“We have to go!” Her father sounded tense and Leithia looked at him from where she was playing with her doll. He was dressed in black clothes, and had a hood on. A bag was strapped to his back.
“Darien?” Leithia’s mother asked, rising from where she sat, sewing a tear in one of Leithia’s dresses. She placed a hand on her full belly. “What happened?”
“No time to explain, Seania,” Father said, holding out a black cloak with a hood. “We have to leave now!”
Leithia looked at the window through which could be seen the heavy rain falling outside.
“Father, it’s raining,” she said. “We’ll get wet.”
“It’s all right, Leithia,” her mother said, turning to her. “Get up and come, see, we all have matching cloaks.”
The black cloak was warm, and smelled faintly of spices. The hood fell down almost to her eyes. Leithia took her mother’s hand, and they followed their father outside. There was a small wagon outside with a cover, and Father helped Mother and Leithia up before climbing on to the driver’s seat.
“There are no horses,” Leithia whispered to her mother.
“Hush, Leithia,” her mother said, holding her close to her breast. “Stay quiet for a bit, please, my darling, and don’t look outside.”
There were shouts and screams coming from somewhere and the wagon started moving. Leithia wanted to ask her mother what was happening, but she dared not. Her mother had asked her to be quiet which was something her mother had never asked her before.
It was so hard, however, and Leithia started humming one of the lullabies her mother used to sing, but her voice was lost in the sound of thunder from outside.
“Darien,” her mother said, her voice sounding strange. “My water has broken.”
“Hold on a moment longer, Seania,” Father said and the wagon’s speed increased for just a moment before it stopped, and everything was still.
Father climbed up the wagonbed. “Leithia,” he said. “Your mother is going to give birth. Go, sit in front, and don’t leave the wagon, understand? Don’t talk to anyone you might see, and don’t make any sounds.”
Leithia nodded, though she didn’t understand what was going on. “I want to see the baby,” she said.
“You will see the baby when it’s born,” Father said. “No, go sit in the front, and don’t move and don’t make any sounds.”
Leithia’s eyes widened and her mouth fell open as she went to the front. There was nothing but white sand wherever she looked. No trees, no grass, nothing. Their wagon was standing on a narrow road paved with black bricks. The sky was red and there was no sun or moon. No clouds either.
Leithia’s heart beat fast as she saw someone appear suddenly to her right. They were wearing a hood like the one Father had, but there was something about the way they moved that made Leithia press back against the seat, her hand over her mouth to stifle her frightened whimper.
They stopped when they were almost at the wagon, lifted their head and sniffed the air.
“Blood,” they said, except it echoed eerily, as if it came from somewhere very deep, reminding Leithia of how it sounded when she shouted into the unused old well back in her village.
Three more people appeared, all identical to the first one. Leithia couldn’t see any of their faces.
“What is it, Basor?” one of them asked.
“Blood,” Basor replied. “Human blood is here.”
“Nonsense,” another one scoffed. “No human can come here. This is our kingdom.”
“Nevertheless, a human is here, and I smell their blood.”
“We have more important things to worry about,” the third one interrupted. “The Gods have found our door. We need to make sure they won’t be able to open it.”
All four vanished, but Leithia stayed where she was, unmoving, her hand still in her mouth.
The wail of a baby broke the silence but stopped almost immediately, as if it was smothered by something. Leithia glanced behind her, wishing she could go inside.
“Leithia,” her father called softly. “Come here and meet your brother.”
Leithia scrambled to the back and saw the tiny baby suckling at her mother’s breast. He looked wrinkled and ugly and she frowned.
“Why is he so small?” she asked.
“All babies are small,” her father said. He leaned over to kiss the top of Mother’s head. “We should get going. We can’t stay long.”
The wagon started moving again. Her mother held the little bundle that held Leithia’s little brother close to her chest. Leithia sat next to her looking at the baby.
“What’s his name?” she whispered.
“Pelthiel,” her mother murmured. She looked pale, and there were streaks of blood on her hair and hands.
Before Leithia could ask something about that, there was a crash of lightning, and everything went dark. The wagon suddenly picked up speed, and Leithia held on to her mother, shutting her eyes tight.
The wagon stopped without a jolt.
“Dariel?” her mother asked, and Leithia opened her eyes. It was still dark, and it seemed to be raining, drops falling heavily on the wagon’s top.
“We’re here,” her father said. “But they’re coming, and I need to draw them off.”
“No!” Her mother sounded frightened. “You’re not strong enough! Don’t do this, Dariel!”
“I have no choice,” he said quietly. “Take the children, Seania. Keep them safe. Make sure they won’t find them or you.”
“Warn them when they’re old enough,” Father said, as though he couldn’t hear Mother. “They should know, and they should be careful.”
He climbed on the back, water running down his hood, which he pushed back. He looked strange, pale and Leithia didn’t know what was happening.
“Father,” she whispered.
“Leithia, my darling.” Her father touched her cheek, and he swallowed, his eyes filling. “I love you more than anything. I hope you know that.”
His hand moved to the head of the baby. “Pelthiel… I wish I could have known you more, but I love you already.”
He leaned to kiss Mother, and drew back, his forehead against hers, and Mother was crying, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, Seania, and it was my good fortune that you chose to love me, despite all the dangers it brought. All I ask… all I want is that you should hold on a while longer, my love. Remember that I love you… and I will do everything I can to protect you.”
“I love you,” Mother whispered. “I’ll always love you, Dariel. No matter what happens, I will love you.”
“Protect our children,” Father whispered.
“With my life,” Mother answered. “As you’re doing now.”
Father kissed her once more. “The wagon will take you to our new home.” He turned to Leithia, and kissed her cheeks and forehead. “I love you,” he said. “Be good to your brother, okay? He’s tiny and will need help till he grows. Mother will tell you stories and make you dolls.”
“Father,” she sobbed, not knowing what was happening, but her heart felt like it will burst with how her chest squeezed. “Don’t leave.”
Because she could tell that he was.
“I wish I could stay,” he said. “Oh, darling, I wish it more than anything… but I have to go, Leithia. I love you.”
He went out the back, and all Leithia saw before the flap closed was a dark yawning mouth and lightning all around it.
Stolen from a Dream is available for pre-order here