Travel back to the city would be rough, they had been unable to find any of their supplies before they found their way out of the castle. They hadn’t thought to hide their packs outside the castle grounds before entering so they lost them inside. But they would manage. If living on the streets the past decade had taught Claus anything it was how to survive. The pair ploughed ahead, keeping their ears open for the sound of pursuit and keeping their eyes on the uneven ground. Near dawn the weary pair found shelter in the form of a hollow at the base of a large rock. Inside the hollow the ground was dry and the curve of the rock kept the worst of the wind from them.
Claus took the first watch, letting Verica sleep first. He normally took second watch, favoring the interrupted sleep to his normal nightmares, but as tired as he was he didn’t think he would be able to sleep anyways. He sat just under the cover of the hollow with his good hand resting on the hilt of the dagger at his waist and watched and listened.
They had traveled a good ways through what had remained of the night, only stopping for a moment or two to settle their ragged breathing. Even though Daniel had paid them and let them leave, neither of them trusted him not to send someone in pursuit, not after what he had done to them.
Claus’s body ached after the ordeal of the day before. Two days before they had reached the castle at midday, but waited until nightfall to attempt entering. They had done fairly well in that endeavor, until Daniel had left them. Claus had thought they’d been found out as the guards poured into the room Claus and Verica had been searching. Now Claus realized Daniel had more likely than not sent them after them. The guards had tossed Verica into a cell while they took Claus to a small room which housed a single chair. They had tied Claus into the chair, pulling his arms behind him roughly and tying them behind him. His shoulders ached as he thought back on what had happened.
Then the man had come in. He hadn’t had his bow with him at that point, but he proved to be skilled without the weapon. The man questioned Claus. Why were they there? What were they looking for? The obvious questions that Claus refused to answer. He had been paid for his silence and he always delivered what he had been paid for.
Claus rubbed his jaw. The bruises had blossomed quickly after the man’s beating. He was surprised none of his bones had been broken, but that would have interfered with Daniel’s plan he guessed. Though Claus didn’t think that option had been taken off the list, merely lowered if the man’s other forms of persuasion didn’t work.
The sun reached it’s warm fingers between the trees to caress Claus’s face where he sat. The heat was a relief after the night’s chill. Claus pushed his thoughts away from what had happened during the day before. He needed sleep, not to think. The man hadn’t let him sleep while he had been tied to the chair.
A light hand rested on Claus’s shoulder before the sun was able to lull him to sleep. Verica urged him back into the shadow of the hollow now, insisting she was rested though she had slept only two hours. The sunlight and warmth would give her back her energy and fire better than sleep. Claus handed over his knife, the only weapon between the two of them other than Verica’s magic. Verica’s skills weren’t directly intended to cause harm, though she was capable of using it that way, so Claus always insisted she had a real weapon as well in the event her magic failed her.
Claus now slipped into the shadows of the hollow. He was more comfortable in the darkness than in the sunlight even though the sun had done well in quieting his restless mind. He made himself as comfortable as he could on the cold hard stone, using his arm as a pillow and curling into a ball. Verica always said he acted more like a cat than a person when he slept like this. Sleep took him quickly now that his conscious mind had relaxed and let go of what they were running from.
Then the nightmares began.
His eyes searched high for the red ball. He couldn’t find it, but he knew it was coming for him. A shadow passed over the setting sun and his nose stung. His bottom found a place in the dirt. The ball had hit him again. Why did she have to throw it so high? he always wondered. He never liked playing with the evil ball. It always ended up hurting him. But she loved the red-rounded devil and mother had made him promise to make her happy. So they played with the ball even though his nose always ached in the end.
“Veri, stop laughing at me. Why do you need to throw it like that?” he whined, holding his small hands over his bruised nose. It wasn’t bleeding, but it felt like it should.
“I’m sorry, little Claus,” Verica repeated the apology she gave him whenever she did this, but she always said it with a laugh and a smile hidden behind her hands. “I did not mean to hurt you this time.”
“I’m not little, Veri. I’m older than you,” Claus said, fumbling back to his feet and forgetting the pain in his nose as the younger girl insulted his height. He stood as straight as he could, trying to appear taller than Verica.
“You may be older, but I am still taller. So I shall call you ‘little’ as long as you are little,” Verica giggled at the boy and patted him on the head. She looked around for the red ball which had made it’s way under the bushes at the garden wall.
An unnerving silence settled on the garden while Verica sought the ball. The birds had stopped singing and the crickets ceased chirping. Even the wind stood still. Claus looked around the garden, back toward his home, but no lights had come on as twilight settled over the world.
A scream ripped through the silence.
“Mama.” Claus stood frozen staring at the house where the scream had started and died as quickly. A second cry followed the first, not as strong, but more frightening to the young boy.
His feet began to move toward the sound, but a delicate hand caught his arm. Verica tugged at him, her eyes wide with fright. She tried to pull Claus back to the bush, away from the house. Claus gulped back his fear as he looked at the terrified girl that clutched his arm. He had promised, mama had made him promise, to keep her safe. He took another look at the house while another cry stole through the gathering darkness towards the children. His father had yelled this time.
Verica tugged at him again. She wanted to run.
Claus bolted upright. He was drenched in sweat. Verica shook his shoulder, trying to get him to focus on her.
“Claus, Claus. You were yelling in your sleep,” Verica’s eyes watched him, the worry in her eyes as clear as the sunlight behind her.
“I—I’m fine, Veri,” Claus halti...