But, as I glanced through it to get it formatted, it was actually bearable. I rather like this story.
Too bad I never finished it.
Not making any promises, but maybe I'll do something with this one someday. Arysa's pretty cool and I like Justinian and I remember really wanting to write Meg. No idea why I stop off writing just before she came into the story...
Anyway, another long one. They won't all be this long, but this one is. Here is all I have written of Arysa's untitled story:
No one knows how it started. The war between Stratus and Pentia had waged on for so long no one really knew what they were fighting about. Each country just knew they hated the other side.
The war waged for over a hundred years. Bloody battle after bloody battle continued to eat up the countries’ men almost as soon as they were old enough to fight. This made their younger brothers and sons bitter and as soon as they were old enough they too went off to war. Just like the men before them, they would be devoured, making their sons and younger brothers bitter. So it went, a vicious cycle that no one knew how to break. The women tried but what could they do? They begged their boys not to go, pleaded, but it was too late; seeds of bitterness had already been sown.
So man after man, or rather boy after boy, marched off to wage a war they could never win with their hate. Their women watched with tearful eyes as they went, praying they would return soon and knowing they would not. They were like widows, just waiting for news to come to make it official, working hard and wondering what the point in living was.
Arysa Murdock knew what the penalty was for being outside the village limits after dark. Since Ambia was so close to the border people caught out after dark were assumed to be spies- and therefore traitors- and were treated as such. Still, on nights like these, when the stars twinkled clearly against the dark sky and the air was just changing to cold so it tickled your lungs when you breathed deeply, Arysa felt something drawing her outside. It was something inside of her, pulling- no yanking- at her until she could no longer remain shut in.
Just outside Ambia, Pentia and Stratus were divided by a deep ravine. Tonight Arysa stood at the edge and breathed deeply. She closed her eyes, soaking in moonlight. Suddenly, there was a shout and she found herself knocked off her feet, falling, rolling, down into the ravine.
It wasn’t a long fall but painful all the same. Even more so because as soon as she stopped falling she felt someone fall on top of her. “Hey!”
“Sorry.” It was a young man’s voice, not yet deep but no longer high. He scrambled to his feet. “Run.”
“Why? I haven’t done anything.”
“Explain that to them.”
Arysa looked in the direction he gestured and saw a dozen or so soldiers stood at the top of the ravine, starting to slowly make their way down. It was too dark to tell whose troops they were but Arysa knew it didn’t matter. If they were Pentian she’d be arrested for being out of her village after dark. If they were Stratusian they’d arrest her for being Pentian.
She was on her feet in an instant, chasing the mysterious boy. They ran for what felt like hours- though it could have only been minutes- with the soldiers were hard on their heels. It crossed her mind that it was odd they chased them for so long. Who was this boy that he was so important to them? She didn’t have time to dwell on it; she was too busy concentrating on where she was running. Whenever she started to stumble she felt the boy’s arms helping her regain her footing. She wondered why he cared enough to help her but, like her other questions, she pushed them aside for later.
Arysa was getting a stitch in her side and she was beginning to feel as if her lungs would burst when the boy grabbed her hand and pulled her quickly to the left. The ravine had flattened out and she found herself being pulled into a forest. This sudden turn gained them some time, momentarily putting them out of the soldiers’ sight. The boy seized this chance to pull her into a cave covered with overgrowth. She never would have known it was there.
Arysa felt herself being pulled deep into the cave’s interior. After a few moments the boy stopped. He put his hand over her mouth.
“Don’t make a sound,” he said so quietly she almost didn’t hear him. “Don’t even breathe.” She nodded to show she understood and he pulled his hand away.
They crouched in the darkness for several minutes, listening for sounds that they’d been discovered. None came. Never before had Arysa experienced complete silence and she was surprised to find it frightened her. She wished the boy would speak, or some cave-dwelling animal would make noise, or even that the soldiers would find them. Anything to break this deafening silence.
Finally, the boy grabbed her hand, pulling her deeper into the cave. Still, he didn’t speak. Arysa was beginning to wonder just how much more she could take when he stopped, fumbled in the darkness, and lit a match. They were in a large cavern and someone had laid a fire. As the boy set to lighting it Arysa studied him.
