South of North Border
The flood waters receded, and the villagers returned to what remained of their homes. Debris littered the once pristine lanes winding through the cluster of small cottages. Some of the structures had their doors ripped off and others had their roofs caved in. What the water and wind didn’t drag away, it dropped in piles, making walking and looking for the dead tedious work.
Colin surveyed the damage from atop one of the only surviving horses owned by the village. Although only a boy, he understood what the devastation meant: he and his family would leave Soughwen.
“It is worse than I imagined,” said Faye. She bowed her head and silently wept.
Wil placed a reassuring hand on his wife’s shoulder. “We’ll be fine. The worst is over.”
But Colin knew better. This was the third attack by the Lone Wizard of the Woods. There would be more unless a sacrifice was made. The only option was to leave this place in the hands of the evil wizard and escape across the plains to North Border. Even that did not guarantee safety. They would have to endure days of travel through the Swamps of Niger and then the trek through the open plains under blistering heat to reach the settlement.
He was also aware the elders would forbid their departure. They would see it as abandoning their ancestral home and leaving behind everything they held dear.
Still, he would try again to convince his parents their survival depended on leaving.
A scream forced Colin to whip his head around. The fire ball raced towards the earth and exploded into a damaged cottage, sending wreckage flying in all directions. The horse beneath him spooked, and it took all his father’s strength to hold onto the rope halter.
“We must leave, Father!” shouted Colin. “Before it is too late!”
Wil looked up with a tortured expression. It was as if he had driven a sword into his father’s heart. The sadness in his eyes struck Colin. In that second, he knew the love his father had for his homeland. He would not leave but fight to the death.
Without warning, Wil drew Faye near, pressed his lips to hers then flung her towards the horse.
“Get on, woman!” he shouted.
Faye hesitated, dread consuming her.
“Go!” ordered Wil.
Colin’s mother scrambled onto the horse behind him. She draped her arms around her son and took the rope thrust into her hands.
“Yahh!” Wil slapped the animal’s rump, and it surged forward.
As the horse galloped through the village towards the road to North Border, Colin struggled to look back. When he finally found his father amongst the chaos, he watched him as he raced towards the enemy, sword drawn. He ran like a mad man into battle, like a desperate villager into certain death, like a brave hero who would fight until he drew his last breath.
Tears welled, blurring his vision, then he lost sight of his father as the horse rushed into the forest, taking them to freedom, to safety.
What Colin didn’t know that day and wouldn’t know for years to come was that his father survived but not as the man he remembered.