Running away felt good. Partly because the distance between me and the monster was getting bigger, and partly because it always feels good running downhill.
You might think it was a missed opportunity. The ogre had no idea we were there, the ideal chance for a sneak attack. What a prize we might have claimed! Yeah, well, death ain’t much of a prize. The problem is you don’t understand what it’s like to see an actual monster. Imagine if you walked into your living room and a gorilla was sitting in your favourite chair. You’d shit yourself, right? Now imagine the gorilla ten times bigger, with the face of the uncle who molested you when you were a kid, and you’re starting to get close. Oh, you didn’t have an uncle like that? Sure, and you think I’m the one in denial.
I didn’t stop till I was back in town. I zoomed around the wheatfield and didn’t slow down as I approached the buildings. Not once did I look back to see if the others were following. If they couldn’t understand basic instructions what hope was there for them?
Gasping for breath, I finally came to a stop outside the shed, where one of the soldiers stood by the door doing nothing in particular. He watched me come racing up with a quizzical look on his face. I didn’t know his name and had never spoken to him, but I felt the urge to explain myself for some reason.
“Training session,” I said, panting for air. “Keeping fit.”
He nodded, turned and went inside. I don’t know why I even bother.
Claire and Maurice came jogging round the corner next, followed by Flossie and Dudley. We’d decided to take turns carrying the sacks and the girls had them on when we reached the meadow. The boys had them on now. They must have stopped to switch. Perfect gentlemanly behaviour, the kind that could get you killed. Well, at least they made it back.
“Good,” I said. “You all remembered the plan.”
Red-faced and out of breath, Claire put her hands on her hips. “He didn’t see us. We didn’t have to run all the way.”
“Yes we did,” I said. “When we make a plan, we need to stick to it. Today turned out okay, but next time might not go so smoothly. That’s why always doing exactly what we’ve decided is vital.”
Was this true? No. Changing plans on the fly as circumstances dictate is the wise move. If you have the sense to adapt appropriately, that is. If you don’t have the sense, or any sense, then under no circumstances should you think for yourself. You will get yourself killed, or worse, you will get me killed.
“What now?” asked Maurice, doubled over and breathing hard.
Our plan to farm the shit out of the rabbit population had gone up in smoke. No way could we risk going back to the meadow, and even if we did, there probably wouldn’t be any rabbits left. Other options included hunting pigs or dogs, but we didn’t even know where to start looking for them, never mind coming up with a strategy for hunting them.
“Ah, you’re back,” said Grayson as he emerged from the shed. “One of my men mentioned you were out here.”
The guy I spoke to obviously thought I’d run back to ask Grayson important things about how to be a first class adventurer. Awkward.
“Ah, yes,” I said, trying to stall. “We were wondering about… magic. Are there any spells you can teach us?”
Grayson shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”
“Do you have books that we can learn skills from?” More head shaking. “What about weapons? Are there some secrets to fighting you can share? Is there some place we should visit? Someone we need to talk to?”
Every question got the same response. I looked to the others to help me out.
“Er…” began Maurice. “Has anyone invented the bicycle yet?”
“I… don’t… think so.” Grayson clearly had no idea what Maurice was talking about.
“If there’s something we need to know, can’t you just tell us?” I was quite exasperated by this point and ready to admit defeat.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. If I help you now, you’ll just fall at the next hurdle. It does you no good in the long run.”
“Fine,” I snapped at him. “Can you at least tell us where to find pigs?”
He seemed a bit surprised at my sudden change of tone, but I’d had enough of his well-meaning but useless bullshit. If we were going to be forced to do everything for ourselves there was no point in being nice to him.
“You can find wild boar in the forest, back where we found you. Be careful though, they’re unfriendly bastards.”
“Isn’t everyone?” I didn’t wait for a reply and walked away.
The others followed. I didn’t bother discussing where we were going. If they didn’t agree, they could stop following me. It took until we were approaching the trees before someone spoke. That’s a full hour of walking, around the wheatfield in the other direction and over a small stream I had no recollection of crossing when we first travelled to town, although we must have.
“Are we going to hunt pigs in there?” asked Maurice. “Because I’m not sure the best way to do that. Will our slings even work?”
“We aren’t going to hunt pigs,” I said. “I want to go back to the clearing where we first arrived. I want to see if there’s anything we missed. Be silly if we spent all this time struggling to get from one day to the next and the whole time there’s a way home just through here.” I pointed into the dark, foreboding interior of the forest. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
They started discussing what to do. I left them to it and walked into the woods.