Jonrah took his chances. As the three men and two women dismounted from their steeds, and were not paying attention to the forest, he leapt into the air, throwing his arms around a low branch, which he used to support himself as he climbed to another branch of the tree.
If he could just remain hidden here in the trees… If the patrol didn’t see or hear him… Maybe then they’d think he was not here.
Jonrah felt a bead of sweat roll down his back as he saw the five members of The Eden enter the forest. It was apparent now that they knew of his presence here.
Jonrah silently scuttled higher into the tree, so that he was almost invisible against the web of branches that entwined him. He saw the first man walk below him, stopping to look around. If he looked up now, if the man only saw the glint of Jonrah’s armour, it would all be over. He would be dead before he hit the ground.
Waiting for the man to walk further into the forest, Jonrah felt sweat form on his forehead, but he did not dare wipe it away, for fear of losing his balance and falling, or causing a sound and alerting his enemies.
As he saw the man beneath him take a few steps and walk out of sight, Jonrah climbed even further, until he had to squint to avoid the glare of the sun. Climbing even further, he arrived at the top of the tree, from which he could overlook most of Crensun.
He saw towers on the plains, Raggen Pass only a day’s walk away, and even castles of Western kingdoms, familiar buildings made of grey brick.
The hunters below were invisible to him now, and Jonrah had to make a choice – either wait here in the tree and hope they left, or try to escape without being seen. But there was no way he could outrun them, especially not with his foot damaged as it was.
The sudden cry of anger shocked him, and he almost lost his handhold on the tree, but regained his grip just before falling.
‘We know you’re here! One of you, at least!’ A man’s voice. Promises of a violent death followed from another voice, but Jonrah had already made his decision, and blocked out the yells from his mind.
The branches of the trees were all so close together, the entire forest was very similar to a spider’s web. It was possible to traverse the forest by climbing from branch to branch, tree to tree. It probably would take just as long as walking on foot below, trying to weave between the trees.
Jonrah looked towards the towers, and started climbing over the branches in that direction, intent on escaping the forest, desperate not to be trapped with the trees. Hand over hand, carefully testing each branch for its strength, Jonrah made steady progress, and eventually made it to the next tree. It was slow work, and probably would take longer than walking on foot, but it was necessary to avoid the fight that waited below.
Trees slowly passed him, and as he started to hope that the men would soon leave, he heard another shout.
‘You can’t hide!’ A woman’s voice.
Yes he could. He was doing it now. He was going to escape.
This new desperation to prove them wrong drove him on, and although Jonrah was now making better time, he was becoming careless. Not testing branches for their strength, scampering quickly but not-so-silently from tree to tree.
It was on the penultimate tree that he took a hold of a branch which was rotting. Dead wood that crumbled in his hands, breaking away from the tree and falling to the ground as Jonrah lost his balance.
He landed loudly on another branch adjacent to himself, and did not fall down, but now that the dead branch had hit the ground, he heard the alarmed shout of a woman. ‘What the hell?!’
‘He’s in the damn trees!’ A man’s voice this time. They certainly knew he was here now.
Quickly jumping to the next tree, arms outstretched to catch the next branch that crossed his path, Jonrah landed several feet below his previous height, and was now perfectly visible to the enemy, holding on to the branch only by his arms, letting his legs dangle only six feet from the ground.
He felt a solid crossbow bolt whistle past his ear, and looked to its source – one of the women, closest to him, loading her short-range but powerful weapon once more.
Using his upper-body strength, Jonrah heaved himself back up onto the branch, so that he was no longer simply dangling from the wood. Jumping desperately to the next branch, Jonrah found himself dodging crossbow bolts that were flying past at an alarming rate. All of the patrollers were now no doubt shooting at him, and he was incredibly lucky to not be hit as of yet. As he climbed up a little higher, getting closer to the edge of the forest, Jonrah saw that he was now trapped between the plains below and the hunters behind.
Another crossbow bolt flew past, hitting the very branch he was holding on to, shattering wood and sending splinters through the air. Jonrah shielded his eyes, and decided not to wait for capture or death.
Throwing himself from the tree, he cleared a good several metres, before falling another two metres to the ground. He saw the abandoned horses of The Eden waiting below. The accuracy of his landing would either make or break Jonrah’s escape.