It’s your fault.
The thought echoed through Kieran’s head like an accusation in another voice. He jumped.
“What is it?”
Donall was close enough to feel the slightest change in his son’s step.
“Nothing. I nearly tripped on a rock.”
Donall turned his back again, eyes scouring the undergrowth. Kieran followed, nodding when his father glanced back to check he was still there. Kieran had been repressing the urge to grab hold of his father’s hand since they had entered these woods. Ridiculous in a grown man.
It’s your fault.
“Shut up,” he muttered. If Donall heard, he gave no sign of it. For the first time, Kieran was glad of the fifteen yards separating them from the other pairs. It made them feel alone in the forest, but at least nobody could hear him talking to himself.
“It’s loss of his sister that turned him, like his mother”, he heard Mrs. Stephens’ voice this time. “It’s a shame, but he’s not fit for our Martha, that’s certain.”
Martha’s having my baby, you harpy, and I don’t intend to let some imaginary voice take either of them away from me!
What if you kill them too?
Fifteen yards to their left were his friends Jim and Davvie, and beyond them, a constable and Mr. Stephens, the pastor. On the right were Colin Cross the chandler and his son John, and after them… John had seen the whole thing. Why hadn’t he stopped Darcy going into the forest? The strawberries were all at the edge…
It’s not John’s fault. It’s yours.
“What?” Donall said, still walking.
Donall stopped and looked at him. In the flickering lamp light, his father’s eyes were unreadable.
“She’s not dead,” he said finally. “Your mother would know if she were.”
Kieran felt another stab of guilt. Just that morning he’d as much as told his sister that their mother was going mad. They had been bickering. They did little else lately. He wondered if that was why she’d run off.
She didn’t run off, she was kidnapped, he told himself.
She would never have been kidnapped if you hadn’t asked her to go in your place.
“Everything all right over there?” that was the constable.
“Just me and my son having a bit of a row,” Donall called back. “Sorry.”
There were mutters, and an order to keep moving. Kieran heard the sound of the lamp being hung on a branch, and felt his father’s hands on either side of his face.
“Son, look at me.”
He opened his eyes, but couldn’t look at his father. Not when he’d practically killed her.
“An act is always the fault of the perpetrator,” said Donall in the voice he usually used to give lessons. “It is never the fault of the victim, or of the people who unwittingly brought the victim to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“But she might still be alive.” A note of desperation sneaked into his father’s voice. “She has to be. They probably just want a ransom. Ha.” Donall laughed mirthlessly. Kieran could see why. If the kidnapper had known who Darcy was, they’d have taken the daughter of a richer family. He wondered if the Stephens’ would chip in for them, since they were soon to become family too.
“So I need you to concentrate, alright?”
He hated that voice. It was the voice people used to speak to his mother. Kieran used it too, and now Donall was using it on him. He looked at his father.
Donall hugged his son tight, gave him a clap on the back to give him courage, and turned to walk forward again. The rest of the party had moved on, and theirs was a tiny light in the middle of a black wilderness that seemed to close in on them.
They might get you next.
He grit his teeth against the voice, and stepped up next to Donall. His father was right, he had to concentrate. This forest was getting to him. He couldn’t let it, his little sister needed him. If it was his fault she’d been taken, then he would be the one to bring her home.
I bloody hope they do get me next, he thought. I’ll murder the lot of them.