I've been really inconsistent with my chapter posting ( I only ever to seem to make Tuesdays … ), plus I keep hitting problems while writing. I think I've got the kinks worked out and I should be able to write, type and post faster now. Thank you all for your incredible patience with me! And thank you for your support!
Side note: Poor Phillip only shows up in four or five chapters. Sorry if you get too attached to him; he won't be around overly much!
By morning, Derek was feeling rested and still a little sore, but his scratches no longer stung. The smaller ones had even begun to scab. When Derek woke, he felt for just a moment that he was home at the castle, lying in bed. And then the moment ended.
Derek sighed as he sat up. They needed to move on today. Something kept nagging him in the back of his mind. Something that told him there wasn't much time left. Derek stood carefully so as not to disturb Thomas or Pascal. Tab lay on his side facing the cave wall. Quietly, Derek walked to the entrance of the cave and splashed a little water on his face from the waterfall. He went back into the cave and stoked the small pile of embers and put a few sticks on, just enough that they could have a warm breakfast.
By the time everyone had wakened, Derek had taken from his satchel some bread and cheese which he warmed and everyone ate. By then the sun was full up in the morning sky.
"What's our destination today?" Tab queried.
Derek fed Pascal a handful of grapes. Thomas and Tab waited expectantly for an answer.
"I was thinking of going to…to Rapunzel's Tower."
Pascal squeaked questioningly. Derek pulled out his maps. Carefully, he laid them out. Tab and Thomas came closer to examine them. On the right of both maps was the main island of Corona. The rest of the Sun Kingdom was on the left and ran the off the edge of the paper. On Derek's map, there were half a dozen scribbled icons with labels. Two - the Treehouse and Waterfall Gulch - were crossed off. An icon up near the top left of the map was labeled Rapunzel's Tower.
"There has to be a reason…" Derek broke off.
"A reason for what?" Tab asked.
Derek glanced up at Tab. The man's face was stern and his eyebrow was raised. Derek disliked that look. He often got it from Eugene and sometimes Rapunzel. It always meant that the parent knew their child was in trouble without anything being said.
"Nothing." Derek hurried to say. But the damage was already done.
Tab shifted to sit cross-legged and crossed his arms. His face remained stern and his gaze never left Derek.
"I think there's something I need to know here, before we go chasing after treasure or whatever."
"It's not treasure!" Thomas rebuked.
Tab looked at Thomas who looked down sheepishly.
"Er, well, I mean…" Thomas muttered.
"We're looking for my sister." Derek interjected. He couldn't handle it anymore.
Tab's face softened and he turned to Derek. Derek's face was wet with tears.
"She was kidnapped and I know something's going to happen and I promised Grandfather I would watch over my family and I don't even know where she is!" Derek cried. "And now my parents don't know where either of us are and I don't know if I'll see my family again!"
Derek had stood and clenched his fists at his sides. He was sobbing now. He turned and fled outside the cave. Tab and Thomas called after him, but he didn't listen.
They found Derek sitting under a tree some ways into the forest. Tab and Thomas had carried Derek's things with them. Tab crouched next to Derek and held out the boy's satchel. Derek sniffed and took it.
"Thomas, would you mind picking me some berries from that bush over there? Thank you."
Tab watched Thomas go with Pascal. He sighed as he turned and sat down with his back to the tree. He and Derek sat there a moment before Tab spoke.
"You know, you could have told me before." Tab said gently.
Derek wiped his eyes with his sleeve and sniffed. "You wouldn't understand."
Tab looked down at his hands and then at his own staff and blanket next to himself.
"I don't know about that…" Tab said.
Derek looked up questioningly, turning his head to look at Tab.
"Wha - what do you mean?"
Tab inhaled and let out a sigh. "I lost my family a long time ago."
Tab looked away as a single tear trailed down his cheek. He wiped it away before Derek could see it. Derek looked at this man in a new light. Tab had been married. He'd had a family! Derek remembered the way Tab had ruffled his hair, all the admonishing, the stern looks, the whole fatherly atmosphere. It made sense now.
"Did you have kids?" Derek whispered.
"A daughter. She was just a baby. Her name was Summer." Tab smiled sadly as he remembered.
By now Thomas and Pascal had returned. They were both sitting next to Derek, enraptured by Tab's story.
"What happened?" Derek pressed.
Tab ran a hand over his staff. "There was a fire. I had left my home to gather more wood for my shop. When I returned, the village was ablaze. All that was left of my home was ashes. I never saw my wife and child again." He paused. "So I've been roaming ever since, looking for work."
Tab got up to kneel on one knee in front of Derek.
"We'll find your sister, Derek. I promise."
He was surprised when Derek got up and hugged him, but he returned it all the same. He patted Derek on the back.
"Alright then. To Rapunzel's Tower."
Derek held Tab's compass in the palm of his hand, consulting it as he walked. Tab had given it to him so that he "knew which direction to go and could always find his way." Right now, they were well on their way to Rapunzel's Tower. It was a little before midday yet. Derek guessed that sometime tomorrow they'd reach the Tower.
