Ok, so this is my very first post, and I'm not quite sure that I'm doing. Feel free to give tips or point out things I could have done better, I still don't really know how to do things properly here. Please be gentle with me. :)
Anything for Her
Peder suddenly looks up, grabbing the rope attached to the linder block he is meant to be holding for Jans. He tugs on it tightly, pulling the stone in line with Lew's as he glares at him. "What?"
"Keep your head on, Doterson, or Jans'll end up just like Marda did!" Lew growls.
Peder sighs and heaves again as Jans continues to count off. "Sorry. I'm just… distracted. Can't think straight."
Lew gives him a look. "If you can't think straight, you shouldn't be working out here."
"I think you should take a break, Peder. We can't risk any more injuries." Lew sighs, heaving again. "It's dangerous if you can't even focus on pulling a stone up the hill."
Peder heaves. "I'm fine, Lew I just-"
All of a sudden, he stops talking. The feeling was there again, the strange feeling like someone was talking to him. But he knew no one was, the only ones around were Lew and Jans, and neither of them would be speaking to him. What it felt most like, as impossible as it may sound, is-
Peder's head snaps up again, and this time, both boys are staring at him, fuming. "uh…"
"Peder, you need to leave. You can't focus on work, and it might get someone killed. Please go, I'll get one of the girls to help us instead." Lew says in a tone that reminds Peder of his mother when she's angry.
The curly haired boy looks at Jans -they had always been better friends than he and Lew- for help, but only finds the green eyed boy look sadly at him. Trying his hardest not to be offended, Peder straightens up and drops his rope.
Wordlessly, he turns his back on them and walks away. Behind him, he can hear Lew calling Nissa, a girl of nineteen, over to help them instead.
He ducks inside his house, and collapses on his pallet, rubbing his face with his hands.
What was wrong with him? He was rarely this distracted while he was working, and it was never like this. He kept hearing voices, like someone whispering to him, but they sounded far away, too far to understand.
"What is happening?" he groans to himself, ignoring the looks from the goats around him.
Suddenly, he is transported back to the spring festival, sitting next to Miri. He can feel their legs touching as they sit closely on the log, and he can smell the smoke from the fires nearby. He gasps.
He knows that feeling. It is the same feeling he felt that night, when Miri quarry-spoke to him for the first time. He bolts upright, the memory becoming clearer. Was Miri speaking to him now? Is that what he had been hearing all that time with Lew and Jans?
Peder looks down, concentrating on listening to the whispers in his head. "…Let me try."
His eyes spring open. That was his own voice. That was what he said that night, when Miri showed him how to speak outside the quarry. Was she saying this to him now? Was she telling him to speak to her?
Only one way to find out.
Peder stands and crosses the room to the cabinets. He opens the small door on the bottom row, and searches around in the back for his small stash of linder sculptors. Miri said it was the linder that made the quarry-speech possible, and this was the largest piece in the house.
He pulls out a plain block, one he hasn't started to shape yet.
He goes over to his pallet again, looking out the window as he does, feeling slightly foolish cradling a piece of stone in his hands as though it were an infant.
He sits down on the mat, and bites his lip, looking at the slab of rock for a second before letting his breath out in one go. Now or never.
He closes his eyes and focuses on the stone. He thinks of a memory, he chooses one of the many times he and Miri sat together on the hillside in the spring. He thinks of one day in particular, when she was making a chain of miri flowers, and he was playing with leaves from the apple tree behind them.
He keeps singing his thoughts into the small block of linder, hoping for some sign that Miri can hear him. But, would she be able to hear him? She was so far away, and he had never heard of it working over such a great distance before.
Even so, he knew what he had heard minutes ago. He knew it was quarry-speech, and he was positive it was Miri who spoke it. If she could do it, why couldn't he?
Peder squints his eyes and thinks harder, louder, if possible, into the stone, the need to contact her growing more and more urgent as time stretches on.
After almost twenty minutes of singing the same memory into the small linder block, Peder's eyes flash open.
Another memory penetrates his mind, another of the spring festival. This time it wasn't of Miri, it was of a story. The bandit story. He can see it clearly, the mothers all taking turns telling lines from the tale they all grew up knowing. Why would Miri send this message?
The longer he listens, the clearer the message becomes. Certain lines from the tale in particular stand out to him, "One lifetime ago, bandits came to Mount Eskel", "The villagers awoke…", "… in danger".
Peder almost gasps. Was Miri telling him something? Was she telling him she was in danger?
"Bandits" Her voice whispers again. "Danger"
Peder springs to his feet, not needing to hear one word more. He could feel her fear, he knew she was in danger.
