They spent the night in a dilapidated cabin, long abandoned by whoever used to own it. They’d been unable to start a fire, despite Isiah’s many attempts, and it left Rina to freeze during the night. The three of them slept huddled in the corner of the room, the spare coats they’d bought acting as a makeshift blanket. It didn’t do much, but it was better than nothing.
She awoke to Nerin’s head pressed against her shoulder and Isiah turned away from her. These were the boys she had sacrificed her chance to go home for, snoring into her shoulders. She could only pray to Sol and Lune that it was worth it. There was a large part of her that doubted it, but only time could tell.
She didn’t know what it was that convinced her to stay with them. It could have been anything, missing her chance in the village, the look on Isiah’s face when he’d been attacked, the fact that they had been right when they said it would be dangerous for her. Her mother had called her reckless when she’d been younger, perhaps the trait had stuck.
The sun was only just beginning to peek over the horizon and orange light spread through the room. Dust particles fluttered about the room like little butterflies, reminding her far too much of the way the light danced off the crystal pillars in Ziya. Too many things in Brenmar reminded her of home.
The rising of the sun meant that it was time for them to go. They couldn’t spend too much time in one place just in case there were people after them. She didn’t doubt that there were, but she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them. Not even the men from the village had made an appearance.
She had thought once that killing people might bother her, but when the time came, the worst part about it was the feeling of the blade ripping through flesh. The training dummies in Ziya had been soft, easy to rip through, nothing like the real thing. But her teacher would never give her anything like the real thing. They never expected her to actually fight. She was meant to be a queen, not a warrior.
As a child, she had dreamed of getting her hair cut like the Warriors of Ziya. They wore it short, unlike everyone else in Minisia, so that it didn’t get in the way while they were fighting. That had been Rina’s goal as a child and young teenager, but her parents had always told her that she couldn’t. And then her brother had come along and stolen the dream from under her feet.
Nerin stirred against her as she sighed and opened his eyes to glare sleepily at her. “Oh, good, you’re awake,” she said and gave him a small smile. “We need to get moving.”
With an irritated groan, Nerin threw the coat he’d been using as a blanket away and stood. Rina reached over her other side to shake Isiah awake. He stared at her with eyes she could only describe as dead, and let out a quiet grumble. She frowned at him but didn’t say a word.
It didn’t take them long to get everything they needed. Everything they owned stayed in the bags. Rina and Nerin prayed quickly to Sol and Lune, asking for strength and safety. Even on the run, she didn’t want to shirk her duties. Her Gods would help them if she asked nicely enough. They would see their struggles and come to their aid, even Isiah. He may not believe in them, but he was still one of their children, they would understand and help him anyway.
Isiah split their meagre food evenly among them. They hadn’t bought enough in Ishmar. How were they to know how much they’d need? All three of them had lived sheltered lives. They knew nothing about the real world and already it was coming back to bite them.
If there was another village nearby, Isiah would have to go and buy more food. She would have to stay behind, lest they have a repeat of the last village. She didn’t even know how much gold they had left. Isiah had spent a lot on the chunk of fyrite for Nerin. And while it was useful, it took away from the money they could spend on food, which was far more important.
Rina didn’t bother closing the door after her when they left. The cabin would most likely collapse in the next couple of years. It had served its purpose for one more night. As they left, Isiah started up his own prayer, a mantra he repeated without end.
It was so different from her prayers. Praying to Sol and Lune was usually a silent affair, but Isiah expressed his wishes of the Gods outwardly as if the wind would carry his voice to them. She did not believe, but he did. She would be grateful for any help given to them, no matter which Gods gave it.
The scraggly, leafless trees eventually turned into the evergreens she was used to seeing in Minisia, still covered in the slowly melting snow. The wind was nowhere near as bad as it had been the day before, but the spiny leaves of the trees whipped around anyway, hitting Rina in the face whenever she strayed too close.
The mountains weren’t far, only a few more days travel at most. She had expected them to be further away. It didn’t feel safe enough, only a few days from Ishmar, but according to Isiah, no one knew about it. If she was lucky, they’d never find her there. If she was lucky, and she hated thinking it, King Harudan would be too busy dealing with waging war on her home to bother searching for her after a week or two.
