Tlisli waited tensely for the animal sounds around her to die down. It was some time before the jungle noises settled back to normal. She was pretty sure that someone else was disturbing the jungle-perhaps many someones.
If there was one thing she could do well, however, it was being quiet. Soon her silent waiting was rewarded. She knew that at least two, and maybe three groups of people were pursuing her. And they were close, too close!
Her choices were limited. She was about to enter the forbidden ground. It was clearly the intention of her pursuers that she have no choice–she’d either have to surrender or die in the forbidden ground.
It wasn’t just the taboo. There were the tribesmen, carrying bows and arrows that were poison tipped. The local tribe of Tlazil was not terribly well equipped, nor were they particularly skilled, but they made up for that in numbers and ferocity. The townspeople claimed the taboo was due to some religious proclamation or another, but the tribesmen seemed to be the most effective enforcement.
Tlisli thought for a few moments. It would be tough enough for her to evade the pursuing groups. Her father’s men might be stuffy, traditional, and otherwise annoying, but they knew their way around a jungle.
It had been a foolish idea for her to run away. She should have known it wouldn’t work. For a moment she thought of surrendering. She was so tired. But the thought of surrender brought her back to the reason she was running.
There had been the troops of the grand emperor, who had quickly overwhelmed the town’s defenses. Her father had long been an advocate of resistance to the Grand-Emperor. Yet when the troops entered the city, her father had gone to greet them.
She wasn’t sure whether her father had been a traitor all along or whether he had just changed sides quickly. He had always been a bit indulgent with her. But her husband had remained cool toward the invaders. He wasn’t any sort of rebel: he just didn’t flatter them and butter them up. He had also remained indulgent with his wife.
She, in turn, wasn’t able to hide her contempt, and had finally publicly confronted her father. It had been a minor issue, simply a matter of skirt length. Her father had told her she was not fit to appear in public dressed like that. She should have realized she needed to back down with the Grand Emperor’s governor-general watching. It was obvious now. But she had challenged her father and then called on her husband to back her up.
She almost wished now that he had agreed to punish her for her insubordination. The Grand Empire’s laws merely required that she be whipped. But he had stood by her, still the sweet boy she had married only three months before and still in love.
The governor decided to make an example of him. He was stripped naked, shackled just tightly enough to slow his movement adequately, and whipped through the city streets until he died.
Her father had then whipped her like a child. But he had made a fatal mistake–he didn’t think she would defy him. She had cried pitifully and promised obedience. But she was only watching for her chance.
It had come almost immediately. Her father put her in her own childhood room, from which she had discovered dozens of exits as a teenager. The escape had been trivial. Yet pursuit had been almost instant. Only many hunting trips with cousins and uncles prepared her to get this far.
And now she faced the choice. Either she must surrender, or she must face certain death in the forbidden ground. Trying to run past her pursuers would be the equivalent of surrender.
She hesitated only a moment. She ran slightly north and east, then plunged into the stream that marked the boundary.
To be continued . . .