The Dark Times; Part 10
In the cellar, Aituár waited for her eyes to get accustomed to the sudden darkness. The floor boards above her head creaked as someone walked over them. Suddenly a voice said:
'Come up! We now you are down there! And no tricks - we are armed!
The voice sounded surprisingly light, as if a very young person had spoken. Aituár hesitated for a moment, and then decided to leave the sack and her shoulder bag in the cellar. Carefully and as silently as she could, she put them on a shelf and pushed them far back, before climbing up the ladder.
She could barely make out two dark, small figures in the darkness – but what she saw confirmed her first impression – they were children!
'I am unarmed' she told them softly. 'I mean you no harm!'
One of the children stroked a match and lighted a candle. Now Aituár could see that it was a girl and a little boy who seemed to be her brother. The girl was pointing a dagger at Aituár, but her hand was shaking.
'Don't come any closer!' she whispered.
'You cannot stay here,' replied Aituár, 'the soldiers will probably be back as soon as it gets light. I know a place where you can hide – follow me!'
She climbed back down to retrieve the sack and her shoulder bag, reaching inside it to touch the egg, which stayed quiet. Climbing up, she reached out her hand for the dagger, but the girl backed away, scared, pulling her brother with her.
'Look – we must leave! If you do not trust me, then at least follow me a couple of steps behind! And put out that light!'
With this, Aituár headed for the window through which she had entered. Peering outside, she first dropped the sack and the bag on the ground before climbing out herself. Without looking back, she started winding her way between the houses, back to the forest path.
Once she had reached the trees, Aituár looked back and was relieved to see the two children following, although keeping their distance. Following the path, she headed for the old fir tree, more confidently this time, and eventually managed to find it without too much trouble.
'Mathias!' she called in a low voice, so as not to alarm him and his son Jonathan. A head popped out from under the branches.
'Thank God you are back!' He fell silent at the sight of the two shadows behind Aituár.
'Who is that?' he asked.
'Mathias? Is that you?' asked the girl, taking a step forward.
'My goodness – it is Bethany – and Ethan!' exclaimed the man in surprise.
'Are you two alright?'
'They got our parents' replied Bethany, and suddenly she ran into the arms of Mathias and started sobbing.
'Poor thing – you must have been scared out of your mind.'
Mathias gave her a gentle hug and stroke her hair soothingly, and the sobbing ebbed out.
Aituár let out a sigh of relief, grateful to see that the arrival of the children seemed to have brought Mathias out of the state of shock he had been in. Lifting up a branch she urged everyone inside, out of sight.
'I managed to find us some food' she said as she emptied the sack on the ground. Seeing the potatoes, she realized she had completely forgotten to look for any pots or pans, having been interrupted by the children.
'Never mind' she thought to herself, 'there is enough food for everyone.'
They had a frugal meal, but nobody seemed to mind, hungry as they all were; dried strips of meat, pieces of crispbread with raspberry jam, pickled onions, some left over apples and water from the lake. Mathias helped Aituár gathering more fir branches to make the ground softer to sleep on, after which they all went to bed.
Despite being tired to the bone, Aituár had trouble falling asleep. She tossed and turned, clutching her shoulder bag in her arm, one hand inside touching the dragon's egg. She would have preferred to travel alone, but she could not desert these people now. They could not stay here forever – but where would they go? And should she tell them about the dragon's egg, that was bound to hatch any day now? When Aituár finally fell asleep, her restless dreams were filled with dark forebodings.
She woke with a start and sat up straight when a branch broke under a step with a crack like a whip, quite nearby. Aituár listened intently. The others had not even stirred and seemed to still be sound asleep to judge from their even breathing. She reached for Bethany's dagger, preparing herself for the worst.
Then everything seemed to be happening at once - a sleepy voice that probably belonged to Ethan said 'What is going on?', and Aituár, who still had a hand inside the bag, suddenly felt a crack in the eggshell - and suddenly someone lifted up one of the tree branches from the outside peering in.
Who could it be this time?
Surely not the soldiers, or they would have made more noise
- another refugee?
Should Aituár tell the others about the egg?
It seems she won't have much choice - not if it has decided to hatch now!