At this point, Henry was certain that he was limping. When his left leg started to give way with each step that he took and every movement fractured his face into a grimace of agony before he’d stop and lean against a tree every few feet. Of course, he could only lean against his left shoulder because he was fairly certain that the man he’d killed had ripped his arm out of the socket.
Nope, he didn’t want to think about that. He didn’t want to think about the way the brute’s stomach had ripped open so easily with the dagger slicing through him, spilling blood over Henry’s hand, which had only come off when the beast of a man had whipped him around by the arm and attempted to drown him. No he didn’t want to think about that or the way that he had kicked his legs and gotten his foot tangled in the man’s intestines, ripping them out and thinking that they were the arms of some slithering demon. He didn’t want to think about how a dead body had toppled into the water next to him, all because Henry had nearly died and took the obvious route. He’d killed a man.
Lira was kind enough not to say anything as Henry doubled over and hacked and gagged again, heaving violently as nothing but drool came out. It took a moment for him to recover his damaged composure. Exhaling, he tried to bottle up that particular memory and stuff it deep down inside him, in a place so dark and forgotten that even the darkness forgot.
Lira kept her distance until they were ready to start walking again. She hung back from Henry as he led the way, running them into pools and swamp water time and time again. He felt like he was leading them in circles as they walked until the seemed to slowly vanish, disappearing from the canopy until nothing lit the way any longer. Henry body eventually refused to keep moving.
Collapsing amidst tall grass and little floating bugs that drifted in the darkness, illuminating the gloomy dark of the night, Henry gave in to the exhaustion. He sat down and felt the cold seeping in through his soaked clothes, through muscles that felt deflated and ruined, to bones that were brittle and rattling against the cold. Lira, who was still dry and had a cloak over her shoulders, bundled up and sat against a tree, watching Henry who hugged himself and looked around.
He couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched by unseen eyes. The paranoia was a deep setting as the cold that was taking over him. The killer wasn’t alone out there. He’d been part of the attack on the camp. That was a hard truth in Henry’s mind and he didn’t need any further evidence to explain that.
“Why was his blood black?” Lira’s voice broke the silence.
“It wasn’t,” Henry answered sharply. “It was red, just like anyone else’s blood.”
“It looked like ink,” Lira pushed.
“It was the swamp water that caused it to look that way,” Henry told himself more than he told her. “He was just a man, nothing else.”
Henry didn’t believe in boogeymen or Vark or anything else that chased naughty little children in the night. He knew that the man he’d killed, he swallowed hard, was just a man. There was nothing unnatural about him. And just because he thought a swamp demon had his leg didn’t mean he was a child. It was the heat of the moment when he thought that he was going to die that had oozed into his mind that childish nonsense. Lira, however, was just a little girl and boogeymen and swamplings were still things that she probably believed in.
“What are you? Six?” He asked her.
“Eight,” Lira snapped. “Or, I’ll be eight soon.”
Henry’s teeth chattered. “I’ll be thirteen soon.” Thirteen and having already killed his first man. That was something that made Henry feel like his life had really taken the wrong turn. Pushing the thought back down into the depths of his mind was like trying to sink an apple. It kept bobbing back up. Of course, it wasn’t the only thought that kept popping back up.
No, Henry told himself.
“Have you ever been to Trennon?” Lira asked him.
Henry’s eyelids began to hang heavy, sinking down over his eyes. “No,” he said. “Have you?”
“No,” Lira said. “My Ma was born there.”
“So was my Mother,” Henry said.
He opened his eyes and suddenly the world was bright. The glowing bugs were replaced by fat, black flies that hummed as they drifted across the tips of the long grass. Henry immediately shot up, pulling away from the mossy trunk of the fetid smelling tree he’d fallen asleep on and looked around, half expecting there to be an army of those men around him. Birds chirped and called in the canopy of the swamp and the sun was weak, barely shining through the leaves and that told Henry it was cloudy or overcast. It was a gray glow above the trees, nothing more.
Turning, Henry saw Lira curled up in a ball against the trunk of her tree, hidden in the long grass. If anyone had stumbled upon them in the middle of night, they hadn’t bothered to deal with them. It was alarming to Henry that no one had come across them. Where were the others? Surely there were other refugees who had fled Umberlyn that had gotten lost or were out there in the swamp with them? Were they that hopelessly lost? William would love to know that Henry was the only person from Umberlyn who got lost travelling to the next city. His little brother would have mocked him for the rest of his life.
The blaze of pain was clawing at the edges of his eyes and Henry rubbed it away, refusing to open that door. He pushed himself up and felt his body scream and ache all over. HE needed to sleep for a week to recover. The worst was his neck, which had been mauled by two different attackers, the bruises all over his back from the hill, and of course, his arm, which refused to let him even try to move his shoulder. He needed to see a physicker. That was coin that Henry didn’t have.