He runs outside, looking around wildly for someone to help him. He spots his mother talking to Os across the way, and takes off to her in a sprint.
"Ma!" he yells, getting her attention fast.
"Peder? What are you doing, I told you to help Jans and Lew with the linder?"
"We have to get to the academy! We have to hurry!" he gasps, out of breath.
His mother looks confusedly at him, crossing her arms. "Why?"
Peder falters. He hadn't taken into account getting others to believe him. "They need help! The girls! They're in danger! Bandits!"
Os chuckles. "Bandits? No bandit would trek up the mountain in this weather! And how would you have known anyway?"
Peder looks desperately at his mother, wanting someone to believe him, but she only raises an eye brow at him. He sighs impatiently. "She told me! I-" Here comes the hard part. "I heard it… with quarry-speech."
"Peder, dear, quarry-speech only works inside the quarry, remember?" Doter speaks slowly, as if he were a small child.
Peder frowns angrily. "No, it doesn't! I know, M- Miri told me." He says loudly, cursing internally for tripping over her name. "At the spring festival, she told me she's been thinking a lot about it, and she thinks she knows how it works. She said it works with memories, and you only need to be touching some linder for it to work, so-"
"Whoa, slow down, now." comes a voice, and Peder turns his head to see Laren come up, his mallet on his shoulder. "What is all this about Miri speaking quarry speech?"
Peder takes a deep breath, suddenly aware of the crowd he had attracted. "Last spring at the festival, she told me all about how she figured out how it works. She said it works with memories, and you can use it outside the quarry. She- she talked to me with it then, about when we used to watch the goats together." He explains quickly, pausing to wait for someone to say something ridiculous. When no one does, he goes on.
"I heard it again today, that's why I was so distracted when pulling the linder." He tells Lew, who had appeared next to Laren, looking skeptical. "I kept hearing someone talking, but I didn't know what was being said. Later, I heard it clearer, and I knew it was her because it felt like her, you know?" he pauses to catch a breath, and is pleased to see a few heads nods to themselves.
"So I talked back, and I guess she heard me, because I got a different message." He swallows. "She sang to me about the spring festival again, when we were telling the bandit story. I think she was telling me that they are in trouble, that bandits attacked them at the academy. Please believe me!" he finishes pleadingly, as no face looked convinced.
"Peder, no one can speak outside the quarry, everyone knows that!" Lew rolls his eyes, and Peder begins to lose hope.
"No, wait…" Laren grumbles, and every face turns towards him, Peder looking hopeful.
"I felt something too. I felt the same way yesterday, but I didn't think it was possible. Marda heard it too."
Peder begins to feel hopeful, and Os turns to him. "Are you sure of what you heard, Peder?"
Peder nods fervently. "Yes, sir. Positive. She sang two words in particular, 'bandits' and 'danger'. I'm sure she was telling me something was wrong." He says adamantly.
Os looks at Miri's father, who is visually contemplating it. "Laren, are you sure about this?"
The taller man is silent for a long minute, making everyone listening hold their breath in anticipation. After what feels like hours, he speaks up.
"Miri always said she believed that the mountain was magical. I thought I heard her speaking to me yesterday, and I disregarded it. Peder is her best friend, and if she told him she is in danger, then I believe him."
Peder feels himself relax, and lets out all his breath in one go. He believed him. He was going to help. Despite this fact, he can't help but feel his heart flutter at the fact that he was her best friend.
He pushes that thought to the back of his mind, tuning back in just in time to hear Os ask "Did she say anything else about the, er, bandits? About the other girls?"
Peder bites his lip and shakes his head. "No, she didn't pick anyone out in particular. Just that there were bandits. But I think that if some girls did get away, they would have come by now."
"It's a three hour journey, four in this weather. They would not have had time to arrive according to when you started to hear things." Tofi, Frid's father points out.
Thinking quickly, Peder replies "Miri's father said he heard her yesterday. That means she has been trying for hours. That is plenty of time for a group of girls to make it home."
A few of the adults turn to each other and begin to speak in low voices while Peder watches wearily. He catches eyes with Lew, who was watching him skeptically. Peder ignores him, they had never gotten on anyway.
After a minute of tense discussion, Os calls their attention. "We've decided to travel to the academy. We will leave in the morning."
While most of the adults try to hide their exasperation, Peder feels anger boil up inside him.
"Tomorrow? Why not now?"
"It is nearly nightfall. To attempt to reach the academy in the night would be torturous."
"What about the girls? What if they are starving them? Or hurting them? We don't want to waste any more time than we have already!" When no one answers him, he glares at the group of them. "Fine. I'll go alone, then."
"Peder!" Doter exclaims, as if he were being foolish.
