Arliss blinked twice, wondering if the fire and flame outside her window were fragments of her dreams. Clearly they were not. She was not sleeping. Everything felt too real for that. Yet something wasn’t right. The sounds and sights that billowed outside the house sounded like a dream—confusing and unnatural.
Outside the empty window’s wooden frame, the panicked shouts of islanders swirled with a faint rumbling as of an earthquake.
A deep fear grasped her heart and squeezed her pulse into a rapid shudder. This wasn’t right. This island—her home—had always been a safe place. Screaming and flames seemed as out of place as a flower growing in the midst of the ocean.
“Mother?” She squinted into the dark. Neither of her parents were in their bed. Gripping the edge of her own bedcover, Arliss scoured the darkness of the small house for an answer. The ground trembled again. Two of her wooden dolls toppled onto the dirt floor.
She wanted to get up from her bed and run outside, but her legs felt like water. She’d never felt such terror before, not even when she’d nearly drowned once when the ocean’s tide had come in. Father had been there, then, with his strong arms and steady voice. But now—where were her parents?
The tall, slender form of her mother—Elowyn—pushed the door open, spilling flaming light into the house.
A surge of joy filled her pounding heart. She leapt from the bed and ran to her mother.
Mother gave Arliss’s hair a swift stroke, then began striding through the house.
“What is it?” Arliss asked, snatching the folds of her mother’s dark woolen dress.
Her mother stooped to retrieve a large leather satchel from the sandy, hard-packed floor. “It’s an earthquake. The volcano is erupting. We must leave quickly.”
“But, Mother…” The confusion knotted up in her chest again. She had to trot now to keep up with her mother’s long stride as she glided through the house, grabbing various items and stuffing them into the satchel.
“Arliss, this is serious. We have to go—now.” With the satchel strapped around her back, she lifted Arliss onto her hip and walked out of the dim shack and into the orange light.
Kenton breathed in the salt air and found it tainted with smoke and sulfur. He tore across the beach, trying to reach his house. Elowyn and Arliss had to escape this isle alive. Yet they were not his only duty. A king had a duty to everyone he ruled.
As he neared the cluster of a dozen houses, he found the entire island had erupted into pandemonium. Elowyn emerged from their house, firm and deliberate. Yet besides her, few had retained the sense to act methodically, and instead had yielded to fear. A few village men were dashing about, trying to get their families and friends into the small boats which lay anchored on the shore of the bay.
Through the crowd, Kenton saw Arliss’s clear blue eyes shining with fear. He gritted his teeth. They hadn’t come so far for nothing. If anything, their children would survive this earthquake. So help me God, the line of Reinhold will not be broken.
He vaulted onto a boulder to elevate himself above the crowd. Perhaps he was only twenty-five, but he was still their king.
“Quiet!” he shouted, trying to hold his voice steady. The crowd’s noisy hubbub shuddered its way into silence. “We will not have disorder! We must act swiftly and carefully! Get everyone to the boats—women and children first—and make for the mainland!”
“The mainland?” one man questioned. “It’s wild—and dangerous.”
“It’s our only hope. Save what belongings you must, but leave the rest behind! Go!”
He watched as his words took instant effect. Order threaded its way through the crowd of people as they righted themselves and acted upon their leader’s words. He stepped off the rock as Elowyn, her flowing brown hair spreading in the wind, fought her way toward him. She carried their golden-haired daughter and a satchel.
He gripped her shoulder. “You need to get to the boats.”
“I’m not leaving you.” Her dark eyes pierced his.
“Very well,” Kenton grunted. “But we must make haste. Save as many supplies from the house as you can, and whatever else you think necessary. You always know these things better than I, anywise.”
Elowyn’s mouth spread into a smile as she set Arliss down on the sand and ran back into the house.
He almost smiled, too. Any other time, he would have held her close and kissed her. Now, there was no time for anything but haste.
He glanced upward. Lava streamed from the volcano’s pinnacle, streaking down its mountainous sides. The lava would collect in the lake which lay at the island’s center. But once the true eruption began…
They were running out of time.
Arliss did not want to remain standing by the house. She wanted to follow her father and help him, but she felt too afraid to disobey her mother’s orders. A four-year-old girl underfoot would not be much use to the other villagers, after all. They would ignore her—or worse, trample her in the darkness.
