Stephan was frightened. For the past few months his friends and other villagers had been disappearing at night, as if into thin air! Now, it was his turn. He could not see or hear the creature that was relentlessly hunting him, but he could feel it in his mind. It was just there, at the edge of his brain. Although he could not see it, its shadows lay everywhere, waiting to grab him from behind.
“I have a wife and child, Lord, what I have done to deserve this, death?” he mumbled to himself while scrunched up like a ball in a corner, trembling uncontrollably with fear. As the creature neared, Stephan fumbled clumsily for his small pocket knife to defend himself,
“Any monster would be scared out of their right mind when they see this!” Stephan said, trying to reassure himself. But it didn’t work, because when the creature came Stephan did not confront it, nor did he attack it, instead, he dropped his pocket knife and slowly crawled back to his corner. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before, it was like a, like a …
“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Stephan screamed as the last moments of his life were torn apart viciously.
1 year earlier
“Take that! And that!” cried Arden as he quickly cut down his imaginary enemies, “DIE!” he shouted as he swung his invisible sword, his brown hair waving from side to side as he swung himself around. Meanwhile, inside the house his mum and dad were watching him with pride,
“He has great agility, doesn’t he? And he’s only eleven years old.” his father, Crenilious, said after Arden gracefully swung off a branch and rolled onto the ground.
“Perhaps he’ll follow in your foot-steps?” his mother asked.
“Ha!” laughed his father, “Not a chance! He’s totally different!” His mother, Sina, nodded in agreement. When they had finished their long conversation, they quickly turned their heads towards Arden and his game. However Arden was no longer there. From the window his mum and dad scanned the fields carefully for Arden and just when they were getting worried, Arden jumped behind them while screeching at the top of his voice,
“SURPRISE!” Both his parents jumped in shock. His mother sighed.
“I wish he’d stop doing that!” his dad muttered to himself.
“Did I scare you? Did I? Did I?!” Arden asked impatiently.
“Calm down. Your father has something to tell you.” Sina said, firmly.
“I did, though. Didn’t I?” Arden asked again, wanting them to say yes.
“Yes. You did. Now please listen to your father!” She said, trying not to shout.
“Right, now we’ve settled that, I will now say what needs to be said. The Raudanas war council has sent me on a spec….”
“OH! DAD! Why do you have to go on all these STUPID missions?! Why can’t you stay here?” Arden shouted, trying not to cry as his hazel eyes began to shine with tears.
“You know why Arden. Anyway, your mother will still be here won’t she?”
“No buts! It’s bedtime now, so go and get dressed!” chipped in his mother, before the conversation got worse. Arden stomped up the stairs, so hard that it looked like he was trying to break them, and threw himself onto his bed, weeping. Meanwhile his father packed his stuff and went.
Arden yawned lazily as he got out of bed.
“One day I’m going to go off on secret missions,” Arden sighed.
“ARDEN!” roared Sina, “YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE SUMMER FESTIVAL!!!”
“Meanwhile I’ve got to sit around trying to sell revolting cabbages.” Arden said quietly, so his mother wouldn’t hear as he raced down the stairs.
“You haven’t even got dressed yet, yet alone had breakfast! Don’t you know the festival starts in an hour?! Eat that up quickly, go and get dressed and then you can take those boxes of cabbage to our selling stall.”
“But mum! I sold those stinky cabbages last year! Can’t I sell something that attracts customers, not repels them?”
“Just for that comment I’m going to give you half your wish; you can sell the sprouts instead.”
“But mum!” Arden moaned,
“No more buts’, now hurry up!” His mum replied harshly.
After forty-five minutes of running around, getting dressed and setting up the stall, Arden and his mum were finally ready to sell. They had lovely bright orange carrots, golden oranges, juicy purple plums and, of course, sprouts and cabbages. While they were busy getting ready for the festival, Arden had continued to argue with his mum, but to no hope. Arden’s mum was extremely stubborn and once she had made up her mind, it was nigh impossible to make her change it. There was just one person Arden knew who could accomplish this impossible feat, his dad. That was one of the main reasons Arden particularly wanted his dad to stay for the festival, so he could get Arden out of trouble if he was caught doing something other than selling. While they were waiting for the swarm of people who would be arriving in less than five minutes, one of the women from another stall walked over to them,
“Hi Mary! How are you doing?” asked Sina,
“Oh, fine. How are you?” Mary replied,
“Same as you,” Then Sina started whispering,” My husband, Crenilious, went away last night, Arden wasn’t very happy about it, to say the least.”
