The village was helpless before the onslaught of soldiers. Half of the travelling troop split off while passing and marched on the locals. Steel weapons cut through raised tools. The old men and women fell before invading blades of an army that bore their own land’s device and colors. One crafty woman led children into the forest, but she could not gather all of them. As the village’s fall became certain, more people fled to the supposedly-haunted forest, eager to avoid certain doom in favor of a more vague doom.
As the village behind began to burn, those surviving villagers pushed deeper. The forest began to drown out the sound of screams. A few looked back, but were pushed forward by others behind. At the back, a man named Tanner, with arms like great tree trunks, paused and looked back. His frown was haunted as he looked back. His wife and two children were killed before he could find them. In his heavy heart, he carried his dead family, along with his flame-engulfed smithy.
Images of finding his wife and children flashed through Tanner’s mind. They were cold– some of the first cut down by the soldiers. He carried them to his smithy and broke every tool he did not bring with him. In rage, he burned the building. No soldiers coming though would use his smithy to further their evil ways, he decided as he fled to the forest.
Fire burned in his eyes as he saw someone else lagging. It was a young girl who often broke her pots. He pushed her forward, determined to keep as many of the other villagers alive as he could. “Don’t stop. Don’t stop!” he urged. The girl looked up. Her face was pale with terror and loss. She did not move, so the smith picked her up and hauled her over one shoulder. The lass had always been delicate. She was likely one of the first to flee.
The girl began to cry as she draped over Tanner’s shoulder. Her helpless sobs wracked her body.
“Now’s not the time to cry, Lily!” he urged. “I need you to tell me if anyone is coming after us, friend or foe!” The giant man jostled her, and she let out a squeak. “Do you hear me?”
The girl nodded.
“I can’t hear if your head is rattling, girl.” He reminded as he kept his eyes forward. He moved at a walk, to ensure he could find any who lagged.
“Yes!” she managed to answer.
“Good girl. You can cry later. For now, we have to make sure as many others get safe as we can.” Tanner gave her thigh a squeeze of reassurance, and she held on tightly.
Throughout the long walk through the forest, she warned him of the approach of only two other villagers. Nobody else followed. Tanner let them walk ahead of himself and tried to cover the trail.
The pair continued their advance as night fell. The trail was dark, illuminated only by the scarce moonlight that filtered through the treetops. The fire from the village was no longer visible anymore. Their footsteps echoed in the quiet forest as the large man carried the small, wisp of a girl.
As night continued to hold the land in its thrall, Tanner continued to walk. He was exhausted. He had yet to find a single sign of the rest of the escaped villagers however. The blacksmith’s mouth refused his orders to call for them, and he continued to walk. The trail was clear to him, and he continued to try to disguise it.
“Oh ho. Do you seek the parade?” the voice came from nearby, and Lily gave no response. Tanner looked around.
“Who’s there?” Tanner asked. “Show yourself.”
The voice laughed. It was deep and playful. “You’ll not see me. You cannot see the hand before your face, oh smasher of metals.”
The smith scowled. “Do you know where the other villagers are?” he asked. “Your voice isn’t familiar.” He looked around, but only the vague shadows of the trees were visible. “Where are you?”
Again, the voice laughed. “A better question to ask is where you are, with your tone so harsh? This forest is not yours, nor be it ever.”
The large man groaned. “I’m just trying to find the other villagers who fled here. Soldiers burned down our town, and we came for refuge.”
“A sad, sad story, but so untrue! You and the small girl are the only ones to enter this night.” The laughter sounded again, this time from above and to the smith’s right.
Tanner looked up. “I must have made a wrong turn.” He used his free hand to scratch his head.
“A shame, a shame! Well, I suppose the pit trap you’ve been standing on the past minutes is useless, so please, pay no mind as I break the surface for you!”
A thud sounded mere inches from Tanner’s feet, and suddenly he fell downward into the ground with a shout of dismayed alarm. Tanner landed on his rear, and only one strong arm kept Lily from harm.
Lily woke with a whimper and held tightly to Tanner’s tunic. She looked around in terror for several moments as Tanner inwardly exhausted his vocabulary of verbal taboo. In silence, they held each other tightly.
Finally, Tanner forced himself to his feet, while the frightened girl looked around frantically.
“Where are we?” she asked in a tiny voice.
“A cruel man threw us in a hole.” He growled and walked to one of the sides. He raised a hand to test how deep it was. To his disappointment, he could not even push the girl out. It was far too deep. He ran a hand along the dirt wall, and felt a small amount of dirt crumble away. He began to dig with one hand.
Morning found him on his knees. Lily stood beside him. Tanner’s hands were raw and ached, and he was exhausted. He panted and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he looked at Lily. With increased vigor, he continued to dig doggedly through the rocky soil.