Chapter 2: Running
It seemed like they waited for all of the other princes to leave their carriages before Dashel got out, then Wren, then Tye. Wren immediately looked for an escape, but they were in a large fort with incredibly high wooden walls topped by metal spikes. There was one opening in the wall that they had entered through but the princes were forming a wall in front of it as the secure gate lowered behind them to lock them in. No escape there. The encampment was large, though, so there had to be weaknesses he just couldn’t see yet. There was a row of buildings in front of them and beyond he could see stables and a large field. Aside from them, there were only a few guards and servants.
Dashel took his hand and pulled him to one of the buildings, which opened into a hall with small rooms attached. One of the rooms at the end was a little larger and Dashel explained that this was their shared room. Wren broke out of Dashel’s grip and backed away from him, frightened. Then he noticed that there were two beds in the room and his panic lessened a little.
“Isaac wrote a letter to me giving me very specific instructions on how to treat you, Wren,” Dashel said. “He gave it to Tye to give to whoever you chose. I read it on the way here but I doubt you noticed since you were sulking most of the time.”
Wren wanted to snap that he wasn’t sulking, but it was true; he had been sulking. He was curious about what Isaac had to say about him.
“What did he say?” Wren asked.
“A lot of things,” Dashel said. “You’ll find out some of them, I’m sure. Just know that you’re in good hands and everything we do is in your best interests.”
Wren crossed his arms and glared, but Dashel just smiled and showed him around the building, specifically to the shared bathroom and to Tye’s room in case he needed something from Tye. Then he took him to another building, the mess hall, where the other princes were seated at a large round table and chatting. They weren’t sitting in order as they did at the palace and it confused Wren for a moment. He realized he usually only saw them individually or when they were in order, never mingled like this. They were also very relaxed and friendly, which didn’t often happen at the palace. As Wren and Dashel entered, the princes got up, not to greet them but to file to the large table running against the wall where food was waiting.
Dashel led Wren to the food and helped him fill his plate. The food looked incredibly bland and nothing like the food at the palace, but no one else was complaining so Wren decided to try it before condemning it. Dashel and Wren sat at the round table with everyone else. Tye sat on Wren’s other side and smiled encouragingly at him as Wren tentatively tried the food.
It tasted exactly like it looked: completely bland and unappealing. Wren must have made a face because several of the princes who had been watching him started laughing, including Tye and Dashel. Dashel gestured to his plate, which seemed to have an unimaginable amount of the stuff on it.
“You should eat it all,” Dashel said. “It might not taste good but it gives you the strength you need for tomorrow.”
Wren took one more bite, and could barely get it down it tasted so horrible. He couldn’t see how the princes were eating it. He set his spoon down and crossed his arms.
“I’m not eating that,” he said to Dashel.
Tye touched his arm and Wren reluctantly turned to him.
“This is the only food here, Wren,” Tye warned. “You need to eat.”
Wren just glared and shook his head before fixing his gaze above the princes across from him. He refused to look at anyone, especially not Dashel and Tye. He felt the amusement of the princes but ignored it. He would not do what they wanted. He was going to be as difficult as possible in as many ways as possible so they would have no choice except sending him back to Isaac.
The meal went smoothly for everyone else as they ate and chatted. A couple attempted to talk to him but he wasn’t in the mood for chat. He did eventually look at the other princes and he was interested in their conversations, but he didn’t join in. He couldn’t understand how they ate the food, since it was so below the standards of everything they ate in the palace. But none of them complained and all of them ate everything on their plates. When everyone was finished, Dashel took his arm and helped him to his feet. Tye looked at Dashel meaningfully, but Dashel shook his head and Tye seemed a little angry.
Dashel brought Wren back to his room. Wren sat on the bed that was to be his. It was extremely hard and not very comfortable, but he knew Dashel’s bed was just the same so he couldn’t really complain. There was nowhere else for him to sleep until he ran away back to Isaac. Dashel showed Wren the small dresser and Wren was surprised to see some of his clothes. Isaac had packed for him. Wren sniffled a little as he touched the clothes and thought about sleeping alone for the first time since Fontain. He didn’t want to admit how scared he was to be alone, far more than he was afraid of anything that would happen here.
“Go ahead and dress for bed, Wren. Do you want me to leave?”
Wren’s heart thudded loudly. He didn’t know. He didn’t want to be alone but he didn’t want anyone seeing him. Very shyly, he looked up at Dashel.
“Could you stay but turn your back?” he asked, nervous that Dashel wouldn’t want to do it.
“Of course,” Dashel said.
He went to stand in front of the door with his back turned, but for once, Wren wasn’t thinking about escape. He just wanted to get over this quickly. He had a little trouble getting out of the new outfit but he was determined to do it himself and after a few failed attempts, he managed to get out and swiftly get back into his sleeping clothes. He hid under the thin sheet and told Dashel he could turn around.