“The poor boy!” Mary replied quietly. Unfortunately Arden had heard the conversation very clearly,
“Muum! Stop it!” Arden said angrily.
“I think this is the point where I leave, don’t you?” Mary said and hastily returned to her own stall.
“I hope she’s not going to be doing that to me all day.” Arden mumbled to himself as a truck load of people rushed into the market.
Most of the day went by quite quickly with Arden reluctantly selling the sprouts and sometimes the cabbages, and his mum, Sina, selling everything else. Unfortunately for Arden, his mum continued to embarrass him even after Arden complained. Near the end of the festival, however, when the noise had died down, Arden heard, just for a second, rustling leaves behind him. Arden knew exactly who it was; it was Isabella, one of his best friends. It was their habit of sneaking up on each other, but, except for a few times, Arden usually succeeded in whatever task he was doing. This time was no exception.
“I wish mum would have let me bring my wooden sword,” Arden grumbled as he picked up a sturdy, long, dirty stick and swung it around a few times, “It’ll do.” Arden said to himself.
“Come out; come out, wherever you are!” Arden said noisily.
“YAAAARRRR!” Isabella screamed as she ran out of her hiding place at Arden, holding a stick like his.
“Come and get me!” Arden replied joyfully. Quickly Isabella lunged at Arden, Arden only just parrying in time. In turn he launched an attack of his own, he wacked the back of Isabella’s hand, knocking her weapon away. Then, as they were both laughing Arden rushed at Isabella and they both rolled onto the ground, giggling so much that anybody within a twenty metre radius would have heard them, loud and clear.
* * *
“KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!” went the door as someone banged their fists against the wooden planks,
“ARDEN, CAN YOU GET THE DOOR! IT’S PROBABLY YOUR DAD!” Sina shouted as the knocking got louder. All of a sudden Arden raced down the stairs at a neck-breaking speed saying wildly,
“Is it dad!? Is it dad!?”
“Open the door like I told you and you’ll find out!” Sina replied. Arden’s dad had been gone for several weeks now and Arden couldn’t wait to see him. But, as Arden opened the door, it was not his dad there; it was Martland, his dad’s comrade, and friend.
“Is your mother in?” he asked politely, Arden could already see the severity in his eyes.
“Yes, I’m here. Come in, come in.” Once everybody was settled and seated, Martland said, gravely,
“I’m afraid, I have some bad news.” Sina went pale, ” Your husband went missing a week ago, our scouts found him last night,” He paused, “dead.” There was a terrible silence. Then, Sina started sobbing, and didn’t stop until she couldn’t physically carry on. Arden, however, just sat there, silently, staring into nothingness.
“I realise this must be very distressing for you both.” Martland said, gently. “I shall leave you alone to grieve; then I shall come round tomorrow to discuss the funeral.” He said, and left. Arden and Sina sat in silence for what seemed like hours to Arden. No one spoke. The rest of the day went pretty much the same, Arden and his mum doing everything that needed to be done in total silence.
The next day Martland came round at mid-morning, as promised. As he trod into the house, he realised that both Arden and Sina had most likely not said a single word since they last met. Getting worried for them, he attempted to make a conversation,
“So, Arden, how are you?” Martland quickly realised this was an idiotic question and so decided to change the subject. But before Martland said anything else, the shivering, ashen, ghostly, Sina spoke,
“Can we please get on with this? I just want this nightmare to be over!” The room fell into the deadly silence that had consumed it before Martland came. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, Martland whispered,
The planning went swiftly after that, they worked out the details of where, when and who. They decided to bury him behind the house, and up Rose hill as that was where they all used to sit and watch the stars look down on them while Arden was still very small. Many of Crenilious’ comrades and friends had managed to get to the funeral the night before. When Arden woke up he felt sick, like somebody was tearing his stomach out and using it as a whip. Eventually he crawled out of bed and got dressed. He didn’t want today to happen; he wanted to go back to before his father died and stay there forever and ever. When he was with his friends he pretended that nothing had happened, but inside something was missing.The funeral went painfully slowly for Arden, for everybody. By the time it was finished, Arden felt sicker than ever, he wanted it to end.
Meanwhile at castle Solas (the capital) they knew something was wrong, very wrong.
To be continued . . .