A sharp, shimmering noise sliced through the air just behind her.
She whirled around, her golden hair swishing into her eyes, and gasped. Ten paces in front of her stood a tall, dark-haired man with a sword that gleamed in the moonlight. She recognized him—and she did not like him at all. Often, she had heard this man and her father arguing late at night with angry voices.
“Where are your parents, little one?” The man stepped closer.
Her voice wouldn’t come. She glanced around, but once again her parents were nowhere to be found. She looked at the door of her own house—about as far away from her as she was from the man. Maybe she should run.
“Are you afraid?”
At the sound of his smooth voice, she turned back to him. What was his name? She couldn’t remember.
“Come with me.” He beckoned to her with his sword. In his other hand, he held a wooden chest with a rusty lock. He had tucked it under his arm, and now readjusted it on his hip.
Thane—that was his name. Father always said it with great disgust. Should she go with him? Had her father sent him to fetch her?
He smiled without showing any teeth. “You don’t have to be afraid like the rest of them.”
She took a step back. “I’m waiting for Mother.”
His lips pursed as he stepped toward her, his sword pointed. “No, you’re not!”
Kenton’s blood pounded with rage as he rushed in between Thane and Arliss from out of the shadows, his own sword flashing up. What insolence had the treasurer reached, to threaten his own daughter?
Thane could barely use his own sword due to the chest he carried under his left arm. His lip curled as he shouted at Kenton. “Let me be, you fool!”
Kenton slammed his sword down on Thane’s. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to rescue the treasures.”
“And you would threaten my daughter?”
“I’m trying to help her! And you, and the rest of these fools.” Thane parried Kenton’s blow and swung his own sword around his head, just missing Kenton’s blade.
“Thane, stop! There isn’t time. You must help—help the others get to the boats!”
“This is my duty. The treasures are my assignment. Your father was foolish not to hide these last few. You’d be even more a fool to lose them!”
“Thane, please! The volcano could erupt at any moment. This island will be nothing but ash and smoke!” The ground quaked beneath Kenton as he fought on. He didn’t want to kill Thane, but the treasurer seemed closed to reason.
The two blades tore into each other.
“You must save lives, not gold! What good will it be anyway, if we are all dead?”
“This is more than just gold.” Thane spun about. “You know that. It would be worth many lives, I think.”
Kenton roared and channeled all his strength into his raging muscles.
Thane couldn’t deflect the powerful blow. He staggered backwards as the tip of Kenton’s sword grazed his jaw.
Spitting curses, he tottered back and strained at the wooden chest. He sheathed his sword and began an ambling run.
“You don’t need me, my Lord Kenton,” he shouted in mock respect as he hurried toward a lone rowboat stored at the far edge of the beach. “So I take my leave of you.”
“Thane, I forbid it!” Kenton bellowed.
Thane stopped running. “You are not my lord and king! You never were. And you shall never be!” He spat the words out as blood began streaming from his jaw.
“You cannot leave your clan of Reinhold in this dark hour!”
“I want no part of this clan. Always you belittle me, but no more. The clan of Reinhold shall henceforth be nothing but an enemy to me. And, by my life or death, I swear I will have the blood of your house!”
Defiance and hatred engraved on his bloodied visage, Thane turned away and looked at Kenton no more.
Arliss watched the entire fight, speechless as she stood frozen upon the sand. Her father had protected her once again.
Her mother rejoined her just as her father reached them, his boots treading ruts into the gravelly sand. Mother struggled under the load of a massive metal chest, worn and rusted in places. She dropped the chest to the ground and extended her hands toward Arliss. Arliss leapt into her mother’s arms.
“Let’s go quickly. I saw Nathanael waiting for us with the last boat.” Mother squeezed Arliss close.
Father’s arms rippled as he hoisted the heavy box. “What’s this, darling?”
“The most important thing I could think of saving,” she answered, jostling Arliss as they walked toward the boats. “Books. And a few other necessary items.”
“You are a fine woman.” He gripped the box handles as he strode along the moonlit beach. “Though books are not the first thing I would have saved.”
Mother’s voice vibrated through Arliss’s head as she pulled her close to her chest. “I am certain you will thank me later.”
