Chapter 6



andon woke in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat and breathing heavily. Sleep was no longer a safe haven from the day. Nightmares plagued his dreams, replaying the night the Blackmasks had killed his parents every night, over and over until he woke, shaking. Sometimes it was different, but it was never less horrible. It was like a game he could never win, no matter how hard he tried.

            Deciding he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep for a while, he sat up and crawled out of the small bed the inn had provided. Chelsea had insisted they keep a tight purse and share a room, despite the innkeeper's protests that it was indecent. She assured her that they would be sleeping in separate beds and eventually persuaded her to grudgingly allow it.

            Glancing over at her sleeping form, he noticed how beautiful she looked while she was asleep. He had been surprised that she hadn't given them the expected speech on how horrible they were for making such a ruckus when they were trying to keep a low profile. Instead, she had frowned, shaken her head and started to bandaged their wounds. Not very much was said, but somehow that made it worse. She had seemed disappointed, and he didn't know why that made him feel ashamed.

            Walking quietly over to the small table in the corner, he gripped both sides of the wash basin they had left for them with bandaged hands—she had insisted on bandaging his knuckles. He had managed to hide his bruised stomach in case she had wanted to bandage that too. Girls worried too much.

            He shook his head and stared down at his reflection. They had cleaned up a bit before they went to sleep, so he guessed he didn't look all that bad. The same old Landon. On the outside, at least.

            Something shuffled behind him and his newly developed nervous reflexes caused him to whirl around, but pain shot up from his midriff before he could see whoever it was that had snuck up from behind. Letting out an involuntary cry, his hand shot up to his stomach. He clenched his teeth and realized that his supposed attacker was Chelsea, staring down at where his hand was clasped.




"Are you okay?" Chelsea asked, concerned. That silly fight they had gotten themselves into was probably having an after affect.

            He dropped his hand to his side and told her he was fine, obviously making an effort to act casual. She didn't buy it. "No, you're not. Let me see."


            "I said, let me see. I can't help you if you won't let me."

            "What if I don't want your help?"

            She put her hands on her hips and he didn't push it. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it on the ground. She had to admit, he was well built. A life working on a farm made you much more muscular than a Lord would ever be. But her attention was drawn to a large purple bruise on his stomach. It didn't look very good. No wonder he was in pain.

            "Why didn't you tell me about this?" she gasped, starting toward her medicine kit. He shrugged. Men!

            "Here, rub this on it," she instructed, pulling out a salve and handing it to him. "It'll make it feel better."

            "Thanks," he muttered, taking it and sitting down on the edge of his bed. She sat down next to him. "So, is there a reason you're up so late?" she asked curiously, watching as he rubbed the ointment in.

            "Nightmare," was all he said.

            "Oh. You want to talk about it?" His dark eyes said yes, he did want to talk about it, but he told her he couldn't. Perhaps it had something to do with his "receiving of the sword." This whole secret deal was really running them into a wall, but there was nothing she could do about it. Well, maybe that was a lie, but she wasn't about to confess all her secrets to him without knowing for sure whether he would tell her anything in return. It was all quite frustrating.

            "You?" he inquired. Good question.

            "Just thinking," she answered. That wasn't entirely true. She hadn't been able to sleep out of worry for her brother. It was essential that she found him soon. Trying to divert herself from that particular subject, she fished for something to say, though Landon obviously wasn't feeling very talkative. She didn't mind silence, but if she let her thoughts wander too far they eventually came back to what she had been trying to avoid. It wasn't her nature to avoid things she knew she would have to face, but after all that had happened she allowed herself this small convenience. It was nice to be able to do what she wanted for a change. She glanced at Landon, who was stirring the salve absently with his finger, and felt a little better. He was so cute.

            "You missed a spot," she teased. He looked down at his bruise.


            She dipped her finger in the ointment and wiped it on the tip of his nose. "Hey!" he protested, scooping up a glob on his finger and doing the same to her. They broke out in a fit of laughter. It was good to see him happy. There hadn't been much laughing from him in the past few days. Stupid sword.

