It had been days since Vallarie had fled the Gillian capital. She had barely managed to escape with her life. General Marcus had proved to be a ferocious and skilled opponent. His use of strange magic and incredible sword skills were on par or even higher than the most talented Rune Knight. Indeed, having witnessed his power first-hand, Vallarie believed that the Imperial General had even greater magical power than even the King of Fiondan.
Vallarie washed her face at a nearby stream in a thick forest she had taken refuge in. Her travelling clothes were covered in blood. General Marcus had injured her quite severely in their battle. She had managed to heal the worst of it through rune magic. However, the act had drained most of her energy. She was weak, tired and hungry. She needed to eat and sleep, but she did not have the luxury of time. Vallarie stripped her bloodied and torn travelling clothes and washed her body in the stream. The fresh, clear water felt beautiful on her skin. She couldn’t help but submerge her head into the deepest part of the stream.
Vallarie then unpacked her plain steel armour, which she had packed just in case of emergency, from her pack. She then spent several moments to strap it on. Putting on a breastplate was difficult without a squire. After much struggle and frustration, Vallarie was now dressed for battle. She strapped her Rune sword to her waist and filled her water skin before picking up her pack and making her way through the thick forest.
The sun had set and night had fallen. The forest became darker and more menacing. Vallarie would have very much liked to set up camp and rest as she had been running for two days straight without a wink of sleep. But she had to hurry. She knew that General Marcus that monster would have pinned Kellen’s murder on her and that means the empire would be marching on Fiondan.
She had to make it to the border before the Empire’s main host. She had to explain to her brother what had happened. More importantly, however, she would stand with her fellow knights and protect her home and her king.
Vallarie could see the edge of the forest in sight. All she had to do was find the main road heading east, and she would be close to the border. This forest path would lead to the main road. After that, it would be a short walk to Folegia Bridge, the final Gillian military checkpoint.
Just as she was about to reach the edge of the forest, Vallarie had spotted movement in the shadows. Several figures seemed to be dragging, what looked to be like, a limp body with an arrow lodged in it. A hunt perhaps? She thought.
“You stupid shite!” she heard someone growl.
“You robbed us of our gold and our bitch! Now you’re going to pay with hard labour for the rest of your miserable life!”
The voice seemed to be directed to the limp body being dragged on the ground. It was a person they were pulling. It was more bandits. Honestly, she sighed, the criminals in Gillia had increased ten-fold since the war ended. In the days of the Gillian Knights, this would never be suffered to endure!
Usually, Vallarie would charge at them and lay waste to these scum. However, she was exhausted and weak. In her current condition, even these common bandits would be able to overpower her, and she could not afford to die or become a pleasure toy. She had to get home and defend her lands from the imperial dogs. But she was honour bound to save this poor soul. It was her duty as a knight.
Vallarie had decided that she would use stealth to rescue the captive and make a quick escape. She shadowed the group until they entered a cave. Two sentries with longbows stood guard outside the cave entrance. She had to make sure neither of these men could alert their comrades of her presence. She had to move quickly.
Vallarie drew her sword from its sheath and used it to cast a spell on the first sentry. The man had fallen to his knees and began to cough up large amounts of blood. While the second sentry was distracted by the scene, Vallarie quickly rushed out of the bushes she was concealed in and stabbed the man through his throat. She then beheaded the second sentry and slowly made her way into the cave.
The walls of the cave were lit up with torches. It was silent except for the sound of men grunting, laughing, and banging tables. Vallarie walked toward an opening and peeked in. There was a vast space within the cave that looked something like a tavern. There were wooden tables with food, ale and weapons scattered across them. There were several bedrolls on the ground.
A man with black curly hair threw a young boy on the ground. This boy was their captive. He had an arrow lodged in his back. The boy groaned and opened his eyes halfway. For someone with his physical stature, it was amazing that he was still alive, let alone conscious.
“Well lads!” the curly haired man boomed.
“Let me introduce you to our newest man servant…please welcome LITTLE SHITE!”
All the men burst out laughing and banging tables with their cups.
“Little shite here is going to do all the back-breaking work that you lazy bastards hate doing.”
All the men cheered and banged their cups harder on the tables.
“Can we plough him!?” one of the men shouted. At this, all the men laughed even louder.
“Are you that desperate Loy?”
“It’s alright’ chief, I’ll just put a sack on ‘is head an’ pretend ’is a girl!”
“You can do whatever you like!” the curly haired man shouted, “this little shite cost us our gold and a real bitch!”
Vallarie analysed the situation. There were a total of twelve men all armed. The room was circular and difficult to sneak around in without being seen. She could wait for them to go to sleep, but sooner or later someone would check on the sentries outside. This rescue was not going to be easy.