Then she could go home. Isiah and Nerin would take her to the border. She would cross over and be safe from any harm the Ishini wanted to bring her. Getting back to Ziya would be hard, but there would be people in Minisia who would help her. There would be war, but she could avoid it if she was careful.
Her father would welcome her with open arms, her mother would cry and her brother would make jokes about her disappearance. They’d fight back against Brenmar and win. She didn’t know what would happen after that, but it would be a long time before she found out.
Getting to the valley between Mount Kylen and Mount Vurtan was the first step of many. She had to focus on the present or she was never going to get anywhere. Even a single night of sleep hadn’t been enough to make her feel rejuvenated, but it would have to do for now. When they got to wherever it was they were going, she could get all the sleep she wanted.
The sun was slowly making its way to the middle of the sky when Rina stopped with a surprised gasp. Nerin, still holding her hand to keep her warm, almost crashed into her. Before them was a dirt track, snaking west between the trees. There was nothing to tell her whether it had been used recently, but a road meant a village of some kind, which meant food.
“Do we use it?” Isiah asked and kicked at a rock. It bounced along the empty road and stopped in the middle with a sad little thud.
Rina frowned and opened her mouth to answer, but the voice that came out was Nerin’s. “We should follow it but stay hidden in the trees,” he said and dropped her hand to step forward. Immediately, the heat began to seep from her bones. It was slow, but in the freezing cold of winter, it wouldn’t take long for her to start shivering again. “Just to be safe. We don’t want to get in trouble again.”
It was a surprise to her that someone so young could be so smart. Someone so sheltered too. He might be the brother of the man who tried to kill her, but she was lucky to be stuck with him. If it was just her and Isiah, she didn’t know what would happen.
They saw no one along the track as they walked. It seemed as abandoned as the cabin they’d slept in the night before. It was better that way. Explaining why Rina was there would only cause more trouble for them. Only a little while longer and she could go home.
The snow had mostly melted by mid-afternoon. In a couple of days, it would fall again, thicker than the last. The lakes would freeze over, the animals would go into hibernation, and winter would truly be in Vishera. After that, travelling would be difficult, but they would do it. They had to.
Rina kept her eyes on the dirt path as they walked. She had no idea where it led, but it was better than walking the woods aimlessly. It was near impossible that it would take them exactly where they wanted to go, but if it took them closer, Rina wasn’t going to complain.
It was a struggle, walking hand in hand through the thick forest. Trees and shrubs were always in their way, tripping them up and hitting them with their stinging needle-like leaves. The chilling wind made the scratches on Rina’s face sting, but there was nothing they could do about. She hadn’t even thought about salves and medicines when they’d been in Ishmar. It should have been one of the first things they bought.
By the time the sun was beginning its dip towards the horizon at the end of another day of walking, Rina finally saw when Nerin meant when he said it was obvious which mountains they were looking for. The mountain range was easier to see, sitting frozen on the horizon. The two tallest were off to the left a little, their peaks reaching through the clouds and towering over all the others.
She stopped to stare at them, barely visible between the tall trees. Another two days, maybe only one if they didn’t find anywhere to sleep. It felt like forever. As the sun slowly set, she sent a quick prayer to Sol and Lune. It was early, but it didn’t matter anymore, as long as she did it.
She was halfway through her short prayer, asking her Gods to make sure there was something in the valley, that they hadn’t been walking to nothing, when Nerin shook her arm. “What is it?” she asked and gulped at the expression on his face. Wide eyes and a furrowed brow, the makings of fear.
“I hear horses,” he whispered. Rina looked around as Isiah dragged them further into the trees. Over the sound of the wind in the trees and their loud footsteps on the ground, the sound of horses was almost non-existent. But it was there, and she doubted it meant anything good for them.
Isiah pulled her down behind the thick trunk of a tree, his tired eyes looking up at her in worry. She didn’t say anything, just waited as the sound of hoofbeats grew louder and louder, thundering against the dirt. Voices accompanied it, loud and angry, yelling orders at whoever was rushing down the path.
In front of her, Nerin blanched. “I- I know that voice,” he whispered, his voice laced with fear.
“What?” Rina hissed.
“Sir Jonin. Harudan sent Sir Jonin after us,” he replied and pressed himself further against the tree. The Captain of Harudan’s Guard. The man who had tried to kill her, rushing towards them on horseback.