Run. Don’t stop. Stay hidden. If they catch you you’re dead. These are the only thoughts that go through my head as I run through the forest. Why I am running, and why I am being chased are irrelevant. Survival is all that matters. Any questions about why these people decided to attack me, or who they are, are far from my head. There is no time for thinking about these things. Any hesitation, any mistakes, could mean certain death. If I stumble they will be on me in an instant. If I pause to think about where I’m going they will catch me. All I can do is run, and dodge trees, and try not to be caught. If I stopped to think about it, I would realize how pointless this all is. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I’m going. I am running from an unknown enemy with unknown numbers. And I am beginning to tire. There is no way out of this for me. How did I end up here? Why is this happening to me?
2 days earlier
“Mom! Stop fusing! I’ll be fine. I’ll only be gone for a couple of days. I’m only going to Isthmus. It’s not like I’m going to Cial!” I’m complaining but I’m really not bothered by what my mom is doing. I know she’s just worried about me. And for good reason. This is the first time she’s letting me go to the market on my own. And on top of that It’s going to be an overnight trip. It’s only been in the last year that she’s trusted me to stay out in the forest hunting for more than a day. And now she’s trusting me with all of the pelts and herbs we’ve collected over the last month. If any of it get’s stolen, or if I fail to sell enough at the market, we won’t have any money to give to the tax collectors when they come through this area. Living out here on our own, isolated from society, we’ve learned to be self sufficient, and we rarely have need to visit any of the nearby villages, but we still have to pay taxes. And that means going to the market and selling the pelts off the animals we hunt as well as any of the rare medicinal herbs that grow in these deep parts of the mountains. For years my mom has gone to the market on her own or brought me with her, but now for the first time, she’s trusting me to do it alone.
“David, look at me” she says, with concern in her warm voice, “ I know you’re old enough to take care of yourself now, but please be careful. Don't take any risks. I can’t lose you the way I lost your father. You’re all I have left.”
I smile at her, “don’t worry mom. I know what I’m doing. I’m not one to take risks when it comes to stuff like this.”
She looks down, concern still written on her face, but she says nothing. I Silently shoulder my pack of goods and give her one last hug before setting down the snow covered path that winds slowly down the side of the mountain to the valley that contains the only large settlement for days. There are many small villages scattered throughout the mountains but Isthmus is the only one with a population over thirty. Which is why it’s where my mother and I have always gone to trade.
As I walk down the path, I take in the quite sereneness of the forest. It is nearing winter and a thick layer of snow already covers the mountain side, turning the world into a sea of white. The tracts of animals crossing the road give me something to look at as I descend the mountain. Time seems to stand still until, seemingly without notice, the sun begins to descend behind the mountain behind me. I look back and see that I have made surprisingly good time on my decent. I had already made my way down most of the mountain and should reach Isthmus within a few hours in the morning. It's not safe to move during night so I quickly begin to collect firewood and make camp in a small clearing just off the road. After getting the fire going I quickly unravel my sleeping bag and get my travel food out of my pack. I don’t have much food with me, after all I need the space in my pack for the pelts. All I have is a few pieces of jerky and dried fruit and nuts collected before the first snows. It doesn’t take long to finish so I sit by the fire, enjoying its warmth and thinking about how easy this first day of my first solo trip to the market has been. But today is not the hard part. Tomorrow is what determines if this outing is a success. Tomorrow is when I prove I can do this on my own.