Waves crashed upon the shore and an aggressive fog traveled across the waters. The moon was absent from the black expanse and the stars hid. Reuben’s footprints were covered in a matter of moments, due to the snow fall. With his target ever in his sights, he sprinted parallel to the banks.
The fog shrouded him from all prying eyes as he made his way up the beach, towards the walls of the keep. The fires of the torches above lit the dark figures of sentries above. At the wall, Rueben took a coil of rope and went to work. The wall was slippery with ice and several times he almost fell. Half way up he stopped as a sentry walked passed. Continuing, he made it up and then ducked to the ground.
Reuben scanned the area and spotted two on the parapet with him. He pulled a hood over his head and pulled out two daggers. He slowly approached one the braziers and smothered it. Then, he poured some gray powder among the coal. Approaching the first sentry, he flipped one of his blades and knocked the sentry to the ground. Then, slipping towards the stairs, he watched the second sentry approaching the brazier. The man grabbed a torch and held it to the coals.
The brazier exploded, sending sparks everywhere. Rueben wasted no time descending the stairs and into the courtyard. Guards and servants converged towards the ruins and fire at the wall. En route, Rueben removed his cloak, revealing the uniform of servant.
Towards the inner keep, he spotted two guards accompanying another man.
“What’s happened?” The man flanked by the guards approached him.
Rueben froze, “There was an explosion on the west side.”
“Good heavens,” The man shook his head. “How did that happen?”
“I don’t know sir,” Ruben replied.
“No matter, see to it that the fire doesn’t spread.” With that, the three quickly approached the fire. Rueben entered the keep and started towards the staircase. Servants and maids frowned as he rushed through the hall and towards the second floor.
At the top of the stairs he found a short halls with several rooms. He checked each one and then heard the crackle of a fire in the last one. Making sure no one was around, he slowly cracked the door open. Some candles had been lit and there was a roaring fire. Rueben’s gaze centered on a young woman by a crib. He could hear her singing and rocking the crib. A part of him hesitated, his master hadn’t told him what his target was, but he didn’t need to be told now.
Slowly, as though two sides were waging wars inside, he slipped into the large room and handled his dagger. He took a step, then paused. Could he really do this? He forced himself to take another step. The woman continued to sing and the baby cooed. Steeling himself, he slipped his mask over his face and approached. He flipped the hilt as to knock out the woman when he glanced at the child.
The infant stared up at him and giggled. Rueben froze and the woman turned around. Her eyes widened and stopped on his raised arm. She screamed and shoved him backwards. Rueben stumbled back, his mask falling away. She’d seen him now, he had no choice. He cut her down before she could call out again.
The woman fell to the ground, gasping with tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Please, spare my daughter.” The woman struggled to reach the crib.
Rueben walked over to the crib and grabbed the child. But he paused as the woman groaned. He could see the agony in the mother’s face and it wrenched his gut. The moment passed however. He tore cloth from his cloths and covered his face as he made for the balcony and burst through the doors. Just as he started over the railing, the man from before, appeared in the doorway.
“You! No!” He shouted as Reuben let go, dropping onto the rooftop of the building below. He quickly dropped to the ground and heard shouts above. He tucked the child into his pack and started towards the east side. More shouts erupted and he knew they were coming. Rueben made it to the back gates and quickly dispatched the guards there. Then, finding his horse he mounted and turned his horse west. Rueben slapped the reigns and headed for the river.
. . .
The air was bitterly cold, and the wind grabbed at him with icy fingers. Reuben fled through the torrent of snow, surrounded by the blackness of night. The gentle snow from days ago had turned violent. The air was so thick with snow, he could barely see ahead of him. For the second time since his mission, a sickening feeling was beginning to invade his heart. He tried to keep heading straight, but the storm so distorted his view, he could no longer distinguish in what direction he was heading.
Silhouettes of the forest blurred as he galloped past. If he was on track, then any second now the forest would give way to open space, where the river was. The forest continued and a growing dread clenched in his chest.
Suddenly, the trees dropped behind him and all was open and dark. He saw a giant dark expanse winding like a serpent ahead. As he neared, a billow of snow hit him head on with a force like a hurricane. His horse cried out, and he knew the animal was almost spent.
Rueben heard the river’s violent waves roll in the darkness and splash against the snowy banks as he looked for a crossing. He looked to where the bridge should’ve been, but what he saw was the ruins of the bridge. Desperation and exhaustion grabbed at him and he looked desperately for another way. Just then, he heard distant shouts, and he knew that they would be upon him soon.
He dashed away from the ruined bridge and headed left towards the banks where he saw frozen patches of ice a ways from the shore. Could he risk the crossing? He turned as the sound of men grew closer. Small orbs of light advanced towards him. He backed away from the banks. Giving up wasn’t an option. Then, he heard a shout.
“There he is!”
When he was far enough away, he steeled himself and patted the horse.
