I was exhausted and struggling to keep my eyes open. Blood was running down my arm and I felt slightly dizzy. The burning in my arm had faded to an ache but we needed to stop and wrap it. Once we were sure that we had lost the guards Kara stopped and asked if my arm was okay. I knew we didn't have time to waste so I told her I was fine. I couldn’t tell in the dark if she believed me or not but we kept moving.
The temperature had slowly begun to change. The warmth of the Eastern Valley was becoming the icy cold of the White Mountains. The ground would soon become covered in snow and we would have to rug up.
We reached the bottom of the Eastern Mountains, which separate the White Mountains from the valley, as the sun began to rise. The dark trees slowly filled with light. Looking around I didn't recognise anything, which was to be expected. Pa and I had to trust Kara, and hope that she wouldn’t lead up astray.
Kara stopped as the ground grew flat and turned to us. She said, “We should stop and rest. You and Daniel looked tired.”
I nodded. “Yeah, good idea.”
“What did she say?” said Pa.
“That we should stop.”
Pa smiled. “That is a good idea. I can barely keep my eyes open.”
We stopped beneath some large trees that were thick enough that they would hide us from anyone higher up. I dismounted Silver and patted her neck. We had been travelling all night and she looked tired. I tied her to a low hanging tree branch and reached up to remove her saddle. I gasped in pain and Pa turned to look at me.
“Taria, are you okay?”
I shook my head. “My arm.”
“Let me see.” Pa reached out and gently took my arm. He pulled the sleeve of my shirt up slowly. Fresh blood began to slip from the wound as he looked at it. “It’s not deep,” he said. “I’ll need to clean it and wrap it. Good thing your Ma packed some wrappings.”
The wound on my arm looked horrible. As Pa gentle touched around the edges the throbbing grew. I said, “She always thinks of everything.”
“She certainly does.” Pa smiled. “You sit down; I’ll go get some water.” Pa turned and walked towards a small stream.
I sat down against the base of a tree and looked at Kara. She had curled up near another tree and was already asleep. She looked peaceful. I wished I could know more about her. From what I had learned so far about familiars, at our age, we should know each other as well as we know ourselves. It made me wonder what my life would have been like if we had never been separated. I didn’t really know if I wanted to understand the bond that we shared. I still didn't even know if I wanted to do this. It was scary knowing what was ahead but I didn't want to think what would happen if I didn't help.
I pulled out some of the food Ma had packed for us from my saddle. It wasn’t much, but I was so hungry that anything would be better than nothing. I unwrapped the bread and cheese, and took half for myself. I wrapped the second half back up for Pa. I took small bites from the food, letting the taste savour in my mouth.
Pa came back and gave both of the horses water before he joined me. He grabbed his own bag and pulled out wrappings. He sat down beside me and said, “Give me your arm.”
I held out my arm to him and he used a piece of the wrap and dipped it in to the water. He gently touched the wrapping to my wound and dabbed. I hissed in pain at the touch but Pa cleaned it quickly. Using the rest of the wrapping he tightly wrapped it around the wound. He tied it off and sighed. “It will have to do for now. Now get some rest, we can’t stay for long,” he said.
I nodded. “I know.”
“The guards will be able to follow us during the day, we don’t have time to waste,” he said.
“I know.” My voice was harsh as I spoke.
Pa frowned. He looked at me confused. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry. I’m just tried.” It wasn't the reason. I was scared and didn't want to be out here. I knew how dangerous it was and Pa was now in the middle of it. If the guards discovered that Pa and I were the ones with Kara then Ma and Gean would be in danger. But there wouldn’t be any time to go back and save them. No one even mentioned the possibility that they could be the ones who were killed instead of us.
Pa sighed. “Now why don’t I believe that?”
“Because it’s not true.” There was no point lying to Pa. He knew me too well.
“Then what is the truth?” he asked.
I looked away from him and down at my food. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does.” Pa leant forward, trying to look me in the eye.
I looked up at him. “Pa, I just want to sleep. I’m fine.”
I shook my head. “Pa, please.”
Pa nodded. “Okay, you sleep. I’ll take first watch.”
I smiled and laid down on the ground, using my saddle as a pillow. It wasn't long before I feel asleep.
Pa shook my shoulder to wake me. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked to the sky. The sun was high in the sky and I could hear birds and other animals in the trees. I had slept for most of the morning and felt much better.
