Her voice is low but carries, echoing off the tunnel walls, and I stumble to a halt and turn. My breath tears through my throat, adrenaline pounding my body and making my muscles tremble. A scowl of annoyance creases my brow and a disbelieving question resounding in my head; what the hell is so important that we were risking our lives to hear it? We needed to get out of here!
But the expression on Moll’s face pulls me up short, and my irritation is replaced by the a faint stirring of fear.
“I’m staying here, Jacob.”
My brain stutters, trying to understand. “Moll, what are you saying? That’s suicide.”
Her head tilts to one side, listening to the distant thunder of our pursuers, a distorted crashing noise ricocheting off the uneven stone walls.
“I’m staying.” Her voice is firm, her muscles solidly rooted in place. She lifts her chin in the air, catching my eye. Her expression informs me coldly that this is her decision to make, not mine. “I can hold them off, buy you enough time to get out of here safely.”
My mind is in turmoil. I want to say something, to do something that will show her how much this means… how much her sacrifice is worth to me…
“Shut up!” she shouts, so forcefully that I take an involuntary step back. Her façade at strength slips for just a moment, and pain burns in her eyes. Her years of suffering are evident on her face, and I wish with all my heart that it could’ve been different for her.
Moll advances towards me, her hand resting on the pommel of her sword, anger in the lines of her face and the tightness of her body. I back away from her until I hit the tunnel wall.
“Don’t say anything!” she spits from between her teeth, each word a blow. “Don’t you dare lie to me now. I’ve been your friend, and you owe me that much. Don’t you dare let me die for a fucking lie.”
Her face is inches from mine, fury making her eyebrows draw tightly down to her narrowed eyes. I can see how much this is costing her, the weight of her pain weighing her down, dragging her to this dark place. I wish that I could help her, that I could return her feelings. Moll steps away, turns to face back they way we’d run.
“If I mean – anything to you, then go now.” Her voice faltered, almost broke on the word ‘anything’, but then her expression closed off and her voice was flat and angry again. “Go away and don’t look back.”
In a slow, measured movement, she drew her sword. The slashing sound of metal on metal fills the cave, drowning out the rising noise of our pursuers.
I look at her, this powerful impossible woman. Her suffering and pain never broke her; she lifts her eyes up, narrowed at the corners, her fingers tightening their grip on her raised sword. Her feet are planted firmly and a wild hope for her survival burns through me, even though I know it is impossible. She is strong but there are too many.
I say to her, gratitude and sorrow and thankful understanding in my voice. She does not turn to look at me and I see the tears tracing down her cheeks. Her lips tremble slightly and she presses them firmly together, pushing back her shoulders. The sound of crashing in the tunnel is almost deafening now, resounding through my ears and painful in my head. The long length of her raised sword gleams silver in the dim light.
I turn and flee up the tunnel, leaving Moll to the fate she chose.