Cloud & Shade - Chapter 6 - A Fading Hope
Aingeal drifted in and out of sleep for a period of a few hours, unable to situate herself comfortably on the hard stone, and plagued by fever and chills. As things began to grow silent around her, she began to consider attempting to escape. Perhaps Amarth was asleep? But a slight noise from her captor would always quickly drive the thoughts away.
"I didn't say anything." she muttered.
Amarth chuckled sadistically. "Don't lie." He paused for a moment. "Ah, I know what it is. All those thing I told you, circling, circling through your head. You can't fight the truth, little one, because the truth shall set you free. In this case, it sets you free from the life you hated and from the lies of your so-called parents." He stood over her once again. "You should be thanking me."
"I'd die before thanking you," Aingeal spat at him through clenched teeth.
"That you will little one, that you will," His voice made her stomach churn in fear, "Sooner than you think. In fact..." His cold fingers touch her face as she pull away in revulsion, "I suspect you will beg for death before long."
Mornië glanced up at Athrun's haggard face. Neither of them had slept all night, and morning was near. Grey traces of dawn already tainted the eastern sky.
"We tracked her for two miles. Then, she just disappeared." Athrun questioned quietly, his voice revealing how stunned he was. "It's not possible for any living being to simply dissolve into thin air."
"We traced and retraced her path. There was nothing." Mornië wrapped him in her arms.
Athrun clung to his wife like a small child. "She ran. She was running from me because she hates me."
Mornië didn't know what to do, what to say. Combating her own grief and maternal instinct as she tried to suppress the urge to panic. "We'll find her Athrun," She forced herself to believe her own words. "She'll find her way. I don't know of anyone who would want to harm her. If it were a wild animal we would have found tracks." She attempted to reassure him.
Aingeal stumbled to her knees in exhaustion. She had walked for hours it seemed tied by her hands to Amarth's horse.
He yanked on the rope roughly, and she felt the rough, braided fibres dig into the soft flesh of her wrists. "Get up, weakling! Thalion would be ashamed to call you his daughter if he could see you limping and falling about."
She growled under her breath, biting back a retort that would most likely get her beaten. Amarth nudged his horse into a trot. Aingeal was barely able to keep up, but her mind began turning over thoughts of escape. She knew her feet were bleeding. If someone found their trail they could follow the blood.
Her hopes for this course were shattered almost instantly. A soft wind began to blow. At the same time, the temperature of the air dropped several degrees. The rain would wash away any hoof prints or blood. Not even the best of trackers would be able to find her.
Aingeal was beginning to despair, and wondered if anyone was even looking for her. If what Amarth said was true, then Athrun would be more than happy that she was gone. He would not bother to track her down. Her mother would feel some remorse, but she would poor all of her attention and love into Eihm. Her mind shied away from this train of thought.
At the same time, she was becoming more and more certain that Amarth had poisoned her. The steady fever was slowly draining her energy. She could tell they were travelling along a little used path by the vines and branches that tugged at her hair and feet occasionally. She had long since lost any sense of direction. Her only focus on taking one more step, trying not to stumble and fall.
Without warning, an idea presented itself to her. She could use the path Amarth travelled to her advantage. Rain might wash away blood and footprints, but it could not wash way broken branches and other such signs. She began weaving back and forth across the trail, allowing the small branches, thorns, and vines to snag on her clothing and break. A small ripping sound made her smile as she felt a piece of her sleeve tear free.
She could only hope that someone would be able to pick up the trail. Amarth had taken her very far. If they didn't think to search this far or in this direction... no, she couldn't think that way. Her mind was in a constant fog, probably another side effect of the poison she was certain Amarth had poured in her wound. Trying to shake it off, to clear her thoughts; she had to stay alert. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she would take it.
Eavan led his horse slowly through a small stream. The boy had been true to his word and brought him a good horse, but it was skittish of water. This was the third stream he had had to wade through. Grumbling quietly, he looked up quickly when he felt something drop on his head. He was worried that it might be a little gift from a bird winging over head and was relieved when he realized it was rain. Ducking his head to pull his cloak up, he froze when a patch of red on the ground before his feet caught his eye.
Stooping to get a better look, he found the dust in the path had been bloodied. A little farther on there was another small patch of blood in the dust, and another, and another. He quickly realized they were footprints. He had never been much of a tracker, but he could see that they were shuffled and irregular, as if the person who had made them was stumbling. And they looked semi-fresh.
Another droplet of rain struck his arm, and the low rumble of thunder in the distance told him more was on the way. The wind was picking up, driving the heavy clouds across the sky, obliterating the sun.
Eavan ignored the rain now sporadically falling on his head and began jogging up the trail, pulling his reluctant horse behind him. Whoever had left these footprints was in need of aid. If the rain washed them away before he could reach them, he had a very small chance of every picking up their trail again.
His pace quickened as the rain began falling heavier. Water obliterated the blood as quickly as he laid eyes on it.
The rain began to pour down in torrents, turning the dust of the path to mud and soaking Eavan to the bone. He didn't mind the rain. In fact, he would have welcomed it if not for the fact that it had very well erased the tracks completely. Hoping that maybe there might be some indication to follow, his eyes searched the mud of the path, the torrential down pour blocking his vision as water ran into his eyes. Blinking it away fiercely, he reached to push the fingers of the bare branches away from him as he kept on down the path. He stopped as his fingers touched something. Something not native to that particular plant he was sure. A small scrap of black cloth rested in his hand, plucked from the branches.
He felt what little hope he had rekindled. His fears of this person being a captive, however, were strengthened. He glanced up the path and saw a trail of broken branches and flattened grass. No person under normal circumstances would leave signs like these.
He quickened his pace and continued stumbling his way onto clues: broken branches, small remnants of blood not washed away by the rain, and more pieces of black cloth. But, the rain wasn't helping any. Not only did it obliterate his vision, but the horse hated it, fighting him every step of the way. The going was slow, and he knew that eventually he would have to take shelter from the rain.