options I would have to say yes."
"Then it looks like that's our plan," I sighed. I didn't like feeling this helpless but in these circumstances there was nothing else I could do. I had no map, no compass, nothing to help me find my way.
"Do you know where the girls have gone?" Luke Elliot asked me, his face a little concerned. "They only went to get firewood and in this place I didn't think they would have to go too far."
"I'm sure they'll be back soon," Hurst reassured.
"I'll go have a look," I said, getting up from the log I'd been sitting on and walking across the clearing towards the trees Alex and Nellie had wandered off into.
Something wasn't right. I didn't know what it was but something was making me feel uneasy and my hand automatically went to the hilt of my sword which was in it's usual place on my belt.
Then my eye caught something moving in the shadows and I stopped. It wasn't Alex, the tread was too heavy but in the dying light I couldn't see what was hiding in the trees.
Suddenly a large, dark figure broke away from the shadows and ran at me, a sword in it's hand. I immediately drew my own, the metal ringing as I pulled it out of it's sheath and swung it round to meet the blade of my attacker. He was a big man and it took all my strength to push him away and shout a warning to my companions.