The further we walked, the more unsure I became. Pa had trusted me, and listened to me. The road we had taken was quiet, and the road grew narrow. The trees lining the path seemed to grow closer together, and the snow seemed to become deeper. It was beginning to scare me.
Pa pulled his horse to a stop. He looked around.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
He was quiet for a moment. “I believe you chose the right path.”
I frowned. “But?”
“But, the path ends here. There is no sign of any other roads in any direction.” He dismounted his horse and handed me the reigns. “Which way do you think we should go?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does your gut tell you?”
I thought about it. Looking around, the trees looked the same. There was a big possibility of us getting lost in the trees and never finding our way home. But that tugging in my chest was telling me to go straight down the slope in front of us. “Straight,” I said.
Pa nodded. “Wait here.”
He looked up at me and smiled. It didn’t reach his eyes though. “I’ll be right back. I just want to see what is up ahead. Maybe somewhere for us to camp.”
“Okay.” I gripped Silver’s reigns tighter.
Pa walked straight forward. The snow reached up to just below his knees. He wasn’t far away but I struggled to keep my eyes on him. The sun was beginning to sink and so it would be dark.
Silver moved beneath me. She was uncomfortable and nervous.
I ran my fingers through her mane, trying to give her some comfort. “It’s okay, girl,” I said. I could tell she didn’t believe me. There was no reassurance in my words, and no comfort. We were in the White Mountains, following a road that led who knows where, trusting my instincts. And Pa had disappeared.
I sat on Silver for a few moments longer, but I couldn’t wait. I nudged Silver’s side and moved in the direction he had gone. Pa’s prints in the snow were clear. But with the light disappearing I struggled to see where they were.
The ground went from flat to a deep slope. Silver backed away from the edge. Instead of forcing her down, I climbed off, and tied her and Pa’s horse to a tree. We would come back and get them. Being on the ground I could see Pa’s prints. Gripping tree roots and other plants, my feet slid down the slope. Not far from the bottom I found Pa. He was kneeling behind a tree.
He turned around and put his finger to his lips. I slid to him and he wrapped his arms around me. “I told you to wait for me.”
“I know. Patients isn’t something I have.”
“Clearly.” He lent around the tree and frowned.
I copied him. At the very bottom of the slope was a camp. It was filled with the Queen’s guard. Ten of them sat around a camp fire. There were four horses tied to a makeshift post, and two trucks surrounding them. The men were loud, clearly not worried about being quiet.
“They don’t know we are here. Let’s keep it that way.”
“Would it matter? Kara isn’t with us.”
“That doesn’t matter. No normal father and daughter would be in the White Mountain’s willingly. They will think we are criminals or something.” He took my hand. “Let’s get back to the horses and find somewhere to camp. Tomorrow they should be gone and we can be on our way.”
We moved back up the slope. Pa keeping himself in-between me and the guards below. He kept me in place if I missed stepped or slipped. And we made it back to our horses in one piece. Staying on foot, I followed Pa along the edge of the slope. We slipped between the trees, making sure to watch where we stepped. The snow on the edge could slip off taking either of us with it.
Pa stopped and pointed. “There’s a cave over there.”
“Will the horses fit inside?”
He nodded. “Looks like it.” He moved away from the edge and towards the cave. He handed me the reigns of his horse and stepped inside. He gently placed his feet down. For a moment, he disappeared into the black of the cave. It was silent.
Looking around all the trees were silent. There were no shuffles of animals running through the snow, or birds in the trees. There was nothing, not even a breeze.
Pa stuck his head out, and said, “It’s empty. Take the horses inside, I’ll go and get some wood.”
“Be careful,” I said.
He said, “Always am.”
The cave was black as I stepped inside. Keeping tight hold of the horse’s reigns I moved further and further in. Once I was sure that they were out of the cold I turned back to the entrance. It was too dark to try to remove any tack, or find anything we would need; so, I waited.
Pa wasn’t long. He walked into the cave. The moon’s light that filtered in behind him, allowed me to see enough that I could see that he hadn’t found much wood. He shook the snow from his shoes and placed down the wood. “It’s damp,” he said, “Might struggle to light but it is all we have.” He arranged a few pieces, and put the rest to the side.
I stood by patiently. Anticipation of warmth from a fire was high. It felt like I hadn’t felt warmth in a long time. And it seemed like I would have to wait for any sort of warmth.
“It’s too wet,” said Pa. He threw down the sticks he was rubbing together. “There isn’t a chance of this lighting anytime soon.”
“What do we do?”
Pa stood and moved over to me. “We remove the tack. Find our blankets and bunker down. We will need to sleep side by side for warmth.”
Pa pulled off our saddle bags and placed them side by side. I pulled out our dinner and laid down our blankets to make some sort of bed. It didn’t look comfortable, but it would have to do.
I kept on my thick layers and sat down beside Pa. He handed me my dinner, and we fell into silence. I didn’t think anyone would find us in the cave but my eyes kept moving towards the entrance. The thoughts about the dangers of the woods, Kara’s warnings, kept me occupied, and so did my worry for Kara. I didn’t think she was lost, she had grown up on these mountains. If she got caught or something had happened I didn’t know how to save her. She had told me that as my familiar she protected me, and I her. I didn’t know how though.
Pa laid down, and said, “Try to get some sleep. Tomorrow we can try and get past those guards if they are still there.”
“Which direction do we go? I have no idea.”
He squeezed my arm. “We will figure it out.”
“And what about Kara?” I slid down so now I was lying beside him. “She should have found us by now.”
“She will find us or we will find her.”
“How do you know that?”
Pa didn’t answer. He squeezed my arm again. “Just try and get some sleep, okay.”663Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ1q46HP9syc
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I sat up and looked around.
I couldn’t see anyone; I couldn’t see anything.
There was no sort of light. I couldn’t make out any sort of shape but the voice calling my name sounded like it was in the distance. And it reminded me of Kara’s voice. She sounded worried and scared. If it was her, was she in trouble? Did she need my help?
I stood and moved towards the entrance.
“TIARA!” the voice said. It seemed closer.
I stepped out of the cave. The wind was blowing an icy breeze and the moon’s light was struggling to shine through.
There was no one to see. But the voice sounded like they were right next to me. But nothing. I took a few steps further away from the cave. The snow seemed to have grown deeper.
“TIARA!” The voiced seemed to echo. It was so loud that I cringed. But I knew for sure that it was Kara. But if she was close by I wouldn’t be able to see her in the black.
“Kara?” I said. Hoping she would hear me. “Kara, where are you?”
There was no response. Running out into the dark to try to find her would either get me lost, captured, or killed. But not even one of them would help anyone.
“Kara?” I tried again. Nothing. Turning around I stepped back towards the cave. But I stopped when I heard the crunching of snow. Someone else was coming my way. “Kara?” I said.
The footsteps grew louder, but I couldn’t see anyone.
“TIARA!” The voice sounded even closer. “TIARA!” I took a step towards the footsteps but stopped. “RUN! TIARA, RUN!” A figured appeared before me.
Except it wasn’t Kara, it was the shape of a man. He walked towards me until he stood in front of me. He dressed from head to toe in a Queen’s guard uniform, and In his hand, I could see the shape of a gun.
He lifted it from his side and pointed the barrel at me. “What is a young girl like you doing out here?”ns 22.214.171.124da2