"I'm sorry Mother, but I know what I heard. I know what Miri said. She sounded so scared. I've never heard her voice sound like that before." He says, just above a whisper, not wanting to let too many of his emotions be known.
Without another look at the villagers, Peder turns around and walks straight back to his house, ignoring the tense silence hanging in the air around the crowd behind him.
He rushes inside, and goes to his cupboard, taking his small pack his mother made for him four summers ago for quarry work. He checks its contents, relieved that he had taken the time to sharpen his pick and axe two days prior. He also takes a loaf of bread and put it in as well, just in case.
He swings the pack over his shoulder and takes a deep breath, bracing himself. He walks to the door, expecting someone to be there to talk him out of this, only to find an empty street. He looks around for any sign of a protest, but no one is in sight. Not even his mother.
He huffs, blowing cold air out his mouth, and turns to the road. He'd never let them know how much he cares what they think.
After ten minutes on the trail to the academy, Peder starts to hear voices behind him. "Now they decide to care…" he mumbles angrily to himself, and ignores the voices calling out to him.
When he hears the voices and footsteps in the snow grow closer, however, he cannot continue to pretend not to hear.
"Peder!" Os calls again over the wind.
"You can't change my mind! I'm going. If I get caught as well, you'll at least know I was right." Peder calls over his shoulder, not slowing his pace.
"Peder, for Odin's sake, slow down, will you?" Comes a different voice, sounding more exasperated than the others, and Peder feels his feet stall slightly. Jans?
He risks his pride, and turns back to look for his friend. "Jans?" he asks, trying hard to keep the surprise out of his voice.
Then his curiosity turns to shock. A crowd of thirty or so villagers were trudging through the snow towards him, wielding mallets and levers. He cannot help but gape. Were they coming to help him?
"What is this?" he asks, starting to feel suspicious.
"If you think we're letting you face a group of bandits all by yourself, you're out of your mind." Os says gruffly as he approaches closer.
Peder raises his eye brows as they come closer, not moving until Jans appears right in front of him. "You better not be wrong, Doterson. I'll never forgive you if we freeze our butts off all the way there only to find everything as it should be."
Peder can't help but laugh then. Even if Jans didn't often say much, when he did it was worth a thousand smiles.
He turns and falls into step with his friend, catching eyes briefly with his mother, who nods assuringly at him before looking away.
Long after nightfall, they fall into pairs, walking two and two, following Os and Tofi, the stoutest of the group. Peder finds himself walking with Miri's father, Jans having left to speak with Almond, Liana's older brother.
"Are you sure about this, son?" Laren asks suddenly, and Peder almost trips. Why was he so nervous?
"Yes, sir. I know what I heard." He responds promptly.
He grunts and is silent for a long while. Then he asks "Were you really going to go all the way there on your own?"
Peder tries not to act too affronted as he answers. "Yes. I couldn't bear to stay back, knowing that she was in danger." Then, realizing his slip up, quickly adds "And the other girls as well, obviously"
"You would do that for her?" Laren asks, and Peder is almost frightened to reply.
"Yes, sir. She's my best friend. I would do almost anything for her." He says, silently knowing he didn't mean almost anything.
After a pause, Laren changes the subject and asks "What was your plan when you got there?"
Peder takes a deep breath. He hadn't thought much about that part. "I figured I could talk to Miri again using quarry-speech, and get one or two girls out at a time. If I got captured, at least I knew you and the others were coming the next day."
Laren makes a sound between a chuckle and a grunt. "Why would you do that? And all on your own. Just because Miri called you?"
Peder swallows the lump in his throat and forces the anxious quiver out of his voice. "My sister is there as well. And all the other girls." He answers, avoiding the question. When he feels Laren's knowing glare on him, he clears his throat and continues "A- and for Miri, too, of course. She's my best friend. I don't want anything to happen to her."
There is a short pause before Laren speaks again, in an even lower voice this time. "Miri really likes you, you know."
Peder feels his eyes widen and blood rush to his cheeks that has nothing to do with the bitter cold wind whipping around him. "O-oh?" he stutters, trying to keep his cool.
Laren grunts again. "I've seen the way she looks at you. Something in her eyes when you speak to her has changed in the past few years." He turns his head to look sideways at Peder, who is biting his lip nervously. "I've noticed the same with you."
Peder swallows and sidesteps a stone in the path. "I- I apologize, sir, I didn't mean to-"
"No one ever does." Laren interrupts, effectively putting an end to Peder's rambling. Peder sighs, feeling gutted. Not only did Miri's father know, he was angry about it.
"And don't apologize."
Peder blinks and looks up at the man for the first time since the conversation started. "What?"