A tall, gangly teenage lad—Mother’s brother—was awaiting them with a boat ready to cast off. Arliss smiled in spite of the strange rumblings. Uncle Nathanael was here, and they were all together. Surely they would be safe.
Mother set her down and started shaking sand out of her own thin leather shoes. Arliss’s bare feet crunched against sand.
“Elowyn! Kenton!” Uncle Nathanael called. “We have to hurry—there’s no time at all. A few more moments and the mountain will explode over our heads. Come on, come on!”
“Thank you for waiting for us, Nathanael.” Mother tucked the satchel into the boat, next to the chest of books. She climbed in and held Arliss on her lap, close to the pounding of her own heart.
Arliss, tired as she was, kept her eyes open. She observed many things: the rippling of the dark water beneath the boat, the creaking of the boat as they rowed, the subtle trembling of her mother’s fingers which gripped her so carefully. The other villagers’ boats were already far beyond. Thane’s boat hurried off opposite the others, into the dim shadows of the western sea.
Her father’s voice pierced the eerie smoothness. “Is it coming?”
Arliss gazed at the looming volcano. Streams of fire seemed to flow like rivers from it, but she felt the worst was yet to come. The terror started to crawl up her skin again.
Mother shook her head, but at the same instant the ground trembled with a violent shudder. The ocean’s waves shook the small rowboat.
“Oh—” Her voice caught. “Oh, it’s coming, it’s coming.” She gripped Arliss’s body closer.
Father’s muscles strained as he fought to row his family from the impending doom.
The dark, trembling sea clashed with the raging, fiery mountain. For a long moment, everything was as tense as a bowstring.
Then the string snapped, and the arrow was let loose in a rage of fire.
The most horrible sound Arliss had ever heard, like the crackling of a giant’s burning firewood, erupted on the island. Flaming rocks pelted all over the almost-distant island. Many fell into the water and were extinguished. Some the size of boulders plunged into the ocean, disturbing the already-quaking sea.
Without warning, one of the massive boulders came hurtling toward the rowboat as if aiming for a target. Arliss screamed as the rock streaked towards the boat. Father and Uncle Nathanael poured themselves into the oars, casting frightened looks over their shoulders at the stones hurling toward them.
As the stone shot towards them, Arliss could hear her mother’s whispered prayer: “God, save us…save my daughter.”
With a deafening splash, the boulder crashed through the sea just behind the boat. It flung a wave which rose high over the stern, dousing everyone in seawater. The waves shoved the boat on, farther and farther from the eruption.
Arliss blinked back the saline spray and the tears that sped into her eyes. Her mother’s tense back relaxed. They would be safe.
The night’s hours passed away as swiftly as the island did, its flaming peak still shining in the far distance. Even now, Elowyn could not bear to watch the inferno on her home. Her island. Tears worked their way down her cheeks as she looked away.
Kenton’s brow furrowed with sympathy. “It’s all right, Elowyn. We’re safe. All of us.” He nodded toward the rest of the boats that glided far ahead of them, then to Arliss’s yawning form on her lap.
“Thane?” she whispered.
“He escaped as well, I believe.” His voice was grim. “Though I doubt he will survive on his own.”
“It’s all over. Everything we hoped for. For us. For Arliss.” She stroked her sleeping daughter’s yellow hair.
“It’s not over. We have survived this terrible thing, so I think God has some use for us yet.” Kenton offered a smile. “The line of Reinhold will not be broken. Not now, not ever.”
She blinked back another set of tears. Kenton was right. Their clan had escaped the evil of tyranny once before, seeking shelter on the island, far from home. Even farther back, their clan and two others had staged a secret exodus from a land of constant invasion and oppression. Now, the flames of destruction had ousted them from their home once more. But they would survive. They would endure. The line of Reinhold always endured.
Nathanael’s hoarse voice was no more than a whisper. “Sister, look.” He pointed east. “The mainland.”
She took in her breath. A dark mass rose from the ocean, barely lit by the rising of the sun. This was to be her new home, Arliss’s new home. She gently shook her daughter’s shoulders. Arliss stirred and sat up. Her young blue eyes searched the land revealed by the new day’s crimson sun.
Elowyn drew in a deep breath.
“This is your land.”