Chapter 6 Blood Fall

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The sun rises and Jaxon’s men wake all of the slaves. Meah is forced to her feet as men attach the groduns to pull the carriages. Once they finish they climb onto their epics and move into formation. One large group in front and another in back split into two groups on either side of the carriages. Jaxon gives the order and the caravan begins the long journey to the Arena.

The caravan moves slowly through the forest, following the river, but the trees create obstacles for the groduns pulling the carriages. They are not used to being surrounded by trees and need extra urging from Jaxon’s men at points.

They pass the village Meah remembers visiting with Elder Mircien. She sees those who haven’t run into their homes watching with sadness. One man spies Meah and his face pales. She remembers him. He spoke with Meah and Mircien when they visited. She wonders if he is the one who Jaxon about her and fills with a sudden wave of rage.

Their journey through the forest goes on for hours with the distance between villages growing. Soon they enter a part of the forest with little evidence of human life. There are ruins of abandoned villages, but all that remains are foundations and broken statues.

Jaxon’s words come back to her as her feet become sore and blisters form. Her shoes provide little comfort and the shackles around her wrist rub her skin raw. She doesn’t know how much longer she will last without food or water.

A call moves down the line of men and the caravan comes to a stop. Meah falls to the ground, like those in front of her. She looks ahead and sees fallen trees are blocking their path. Jaxon motions to the nearest men to remove the blockage and they grab axes from the front of one of the carriages.

Meah carefully removes her shoes to assess the damage. Blood from the blisters stain the inside of her shoes. Several of Jaxon’s men move down the line of slaves, offering a single ladle of water to each, but it is sloppily done and more water reaches the ground than the parched, gaping mouths.

Meah drinks greedily, thankful for the cool feeling in her belly. She spies some slaves trying to catch a little sleep, but opts to stay alert, watching the men hack at the fallen trees.

The men finish as the sun disappears behind the mountains and rouse the slaves. The caravan continues forward into the forest. As they move through the night, torches provide beacons and the sparse evening breeze does little to comfort those walking. Strange sounds in the trees send many of the slaves into a panic. Occasional screams echo down the line, but the men shout harsh orders and the culprits are roughly silenced.

Meah tries to keep her mind from her painful feet by looking into the forest. She recognizes many of the strange sounds and laughs to herself. Creatures no bigger than a hand cause the most frightening noises. Her good humor doesn’t last long, as she is reminded of home. She wishes she were back in her house, warm in her soft bed. She wishes she could walk through the village again. She wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye.

Jaxon stays far from her, at the front of the caravan. She catches him looking back at her once, but he never turns again.

The following five days are the same, constant moving. They stop only when fallen trees block their path or the dirt tracks are flooded. These provide a little rest, but Meah realizes they are the only opportunities for sleep until they reach the first planned rest stop. None of the men in armor will speak with her when she asks how much longer they must walk. But she catches bits and pieces of conversations about Jaxon’s apparent lack of the need to sleep. She has seen many of the men catching naps while others lead their epics. But, whenever she spies Jaxon at the front, he is wide awake. Alert to the forest around him.

On the seventh day the caravan finally comes to a stop. They are near the end of the valley. In the distance they can see the end of the mountains. Jaxon’s men build a camp and a scouting team moves off in search of food or a nearby village. The slaves are allowed to bathe in the river.

Meah winces as the cold water rushes over her blistered feet. Her shoes are falling apart and she dreads having to walk barefoot the rest of the way as many of the other slaves have.

Jaxon’s men hand out rations of food, not enough to satisfy Meah’s empty stomach, but more than the tiny scraps they were given over the past week. Water is passed around more generously.

Sleep comes quickly and much to Meah’s relief, she has no dreams.

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