Chapter Eight: An account of our journey through the Border Wood

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I climbed up by grabbing tree roots and pulled myself into the thickness of the forest. There was barely room to move. I wedged my way forward, trying to find a place where it wasn’t as thick, but there wasn’t much luck. I did find Chaman and Simron though.

“Not to worry,” Simron was saying. “The others are safe.”
“How do you know these things?” Chaman asked.
“I just know,” Simron told him. “The Great Spirit assures me of these things. We’re over here Leroi.”
“Wow,” Chaman laughed as I caught up with them. “I didn’t even see you. I guess it’s really handy having a prophet around.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Who else would have the prophecies memorized. Where did you read them before Simron?”
“I never read them,” Simron said with a puzzled look. “In fact, I never heard them at all. They’ve just…always been in my head…for as long as I can remember.”
“Weird,” Chaman said.
“Not really,” I told him. “I remember my mother telling me stories about prophets. They would get messages from the Great Spirit and tell them to the people.”
“So you’ve heard of the Great Spirit but not about the King?” Simron asked, staring back at me.
“I didn’t know the two were related,” I said. “They were just stories.”
“Not just stories,” Simron said, shaking his head. “It’s our history. It was the Great Spirit that created the continent and brought our people to live here.”
“I thought you said the King did that,” Chaman said.
“He did,” Simron said. “The King is the Great Spirit.”
“Oh,” said Chaman. “Like two names for the same guy?”
“But the Great Spirit,” I said, trying to remember the stories. “He’s a spirit right?”
“He is a spirit,” Simron said. “But when He takes human form…”
“I get it,” said Chaman. “Sure we can’t see Him when He’s a spirit, so He becomes like one of us when He wants to…you know…put us straight…like a king.”
“Exactly,” said Simron. “This way…I think I hear the others.”

SWOOSH!!

It happened quickly. One minute I stepped into a clearing, the next I was up in the air in a net. Chaman had been flipped upside-down and was struggling to right himself. Simron was trying not to be kicked in the head. My face was pressed against the side of the ropes and I had a clear view of everything.

Next to us, Jundon and Bri were dangling by their ankles from another tree and Bri’s long hair was sweeping the forest floor. Jundon thought it was funny but Bri was struggling to keep her smock from flipping over her head. Luckily she had enough control so no one could see anything but her bruised legs, but even that is considered very immodest for a Sonchian girl and Bri was turning a bright shade of pink. On the other side of them, Riglo and Wallia were tied together, back to back, and hanging from another tree. Riglo seemed only slightly annoyed but Wallia was throwing a fit. On the ground, Jojo and Lulinda were lying on their stomachs with their wrists tied fast. Next to them, and almost right beneath us, was a large hole where Ichoi and Groblar were struggling to get out.

“Eleven,” I counted. “But weren’t there…?”
“Aha!” yelled a young voice. “More Grumans dare to enter my forest!”

A tall, skinny lad swung into view and sat on a branch across from us. His light brown hair appeared to have gone wild and he wore a short tunic of some kind of leather and no shoes. From his accent, I could tell he wasn’t from Sonchia, even though he spoke in our tongue.

He grabbed the net and looked at me closely, his nose inches from mine as he squinted. His eyes had a dull look and almost no color to them. I wondered if he was nearsighted.

“We’re not Grumans,” I said.
“Good heavens,” he jumped, letting go of the net so we swung back and forth in such a way that made my stomach queasy.
“How do you strangers come to know my tongue?” he snapped at me. “Are you not Grumans?”
“No,” I said, holding my stomach in. “We’re from Sonchia. We just got away from the Grumans.”
“How can one be so sure?” he said, pulling the net close again.
“Friend,” said Simron, managing to pull himself next to me.

Chaman was still upside-down but had stopped struggling in order to listen.

“You have been ailing with near blindness for many years,” Simron said to the boy.

He reached his hand through the ropes and touched the boy’s eyes.

“In the name of our Great Spirit and King,” Simron said. “Open your eyes and see clearly that we are not your foe.”

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t had a close-up look. The boy blinked hard and something like fish scales fell from his eyes, which were now bright blue. He stared at us wide-eyed before going completely ballistic.

“I CAN SEE!” he yelled, jumping up and letting our net swing again.

He was jumping from tree to tree like some kind of monkey.

“Oh my friends,” he said, grabbing a rope. “How long I have lived with the curse the Grumans put on me. I can see now that you are nothing like them. Even more you have come to deliver our country. Oh happy day! I CAN SEE AGAIN!”

Our net fell to the ground and I was surprised Chaman wasn’t seriously hurt, having landed on his head. I helped him up as I saw the boy releasing the others.

“I must say my traps work a little too well sometimes,” he was laughing as he pulled Ichoi out of the pit. “I’ve been trapped myself several times. But one must be precautious. We used to build traps to catch highway robbers, but now I use them to catch Grumans.”