            They laughed until Mark moaned and rolled over, indicating that they should probably go to bed. 

            "We should probably get some sleep. We have to wake up early if we want to make the best of our time," she declared, trying to sound authoritative through stifled laughter. She didn't want to go to sleep.

            The feeling was plainly mutual. "Well, goodnight," he responded reluctantly.

            "Goodnight, Landon. Sweet dreams. That's an order, by the way. You need a good night's sleep. I don't want you falling asleep in your saddle tomorrow."

            "Yes, Chelsea. I'll try my hardest, on my honor."

            And with that they went to bed.



The ride the next day was excruciatingly dull. They rode and rode until Landon got saddle sore, and then kept on riding. The others were evidently experiencing the same problem. Chelsea resolved to sit sidesaddle, but for the men there was no escape.

            Landon thought about a lot of things in this lack of excitement. James. Home. The Palace. What was the Song Palace going to be like? Were there a lot of people there? It was impossible to guess, since nobody ever went there. In that case, that would mean there would be very little company. But then you had to consider servants, tutors, and the Stormsingers themselves. What could they teach him? How much would he be required to learn? Was the training going to be harsh? He felt a spike of excitement thinking about the Palace. He could achieve so much.

            Later on that night when they had camped in a small clearing in the woods, Landon and Mark set out to hunt. Mark had been adamant that he should help, but Landon recognized an excuse to get out of being alone with Chelsea when he saw it. Out of mercy for both of them, he let him come, even if he was agonizingly loud.

            "Will you stop tromping around? You're scaring off all the prey," Landon whispered sharply. Mark harrumphed and made a weak attempt at being quiet. What did he do with his time if he didn't know how to hunt? Make weapons of mass destruction, that's what. The people of Tiltook didn't have much use for weapons beyond bows and arrows. His father made the horseshoes and other useful things while Mark made weapons to be sold to larger towns.

            "We've been wandering around out here forever! How do you stand this?" he whined, stomped through the underbrush. Landon watched irritably as a pheasant took flight, warned by his complaints. "Let's just go back, we're not going to get anything, anyway." That's because you're so darn noisy, he said silently.

            "Tell me, are you descended from an elephant or something?"

            "What are you talking about?"

            "You tread like one," Landon retorted. "Let's keep on going for a little longer."

            They stalked—well, Landon stalked. Mark lumbered—through the trees until they came to a slope that led down to a muddy stream.

            "How about we take a break here," Mark suggested. "Let's wrestle. We haven't wrestled in a long time." He would've thought that he'd had enough fighting since the tavern brawl, but then again, Mark had almost enjoyed it. He'd said he would do it again if it weren't for the long-term effects.  

            Landon took a look at their surroundings and replied, "Do you realize how counterproductive that would be? We need to get going if we want to get back before dark." He knew he was being a killjoy, but he was not in the mood for a scuffle. He'd rather just punch Mark and get it over with. The thought surprised him. He wasn't normally a very violent person, but all the anxiety made him want to kick something. He wasn't sure why he was stressed, just that he needed to channel it into something. Usually hunting helped, but Mark was making sure that didn't happen. Alas, he became the next target.   

            "Is this about Chelsea? Because if it is I'm going to slap you silly," Mark said.

            "Excuse me?"

            "If this whole "we have to keep going until our legs snap" thing is about trying to impress her then I'm going to make a hole in your face, because I'm not going to be dragged around on some stupid love journey." Mark was looking for a fight, and he definitely was going to get one if he kept on like this. Then he realized, that was exactly what he wanted. Mark was taunting him into a fight. Sure, he probably believed fully in what he was saying, but he wouldn't have said it if he didn't have anything to gain from it. "Why don't you just kiss her? It's obviously you like her, and she feels the same for you. What's wrong? Are you scared?" He really knew how to get Landon worked up. Mark smiled as the wind picked up speed. "Oh, I can see it now! The poets will sing songs about you two someday. Here, let me try." He cleared his throat and put one hand on his heart, the other in the air. "And then they grew into a kiss, soft and passionate, and when they broke apart he said in a small voice, "I loveth you." What do you think?" You want a fight? he thought maliciously. Then a fight you shall get.

