The rain fell in heavy thuds that smacked the thin tin roof over their hut, but it wasn’t enough to block out the sound of her father coming home and speaking with her mother in hushed whispers.
Venuvia had become adept at pretending to be asleep in their one room home.
“What was that explosion?” Her mother whispered to her father as soon as he came in from the rain.
“A guard barracks. I don’t know what it was but it’s not good. The masters are going to be out for blood. I think we should leave the village.”
“Leave the village?” Her mother tried to restrain her fear but the quiver in her voice came through anyway.
“Do you really think it is that bad?” Venuvia cracked an eye and briefly saw the terror plainly visible in her mothers face. Her father simply stared in response, his face ashen.
Finally, after a long silence, he spoke in careful measured tones. “This will be worse than Kerto.
What was that? Two of them according to the rumors? This was a barracks, I’d say as many as fifty may be dead.”
Her father walked over to where Venuvia lay sleeping. He leaned close to her, still not aware that she was awake.
In a pleasant loving tone he spoke softly to her while gently stroking her reddish hair. ‘Hey sweetheart, I know your sleepy but we need to go.”
Venuvia pretended to wake at his voice, slowly opening her eyes and looking at him. At the age of seven she already hid her fear better than her mother.
She didn’t let on that she had heard their conversation. It was the mention of Kerto that really shook her. Even the children knew that story.
The rumor was that two of the masters had been killed by an unknown person. In response, the masters took the entire village to the town square, men, women, and the children.
Once they were all gathered they began picking villagers at random and executing them one by one until someone confessed. After three executions someone did.
Whether or not it was really him no one knew, but his confession earned him torture before a violent and public death.
Afterwards the masters killed all of the adult villagers and burnt every hut to cinders. The only ones they allowed to live were children.
Each one now an orphan, they were split up and all sent to different villages. The masters told them to tell everyone they met of what had happened, and so they did, or so the story goes.
“Where do we go?” Venuvia looked at her mother who was staring at her father, terrified.
“We’ll go into the mountains. I doubt they’ll follow us over the pass. We will walk to Rumstead or Barkly.”
“Rumstead or Barkly?!” She shot back at him. “That will take days, what will we eat and drink?” Her concerns were fair, but the way Venuvia saw it, they didn’t really have any other options.
Her father said as much in response.
“Honey,” Venuvia’s dad stepped toward her mother and reached to hold her face close to his. He looked her in the eyes. “I don’t see any other choice. I know this is scary.
I love you, and I will do everything I can to protect you and Ven,” Her father had always called her Ven instead of Venuvia, and she’d grown to prefer it.
He continued, “but we need to go right now.”
Her mother looked back and her husband. Her eyes a mix of horror and love and sadness. She kissed her husband sweetly. “Ok.” She nearly choked on the words.
Tears began to stream from her eyes, but she remained silent, looking at her husband and daughter, the two most important people in her life.
It was only a few seconds but it felt like an eternity. At long last she spoke again. “Let’s go.”
They had left the hut as quietly as possible, but the whole village was in a frenzy.
The explosion at the barracks was heard everywhere and people scurried about trading information about what happened and preparing for the worst.
Her fathers plan to head into the mountains wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t just him.
Nearly half the village had followed their path, and with so many people behind them, the masters had easily caught their trail.
After several hours of walking they heard the first screams at the back of the column of humanity.
The sounds sent chills through Ven. And her parents looked at each other in alarm. Behind them, a mass of people surged forward, suddenly running as fast as they could.
The family began running as well, but the sounds of screams and gunfire and yelling continued to gain on them.
At the top of the next hill her father turned around to look behind him. He suddenly stopped, using his hands to stop his wife and daughter.
The sudden stop sent people surging around them on both sides.
No longer the head of the column, her father grabbed his wife and daughter and yanked them off to one side of the trail they’d been following.
They stood there a moment, letting people run past, before the whole family ran over an embankment and into the woods.
Behind them another family did the same, but once away from the column they went in a different direction. Others followed suit, but no one had actually followed them specifically.
Satisfied that they were no longer being tailed by the mass of people, they ran deeper into the woods.
Around seven hours later they had still not encountered anyone else. They saw the first hints of morning sunlight beginning in the sky. Her father started looking for a place to rest.
They were all exhausted and filthy from traveling through the brush, but thankfully he had a small pack with emergency rations and a fire starter.
When they found a cliff side with a sheltered nook they took advantage of the opportunity to make a small fire and rest a short bit.
The mountains were covered with tall trees and thick underbrush. Green and purple trees made up the bulk of the color, but flowers grew of various other shades.
The mountains would have been beautiful and scenic under different circumstances. It made Ven sad to think about it. She’d had a lot of time to think.
The hours long march had been mostly silent. They didn’t want to risk being heard, and were all too exhausted to talk much anyway.
Ven stared at the trees silently while her father tended the fire. Her parents had given her some rations, but she didn’t feel much like eating.
One way or another their entire world had ended. They knew their home was most likely gone, along with most of their friends and extended family killed.
Her parents had similar thoughts and none of them ate much. It was as if they were now fueled by that grief. Ven couldn’t imagine ever eating again.
After a short rest, the sun itself had begun to rise. Her father stood up and kicked out the fire. “Time to move again.” Was all he said. No one said anything in response.
They stood up, and began walking.