Suddenly the boy forced himself off the ground and stood on his feet. He groaned something that she couldn’t quite make out.
“Eh!? What was that little shite!?” the curly haired man shouted.
The boy stood up straighter and gave his aggressor a cold look as he said: “I’ll kill you!”
The room fell silent for a moment. Suddenly, the cave shook as the bandits roared with laughter.
“You’d best watch out chief! Ser cries-a lot looks serious!” one of the men jeered.
However, the boy did not back down. He continued to stare down the bandit chief intensely.
“Alright lad,” the chief said, “I’ll give you one free shot.”
The bandit chief patted the left side of his cheek mockingly “Go on then! Have at it!”
The bandits around the cave jeered and whistled as the boy clenched his fists.
I have to act now, Vallarie thought. There was no way to continue with stealth. She had no choice but to rely on her armour to protect her. It should be able to hold against their old and rusted weapons.
Just as Vallarie was about to unsheathe her sword, a loud crack emanated from the centre of the cave room. The boy had planted his fist on the bandit chief’s face and sent him toppling over one of the tables. All the men fell silent.
Even Vallarie was taken aback by the boy’s strength. She quickly regained her composure when she noticed that the other bandits had drawn their weapons. Their mocking expressions had quickly changed to malicious intent. The boy still stood in the middle of the room, breathing heavily.
Vallarie had charged into the room and quickly slew two of the bandits closest to the boy. She held her sword in front of her and faced the rest of the bandits.
The boy looked at her with a puzzled expression.
“Don’t just stand there you dolt! Grab a weapon!” she said to him urgently. The boy picked up a spiked mace from one of the dead bandits and stood next to her. She was still amazed that he could even pick up such a heavy weapon.
The bandits charged at them all at once. Vallarie had to rely on her swordsmanship alone, as she did not have the energy to use any more magic.
And so it began. Vallarie had unleashed a furious flurry of blows. She put down four of the bandits within seconds. Two more had charged toward her. One of the men swung his short sword at her head, and the other thrust his spear toward her abdomen at the same moment.
Few warriors would come out of this situation without being struck. However, Vallarie was not one of them. She used her sword to parry the blow from the enemy sword and then used her free hand to grab hold of the spear shaft and break it in half. In the same moment, she had slashed at both men and killed them.
Vallarie turned around and saw that the remaining three bandits had charged at the boy. The raven-haired youth connected a mighty swing with his mace on one of the bandits, killing him instantly. The remaining two had slashed at him. Cutting open the boy’s arm and forearm as he tried to block.
Vallarie quickly ran to his side and lobbed off the head of one man and buried her sword in the chest of the other.
The boy had collapsed and looked as though he were about to lose consciousness. She had to heal him quickly. It would drain the last of her reserves, but she had no choice. If she didn’t do something now, he would die. Before that, however, she had one last matter to take care of.
The bandit chief groaned as he regained consciousness. He looked at the scene in front of him, and his jaw dropped. Before he could react, Vallarie had charged at him, grabbing his rusty chain-mail in her steel fist and slamming him into the wall. She kept a firm grip on him and gave him a cold look as she spoke “I understand that times are hard right now” she said softly “but what you are doing can be considered only as evil.”
The bandit chief tried to release himself from her grip but to no avail. He stared at her wide-eyed and mumbled incoherently. “I was contemplating whether or not I should let you live” she continued “However, what you do is not out of necessity but rather out of sick pleasure and enjoyment. You cannot be suffered to live. As a knight, I must pass judgement, and I pass it now.”
Vallarie slowly pushed her sword inside the man’s belly and continued to hold him against the wall as he coughed out blood. She only released him when the light faded from his eyes.
Vallarie sheathed her blade and knelt next to the boy. “I’m going to pull the arrow out of your back. It is going to hurt. Bite on this” she gently placed an empty sword sheathe between his teeth and positioned herself behind him.
She slowly began to pull the arrow out of the boy’s back. She had to be careful not to break the shaft, or it would be difficult and painful to pull the broken piece out. The boy let out a muffled scream as she pulled. After several minutes of careful extraction, the arrow was finally out. Blood gushed out from the boy’s back. Vallarie quickly used rune magic to close the wound. Moments later she healed the rest of his injuries with magic.
That was it. She had done all she could. She helped the boy to one of the bedrolls and set him down gently. He immediately passed out. Vallarie sat next to him and closed her eyes. She needed to get back to her brother, to the kingdom, to Azzara. Now, however, was not the time. With that, she drifted off into a deep sleep with nightmares of war, blood, and death.