His waking breath smothered by mute darkness. The rush of forest must to his nostrils and he peeled his eyes to the starless night. His body was damp and needled and he lay in a hollow and then he sat himself up, stiff-limbed and shoulders planked and tense with cold. His boots were wet beside him and his feet were tucked under his knees and he rubbed his body for warmth cursing the loss of his jacket.
His cheekbone was tender and he remembered his brother coming towards him outside the house that afternoon. The man in a rage. Sarah watching and Jim putting him to the ground with his fist.
They'll string you up, he said.
Divil they will. Nobody knows nothing so they don't.
Ye must be stupid. They seen yer coat. You have to leave.
I'll not be leaving.
You'll be dead before dawn if you don't. Go now and get away into hiding. Go up to Ranty's at least for the night. I'll make sure Sarah's looked after.
The night was still and he figured it long past midnight and in the silence he listened to the rumblings of his stomach. He felt for his boots and put them on and set off through the forest. He continued along a path away from Carnarvan, his arms folded about him and the ground dark beneath his feet and everything that was going to be enclosed in its own darkness.
He heard movement in the forest. The crackle of twigs and he stopped dead. A rustling nearby and he could not tell from where and his breath ceased. He bent slowly to his haunches and sat with his breath in his mouth. He listened to the wind whisper about the tips of the trees and heard the dull beating of his heart in his ears. He reached a hand to the ground, padded the forest floor semicircular for some piece of wood to wield but there was nothing to take hold of and the rustling came closer and he closed his eyes, squeezed them tight, and when he opened them again and listened there was nothing to the night. He waited and sat still. In his mind he saw his wife and his child and the child waiting to be and he thought of the trouble that would come upon them and he stood. He looked towards the crest of Banowen, neutered in black and the hills unnamed darkly beyond, and he turned back around towards home the way he came.
A gibbous moon winking at him through the trees and the forest began to thin. The rain fell beaded and he curled himself against it and hoped it would give way but it displayed no such intention and soon he seized with coughing. He hit upon a path and followed it near-sightless and he guessed an hour passing till he came near the grasp of Carnarvan, the growing unfamiliarity of it, and he stood under larch trees he climbed as a child and stared at a field he thought he knew, a difference to it he held not in the spread of night on top of it but a way now of looking, and he came upon the lane familiar and followed. Dark upon the lane, dark under the beech tree, came to a bend and stood listening, the night that was still, scent of earth and sap, and onwards he went, upwards the hill, around the bend that elbowed the old falling wall, the sound eternal of stones turning in the stream, stones he handled as a child, and then he smelt it, the weight of it upon the air, and then he came upon it, and saw what was his family's house as it lay before him cindered.
A way to go yet before the hours of dawn and Faller's man was sore on his feet. He was tired of getting wet and worn too of the evening's excitement and he waited long till after they were gone though he still looked about to make sure no one was watching and then he climbed up onto the cart. He lifted the tarpaulin and made sure it was dry and he laid the rifle lengthways beside him, shuffled some straw and lay down to sleep. In his dreams that came deep and manifold he did not register the figure of Coyle who approached the house in brazen form, nor did he hear Coyle kick through the charred remains of what had been his home for the remnants of bones of which there were none and when he reached satisfaction that this was so he turned to leave and saw then the child's ribbon, folded neat upon itself past the lie of the door, a ribbon once white now smoked gray, and he picked it up and held it like it was a living part of his daughter and he put it in his pocket and he was gone then into the night.
Excerpted from Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Lynch. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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