“Lira?” Henry said, looking around as his whole body felt like it was collapsing in on him in pain. “Lira, we need to get up.”
The girl stirred, her brown hair covering her face as she groaned and twisted. She took a moment before her big, brown eyes popped open and she realized that she wasn’t home. She wasn’t back with her family. She was stuck in the middle of a swamp with a killer who looked like he’d risen from the grave.
Henry offered her his hand and helped her up. There was nothing to eat, nothing to help them feel any kind of comfort. All they could do is walk and hope that they would find the city. Lira, who seemed a little less shocked by all the horror that they had been through, revealed that she was much more of a talker than Henry had ever expected.
“Was it scary?” She asked him.
“Yes,” Henry didn’t know what she was asking about particularly, but pretty much everything for the past two days had been horrifying to him. So he figured that it was the safest response.
“It was very brave of you,” Lira said. “I won’t tell anyone you threw up afterwards.”
“Thanks,” Henry wheezed. Another arrow in his pride.
“You’re like a hero, Henry,” she said. “Do you feel like a hero?”
“Not really,” Henry answered. He felt like he’d gotten his butt handed to him twice by monstrously huge men and he only injured one and had horrifically killed the other. That wasn’t something that Henry thought heroism should feel like.
“I’m going to tell everyone in Trennon when we get there,” Lira said.
“Please don’t,” Henry said.
“Why? You’re a hero!” She let out a sigh like it was the most incredible thing that she’d ever heard.
“I just want to get to Trennon and see if our families are there,” he said. “And, if my family isn’t there, I’m getting on the first caravan to Dorothea.”
There was no way that Henry was striking out on his own again. He’d nearly died too many times for him to risk taking that chance again. He was going to have other people protect him for a change. He was going to be a child again.
“I’ll be they’re at Trennon,” Lira said. “I’ll keep your secret, Henry.”
“Thanks,” he said.
For hours, Henry picked his way through the swamp, back tracking as little as he could until he found something that resembled a path. It wound through the tall, branchless trees that jutted up out of murky water and long grass. The swamp was thick and lush beyond the small trail and Henry could hear the sounds of creatures that never revealed themselves. He noticed how naked he felt without his dagger and regretted not plunging into the bloody water to find it.
There were no signs of people in the swamp as they continued walking. The only other signs of life was Lira. They might as well be the only people left in the world. For hours, they walked until Henry’s legs felt like they were about to give out again. The bog kept them at the edges of the swamp, keeping them away from the dense, thick trees in the distance. It was a barrier that Henry could never get through, not that he wanted to.
When their little path began to merge with a larger road that went through the tall grass that began to push out the trees, making a large opening that suddenly gave an open view of a great wall that had once been gray but was now coated with moss. It looked old, and forgotten, like it was the wall of a city that wanted to hide itself. It sank back on one side into the swamp, letting the boggy forest form new kind of wall around the north side of the city and reaching over the east side of the city. Beyond the wall’s tops, Henry could see spires or tower tops from buildings that lurked beyond the green walls. When Henry saw the gate to the city, he felt like his heart might explode, like he might blow away in the wind now that he saw it.
“Is that it?” Lira asked him. It was something that she sounded like she couldn’t believe either. All Henry could do was swallow and nod. Lira, hardly able to contain her excitement, began running toward the gates of the swampy city. Henry didn’t rush after her. He couldn’t. Henry’s entire body felt crippled and broken. He felt like he was dust, still walking, a corpse that didn’t know that it was dead.
Lira made it thirty paces before she turned and looked at him. Henry waved her on, knowing that she was as excited as he was. Just because he was brittle and fragile feeling, didn’t mean that she should have to wait for him. Henry looked at the city and prayed against all the doubt that was stacking up inside of him. The idea of hope seemed like it was something that felt poisonous to him. There was nothing more painful in his mind right now than the prospect of getting excited only to be let down.
But, Henry couldn’t help but feel the glimmer of hope in the darkness. What if Mother was inside those walls? What if she was waiting for him, unaware that he had survived the attack. What would Claire and William think? What would it be like to see little Quinn and his fat cheeks again? What if Father had escaped? Or Percy? What if they were here in Trennon? What was it going to be like to see all of them again?
Lira was at the gate already where there were numerous guards posted, men with pikes and in leather brigandines and wearing conical helms. Henry felt nervous as he slowed and watched the men hold up gauntlet clad hands to stop Lira. He could hear their voices in inaudible barks as Lira began to raise her hands. Two of the men lowered their pikes to her and stared at her with twisted expressions on their faces. Henry began to pick up his pace, moving faster to help her.
“Halt right there!” A man shouted. The one who had held up his hand for Lira. “Stop moving! What is your business here?”
