Some stories have a will of their own and continue to write themselves in your head even when you’re trying to move onto something else. Well, at least that happens to me sometimes=)
That’s what happened with this story. Although I meant to let it sit for a bit, it continued to run through my head, so hopefully readers don’t mind a new installment with Lila Dean.
For those who may not have read the first two chapters, here’s a brief summary:
Cliff Notes Ch. 1: Lila Dean’s a young girl who lost her mother in a fire and was horribly scarred, both physically and mentally, as a result. Now people just don’t look at her, so when a stranger approaches and asks her to steal the Roy’s ruby to help him save his daughter, she takes the chance to do something good.
But Billy Roy catches her in the theft. To her surprise, he doesn’t stop her, instead he trusts she’s doing it for a good reason. So when Lila Dean goes to give the ruby to the stranger, Michael, she questions his story and it falls apart. She realizes she’s been taken for a fool and runs away. Now she’s determined to return the ruby and make things right.
Cliff Notes Ch. 2: When Lila Dean tries to return the ruby, she arrives to find the town burning and the people taken captive. With the help of her father’s friend, Sheldon Lea, she helps her father and the Roy’s escape but must give up the ruby to the soldiers in the process. (If you’d like to read these in full, they can be found here: Chapter One and Chapter Two.)
Now on to Chapter Three. I hope you enjoy=)
The soldiers started the fire but couldn’t contain it. They didn’t care as long as the flames moved eastward with the wind.
Lila Dean’s eyes burned with unshed tears. She wanted to yell, scream a warning to the villages in the fire’s path but she could do nothing but watch the orange glow from the ridgeline above town.
Over the angry orange and red hung a black so thick it blotted out any definition of the horizon, which should be glowing with the sunrise but wasn’t. Lila Dean shuddered and looked away from the mass of smoke.
Below her in the town, the soldiers were moving the town’s folk toward the mine in a single file line.
Sheldon Lea had been right, the soldiers were going to use the miners to keep the mine running and would take anything of worth that came from it. What they needed the wealth for she couldn’t guess. Didn’t want to guess.
Michael’s mention of war turned her insides like she needed to hurl.
Lila Dean jerked. She hadn’t heard Billy Roy’s approach.
He settled on his stomach beside her and lifted Sheldon Lea’s looking glass to his eye.
Lila Dean looked away. She hadn’t been bold enough to ask to borrow the glass. Especially since the old spinster refused to look at her again.
But Billy Roy was the golden child. He probably didn’t even hesitate.
She stole a glance at him while he still looked below. His brown hair moved with the wind but everything else about him was still.
As he lowered the glass, she turned away, he’d settled on her right, her scarred side.
“They don’t have tools,” he muttered.
Lila Dean lifted her head. Without the glass, she hadn’t picked up on that small detail. She held out her hand and Billy Roy passed it over.
He was right. The tools lay lined up next to the mine’s entrance but the miners were not picking them up as they entered.
“Why take everyone below without tools?” she asked.
Billy Roy shook his head.
Lila Dean panned out to view not just the mine but the camp and it’s cages below. There seemed to be fewer soldiers than the night before.
Those that were present carried boxes up toward the mine. Focusing in on the open boxes, Lila Dean’s stomach clenched so hard he fought bile in her throat.
“Explosives,” she backed away form the ridge, tearing into her arms.
“Dean?” Billy Roy followed, confusion pulling his dark brows together.
“Explosives, Roy!” she called over her shoulder, “they aren’t going to work the mine, they’re going to bury it.”
Billy Roy caught up to her and grasped her hand to pull her along faster. Lila Dean stretched her legs as far as she could to keep up but the burn in her scars made her stumble. She pulled her hand away.
“Go, I’ll catch up at camp.”
He nodded and soon disappeared between the trees. Lila Dean braced against her knees, gasping air.
What could they do?
Her heart beat against her ribs, both in fright and from exertion. She was coming to think more exercise would do her well even if the other kids never let her play.
If they ever played again.
Lila Dean fought to control her breath. When it was bearable, she took off at a run again and found herself heaving within seconds. When she finally reached the camp, she was puffing like a black smith’s billows.
“They won’t bury the mine.”
She sucked in air and held it. Had Sheldon Lea just contradicted them?
“They need the wealth from it. It’s basic strategy,” Sheldon Lea continued, not even acknowledging Lila Dean’s arrival. She let out her breath. It was supposed to be quiet but the air whistled through her throat. It prevented her from voicing her objection before Billy Roy spoke up.
“They’ve got explosives and they aren’t taking tools in!”
“I’ll take a look.” Her father held out his hand for the glass Billy Roy borrowed.
Lila Dean pulled it from her pocket.
“Here,” she said.
Her father took the glass as he passed her. No eye contact, no touch.
