School: North Berwick High School, East Lothian
Azeil felt the speaker brush past him. As he stared after the person his heart leapt in excitement, though he didn’t let his gaze stay on them for too long, and he hurriedly went back to looking for the rusted metal that littered the ground of Mornah-Mey. He shuddered as he thought of the cruel ways of some of the others, both guards and scavengers. Any of them could be watching, waiting for an excuse to get rid of another person taking scrap that could be theirs. Wariness was what had kept Azeil safe for almost his entire life. Wariness and wit. Forget backstabbing allies and false friends, you needed to be smart. Seeing a rare glitter in the corner of his eyes, Azeil quickly headed over to where he had seen the sun reflect. His brow rose in astonishment, a thin silver blade poked out of the mud, he knelt and began to dig around it. After a while he tried pulling the sword from its hilt. It didn’t move an inch. So he went back to attacking the ground.
Azeil leapt up, scrabbling for the old blunt knife at his side.
The interloper laughed. ‘It’s only me Azeil!’
Azeil glared at the person in front of him, the faded red scrap of cloth covering his ruined eyes.
‘Anyway, you wouldn’t hurt a blind person, would you?’
‘Sometimes I think you can see things better than me!’ Azeil went back to trying to retrieve the sword, letting his friend help as he dug deeper into the dirt. Karen was an exception to his rule of being a loner, he had never asked for anything Azeil got for what he collected.
‘Are you ready Karen?’ Azeil said under his breath as he tried the hilt once more. It moved a little.
‘Of course!’ Karen replied, then realising quite how loud he’d spoken, and remembering the number of people in the area, he whispered, ‘Of course I don’t mind helping you!’
‘You excited for it?’
‘What, the fact that half of us are probably going to get themselves killed trying to pull this off? No.’
Karen smiled. ‘That will feel amazing. But right now, let’s dig this sword up!’
It wasn’t long before they tried the hilt one final time and the blade came out of its scabbard of earth. Azeil quickly strapped it onto the belt underneath his cloak along with the other scrap he had found. It wasn’t unusual for people to steal.
‘Let’s get this to the guards, shall we?’
After Azeil had handed in his findings, Karen accompanied him to the large tree away from the collection of small pathetic looking homes the other scavengers lived in. Several years ago, the two had found that being away from everyone was safer.
‘I still can’t believe what you did.’
Azeil grinned at his friend’s concerned words. He felt the sleeve on his right arm, the silver sword had turned out to be quite small, and so he’d hidden it. ‘Tomorrow it won’t matter if I’ve kept something.’
Karen shook his head. ‘There’s still today. What if you trip?’
Azeil replied with a nervous laugh as he sat down against the big oak’s trunk. ‘I won’t.’
‘It’s still stupid though…’ Feeling for the right branch, Karen hauled himself up into the tree, climbing to sit near the top.
Several loose autumn leaves fluttered down onto Azeil, who had now started eating the bread he had retrieved from the guards. He looked up. Every day he wondered if Karen would ask for something, but he never did.
‘Wake me up later,’ Karen said as he wriggled himself into a comfortable position among the old twisted limbs of the tree. ‘Don’t want to be known as the boy who slept through his one chance to be free!’
Once again Azeil cringed at his friend’s careless words. Taking a quick look around, he relaxed again and looked up at the sky. The dark shapes of crows played in the wind, croaking and cawing in their own chatty way. He felt the blade up his right arm. He was ready for the night. He would make it out alive, and with Karen.
Soon the sun had set, and the ragged edges of its light were slipping, Azeil looked up at Karen. He was still asleep, precariously balanced above.
‘Karen! Wake up!’
Abruptly trying to sit up before remembering were he was, Karen yelled as he nearly fell. Dishevelled, he recollected his balance. ‘Already?’ he muttered as he found his way carefully down the tree ‘Are they coming?’
They had a plan. Wait for the others to come from their homes and then sneak to the Northern Bridge. While he waited, Azeil carefully took the sword out of his sleeve.
‘Do you even know how to use that thing?’ Karen heard the blade as Azeil swung it experimentally.
‘No more than most of the others do.’ Putting the sword to his side, Azeil turned to his friend, ‘Do you want my knife?’
‘No! That thing’s completely useless.’
So they stood for what seemed like an eternity, until they saw dark figures come darting from their homes, and sneak slowly over to the tree. A dozen or so people had come. Azeil met eyes with the person he had seen that morning. There was no need for talk between them. They all knew what to do. So as light and as unnoticeable as a summer wind, they headed to the northern bridge.
Not far away from the gates that guarded the bridge, the small group stopped. Azeil saw his companions bring out the makeshift weapons they had hidden from the guards, so old and rusted the moon barely glimmered against the old metal they were made of.
‘You ready?’ Azeil removed the sword from his belt once more.
‘Have been for years,’ Karen replied bravely, but they both heard the fear creep into his voice.
They reached the gate, so unused that only several bits of rope held it together. Seeing his sword as the only thing sharp enough to cut it, Azeil pushed past the other scavengers and began to saw at the frayed bindings.
‘Hurry up Azeil!’ Karen sounded frantic. He could hear the metal against metal of fighting.
The first piece of rope went quickly, and the others faster as Azeil felt closer and closer to freedom. Eventually, with the help of Karen he shoved the large gate open. They all made a dash across the bridge.
Azeil yelled in frustration as he saw more of the guards at the other side. There was nowhere to go. He stopped, his friend running into him.
‘We have to jump!’
‘But the others!’ Azeil replied, frustrated. ‘We can’t! - ’
‘No time!’ Karen grabbed Azeil’s arm and dragged him off the bridge and into the river.
The water was freezing, yet they managed to swim to a bank further down. Under the cover of the bulrushes they pulled themselves up onto its sandy surface. Shivering, Azeil looked towards Karen and smiled. ‘We made it!’ he breathed in amazement.
‘We’re both alive!’ Karen replied, shivering. ‘We’re free from Mornah-Mey!’