For anybody who is interested, here is the next chapter of my story. I don't really like this chapter, but there has to be some boring/weird parts to lead up to the good bits, right?
CHAPTER FOUR - ORPHANED
‘He’s going to kill me!’ their guide groaned while leading them through the streets of Corridor, glancing back every now and then to make sure they were following her. Or maybe she was watching for the right chance to make a break for it. Who knows? Orphans are unpredictable, Wila thought.
‘Who’s ‘he’?’ she asked.
Lotti hesitated before seemingly resigning herself to her fate of revealing the orphans’ well-kept secrets. ‘Deon. Our leader.’
‘How many of you are there, exactly?’ Lucas queried dubiously.
‘Enough to keep the likes of you away.’
The group started as a boy of about fifteen dropped down in front of them. Like a horde of silent rats, a dozen figures joined him, swarming out of the alleys and dropping from rooves to surround them.
‘Ok...This is a little strange,’ Wila commented, warily watching the young newcomers. They bore makeshift weapons and fear hidden behind grim expressions. Most of them were thin and hungry looking, no older than twelve.
‘Who are you?’ the first orphan asked menacingly. He stepped forward, glaring at them, and the others followed, tightening the circle.
‘We are the saviours of this little kid of yours; well, at least, she is,’ Wila announced, pointing to Leah.
Leah blushed at having everyone’s attention focused on her. ‘He was about to be trampled by a group of soldiers. Why was he alone in the middle of the street?’
‘Lotti?’ the leader asked, sheathing his old, rusty sword, seeming to deem the threat past. The rest of the orphans noticeably relaxed as well.
‘Um...I sort of lost him...’ Lotti mumbled ashamedly, hanging her head. ‘I’m sorry, Deon.’
Deon sighed, shaking his head. He walked forward to stand in front of Leah. She self-consciously stepped back a little, before standing her ground.
‘I suppose we have to thank you,’ he said reluctantly. Leah took the hint, and after fondly stroking Asher’s blonde head one last time, handed him over to Deon. Asher seemed unwilling to leave Leah, but Deon grabbed him not unkindly from her.
‘Thank you,’ he said, contradicted by the warning in his dark eyes to keep away next time. He strode back, carrying Asher and ushering Lotti in front of him. ‘I suggest you leave now.’ he stated to the rest of them.
They tested their luck for a moment, but when the group of orphans held their ground, Lucas started to retreat, Leah then Wila following. The orphans parted to let them past as they returned the way they had come.
As they turned the corner, they looked back. The orphans had disappeared.
‘Did anyone else notice how weird that was?’ Wila commented, looking behind her every so often.
‘Mmm,’ Leah mumbled in reply. What she had noticed was the poor state that the children were in. ‘I don’t understand how all those kids survive. What do they eat, where do they sleep? Why have I never seen them before?’
‘Are you serious?’ Wila snorted. ‘Every town has an orphan group living secretly in the slums, coming out every so often to steal from innocent rich people like me.’
‘Have you experienced this?’ Lucas put in interestedly as Leah rolled her eyes.
‘Um...no...but I have...heard things!’ Wila admitted. She avoided looking at Leah and Lucas, instead gazing across the street. ‘Hey, look at that bird!’
‘Oh yes, Wila, you are such an amazing expert on these matters, for someone who has never once left this town,’ Leah said dryly, ignoring Wila’s poor attempt at a subject change.
‘I have to left this town! I’ve been as far as the ruined castle way over there!’ Wila exclaimed, flapping her hand in the direction of the low hills not too far away from the town.
‘Not that you actually went inside it; you were too scared,’ Leah countered.
‘Oh, like you can talk, you didn’t go anywhere near it!’
‘Wait, wait!’ Lucas stepped between where the girls had stopped, interrupting their argument. ‘What is this ‘ruined castle’?’
Wila stared at him for a second, disorientated by the sudden change of focus. ‘You don’t know what the ruins are?’
‘It’s just an old, dilapidated castle behind the hills. Most normal people,’ Leah stopped here to glare at Wila, ‘don’t go anywhere near it. Of course Wila, being Wila, once tried to adventurously investigate it, but didn’t get further than the gate.’
‘It was creepy. I’m sure someone was watching me, okay.’