            "All right, we'll play it your way," Landon countered. He lunged at Mark, who only had a split second to gloat his victory before he was tackled to the ground. They rolled down the slope and into the shallow water, splashing around as they tried to pin the other to the ground. Soon, they were covered in mud, laughing, and rolling around in the freezing water, refusing to give up. Landon had Mark in a headlock when he heard a dog barking nearby. He froze.

            "Uh, you're kind of choking me," Mark puffed, still struggling to get out of his grip.

            "Quiet," he warned, releasing him. "I heard something." Crawling out of the water, they followed the barking and peeked up over a boulder. "Hide!" he whispered frantically. There was a black haired girl playing with a huge black dog with white lower legs, as if he had taken a stroll through a sack of flour. Behind them was a small, peaceful looking house with a few chickens pecking at the ground in front. He was glad that he was muddy, because then he could blend in with his surroundings.

            He chanced another look over the boulder. There was good news, and there was bad news. The good news: The girl—whom Mark noted was very pretty—hadn't noticed them. The bad news: The dog had. It stared straight at them and barked until she took a hint and began to look around, searching for what could have put the massive wolf-like mutt into such a frenzy. It wouldn't be long before she spotted them.

            Sneaking back to the creek, they turned around and ran all the way back to camp, laughing at the close call. All of his anger seemed to have been drained out in that strange hunting trip—in which they hadn't caught a thing.

            Chelsea's eyebrows raised, but she didn't ask.

            After catching his breath, Landon decided he'd better go back and try one more time—without Mark. She said that he didn't have to if he didn't want to, but he told her wanted to and promised he'd be back in no time.

            Setting back into the forest, he studied the trees and listened. He found that he could make the wind blow against him so the animals ahead wouldn't catch his scent. He could get used to being a Windsinger.

            The foliage had grown thicker as they had traveled further away from the mountains. The pines were slowly diminishing and taking their places were other trees of a wide variety. Oak and maple replaced pine and fir. The Smallwoods were slowly evolving into the Elvin Forest.


            He had heard so many stories about them, but many considered them just to be myths. It was said that they lived in the Elvin Forest. Well, the Forest Elves, at least. There were also Mountain Elves. Some said they could walk on snow and not leave a footprint. Some said the Forest Elves could stand so still for so long you would think they were a statue. A lot was said about them, and he didn't know what to believe.

            Taking extra care to avoid the girl and her house, he followed the stream farther down and stopped to watch the trout dart upstream. He remembered his father had taught him once how to catch a fish with his hands. He leaned over, careful not to cast a shadow over the water, and waited with his hands poised for a trout to swim by. Finally, a whopper made his way lazily through the water. Perfect. Landon leaned in and snatched at the fish all in one quick motion. He would have caught it if the whiz of an arrow passing right where his head had been a moment before distracted him. If he had not ducked in for the fish right then he would have been shish kabobed. His head snapped up just in time to see a man in a black mask curse and nock another arrow. Forgetting the trout, he did the only logical thing he could have: he ran. And to his terror, ten Blackmasks jumped out of the bushes and followed. How did they find me? Never mind that. That was a question to be asked later, when he wasn't being pursued by Blackmasks. Luckily, his long legs naturally made him a fast runner, which really came in handy in situations like this. But, unfortunately, they were considerably fast, too. They also had the advantage of numbers. Besides, his power was frustratingly hard to control when panicking, being the time when he was least able to concentrate. Let's just say, Landon was hopefully out of options when it came to chances of survival.

