No one can outrun the dark
(After his mother disappears, Adalanto lives isolated in the woods with his father. At five years old, the following is his first encounter with another.)
The first few flakes of snow settled lightly upon the mats of Adalanto's dark brown hair. He ignored the pain of his chilled flesh as he scoured the forest floor in search of a few remaining walnuts the squirrels might have missed. The small linen sack his father had given him with orders to fill, was still half empty.
So deep was his concentratiion in this search that, at first, he thought he'd walked right into a tree. But when he looked up, his face paled in terror. He took a sharp step back.
It was not a tree. It was a man! But not his father.
He took another panicked step back as he spied another man. Two men! Brown hair. Sharp brown eyes. Bows and quivers upon their shoulders. And yet another man, much older, lying on the ground at their feet.
With a shriek, Adalanto dropped the bag of nuts to flee for the safety of his home.
"Wait!" a voice called. "We mean you no harm."
Adalanto's cold feet made no sign of slowing. Just beyond the cluster of pines ahead was the crest of the hill that housed the larder cave. The footfalls of the men softly crunched the grass close behind. Adalanto shrieked again as he raced toward the pines, desperate to reach the hut in the hollow on the down slope of the hill.
A hand grabbed onto his arm and he howled and wriggled free, stumbled to his knees, and fought to regain his footing.
"I'm not going to hurt you, boy." The hand was on his arm again.
"Let me go," Adalanto screeched, straining against the man's grip, writhing and thrashing like a wildcat. "Father! Help me!"
The man's voice was as hard as his grip. "Would you just phristed hold still?"
Immediately, Adalanto went limp. Panting in terror, teeth clenched and bared, he glared wide-eyed at his captor.
"Be careful not to let him hurt you, Etherial," the captor's companion spoke. "He's nothing but a little wild animal."
"He's not an animal. He's a boy."
"Well, I can see that. But he's still wild. Make sure he doesn't bite you."
Adalanto's captor was dressed all in brown while the other sported a green
tunic. Neither was as tall as his father, his captor's hair the color of the walnuts. The other's was more like a chestnut.
Hissing and growling as he glared, Adalanto remained limp in his captor's hold, but the very moment that hold loosened a little, he wrested free and scrambled again for the cluster of pines . . .