Two sisters are forced into an escape across a dangerous and volatile land.
The grass danced in the wind, rippling like the sea. Rilla glanced at the pathetic shelter offered by the remains of a house, wondering vaguely what had happened to the people that owned it.
The fire crackled menacingly, spitting up a couple sparks. Rilla tentatively stuck out her hands, trying to warm them. Being a fugitive was much harder than she imagined it would be, having lived in Mullin City all her life. She wasn't completely without skills- she had been to the academy, where she had learned to aim an arrow so accurately she could hit the heart of a deer from 100 feet away. She could prepare an three course meal in traditional Mullin cuisine, and recite the entire history of the kingdom. But even with the benefit of archery, the cooking of the food was not what she was used to, and her knowledge of history helped very little. Now all that mattered was survival. Rilla tended to the rabbit, which was slowly roasting. Mela was huddled next to her, her mouth set in a hard line.
Mela was even worse than she was... Her younger sister was smart, no doubt, but her survival skills were next to none. She could paint breathtaking pictures, and could sew impeccable dresses, but her arrow-making skills left something to be desired.
"I think the rabbit's ready." Rilla said, just to break the silence. "I saved the fur after I skinned it. We could make a coat."
Rilla had hunted before, in the King's forest, but always for bigger prey, like deer or the mountain-cats. The plains had little wildlife, save for the occasional rabbit or mouse. Rilla had crouched in the tall grass for what felt like hours as she searched the grass for any sort of movement. When she finally spotted a flash of brown fur, she let the arrow loose without thinking, grateful for the small catch.
"If we even need a coat." Mela mumbled.
"Mel, be serious. We could be out here for months if we're going to Presia, and it's almost autumn. We're going to need coats."
Rilla shivered as she thought of the long journey ahead of them. It would be months of travel to reach Presia, months of travel through unfamiliar and dangerous land. The plains stretched on for miles, a large part of Tarevell. The plains were home to danger, full of thieves and runaways, dotted with villages. Rilla and Mela traveled only at night, and slept fitfully during the day. They could not risk being seen. Not that they would be recognized; she had cut off all her hair, and her sister's. With all the grime that had coated them in the last week, they were practically unrecognizable. No, Rilla's worry was that they would be captured, perhaps sold in to slavery or stripped of the little money they had.
"Its just that- the fur is covered in blood. Couldn't you have done a better job skinning the rabbit?" Mela said petulantly.
"I caught the rabbit, I skinned the rabbit, I cooked the rabbit. You've just been sitting near the fire and moping." Rilla snapped, then softened her tone. "Look, Mel, I know that this isn't easy for you. But you have to at least make an effort to help, unless you want to be captured by slave-sellers."
Her younger sister sighed.
"Let's just eat the rabbit and go to sleep." Rilla removed the rabbit from the fire. "We have a lot more ground to cover."
The sky was dark when Rilla awoke. The stars were hidden by a cover of clouds. Rilla got up, quietly packing up camp and removing any trace that they'd been there. She awoke Mela, ate an apple and they mounted their horses. It was lucky they had them, although Rilla had begun to hate dark nights when they had to ride, the muted hoofbeats of the horses beating over and over, pounding their rhythm into her mind, the wind chapping her lips, the grass lashing at her legs. Mela had been quiet. She hadn't said much lately, not since they left Mullin city. Mela had always been the baby of the family, the one that the court doted over. Rilla was the one who had been given all the responsibility, the one who had to do all the work on this… trip. She glanced at Mela who was biting her lip, like she was oh-so-worried about something. Rilla resolved to talk to Mela later, about the seriousness of their situation. Rilla knew that Mela just didn't get it.
The night passed uneventfully, the stars continuing their stoic watch above them. Nevertheless, when they stopped for their mid-night meal, Rilla was exhausted and hungry. They had a simple meal; dried fruit, smoked meat, and the last of their bread. Rilla cleared her throat. "Mela?"
Her sister gave a noncommittal nod.
"This past week has been hard for us. And I know how much you miss the castle. But its absolutely imperative that we put all our energies into remaining unseen.” Rilla lowered her voice. “I think that someone is tracking us. Last night while we rode I spotted a fire in the distance. I'm not sure if it means anything but- I think we should be careful.”
Rilla had seen no such thing, but she justified her lie with the uneasy knowledge that it was perfectly likely that someone was tracking them, either because they knew their identities or they were after money.
“Rilla, I'm scared. I just- I don't think we're going to see Mother or Father again, we're out in the plains with hardly any food, only what you can shoot,” Mela sniffed. “we don't have any money, and it'll be weeks 'til we reach Presia, and now you think we're being followed.”
Rilla sighed. “You're right, of course. Our situation seems hopeless. But all we can do is keep riding .”
They finished the remains of their skimpy meal, and set off again. Rilla looked up at the sky, wishing the night to be warmer. It was already early fall, and winter on the plains was harsh. It was unlikely that they would make it to Presia before the short, windy days and the long, rainy nights. Rilla wished more than anything that they could be back in the fire-lit castle, where people could cook for her and she could practice her archery on targets and not rabbits. But those days had ended with the death of her father. Their father had recently been crowned king with the death of his older brother, and for a while, things had gone well. But her father, who had been despondent since the death of his third wife, ruled with an unsteady hand. Bandits from the forests and mountains raided villages with alarming frequency, and the people started to anger. Mullin City became more dangerous, with fights breaking out daily and protesters swarming the palace. Eventually it had led to a full fledged rebellion, and an angry mob had swarmed the palace. Rilla and Mela managed to escape due to a loyal nursemaid, but they were the only members of the royal family who survived. The rest had perished in the fire or by the mob.
They never expected to see their father again, nor their older brother, Tern. Their father had been cold and frightening, but Tern had an easy personality that Rilla would miss. Her throat clogged as she thought of him. It was yet another loss in their life, as their mother had died when Rilla was young, of an incurable disease. Their family never talked about it, but the fear of the disease coming back, striking again, stabbed at them like an invisible assassin.
That night still haunted Rilla sometimes; she would stare at the sky, trying to sleep but every time she closed her eyes she would hear screams and see the palace burning behind her as she and her sister rode away.