Rija & Amis
The day of their calamity is at hand.
Rija watched Noesh giving his orders with calm efficiency.
I wonder what he is going to do about Sem.
Looking at him, so smoothly organising the evacuation of an entire people, she could believe his missing son was the furthest thing from his mind. He turned his face and his deep set eyes caught hers. For a second, she saw it, raw emotion held back by an iron will. His mouth hardened and once more he was the superb leader, saving them all.
‘Please let Sem have found her,‘ she prayed silently.
Sambeth was out there, alone in the forest, unless Sem had caught up with her and who knew if he had or not?
‘I will not leave,’ she told herself but simultaneously she acknowledged that it was a stupid and reckless idea.
The Noeshiri were leaving, Altor would probably find Tetrahin and if she remained she would be captured. She wondered if she should allow herself to be captured so these people could get away safely. An image of Altor, tearing those innocent girls to pieces, rose before her. No! She could not become the woman of a monster like him.
“I’ll quickly fetch some items from my chamber,” she called to T’ajar.
The woman nodded distractedly and turned to leave, Noesh by her side.
A hand fell on her arm. It was Jaffith.
“Rija, be quick, don’t delay,” he said, his breath warm and sweet on her face.
She stared back into his concerned eyes, conflicted by the urge to go with him and the need to stay at Tetrahin for Sambeth.
“Okay,” she agreed, “I’ll hurry.”
She would leave with the people but she would look for a way to find Sambeth, she swore silently.
Ajalon stood by the open doorway.
“Don’t be long, Princess,” he mocked, “Noesh has ordered us all to leave and I’m to throw you over my shoulder if you refuse.”
Rija gave him a flat, disdainful look and slid out the door.
She hurried down the deserted corridors. She must change her clothes, pack a bag and get her knife. The chamber felt eerily empty. A quick search told her what she already suspected, Sambeth had put all her survival gear in the pack that Rija glimpsed under her chair.
She had planned to go Outside. Rija swallowed, feeling the sting of tears at the back of her eyes. Had Sambeth planned a solitary walk or had she planned to leave without her?
Rija shook her head.
‘Get a hold of yourself,’ she told herself sternly, ‘and have a little faith in your friend.’
In moments she was dressed in forest gear and had everything she needed stowed in her own pack.
“Come on, Rija. Hurry,” she whispered and flung out of the chamber letting the heavy door fall shut by itself.
From the shadows, a dark figure stepped out and stood in front of her. She let out a small exclamation of fright, straining to see the face looming above her. He bent down a little.
“It’s me, Rija,” Amis said quietly.
“Amis!” she exclaimed, “How did you get into Tetrahin – without the war band seeing you?”
A sudden hope rose. If Amis slipped in past them, maybe Sambeth could too.
“There is a way into Tetrahin that not many know about.”
“We got your message, Amis,” she searched his face carefully, “and everyone is leaving, “Quick, we must get back to the others.”
“Yes,” he said urgently, “I need to tell Noesh something very important.”
A quiet feeling of alarm tickled at the back of her mind. She studied him consideringly. She didn’t know if he had betrayed Tetrahin or if he was, as he claimed in his message, innocent.
“What is it?” she asked.
Her stomach tightened in a coil of alarm. A dark thread of suspicion rose in her mind.
His face set as he recognised her train of thoughts and darkened in anger. It would always be like this. The poison dropped by his mother would remain, clouding his reputation and standing amongst the Noeshiri.
“Rija, I saw the war band. It’s close and I also saw Sem and Sambeth.”
He bent down closer so that Rija could see his eyes. They were earnest.
“They were riding the shimerith.”
He ran a hand through his hair distractedly, a move like that of Sem. She remembered they were close, like brothers.
She gasped as the full import of his words hit her.
“You mean they were together?”
Rija’s heart pounded. Sambeth was alive and she wasn’t alone. If Sem was with her then most likely she hadn’t intended to leave Tetrahin for good. Rija was filled with renewed determination. There was something about Sambeth. She had a superstitious feeling that as long as she stayed with her the Earthborn Altor would always be defeated.
Amis was speaking, “The shimerith flew off with them in the wrong direction, not the way to Aresisia. I must speak to Noesh, to tell him this and work out a plan to catch up with them.”
“You mean Sambeth’s shimerith was flying in the wrong direction?” she said slowly. He nodded and she continued, “but perhaps they simply veered back around, corrected course and will meet us at the Cave.”
Amis began to turn away, shaking his head.
“That’s not an assumption I’m prepared to take. That shimerith could have taken them anywhere. I have to try and find him.”
