The sun was setting over the horizon as the first rays of light began to filter into the narrow canyon that led down out of the mountains towards the sea. As he sat looking out across the expanse of water below him, the scarred soldier sighed heavily, closing his eyes against its glare. He could hear the low murmurings of conversation coming from the other soldiers. They were all tired but eager; there had not been so much activity since before the war started. And even though some of them would probably never see home again, they knew that the pay they received here made up for any hardship. The scarred man opened his eyes once more when he heard footsteps approaching behind him.

”Aye? What news? ” he asked. There was no reply, and after a moment the scarred man turned back to look at his lieutenant.

He was staring out across the riverbank. His face looked pale and drawn, and the scars along one cheekbone stood out darkly under the fading light of day.

”What is it, Lieutenant? ” said the scarred man, turning round again.

”Captain… Word is that there is a carriage coming this way. ”

”Aye, more refugees? ”

”Yes, ” replied the lieutenant. ”Except it looks like theyve a guard protecting them… ”

The captain frowned. He hadn seen many caravans passing through these parts recently, and certainly, none had guards. Not unless they were carrying something very valuable indeed.

”Well go and take a closer look then. Keep an eye open just in case there are more than we think. I want everyone ready to move on my command. ”

They watched silently until the carriage came into view, moving slowly along the track. After about ten minutes they saw another figure standing beside it, holding onto the reins while the driver guided the horses around a bend in the path. Then suddenly the second person disappeared from sight. The scarred man moved forward, walking carefully past the rest of his men, trying hard to keep his breathing quiet. Once close enough he raised himself slightly above the others and peered intently ahead.

There were four guards, hired blades by the look of it. Three were armed with crossbows, whilst the fourth held a long spear. One of the bowmen seemed to be watching the approach of the wagon cautiously, but the other two kept their heads lowered, scanning the ground as they walked. The carriage itself was pulled by a pair of sturdy grey ponies. On either side of the driver a large black dog lay quietly, licking its paws. The scarred man leaned forward, straining his ears to catch the sound of voices within, but heard nothing.

”Well Captain? ” one of his men asked.

”Draw arrows, make it quick, ” he ordered.

Two of the soldiers hurried off to get their weapons, leaving the others to stand watchful silence. Soon they heard a sharp whistle and several shafts thudded into the earth nearby, followed quickly by the crack of bows being loosed. Arrows flew overhead and clattered loudly against rocks, disappearing swiftly in amongst the trees lining both sides of the road. Both drivers had been hit, but neither had fallen yet. The lead horse stumbled and fell, throwing the carriage sideways and knocking the driver unconscious. The other pony reared up, kicking out wildly. Its hooves struck a guard square in the head, sending him flying backwards and rolling down the slope. Blood sprayed across the ground as he landed, twitching briefly.

They charged with spears and swords now, rushing forwards with grim determination. A carriage guard fired another bolt at the charging soldiers, but missed completely. He was hit by one of their arrows a moment after square in the throat. Two of the attackers went down immediately, pierced through the heart, but the remaining guard managed to pull a knife and stab one of their knights in the thigh. The wounded soldier screamed and dropped his weapon, clutching his wound. The attacker swung his blade upwards, catching the dying man full in the mouth and cutting his neck cleanly in two. The body slid down the slope, falling over a cliff edge.

Seeing this the Captain rushed at the guard. He brought his sword around sharply, slicing neatly between the mans arms. The guard tried desperately to block the blow with his hands, but was unable to stop it and collapsed in agony, dropping his dagger and clutching at the bloody stump. The captain kicked him viciously, cracking ribs as he did so, then spun away and ran back to help his comrades fight their way past the injured driver. By now most of them were dead, except for the surviving bowman who still crouched behind cover, firing blindly into the darkness.

”Flush him out, ” said the Captain as he brought it blade down upon the injured guards head. It cracked audibly and the man slumped lifeless to the ground.

One of his soldiers grabbed hold of the reins and gave them a tug, pulling the carriage to a halt. Another took aim with a crossbow and sent an arrow whistling through the air. A yelp rang out.

”Get those doors open! ” shouted the Captain.

The Knights rushed toward the carriage door with an axe in hand but before they had a chance to swing it the door opened from the inside.

Out stepped a man with a long beard, his hands raised in surrender.

”Please, we are refugees! ” cried the bearded man. ”My wife and children! Please don hurt us… ”

”Everyone out of the carriage, hands over their heads, ” commanded the Captain, raising his own sword.

The man with a long beard was followed by an older women, three girls, one young boy, and an infant child, each wearing simple clothing. All were covered in dirt and grime; clearly theyd travelled far from home already.

