Ghost From The Past
« Chapter 1 »
The air in Arianna’s lungs burned, she’d been running on and off since the day before and stumbling to her knees she hit the ground with a painful thud. The road was hard, dry, dusty and strewn with small rocks. Scrambling to her feet, she gazed down at the rip in her already torn trousers. There was a large graze and now an open wound as the blood trickled down toward her ankle. There was no time for tears; they never helped anyway, never got her anywhere, save only a clip around the ear or worse. No, tears were a sign of weakness Arianna scolded.
“Come on, the little witch is here somewhere,” a man yelled at two others.
Arianna’s head shot up, they’d found her, she had to get away.
Darting across the road Arianna tripped then ran into the Forest of Tempus and as her heart pounded in her chest, she looked for a place to hide. If she continued running like this, she would tire to the point of collapse, then they would catch her for sure, and worse still would be the beating she would receive for running away. Tears brimmed in her eyes again but wiping them away, she gritted her teeth and pushed deeper into the forest.
“Mathias, over here,” the shortest of the three men called out.
When Mathias joined his friend Morton, he pointed to a set of tracks heading into the forest.
The third and tallest man arrived last; he went by the name of Rage. Joining the others, he did not so much ask, as demand, “Well, where is she?”
“She’s here somewhere, look, Morton’s found her tracks,” Mathias declared.
“Looks like she’s tiring, she must have tripped and stumbled here,” Morton observed.
“Good, I want her found and soon, I can’t afford to waste any more time looking for her,” Rage said as his angry gaze searched through the trees for Arianna. “And God help her when we find her.”
When Arianna reached a clearing in the forest, she halted and stared in awe at the largest lake she had ever seen, it stretched so far she could not see where it ended. She’d heard of it, Lake Tempus, and now she’d found it it was proof she was heading in the right direction.
From somewhere in the forest, Arianna heard a man yelling, “Arianna! I will skin you alive when I catch up with you. If you give yourself up, I may go easier on you.”
Like hell he would, Arianna thought as she took off running around the lake. Arianna soon realised that she would have been better off sticking to the forest, but it was too late to backtrack now. After only a short distance, Arianna’s legs gave way, weak she collapsed to the floor.
“Get up!” Arianna told herself.
It wasn’t that easy, she hadn’t eaten since the day before, and she’d had no time to stop or drink and it was now telling on her body.
“I will not cry,” Arianna growled as she hauled her skinny pale body back to its feet. “You can do it, you can get away, move.”
“Arianna!” Rage’s voice echoed from just inside the forest. Her defiance was angering him.
“The water,” Arianna mumbled as she stumbled into the lake. Wading out into a cluster of reeds, Arianna snapped off a large bulrush and with no other choice, she sank below the surface using the reed for oxygen.
The lake was circled with shrubs and trees, but not enough to give Arianna cover to reach the other side.
Eventually, Rage would catch sight of her running away so for now, she lay under the surface and waited for them to pass.
Unfortunately for the three men, the weather had been fair for days and the grass that encircled the lake left no tracks for them to follow. Oh, they knew she’d come this way, they’d tracked her with a relentless pace, pushing her to her limit to wear her down. But Arianna, although slight of build was tougher than she looked. She was only fourteen, but her harsh upbringing had made her resilient, it had been that way from the beginning. As soon as she was able, she was put to work by uncaring parents.
While Arianna lay under the surface of the lake, she remembered the events of the day before and how they had brought her to this point in her life.
Yesterday had been like any other day, filled with hours of grovelling in the small tunnels of the gem mine on a mountain near the town of Araban. As always, she had collected the precious gems and handed them over to Rage and his henchmen.
Rage ran the mine and his name fit him to perfection for the slightest thing would set him off into verbal or violent outbursts. All the children at the mine feared him, Arianna included, but she had more guts than most, it had cost her dearly, every time she had stood up for herself she would be starved of food or forced to work double shifts in the mines.
Mathias and Morton were Rage’s henchmen; they watched over the children, kept them under control for the children were not the only ones who feared Rage.
If anyone had told Arianna that within two days, her life would change, she would have laughed at them, but it had.
The night before yesterday, Arianna had returned home with her meagre pay from the mine, it wasn’t enough to put food on her families table. For that she got a clip around the ear, but that day her father was not around, he was off, as usual, drinking away whatever money she had earned on booze in the towns local inn.
Her mother was no better; she was lazy and mean-spirited just like Arianna’s father. Nevertheless, Arianna had always reminded herself that you could not pick your family, sometimes you got lumbered with them, and boy was she lumbered.
On seeing Arianna’s coin drop onto the table, her mother had gone crazy telling her she would have to work harder and stop being so lazy.
