I ripped myself out of unconsciousness, trying to pull myself away from the tree that I was bound to. The Guide was tied to the tree in front of me, and I started to panic. I looked around before my eyes settled on a large pile of ash where the carriage had been; the setting sunlight making the ashes glow orange and red. I screamed in rage and grief, pulling against the ropes as hard as I could.
The Guide woke up to my screams and saw where I was looking. His dirty face bleached white as he tried to pull away from his ropes as well.
“Shut up over there!” I heard the hated voice as heavy footsteps came closer to us. The Merchant stood in front of me and slapped me hard across the face. He ripped off my veil and pocketed it; his eyes full of vicious glee. “Such a beautiful creature you are.” He touched the scars on my cheeks, his thumbs rubbing against my chin where his blade had tortured me. “So beautifully broken.” I glared into his eyes, promising myself that I would destroy him. He took a step back, “My pretty little dove, I have a wonderful opportunity for you. You see, we have already contacted the guards for this region and told them that we caught you and this other slave burning the carriage with the Queen of Astria inside. We were too late to stop you but were able to subdue you both until they can arrive. So, my proposition for you is to either go to the Games with this slave or…” He reached for my face again, cupping it in his large hand. “You become my little toy again.”
I growled and brought my knee up to his groin. He doubled over, grabbing my hair to help stabilize himself. “I would rather die in the Games than ever bow to you again.”
He stood up and slapped me across the face again, this time bringing blood with the stinging pain. He let go of my hair and walked a few steps away from me. “I gave you the chance at life; now, I look forward to seeing your death.” He walked away awkwardly, unable to stop the pain that I caused. He called back over his shoulder, “She screamed as she burned. It was a wonderful high pitched sound.”
I looked around quickly, trying to find my daggers or anything sharp that I could cut the ropes with and kill the bastard. The Guide whistled quietly to me, calling my attention to the dagger between us. “Can you reach it?” He whispered.
I was only tied from my shoulders to my elbows, as compared to the Guide who was tied to his wrists. I stretched my torso, legs and feet out, trying to get to the dagger. I touched it with the tip of my toes, but it would be enough. The leather of my boots gripped the blade and I was able to pull it towards me. I used both of my feet to pick it up and pass it to my right hand. I cut the ropes at my shoulders, accidentally cutting into my skin in my haste.
I moved and shifted, moving the cut ropes off of me. I tossed the dagger in the air slightly and caught it blade down, so I could cut from my armpit to my elbows. The ropes fell off of me; I was free. I quietly moved to the Guide and carefully sliced through the ropes that bound him. I looked around for my other dagger but could not find it around us.
I started to walk towards where the Merchant and his men sat, wanting to take my revenge on them. The Guide grabbed my arm and stopped me. I turned to cut him, but he grabbed my other wrist, preventing my downward stroke. He whispered, “I can hear the horses coming; we need to get out of here now.”
“Not yet… Not yet I destroy that monster!” I hissed back at him.
He grabbed the dagger from my hand and ripped it away from me, “We are outnumbered and we do not stand a chance right now. We need to get out of here now and you can plan your vengeance while we figure out what to do next.” He let go of me but kept my dagger with him.
He ran towards the forest, expecting me to follow him. I looked towards the Merchant’s group then to the ashes. “Milady, I will have his head in payment for your and Silvia’s lives. I swear on my life that I will kill him.” I followed the Guide into the forest but lost him. I looked around and did not see any movement nor heard any sound beyond the thundering horse hooves of the guards. “He left me…”
“Psst!” I heard from above me, the Guide looking down at me. He motioned for me to follow him into the treetops. I scrambled up the tree, not remembering the last time I needed to climb one. He grabbed my arm and helped me into the tree branches. He helped me climb higher so the leaves would cover us. We laid flat on the branches, looking down through the leaves that hid us.
“Where are they?!” I heard the surly voices of the guards as they searched the area where our ropes were lying on the ground. “Spread out and find them! Someone bring the dogs!”
The Guide put his finger to his lips to remind me to stay silent. We laid on the branches until night fell and we could no longer hear the guards. The Guide jumped down first, landing softly on the ground below. I waited for his signal before I followed him to the ground. He led me parallel to the river, following a game trail through the thick woods.
Behind us, I hear the barks and yaps of the hunting dogs. Both the Guide and I looked at each other before he set us out on a run. The darkness was closing in on us, the dogs not far behind. The forest thinned to a cliff edge, rising above the river below. The dogs caught up and trapped us between the cliff and them. The guards soon caught up to us, praising the dogs on their capture.
The main guard, the one we heard earlier, shouted to us, “Give up now, Queen Killers!”
I looked to the cliff edge then back to the guards, “We did not kill my Queen! The Merchant ambushed us and he killed her after knocking us out. I am the Queen’s Guard and would never harm my lady!”
The guard sneered, “He paid us so that you would be convicted. You do not stand a chance in this province, where he rules with his wealth and gold. Give up so that we can finish this and send you to the Games so we can get paid.”
I stepped back from them, “Corrupt sons of bastards!” I turned, grabbed the Guide’s arm and threw the two of use off of the cliff and into the river. We hit the river hard, and I dove us under the water as the guards unleashed a volley of arrows into the water. The river’s quick current pulled us through the rapids, allowing us to escape the arrows and guards. I pulled the Guide’s head above the waterline, as he struggled to breathe and swim.
