Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Arthur’s reign had ended and only the constant onslaught for meagre values remained. The elders had masked sacrifice with tales of the mighty King, locking the impossible away from illogical minds unable to believe anything other than what was scribed.
Now legend only spoke of him. How it was supposed to be. For it was the other tale that was planned for legend to forget, hidden within ancient wooded depths. Only there could it remain untouched as the long winters past.
Only then would the promise be fulfilled.
SNAGGING THORNS RIPPED at Elowen’s dress as she clambered through the tangled thickets. If she knew she would be running through the forest in a bitter gale with someone pursuing her escape, she would have bolted her door shut and never had gone outside.
Branches enslaved by the wind’s rage lashed at her, leaving bloody welts over her already battered skin. Everything about the dusk was wrong and unjust. She didn’t know the men and believed them when they said they were lost. That they wanted nothing more from her than directions.
Tender bruises throbbed along her cheekbone and jaw. Even her teeth felt bruised. One whole side of her cheek was swelling from a fist connecting with it and her head still ached from the way her brain jarred against her skull from the force.
The consequence of her naiveté and refusing their advances.
The men were stronger than her and thirsting for the blood of the innocent. To deny them her violation had given them a reason to bring forward what they were planning to do to her once they were done.
A bloody undeserved end of a girl of seventeen years.
Elowen wouldn’t let them have that satisfaction. Breaking free from the forest’s claws, she scrambled towards a staggered slope. The rain had only stopped at dawn after pouring for two days straight. As she slipped and stumbled to reach the top, stagnant moss and mottled bark stuck to her like ivy to stone.
As she got back on her feet, cries from deep hollows screeched into the dark. She whipped around, scanning the forest. Her heart pounded painfully against her ribs, pumping cold fear through her veins.
Where am I? She’d been running for so long, changing directions so many times, now night had almost descended. The forest would be too shadowed to see soon, but the only route ahead led deeper into the forest’s depths and its darkness. It was death by a blade or at the bottom of a ditch if she kept running blind like this.
‘Come on, think!’ she growled to herself. She knew she had to get to safety before the woodland became her tomb. ‘Which way is safe?’
Snap! A twig broke underfoot from somewhere behind her.
Had they caught up to her?
She slowed to listen. Every knock and rustle darted her head around like an owl seeking a wounded vole.
‘Where are you?’ the roughness of a man’s voice called out.
Her muscles tensed. She wasn’t alone.
Frantically, she raced forward, searching for somewhere to hide. There had to be somewhere.
Spotting a rotten stump strangled with ivy, she scurried behind it and ducked down, clasping her hands over her mouth.
How near is he? How determined is he to bleed me dry?
Too scared to move or even breathe, she waited, praying the stump was large enough to hide her silhouette. Her aching bruises proved she couldn’t defend herself against one of these men, let alone if his other two companions were with him.
None of this was fair. She should’ve been sitting by her hearth with only the cares of what seeds to sow in the garden during her father’s absence, not running for her life through the dark. Her beaten cottage farther back in the woodland had been her home since birth. The forest surrounding it held safety with her father, hiding them away from the chaos of the distant village life.
Now she saw only the rotting boughs of centuries-old trees sprawling their limbs towards her like shadows reaching for their prey. She wanted to go home, but how could she? Its safety was forever gone.
For several minutes she waited. After not hearing any footsteps approaching her hiding spot, she nervously peered over the stump.
No one was there.
The wind howled as if angered by her insolence to hide at all.
She intently listened for any hints of the gale carrying his voice from far back in the maze of twisted copses. Maybe he wasn’t close at all.
Slowly, she removed her hands from her mouth.
If he was lost as well, all she could do was hope he’d meet his end wandering the endless reaches of this forsaken woodland. There were no arms she could run to. No walls she knew of within distance to keep her safe. Her mother had passed away two winters ago, and the forest was too vast to know of any other life within it.
How could she find refuge when she didn’t even know where refuge was? If his singular voice meant he was alone, there were still two other men out here desiring to watch her bleed.
The wind whistled. Its frenzied flight made her dress billow around her legs and sent an icy shiver skittering over her chilled skin. She clenched her fists, trying to rid them of the cold.
She knew she couldn’t stay hiding behind the stump. If she remained, exposure would take her before a blade even came near. A better alternative to what the men had planned, but she’s a fighter. Her father had always said so with every argument she’d won.
She peered over her shoulder at the way she’d come.
Someone was out there. She could feel him watching, waiting to see what she’d do. She was fooling herself to believe the distant voice of one of her pursuers meant he may have lost his way.
Taking a steady breath, she jumped to her feet and broke into a sprint. She had to survive. It’s all she understood as the shadows of the forest swallowed her. It was her life, not theirs. If she was to die, it’d be on her terms and her decision to fade away.
Every direction bearing an easy route she diverted and took the hardest in the hope it would slow them down. Fallen trees lay across ditches. She went around them and forced herself through matted weaves. If nothing else, she had to make any attempt for these men to bleed her as difficult as she could.
The farther she ventured, the more her speed began to dwindle like she was wading through a thick swampland. The terrain evened out making it hard to choose a challenging route. Trying to keep herself alert, she shook her head and staggered towards the edge of a ravine. Gingerly, she peered over the edge with her teeth chattering uncontrollably in the icy gale.
A wave of black showed the forest continued below. She could see the rippling shadows of the treetops.
There was something familiar about this. Something she couldn’t see, but remembered.
A secret. A memory from her childhood when she’d play in the forest, undisturbed and alone.
Have I been here before?
She stumbled along the length of the drop and stopped at some bracken. If her memories were correct, the forest lagoon below could be the key to surviving the night. The men wouldn’t be able to find her and it would shelter her from the gale.
Carefully, she leant over the edge to inspect the side of the ravine. It’d been at least ten years since she chased a dancing light through the forest and found the muddy ledges descending into the dark. There wasn’t any dancing light this time and no carefree curiosity to find out where it had gone. The ledges were now time-worn and overgrown with nettles sprouting out from the ravine’s face, but it relieved her to find they were still intact.
She climbed down onto a ledge.
It broke. Time erosion had made it brittle. She gripped onto the next ledge and hissed as nettles stung into her fingers.
Pushing herself flat against the wall of the ravine, she looked down into the dark and swallowed.