Of course, they'd had to circumnavigate a lot of the ravine's steep walls to find a path straight enough, but the detours wouldn't hinder them too much anyway. When they stopped to rest, Derek pulled out his maps.
"What's this?" Thomas asked. He pointed out what looked like little squiggles on the official map of the kingdom.
Derek glanced between his map and the other. He racked his brain for a name.
"Of course! It's the canyons!" Derek said. He looked at his map with a look of concentration. There was something familiar that bugged him about the canyons, something almost … dreamlike. "But…I don't remember father saying much about them in his stories. I don't even have a name on my map."
"They look pretty close," Tab mused.
"I remember the older fishermen talking about them." Thomas said slowly. "They said that six years ago or so the dam in the canyons broke and flooded them. They said the rivers were running a little higher when it happened. But, aren't there also mines there?"
Tab nodded, thinking. "I believe there used to be, but nobody goes there anymore. No gold."
"We should probably avoid the canyons," Derek said. "And the mines. If it's still flooded, I don't think there'll be much there."
Derek folded his maps as he spoke. They all gathered their things and continued walking. As they walked, a feeling of danger began to settle on their minds.
"It's so quiet," Thomas whispered.
They all paused to listen.
"Something's not right…" Tab muttered.
And that's when the first barbarian appeared.
Phillip clutched his spear tighter. Why did it have to be so dark in the forest? He glanced around nervously and licked his lips. Why hadn't he just stayed at the castle?
When he had got that note from his sweetheart Maggie he'd been so giddy. Of course, he had only needed an excuse to go see her. But when Prince Derek and Thomas had told him he should go see her, he had hesitated. Nonetheless, the boys had cajoled him into locking the bedchamber door and going.
And like a fool, he'd actually gone.
He only half regretted it, naturally. After all, he'd had a nice dinner with Maggie and then they'd watched the stars and fallen asleep in each other's arms. However, the second he'd returned to the castle early the next morning only to find the prince and his friend gone, guilt had filled him. Then fear and a determination to find the boys and fix the mess he'd made drove him out into the forest.
So now here he was: lost, hungry and alone. Whatever boldness that had kept him going stupidly into the forest was gone now. He didn't even know where he was. Stupid, Phillip thought to himself.
A flock of sparrows burst out of a bush in front of him, scaring a scream from his lungs. He picked up the spear he'd dropped and shakily wiped his forehead. A sound reached his ears and he paused. He listened; it was faint. By all rights, he probably shouldn't have heard it, but the silence of the forest and his heightened senses combined allowed him to make out yelling.
Phillip scanned the trees, searching for the source of the sound. He started running through the trees in the direction he thought he'd heard it come from. Tree branches whipped at his head while bushes clawed at his legs and torso. Tightly grasping his spear, Phillip ran. The yelling gradually grew louder and the sound of metal striking metal came as well. Then Phillip heard a voice he'd not expected to hear: Derek. Phillip put on an extra burst of speed and broke out of the forest trees to see a pack of barbarians trying to corner Derek.
He halted and surveyed the scene before him. Thomas and Derek were together and there was another man fighting to protect them. Fear knotted Phillip's stomach. For a cowardly second, he felt like turning to flee into the forest. Angrily, he crushed the thought and gathered up as much courage as he could.
"Phillip is here, Derek!" And he threw himself into the fray.
Derek's head snapped up and he searched for the familiar voice. He smiled when he saw Phillip flailing his spear at the confused barbarians. Good, Derek thought. Let them think there's more of us. What everyone failed to notice was one of the barbarians slinking off to call for help.
Derek waved his little knife in the air to slice at an outstretched hand. Thomas - who stood at Derek's back - used Derek's sling to fend off the barbarian thugs. The leather strap emitted a 'snap!' every time Thomas loosed a stone. Pascal squeaked angrily from his bag where he'd been stuffed for protection. Tab stood near the boys, swinging his musical staff about him, knocking heads; butting and prodding none too gently.
As Derek fought with Thomas, a glimmer of hope began to flame in his heart. They were winning! And then Tab got hurt. Derek heard him cry out in pain and as he turned to look, he watched Tab get shoved to the ground. A barbarian lifted his sword for a down stroke. Thomas loaded his sling and let a stone fly. It hit the barbarian square in the jaw, knocking him flat. Derek and Thomas rushed to Tab's side and helped him stand.
"Derek, you and Thomas need to get out of here!" Tab shouted.
He ducked under a sword and jabbed with his staff, keeping his right arm stiffly at his side. Derek saw the ripped sleeve and bloody cut on his arm.
"We can't leave you and Phillip here!" Derek cried.
The ground rumbled as another group of barbarian thugs ran into sight.
Phillip jostled his way over to Derek. "Derek! You and Thomas get out of here!" His words echoed Tab's.
Derek glanced between the two fighting men and he nodded. They nodded back. With a yell, they threw themselves into the barbarians. Thomas turned, grabbing Derek's arm to make him run. A barbarian appeared in front of them and they split to get around him. Derek ran one way and Thomas another.
Derek ran until his breath was coming in ragged gasps. His satchel bounced violently on his hip with every step. He looked over his shoulder and saw no one. When he looked back, he saw the low branch too late.
There were stars, a sharp pain and then his world went black.