Dashel smiled warmly when he saw that Wren was already in bed. Then, to Wren’s surprise, Dashel began to undress. Wren rolled over so he wouldn’t see and after a few minutes, he felt Dashel’s hand on his shoulder. He rolled onto his back. Dashel was in night clothes and appeared concerned.
“Do you want me to sleep with you, Wren?”
Wren went completely stiff and jerked away from him. Dashel couldn’t mean it. He couldn’t be proposing what he was proposing. Why had Isaac allowed this?
“I don’t mean for sex,” Dashel added quickly. “I would never do that. I meant for comfort. I know you’re not used to sleeping alone.”
Wren relaxed a little. It was true, he would be more frightened than usual having to be alone at night even with Dashel in the same room. He thought about Dashel in his bed and wondered how that would feel. Neither of them had any interest in the other so there shouldn’t be any awkwardness, and it would be comforting having someone hold him. But surely Wren could be strong enough to sleep on his own, for now at least.
“Thank you, Dashel,” Wren said. “I’d like to be alone for now.”
“Of course, Wren,” Dashel said. “Let me know if you change your mind.”
Dashel headed to his bed and blew out the candle lighting their room. Wren lay in the darkness and tried to ignore the fears and worries creeping up on him. He was alone, without Isaac, for the first time since Fontain. He didn’t know how to feel about it. He was angry at Isaac for sending him away like this. He was angry at the princes for imprisoning him like this. And he was terrified of the whole situation. He just wanted to curl into Isaac’s arms and hear Isaac’s soothing voice calming his fears.
He drifted off into a fitful sleep and when Dashel shook him awake, he felt like he had gotten no sleep at all. He rubbed his eyes and tried to shake off his grogginess. The sun was just lighting the horizon and wouldn’t rise for probably an hour. He sometimes woke up early, but never this early. He attempted to get dressed on his own but needed help from Dashel at several points. Dashel said nothing and kept his touch impersonal as he helped adjust Wren’s clothing, all in the style of the strange outfit Isaac had helped him with yesterday.
Dashel explained that the other princes were giving him first use of the bathroom if he hurried. He stumbled to the bathroom and splashed water in his face to wake up. Feeling a little better, he went about his business with the supplies Isaac had packed for him, and left the bathroom to see Meer waiting for him. Meer patted his arm in a friendly manner, then took his place in the bathroom.
Dashel was waiting for him a little farther down the hall and he escorted Wren to the mess hall, where a few of the princes were eating. The princes were divided into two buildings with one bathroom each, so it was less of an ordeal waiting for the bathroom in the morning. Wren was hoping for better food but it was exactly the same. Dashel attempted to put some on his plate but Wren refused any of it. Tye showed up out of nowhere.
“I told you, Wren, that this was the only food here,” Tye warned. “You don’t want to be hungry today.”
Wren didn’t reply, just turned his nose up at the food and refused to take any. Tye sighed and seemed resigned. Wren sat with the princes as they ate, but he didn’t eat anything. While they had been amused last night, now several of them looked worried. But they didn’t pressure him to eat. After everyone had eaten, Tye led all of them outside and across the large field to a small gate to the outside. Wren brightened. They were leaving the prison. He could escape.
Tye explained that they were taking their morning run and he would be setting the pace. A few of the princes grumbled at that but none actually voiced a complaint. A plan was working through Wren’s mind. Running was something he was good at. Very good. He was the fastest runner in Fontain. When he was living in Fontain, running around the castle was one of his few joys since he could run so fast no one could keep up with him and he could evade his brother’s control for a while. He could easily outrun Tye and start heading back to Isaac.
Tye led them out of the gate and into a clearing. They were completely surrounded by trees but there were several wide trails stretching through the forest. Tye pointed to the trail they would be following and Dashel and Wren went directly behind Tye. They started jogging, Tye setting a slow pace that everyone could easily keep. Wren considered his options. He could dash off the path into the forest, but he didn’t know how to run through trees and might hurt himself. Better to outrun Tye on the path and then, when Tye was out of sight, venture into the forest at a slower pace.
Pleased with his decision and knowing this was potentially his only path to freedom, he darted around Tye and began running at full speed. He wasn’t sprinting; he would reserve his strength as much as possible in case of an extended chase. He heard footsteps behind him and risked a glance back. Tye was only a short distance behind him. He pushed himself faster, still reserving his sprint. The footsteps sounded a little more distant and he continued to push himself, knowing he needed a good distance between them before he ducked off the path.
Wren started scanning the side of the forest for places to dart through. He saw one coming up when suddenly the footsteps were directly behind him. Startled, he sprinted forward. He passed the spot he had identified and tried to find another one. He couldn’t sprint forever but he could easily return to running at his fastest pace and that should be enough to stay ahead of Tye while he found someplace to get off the path. He saw a slight opening coming up and slowed just slightly so he could turn into it. He turned on his toe so Tye wouldn’t be able to tell what he was doing until the last moment and was about to dive into the forest when an arm wrapped around his waist.