The morning light peeked in through the small opening of the flap of the tent. Azzara wanted to feel the rays of the sun on her skin again and breathe the fresh air. Being unable to use the lower half of her body made it impossible to move about on her own. She had to wait for a girl, Lynn, to help her outside to relieve herself and bathe her. She felt disgusted.
Just over a week ago, Azzara had been severely injured after being tossed from the cart she was carried in. The horse that pulled it had become wild and Azzara did not have the balance to steady herself in the cart. She had broken her wrist and had a nasty gash on her chest from being cut on a sharp rock. She had lost consciousness and when she next awoke it had been a day later. She had found herself in this very same tent being tended to by a woman in chain mail, and a huge sword slung across her back.
A man had entered her tent that day. He was tall and bulky. He had to lower himself to not bump his head on the roof of the canvas. He cut an imposing figure and succeeded in intimidating Azzara. He had a very dark skin colour. Darker than any Azzara had ever seen in the Northern Kingdoms. A bald man with deep scars all over his face and body.
He had pulled up a chair next to her bed and sat down slowly. Azzara lifted the blankets up to her neck without thinking.
The man smiled wide at her before bursting out laughing “Calm down little girl. You’re not my type” he had said.
“I understand that you’re badly injured but I have some questions and you will answer.”
Azzara was afraid and felt very alone. She wanted Keon to be there with her, but she had to face the reality that he was most likely dead.
“My scouting party found you near the border gates. So my first question to you is; what is a young girl like you doing near the border gates when there is a war going on?”
Azzara did not know who this man was or what he wanted. What she did know was that she could not tell him the truth. She spun a tale about being a village girl from Gillia going to Fiondan to live with her uncle. She was attacked by bandits on the road and barely escaped with her life.
“And your name?”
“My name is Dahlia.”
“Alright Dahlia. You can stay, and we’ll see about getting you to Fiondan in one piece.”
For the next week, Azzara had remained in the tent. A girl, Lynn, was assigned to Azzara’s care when she had told the man, Zack, that she was paralysed. It turned out that Zack was the leader of a mercenary army that was hired by Fiondan to help defend the kingdom from imperial invasion. When they found her, they had just taken the border gate from the imperials and were moving into Fiondan territory. As far as Azzara could tell, they were not far from Fort Morbin, Fiondan’s most fortified military centre.
This mercenary army, The Green Dragons, was marching to fort Morbin to fortify it together with the Fiondan army. Fort Morbin was not where Azzara needed to go. She needed to go to the capital to speak to Vallarie. She needed to warn her about General Marcus. But right now, she lacked the motivation to do anything. Zack confirmed that King Kellin had been murdered. The official story was that Vallarie, the Knight-commander of the rune knights, had assassinated him. Azzara did not believe it, and neither did anyone else. She knew who had killed her little brother. The same creature that killed her father.
Azzara had fallen into an even deeper depression since hearing of Kellin’s violent death. The overwhelming guilt of Keon’s death had also contributed to a large extent. She missed him, she had to admit. He was kind, gentle, and there was a depth in his eyes that she never saw in many people.
Azzara was torn away from her thoughts with the arrival of Zack. “The time has come for you to travel to the capital,” he told her. “And I have a gift.”
Zack came closer to Azzara and silently asked for permission to carry her off of the bed. Azzara hesitantly lifted up her arms and wrapped them around Zack’s neck as he picked her up in his arms and took her out of the tent. Azzara squinted as the sun’s rays attacked her eyes. Zack stopped walking and placed her on a leather chair.
“My craftsmen worked tirelessly on this contraption, and they assure me that it would work quite well.”
Azzara looked down at the chair she was sitting on. The seat and backrest were made of durable leather, and they were being held together by an iron frame. What she found strange was the chair had two wooden wheels on either side of it. It was like a chair and a cart combined.
“The point of this contraption” Zack continued “Is to use one’s arms to push the wheels to propel yourself forward.”
Azzara pushed the wheels forward, and the chair moved. She pushed again and then again. It was incredible. She could now move on her own without depending on others. She dropped her arms to her sides after a few moments. They felt heavy and sore.
Zack laughed “It will take some time to build the strength and stamina needed to move around like that on your own”
Azzara looked around, and a young, handsome man walked toward her. He had piercing grey eyes and short, curly red hair.
“But don’t you worry,” Zack said gruffly “You won’t need to push yourself all the way to the capital on your own. This here is Farron” Zack pointed to the young man standing in front of Azzara “He is one of my best swordsmen, and he will accompany you to the gates of the capital.”
Farron winked and gave Azzara a charming smile. Two months ago Azzara would have melted under that Gaze. He was handsome, charming, and an expert swordsman, he was everything she found attractive. But now she was a different person. She felt as though she’d grown up.
Azzara looked up at Farron and nodded. Lynn pushed Azzara’s chair back into the tent. “Well, let’s get you dressed,” Lynn said to her.
Lynn helped Azzara out of her long, white, sleeping gown. Lynn fitted her with a pair of black woollen trousers, a white blouse and a brown leather jerkin. Lynn then covered Azzara in a hooded brown travelling cloak before helping her back into the chair.
The pair headed outside where Farron was waiting, wearing a large pack on his back.
“Supplies for the journey,” He said when he noticed Azzara looking at the pack. Lynn smiled at Azzara before walking away and allowing Farron to grab hold of the chair. Farron pushed her through the camp. These men and women were undoubtedly prepared for war. There were fully armoured troops rushing around the camp. It looked like they were about to move again.
Farron continued to push the chair all the way out of the camp until the green tents were so far away that Azzara could fit the whole camp between her thumb and index finger.
The duo Travelled for many hours, and the sky had become a bright orange. Sunset was approaching. Azzara felt bad for Farron. It must have been tiring for him to push her on her chair for this long and they were at least two days away from the capital.
“We’ll need to set up camp soon,” Farron told her “By noon tomorrow we should be able to get onto the main road. Then it’s just a day’s walk to the city.”
Farron had stopped a few times during the journey to stretch. When he stopped to stretch again, Azzara had noticed a swirling black hole form on the ground a few feet in front of her. Farron must have seen too because he had suddenly stopped stretching and strolled toward it. A figure had begun to rise out of the hole. Azzara’s breath had gotten stuck in her throat as the figure revealed itself.
Azzara could not feel her legs but yet she remembered the pain she had felt. The pain and terror. The creature that had ruined her body and her ability to walk was now standing right in front of her yet again. It was him…it was Xandar.