Words // MinStevens
"Go on then, hit the mark" Mya teased, as she jerked her head towards the timber chopping block.
"I got this" Cooper said confidently, holding a defenseless piece of kindling in the center of the block.
Mya rolled her eyes, and pretended to assume her determined digging in their vegetable garden.
"I told you, Iv got the best precision in the land" squinting one eye for effect, he grinned back at her and held the fragment with practiced ease.
"Ready....." he said drawing his right arm high into the sky.
Suddenly the thundering echo of horse hooves shook the ground under Mya's dirty hands. She eyed Cooper who stood silently with his axe, frozen mid strike over a shattered pile of wood.
Horsemen were common in the sprawling forests outside of the kingdom but something about the voracity of these particular hooves made Mya's sixith sense tingle. The air in their secluded forest clearing had changed dramatically. It no longer held the freshness of a spring midday sun; it had thickened and was pressing ominously around them. Mya and Cooper both glanced at the modest stone cottage that they called home. The over grown tangle of gardens and sun warmed stone now seemed fragile against the backdrop of approaching hooves.
It stood vulnerable and alone in the forest clearing and wouldn't shield them from their visitors view for much longer. Mya's stomach lurched as she watched Cooper stride around the side of the cottage. Her voice caught dryly in her throat as he turned to signal her. His sapphire eyes burned into her and she watched intently as he drew a single finger to his lips indicating her silence. Stillness washed over his face as he slapped his hand twice on the top of his thigh and vanished from her view.
"Pull it together Mya!" she cursed angrily, and with a concentrated breath she forced the apprehension back to the shadowed reaches of her mind. Bandits were not unusual in the forest these days. A huge sum of gold had vanished from the King's travelling army a year prior. In the dead of night it "disappeared without a trace" Mya had heard the story dozens of times. Unfortunately stories of the elusive gold brought treasure hunters, whose selfish endeavors usually resulted in their cottage being ransacked and their supplies being wiped out. She grudgingly hoped that this time would be the same, just as it always was. And so she willfully forced her attention back to a stubborn carrot that clung desperately to its muddy bed.
The warm spring sun skulked behind a murky cloud and the clearing was thrust into a dim existence. An eerie breeze carried deep voices that were peppered with anger. Mya scrambled to her feet as she heard Cooper's casual and melodic tone weaved cautiously between the jagged voices of three furious men. She ran a mud soaked hand frustratingly through the dark wild curls that flopped over her pale face. Cooper would handle it, he always did.
Suddenly, a single gunshot cut through the clearing. A suffocating silence followed as the hot slap of realization rendered Mya incapable of drawing breath. Desperately she waited to hear Cooper's voice again, but it never came. In a single moment her world shattered, and she stumbled as the sodden earth of the vegetable garden betrayed her and she tripped landing hard on the wet earth.
It was then, that she saw them. Three grotesque men, their massive bodies looming from the side of the cottage. Their faces, although different, bore the same savage and menacing glare. The tallest of the three had an oozing gash that stretched grotesquely across the base of his neck. Myra flinched at the sight of it and pressed herself closer to the ground. Too late. She had been spotted.
She new she must run, but she hesitated searching desperately one last time to see Cooper's calm face. In a shocking recognition, Mya knew she could not go to the aid of her husband, certain death awaited, or worse.... and she shuddered as she watch one of the men lick his filthy, cracked lips.
Glancing quickly at one another, the three bandits sprung into action. The smallest of the three was pelting towards her, his teeth gritted and eyes glowing with sadistic rage. She saw the other two dart around the side of the cottage and appear almost instantly with 3 horses. Terror gripped her as she clumsily got to her feet and turned for thickest section of forest. Tears burned hotly on her cheeks and the bitter taste of vomit crept furiously into the back of her mouth. Shadowy memories whirled across her mind as she ran, she captured one and brought it into focus; a dark hollow, a silt lagoon, ringlets of blue flowers, the stone that sported a glorious zigzagging vein of quartz. Mya grasped the image tightly in her minds eye as she skirted into the dense forest and disappeared.
An hour later Mya slowed. She had heard the horsemen a few times but luckily she knew the forest well. Its twisted vines, mammoth boulders and towering fig trees had allowed her to keep a significant distance between them. She new where she must go the moment she had seen the men. Cooper had given her the sign before he disappeared; a double tap of his upper thigh meant only one thing. Get to safety. Get to their hidden haven. And so, she forced her terrified mind on the task at hand. She ran as fast as she could allowing the ancient forest to swallow her up as she searched for the natural markers that would lead her to safety.
As another half hour passed the dull afternoon light dripped eerily in golden pools around her, disappearing and re appearing as the sun danced with the shifting clouds. She suppressed a screech of pain as she collided with the edge of a charred log that lay morbidly still in the dappled forest. Mya stopped then, laying her filthy hands on the skeleton of the fallen tree. She let her head fall forward, and gave into the tension that pulled tirelessly on her delicate neck. The sound of running water soothed her and she new the river was close, she would just have to follow it, find the lagoon and she would almost be there. With a deep sigh she collapsed onto to the log and let her aching bones rest a moment, the searing pain in her lungs was thankfully subsiding.
Cooper never would have approved. Her minds eye conjured his image easily; his clear blue eyes dancing under a heavy brow as he smiled whilst reciting the finer details of evading capture.
Mya began to shake uncontrollably then, her heart seized his image and threw it sickeningly against her ribs. Why had she let the image of him in? She couldn't stop the flooding torrent of pain that now threatened to engulf her. Tears fell helplessly onto her tattered cream sundress and her colorful imagination easily produced any number of horrific scenes for her to cling to. And there, on the corpse of the fallen tree, the vivid green world around her melted away as she was consumed entirely with grief for her husband.