Lila Dean grabbed his arm. “It’ll take too long,” she said.
He still refused to turn his head. A muscle twitched in the corner of his jaw.
Lila Dean let go feeling as if her fingers burned. Tears threatened as Sheldon Lea followed her father into the trees.
She couldn’t let them see. Turning away from the Roys, Lila Dean blinked furiously. Now was not the time. Swiping the back of her hands across her eyes, she felt childish for still caring.
“She’s right,” Billy Roy said behind her, “we don’t have much time.”
Lila Dean gathered her skinning knife while she listened to them.
“They won’t bury the mine,” Marcus Roy repeated Sheldon Lea like a puppet.
“They will,” Billy Roy insisted. “They don’t need the money now.”
“Doesn’t matter. They don’t need the mine.”
Billy Roy stood close to his father in height and with them toe to toe at the moment, Lila Dean couldn’t help but feel they were mirror images.
Lila Dean started from the clearing. There was no time for this debate either.
Her heart stuttered. Why did her father’s friends find it okay to acknowledge her when he wasn’t around? She considered walking away but the part of her mother she remembered wouldn’t allow it.
“Mr. Roy,” she responded and looked back at him over her shoulder, giving him full view of her scars if he chose to make eye contact.
He did. He had eyes like Billy’s but fringed with more lines and a shade lighter.
“Your father would never forgive me for letting you get captured. “
He was serious.
“My father doesn’t even know the color of my eyes.” She responded before walking away. The feeling of their eyes on her back made her skin itch.
He caught up to her with his own knife hanging from his belt. It was all they had in way of weapons.
“We better hurry,” Billy Roy grasped her hand to pull her along but this time he didn’t push her to falling.
Behind them his father’s shouting still echoed in the trees.
“Why didn’t he stop you?” she asked. She’d never known Marcus Roy to be docile.
“Can’t catch me,” Billy Roy shrugged. “Old mine injury left him with a bad knee.”
Lila Dean didn’t ask more. She was puffing again and couldn’t get words past her dry throat.
“All right,” Billy Roy dropped her hand and turned to face her, “what’s your plan?”
“I know it’s unstable but the soldiers won’t know—“
“The escape tunnel’s safer.”
Lila Dean was already shaking her head.
“Michael knows about it.”
She glanced at Billy Roy’s throat where the knife had cut his skin. The wound was covered by his collar now but Billy Roy caught the hint. He touched his neck.
“Back entrance then.”
Unlike the escape tunnel, Lila Dean had never been to the back entrance. It was the mine’s original opening but when it became obvious the tunnel couldn’t be made stable, it’d been abandoned for another way.
Billy Roy didn’t hesitate in heading straight to it, though. Lila Dean thought about asking him about it but let it go.
“It’s a ways down before this meets up with the main shaft,” Billy Roy said.
Just inside the entrance they found several lanterns. It was the miners way to leave things behind but even still, the existence of the lanterns make Lila Dean glance around every so often just in case someone was following.
“An explosion might collapse this entire tunnel,” Billy Roy said ahead of her.
“We’ll have to move fast,” Lila Dean shrugged. She couldn’t think of another way and apparently neither could he because he didn’t voice any other options.
“Shutter your lantern.”
Lila Dean complied and they were plunged into darkness. With the lack of sight came the hyper aware hearing she always associated with miners.
The walls echoed with the scrape of hard boot soles on stone. Words like whispers mixed in, too faint to understand.
Lila Dean jerked as Billy Roy found her arm. Thankfully it didn’t make any noise.
“Soldiers,” he whispered. The word fanned his breath across her ear.
Lila Dean accepted that. Billy Roy had been down here with his father a few times. He’d know better than she.
They waited. Lila Dean’s body hummed like a bowstring pulled tight. Billy Roy kept his hand on her arm and she clung to the contact to stay still. Her skin barely registered the touch. It was just pressure on her scars, but it was contact and he wasn’t shying away from what must feel very warped to his fingers.
She could hug him for not noticing, not pulling away.
“There they go,” Billy Roy released her arm.
Lila Dean strained to hear what he did and then she caught it, the movement ahead was fading.
“This way,” Roy’s voice drifted to her, pulling her back to their need to hurry.
She un-shuttered her lantern and rushed to catch up and had to side step to keep from running into him when he stopped suddenly.
“Fuse line,” he said, holding his lantern higher to show the lines bundled together at his feet.
“They are buying the mine.” Up till that point Lila Dean hoped Sheldon Lea was right.
“The ruby bought their deaths,” Roy sounded sick.
“Maybe not,” Lila Dean crouched and cut the lines, throwing the first half back up the tunnel to keep sparks from catching the second half.
She headed forward only to look back to find Roy not moving.
He started. “Right.”
They kept going…
To Be Finished on Thursday