He was about her age, somewhere about fifteen to seventeen, with a slight but sturdy frame. Looking at him she could tell it would take a lot to lick him. She was exhausted after all the running but he seemed to seethe with energy. His honey-brown hair curled over his forehead, putting Arysa in mind of a crown framing his head. His brown eyes shone with firmness and determination but, deeper down, she could also see they danced merrily in the firelight.
He looked up and caught her staring at him. He smiled, a nice, warm smile, showing all his teeth.
“I’m Justinian,” he said. She noticed he spoke with a strange accent; not that that meant anything. She’d never traveled out of Ambia before and she knew there was a lot she didn’t know.
“I’m Arysa,” she said. “Why were those soldiers chasing you?”
“For the same reason they were chasing you,” Justinian said. “I was outside village limits after dark.”
“It was sort of private. Let’s just say I had my reasons.”
“Are you a spy?” she accused.
“I’d never betray my country.”
“Good,” Arysa said. “How long do we have to wait before I can go home?”
“The soldiers will be on a sharper lookout tonight after all that’s happened. We’d better wait until morning.”
“All right,” Arysa said. He tossed her a bedroll that was up against the cavern wall. Like the fire someone must have left them there earlier. Either Justinian or someone else. She spread out next to the fire and Justinian situated himself on the other side. For a few minutes the only sound was that of the crackling fire.
“Justinian,” she said into the quiet.
“Thanks for saving me tonight. You could have gotten away a lot faster if I hadn’t slowed you down.”
“Don’t mention it,” Justinian said.
When Arysa woke the next morning Justinian was gone. The fire was burning nicely though and his bed roll and what appeared to be packs of foodstuff were on the other side of the fire. She assumed he was coming back. He hadn’t been carrying the packs the night before so she guessed they had also been left here by someone.
She started to settle back into her bedroll when someone appeared at the mouth of the tunnel leading into the cavern. He had approached so quietly she hadn’t even heard him coming. The shadows the fire cast made it impossible to tell who it was. Arysa gasped.
Then he stepped farther into the room and she saw it was Justinian.
“Morning, Arysa.” His face was grim.
“Morning, Justinian.” She sat up and stretched. “Is something wrong?”
“Are you Arysa Murdock of Ambia, the blacksmith’s daughter?”
Her eyes widened. “Yes, but how did you learn all that?”
If possible, his face grew grimmer. “I’d hope it wasn’t you. I was scouting around Ambia today and there were plenty of soldiers looking for you.”
“Looking for me? What were you doing in Ambia anyway?” she demanded. “That’s dangerous.”
Justinian shrugged. “I’m pretty good at blending in.”
“You must be to go unnoticed in a village that size.”
“Well, with the soldiers in town people were pretty distracted.”
“What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “Do you think if I wait a few weeks things will die down?”
“Even if the soldiers leave you were still out of the village after dark and then you disappeared. The villagers won’t soon forget that.”
Her eyes flooded with tears. “What am I to do? I can’t go home and I’ve nowhere else to go.”
“You should eat,” Justinian said. He reached into one of the packs and brought out dried jerky, biscuits, and a canteen of water. Arysa accepted them absentmindedly. “Sorry it’s the best I can offer,” he apologized.
She either didn’t hear him or she ignored him, tears falling freely now. “Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath will be devastated, thinking I’ve become a traitor. I’ll probably never see them again.”
Justinian sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder. “I wish there was some way I could help. I really do. Wait, did you say aunt and uncle?”
“Yes, my mother died when I was born and Papa died in the war when I was very young. I was three when Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath took me in. My aunt is Mama’s sister. I didn’t bother to correct you before but I’m really the blacksmith’s niece.”
“So you never knew your parents?”
“No, but I’ve never really minded. Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath were like parents to me. And now I’ll never see them again. Justinian, what am I supposed to do?”
“You could come home with me.”
“I was going to wait until you were feeling a little better but since you asked, you can come home with me if you like. My family has a nice, little farm and there’s plenty of room.”
This just made her cry even more. “You’re just saying this to be nice.”
