Vallarie had been travelling for weeks since she set off from the Fiondan Royal City. The journey was rough. It took her more than two weeks on horseback to finally reach the Gillian border, where an imperial blockade stopped her. The imperial legion was indeed an intimidating sight to behold. These were fully trained, fully equipped, and disciplined soldiers.
There was no way that she would be able to fight her way through the blockade and live to tell the tale. She had to be smart. After being waved to the side by an imperial mage, Vallarie had desperately tried to create a believable lie about who she was and what she was going to do in Gillia.
“Tell me who you are and what your business in Gillia is.” the mage had demanded. Vallarie had decided to drop her heir of command and her warrior-like demeanour.
“My name is Kiara sir. I am travelling to my father’s home in Gillia” she had said with the sweetest most helpless voice she could muster. It was a technique that many women in the Fiondan royal court would use to trap the noble lords they wished to marry. Men were simple creatures she had discovered. They could not resist a beautiful young maiden who seemed like she needed to be protected. Of course, she knew that not all men were like that, like her brother for example.
Vallarie could not tell if her act worked seeing as the mage’s face was entirely covered by a steel helmet. “And why are you leaving Fiondan to see your father in Gillia?” the soldier’s voice had not changed and still seemed threatening. Perhaps it was because imperial soldiers were too disciplined to slack while on duty. However, Vallarie could not suddenly discard her act now. “I received a letter that my father is ill. Please sir, would you let me pass?”
“Very well” the mage had said “After I’ve searched your belongings you can pass.”
Vallarie had become anxious now. She had hidden her rune sword within her knapsack before entering the blockade. If the mage recognised it, and he surely would, she would be in serious trouble.
Vallarie had to act quickly. She began to draw runes in the ancient text behind her back ‘Hide my rune sword from prying eyes’ she wrote in the air.
The mage opened the knapsack and looked inside. Vallarie could see the sword in its sheath as clear as day. However, the mage stared into the sack for a moment and then closed it.
“You may pass,” he said to her. Vallarie gave a slight nod and trotted through the blockade on her horse. All the spell did was make the sword invisible to those who looked into the knapsack besides her. If the mage had stuck his hand in there; he would have been able to feel it.
Having successfully passed through the imperial blockade without incident, Vallarie had begun to make her way east toward the village of Jesk. It was there that the report stated the villagers had killed Azzara and so she believed there might be some clues there that could lead her onto the right track.
Dusk had begun to settle in the sky. Vallarie rode her horse toward a thicket of trees that lay just to the side of the main road. As the air became dark, Vallarie had just finished making a small fire and placed a skinned rabbit on a spit for her supper.
She sat on the grass as she ate her meal and started to think about what she would do after visiting the supposedly burned down village. Suddenly movement could be heard between the trees near her.
About eight men had surrounded her campsite, and all of them brandished weapons.
“Look here boys!” one of the men said with a huge grin on his face “We’ve found ourselves some meat!”
The other men jeered and laughed and flashed their weapons threateningly. Vallarie continued to eat her meal unperturbed. The men closed in on her with broad smiles, jeers and whistles. Vallarie swallowed the last of her cooked rabbit and said “I’ve just finished eating the last of it. There is no more for you.”
The men all laughed sadistically “We’re not after your rabbit meat, bitch!” one of the men said, “We’re talking about YOU!”
The men jeered and whistled again as they got closer to her. One or two of them already dropping their pants. “We haven’t ploughed a beautiful woman in months!” another man said “and you are beautiful…mmm…yellow hair, pink lips, soft and pale skin, and supple tits!” all the men roared with laughter. One of the men, who carried a spiked mace, could not resist any longer. He lunged at her greedily as she stood up. Vallarie used her index finger to write a spell in the air quickly. The man fell in front of her feet and stopped moving. He was dead. Vallarie pulled her sword out of her knapsack and spread her arms as she looked around at the men. “Well?” she said as the men gaped at her “Shall we dance?”
Moments later, eight bloodied and dismembered bodies littered the area around her. Vallarie was breathing heavy as the seven other attackers proved to be quite strong. They were army deserters, she thought. These men were trained soldiers she could tell. Perhaps they were former Gillian soldiers that managed to escape the slaughter at the Bullien plains.
Vallarie moved her camp further away from the stink of death and settled her bedroll on the ground. She stared up at the sky as she lay on her back and contemplated what was to happen to this once great country. Would King Kellin be able to bring it back to its former glory? Or would the Empire suck it dry?
