BETRAYED (excerpt from “Renegades”)

They could now see the first houses of the village.  They looked like match boxes in the dim light and the group picked up the pace.  It was getting dark and they were tired and cold.  The past four days had been hard on them and the prospect of spending the night in a nice warm room and sleeping in a soft bed gave them strength.  It’s been three weeks since they left Nill and they had to go out of their way to avoid being caught, so it took them longer than they expected to arrive in Romahna.

Yesterday, when they crossed into the Sunden Province excitement filled their hearts once again: nobody would be following them here.

From the distance, the inn looked very comfortable and as they got closer they could see the smoke coming out of the chimneys.  Their group was now larger; others have joined them from villages on their way, Brantun, Koranta, and they hoped to find rooms for all of them.

Finally they passed through the large gate heading to the main building.  The yard was busy with travellers coming and going and Finup, holding Mahrina’s hand tightly, rushed ahead not minding the cloaked men tending to some horses tied to the hitching posts by the inn wall.  The strangers stopped what they were doing and walked slowly toward the gate, keeping their eyes on the new arrivals.  Pushing and shoving each other, laughing happily, Marden and the others hurried to follow Finup and Mahrina, but they had to stop and move out of the way to let a cart exit the yard.  Just as they were ready to join with the others, another group came out of the barn.  They exchanged quick glances with the first ones and waited.  A tall slim man, wrapped in a dark cloak going down almost to his ankles, broke away from the group.  He stopped in front of Finup, blocking his way and his companions moved behind them, cutting off their exit.

Even with the hood on, Finup recognised him as Mahrina’s cousin.

“What are you doing here?  What do you want?” he growled pushing Mahrina behind him.

Markon did not expect to be recognised and he stood still for just a moment, sneering at them.  But then he composed himself and with a quick movement he grabbed Finup by his coat and brought him close to his face.  Just a few steps from the inn door, the two locked eyes.

Marden saw what was going on and rushed to his friend’s aid, just as a short stubby man came out of the inn. He stopped in the doorway leaving it wide open, not understanding why he could not pass, and the commotion drew the attention of the customers inside.  Some stood up curiously and came outside to check out what was going on.

The two men were now very close to each other, felling the other’s breath.  Not letting go, Markon looked over Finup’s head making sure his men saw what was going on.

“Mahrina, you will have to come back with us,” he shouted and the woman jumped when she heard him call her name.  “Your father forgives you, but you have to turn back before it’s too late.  He has agreed with the Elders not to have you sent to the ‘Forbidden Land’ if you come with us willingly.”

Marden rushed behind Finup who managed to free himself from the other man’s grip.  The two of them were now standing shoulder to shoulder in front of Markon ready to block him if he tried to grab Mahrina.

“If you come back with us, I will let the others go,” the man said over their heads, ignoring them.  “I will tell your families I lost track of you,” he added, now looking at the others, “and you can be on your way.  I don’t care about you, but you, Mahrina, you have to come back.  That’s the deal.”

“Mahrina, don’t listen to him,” begged Finup without turning.  “He’s lying.  He will not let us go, either.  If you go back, we’ll have to go back too and if we do, all our sacrifice would have been in vain.”

The look on her face, her determination and defiance gave the man her answer.  But unexpectedly, the man pushed the two men aside and grabbed her, dragging her toward his companions.  He shoved her toward one of the other men and he got hold of her. Mahrina screamed, struggling to free herself.  But the man was stronger and he dragged her farther away from her group.  Finup jumped to her aid, but something hit him in the face and he fell to the ground, groaning and clutching his head.  Marden was getting ready to intervene, but one of the others hit him from behind and he too, fell to the ground.

Some of the people who were witnessing the fight rushed inside to get the innkeeper, who showed up moments later with a bat in his hands, looking menacingly at the people involved in the altercation.

“Get out of my yard,” he bellowed, his voice covering the screams.  “Get out or I will drag you out,” he continued and more of his inn hands joined him, all carrying bats.  The strangers stopped and looked around.  Finup was still on the ground trying to get up, his face bloody.  He wasn’t able to see much because of the blood dripping over his eyes, but in a blurry haze he saw that Marden had managed to stand up by himself and was leaning against the inn wall, trying to catch up his breath, while the others watched bewildered at the frightened Mahrina.

“Please, let them go,” she cried suddenly, “I will come with you.”

Markon stopped in his tracks and looked at her somewhat surprised.  He raised his hand and his men stopped, waiting.

“Please, I’ll come with you, just let them be,” she whispered, sobbing helplessly. “I’ll go with you, just don’t hurt them,” she kept pleading.  She found the strength to move again and with a sudden move she broke free from her captor.  He tried to get her back but Markon called out to him and he stopped in his tracks, watching her from the distance.  She took a few steps toward Finup and grabbed him by his arm, helping him up.  Wiping his face with the sleeve of her coat, she looked him in the eye.

“Please … go and leave me … they will kill you if I don’t go back … and you try to stop them,” she continued between sobs. “I’m not worth it … I’m not worth dying for, Finup.”  As he was trying to find his balance, she took his hand and whispered. “I love you, but please, you have to leave, you can have the life you want.  Forget about me and make your own future.  The Ancestors will look after me.”

She looked around for the others and wiping her tears, looked each of them in the eye.  Then, she turned toward her cousin.

“I will come with you, just let them go, they are not responsible for this.  Just let them go…”