Looking around I noticed Kara wasn't with us. “Where’s Kara?” I said.
Pa shrugged. “I don’t really know. I woke up and she was gone. I’m sure she is just hunting.”
My eyes widened. “What if someone took her?” What if she was gone for good? Pa and I would be lost in these woods.
Pa sighed. “And left us here?” He looked at me with an absurd look. “I think Kara would have made quiet the noise if someone grabbed her.”
I couldn’t disagree. Kara seemed like the type of cat that would kick up a fuss. I stood from my spot and lifted my saddle. Pain shot through my arm causing me to drop the saddle and call out in pain.
“Are you alright?” said Pa.
“Yeah, I just forgot how heavy saddles are.”
Pa smiled and walked over. He grabbed Silver’s saddle and secured it on her back. I stood in front of her and gave her a gentle scratch behind the ears.
A loud thump startled me and I turned to see Kara watching us. She was staring at me. Her eyes were focused on my shoulder. “I’m fine,” I said.
Kara licked her lips.
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“Hunting. I need to keep my strength up. Did I worry you?”
I frowned. “No.”
Kara’s eyes thinned. She didn’t believe me.
Pa stepped up beside me and placed his hand gently on my shoulder. “Now, shall we move on or would you two like to continue just standing here.”
“Sure, let’s go.” I squeezed his hand and walked around Silver. Pa helped me mount Silver before walking over to his horse.
“Kara,” he said. “Lead on.”
Kara nodded her head.
We travelled along the edge of the great river that sat directly between the Eastern and White Mountains. We moved quietly and quickly as the trees that ran along the river’s banks were thin and bare, giving us no cover from any soldiers if they were to spot us.
The air continued to grow cold but the further we walked the smell of fresh grass changed to the scent of charcoal and burnt flesh. It was repulsive.
“What is that?” I said.
“Smells like the aftermath of a fire.” Pa pulled a cloth from his saddle bag and wrapped it around his neck and covered his mouth and nose. He handed one to me and I did the same. I could still smell the burnt flesh it wasn’t as strong.
As we continued to move along the river and soon the trees thinned even more and we came to a barren field that seemed to go on for miles. The once tall trees were burnt to nothing but cinders. The ground was nothing but dust and corpses. Vultures were scattered around fighting over dead animals. I covered my mouth in shock.
“What happened here?”
Kara sighed heavily.
“Kara, what’s wrong?” I said.
“The queen. She takes pleasure in burning down whole sections of wooden areas killing whatever lies within. This happened only a week or two ago. Killed many animals and humans. I had to cross it to get to you.” Kara stopped in her tracks and turned her head.
I moved out of the treeline and into the wasteland. It was horrible. What was wrong with this woman?
Pa and Kara came up beside me.
“Why would she do this?” I said.
“Because no one can have what she can’t,” said Kara. The look on her face made my heart sink. Her eyes were filled with a heavy sadness and anger. Kara could have known some of these people, some of these familiars. Maybe even some of the normal animals. There was no way to know who these people were. Kara moved away from the wasteland and continued to follow the river.
Pa looked confused.
“The queen. She did this.”
Pa reached over and took my hand. He squeezed it to comfort me.
“This woman is my aunt. She is my own flesh and blood.” What if I was like her? Would I turn into this kind of monster if I killed her? I took a deep breath to keep back the tears. I couldn’t cry.
“She may be related to you by blood but you are nothing like her. You are my daughter and you are the kindest girl that I know.” Pa kissed my head. “You aren’t and never will be anything like her.”
I squeezed Pa’s hand.
“We should go,” said Pa.
We turned out horses and followed Kara away from the wasteland.
The temperature grew even colder. Pa and I pulled out large blankets to wrap ourselves in. Keeping the cold out seemed near impossible. We were finally able to cross into the White Mountain region when we came to an old bridge. It didn’t look like it was strong enough to hold our weight.
“We should dismount and walk across,” said Pa.
I nodded and slid off Silver. I wrapped her reins around my hand and knotted them so that I wouldn’t lose them.
Kara slipped across quickly, her weight barely registering on the bridge. Pa stood behind me and gestured for me to go next. Taking my time I carefully went one step at a time. The bridge creaked under my wait and all I could do was cringe. All that had to happen was either for me to slip or for Silver to fall and we could possibly die. While the river wasn’t a rapid the current was clearly strong, and the water deep. I took one step and the plank beneath my foot cracked and I stumbled. I caught myself and took a shaky breathe.
