Vol. 1 Escape
Into the Unknown
By Kenneth Mulholland
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Copyright 2002 Kenneth Mulholland
Two young rabbits peered out from the sheltering heather, their pink
noses twitching uncertainly.
They were watching a pair of far-off dots, moving slowly toward them
along the old road that ran down the valley, from beyond the tiny circle
This coming was strange to them. The leaves were turning golden and
beginning to fall from the trees, and the wind blew colder. Winter was
looming, and seldom did big folk use the road during such time.
As the furry pair huddled together, they made out the form of four-foot
and two-foot; horse animal and man animal, both walking, lame and weary.
Wary of any strangers, the little bucks scuttled away to the protection
of their burrow, where mother and father, uncle and aunt, and all their
cousin-kin were tucked. For there lay comfort and warmth, and safety.
The dying sun dipped low in the eastern sky, and the stranger lifted his
head, gazing to watch as it sank. His eyes were greyed in the hollow
pits of his face; he was weak, and very tired, for he had ridden hard,
and walked long. Yet still, he knew that he must find a suitable place
to spend the night. Drawing his travel-stained cloak about him, he
turned from the road and struggled into the thickets that verged upon a
wooded slope. He had come a long distance down the valley, further indeed
than he had ever been before, and not always by the ancient cobbled
road. The road that led to where, exactly, he did not know.
As the last rays of light played across distant mountains, he led his
worn steed through a massed clump of trees that sheltered a soft-running
brook. There he tended the animal, allowing it to drink from the stream
and graze on green banks.
The sun was gone and twilight short lived.
A sighing wind picked up, stirring the leafy branches, and he wrapped
the cloak even closer whilst he sat in the lee of his horse, munching
dried fruits and meal-cakes taken from a bundle hung across the saddle.
This he had not dared to remove, though the animal would have been glad
of the rest; yet fear of pursuit was uppermost in his mind.
After a little, the moon came up, whilst he listened to the sounds of
the tinkling stream and other nightly noises. His long, unkempt hair
blew about his face and he caught hold of it, binding it with a shred of
rag torn from an under garment.
Later, he bathed his sallow face, letting the water trickle through the
scraggy beard that hid his mouth and jaw. Then, feeling the need for
protection, he slid the sword from its scabbard, touching the edge with
fingers that trembled with cold and exhaustion. But such hardship
was not his only burden; there was another thing within his mind,
something that filled him with awe and wonder. Something that he could not control.
The Voices that would not be stilled: that had ever haunted him.
The Voices that had, and were, to shape his fate.
He passed a hand across his throbbing brow. Would They come into his
head again this night, he wondered feverishly. He hoped not, for though he welcomed Them, They distracted him,
and he could not be distracted; not if he was to escape to where They beckoned.
As if to forget these thoughts and doubts, he took down a bow and quiver
of arrows, stolen as were the boots he wore, and fixed a shaft to the
string. He flexed it, drawing the slender, feathered arrow toward his
cheek. Archery, as sword use, had been instilled at an early age, and
though he endured both for their peculiar qualities, he took no love
from the hunt, or in any killing.
But now, he well knew, these skills might prove to be his only means to
effect escape. For certain was he that if recaptured, death would be his
end. Sleep, he felt sure, would not claim him, since somehow it seldom
did, these later days. At times he wished it might, though then his mind
would be less his own to keep than in waking. Perhaps, he mused,
exhaustion was better than sleep: to block out the past, without losing
The stream's murmuring gave way to another sound; a faint drumming,
drumming. Then a silence, that seemed to go on and on without break,
even the breeze and the tinkling waters ebbing. He sheathed the sword
and returned the bow and quiver to his horse, looping them to the saddle.
And there he stood, unmoving; waiting.
At last the sound began again, horses drumming the valley road, some
small way off. With heart pounding, he drew his steed across the now
burbling brook and ventured up slope through a gathering of benighted
trees. The moon faded into cloud and all became a ghostly gloom as he
and his tired steed stumbled on.
So dark it became, that only the rising ground gave hint of his
direction, whilst caught on the growing moan of wind he heard voices,
faint and mixed amongst the whinny and neigh of their mounts: 'We had
best sleep here this night. No good to keep….'
The words vanished as the breeze skirled them by.
'Turn back? Nay, we have our task.'
Another voice. 'Perchance the others have found him '
'Who knows? Never mind. We must go on come morning. We have our orders
from the prince, and he from our king, no doubt.'
'Settle this night. Our quarry on the morrow to seek.…'
Again, renewed, the wind rushed through the faintness of words as it
Around the fugitive and his halting horse, branches groaned whilst
leaves flurried by. An autumn storm was close, brewing out of the south.