Laren sighs tiredly, almost angrily. "It is not a crime to love, son. Never apologize for it."
"L- love, sir?" Peder squeaks, blushing at the sound of his voice and clearing his throat quickly. Love is a strong word. Peder didn't love Miri… did he? The line between friends and more had grown thinner and thinner over the past few years; he did not know what to call this feeling.
Laren stiffens. "Are you saying you don't love her?"
Peder rushes to clear the air, tripping over his own words. "N- no! I mean, I don't really know i- if it is love. I don't… know how… that… feels…" he trails off weakly.
Laren chuckles. "You said you would do almost 'anything' for her, right?"
The younger boy nods discretely, trying not to voice his actual opinion to her father.
"Well, you know you're in love when you would do anything for her. Including walking through a snow storm to face a group of bandits single handedly on a hunch." He explains, keeping his eyes on the road. Peder blushes again.
"Well…." Peder shakes his head, pushing the scary thought of falling in love aside. "Even if I do- er… I don't think I would do anything about it. I don't want to lose her as a friend. I'm afraid if I tell her she will get scared and leave." He says just above a whisper, not entirely sure Laren even heard him. The older man shakes his head gruffly.
"Like I said, Miri has changed as well. She is not a little girl anymore. She has grown up, and as much as I dislike it, that means she will find a boy to marry one day." He pauses, then continues quietly, "And I must say, I could not have chosen a better one myself."
Peder feels his heart stop. What was he saying? Was he… giving him his blessing? "I- I don't know about marriage, sir…" he says quietly, not daring to let himself believe she felt the same. He clears his throat, then saves himself by saying "We are still very young," He argues weakly.
Laren's response is almost immediate, and Peder has to strain his ears to hear it. "You won't always be."
Finding no other words to share with the older man, Peder remains silent, thinking of everything he said to him.
"Love is when you would do anything for her."
Anything for her.
Peder smiles, a new spring in his step. He was in love.
After what feels like hours to Peder, he hears his name called somewhere up ahead. He looks up as the line stops, and looks past the rows of heads to see who called him. He sees Os waving him closer, and the men and women between them move to the sides to allow him though.
Peder silently makes his way to the front of the line, taking someone's place behind Tofi and next to his mother. "Yes?" he asks as they start moving again.
"We are getting closer, and you seem to be the only one able to communicate with them." Os explains.
Peder knots his eyebrows, confused. Before he has the chance to speak, his mother answers his unspoken question.
"We have been trying to speak to them for a while, and I'm afraid we've been unsuccessful."
Peder looks at Os, who is avoiding his eyes. Everyone knows he is a sore loser. Peder nods. "Ok, uh, when will we be there?"
Tofi looks around them, holding out the torch he is carrying to see farther. "I'd say not long. We've been traveling for hours now. We should reach the academy before dawn, I suspect."
Peder nods wordlessly. When he looks up again, he finds his mother and Os looking expectantly at him. "What?"
"Are you going to call them or what?" he asks impatiently.
Peder sighs. "We are not there yet. Besides, they are probably asleep. Mi- I mean, the girls should sleep as long as they can before we get there." He says, blushing again as his slip.
Os sighs frustrated, but says nothing more. Doter gives her son a tight one-armed hug before Tofi speaks up again, sounding curious. "Can't the lowlanders hear it, though?"
Os and Doter suddenly tense, because if the bandits heard Miri's call for help, they would know they were coming. Peder quickly clarifies for them.
"No, they can't. Miri explained it to me. That's why Britta didn't hear us in the quarry. Miri thinks it has something to do with the mountain, and only those who were born and raised here can understand it.
"Besides," he continues "Even if they could hear it, they wouldn't understand what Miri had told me."
"Why not?" Tofi asks, and Peder eagerly elaborates.
"Well, Miri said that quarry speech uses memories, not words. So, whenever we send warnings in the quarry, we are actually giving out memories. Like Miri used the memory of us telling the bandit story at the spring festival to let me know that they are in trouble. But we both had that memory, so it worked better. If she had tried to use a different memory, one that I don't know about, I wouldn't have thought of that, I would have thought of something close to it, something I know about.
"I am sure the bandits have never heard such a story as that one, or any thing close to it, so they wouldn't understand it at all." He says, his throat feeling sore after saying all that. He stoops and takes a handful of snow, letting it melt in his hands and drinking the liquid it leaves.
Tofi whistles. "Wow. That's a lot for one boy to figure out."
Peder almost chokes on his makeshift drink. "I didn't figure it out!" he stutters quickly. "Miri did! She just told me."
He hears Os chuckle, and blushes. That wasn't obvious…
"I always knew she was a smart one." Doter smiles fondly, and Peder finds himself nodding in agreement.