“No, I’m not,” Justinian assured her. “I lost my parents as well. It’s my uncle’s farm but he’s away fighting the war. I have three cousins, Meg, Percy, and Ian. I know at the very least Meg would like to have another girl to even things out; she doesn’t like being the only female. I know it could never replace your family but we’d be glad to have you stay with us.”
“I… I don’t know.”
“I don’t want to come across as unfeeling but have you anywhere else to go?”
She shook her head, too distraught to speak. After a few minutes she managed to compose herself enough to say, “How far away is it?”
“Not too far,” Justinian said. “We live near a small town just outside of Braumüller.” He realized his mistake as soon as he said it.
Her eyes grew wide. His arm was still around her shoulder and she pulled away from him.
“Braumüller’s in Stratus.”
“You what?” she demanded. “You deceived me? A nice little farm with a nice little family. I almost fell for it.” She started for the entrance of the tunnel and realized she didn’t know the way out. “Show me how to get out of here.”
“Not until you listen.”
“To what? More of your lies? I refuse to listen to an enemy.”
“What makes us enemies?” Justinian asked. “The fact that we were born on different sides of the border? That’s no reason for us to hate each other. We both lost loved ones to this war. We’ve both suffered.”
“You never did tell me why you saved me last night,” Arysa said, his voice having a calming effect on her anger. She didn’t know why but she wanted desperately to trust him. Besides, what he was saying made sense.
“As soon as I knocked you into the ravine last night I knew I couldn’t just leave you to get caught while I got away.”
“What are you doing so far from home anyway?”
Now it was Justinian’s turn to get tearful. “I had business in Oncent, that’s just across the border from Ambia.”
“What kind of business?” Arysa persisted.
He avoided meeting her eye. “I thought I might find news of my father.”
“I thought you said your parents died.”
“I said I lost them. Mama died when I was six. Papa was fighting in the war but he disappeared. We never actually heard that he died; we just stopped hearing from him. I tried to find him through the army but they don’t know where is. I was beginning to give up hope when I met an old soldier- he was wounded so they sent him home- who said he knew someone who had been in Papa’s regiment. That’s who I went to see in Oncent.”
“Did he have any news?” Arysa asked in a whisper.
“No, he said he’d never heard of him.”
“Oh, Justinian, I am sorry.”
Justinian shrugged, ashamed to be crying, and in front of a girl, no less. “It’s hard, not knowing. Part of me hopes he’s alive and another part of me doesn’t dare to for fear the hopes will just be crushed.”
“It’s not wrong to hope. That’s what carries us through this cruel war,” Arysa told him. “Hope and faith.”
“Arysa, I’m sorry I deceived you. I honestly didn’t think to tell you I was Stratusian and I’m sorry for all the trouble I got you into. You never would have lost your home if it wasn’t for me.”
“I believe you, Justinian,” Arysa said. “I forgive you too.”
“Thank you. I hope you believe me when I say I was serious when I said there was plenty of room for you on the farm.”
“I don’t know. I want to say yes, really I do, but part of me can’t squelch my Pentianism. A true Pentian wouldn’t step foot on Stratusian soil, let alone move there.”
“Pentian soldiers do it all the time,” Justinian said. “They’ve fought a lot of battles on our soil.”
“It just is.”
“How?” Justinian persisted.
“They’re making an effort to end this war. It’s for a good cause.”
“They’re coming to kill. That’s never good.”
“I guess I never thought about that before but I’m still not sure.”
“It’s not like it’s anything new,” Justinian said. “You’ve already spent the night in Stratus.”
“It’s not like it’s anything new,” Justinian said. “You’ve already spent the night in Stratus.”
Arysa gasped. “I have?”
“What do you say to that, my little, Pentian, patriot?”
“I say this is all silly. I spent a whole night on so called enemy soil and it didn’t feel any different than sleeping in Pentia. You’re right, Justinian, we shouldn’t be enemies. I thank you for the invitation and I accept with heartfelt thanks.”
“You’re most welcome, Miss Arysa Murdock. We’re glad to have you.”
“Just promise me one thing.”
“Promise me you won’t deceive me again.”
He looked her straight in the eyes. “I promise I will never deceive you again.”
