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"Yes? Yes? Who is it?" said Brendan. He approached the door slowly and leaned forward as if to listen.

"Men of the King." said a voice, and his tone was stubborn and angry. "We seek but a word. Open this door, or it shall be struck down."

"Oh, okay sir." said Brendan in a friendly manner, playing dumb with the solider. "No need for any aggression or any such things. I'm just being careful, need to be around these parts. Hold on a moment and I'll fetch me keys"

Brendan turned quickly to Maria and grabbed her by the shoulders delicately but pushed her with force into the kitchen. He handed her a large knife that was sitting on a counter.

"Go! Go now! Run up the hills through the forest and don't turn back" he said "I'll talk myself out of this, I promise, now go!"

But Maria would not turn to go out the back door.

"No, I won't leave you." she said firmly. "I've left too much behind. Come, come with me."

"No Maria." he said "These are smart men and they ride the Kings horses. We cannot outrun them, nor hide from them. They have tracked you here, if they did not follow you in secret. But they would not have done so. They would have captured you or killed you, whichever carried the greater reward. No, you must go. Run! They will question me and be gone. Come back in the night. I'll give you a supply but then you must go North and hide, lay low."

"No!" she said and she felt as if she was about to burst into tears.

But then loud, hard smacks were belted upon the front door. "Open this door now! Or I shall personally kick it down and then kick the five shades of the Gods from you! Open!"

Brendan was stuck in thought for a moment. Then he shouted back "Hold on sir, I'm an old man, pity you! I'm coming, I'm coming!" Then he stepped to the back door and opened it. "Go! Maria, please go!"

Maria sighed through her nose and cursed and then ran out the door with the knife in her hands, and as she heard the backdoor slam shut behind her tears began rolling from her eyes. But she ran on. Up the steep slope of the pine clad hill. The ground below was soft with the cushion of dead, brown pine needles from the ancient pines overhead and her thighs began to ache. She came to the top of the slope and the forest continued onward on a level surface and she hastened, and of all that had happened she could think of nothing. The tree trunks raced past by her sides as a brown blur. But then she realised she was not moving at all fast, but still the trunks were a blur, and she looked up and all was spinning. Then a sharp pain struck her forehead, like a borer digging deep, slowly into a tree trunk. There was a great bang as if she was inside a huge urn and someone had slammed shut the lid above. All went black.

Maria woke and could hear nothing but the wind high above in the trees. Leaves began to rustle and Maria was startled and she sat up quickly to find a small deer sniffing the ground at her feet. But it bolted and ran out of sight as quick as an arrow from a bow. She stood up and shook her head and for a few moments regained her wits. Then it came to her like a war horn from afar. Brendan.

She bolted like the deer back the way she had come and when she reached the slope she ran like a cheetah through an open plain. In moments she came upon the cabin and burst through the back door.

She looked around the kitchen but there was nothing. Then she walked through the threshold in the living room, and as if that very threshold cast some magic upon those who walked through it, Maria felt a sting in her heart and gut and her forehead ached again. For though it took some moments to fully realise, Maria was indeed looking upon the body of Brendan, her oldest friend, the man who had saved her life twice before today, and today a third time. He lay face up. His eyes stared emptily towards the ceiling. Maria fell to her knees. She covered her mouth as she released a muffled scream and she cried. Then she crawled to Brendan's body and hugged him. For a while she sat there, feeling empty and at times crying again in grief, oblivious to her surroundings.

When she looked up, she wished she hadn't. Upon the floor lay some dozen dead birds. Magpies or blackbirds, Maria could not tell for they were scorched and their feathered were strewn across the floor. The threshold where the front door had stood, was lined with black all about its frame. But the door was gone. A small pile of ash there was in the middle of the threshold.

Of all these things Maria cared little, despite their oddness, for he who she loved lay dead in her grasp. But then there was a sound of water steaming, or of a snake hissing, and Maria looked about bemused. A swarm of flies, or so it seemed had gathered in the opening of the threshold. But it was not flies, but the ash coming seemingly to life and Maria looked on with a raised brow. The ash swirled around like a murmuration of starlings and danced within the living room, darting this way and that. But then it stopped, and the noise it made fell dead and the ash, eyeless as it was, seemed to look upon Maria, pondering the woman. Then it looked away and busied itself. Maria soon realised it was weaving itself into a fixed shape and after a few moments it stood black, dead and soundless. She looked upon it and realised it spelt out words and  reading it she looked to the floor and made no sound for days, not sound did she make again until she was far away.


Thou may run.

Thou may hide.

But thy fate is declared.

Live thy last given moments,

ere I feel the time right,

to prove your soul mere.


Author Bio: Darrell Monks is a life-long fan of high-fantasy. His favored series include a Song of Ice and Fire and many works of Tolkien. He is a student in horticulture, passionate about plants, music, birds and storytelling.


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