Happy Friday, Aledans! If you missed the first installment of Aleda’s Story, you can find it here.
A scream woke Aleda in the night and she bolted out of bed and to her son, Alaric. He was sound asleep and she put her hand on his chest to reassure herself. Had she been dreaming?
“Lea?” Carrick propped himself on his elbows. “Is everything ok?”
She smiled, although she knew it was too dark in the hut for him to see her face. “Yes. I’m just a little on edge tonight—”
She was cut off by another scream. Carrick threw back the heavy curtain that served as their door and moonlight flooded in, carrying with it the cries of a child and men’s rough voices.
“Stay here.” The curtain closed behind Carrick and drowned out the cries, but it couldn’t stop them echoing in Aleda’s head. She clutched Alaric as he woke and rocked him back and forth, murmuring calm words to still them both.
Carrick returned quickly. “We have to go. Grab what you need. We’ll get as many of the children as possible.”
“What was it?” She asked as she set Alaric down and grabbed a leather bag to fill with food and herbs.
“Moray is trying to bring his daughter back from Mountain.”
“He’s going to kill her!”
Carrick wouldn’t look at her and Aleda covered her mouth. Moray killed his daughter? His own sweet little girl, with hair like the sun glinting off the water? She and the other Changelings stood out like beautiful golden birds in the midst of Gaerlom’s dark heads. And now she would share the fate of Coyle’s daughter—thrown into the surf for the crabs and gulls.
“What if they won’t let us take the other children?” Aleda asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Then we get Alaric out, and be glad that we were able to save one.” Carrick put his hands on her arms, holding her steady as he looked her in the eyes. “Don’t fight them for the children, Lea, just ask if we can take them back to Mountain. I’ll meet you at the North River.”
Aleda nodded and he pulled her into his arms before he grabbed his bag and left the hut. She shouldered her bag and grabbed Alaric’s hand. Her gaze swept the hut once before she ducked out of the cover for the last time.
The entire village was awake, even in the middle of the night. Carrick was pleading with some of the men who had brought their Changling children out to the beach, and Aleda pulled Alaric to the closest hut that had a Changling. The man was a good friend of theirs, and he gave his little girl over with a look of relief. She knew most of the Gaerloms didn’t want to kill the children, but they saw no alternative.
It was the same at most of the huts she visited, and she had the children hold hands and follow her like ducklings as she made her rounds. When she got to Lisel’s tent she knocked, but no one answered.
“Lisel?” Aleda poked her head around the doorflap and found the young woman, a new babe strapped to her chest and her arms around her daughter, Faye, the first Changeling child to be born. A long knife shook in her hand as moonlight gleamed off the bone.
“They can’t take my babies,” Lisel said.
“I’m not going to let them.” Aleda eased herself through the door slowly, leaving the children outside holding hands. “Carrick and I are taking the children away so they won’t be killed. You can come with us.”
Lisel’s eyes darted around the small hut, then back to Aleda. “Where are you going?”
“Into the Mountains. We’ll live there.”
“We’ll find a way.”
Lisel stayed where she was as angry voices sounded outside. “We have to leave now,” Aleda said. When Lisel made no move to go, Aleda turned her back and opened the doorflap to check on the children.
“I’m coming,” the young woman finally said and unfurled herself from her daughter. She threw a few belongings in a bag, grabbed her daughter’s hand, and followed Aleda out.
They ran as fast as the three year olds could to the North River where Carrick was waiting. His lip was bloodied and growing fat, and there was blood on his shirt, but he stopped Aleda’s questions with a look and grabbed the smallest child, a little boy whose name she couldn’t remember. With a nod at Lisel, Carrick started walking inland along the river, to what Aleda could only hope was safety.
They didn’t stop walking until the moon had traveled halfway across the sky and they had gone farther inland than anyone Aleda knew. The children were fussy, but too tired to cry, and the adults were exhausted. Lisel lay down next to Aleda and the children between her and Carrick. It was cold, but they were too scared to light a fire and give away their location.
“Carrie?” Aleda whispered over the heads of the children. He turned towards her and she wished he was next to her, holding her in his arms. “I’m scared.”
“I am too, Love.” His voice was soft and comforting and she swallowed back her tears. “It will be okay, Lea. We won’t let them kill anymore children.”
Aleda nodded in the dark and curled up around her son.