Tears streamed down his face but he refused to cry out. That would only entertain his tormentors and he couldn’t give them the satisfaction. At the last, the trees looming huge before him, Landus dropped to his knees and glared accusingly up at the people he had always called friends and family. He tried to find a face that showed anything but hate and loathing but saw nothing. Where was Tommen? Had he escaped? Was his safe? Then a booted foot shoved Landus down into the dirt and he looked up into the accusing eyes of his Tommen. That answered a question then. Now Landus knew who had turned him in.
“As is the ancient law, defilers of our ways will be cast unto the forest. Landus, no more are you a son of the Briarary. Henceforth, you are a child of the forest. Speak the name of the one who shared your crimes and he will be sent with you.”
Landus met Tommen’s eyes and saw only hate there. Tommen turned away, taking Alina’s hand in his. Landus hung his head and let them rip the amulet from his neck. It didn’t matter now. Rough hands grabbed him and shoved him towards the treeline. He stumbled, hands still bound. Soon, he was beyond the flicker of their torches and he knew now that he was truly alone. He curled up at the base of one of the great oak trees and let his tears fall.
The crunch of leaves was what woke him. Landus tried to pull himself to his feet quickly, forgetting the bonds that held his wrists fast. He stumbled as he tried to support himself and fell hard, arms jammed underneath him.
“Are you alright?”
The deep voice was nearby and concerned. It seemed to come from directly above him and Landus rolled to stare up at the man standing there. He was tall, this stranger, muscular and fit. He wore only light trousers of a mottled green and his chest was bare. It was the rack of antlers that sprouted from his curly hair that caught Landus and held him.
“Your wrists… You’re bound.” The stranger knelt before Landus and reached to touch the rope. “That would be bad for you, if my brother and his wolves were to find you.” Then the stranger smiled. “I am called Merrin. Who are you, little human?”
“L-Landus. My name is Landus.”
Merrin pulled an obsidian knife from his waistband and cut the ropes. Then he frowned.
“You have bruises. You have been hurt.”
Landus chafed his wrists as the ropes fell away and he looked up at Merrin’s open face.
“I’m… I was from the Briarary. They cast me out.”
Merrin smiled then and bent down to kiss Landus on the forehead.
“Then you are welcome in the forest, Landus. You are safe here.”
Landus let Merrin pull him to his feet. It was confusing and Landus felt a blush creep to his cheeks.
Merrin brushed his fingers across Landus’ cheek.
“I know the customs in the Briarary, young Landus. Never fear that we will do the same. The forest is free for all who dwell here.”
Landus took a half-step back, fear in his eyes.
“Then you know what…what I am.”
“Landus, never think that you are wrong. It is they who do not understand.” Merrin took Landus by the hand, tugging slightly. “Come, and I will take you to my home and to the other children of the forest. You will understand then.”