“You alright?” said Pa.
“Yeah.” I took another step and the wood held. I made it across and pulled Silver away from the edge. I turned and watch as my father led his horse as carefully and as quickly as he could. He got across and I sighed with relief.
We now stood at the base of the East White Mountain. While it wasn’t steep there wasn’t a clear path to follow.
Kara seemed to be staring into the trees that surrounded us. She said, “These woods are dangerous, more so than having guards chase us. There are some very dangerous creatures that will kill you so we will have to be careful. Also, the paths are covered with traps set by Warlocks who live here. Most of them won’t harm you; they are more to scare poachers away but no matter what don’t rush in front of me. I know what I am looking for. So stay behind me.”
I nodded and relayed her warning to Pa. He agreed. We would do it her way.
Kara moving slowly. Pa and I followed, one behind the other. The path was impossible to see as it was covered with a thin layer of snow that was slowly becoming heavier. The breezed turned to ice along with my breath. The wind picked up and soon we were in the middle of a thick forest. If Kara had been any other colour than black we would have lost sight of her ages ago. Kara kept her eyes focused on her surroundings, looking for anything that was out of place. I didn't know how she could see though. The sun struggled to slip through the thick foliage.
The sun began to sink and the little light we did have disappeared, leaving us in almost complete darkness. But we didn't stop. The snow continued to grow higher. Soon the horses, and Kara, were struggling to move at a good pace. Kara showed no sign at stopping.
“Kara,” Pa called. “Maybe we should find a place to rest.”
Kara stopped and turned. “We don’t have the time.”
“This storm is going to get worse before it gets better. We need to find somewhere to wait it through,” I said.
She looked at me unconvinced.
“We won’t be able to help you if we get lost or die.”
Kara’s head dropped. “Fine,” she said. “There is a cave just ahead. Or there should be if we are where I think we are.”
“Okay,” I said. I turned to Pa. “She says there should be a cave up here where we can rest.
Kara was right. Not far along was a cave just off the path. The opening was large enough to fit us and the horses inside. Inside, Pa looked around for anything to be able to make a fire. I struggled to remove our horse’s tack, but got the saddles onto the ground and wrapped blankets around them.
The cold wind swept into the cave sending harsh shivers through my body. I felt like I couldn’t find any sort of warmth. Pa dropped a small pile of wood in front of me and said, “It’s dry enough. Should light.”
“Have anything to light it with?” I asked.
Pa sighed. “Going to have to rub two sticks together, hopefully it will work.”
I knelt down beside the pile of wood as did Pa. He grabbed the two sticks and rubbed them. I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them, trying to warm myself.
Kara sat lying in the corner of the cave; her head lying against her paws. Her face was blank; she seemed to be lost in her thoughts. I pulled myself from the ground and sat down beside her and reached out my hand to touch her head.
She jumped at the contact and frowned at me.
“Sorry,” I said. “I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
Her frown faded and was replaced with a small smile. “Oh. I’m fine. I’m not use to human contact before.”
“Oh,” I said.
Kara looked down at her folded paws. “While I had friends here in the woods, they were all familiar’s like me.” She closed her eyes for a moment, almost like she was trying to stop tears from falling.
“What happen to your parents?” I asked. My curiosity was to overwhelming to stop me from asking.
Kara sighed. “I don’t have any.”
I frowned. “You mean that you haven’t met them?”
She shook her head. “No, I mean we don’t have any. Familiar’s are magical and we aren’t born like humans or normal animals, we are created.”
“How is that possible?” I asked confused.
Kara looked towards Pa, who was still struggling with getting a fire lit. She said, “I don’t really know. The first thing I remember is waking up in a small bed. A small child beside me. Some say that familiar’s just appear.”
“Who was that child?”
She nodded. “You were barely a day old. Great Owl told me that he had once known a familiar who told him that familiar’s are created by the God’s of old and they chose special human’s who deserved or needed a special someone with them. Familiar’s are meant to help or guide their bond mate.”
I wanted to roll my eyes. God’s of old? I never believed in any sort of God.
“I don’t know how much truth is in that story. I am just happy to be alive.” Kara shrugged and we continued to watch Pa struggle.
After a few minutes Pa shouted, “I did it!”
I smiled at him as he looked at his small fire with pride.
Pa turned to look at us. “Your old man isn’t so useless.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.ns 126.96.36.199da2