A Mother’s Fear
By Brad Whanger
The warm sun shining down on the hillside and the cool western wind whispered through the large boughs and fan-like leaves of the great yewlo trees. Momentarily pulling me into a world all my own, its soft caressing touch continued to swirl across the clearing. It enveloped me as it ran its deeply scented fingers through my world to which I did not wish to return. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the evanescent reprieve until a small voice yanked me back into a less peaceful reality.
“Momma?” My daughter, Aninea held a purple flower in her chubby hand. “It’s yucky!”
I laughed softly as she spit out the purple petals in disgust, taking the mangled flower from her as I gathered her into my lap. Born with the headstrong willfulness of her father, she had other plans. After she allowed me to kiss her gently on the head, she squirmed and wiggled free of my tenuous grasp. She toddled off to find another flower, most likely to sample that one as well, from the thousands that clad the high mountain dale. The rich cloak of purples, golden yellows, and eye jarring scarlet reminded me of the dresses worn in the festivities of the royal court in a seemingly distant past.
Keeping an eye on Aninea, I looked down the sloping hill from where I sat, and located Aninea’s brother, Eliem. My tow headed son ran and darted back and forth, playing the game sacry with Biarsus, his weapons master and tutor. The clearing of a throat broke my concentration on my son, and I realized that I had unconsciously frowned at a sight that would have made many Thordaenian mothers proud.
I smoothed my face as I recalled the day my son had acknowledged Biarsus as his teacher. His father had insisted on the ceremony prior to his march North. Two summers ago my son, barely four tylons old, was taken from my arms. Eliem was then handed over to the man who would be center of his world for the next twelve tylons. Biarsus was not a harsh or cruel man; however, he was my daily reminder of the ritualized madness that now kept my husband from me and my children separated from their father.
I looked back over to see Aninea wandering much further away from me than I would have liked. I got up and walked the seven steps to where she sat pulling apart her picked flowers and lifted her up. I slowly walked back to my spot atop the hill, comforting myself in the smell of her hair from the violet petals that her nursemaid had placed in her bath water this morning. I sat down and held her tight, missing my husband; wishing that he could be here to hold me in his arms as I now held our daughter. A low, throaty chuckle broke into my wistful thoughts as I looked over at Matronia Harina, Biarsus’ wife of over forty tylons. She sat in the sun about a ferric and a half away from me, working on a new knitting project, which vaguely looked like mittens for the upcoming season.
“Your highness, she was not far from you. Let the little girl go. How is she to learn of her world, if you keep snatching her back every few ticks?”
“I must keep her close, her and Eliem,” I silently replied as Aninea wiggled from my arms once more.
“There are two of us here, she will be fine.”
I nodded in half-hearted assent and watched my daughter as she danced around the small hill below in which she claimed for herself. Suddenly, I turned toward the forest, where a man appeared with a young woman by his side. Guric, the young man walked over to Biarsus, and the two began to talk. Marsi, my companion maiden, headed in my direction and covered the distance between the treeline and myself in just a few ticks. By the look on her face, I could tell something was wrong. She smiled at Aninea and handed her a flower she was carrying, a dainty blue one; Aninea clapped her hands in joy. With Aninea properly distracted, as she promptly pulled the petals off, Marsi knelt down. Beside me, Matronia Harina began to place up her thread, heavy yarn, and large needles in the small basket that accompanied her everywhere. I looked at Marsi, ready to realize the distractions of the day were ending.
“Madam, it may be nothing, however, our scouting party found a vestige of a large party in the next valley over, headed north. By the size of the hoof prints, the mounts were most likely warhorses. There were only prints, no wagon furrows. They are less than a nuelon old.”
I nodded in understanding. The only reason that prints would be that fresh would indicate a searching party. Since Queen Jeulya had sent me into exile, a certain foreign dignitary from Mirepar was on my trail. Our small party of just fewer than fifteen persons had already escaped detection at two other locations, but none of the parties had gotten this close to our hiding place. Biarsus was sure that no one knew of the hidden fortress that he had chosen as our last refuge, just inside our border with Mirepar. I stood up and walked a few feet away from the others to give myself a chance to clear my head. I looked to the North, through the large mountain pass that served as a well-traveled thoroughfare between our nations. The valley over led to the pass; in fact my husband had ridden through that pass two summers ago with the fabled Hammerfist Legion. Very few of them had returned, and those that returned were stripped of their armor and imprisoned when the war had ended, just like my husband, only his prison lay across the border.
Perhaps it was not a search party at all, but rather a group of soldiers going home on furlough. Yet in my heart, I knew it was not true. I did not know if I could keep running. This kind of life was not for young children. However, I also knew that we would have to leave, there was no other option. For my children to be safe, I would have to force them to move once more. I turned when I heard the grass moving as Biarsus walked up the hill to talk to me. From the look on his face; I could tell that he was going to advise me down the path I had already chosen. Out of respect, I would listen to his plan.
I was only half listening to his list of reasons for our next location, as I watched Eliem playing with Guric. I shifted my attention over to Aninea. To my horror she was missing. My heart beat in my ears drowning out any sound of reason. No longer among the flowers, and she was not on the hill. Biarsus looked at me, and stopped the recourse of our current position. Looking over to where Marsi and Matronia Harina stood, he suddenly whistled.
“Aninea?” I screamed. Panic washed over my senses as my heartbeat faster than my mind would allow for it to process. Turning in every direction, wondering where should I start or if I should call out or would I compromise our location. I didn’t know who or how far the scouting party was from us.
With a start, Marsi and Harina looked down at their feet, their faces paling as they realized that she was no longer there. Harina called Eliem over to her and headed towards to the portion of the tree line closest to where we had been sitting. I took off on a sprint, passing Harina and Eliem as I disappeared into the gloomy thicket of bushes and towering trees. As I passed them, I heard him call out to me, sounding scared; but I was only focused on one thing. I could hear Marsi following me through the woods. For a moment, almost blinded by the sun shining through an opening in the forest canopy, I caught a glimpse of two stalwart and muscular shapes running through the woods about fifty ferrics on either side. With my heart beating faster I leapt over the top of a small hill and entered a narrow clearing with a stream running through it. Trying to catch my breath, I looked down by the water, and instantly saw my daughter, picking a flower. They were the same blue ones that Marsi had given here. But my ecstatic jubilation turned to ice cold fear as I saw a tall man kneeling down at her side, holding the reigns to a large warhorse. At my appearance he looked up and smiled at me. It was the dismissive smirk of a killer, cold, and confident. My greatest fear had become reality; the enemy had found us.
Brad Whanger is an active duty Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi. He has served two tours in support of OIF. He is a fan of the fantasy, mythology and science fiction genres, and his favorite authors are Tolkien and Jordan. Only recently he has renewed his interest in writing, as before all fantasy pieces were the result of creative writing assignments during his junior high and high school years.