They travel in silence for a long time after that, until Peder feels Os start to slow. He looks past the large man to see what the cause is.
By the light of Tofi's torch, Peder catches sight of a clearing, and the faint shadow of a building. The academy.
"Put that out." Os hisses.
Tofi jabs the fire into the snow, plunging them into darkness. Peder can hear voices behind him, and the sounds of the rest of the torches going out.
Os has stopped walking now, not wanting to go forward without knowledge of where his feet will land.
After a few minutes of complete silence, Peder's eyes have adjusted to the lack of light. Os's must have as well, because he starts forward again, moving to the left into the clearing. He turns back to Tofi, Doter and Peder.
"We are going to spread across the clearing, staying at a good distance so they don't suspect anything. Pass it on, tell the others." He says, and turns back into the clearing.
Peder and his mother turn around and give the message to the pair behind them, and when they turn, Peder hurries to the side, keeping low, just in case.
After ten minutes of the villagers scurrying about and crouching behind rocks and mounds, Peder finds himself crouching with Os, Jans and Almond.
When the last villager is concealed, Os turns to Peder. "Now, call them."
Peder nods and closes his eyes, concentrating on a memory of him and Miri at the autumn festival a year ago. He recalls the dancing and the music. He emphasizes the fact that Miri's hair is loose, as that was what he had noticed most about her that night.
"Peder?" Jans whispers, and Peder looks to him. Wordlessly, he asks if it was working.
Peder shakes his head irritably. "It worked before, when I was at home, but-"
His eyes grow wide and he slaps himself on the forehead. "How could I forget…"
Ignoring Jans' and Almond's inquiries, he slips off his pack and opens it. He digs around in for a while, and finally pulls out the small block of linder he used at home, thankful that he had brought it despite the extra weight it put on his back.
He takes it out and holds it in his hand, looking up at the stone walls, alarmed to see them growing clearer as dawn approaches.
"Stop messing around and get on with it." Os grumbles impatiently.
Peder hurriedly tries again, singing the same memory as before.
Despite not getting an immediate response, he keeps trying, changing the memory regularly, all having the same thing in common. They are all memories only he and Miri share, and they all involve him calling out her name, catching her attention. He can only hope that she will hear her name called in her sleep and wake up to his voice.
In desperation, he calls on the last memory of them together, just after the prince had left. He recalled their exact position, just before the first bend in the road, so she might recognize their location. He finds himself thinking of how bright the sun was that day, in hopes that she noticed it as well.
Suddenly, his thoughts of the road and the sun are washed away, and he is bombarded with images of Miri, of how the sun caught in her hair and made her eyes shine. He remembers her standing away from the academy as he ran up to her, her hand blocking to sun from her eyes to see who was approaching.
Peder opens his eyes. Miri was calling back. Chest swelling with pride and excitement, he smiles outwardly as well.
He immediately changes memories, choosing one he had selected on the journey over. He was nine years old, and he was watching as his parents and the other adults in the village set out on a mountain cat hunt. He sang about the weapons they held; pickaxes, levers and mallets. He recalled the numbers of people, wanting Miri to know he was not alone.
After a moment, Miri sings back. This time, it is of an object, a linder hawk. Peder remembers making it and leaving it on the windowsill one morning last spring. He swallows, understanding. Miri was telling him to watch the window.
The memory fades, and Peder looks across at Os.
"Did you find out anything?" the man whispers.
Peder nods. "I told Miri we're all here, and she told me to watch the window, there." He points to the window where he left the linder hawk. "The first one on the right."
Os squints. "The small one there?"
Sighing, he tells Peder to pass the news. Peder suspects Os is vexed about letting the girls get out on their own.
After a long while, Peder's ears pick up a faint sound coming from the academy. The others must have heard it as well, because he sees other figures tense and lean forward.
Peder keeps his eyes on the window, and almost starts when a figure emerges from it. Too small to be a bandit, Peder feels his heart race as the girl lands in the snow, straightening up and starting toward the crowd.
Beside him, Peder sees the other villagers stand and move forward. The girl sees them, and moves faster, running as fast as she can through the knee-high snow.
As she nears them, Peder recognizes her as Liana. More girls were out now, moving fast.
As the sixth girl jumps out the window, Liana reaches the crowd. He sees her embrace a dark figure, likely her father, and move behind him, away from the academy.
The other girls do the same, running to their parents and hugging them, moving to stand behind them for safety.
Peder waits and waits to see Miri's braid appear in the window, the light almost bright enough now to tell who is jumping out.
