Chapter 1: Bloody Beginning
The temperature dropped by degrees as the night entered its strongest hours. The cold crept under my skin making me shiver. Pulling the quilt around me tighter to ward off the unwelcome chill, I looked out of the small window of the carriage. Nothing other than the mist; growing denser with every passing moment, was visible to the mortal eyes. The clicking of hooves on the gravel pathway and the force of wind entering the carriage through the window told me that the carriage was moving at a brisk pace. I let the curtain fall back in place; obstructing the view of the outside world, and closed my eyes savoring whatever little warmth the quilt provided me with.
Just as the sleep was settling in, I was jolted awake. The carriage had come to a complete halt. Were we being attacked? Bandits? Wild animals? King’s men? My mind began to swirl with dozens of the possibilities, none good. Taking hold of my nerves, I called out.
” Why have we Stopped, Francis?”
“It is a girl, Ms. Black. She begs for our help.”
A girl, roaming alone at this ungodly hour in the most dangerous forests of The Estercrest Empire; was it some sort of a new trap the thieves were employing to trap the clueless travelers? Even if it was, my curiosity won the battle over worries.
Gathering the skirt of my dress, I stepped off the carriage. Instantly, the cold hit me hard. Folding my arms on my chest and rubbing my palms on them to create friction, I looked around. The darkness of the night had a fear inducing quality. Amidst the lurking darkness she stood clinging to Francis’ arms, trying to convey her plea for help with broken sentences, punctuated by her ever increasing sobs. She was a young girl in trouble, or at least looked like one to me. Feeling the obligation to help her I moved towards her; throwing caution to the wind.
She needed no further urging. Grabbing my hand she fell into as much of a run as her dress would allow. Francis stayed close on my heels. Her grip was hard on my hand; like she was certain I would vanish in to the thin air if not held on to. Twigs and dried leaves cracked under our weight. Every sound hit my ears greatly magnified. Low hanging branches scratched and pierced my skin along my dress, and thorns left me with pricked painful skin, but we kept up our pace for what seemed like ages. The night held the beginnings of a storm. Slowly pace gaining night wind brought along the scent of rain, dust and... and blood; more appropriately the stench of blood, which was soon followed by the blood curdling sight of the site of its origin. Bloody bodies of men were littered in a small radius all around an upturned carriage. Unsheathed swords, bows, arrows, daggers, spears and sheaths lay unclaimed everywhere on the ground.
The girl, who had led us to this post bloodbath scene, ran to a man’s body lying on his back near the body of a once majestic stallion. The man was heavily wounded, bleeding and possibly even dead. At close examination I could see his chest rising and falling faintly. He was breathing and alive, though barely, his breathing was shallow and deteriorating at a rapid pace.
Everything around me was too much to take in. I did not realize it until Francis threw the breathing man’s body over his shoulder; whom the girl kept calling brother, and started running in the direction I assume we came from, that the fear had paralyzed me. Jolting out of the shock and numbness of mind, I gathered as much as possible my senses and started running after Francis closely followed by the girl, both of whom had gone an acknowledgeable distance ahead of me.
The moments passed both in a blur and with too much stillness. Francis placed the man inside the carriage with me and the girl, who introduced herself as Caroline Ozera, and drove the carriage untill the closest town, Hollowlyn, which happened to be home to her and also the very town Caroline was headed to with her brother, before they got ambushed. Under Caroline’s directions we drove to her house in Hollowlyn, got her brother settled in his room, and called for healers from town; the best in the business.
The healers came in within a short while and examined Caroline’s brother. They worked on stopping his bleeding, preparing medicines from appropriate herbs, bandaging his wounds and cooling down his burning body for a long while. Some moment around dawn the healers deemed him alive and steadily on to the path of complete recovery before bidding us adieu and departing for their houses.
After the healers left, Caroline was much less chaotic and concerned so, I asked Francis to prepare the carriage for our departure, but Caroline was adamant on making us stay the night or whatever little was left of it with her; at her house. It did not take much to persuade me to stay. The tiredness from all day’s travelling and night’s adventures was washing over me, and I was more than glad at the idea of having a good night’s sleep or in this case a good morning’s sleep before continuing my journey.
I did not have the power to look around the room Caroline left me in. I barely managed to undress and get under the sheets before sleep took over my being. Sleep came to me easy, but did not stay as easy. Images of blood dipped bodies, and amputated limbs and heads composed my dreams. Despite the nightmares, tossing and turning my tired body managed a while of sleep.