Henry slowed, but he didn’t stop. He moved until he could move in front of Lira, making the pikes point at him rather than Lira. He’d put himself in danger once already and as his heart pounded faster and faster, he felt the familiar boil of his blood running through his veins. His fingers coiled into fists and he glared at the man who had his hand up. Why was he threatening a little girl? Why was he having his armed men point their weapons at a youth who was clearly beat to pieces.
“What business do you have in Trennon?” The Watchman demanded.
“We’re form Umberlyn,” Henry told him. “We survived the attack in the hills.”
“More Umberlyn trash,” one of the pikemen growled. “Kick ‘em out, Gallin.”
“Quiet,” the man who held his hand said. “Where are the rest of you?”
“We were separated,” Henry told him.
“You look like shit,” the other pikeman said.
“Quiet,” the leader barked, louder this time. “Are your families in the city?”
“They’re supposed to be,” Henry said as honestly as he could. He didn’t know the answer.
The man studied Henry with eyes that were full of doubt and suspicion. Henry didn’t understand what he was thinking about. Why weren’t they letting them in? What were they so worried about? Did they think that Lira and Henry were going to cause trouble? Henry wanted to push his way into the city, but there were two very large pike blades pointed right at him that made him rethink that kind of reckless thought.
“You may enter,” the man said. “See the clerk in the plaza next to the refugee board. He’ll help see if your family is already in Boglin. If not, he’ll post your name for them, should they show up.”
“Thank you,” Henry said, eagerly taking a step forward. The man held up his hand for Henry more aggressively this time, stopping him in his tracks. Panic flooded Henry, like his hand burst through a dam of composure and drown all of his thoughts in terror.
“Consider this your one warning,” the leader said. “Trennon does not welcome you. You are tolerated within these walls. Do not expect a warm welcome from anyone. I’ll wave the gate fee for you, but if you find your family isn’t inside, you’ll need to cough up the coin to leave. Understand?”
Henry wasn’t going to need to worry about that. They had to be inside of the city. They had to waiting for them on the side of the shut gates. There was no way for him have this bad of luck. There had to be hope beyond those gates. So, Henry nodded to the leader of the guards and he lowered his hand. The Watch around the leader did not share his generous attitude apparently and glared at Henry and Lira as the two closest to the gates pounded hard.
Great movement could be heard beyond the gate, the shifting of weight and the sound of enormous hinges shifting under the weight of the enormous planks. Lira and Henry watched as the two men stepped aside form a small door that opened in the great gate and Henry didn’t understand what all the noise was from behind the gate. The leader of the Watch that had halted them stepped aside as well. The two men with the pikes raised them and leaned on them, glaring at their new guests as Lira and Henry walked toward the gate.
The two men next to the doorway kept their hands on the hilts of their swords and watched Henry with cold, merciless eyes. None of them seemed to care that Henry had bruises and swelling everywhere, that he was limping and favoring his arm. He ignored them and kept walking, stepping over the high threshold of the doorway and entering Trennon.
The plaza was abuzz with people who were shouting and screaming, begging and pleading while men in surcoats and helmets with green turbans wrapped around them stood stoically at the edges of the plaza, blocking all of the streets while the dirty and tired swarmed enormous boards with pieces of parchment nailed to them. There were men in long robes of brown and black hammering more of the pieces of parchment onto the wooden walls that people frantically swarmed and tried to search over, like the pieces of parchment held gold on them.
“You two,” A man in a guard’s attire pointed at Henry and Lira. “These two new?” The man stomped toward them, looking at another guard who stood on the opposite side of the gate, guarding it.
The man next to Henry shrugged. “Gallin just let them in,” the man said. He didn’t look much older than Percy.
“That would be a yes, Guardsman,” the man barked angrily. “If a pack of northern cutthroats had made short work of Gallin and his boys and strolled on in, would you raise an eyebrow, recruit? Get your shit together. We’re in the middle of a crisis.” The man turned and looked at Henry and Lira. “You two, this way.”
The man turned immediately, stomping off through the crowd, brutally shoving anyone in his way aside to make his path through them. Henry looked at the faces of everyone wailing and shouting, pleading with each other for something. It was impossible to make out the words and Henry gripped Lira’s hand tightly as they made their way through the mob. The man didn’t hesitate once to see if they were following him. The path that he made was only open for a short while before all of the people began to surge back into their former places.
Henry’s hand gave a tug and he spun around and saw a man gripping Lira’s shoulders. His face was dirty and his hair unkempt, but as he looked at Lira, there was a sense of life that filled the whole man’s face. He was not as old as Father, but he was old enough to be Lira’s father. The man looked at her and through the shouting and screaming, Henry couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he saw Lira’s name being shaped and crafted with the man’s lips. Within seconds, Lira’s fingers loosened on Henry’s hand, slipping free of his grip as the two of them embraced. It wasn’t a simple hug. It was the hug of two people who had come back from the brink, two souls reuniting beyond the void. Henry watched as the man gripped Lira as if he would never let her go, tears running down his cheeks as his face twisted into an overwhelming flood of relief.
