The fear froze her insides as she ran desperately through the undergrowth, ducking branches and jumping boulders. She paused, gasping for air, her eyes searching all around her for Thorwyn and his horrible henchmen. She saw them behind every tree and with each gasping breath she heard them chasing her through the forest. With no more thought she turned and fled once more towards the mountains in the assurance that she would be able to lose them there. She heard Thorwyn laugh right behind her, her heart going still. As she turned a force hit her sending her careening backwards. She hit a tree, hard, and fell crumpled to the forest floor. There she remained for a moment gasping in air, pain shooting across her shoulder and neck. Slowly she raised her head, her eyes meeting the dark chasms of Thorwyn and her heart beat faster with her fear. Thorwyn laughed again.
‘You make this so easy little love,’ he smirked. ‘Would you like to try again? You must run faster, like the wind itself, if you want to be free of me.’ He smiled a terrifying smile. She screamed in agony as he dug his talon like hand into her presumed broken shoulder and lifted her to her feet.
‘Well get going then.’ He pushed her away from him and she stumbled to the forest floor. She scrambled once more to her feet and fled with his terrible laughter chasing her.
Running was much more difficult with the pain shooting across her neck and shoulder and breathing became more difficult with each step. Still she put one foot in front of the other her fear leading her more than anything else. She began to see stars. Did she hit her head on that tree? She couldn’t remember. Was that a sign that she had hit her head? Darkness was beginning to creep through the forest and her fear stricken mind thought that a good thing. At least, she reasoned, he wouldn’t be able to see her. Perhaps she could hide and rest somewhere. Her foot became caught in an unturned root and she fell hard to the floor, jarring her shoulder and she shouted out involuntarily.
‘Someone help me,’ she whispered. Pulling herself up once more she looked behind her and saw 7 or 8 flames flickering through the trees. So, they had lanterns.
‘Oh do keep running little love,’ he called out. ‘This game isn’t nearly as fun if you simply stand and wait for me.’ She heard him sniggering as she faced towards the mountains again and set off. Was it a coincidence that she had stopped and he knew? How did he know? Her mind jumped from one question to the next unable to answer any or indeed focus for more than a moment. She jolted her shoulder against a protruding branch causing her to gasp in pain and slow to a walk. Perhaps slow and steady would be better? Or maybe she should look for somewhere to hide? She cast about in the gathering darkness and saw an opening in the rock face 50 metres above her.
‘I can get up there,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Come on. Get up there and then you’ll be safe.’ Using her good arm she began to haul herself up the rock face wedging her feet in safe places in order for her to then reach up further for the next handhold. She couldn’t put any weight on her injured shoulder and every haul upwards almost crippled her with the pain but she bit down hard on her lip and focused simply on her next handhold. After what seemed like an age she eventually pulled herself over the lip of the rock face and was once more on flat ground. She had bitten through her lip and blood was dripping down her chin but she had made it. She sent a final look backwards and saw the lamp lights off in the near distance. She couldn’t run any further and so she backed into the opening and was surprised to find it backed further into the mountainside than she had expected. She pushed through a thick curtain of moss before finding herself in a large cave. Her head was throbbing now and she shook it gently to try and shake the pain away but that only seemed to make it worse. Her right arm was tugged tight to her body as she tried to manage her shoulder injury and she simply ignored her lip injury as being merely cosmetic. She needed to find somewhere safe to hide and rest. It was pitch black inside the cave and she couldn’t see her hard in front of her as she held it out as a guide as she walked further into the cave. Voices outside. She spun around, scuffing small rocks on the cave floor. To her ears she sounded like a herd of wildebeest on stampede. She tried to calm her breathing but from a combination of factors found she couldn’t. Her whole body was shaking as she walked deeper into the darkness. Her only hope was that they didn’t find the entrance.
‘Please,’ she begged the darkness. ‘Please hide me.’
‘Now that would be boring, would it not little love?’ taunted a thick voice in her ear. She screamed in fright and stumbled backwards, tripping over some more loose rock and falling again to the floor. White light burst into the cave and she was blinded by it, forced to shield her eyes until the brightness subsided.
‘Well, you have found quite the cosy little home.’ Thorwyn sneered at her as he approached through the brightness. ‘Shame though. I was just beginning to enjoy our game of cat and mouse and you go spoiling it by hiding in a cave. Did you think I wouldn’t know where you were?’ he laughed again. A horrible scratchy laugh that made her skin crawl and her heart beat faster with fear.
She found her voice, ‘Do what you wish Thorwyn. I have nothing for you. I don’t fear you or your cronies.’ Her words were bravado and he knew it. He smiled.
‘Well,’ he mocked, ‘We both know that isn’t true.’ He crouched beside her his hand clasping her face. Peering at her he asked, ‘Whatever did you do to your beautiful face, little love? If you were hungry you should have said something.’
‘I am not your little love,’ she whispered as she pulled her face away from his hand, backing away from him across the floor. He didn’t follow her. She found herself against the cave wall. Trapped. Her eyes still saw stars through the light and she could only make out his outline as he stood and approached her once more. Betraying her fear her breath was ragged and fast, her eyes wide, and her heart beat ran the fastest marathon.
‘Let’s get down to business shall we?’ He paused in wait for her reply. With nothing coming from her, he continued, ‘You stole something very precious from me. And I want it back.’ He stood before her and with a flick of his hand her head was wrenched up, forcing her to look him in the face. You are going to tell me where it is,’ he paused for effect, ‘and then, as a favour – because I’m not all mean, I will consider not killing your own little love.’ He continued, ‘Quite frankly I am appalled that you would even take a husband when you could have had me.’ He shook his head in mock disbelief. Another flick of his wrist and a force pulled her to her feet. She scrabbled against the rock trying to grab something to hold on to, but with no luck.
‘So,’ he started, ‘for the final time. Where is it?’ She shook her head and clamped her mouth shut, tasting blood. He stepped forward and gently pushed his hand against her injured shoulder. She winced, her nostrils flaring. ‘Come now,’ he urged her, ‘don’t make me hurt you, unnecessarily.’ She remained silent. He pushed harder against her shoulder crushing it against the rough rock wall behind her. Unable to hold onto it the pain screamed out of her and she saw black stars flicker across her mind. She felt the broken bones grind against the rock as he squashed her. Suddenly the pressure was gone and she, held up by the invisible force, slumped forward a little, gasping.
After a moment, when she had caught her breath she raised her head to look him in the face. He was grinning, positive that he had beaten her and would soon hold the knowledge of where it was. It was his for the taking. His only disappointment was that it had been so easy to beat her.
She shook her head as if clearing it and spoke to him between ragged breaths, ‘I will never tell you anything. You know nothing of this world and your ignorance shall be your downfall.’ She held his eyes, a challenge.
He was enraged. Magic burst from him in an explosion of colour. She closed her eyes from the brightness before the magic enveloped her, wrenching her arms above her head. She thought she would pass out from the pain. She felt cold iron clamp tightly around her wrists and ankles and she fought for breath as suddenly she found herself suspended against the wall, her hanging weight agonising through her shoulders. She tried to shift her weight slightly so that it went through her good shoulder but rough hands grabbed her face forcing her to stare straight into his eyes.
‘You will tell me,’ he whispered angrily,’ and then you will die. Here. Alone. Where no one will ever mourn your passing.’ He spun round and left, his men following at his heels like dogs, taking the light with him and leaving enveloped in darkness and pain.
Blissfully she slipped into unconsciousness as she let the pain take hold.