Jillian woke with a start on her uncomfortable mattress to the sound of battle cries of the men and the screams of fear from women and children. She opened her eyes wearily and saw her mother hastily packing any belongings that they might need for their evacuation. When she saw that her daughter had risen she immediately ordered Jillian to tend to her younger brother Benny who was wailing his lungs out. Jillian headed for her brother and comforted him as best she could. Under the circumstances she was having enough trouble comforting herself. As she looked around she saw that one side of the tent had a large slash cut down the center where a knife had been. The tent flaps were wide open and Jillian hastened then to keep Benny from seeing the outside of their little shelter. Outside Jillian watched mesmerized as a young little girl she recognized as one of her friends got stabbed straight through the heart by a warrior who had been trying to get passed her. She felt a cry escape her and looked away never wanting to see death happen in such a vicious manner again.
“Don’t watch Jill,” her mother cautioned and then swung the sacks onto her shoulders and handed two to Jillian. Jillian took them placing Benny on her lap and putting them on her back before getting to her feet with her infant brother in her arms. Her mother relieved Jillian of Benny and motioned to the open flaps.
As they were nearing the entrance the screams and cries grew louder and more piercing. “On no condition are you to stay here,” her mother said as she made to duck out of the tent. “If something happens to me and Benny or anything causes us separation, run! Do not wait. Shane and your father will either make it or not. They are fighting for our lives so we must try to keep ourselves out of harm’s way. Do you understand me?” Jillian nodded still unable to speak a word. “All right,” her mother ducked under the flaps. “Hurry, Jillian!” Without further ado Jillian hastened after her mother fear etched across her entire body.
As they ran Jillian kept her head down not wanting to think about what was happening around her and definitely not wanting to glimpse any bloodshed. Suddenly as she was trying to catch up with her mother a sword fell inches before her and she looked up to see Shane quickly taking his sword out of her would be killer’s back.
“Go Jill! Go!” he yelled to her and she obeyed her brother and hurried to find her mother. But she couldn’t find her now that she had wasted time seeing her brother. Running faster then she had run in a long time Jillian found that her legs were numbing so that she no longer noticed the pain coming from them. She did not even listen to their protesting cries of pain as she stumbled over a pile of sharp jagged rocks. She ignored the blood that protruded from her left knee and kept running frantic to find her mother.
“Mama!” she found herself shouting over the cries of grief, pain, and rage. “Mama, Mama!” But she heard no response except the continuous other voices that no longer seemed familiar as they once had.
Then finally she found her mother on the edge of the forest where they had made camp. Her mother was crouching low behind some trees holding Benny tightly in her arms and Jillian was surprised to see how silent he was at that intense moment. Jillian crept stealthily and silently towards her mother and then crouched low beside her.
“Jillian!” her mother cried in a soft somewhat hoarse whisper. “Dear God I thought I’d lost you.” Jillian put a finger to her lips as three soldiers of the enemy’s came stumbling towards them from the other side of the forest clearing. Jillian could hear them swearing and grunting and cursing their own king. She felt her eyebrows raise in shock at this.
“Why?” she mouthed to her mother gesturing to the guards.
“Later,” her mother mouthed in response to her inquiry. Jillian nodded and just sat there staring at the three men hoping silently that they would soon go away so that she and her Mama and brother could leave this dreaded battlefield. But the guards did not leave and the battle was somehow managing to move towards where the three of them were crouching low in a hopeless attempt for refuge.
Jillian’s mother nudged her elbow gently and nodded her head stating plainly that they were going to try and escape without notice. Jillian nodded and they crept along the edges of the forest keeping as low and as silent as they could possibly hope to be. No sooner had they started moving however, they somehow managed to make themselves known to the enemy. One of the guards had looked up and from the other two men’s discussion and he had definitely glimpsed them because he began speaking to his companions in the Arguini tongue.