”Where do you come from? ” demanded the Captain.

”From… Reverance, ” replied the bearded man, his voice quivering slightly. ”We have nowhere else left to turn. ”

”Reverance? ” the Captains scarred face twisted in disbelief. He looked at his men. Reverance was the capital city of the Kingdom of Mervil – and what they had been ordered to capture.

”Where were you being escorted too? ” asked the Captain.

The woman with a baby clutched tightly onto her husbands arm. Her eyes darted nervously from side to side.

”Tell him dear ” she whimpered softly. ”It doesn matter where we
e going anyway… Just please spare our lives… ”

The Captain stared at the pleading faces surrounding him. These people weren warriors, they couldn possibly pose a threat. But if word got out that theyd been found this far from the capital…

”Are you sure these people aren spies? ” his lieutenant whispered, glancing at their faces.

”Only one way to be sure. Strip them, ” he ordered.

The men guarding them didn need telling twice. They snatched up the two nearest women and nearly ripped off their clothing, searching beneath them for hidden knives or poisons. When everything had been searched thoroughly the captives were forced to kneel on the ground.

”Next! ” called the Captain, who was watching with his blade still drawn.

The bearded man was stripped next. His clothes were torn away violently, revealing a small collection of silver coins tucked safely inside his belt pouch. Next, the children were checked, and finally the mother.

The women were sobbing openly now, tears running down their dirty cheeks, their naked bodies shaking uncontrollably. The baby began to cry, making little choking noises as it struggled in the grip of its mother. The bearded man stood motionless, staring straight ahead with cold, empty eyes.

Finally the search was complete. No hidden weapons, no poison vials or potions, nothing. The Captain turned to the Lieutenant.

”Don seem like spies to me. ”

”Im afraid not sir, ” answered the lieutenant, sheathing his blade.

But then…

”Captain! Theres someone else in here! ” cried out of the men from inside the carriage.

He strode forward and pushed aside the last of the shields, revealing a third person lying prone beneath supplies and clothing. They gripped the stowaway up by their arms and threw them out of the carriage so that they landed heavily on the grassy bank below. As soon as theyd regained their feet, the captive started struggling wildly.

”Stop it! ” barked one of the guards. ”Youll only make things worse for yourself… ”

”Let go of me! ” screamed the prisoner, twisting and thrashing about wildly.

”Who are you?! ” demanded the Captain, advancing menacingly towards the kneeling figure.

They continued to struggle even harder than before, flailing their legs and arms. One of the guards drew his sword and pointed it at the prisoner, ready to strike.

”Wait! ” ordered the Captain.

He walked toward the prisoner and grabbed them by the face. They looked at him and he was met by the steely gaze of a sixteen-year-old girl.

Her pale blonde hair was cut short, just above her shoulders, framing her beautiful features. Her green eyes gazed fearlessly back at him, despite how hard she must have been trying to break free. She wore a pair of leather trousers, worn boots and a simple tunic, all made from rough cloth. On top she carried a ragged cloak which seemed to be patched together from several different pieces. Beneath the hood of the garment he could see the outline of delicate facial features.

She looked familiar somehow.

”Strip her, ” said the Captain as he threw her aside.

The men reached for her, grabbing handfuls of her clothes. The young girl fought back fiercely, screaming obscenities and spitting blood as she did so.

”Wait! ” the bearded man called out again. ”You don understand, shes- ”

A knight punched the man square in the stomach, hurling him backwards and causing him to collapse onto the ground.

Finally they managed to strip her completely bare, leaving her defenceless on the ground once again. The men gathered round and inspected her carefully. She looked down at the ground covering her breasts with her arms.

”What is your name? ” the Captain asked sternly.

She didn answer.

The grabbed her by the top of her blonde hair and yanked it roughly upwards, forcing her to look up at him.

”Your name? Who are you?! ”

Again there was no response.

”Answer me damnit! ” roared the Captain.

This time she spoke quietly, almost whispering: ”Revra, Goddess of Death. ”

He tightened her grip and she let out a shriek of pain. A tear dribbled down her cheek.

”Don look like a Goddess of death to me! ” he shouted.

”What am I supposed to look like? ” she asked weakly.

”A whore, ” said one of the men, sniggering.

Another slapped her cheek, laughing as she cringed away.

”Shut up, ” snapped the Captain angrily.

He released her hair and backed off a few paces, looking down at the young girl who remained kneeling on the floor. He glanced at his men.

”Take her somewhere safe until we decide what to do with her, ” he told them. ”And find some food and water. Theyve been traveling for days without rest. ”

”Yes sir, ” they chorused. –

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