After almost ten girls get out the window, he feels his heart skip a beat as he spies Esa stumble out the window. Feeling guilty for nearly forgetting his own sister, he bites his tongue to keep from calling out to her. When has he ever worried for his sister so?
Suddenly, he hears a man shout from inside, and his heart stops. The bandits had woken up.
"No…" he breathes, and takes another step forward, eager to get to his sister before the lowlanders do.
He hears a loud crash and almost forgets to breathe when Miri tumbles out the window, Frid right behind her.
His panic grows when the front door opens, lowlander bandits pouring out, running after the fleeing girls. Peder runs forward with the rest of the villagers, reaching out to the closest girl to him, Strida, and pulling her away from danger. The bandit chasing her stops running and takes a step back as a large figure steps in front of Peder and advances on him.
Strida holds tightly to Peder, and he can feel her shaking against him. Unable to leave her, he watches as bandits overtake the girls, holding them back from their families. He watches one grab his sister, a fire burning in his heart as he grabs her limp arm, twisting it backwards so she wails in pain.
He hears villagers shouting, he watches as three more bandits are captured, and more girls are pulled back. His breath catches as he hears Laren calling out to his daughter, only to have her pulled back as well.
He watches helplessly, still holding the terrified girl in his arms, as Laren strikes down one of the bandits, charging at the one holding Miri.
Then he hears the three words that make his blood run cold. "I'll kill her!" Laren stops immediately, and Peder watches as the bandit grabs her neck. "I'll snap her in two, mountain man."
Peder suddenly notices all the other action has stopped as well, with the captured bandits held fast by villagers and last of the girls with knives to their throats. He looks back at Esa, her arm still twisted back and pain clear on her face, making his blood boil.
He looked across the field, the sky growing lighter by the minute. He counts nine girls, almost smirking to himself when he sees two bandits struggling to hold Frid.
As Os starts to negotiate with them, Peder takes advantage of the distraction to address Strida.
"You're safe now." he whispers, patting her back. He looks behind him, to a group of girls huddled together a way off. He turns back to her. "Come on, let's get you farther away, ok?"
The girl nods, shaking too much to speak. Peder walks her slowly to the group of girls, only to have her break away from him and collapse into Tonna's arms halfway there.
Peder watches until the two girls are back with the group, then turns back to the others. He moves to stand next to Almond and Jans, both looking helpless. He can't say he doesn't feel the same.
He tunes back into the conversation just as the one holding Miri starts to yell at the one with only one eye, the one holding Gerti. "Shut up you idiot! I told you that you have to think bigger! We don't have what we came for, and we're not leaving without a princess to ransom."
Peder feels his eye brows raise. That is what this is all about? The princess? But Miri said the prince didn't chose…
"I am." Says the second bandit, and pushes Gerti into the snow. Peder watches as the girl stumbles away as fast as she can, running to Os and gripping his leg tightly. The bandit was still speaking. "Something's not right on this mountain. It knew that we were here, told the villagers, just like the girls said…"
Peder tunes the man out, thinking. 'Miri must have gotten the girls to tell them the bandit story, then, to frighten them.'
Suddenly, the one eyed bandit was walking away, the one holding Miri ('probably the leader…' Peder thinks) yelling at his back. "I order you to stay!"
The other doesn't stop, he keeps walking away. Peder is surprised to see almost all of the others push away their hostages and back off as well. The girls all run to the villagers, their parents scooping them up and hiding them behind their backs protectively.
Peder almost laughs as Frid pushes the two bandits holding her back into the snow, holding up her fists as they stand. The two look at each other, then turn and walk away quickly, Frid backing into the crowd of villagers behind her.
As the leader yells at those who left, Peder bites back a curse as he sees that Miri, Esa and Britta are still held hostage.
Os continues to bargain; Peder looks back to his sister. She had stopped struggling, and the bandit holding her was exchanging words with his leader and Os. He follows Esa's eye line, and finds their mother at the end of it, looking right back at her daughter, her eyes wide. He's never seen his mother look so scared.
Peder finds his eyes wandering to Miri now, looking smaller than ever in the filthy lowlander's hands. All of a sudden, she starts to move backward, the bandit holding her was retreating.
Os calls out some warnings, and the bandit waves them off, making Peder feel even more hopeless. He keeps moving his eyes between all three girls, wanting to do something.
Peder's eyes stop on Miri, who had started struggling again, his heart breaking. He watches as she stretches her legs, burying them into the snow.
Just as he had started to wonder what she was doing, his thoughts jump to another winter, years ago. He was running away from Miri, and suddenly he was falling into an ice-melt hole. His eyes widen and he looks to her left, eyes noticing the soft edge of the cliff.
Miri was talking to him. She was telling him she was going to go off the edge. But the bandit was too far away.