As soon as it was dark Arysa and Justinian- both shouldering a pack and bedroll- slipped to the cave entrance. Justinian glanced around and listened carefully, making sure it was safe. Then he motioned for Arysa to follow him outside. They were headed deeper into the forest. Arysa cast one last, longing look towards the Pentian border, towards her home. She blinked back tears, silently saying goodbye. Then she turned her face to the way she was walking. She couldn’t change things. She’d make the most of what was.
Their pace was much slower than the night before. They walked in silence but it wasn’t maddening like it had been in the cave. While the two didn’t speak there were so many other sounds to listen to. The crickets chirping, the owls calling, the wind rustling the trees, the crunch of leaves under their feet, were all familiar sounds to Arysa. She was comforted to know at the very least she wouldn’t have to give up her beautiful nights.
They had been walking nonstop for an hour when Justinian suddenly stopped. He listened for a moment then turned to her.
“Can you climb a tree?” he asked in that ever-so-quiet whisper of his. Arysa nodded. He boasted her into the nearest climbable tree and scrambled up behind her.
She settled onto a branch, her heart pounding. She listen for whatever it was Justinian had heard. After a few moments she heard it too. Riders were approaching. There were four of them and in the moonlight Arysa could see they wore the uniforms of Stratusian soldiers. She didn’t dare breathe.
“They’ve got to be around here somewhere,” one of them said in a low voice.
“They’d better be,” the soldier leading them said. “I did not come out here to chase wild geese.”
All but the leader dismounted and started scouting around near the children’s tree. Justinian silently leaned close to Arysa’s ear.
“If we’re caught let me do the talking,” he whispered. She nodded. He was just in time. As soon as he said it one of the soldiers looked up and saw them.
“You there! Come down.”
“Us, sir?” Justinian asked, using an accent different from his own.
“Is there anyone else up there?” the soldier asked impatiently.
Justinian looked around.
“The answer is no,” the soldier snapped. “Come down from there.”
Justinian climbed from the tree and then helped Arysa down. By the time they reached the ground all the soldiers but the leader had gather around the tree.
“Careful with her,” Justinian said as one of them grabbed Arysa. “She’s me mute sister.”
The soldier loosened his grip. “What are you doing out here? Don’t you know it’s against the law to be out here after dark?”
“Please, sir,” he said, “we didn’t do nothing. We’re just checking our traps.”
“This late at night? With packs?”
“Pa come home from the tavern having had a bit too much so we hightailed it out of there. We needed something to do so we decided to come check the traps. He won’t be sober ‘til morning. We was going to spend the night out here. Please forgive us, sir.”
The leader of the soldiers came riding over. “What’s going on here? Who are these miscreants?”
“Just some children from the nearby village, sir,” the soldier who’d been asking the questions replied.
“Are they aware it’s against the law to be out of their village after dark?”
“Yes, sir, I was just explaining it to them. They were just going home now.”
The leader’s eyebrows arched. “You believe you’re superior enough to make such a decision without my approval?”
“No, sir! I just didn’t think it was important enough to bother you with.”
“Well, thank you for your concern but I’ll handle this myself.” The leader turned to Justinian. “What is your name, boy?”
“Calvin Black, sir,” Justinian replied, “and this is me sister, Kelsey.”
“When I want to know your sister’s name I’ll ask her for it,” the leader snapped. He turned to Arysa. “What’s your name, girl?”
Arysa turned, wide-eyed, to Justinian.
“I asked you a question, girl.”
“She can’t talk, sir,” the soldier who’d been asking questions supplied.
“You might have said so sooner,” the leader grumbled. “What are you and your mute sister doing out here at this time of night with those packs?”
“Well, sir, it’s like I was telling your men, me pa came home tonight having had a bit too much to drink. So we decided to come check our traps ‘til he’s sober. We were fixin’ to spend the night out here. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing out here, sir?”
“My men and I are looking for two prisoners that escaped from our camp. We believe they are in this area. Have you seen them?”
“No, sir,” Justinian said. “If they were around all this talking probably tipped ‘em off you was here. They’re probably gone by now.”