Lazy, the only people lazy in her house, an old ram shackled shack, were her parents.
Arianna had one friend however, an old woman who lived just down the road. She did not see her often but when she did, she always made sure that Arianna had food in her belly and a warm fire to sit next to. Not that Arianna could escape her parents that often, but when there was an opportunity, it was a treat beyond compare.
On that fateful day, Arianna’s mother had ordered her down to the river to wash clothes. Sophie, Arianna’s friend had sent word that Arianna should come to her cottage. Detouring, she had done as asked. On arriving outside Sophie’s beautiful cottage, Arianna saw a group of people outside her door. Pushing past them, Arianna ran to her friend’s bedside.
When Sophie shooed the others out of her room, she beckoned Arianna forward. “Come closer, I need to speak with you Arianna.”
Holding back a tear, Arianna took her friends hand. Sitting beside her on the bed, she replied, “Yes, I’m here.”
“My time has come to an end child but there are things I must tell you before I die.”
“No, don’t say that, don’t say you will––”
“Do not cry for me, I am old and weary, it is my time child you should accept that.”
“But I don’t want you to die; you’re my friend, my only friend. What will I do without you, without your kindness? Don’t leave me Sophie,” Arianna pleaded as a lone tear tracked its way down her cheek.
“Arianna, there are things you must know, things I wish I had told you before, but you were too young, you still are, but I can no longer withhold the secret I’ve kept all these years.”
Stifling another tear, Arianna gazed into Sophie’s green eyes. “Secret? What secret?”
Sophie hesitated, before confessing, “Your parents are not your real parents.”
“While you were very young, some men came and stole you from your real parents. It is said that they tried looking for you but when they heard you had died, they gave up hope.”
Arianna’s eyes went wide with shock; her parents were not her parents. Oh how she had wished that were true many times.
“How do you know this?” Arianna asked in a shaky voice.
“Trust me child for I tell you the truth. I once overheard a conversation in town and saw money change hands. At the time I did not understand what had taken place, but I later found out you were sold to your adoptive parents.”
I have real parents, kind parents, parents who will love me and take care of me, Arianna told herself. “Go on, I want to know more,” Arianna urged her face now lit with such hope her eyes swelled with tears of joy.
It pained Sophie to tell Arianna the rest, but she had to find the courage, the girl deserved the truth, all of it. “All I can tell you is that your parents came from Greytor, south-east of here.”
“A name, I need names Sophie?” Arianna pleaded.
“No one knows your real parents last name, save only that your mother’s name was Sharna.”
“It doesn’t matter, I will find them I swear,” Arianna promised.
Sophie shook her head. Her heart sank at the next news but it had to be said. “It would not help you, they are… they are dead.”
Arianna sat upright, “Dead! Dead! Why would you tell me this only to break my heart again?”
Sophie took Arianna’s hand in her own. “Because I believe you have a brother and that he is still alive.”
“A brother?” Hope filled Arianna’s heart again.
“Yes, he is four years older than you. It is said that your father was so grief stricken that he would hear no talk of you, so your brother may not remember you.”
“What is his name, I must know Sophie tell me?”
“I do not know, save only that he may still live in Greytor, above that I can tell you no more.”
“So all these years I’ve lived with these–these people, believing them to be my real parents, and they are not?”
“Yes dear, I tell you this now because I will not be around to watch over you. I see the way they treat you, you deserve better. The mines kill more children each year and as the owner’s greed increases, they push you deeper into the mountain. You must leave Arianna, leave this place and find your brother. Find your true family Arianna, do it for me. I could not die without telling you this. Please forgive me for not telling you sooner.”
“I will always remember your kindness Sophie, always. Do not think that I bear you any malice for it is not within my heart. Without you, I would have starved years ago. Know that if I could have chosen anyone to be family, it would have been you Sophie.” Leaning down, Arianna kissed Sophie on the cheek.
When Arianna glanced up, Sophie had closed her eyes and her chest had ceased to rise and fall, only a single tear tracked down her cheek.
“Sophie!” Arianna said as tears streaked down her saddened face. “Don’t leave me,” Arianna whispered into Sophie’s ear as she slumped over her lifeless body. “You are my only true friend.”
“I’ll give you friend,” a voice bellowed from behind Arianna. Seconds later, a hand snatched the back of Arianna’s hair and hauled her to her feet.
Wincing in pain, Arianna cried, “But it’s Sophie, she’s––”
Slap! “Dead, I know, I have eyes you little wretch now get down to that river and clean those clothes like I told you.”
Arianna was still reeling from the unexpected news she had a brother. Rubbing her sore cheek, she hurried to the river to do as ordered.
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