“C’mon Black Star, we can do this.” Then, with a kick, he bolted towards the river.
“He’s mad!” A man shouted from behind. Rueben and his mount leaped over the dark waters and met solid ice. The jump nearly jarred him from the saddle, but they were alive.
“We’re not finished yet,” Rueben said and slowly crossed the ice.
“He’s actually doing it!” One of the men behind shouted. Miraculously, they were making steady progress and the others hesitated to follow.
A rumble came from below. Rueben’s eyes widened as the ice gave way and he and the horse crashed through the ice. Reuben just had a second to throw the child away from the broken ice as he disappeared below. The men on the other side looked out, stunned. Small pieces of ice bobbed in the dark river.
“I’m getting her back.” The lead man declared and started towards the banks. “Sir, it’s too dangerous.” One of his guards warned. Just then, Rueben emerged from the water. He gasped and coughed. He slowly pulled himself up and crawled from the broken ice, towards the child.
“He’s still alive.” The lead man mounted and rode towards the ice. “I will not lose someone again!”
Meanwhile, Reuben grabbed the baby and started towards the other side. His limbs shook and he stumbled as he walked, and his wet clothes clung to his skin.
“You! Bring her back now, or I’ll shoot.” Their leader had successfully made the jump and had his crossbow aimed at Reuben.
He ignored him and was almost clear of the ice. There was a click, followed by a whistle. The arrow slammed into Rueben’s shoulder. He jerked forward at the impact and bit back a scream as pain flared up his arm. He glanced back to see the man navigating around the broken ice, on foot. He was gaining on him and Rueben gasped as he grabbed his dagger. His pursuer was now only ten paces away. Reuben lifted his dagger and plunged it into the ice. The ice split and a growing rumble spread out. The man froze and stared at the cracks branching out. He fell back as dark water started splash between him and Rueben.
“No!” The man cried, “I’ll find you!” He shouted and the guards had to keep him from attempting to cross. Rueben collapsed onto the other bank and breathed heavily. Blood trickled onto the snow from his wound and he pressed on towards his destination.
The leader watched the Rueben disappear into the shadows. “You can’t cross sir, you have to remember that is Vanashtan land.” His captain reminded him and growing rage swelled in his bosom. “I will find him.”
More forest opened up ahead of Rueben and he slowly trudged towards through the heavy snow drifts. The arrow was still in his shoulder, but he had not time to pull it out. He looked up and saw the dark silhouette of a manor ahead. The light of the lamps glowed warningly and were beacons of light to guide him. Towering gates barred him entrance and he stopped there. He knelt in the snow, his body feeling numb. His breath shuttered and his vision blurred. Slowly the world seemed to shift and darken. Dark crimson stained the snow and he sunk to the ground.
Behind the gates, the doors of the manor creaked open and a man appeared with a small candle. He looked out into the blizzard and then spotted a dark shape outside the gates. He squinted and his eyes widened.
“Andrew! Come here!” The man ran out and opened the gates. He knelt by Reuben and spotted the stain of crimson.
“Andrew!” He yelled again, and this time, Andrew appeared. “Cassius?” Andrew met him by the man and turned him over. Cassius saw the arrow and then looked to the bundle in his arms. He turned it over, “A child.” He gasped and picked the infant up.
“Is he alive?” Cassius looked at the still form. “Barely, I’ll alert the physician.” Andrew picked him up and started towards the manor. The two entered and the doors closed behind them.
. . .
It was the late hour and the wind howled outside like a lonely phantom. The air was still and the halls were unlit. A man held the hand of a small boy not four years old. They walked briskly down the deserted halls.
The place was void of light and seemed to extinguish any sort of warmth. Darkness surrounded the building like a heavy blanket, restraining and smothering . They passed the vast hall and out into the darkness. A single lantern was lit and a woman and an older man stood by a saddled horse.
“Nicodemus, we’re ready.” The man holding the boy said, the slightest tremble in his voice.
“Son, remember Nicodemus?” The man knelt beside the child and motioned to the older man.
The boy nodded his head silently. The man looked to the boy and then Nicodemus. “Must I?” He asked, a terrible ache in his chest.
“I’m afraid so, it is for his safety after all.” Nicodemus replied and scanned the surrounding area. The woman knelt beside the boy, “Remember us, dear one.” A sob escaped her throat and she bowed her head.
“Remember that we love you.” She whispered and held her son close. The man embraced the boy as well, holding on tightly, as if he could keep him from leaving.
“You behave for him. Do it for us.” His voice cracked and he set him on the horse.
Nicodemus mounted behind the boy and looked upon his friends with a somber expression.”I’ll do everything in my power to keep him safe.”
The man held the woman in his arms, both had tears in their eyes. “Farewell my son.” He grasped boy’s hand and then reluctantly pulled away. Nicodemus slapped the reigns and they started out through the gates and towards the forest. The man watched his son ride off into the darkness, to either meet death or escape it.