‘Yeah; I was,’ Leah muttered, as Wila continued describing the supernatural feel of the ruins to Lucas.
‘There’s heaps of stories about it, that I’ve heard. Apparently the elves built it long ago, but of course they abandoned it when Malan took over...’ Her enthusiastic storytelling died away at the thought. ‘Well anyway. It’s a creepy, old, broken down, probably ghost and creature infested pile of stone which I don’t want to go near again.’
‘Right, I think I’ve got the gist of it now, thanks,’ Lucas said, looking strangely pleased.
‘Um. Yeah, I should probably be getting home now,’ Wila said, starting to edge away.
Leah suddenly looked up at her from behind Lucas, with a pleading look in her eyes. ‘Oh, really! Do you have to?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got stuff to do...’ Wila said obscurely, gesturing back behind her. ‘Have fun.’
‘Oh, okay, see you,’ Lucas said, frowning slightly at the sudden departure.
‘Yes, I’m sure we’ll run into each other again...’ Wila muttered, glaring suspiciously at him, while walking backwards down the street.
‘Bye,’ Leah waved uncomfortably as Wila turned the corner out of sight. Lucas scuffed his foot in the dirt.
Well, this is awkward.
‘I suppose you should be going as well,’ Lucas stated rather then asked. ‘I’ll walk you home, if you don’t mind.’
‘Of course not,’ Leah replied, continuing to walk on. ‘My father would be pleased.’
‘How so?’ Lucas questioned, kicking a small stone on the ground.
‘Oh, he’s quite protective. He doesn’t like me going anywhere alone,’ Leah sighed, playing with the curl at the end of her plait. ‘Although, he doesn’t know you, and, what’s worse, you’re a young man.’
Lucas laughed then, a seemingly exaggerated expression. ‘Yes, you’d probably be better off without me,’ he murmured, suddenly sobering.
Leah glanced at him questioningly, but he was looking in the opposite direction at a man riding by on a tall horse, so she decided to leave it. They walked on in silence, a soft breeze swishing around the streets, picking up the few leaves scattered from the trees lining their path. When they approached the stables, Lucas stopped. He appeared to be silently debating on whether or not to do something.
Seeming to make a decision, he looked at Leah. ‘Would you like to go for a ride with me?’
Leah stared back at him. ‘That would be...nice,’ she answered carefully. ‘But I’m not sure that my father would appreciate it.’
Lucas nodded slowly, thinking. ‘What if we let Wila know, so that if something happens at least someone will know where you are?’
Leah smiled in relief. ‘Yes. That’s a great idea!’
She followed Lucas into the stables, breathing in the musky smell of horses. ‘Just wait here a moment,’ he said, walking into a small room to the side. Leah looked around, gazing through the gloom at the horses in their individual stalls. A few scrawny stable hands looked up at her curiously, then went back to mucking out the booths. Cautiously stepping around small piles of horse droppings on the straw-covered floor, she approached the nearest horse, a lovely dun-coloured mare with a white star on her forehead.
She was still stroking the mare’s soft nose when Lucas returned a few minutes later. After a brief lesson on how to actually ride a horse, they left the stables together, both on a horse.
Stopping at Wila’s home at the edge of the town, Leah slid off of the mare, feeling a mixture of embarrassment and elation. Landing somehow awkwardly and gracefully at the same time, she hurriedly approached the house.
Just as Leah was entering, Wila came to the door, surprised at her sudden appearance.
‘What is it? Did you get too scared of him and come back to hide with me?’ she said with a smirk on her face.
‘No! Lucas and I are going out riding,’ Leah declared with pomp, stilling Wila and her sneer.
‘Excuse you?’ she spluttered, while Leah continued, ignoring Wila’s astonishment.
‘We thought we should let you know, as I am definitely not daring enough to inform my father, but someone should know where I am, just in case anything happens. Not that anything is going to happen. I think. I hope,’ she finished, decidedly more downcast than when she began. ‘Well, good bye!’
She left Wila staring after her in amazement and rejoined Lucas with the horses.
‘Everything okay?’ he asked, a questioning look at Wila, still standing frozen in the doorway of the house.
‘Fine,’ she smiled, managing to hoist herself onto the horse again. She half-lifted a hand in farewell to Wila as Lucas continued on and her horse followed.