            Sweat was beginning to trickle down his temple, and the Blackmasks were not relenting. He felt like a coward, running for dear life, but what could he do? If he stayed, he was better off dead. Well, that was what he was going to be anyway if they caught him, so he decided he had better keep on running lest he risk the extinction of the Evers completely.

            Shooting a glance over his shoulder, he pushed himself harder, if that was even possible. They were becoming dangerously close. Searching for every possible escape, he saw the tree branch. It was crazy. It was desperate. But it just might work.

            He ran straight for it and jumped, grabbing hold and swinging up onto the limb. This caught the Blackmasks off guard. One ran past before he could stop himself, but the a few of the others jumped on, too. He scaled higher at a speed even he was surprised at. Maybe near death predicaments triggered your survival skills and somehow you can do things you didn't know you were capable of. Whatever it was, Landon was grateful. He had a better chance in the trees. One man with a wicked smile grabbed his foot and held on tight. Perhaps panic summoned his powers or they went on self-defense mode because when he kicked the man in the face, knocking several teeth out of that sly grin, a gust of wind aided in prying his fingers off and push him back down at a force that wouldn't be pleasant when he hit the ground. Landon seemed to fly to the top, but that presented another problem. He was trapped. Arrows soared all around him from the ones who had stayed on the ground, and the ones in the trees were advancing. That's when he did something even more desperate than climbing a tree.

            He jumped.

            But this wasn't just a leap to his death. He jumped and the wind blew him forward, right into the next tree like a flying squirrel. His pursuers stared at him in disbelief and he couldn't help but laugh. Yeah, I can do that. But his victory was short-lived, because the archers let open fire and it was raining arrows. He used the wind to blow them off course, but he could only do so much in his frantic state. Maneuvering through the branches, he jumped and flew into another tree. With no idea where he was going—everything looked different from the trees—he hopped from tree to tree with only one thing in mind: lose them. But they were adapting to his method of transportation. Simply watch where he goes next, follow, and shoot. All hopes of making it out alive were slowly diminishing. Once again—one more time than should've been in such a short amount of time—he thought: I'm dead.

            He was brought to an abrupt halt as soon as he realized what he was hanging over. He cursed himself for being so stupid. In his hurry to escape, he had unwittingly brought them to camp, putting his friends in danger. It was too late to turn back, now. Dropping out of the branches behind Mark, who didn't hesitate to draw Stinger, he allowed himself a quick moment to catch his breath. Mark relaxed and began to sheath his sword until Landon shouted, "Don't put that away! There are Blackmasks coming!" The camp went into a frenzy. Chelsea put a hand over her mouth, but didn't pause before grabbing a bow and quiver of arrows. Landon retrieved Tempest. Mark moved into attack position.

            The arrows came first.

            Landon used the wind, a little more subtly for Chelsea's sake, and blew the arrows off course. That's when they charged. There was only nine, now—the one Landon had kicked was gone. They were still outnumbered. Some came with long knives and some with swords, others bows and arrows. Mark charged, disabling an arm on his first stroke, and they followed. Landon busied himself making sure arrows didn't hit their target and trying to stay alive. He noticed that some seemed reluctant to face him. They charged at the others without thought, but they shot at him from a distance and only the bravest or most equipped took him on. They're afraid of me. he realized. Figuring Mark was capable of staying alive by himself, he used this little foible to help Chelsea. She was doing surprising well on her own, her arrows meeting their targets and stabbing those who got too close. But they were ganging up on her. He ran to her defense and they immediately faltered, if only for a brief moment. It was enough, though, to take out one with his sword. They leaped back into the fight, but Landon had them. He was slashing his sword left and right until there was only a few left. He was about to take out an archer when he saw that Chelsea was all out of arrows. And worse yet, there was a Blackmask advancing on her as she searched frantically for a spare weapon. Forgetting the archer, he leapt in front of her and stabbed the man in the gut. Suddenly, pain shot up from his side, and it took Landon a moment to realize he had been hit by an arrow.      


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