“More than likely but it is our job to continue our search,” the leader said. “Since we have no more time to waste on you we shall let you off with a warning. Go back to your village. If we catch you out here again you will be arrested.”
“Yes, sir, we understand,” Justinian said. Arysa nodded her agreement. The soldiers remounted and rode away. As soon as they were gone Justinian turned to Arysa and smiled. “You do a good job at playing a mute.”
“Thanks, you weren’t so bad yourself,” Arysa smiled. “You lie much too well.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Why’d you use that other accent?”
“It’s the Stratusian accent for this part of the country,” Justinian told her. “That’s why I didn’t want you to talk. One word out of you and we’d have blown our cover.”
“I’m glad I listened to you then.”
“Yeah, so am I,” Justinian said. “Let’s get going, we’ve still got a full night of walking ahead of us.”
Arysa sighed. “Lead the way, Captain.”
While they walked for the rest of the night, Arysa kept prompting Justinian to talk. He told her about his cousins. Meg was the same age as him but a good four inches taller and tough as a nail on the outside but soft as a peach on the inside. Percy was twelve and was an amazing storyteller.
“Better than you?” Arysa asked.
“What do you mean?”
“That yarn you spun for the soldiers was pretty good.”
Justinian laughed. “Percy’s even better.”
He told her about Ian, his youngest cousin, who was nine. He loved wildlife and went off alone for hours to explore. He told her about his uncle’s farm, about the crops they grew- corn and wheat- and the animals they kept- cows, chickens, horses, pigs, and one goat. It was a large farm, he said, with plenty of land and woods, and running through the woods was a stream. This was his favorite place to be. He didn’t want to be a farmer when he grew up. “I want to do more with my life.”
“Like what?” Arysa asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you like to do? What skills do you have?”
“I don’t know.”
He changed the subject, telling her that Percy wanted to tell stories, Ian wanted to dedicate his life to studying wildlife, and Meg wanted to be a doctor. This lead to a story about how a female doctor had come to town, greatly influencing his cousin’s decision.
All night, he talked and talked and talked, about everything. And all the while he talked Arysa listened, not just to what he was saying but how he said it. She broke the words down, analyzing every sound, vowel, and consonant. She took note of the way he ran certain sounds together and the way he broke others apart. Some vowels were soft, while others were hard. His cs and ks were sharp, as were his rs. All night she studied until she felt confidant to try it out herself.
“How much farther?”
Justinian smiled. “I wondered why you wanted me to talk so much. You’re pretty good at that.”
“Think it will fool anyone?” she asked, continuing with the accent.
“It still needs a little practice but I think by the time we get home you’ll have it down.”
That was enough to bring her to tears. “Home,” she whispered, “I haven’t got a home. Oh, Justinian, I thought I could do this but I can’t. The farther away we get the more I miss Pentia, the more I miss Ambia. I want Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath.”
Justinian put an arm around her shoulder. “You’re tired. It is almost dawn. Things will look better after you’ve had a rest.”
They walked for a few more minutes, until they came upon an abandoned looking shack. Arysa waited a little ways off while Justinian checked it out. After making certain the coast was clear, he motioned for her to come inside. It was a small building, probably used a long time ago by hunters. There was a fireplace against the back wall with a bunk on either side of it. The children set their packs on the floor and Arysa started to climb into one of the bunks.
“Hungry?” Justinian asked, pulling jerky and biscuits from his pack. Arysa took what he offered, ate it as quickly as she could and climbed back into the bunk.
“Good night,” she said as she covered her head.
“You mean good morning,” Justinian laughed.
“Whatever,” Arysa muttered from under her blanket. “I just want to go to sleep.”
“All right, sleep well,” Justinian said as he climbed into the other bunk. It wasn’t long before the two were sound asleep.
Arysa was happily dreaming that she was back home when she felt herself being shaken awake. She didn’t want to wake up; she wanted to continue to dream on.
“Go away,” she muttered.
“Arysa, wake up.”
Whoever was shaking her started to pull the blanket away. She pulled it back. He pulled at it and soon they were in a tug-of-war.
“Give me my blanket,” she said. He wouldn’t so she knocked his arms away. Only she missed. She smacked him square in the jaw.
