God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19
If I made one more mistake, I would be captured, or worse, killed. After my first day riding through the dense forest, I had decided to camp close to the river. Unfortunately, the Prince’s lackeys actually used their brains and tracked me down immediately at the crack of dawn. I was so exhausted that I accidentally overslept, and my horse nipping at my hair was the only reason I escaped unscathed. As I thought of what could have happened, I patted Copper’s velvety neck in thanks. After riding for a third day, I had already run out of treats for my equine friend.
On the second day after barely escaping the armed company, I rode Copper as hard as I could to create as much distance as I could between Prince’s forces and I. A knot settled into my gut. For the first time after being a bounty hunter for years, I was finally experiencing what it meant to be hunted down. This feeling of anxiety… The urge to constantly look over my shoulder… I felt helpless and weak, and I absolutely despised it.
I once swore to myself to never feel like this ever again. Memories of a suppressed childhood filtered into my conscious mind. My father was always drunk out of his mind. Don’t remember much of my mother, but according to my father she ran off with another man before I turned two. My father was never violent, but he would drink himself into a sobbing pathetic excuse for a father. As he replaced my mother with alcohol, I was left with father’s ever-increasing debt. I had to pay over and over, in more ways than one. If I couldn’t get the cash in time, I was the one who got the beating. Not once did my father care. Not once did anyone help me…
That’s not entirely true. The thought came unbidden. Suddenly, the picture of a boy came to mind… He was just standing by a well one day, and he talked about weird things like drinking special water and never thirsting…I could care less about that. When he began talking about a certain treasure in a forgotten kingdom, I suddenly became interested. This was the first time I had heard of the Forgotten King and His treasure.
When the boy asked if I wanted to know more about the king, I just waved him off. I was more interested in the treasure. Even at such an adolescent stage, my heart was greedy. Around that time, I began seeking warrants and collecting rewards for catching petty criminals. After my father drunk himself to an early grave and the debt was all paid off, I still worked my way up the ladder as a bounty hunter. In turn, I was able to have my own personal vengeance by arresting the debt collectors who had outstanding warrants.
In the present, I was now being hunted. Copper’s ears suddenly perked up. Without hesitation, I kicked the mare from a walk to a full gallop. I glanced over my shoulder, and I could see that guards would overtake me eventually. My eyes surveyed my surroundings hoping to find some kind of temporary coverage or shelter. There was nothing but more trees and foliage. My resolve was quickly dissipating. There was nowhere to run.
Go through the curtain of the waterfall. Without questioning the voice, I looked around until I saw a gushing waterfall, and hope that I thought was long dead burst into existence. Not wanting to give myself time to doubt, I urged Copper through the water. As soon as we passed through, I still felt dry somehow. When I looked over my shoulder, the waterfall was gone. In fact, the whole forest had disappeared.
As I slid off of my horse, I looked around in astonishment as I realized that I was somehow within a huge tent complete with tables, beds, and different fruits. I held my breath as I heard the guards dismount from their horses and walk closer to me. Silently, I prayed that Copper wouldn’t make any noise that would reveal the subterfuge.
My fingers itched to grab a sword and just get rid of the men, but there was no way to know how many there were without revealing my location. I held my breath as I heard approaching footsteps. “Harper escaped again!” said one person. Another voice sent out an order, “Fan out and keep searching. She couldn’t have gone far.”
I sagged against Copper in relief as they all left. As the mare shook her mane, it seemed as if she too understood that we narrowly escaped danger. I rubbed her long face, but a new voice froze my actions. “Welcome Harmony, I don’t think we’ve formally met. I’m Grace.” I turned around with my hand grasping my side dagger, but I saw no one. Then I finally noticed a tiny golden creature flying in midair. I could only stare slack-jawed before she continued, “You are safe. We are within the Great King’s tent.”