Suddenly, from behind a giant fig a horseman appeared, his gory wound had begun to dry and his eyes gleamed with victory. Mya's stomach dropped and fear replaced all feelings of grief. She scrambled over the charred log and made her way towards the sound of running water. She moved nimbly between the tightest trees taking extra care to choose the most difficult route for a horse. Anger began to eat away at her with every footfall; she cursed herself for her stupidity. She spotted the enormous boulders that restrained the top of the waterfall and slowed to assess the best route to get down.
Searing pain suddenly shot down her arm as her shoulder nearly dislocated from the socket. She dangled inches from the ground like a helpless rag doll in the bandit's giant hand. He heaved her roughly, his whiskered face grazing her ear.
"You'll pay for what your pathetic husband did to me" he spat as he brought his mouth towards hers.
"Then I'll kill you too" His retched breath crept over her skin, making her eyes water.
Terror and rage boiled inside her and Mya did only what her instincts instructed her to do. She bit down hard on his filthy bottom lip, and a gush of metallic fluid filled her mouth. A husky bark escaped from the bandit as he loosened his grip just enough for her to wriggle free. But a second later he clutched the back of her dress and she found herself once again halted mid step.
NO! Her mind screamed. I'm getting to that damned haven! It was then that she grasped the fabric buttons at the front of her dress and pulled with all of her remaining strength. The buttons exploded in every direction. The pressure on her body eased as the dress flew backwards into the hand of the bandit. She spat the foul liquid from her mouth as she sprung forwards running as fast as she could to the waterfall.
A giant watery ribbon fell gracefully down the rock face and landed powerfully in the fast flowing river below. Mya glanced quickly over the edge; her perch on the crumbling rock face was surly going to fall at any moment. She had one choice and she new it. Squeezing her eyes shut and taking one last mouthful of misty air, Mya threw herself as far from the rock face as she could. The powerful falls rushed by her falling body, and for the briefest of moments reality fell away and peculiar sense of peace devoured her.
Suddenly she was plunged back to reality as the icy river took hold of her aching body. Her brain compressed as she kicked and flailed attempting to reach the surface. Her thin slip twisted around her body, momentarily covering her face. She was turned over and over in the watery hell until suddenly her head broke the surface. She gulped huge mouthfuls of air and water as she tried to fill her exhausted lungs. She looked up at the huge tower of water, just in time to see the lone horseman reach the rocky outcrop that she had just jumped from. The saddled silhouette signaled to someone behind him and in an instant he was gone. She surrendered her battered body to the current and allowed it to carry her down the river.
Eventually Mya dragged herself from the numbing embrace of the water and collapsed on the rocky shore. She got painfully to her feet, and as she wrung what was left of her sopping slip she took in her new surroundings. She began to hurry along the pebbled shore scanning the riverbank for the silt lagoon. Her canvas shoes had abandon her at some point during the episode in the river, and her feet now felt fragile as they bent and molded around the smooth river stones. She spotted an outcrop of reeds that were tightly bunched together and her heart filled, because she new what lay behind its veil. She trudged through the ankle deep muck of the silt lagoon until she finally saw what she was looking for. Vines of delicate blue flowers were bursting from the base of an immense boulder, a golden vein cut proudly down its center.
A whinnying horse in the distance made her snap into action. Without hesitation she dropped to her knees and gently pushed the twisting vines away from behind the boulder. A dark hollow appeared in the ground and she quickly swung her legs over the side. In and instant she was gone, swallowed by the earth.
The fall was short only six feet or so, but the hidden horizontal connecting cavity was a much longer and Mya wasted no time in scurrying along the tube like shaft. She found the darkness calming, like a familiar blanket soothing her injured soul. She was safe. Finally she felt the cavity widen and she reached out feeling for the edge. Grasping the wall next to her she found a small box. She reached a little further and located an oil lamp. Within moments, golden light spilled out in every direction and a warm glow revealed a rocky cave with multiple dark entrance shafts just like the one she had emerged from. Small exotic chests towered in great piles, filling the small space easily.
Mya scanned the room hastily and suddenly her eyes locked on something slumped in the corner. The blood drained from her entire body as she rushed over. Cooper's sandy hair glowed as the oil lamp exposed his blood-soaked torso. It took every fiber of her being to prevent herself from passing out.
"Coop..." She whispered as the rest of his name stuck in the throat.
His eyes flickered and a brief smile touched his lips.
"I was wondering when you would get here." The smile turned quickly into a wince of pain and his eyes closed once more.
The smell of blood was thick in the air and she tentatively inspected his wound. The bullet had grazed his side. An inch in either direction surly would have killed him instantly. She knew it would be along road ahead but she couldn't deny the happiness that filled her heart. She wondered how long the horsemen would wander the forest before giving up and continue on their search for the gold. It didn't matter, they had plenty of supplies down here to survive and she dismissed the thought of them entirely. Mya pulled Cooper's bloodied body towards her taking a moment to thank whoever it was that thought they should both live today.
As she sat cradling him, millions of fleeting thoughts darted in an out of her mind, piecing together an image of him trying to make his way to their over-grown front garden. The dark hollow that was hidden amongst their blue bell vines was much the same as the one Mya had entered. What looked like a dead end rocky hole was the entrance to a catacomb of underground tunnels and caves. A perfect secret. A perfect haven. A perfect place to hide mountains of exotic chests filled with the King's gold. In Mya and Cooper's experience thieves need not be barbaric and brutal, only cunning.... and a little innovative.