People began to part around Henry and he felt the shove of the man he’d been following, his shoulder blasting with pain as the man shoved him aside. “You know this girl?” The man demanded.
“It’s my daughter,” the man said.
“You know him?” The guard asked Lira.
“He’s my Papa,” she answered.
“Fine,” the guard answered. “Be off with you. Clear the Plaza.” The man whirled on Henry. “You, keep up.”
Henry didn’t have a chance to say anything. People began flooding back into the space and Lira’s father lifted her up and carried her away. Lira was too swept up in the moment, crying and hugging her Papa to notice Henry’s departure. That was fine. He might not have gotten Claire to safety, but at least he’d gotten Lira to safety. Henry just followed the man through the crowd until they stood before a large wooden table with numerous men dressed in the black and brown robes. Most of them looked old and the kind of sage men that Henry had no business being around.
“Got another one,” the guard said. “He’s all yours.”
The guard gave Henry a cold look before shoving his way back through the crowd. Henry watched him go before he turned and looked at the old man before him who beckoned him closer with gnarled, ancient fingers. Henry took a few steps forward and leaned in to hear the old man’s hoarse, crackling voice.
“Can you read, my child?” He asked Henry. Henry shook his head. “You will need to find someone who can. A list of all the refugees in Boglin are posted on this wall. If you have family or friends here, then you will find them there. If they have yet to arrive, I will add you to the list. What is your name?”
“Henry,” he answered, craning his neck to look at the boards, wishing he had William with him.
“What is your family name, Henry?” The old man asked, dabbing his quill in an inkpot.
“Haven’t got one,” Henry shrugged.
“Did your father have a trade?” the old man said. “We’ll use it as a way of distinguishing you.”
“My father is a tanner,” Henry said. He caught himself for a moment, wondering if it was futile to keep hoping. Should he be saying was instead? He watched the old man make a series of strange symbols before placing the quill back in its holder and looking at Henry.
“Henry Tanner,” the old man croaked. “You will be placed on the board. You look injured. Umberlyners are being sent to Bogland barge to be relocated, but those who are injured my visit the Chapel of Mirna for treatment. Should you have coin, the Physicker’s Hall will offer its treatment as well. The Apothecaries on Root Alley will also help you for coin. With the permission of the guard and proof of injury, you will be allowed off the designated route. Do you understand?”
“Very well,” the old man said. “I wish you luck, Henry Tanner. May you find your family.”
Henry hoped that he did too. Shuffling off to the side of the table, Henry made his way toward the wall where people were shoving and fighting, calling down the wrath of the Guards more than once or twice. Henry looked at the threshing floor of fists and shoving and decided that it wasn’t worth it. Mother would not be here panicking. She would have sent William or Claire to look for him. Most likely, they were in this Boglin. Was it Boglin or Bogland? The old man had said Bogland very clearly, but everyone else was saying Boglin. Henry didn’t know. He figured that his mother would be there. Or maybe she would have been with her family that lived here. Henry didn’t know where to start.
The ache in his shoulder spoke up for him. It was time to get some help. He needed to visit the Chapel of Mirna, which was probably swarming with just as many noisy and pugnacious refugees as the Plaza was.
“Excuse me,” Henry said over and over, slithering his way through the mob. He didn’t know where the Chapel of Mirna was, but there was one large street that made its way out of the Plaza that Henry decided to take his chance with. Someone bumped into him, sending a jolt of pain splitting through Henry’s whole body and he gasped in pain and agony. Someone else stepped on his foot hard and another person flat out knocked him over at one point, shouting for someone.
Finally at the edge of the mob, Henry made his way to the tangle of guards that were standing at the street’s mouth. Two of them looked at Henry and nudged the others, alerting them to turn on him. They reminded Henry of a flock of green birds, all working in unison, watching him as he approached.
“Chapel of Mirna?” Henry asked. His voice quivered. He’d been through a nightmare, but this was more terrifying to him.
“Baby’s got an ouchy?” One of the guards laughed. Another jabbed his thumb over his shoulder and pointed it down the street. The man laughing gained control of himself and looked at Henry sharply. “I know what you look like, Umberlyn trash. I catch you outside of Boglin tonight, sleeping in some gutter, I’ll beat you bloody.”
Henry nodded to the man. There was nothing more in the world that he wanted than to find this Boglin or Bogland and see if his Mother had made it there. He wanted to find everyone that he had lost waiting happily for him. Trennon looked like a large city and all he wanted to do was start looking. If everyone from Umberlyn was corralled in one area, it would be easier to find them.
“On your way then,” the guard said. “Anyone who says you’ve strayed will earn you a lashing, understand?”
Henry nodded and took his first steps deeper into the heart of Trennon.