And this was the moment, so the stranger felt, to slip clear. He picked
a path along the spine of low foothills, slowly easing toward a place
where, he guessed, the road wound northward. Once or twice he cracked
his shins, or dashed his head against unseen obstacles, hardly feeling
the blows. His poor steed made hard way, but the sounds of its following
were lost on the risen wind.
Eventually, the grade bent, and before mount and leader fell the land
through rough wood toward the flats. Crouching in waist-high bracken, he
spied the road, down-away, and hauled his companion after him, stopping
at times to listen for sound of any at his heels. But nothing more did
he hear, the growing storm blotting out all else.
Rain fell. Big, heavy drops, alike to summer cloud-burst. Then a low
rumble rolled the length of the long valley, followed by a great, forked
tongue of lightning that burst the sky. Down streaked the deluge in
sweeping, driving gusts; soaking his cloak, running from his head, like
streams off a mountain. And through this, he and nag hurried forward,
Over and again the sky blazed with sound and light, and at each flash,
he saw the outline of road ahead, down and up, slanting into the
distance, awash with rain.
Cattle he saw, grey and ghostly, hovering on the margins of mist. And
other creatures, small and large: rabbits, fox, deer darting, martens,
weasels and all kind of slippery things. And dearly he wished to be of
their kin; to seek shelter in lair or burrow, to dig deep and hide away
down long tunnels, where light never entered. But still, he remained a
fugitive; hunted along the ground of a land, through which he had never
And so was he affrighted and at once driven forth by powers past and
those present, that despite his fatigue, and cold and aloneness, time
and distance passed as he and horse plodded on, whilst the storm lashed
at their backs.
In the end, the pair took shelter beneath a rocky outcrop a distance
from the road; and there in the bleakness of that night, they remained
whilst the elements howled about them.
Dawn came, cold, grey and fugitive.
Hunched beneath the bulk of the standing horse where it fitfully
drowsed, he hovered; neither awake nor asleep.
His body, sodden with mire and drifting rain, seemed frail and pitiful,
like some crumpled scarecrow, rotting into the lost fields.
Yet somewhere deep within his mind, behind that outer felon's face, The
Voices spoke; and the stranger heard Them chanting...Calling...
'Deeper, deeper; sleep, thou Sleeper...'
'Crying, sighing; lonely lying.
Sail thy ship in night forever, dreams of waking, softly sever; lest a
Great One, spell untying...'
'Follow Us, into the north...Come...We await to awaken you from long
slumber...Come, oh ye Sleeper...'
'My Corin...Is it you, my child...My own true Corin...Come to me...I
beseech you. Come.…'
His dark-ringed eyes cleared, and he came to himself; The Voices faded,
and as times before, he was left mystified, yet comforted.
A lone crow cawed on the wind where the rain faded into low fog that
hung over the pale lands ahead.
The stranger and his shivering beast hobbled across the uneven country,
through the hollows of rolling hills, skirting marsh and waterways;
never too far from the stony ribbon of road where it wandered, always
The tall grasses rattled about their legs, softly sighing behind, whilst
above in the high ways of the sun-dimmed sky, the wind moaned.
Once, the stranger halted long enough to turn through all that horizon
bounding his sight. At his back lay distant hills, half lost in cloud;
to the far east, snow-peaked mountains ranged like tall bastions walling
in the long length of the vast basin that was the valley of Ravenmoor.
Westward, the land dipped, broken in places by woods and wind rows, and
before him stretched the unknown; though with a certainty borne of
tales told him in childhood, he knew there were still folk of the realm,
dwelling at the edges and margins of a great forest. A place of dark
danger and hidden peril, perhaps a place of sanctuary for such as he.
Perhaps even the place where answers to the haunting Voices and Their
beckoning could be found.
Through all that day and into another night, the pair limped forward,
keeping to the shelter of the low lands and thickets where possible.
Often, the stranger cast a wary eye to the west, mindful that his
pursuers yet hunted him, and would continue to do so until called off.
By the faintness of the fleeting moon, he took to the shallows of a
river, the cold waters curling icy about his knees, that his path be
lost to any following. A long while he held on thus, the horse
protesting; he, teeth chattering, till again they emerged where the flow
seemed to bend away into the east.
He kept his bearings by paling moon, where it groped through rushing
Clouds, and was thankful for that furtive light, and that the rain had
held off long enough for his clothes to dry.
Later, as they reached the summit of a knoll, he saw a glimmer of yellow
in the blackness before him: the twinkling of a tiny village. With
uplifted hope and heart, he and horse made toward those welcoming
Soon they stood upon the last rise, gazing down at a sleepy thorp, its
lamps swinging at their chains.