Justinian gave such a loud howl that Arysa was forced to wake up.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“You hit me!”
“I said I was sorry and it couldn’t have hurt that much.”
“What would you know?” Justinian grumbled. He muttered something she didn’t quite catch.
“What did you say?”
He hesitated for a moment. “I said if you weren’t a girl I’d hit you back.”
“Oh, I thought you called me a princess.”
Justinian laughed nervously. “Why would I call you that?”
“I don’t know.” Her stomach grumbled. “It doesn’t matter. Have you got anything left to eat in those packs?”
Justinian pulled more biscuits and jerky out of his pack. “Sorry, this is all I’ve got. I can promise a good meal once we get to the farm though. She may not be good for much else but Meg sure can cook.”
“What do you mean she’s not good for much else?” Arysa asked as she accepted the food.
“She’s a girl.”
Arysa threw a biscuit at him.
When they finished eating the children once again shouldered their packs and started walking.
“How long was I asleep?” Arysa asked as they set out.
“A good ten hours,” Justinian told her. “You probably would have slept longer if I hadn’t woken you up.”
Arysa giggled. “Sorry I hit you.”
“Sure you are.”
“I am,” Arysa insisted.
“Which is why you think it’s so funny.”
This made Arysa laugh harder.
“You can stop now.”
Arysa shook her head and kept laughing. Five minutes later she was still giggling.
“It’s really not that funny,” Justinian told her.
She finally composed herself after a few minutes, only to start it up again. So their journey continued. Then, around five in the morning, they came to a main road. Justinian started down it.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Arysa asked, suddenly serious. “What if we get stopped?”
Arysa didn’t argue. She trusted Justinian and if he said it was safe, it was safe. After about a mile or so they came to a bend in the road. Just as they started around it a farm wagon came around it, towards them. There was no time to do anything. Justinian started to pull her off the road, into the forest, but the driver- a young man of about twenty-five- stopped the wagon and called to them. “Why, if it isn’t Justinian Hale and his cousin Meg. No, that’s not Meg. Who is that?”
Justinian sighed. “Hello, Devin. This is my friend, Arysa.”
The wagon driver’s eyes grew wide. “You mean-”
Justinian gave him a sharp look. “Yeah.”
“Well, aren’t you going the wrong way, if you’re going home? Braumüller’s that way.”
Justinian rolled his eyes. “Yeah, thanks, Devin,” he muttered.
“You’re welcome,” Devin said cheerfully. “I’d be glad to give you a ride if you want.”
“Thanks,” Arysa said, remembering to use her new accent. “We’d really appreciate it.”
Devin raised his eyebrow to Justinian but Justinian silenced his questions with another sharp look. “We’ll take the ride.”
He climbed into the wagon then helped Arysa up. Devin set the horses in motion and they were off.
“How soon until we get there?” Arysa asked.
“About an hour,” Devin replied. “That saves you about ten miles walking. It would have been less if Justinian had been going the right way.”
Justinian quickly pointed out something on the side of the road and the topic was dropped. Devin did a lot of the talking for the next hour but Arysa stopped listening after the first few minutes. She found the Stratusian scenery beautiful and the morning perfect. The sun hadn’t risen yet and the stars still shone brightly overhead. The air was just right, not too cool but not too warm either. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
“You okay?” Devin asked.
“I’m just wonderful,” Arysa told him.
He went back to telling Justinian whatever it was he was telling him and she went back to her beautiful night. Finally they came to a fork in the road.
“This is where we get off,” Justinian said. “The farm’s just to the right.”
As they climbed down from the wagon, Arysa felt butterflies dance in her stomach. She took a deep breath. Justinian took her hand.
“I’m sorry, Arysa,” he said as they started down the road.
“For what’s about to happen.”
Before she could question him further she felt a hand grab her from behind. A cloth was forced over her face and then everything went black.
And there you have it! Sorry to end like that! No idea what I was thinking... I'm not even fully sure where I planned to go with this... O.o
I hope you are enjoying reading these, because I'm enjoying posting them. Next week's going to be a little short one, so I hope you stop back for it. It'll be a western. Fun, fun, fun!
And, more about heroines on Monday, so I hope you stop back for that.
See you soon!