Thinking quickly, Peder calls out "Don't think we won't follow you." He ignores the angry whispers from the others to keep quiet, keeping his eyes on Miri's. "We'll hound you as far as the sea if we have to." Then replays Laren's words to him in his mind. Anything for you.
He nudges Jans and Almond, walking forward with them to the three bandits, pressing them closer to the edge. The one holding Miri speaks again.
"Not so close, little kitten. I'm a thief and a murderer, remember? You can't trust me not to kill her out of spite."
His words stir panic inside of Peder, but he doesn't stop advancing. He and the boys push the bandits closer to the edge, Peder keeping his eyes on Miri the whole time. As his eyes meet hers, he sees her fear reflected in them.
Before he has time to ask her, Miri springs to life. She pulls her hand out of her pocket, wielding something, and stabs it into the bandit's wrist.
Peder watches, stunned, as the bandit yells in pain and drops Miri in the snow. His shock turns to terror, however, when he sees Miri roll away, toward the cliff edge. The lump in his throat is the only thing stopping him from crying out in protest. The bandit leaps at her again, and Peder watches as Miri rolls off the edge and out of sight.
Peder feels himself running forward, not daring to believe she was gone. She couldn't be. As the bandit who held her falls out of sight as well, Peder feels two arms pulling him back.
"No, let me go!" he protests, pulling against the restraints. He claws at the other's strong arms, desperate to get free; he had to make sure she was ok.
"Peder, don't! It's too late!" Almond grunts, straining at Peder's strong pull. Peder slows his attempts.
"But… Miri…" he whispers. He watches as another figure approaches the ledge; Miri's father.
Almond sighs."I'm sorry Peder, but-"
Peder looks up. That was Miri's voice. He starts to struggle again, and Almond holds him fast. Two more arms appear, telling Peder that Jans has come to help (or hinder). To his annoyance, he assists Almond, holding Peder's arms to keep him from untangling himself from Almond.
Then Peder sees his mother running over to the edge as well, and pauses in his actions as she looks over, his heart racing as she drops to the ground, reaching down for something.
He stands shock still in anticipation, waiting. He feels his heart pounding in his chest, and briefly wonders if Almond can feel it against his arms.
Finally, his mother straightens up, pulling another figure with her. Miri. Peder tenses his arms, debating whether or not to struggle against the boys anymore. His grip on Almond's writs tighten in worry and the need to see her. Almond feels Peder's shift in movements, and holds him tighter.
The boys watch as Laren grabs his daughter, pulling her tightly to his chest and away from the edge. Peder instantaneously stops trying to break free, his body falling almost limp at the sight of the two of them together. As much as he wanted to reach her, he did not have the heart to break them up.
A strangled noise from their right turns the boys' heads. Esa and Britta. Of course, how could he forget?
The bandits holding the girls look worried and scared; as if they were afraid the mountain would swallow them up as well.
Peder shakes off his friends with relative ease- they must have sensed his change in targets- and starts walking toward the one holding his sister, gripping his axe tightly in his hand. The man takes a small step back, but fortunately makes no move to hurt her.
As Peder draws closer, he can sense others behind him. He watches the bandit's beady eyes dart from him to the villagers behind him, looking as scared as a hare in a wolf pack.
When Peder is almost within striking distance, the bandit abruptly pushes Esa away, backing off quickly, fear apparent in his eyes.
Peder reaches out, and catches his sister before she reaches the ground. She collapses on him, and for the first time since she was ten years old, he sees her cry. He sinks to the ground with her slowly and pulls her closer, holding her to his chest as she sobs.
He briefly watches as Jans and Almond get the last bandit to let go of Britta, and run away with the other.
He feels someone bend over him, and glances up to see his mother, looking relieved and worried. He gently prods Esa and turns her to their mother, letting her hold the girl.
Peder sits back and looks around. Some of the villagers had gone to follow the bandits to make sure they stay away. The girls had all found their parents, some sobbing and some simply embracing one another.
He spies Strida with Tonna and her family, the girls wrapped in each other's arms. He frowns. Strida's parents were of those who didn't believe him and refused to come.
Frid was one of the only girls who wasn't in an embrace. Her father had his arm around her shoulders protectively, her mother tending to the few villagers who had wounds. Four of her six brothers had gone to keep the bandits at bay.
Then his eyes fall on Miri.
Her father had taken her away from the edge, they now sat on a rock, Miri in her father's lap, huddled to his chest.
He turns back as Esa leans away from her mother's chest, wiping her eyes with her bare arm. Peder sees her shiver from the cold and doesn't think twice before shedding his coat.
"No, I don't need-" she tries to protest, but Peder holds it out to her anyway.