The next morning, Vallarie packed up her belongings after washing herself at a nearby stream. She ate a cold breakfast of bread and cheese, which she had looted from the bodies of her would be rapists, and saddled her horse.
By late afternoon, Vallarie had finally reached the crossroads which split off into three roads. The road leading to the Gillian Border gate, the road leading north to the Gillian Capital, and the road leading south toward Lavern. The village of Jesk was supposedly east of this crossroad.
Vallarie rode her horse off the main road and came across a muddy path. The clouds overhead had begun to darken as she followed the muddy path down into the village. When Vallarie had reached the entrance of the village, she was met with nothing but burned down buildings and rotting corpses. The farms on the outskirts of the village had been destroyed; not a single house had been left standing. The bodies of men, women and children littered the ground. None had been spared. Did King Kellin really condone this dishonourable attack on a defenceless village?
Vallarie road around and noticed there were perhaps three or four dead imperial soldiers. It seemed someone had put up a fight. As she reached the centre of the village, heavy rains began to pour down. She needed to find some cover, but there were no buildings that would shield her from the rain. It was then that Vallarie had spotted a small hut not too far from the village. She rode her horse hard in the direction of the cabin as the rain pelted her.
When Vallarie reached her destination, she tied her horse underneath a thatched roof next to the hut before entering. Once inside, Vallarie began to survey the inside of the one-room cabin. There didn’t seem to be much within. There was broken furniture everywhere, the floor was littered with various household items, and there were dry blood stains on the floor. Vallarie set down her knapsack and started a fire in the grate. She undressed and placed her naked body next to the fire to dry off.
Vallarie never trusted the empire, but this was going too far, even for them. It was no secret that the empire had attacked and looted Gillian villages during the war. However, if the villagers did not resist, then they were spared. So why raze a village to the ground during times of peace? Why kill even the children? It did not make sense. Not at all!
Vallarie sat up from her spot near the fire feeling that she was sufficiently dry. She found white underwear on the ground and put it on while she waited for her clothes to dry. Vallarie looked at the single bed against the wall of the hut and contemplated whether or not she should sleep on it tonight. It seemed decent enough except that it was covered in blood. Just then, she had noticed something sparkling in a dark corner behind the bed.
Vallarie reached out and grabbed it. It was a beautifully hand-crafted, diamond tiara. Why was such a magnificent piece of jewellery in a place like this? This tiara alone was worth more than several whole villages. Yet here it was in a tiny hut on the outskirts of what used to be a struggling little village.
“This has to belong to Azzara!” Vallarie exclaimed. According to the reports that she had gathered on the road here, Princess Azzara had been attacked by the villagers when she and her entourage had decided to rest at the village of Jesk. If that were indeed true, the attack would have happened as soon as they entered the village. Then why was it that Azzara’s tiara had ended up so far away from the village centre?
Could it be that she had managed to escape her attackers and sought refuge at this shack? That would explain the blood. Yet, if the villagers had tracked her down here and finished the job, then where was her body? According to the reports, the Imperials could not recover the body. It was said that she had burned with the rest of the village and that she could not be identified. Indeed, many bodies within the village were horribly burned and could not be identified. However, Azzara’s tiara being here meant that she must have sought refuge at this hut. It seemed highly unlikely that someone would have been able to steal it and hide it here during the fighting. The villagers were being slaughtered and their homes burned to the ground. Safeguarding a tiara would have meant nothing if they had lost their lives. This tiara must have been here for nearly a month. If no one had come to claim it yet, it would mean that Azzara was here and she managed to escape somehow.
A sense of relief and excitement had filled Vallarie. It had to be true. Azzara was not dead! She escaped!
The relief and joy of this revelation had quickly turned into anxiety. She’s all alone now, Vallarie thought. This country isn’t safe for her anymore. If I know her as well as I should, she would be making her way to Fiondan right now.
Vallarie put on her half-dry clothes and shouldered her knapsack. She had decided to return to Fiondan and await the arrival of her beloved little sister. First, I will go to the Gillian capital and speak with Kellin. I will tell him what I’ve discovered and find out the truth of what really transpired here.
Vallarie walked back outside in the rain and saddled her horse. She was filled with determination and renewed motivation. Vallarie rode her horse to the entrance of the village and then on to the main road. She rode hard toward the north, to the Royal Capital of Gillia.
It was there she would meet with the young king and finally learn the truth.