“Jillian!” hissed her mother in a frantic fear struck whisper.. “Run!” When Jillian did not move from where she still knelt rooted to the spot her mother gave her a rather painful nudge that Jillian could not ignore. She adjusted the packs on her shoulders and scrambled away back towards the battlefield. She turned back when she was again safely hidden and saw her mother looking more terrified as the Arguini soldiers moved closer towards her hiding place. She was clutching Benny for support.
The soldiers arrived at that moment and dragged her by her hair out of the underbrush causing her to drop Benny as she attempted to relieve herself of the breathtaking pain that was now going through her entire body. Jillian clutched the trees nearest her for her own support and watched as one of the soldiers picked up Benny and gave him to the other man who laughed heartily and pinched Benny’s nose, hard, causing him to wail louder then Jillian had ever heard him wail before. Over the wails and the now faint screams and cries from the campground Jillian heard the man pinching Benny’s nose laugh, a hearty malevolent laugh that would haunt her dreams until her dying day.
The soldier who had grabbed her mother by the hair had released her and was now holding her in what seemed like a fierce embrace that was making her mother’s face grow whiter and whiter as if she could not breathe. Jillian grimaced and inched closer to better hear what they were saying.
“Not so strong as we thought is she?” the soldier squeezing her mother mused making his grip on her a little harder.
“You’d think the wretched man would marry a less vulnerable lady,” the soldier holding Benny agreed giving Benny another pinch.
“Now c’mon Boyce give the poor prince a break,” the soldier who was merely watching commented not really caring but caring enough to tell the soldier Boyce off.
“The Prince,” Boyce muttered looking at the infant he was holding. “Not much of a prince is he?” he asked grinning maliciously as he pinched Benny yet again. “I mean look at him.”
“I am,” the soldier responded. “And he’s merely a babe. Man, he’d have grown into a good damned king if it weren’t for us.”
“No he wouldn’t have,” Boyce argued suddenly looking up from his investigation of where to hurt Benny next. “There’s still Shane. We don’t even have our hands on him though. Shame that is.”
“He’ll wind up killing himself in the fight,” said Benny’s defender gesturing with his arm towards where Jillian was standing.
“Now, Merrill!” Boyce cried in mock surprise and distress. “How dare you even speak such cruelties in front of his own mother!” Merrill who had at first been defending Benny now flushed embarrassment and took his knife from its sheath and flourished it in front of the Queen of Joathen’s nose before moving towards Benny. Jillian let out a terrified gasp and then quickly covered her mouth.
“May I do the honors?” he asked the other soldiers casually nodding silently to Jillian’s mother who gave him a look of utter horror and protest. The soldier appeared not to have noticed her look and drew closer to Benny brandishing his knife.
Benny had stopped crying after the pain of Boyce’s nose pinching sessions had subsided but now as he saw the knife in front of his face he had no desire to scream or just had no air to do it as the fear of the object in front of him had sucked all his energy out of him. Even at such a young age Jillian was surprised that Benny knew what was coming to him,
And then without warning Benny’s heart was pierced with Merrill’s blade and Boyce in his own shock at the sudden movement dropped the now dead bleeding body of Benny onto the ground in pure disgust. Jillian looked away from Benny and chanced a look at her mother who now had tears streaming down her cheeks in her grief for her baby son.
“Tahir,” Merrill turned to the soldier who was holding Jillian’s mother captive. He held out his hand. “I’ll take her ladyship to the boats. You go back to the fighting.” Tahir nodded and glanced over at Boyce who was looking at the dead bleeding baby in disgust.
“I never knew you as the violent type Merrill,” Boyce commented and then with one last glance at Benny’s body he followed Tahir back towards where Jillian stood crouched low watching all that was happening intently. Quickly she hid underneath the undergrowth and waited patiently for all the soldiers to leave.
When she was sure that they were nowhere in sight she raced towards her dead baby brother and wept mournfully over his body.