Part I is here. Work in progress.
They sat in silence while she warmed some milk in a pot suspended over the flames of the hearth. The infant was placed not far from the fire, wrapped in dry brown woven blankets. The woman had removed the silk that covered the child and thrown it in the fire as soon as they entered. She had muttered a curse under her breath while watching it burn.
“You found her in the valley, didn’t you?” she said without looking up from the fire. “You don’t have to answer. The cloth she came wrapped in tells me all I need to know. I’m not sure you realize what you’ve done.” Fear was in her voice.
“I saved a child from death by exposure and starvation. Would you have done different?” He asked.
“She was not left there by accident. They will come for her. They are probably already on their way.” She poured some of the warm milk into a small bowl.
“Who is on their way?” Orren asked, his hands moving instinctively towards his weapons
“The ones who put her there. The servants of those who rule. She was a gift to ensure a bountiful harvest and protection from invaders. The first child born each season is always marked for the god under the mountain. It has always been this way, will always be this way. Those who resist are killed.” She began feeding the child slowly from the milk in the bowl, then she looked at Orren. Shadows danced across his face, his eyes fixed on the flames.
“I’ve seen the look in your eyes before. It was the same look my husband had when they came to take our daughter away. He knew how the world worked, but it was always someone else’s child left to the darkness. He could not bear to watch his own flesh and blood taken away, and so he died with sword in hand. They hung his body on the gate of their keep.” She turned away.
“Yet you helped us. Why?” he asked, studying the woman in front of him. She was tall and thin, olive skin with dark hair wrapped in a cloth. She wore the simple clothes of a peasant, well worn from work. Her eyes were a deep green, they reminded him of stones from the east. He had seen stones like that before. They used to shimmer in the moonlight when she wore them in her hair.
“When I opened that door I…I meant to kill you and take the child back to the valley. Then I saw her face. The soul I thought dead stirred in me again. To turn her and you away would be to forfeit the last of my heart. Death will be the price for this, and I will gladly pay it.” She finished feeding the milk to the baby and took her up in her arms.
“My name is Sara” she said without taking her gaze off the child.
“I am Orren” he said before drifting off to sleep to the sound of a gently hummed lullaby.
He dreamed of frozen flames and the darkness that lives.
Orren awoke to commotion outside the front door. Sounded like armored men on horses; 2, maybe 3.
“The master of this house must present himself immediately. We will enter with force if you do not comply.”
Sara was standing at the door, fear in her eyes. “Stay here and make no sound. I will try and get them to leave. The child sleeps now, but if she wakes I fear all is lost.” She said before opening the door and stepping outside.
He could hear the conversation outside.
“Have you seen any strangers recently? Your farm is closest to the valley, thought someone may have passed by” A stern voice said
“No. No one has been by here in a long time.”
“You won’t mind us searching your house then.”
He heard the men dismount.
Orren sat for a moment in the morning light collecting his thoughts, he could see the child from across the room. The blankets she was wrapped in moved with each tiny breath. He took the flask of water from his side and knelt at on the wooden floor, laying his shield and pike in front of him. The shortened ritual would have to do this day, hopefully it was only men that he faced. When he had finished he collected his weapons, opened the door and stepped out into the light.
Three horses and three armored riders with crimson cloaks stood several meters from the edge of the front garden. Sara was standing not far from the door. All eyes were upon the new participant in the conversation. Sara’s mouth hung open and her face became pale. Fear mixed with rage in her eyes.
“I thought I’d save you the trouble of a search and just present myself. I am the stranger you are looking for. I have what you are searching for too.” Orren said in a steady voice. He stepped in front of Sara. She retreated to the house shutting the door behind her.
“We don’t have to do this. You can just ride on, forget you ever saw us.” Orren said, resting his pike at his side. The men across from him gripped their weapons and scowled.
“You have that which does not belong to you. Return it and we will grant you a quick death. The woman shall be brou…”
Orren flicked his wrist, extending his pike forward, the bladed hook now behind the knee of the man speaking. With another flick of his wrist he retracted the pike, bringing with it half a leg. Blood poured from the stump of the man’s leg and he collapsed to the ground, screaming in agony.
The soldiers to the right and left of the now crippled man stood gaping. Orren lifted his shield and lept at the attacker to his left. The shield absorbed the swing of a sword before the man was bowled over. Before he hit the ground the pike was thrust beneath chin and the man breathed no more. Orren turned with shield raised to block a strike from the last attacker but none came. The last man had mounted his horse and was riding away. They would bring more men next time, more than he could handle.
Suddenly he felt a rush of air above his head. The fleeing rider slumped in his saddle and fell over backwards into the mud. The tip of an arrow could be seen protruding from the throat of the now dead rider. Sara stood in the doorway motionless, bow still raised. They looked at each other, saying nothing. The baby began to cry.