The noise over my head intensified. Disoriented I crouched down behind ferns which were as tall as me. I craned my neck back staring up at the sky.

Geese. Hundreds of them overhead. I smiled even as a tear escaped my eyes.

“Safe journey, guys and gals,” the old familiar saying brought more tears and memories I didn’t want.

Mam standing at the sink, dishtowel in hand, smiling as she watched the geese out of the window. “They have a dangerous journey, darling. Bless them as they go. Safe journey guys and gals.”

I would echo her words, safe and secure in the knowledge that I didn’t have a dangerous journey to go on.

I sank into the ferns, and they covered me as huge gulping sobs wracked my body. My fingers scrabbled in the loam and dug into the earth.

*  *  *

My limbs are so heavy, exhaustion, and hunger. No sleep. “Rest, darling, rest.”

Mam’s voice again, conjured up by a demented brain with no answers left to give.

When did this nightmare begin? Did it have one? Or did it sneak up on us already with a foot in the door of our complacency?

I blink as a drop of water from the tip of a leaf fills my eye. Something so soft shouldn’t hurt but it does, as sharp as the hunger pains. My body is not giving up, it won’t allow me to lie here, sheltered, at last, it sends pain to every nerve urging me to get up and run.

*  *  *

Mushy leaves stick to my boots. I’m not so much walking as trudging onward. Physical reactions have taken over leaving my mind lulled into a dreaminess, protection against memories.

A shaft of sunlight strikes me, and I glance upward through the skeletal branches of oaks. The sky is beauty wrapped in lace.

I trudge on tears falling to lie with the leaves underfoot.

“That bloody lot in parliament. I’m telling you there will be trouble over this, big trouble.”

Dad’s prediction came true. The riots came first, whole cities aflame with disaffected people. Looters grabbed what they could, hoping to sell and profit from a people marginalised by a government that didn’t care.

“I told you. Now people are being attacked and murdered for a pittance. Shops are closing, it’s the bloody apocalypse.”

You were right Dad, the government resigned, and the military took over until the crisis was over. I would laugh if I could, but laughter is something of a memory too. Belonging to sunny days, and picnics beside the ruined castle.

“This was built by your ancestor. Stop laughing Bill, it’s the truth. Ilfor Bach, our ancestor, built Castell Coch. His tomb is in a secret chamber guarded by stone eagles who come to life should he be disturbed.”

The corners of my mouth creep upwards. Mam was so serious about the old tales. Dad would laugh then relent. He loved her so much and now they are both gone. Taken away by squads of soldiers, to a new, better place.

A surge of adrenaline, anger and pure hatred propels my body into a shambling half-run a zombie would be proud of.

“You’d better be right, Mam. That’s where I’m going. Castell Coch to wake up old Ilfor.”

*  *  *

The forest ends. Panic shreds my nerves, and my heart thumps. My gaze fixes on the empty expanse in front of me. They’ll catch me. The drones will see me.

“What the hell now? We’re to be chipped like cattle. I’m warning you Beth Anne don’t do it.”

As if in response to the memory of my Dad’s words, my arm throbs and I glance down at the dirty bandage wrapped around my forearm. I dug it out with a kitchen knife and left it on the table.

I rise to my feet and cock my chin.

“I will make it, Mam, I will.”

At first, my legs want to buckle but I push myself, and soon I can run. Across the soft grass, moss-covered boulders and up the hill.

I reach the crumbling outer bailey of the castle and glance upwards. A stone leviathan, the ruinous walls and turrets cover me with shadows, allowing me to slip inside their cloaks and hide.

* *  *

I must have passed out. Night greets me as I open my eyes and I sense something beside me. I reach out with my fingers and touch softness and warmth. A noise, as if two stones are hit against one another.

My eyes widen so much tears fill them, but I can’t stop staring.

Two massive golden eagles stand at either side of me gazing at me. Intelligence shines from their perfect shining orbs.

“Welcome blood of my blood. What has been going on in the world?”

The eagles take steps backwards and I sit up, ignoring the pain of muscles pushed to their limits. As I pivot on my backside, I see a stranger. Tall, black-haired, hawk nose, grim mouth framed by moustaches and a beard. He stands with his hands resting on the pommel of a great sword.

“Mam was right,” I whisper, and a strange emotion pushes past all the pain and sadness. Hope? Is it hope?

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