This is a new-ish piece that I’m going over at the moment. I’d appreciate comments and feedback. This will be a time-to-time thing, so don’t worry: The Endless Circle and Coals of Fire are still the priority.
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The boy ran up the hill. His legs burned, his chest burned, his side was a white-hot gash of pain, but he did not stop. He could not stop. If he stopped they would catch him, and if they caught him they would definitely kill him.
Angry shouts rang out from behind:
“Kill the Christ-ian!”
He did not look at them. That would cost him seconds he did not have; a few seconds was all it had taken for them to murder his family.
From up on the hillside the crosses had been unmistakeable, leaning drunkenly outside the villa, the ragged, pathetic bodies hanging limply on them by their outstretched arms. If they could, they would have hung him there as well.
There had been no time for tears. Someone had seen him — by fate or by luck — and the shout had gone up, and all eyes had turned on him, full of hate and rage. He had turned to run, and they had pursued, the whole village surging up the hillside in a wave of flesh, screaming and howling, baying like a pack of dogs, a murderous intent to their voices that put the fear of God in him.
“Kill the boy!”
“Kill the Iesus-boy!”
He wanted to stop, to turn and tell them that he didn’t believe in Iesus, that it was not his fault what his parents said, that he was just a boy, that he would happily sacrifice to Lugus or Belenos if only they would give him the chance. But he knew it would not help. He could not reason with them. They would not let him. They would kill him, and they would not think twice about it.
As he reached the top of the hill, where the pastures ended and the brown moor began, he risked a fleeting look over his shoulder to see how much of a lead he had. A cold rush of terror went through him. They were closing the gap, their long adult legs covering more ground than his twelve-year-old legs could ever hope to. He knew then that they were going to catch him, and there was nothing he could do to stop them.
But still he did not stop. Stopping meant giving up.
He would never give up.
He put his head down and forced himself to plunge onwards through the knee-high gorse, all his energy focused on the next stride, and the next, and the next, and the next …
Anger rose up inside him as he ran. How dare they chase him like this? How dare they? He had done nothing wrong. It was not his fault. He could not control what his father said or believed. It was the soldiers who were to blame, with their new gods and their new ways, setting up their shrines in the Britons’ sacred places, building their roads across the ley-lines, cutting, burning, building, destroying, changing everything and making men mad. They should be the ones being chased to their deaths, not him.
A noise to his right startled him, and he looked to see a fresh group of pursuers circling around to cut him off. He darted left, stumbling and almost falling, gritting his teeth as he used his hands to push himself away from the ground. Why were they doing this? Why did they hate him? There were men behind him who had known him from a baby, who had visited the villa on his birth-days to bring him presents of honey and soft furs. What had changed them into the animals they were now?
Another shout, ahead of him this time. He turned again, and the fear and anger mounted as he realised he was being hunted. He had seen them on the hunt before, chasing down a stag with their bows and their spears, hemming it in on all sides as it darted this way and that, the panic in its eyes clear to see, until there was nowhere else to run and they swarmed upon it, thrusting and stabbing the life out of its noble body, leaving a bloodied carcass on the cold earth. Was this what he was to them? Game to be hunted? Did they really hate the Christ-ians that much?
Something flew past his ear, hissing like a snake. He ducked as another came, and another: long arrows that cut the air and bit deep into the earth where they landed ahead of him. It would not be long before one of them found him, biting his flesh, bringing him down. Maybe it would pierce his heart and he would die quickly — or else his gut, and he would die slowly, in agony, nailed up beside his brothers and sisters to leak out his life in choking suffering before death took him.
In the end it was his arm that was hit, just above the elbow. The impact was like a punch, and it sent him tumbling to the ground. Fiery pain blossomed outwards from the wound. He cried out in pain and terror as they swarmed over him, their stinking breath hot in his face, their rough hands grasping and pulling, lifting him up high for all to see. Another roar went up, a cry of victory this time, and he dimly wondered what there was for them to be so triumphant about: the men who had murdered a family and captured a boy.
Then the pain reached his head, and he swooned into darkness.
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Feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks again!