She believed him. She watched as his strides lengthened and realised she was still rooted to the spot. She hurried after him.
“How will you find them?” she called.
“I’ll find a way,” he said over his shoulder.
Weaving through the corridors, she had to half run to keep up with his swift pace. They were almost back to the others when they reached a closed door. Amis pulled up sharp and tugged at the handle. Puffing slightly she stepped up beside him, wondering why he had stopped. He rattled the door handle again, twisting it roughly. An exclamation in frustration slammed balled up fists against the heavy wood. Her mouth dropped open as she saw the evidence with her own eyes.
The door was not going to open. Jared and his men had already sealed it fast. She and Amis were trapped on the wrong side.
“No!” Amis shouted, “This can’t be happening.”
He kicked the door savagely and tugged at the knob again.
“Ugggghhh!” he kicked the door again.
Leaning his back against it he drove both hands into his hair and slid to a sitting position on the ground. His breath rasped deep in his throat. Tight-lipped, he remained still, deep in thought.
“Well, we are totally stuffed now,” he said finally and climbed to his feet.
“They didn’t wait for me,” she said in disbelief, “Jaffith himself told me to hurry back before Jared sealed the doors.”
“Then he’s going to be extremely upset,” Amis grinned, casting her a knowing glance. “I’d hate to be Commander Jared when Jaffith realises.”
Rija coloured and a pain in her chest settled and refused to shift. A surge of panic knifed through her.
“What will we do now?” she said, a picture of Altor’s beautiful, cruel face appearing in her mind’s eye.
He was close now. He would find Tetrahin and then he would find her. Her breathing became ragged and she dropped into a defensive crouch unknowingly.
“Hey!” Amis whispered softly, “We’ll try the way I came in.”
Rija remained still, so he stepped forward and shook her arm lightly.
“Come on, Rija! This way.”
Slowly she straightened up. Amis gestured for her to follow him.
“Let’s go,” he said briskly, “I’ve got to keep you safe. I don’t want to face an angry Jaffith either.”
His attempt at humour fell flat.
“Amis,” she said quietly and he stopped, “will we be able to rejoin the others?”
He looked down at her sombrely, a crease between his brows. She noticed his jaw clenching and unclenching.
“Will we?” she persisted.
He shook his head.
“The others are heading down a tunnel leading to a cave many miles away. Our way out is going to put us on the other side of Tetrahin, with that army in between us and the way to the cave.”
“So, we’ll either get caught or lead the war band right to the people?”
“Well, we are stuffed then,” she said with uncharacteristic coarseness.
She sucked in a deep breath and brushed the hair back from her face in a quick gesture.
“What’s the plan, then?”
Amis tapped his fingers absently against his thigh and made a quick decision.
“We’ll travel through the forest, the long way around. It will take us longer to reach Tabun’s Cave but it may also take us across Sem and Sambeth’s path.”
A thunderous explosion sounded. It shook the air around them.
“Looks like the enemy has found the front door,” he said, “let’s go.”
He set off at a run. Rija followed him through low doorways and around narrow passages. Finally, he stopped in front of a floor to ceiling cupboard set back in the rock of the wall.
To Rija’s surprise, he pulled the cupboard door open. It was deep and it was empty.
Gingerly, she followed him inside. The cupboard was a big one. She and Amis fit comfortably.
He leaned past her and shut the door. The blackness was complete. A small light flickered and Amis set a flame at the top of a small torch. At the back of the cupboard, he poked one long finger into a jagged knot in the wood and pressed. Rija heard a click and the wooden panel swung ajar. In front of Amis, a black tunnel yawned.
He took her arm and pulled her through.
“Here, hold this,” he thrust the torch into her hand and pushed the wooden panel shut.
He dropped a heavy bar across the door and then another. Even if the back of the cupboard were tapped, no telltale echo would alert the invaders to the presence of a secret tunnel.
“I can’t believe Noesh doesn’t know about this,” she said faintly.
“He does,” he replied and swooped the torch deftly out of her hand.
He paused and shot her a significant glance.
“How do you think I know about it?”
“Do Sem and the others know?”
Without another word, he set off down the sloping tunnel leaving Rija to mull over a multitude of questions. Why had Noesh showed him this tunnel and not his own sons?
She shook her head to clear her thoughts.
That Noesh, he was an enigma.
“Plans within plans,” she said aloud.
Amis was too far ahead of her to hear. Looking at his shadowy back, Rija couldn’t believe that again, she was walking into the dangers of the Forest with a virtual stranger. And Amis was either the saviour of the Noeshiri or a traitor to them all.
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