212: In the moonlight
In the starlight
They walked all night
To see if everything was all right
Allyandrah woke to Grandfather shaking her lightly.
“It’s just starting to get light. We need to move,” he whispered.
Allyandrah nodded groggily. She stretched and sat up. He offered a steaming cup of pine needle tea and the rest of the stew that he’d already warmed up.
“How long you been awake?” Allyandrah asked.
“A little while,” Grandfather said. “I was cold, so I built the fire back up and then, as long as I was awake, I thought I would make us ready for travel today. We’ve eaten very well yesterday thanks you to and Sasha, so now we must make use of our extra energy and go.”
“Where is Sasha?” Allyandrah asked, looking around.
Grandfather shrugged. “She wasn’t here when I woke.”
“She’ll come back,” Allyandrah said, trying to convince herself more than him.
“Of course she will. Now finish up and let’s be on our way.”
Allyandrah gulped the last bit of stew and swished out her bowl with some snow before tucking it back into her bag, which had grown significantly lighter over the past days of traveling and eating. She was glad that it wasn’t much lighter today, though. They still had so much walking to do, endless walking, to get to Kru’Nah.
As they started on their way, Sasha still nowhere in sight, Allyandrah sighed. What were they doing making this journey? It was absolute madness. There was no way they would survive such an arduous journey with no additional help. It was impossible.
At least she felt energized, more energized than she’d felt in many days. The extra food had done her well and they seemed to make good progress.
Allyandrah kept glancing up, tracking the sun. Sasha still hadn’t caught up to them, even as the hours dragged on. She tapped Grandfather on the back.
“I’m worried about Sasha,” she shouted through her face mask.
“Nothing to be done, my love,” he said. “She’s a wild wollo, not really a pet.”
Tears stung at her eyes. Grandfather stopped and put his arms on her shoulders.
“It hurts me to see you so sad about this,” he said, “but there is nothing we can do. We cannot go after her. If she wants to be with us, she will have to come to us. We cannot go to her.”
Allyandrah nodded and Grandfather embraced her.
“Come, my love, we must go. We must walk.”
“We can’t survive without her,” Allyandrah said. “She finds our food.”
Grandfather pulled away from her. “I know that,” he said slowly. “I followed her tracks for a while during the night. They sort of were going this direction. We have to keep our direction true. I wanted to follow her. I really did for your sake, my love, for your sake.”
“Can’t we just—”
“No, we cannot. We must keep going. We can plead with the Guardians to send her back to us, but do you really think that will do anything?”
Allyandrah couldn’t help but laugh.
“Of course not,” she said. “What do they care about us?”
“Precisely, my love,” he said. “Now, let’s keep moving, shall we?”
Allyandrah patted Grandfather on the back and they continued to slog through the forest, stopping every so often for short rests to eat some snow to stay hydrated or to relieve themselves, though that happened at increasing intervals. As the sun began to set, he turned to her.
“We should walk through the night,” he said. “At least some of it. I still feel quite good and I want to make the best progress we can.”
Allyandrah had wanted to stop for hours already. Her body felt full of energy from the food, but her heart continued to weigh down with every passing hour that Sasha didn’t show up.
“I don’t think I can,” she finally said.
Grandfather looked at her for a minute and then slowly nodded. “We can spend some of that time trying to see if we can catch some tracks. We’ll change course just a little bit toward where I saw her tracks.”
“You sure?” Allyandrah said.
“What else can I do?” he said. “I cannot have you so sad. You are all I have in this whole world right now. I must fight for your happiness.”
She threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you.”
They adjusted their course and continued to walk. As night fell, the moon shone brightly from the sky and they could still see quite well.
“I can’t promise you we’ll find anything,” he shouted back to her.
“I know,” Allyandrah shouted back. But they had to try. They couldn’t just give up. Sasha was their hope of survival, not just a companion she’d become extremely attached to. Several hours into the night, Grandfather stopped to rest on the ground.
“I think I’ve gone as far as I can,” he said.
“No,” Allyandrah said. “You can go further. I went further, you can, too.”
He shook his head. “I’m not as young as you. I can’t even believe I’ve gone this far.”
“Please?” she begged. “Just a little bit further?”
He sat silently for a long time before finally nodding. “Just a little bit further.”
She helped haul him back to his feet and they slowly trudged on, this time arm in arm. Every so often, he would stop and look around, look at the moon, and slightly adjust their course.
“How do you do that?” Allyandrah finally asked.
“I know how the moon travels in the sky,” he said. “I’ve had lots of time to understand its movement over the years. I know what time of year it is. I know how it moves during different times of year. I can judge direction pretty accurately by either the sun, the moon, or the stars.”
Allyandrah looked up.
“We can hardly see the moon, and no stars at all!”
He sighed. “You have to trust me. I know which direction we’re going. We’re also trying to avoid any outposts around here. We certainly wouldn’t want to be found by anyone from the palace.”
“No, not at all.”
“We got away one time. It will not happen again, and if the queen is acting how the others were hinting at, things will be very bad for us.”
“Especially for me,” Allyandrah said.
“Yes, especially for you,” Grandfather said. “Though I’m not sure I’d fare much better. The skin gives it all away, even if my hair has faded.”
“Why did you never try to get away before?” Allyandrah asked.
“I had no reason to,” he said.
“What about Kru’Nah?”
“Oh, child,” Grandfather said. “Up until now, he’s just been an idea to me, not a real person. Since I saw him, though, now he’s so real to me and I feel a pull I can’t explain. I never felt it before. I just hoped for year after year that things would change. Of course, they never did, but I kept on hoping. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Hope is easy to keep alive,” Allyandrah said.
“I’m not sure it’s hope,” he said. “It’s more like full acceptance of denial. Denying the situation is what it is.”
“That’s all that a slave’s life is, then” Allyandrah said. “My ma and Gran told me it was hope, but maybe it’s just denial.”
“I didn’t know them, my love,” he said. “I can’t say one way or another. Maybe they did hold out hope that things would be different for you. Or they tried to sell you on it so that you’d accept your station.”
“I don’t know,” Allyandrah said.
A strange sound, like a scraping of metal against metal, echoed in the distance.
“What was that?” Allyandrah asked.
Grandfather froze. “We need to get under a tree. Right now.”
They crawled under the nearest tree. Allyandrah tried to control her breathing, but terror pulsed through her.
“Close your eyes,” Grandfather said. “And don’t open them until I say.”
She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. Her heart pounded in her ears and she pressed hard backward against Grandfather. She wanted so desperately to keep her eyes open to see what was coming. And how would Grandfather protect her from whatever it was?
As time wore on, she last track of it, and her body slowed, fatigue dropping down on her. She fought it as long as she could before she drifted off to sleep.
She dreamed that she was walking alone along a cliff, searching for something. Just then, the cliff face disintegrated under her feet and she fell.
Her entire body jerked and she started awake, breathing fast.
Grandfather pressed his hand over her mouth.
She kept breathing, searching the surroundings with her eyes. The metallic sound came again, closer. Terror flooded through her anew. The sound grew more rhythmic as it got closer. It could only have been a few hundred yards away from where they were, and then it started to fade, heading in the opposite direction from which they’d come.
“You don’t want to meet one of those,” Grandfather whispered in her ear.
“We need to move,” he said.
Without another word, they scrambled out from under the tree and made their way in the opposite direction of the sound. They walked until the sun peeked up over the horizon before choosing a place to lay down and sleep.
Exhaustion weighed on Allyandrah and as soon as she lay on the ground, she was asleep.