"Yes you do. I don't need it, I have sleeves. Take it or I'll make you." He warns lightly, surprised at how weak his voice sounded.
Esa hesitates slightly before snatching the coat and pulling it around her shoulders, desperate for warmth. Doter smiles gratefully at him.
After a few minutes, some families start heading inside, out of the snow.
Without a word, Doter picks up Esa and starts toward the door. Peder walks behind, turning only once to see Laren prod Miri into going inside, looking away quickly.
Once inside, he crouches next to the fire, helping Jans prod it as Almond goes to search for more wood.
With a start, Peder realizes Miri is only two pallets away. His heart races and he tries desperately to calm it.
Peder looks up at the sound of her voice. She sits straighter and looks around. "Olana and Knut. They're in the closet still. We have to get them-" she starts to get up, but Laren holds her down. Peder averts his eyes so they won't catch him staring.
"Let someone else get them." He says in a tone Peder has never heard in his voice before. Before he can figure out what it is, he hears his name being called. "Doterson,"
He looks up and into Laren's eyes. He finds himself avoiding glancing at Miri and responds "Yes, sir?"
"Miri says that there are some people locked in the closet, could you go get them out?" he asks in such a way that makes Peder know it's not actually a question.
Peder swallows and turns toward them, standing up on his knees and shaking the ash off his hands. "Of course. Where are they?"
"The closet is just next door, but I think Dan still has the key." Miri tells him, making the curly haired boy look at her. Something about looking at her now makes his mouth run dry and his throat catch.
Fortunately for Peder, Laren asks "Who's Dan?"
"The one who caught me." She says just above a whisper.
Peder sees Laren pull his daughter closer and finds himself wishing he could do the same. He finds his voice, saying "Uh, is there a spare key?"
Miri shakes her head. "I don't know."
Peder sighs but nods. "I'll see what I can do, then." He smiles, not wanting to seem too much out of sorts.
Laren nods to him as Miri mutters a 'thank you' and stands, walking out of the room.
He turns to the right and spies a discrete door he hadn't noticed on the way in. He approaches it. "Hello? Uh, Olana? Knut?" he tempts, praying they would answer so he didn't look like a fool talking to a closet.
A thump comes from within, and then a banging on the door. Peder rushes forward and tries the handle. It doesn't turn. He sighs. "It's locked! Is there a key somewhere?"
Only a muffled voice answers, and Peder frowns. "You can't talk?" when he is answered with only more muttering, he says "Ok, well, I don't have a key or anything, so I have to cut the lock out." More muttering. "You have to get as far away from the door as you can now, understand?"
He hears a small noise he takes as an agreement, and movement on the other side. Peder slips his pack back off and takes out his axe. He takes a swift blow to the door, just next to the lock. He raises his eye brows in surprise as the axe goes clean through the thin door. The muffling grows clearer.
"Just a few more." He mutters, and strikes the door sideways, above the handle. One more below the handle makes almost a perfectly cut hole around the lock. Peder makes a cut along the corners then reaches out to pull it free.
When it doesn't come out, he sighs, frustrated. He takes a step back, takes aim, and kicks the metal handle off the door.
Ignoring the shout of surprise, he yanks open the door and blinks at the dust and darkness.
In the corner he makes out two figures. He opens the door wider and calls for someone to come before entering the closet.
He kneels beside the first figure, a woman, and takes the gag off her mouth, soon wishing he hadn't. She starts to spew her thanks to him over and over as he unties her ropes, not helping him in the least.
Kyli, Frid's mother appears and reaches out for the lowlander, dragging her out of the closet as Peder turns to the other person.
When he unties him, he mumbles a 'thanks' and tries his best to help Peder with his ropes, but winces in pain as he shifts his left arm. Peder halts. "Is that broken?" he asks before going further. When the man nods, Peder turns back and calls "Kyli! He's got a broken arm!"
The woman comes hurrying back and Peder moves out of her way as she tends to the man. Kyli was like the village doctor, and very adamant no one get in the way of her and her work.
Peder steps out of the closet and away from them. He sighs tiredly and returns to the room he had come from. He looks at Miri and her father again, Britta now with them and talking to Miri.
He passes them and goes to his own family, sitting on the pallet with Esa and his mother.
Before long, families start to fall asleep, tired from their journey and the excitement from the morning. Not feeling tired in the least, Peder lets his mother and sister share the pallet, and goes to sit somewhere else.
Taking a seat by the wall, he allows himself look back to Miri once more. She had already fallen asleep, clutched tightly in her father's arms. Leaning back on the stone behind him, he smiles to himself.
Anything for her.
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I hope I didn't take up too much of your time...