“Please friend,” Ichoi said. “Tell us your account and we will relate how we came upon your traps.”
“My what?” he asked, pausing to look at us, one hand still on Groblar’s wrist.
“Oh,” said Ichoi. “My mistake. You are not from Sonchia as we are.”
“Oh no,” said the boy, helping Jojo off the ground. “My name is Ty Tsing and my people live in the villages of the Border Wood. Sadly, I am all that is left now. Not a lot of Grumans ventured out here.”

He hopped over to Jundon and let him down, much to the small boy’s disappointment.

“They don’t care for forests, they don’t,” Ty said. “Not Grumans. But the few that came out here were enough.”

I noticed that he released all of the guys first before setting the girls free and I wondered what type of people live in the woods. He finally let down Riglo and Wallia, who were none too happy. But Ty didn’t seem to notice.

“They killed everybody,” he said, as he let Bri down. “There weren’t that many villages but they got us all.”

Bri hastily covered her legs and had turned a darker shade of red.

“I barely got away from them you know,” he told us as he let Lulinda up. “I was good at playing dead but while I was trying to get a look at them, some kind of oil spilled into my eyes. Never was able to see clearly after that.”
“How old were you?” Bri asked. “When the Grumans came?”

He didn’t answer her and kept talking and started walking into the woods. Naturally, we followed him.

“Been living in these woods alone ever since,” he said. “Very rarely do Grumans wander in here, but those that do meet up with my traps.”
“So how old were you when they came?” Groblar asked, giving a side glance to Bri.

“Oh I was only six,” he said. “Very young indeed. I don’t suppose you can tell me anything about yourselves? How did you come by my forest?”

Ichoi told Ty about the Gruman decree and the prophecy and what we were trying to do.

“So we need to find the sixteen men and sixteen women that survived the Gruman invasion,” he said. “Then the King will come and we can regain our continent.”
“Oh a noble task, a noble task,” Ty smiled. “I have heard many stories of our King. Many of my people didn’t believe in them of course, but my father was always convinced the tales were true. I must say, this does explain why you’ve kept them so close.”

I realized that he must be talking about the girls. He had given a slight glance back at the three of them and I noticed they were looking rather viciously at the newcomer.

“Wait,” I said. “Where’s Moxi?”

All but Ty looked around, but it was true. I remembered counting only eleven when we were captured. She must have been the one missing.

“She was there when we were going into the woods,” Bri said to Groblar in a trembling voice. “She was swimming further down from us.”
“North or south?” Ichoi asked her.
“I don’t know,” said Bri, about ready to cry and waving her right arm. “This side.”
“Which way is south?” Ichoi asked Ty.
“That way,” he said, pointing off to the right. “I suppose you didn’t keep them close enough. There’s another village about a day’s journey from here. I doubt she’d be able to make it in, but there’s a chance. And hopefully the Grumans don’t have her either.”

Ty didn’t sound very optimistic about finding Moxi, but he at least showed some concern. While he never spoke or listened to the other girls, at least he considered girls important enough to look for. We spent one night in the forest with Ty showing us how to get comfortable among the roots of trees. The next afternoon we reached the next village, which looked much like the first. We wouldn’t have even realized it was a village if it weren’t for a few ropes and planks of wood stuck up in the trees.

“This was my home,” Ty said sadly. “But I find it hard to live here alone, so I usually stay by the seaside. I catch the most Grumans there.”
“At least you had a choice,” Groblar grumbled. “We all had to live in our own homes as slaves.”
“How terrible,” Ty shuddered. “I wouldn’t have liked that at all. Better off alone…yes, better off alone.”

Once again, we slept among the trees as none of the houses in the village were habitable. I figured the houses had to have been in the trees, as there wasn’t room for anything on the ground, but didn’t see how the people would have climbed up to them. I had plenty of questions for Ty, but he seemed rather gloomy and we left him alone.

The next morning, we continued our journey south. With the commotion about Moxi being missing, I was hoping everyone had forgotten about our treasure argument. Of course, Jojo was the one who brought the subject up again after two days of travel through the gloomy woods.

“It would be just over there,” he whispered to Ichoi. “I was with the shipbuilder when he hid it.”
“If you mean the treasure box,” Ty said, obviously overhearing, “the gold from it’s gone. Grumans found it a long time ago. They didn’t leave anything of worth. I’ve checked.”
“Sorry,” Ichoi said. “But we really need to find Moxi right now.”
“It’s just in that tree,” Jojo said, looking at Ty. “It is that tree right?”
“That’s the one,” Ty told him. “But I already told you…”
“There was nothing in there that was worthless,” Jojo said simply, prodding the tree.

A branch gave way to reveal the hollow interior. Jojo pulled out a box and we gathered around as he opened it. It did look quite empty, but there was a tiny glass ball at the bottom. Jojo breathed a great sigh of relief as he picked it up and put it in his pocket.

“The most valuable of possessions,” he grinned. “Not many knew how it worked, but it’ll prove mighty helpful later. Let’s go.”

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