“He’s doing it again, isn’t he?” The little girl demanded petulantly, her lower jaw jutted forward and one eye narrowed suspiciously.
Her mother shook her head. She was trying, and failing, to conceal a smile.
The girl whipped around int time to catch a glimpse of the face her brother was making behind her back before he adopted a calm, questioning expression. “I saw it, I saw it!” She began to chase him, her fat little hands balled into firsts.
The mother of the two could hold back no longer, and began to laugh helplessly as she watched her youngest child chase her oldest. Finally, Eric let Amy catch up, and Amy slammed her chubby fists into her brother’s side as he laughed.
They were a family that was neither very rich, nor very poor. They lived comfortably, even if many of their wants were left unfulfilled. They could afford to go to the doctor when they got sick. They were rarely left hungry.
With a carefree life, and needs met, the three-person family lived well. The mother worked nights at a baker’s shop, and with an allowance from the father of Eric, she made ends meet until the boy’s father took him away. Eric struggled against the hold of his father for many years, and eventually ran from him to join the army, where he sent much of his pay to his mother and younger sister.
From morning to night, he served the crown. From night until morning, he slept on a bed in his mother’s home, and his needy young sister scolded him for staying away for too long during the day.
Eventually, as was wont to happen, the land erupted in war. With fear and a growing sense of danger, Eric bid mother and sister good-bye with a hug and a kiss before he turned from the home he grew up in and marched to join the rest of the army in combat.
For months, Amy heard nothing of her brother. She pursued every method she could to hear word of him, but everyone told her to go home. A year passed, and she heard nothing. She was married off and had a child, and still she heard nothing until the guards began to evacuate the city. The Vicilans broke through the Wall, and were on their way.
Fear gripped Amy. She had no idea where her brother was stationed. She had no idea if he was dead. She paid for tickets on a ship and sent her mother, child, and husband ahead while she hunted down someone who could tell her the fate of her beloved brother.
She shoved through crowds to find the army’s center. “Where is my brother?” she demanded. “Where is Eric Bandal?”
“Go away!” A thick arm shoved her away.
She rushed forward. “Where is my brother?” Around her, others made the same demands, and guards pulled them away.
Chaos reigned as Amy and many other sisters, mothers, brothers, and fathers fought for news of their loved ones. Amy grabbed someone’s sleeve. Someone grabbed at her and she defended herself with a punch. The person she grabbed took advantage of her distraction and threw her to a guard, who quickly restrained her. Others joined her where she struggled against a rough rope that tied her to a rich family’s gate. The air was filled with the shrieks of women and the shouts of angry old men.
The boat left without Amy as she sat in a cell, surrounded by old men and other angry, fuming women.
The sounds of war outside seemed distant. Amy watched out the barred window of the unguarded cell as an old man taught a child how to pick the cell lock. Now and then, Amy saw unfamiliar boots pass in front of the cell, and heard the voices of foreigners shout. The sounds of battle became silent, and the sounds of construction reigned as the old man and young boy finished opening the door.
“I thought thieves were fast.” Amy murmured.
The old man chuckled. “Ah, yes. Old men, not so much.”
She smiled. “Thank you.” she embraced the old man tightly, then dashed out the door. “Let’s find our loved ones!” She cried from the front of the crowd. They followed her as she wove through the halls in search of an exit or a friendly face.
Pure chance led them out of the castle through a little-known servant’s passage, and the group soon saw the horrid state of their homes. Several collapsed in tears, to be led away by the others or muffled as a group of enemy soldiers on patrol passed in confusion.
For days, they passed through the city like scared mice. The amount of bodies was staggering, and the property damage was beyond counting. The city was barely recognizable.
The few survivors they found banded together with them, and they took to hiding in the sewers as the old man taught the group of the arts of a thief, while another old man taught them how to protect themselves with stolen weapons and ill-fitting armor.
Only two women found their loved ones in the wreckage of the city, and they gave them as much of a burial as they could before day came and the daily patrols began again.
They waited and they grew in strength.
Slowly, they worked on finding a way out of the fallen city.
The sewers gave little hope. There were grates between them and the sea, and some of the group could not swim.
Days and nights seemed to meld as the group began to sleep during the day and rise at night. Food was scarce, and life in the sewers began to lead to disease, and the need to escape become that much more important.
Children were sent on scouting missions to find a way out of the city, and the women worked on trying to loosen the grate that led to the sea.
One night, the grate fell out with a clatter, and the women dashed back to fetch the rest of the group. Amy ran at the fore.
When they arrived, their hiding place was too quiet.