Further downstream, we reached a calm area where the two of us could swim to shore. I dragged the two of us onto the shoreline, setting the Guide on the ground and laying down beside him, trying to catch my breath. I looked up into the starry darkness and at the two moons. Less than a day ago, life was still hopeful and now it just seemed like the moons were mocking us.
The Guide sat up and glared at me, “Why did you try to kill us both?!”
“I did not realize you could not swim. Would you have rather been sent to the Games?”
He looked up at the stars, watching the heavens with me. “Do you think that they were telling the truth?”
“Which part? The part where my Queen is dead or the part that he controls this province? Because both are true. There was nothing left of the carriage but ash, and the Merchant does control this province and has the ear of the King. There is nowhere we can go and be safe.”
“What about back to your home?”
I felt tears well up in my eyes, the grief taking hold, “I have no home anymore. The Queen is dead and we are marked as her Killers. As such, if we go back home, then we will be executed. What makes it worse is the Princess is not old enough to become the Queen and since the Merchant has his eyes on Astria, the King will grant the request to make him Lord over the province.”
“How do you know so much about this Merchant?” He leaned over me, blocking my view of the stars.
“I was a slave of the Dragons after they killed off the village men and captured the women and children. The Queen tried to purchase me, but the Merchant stole my picture from her and he purchased me instead. He tortured me and cut me, some of which are the scars that you so eloquently pointed out making me marred. It was only after my Queen petitioned the King for me that I was saved from his torture. She gave me a chance to become whatever I wished in her province. I chose to fight for her and become not only a Queen’s Guard but the best Guard she has.”
He sat back on the ground, letting me stare at the stars. “I am sorry that you were put through that.”
I sat up and looked at him, “… Thank you for the empathy. So, why did you become a killer of your last masters?”
He shrugged, “I was purchased as an assassin and killed others. I was good at it and earned my master’s favor, until I was tasked with killing a child because a nobleman did not want his mistress saddled with the girl, who was his bastard daughter. I went to that house to kill her, but the mistress begged for her life. I found out that the mistress was a sex slave to the nobleman, so I helped both the woman and child escape. The nobleman caught us as we were trying to leave and I killed him. When I returned to my masters’ house, they tried to break me and in the process, I killed them.”
I saw small fires across the river, looking like torchlight. “We need to move.” He stood up, before helping me stand. He pulled my dagger from his belt and handed it to me, where I replaced it into its sheathe. “Since you can see, Guid-”
“Guide is my title, not my name; my name is Garrett. Your name is?”
“Samarra.” I looked at his glowing green eyes, “Garrett, can you lead us away from this area and somewhere mostly safe?”
“I should be able to.” He turned and I followed his steps through the forest, the trees covering the light from the stars and moons. We carefully stepped over roots, fallen trees and dodged around holes in the soil. We walked for hours until we finally came to the edge of a glade with a waterfall and pool of water in the center. “This should be safe enough for us to figure out a plan.”
“Thank the goddess for water!” I ran over to the pool and ran my fingers through the cool water, before cupping my hands and raising it to my lips to drink. I looked back to see Garrett start a fire in front of him. I wander back over and stare into the fire, “How did you make this without matches?”
He gave me a sideways glance, “I lived and survived in the woods before I was recaptured. The question is why you cannot?”
I thought about it, “As a Queen’s Guard, my job was to protect her, and I am mostly used for cities. Silvia was the Queen’s maid and was in charge of all of the domestic duties.” I sat in front of the fire, pulling off my black overcoat, leaving my arms bare in the moonlight. My black tunic had no sleeves and my leggings went into my black boots. I took the leather boots off and emptied them of the water from the river and let my feet embrace the soft grass. “So, how do we eat?”
He chuckled, “I will get us some food if you just tend the fire and not let it di-go out.”
I pulled my dagger from its sheathe, “I can watch it.” I watched him stand up and I handed him the dagger for his hunt. I heard his footsteps walk away from me and I pulled my knees closer to my chest, staring into the fire, “My Queen… Silvia… I apologize for not being able to protect you two when you needed it most. I should have been a better guard and-” I felt the sob creep up on me, “If only I was not broken, I could have saved you two. I should have convinced you to let me go to the Dragons alone, so you could have been safe in your castle. I should have been able to fight off the knock-out rag and the men holding me. I will kill the Merchant and then allow myself to pay the price for the loss of your lives…” I tried to keep my sobs silent as to not attract attention, but a few harsh breaths escaped.
“I asked you earlier what you were looking for and you lied to me…” Garrett’s voice drifted from the edge of the glade as he walked back towards me with a deer in his grip.
“My wishes are secondary to the Queen, but you are correct. I did lie, because I did not believe that you could give me what I wanted more than anything. Now that my Queen is dead, I only have one purpose, and that purpose coincides with what I am looking for.”
He stepped to the fire and started to carve the meat of the deer, “You want vengeance against the Merchant and your Queen wanted me to find someone. As a Guide, I can find anything, so I suggest that we do as your Queen wanted, then the two of us will get you the vengeance you crave.”
“Who was she looking for?”
“A boy child, looked to be about five and had similar facial features to your Queen. I need to sleep in order to find him, then I can take you to him. ”
“I can stand watch while you search.” I offered as he placed some of the meat on sharp sticks and let it cook on the fire. I watched the fire cook the meat, before Garrett handed me one of the sticks. We ate silently, our thoughts giving us miserable company.
“You might want to take this time to use the pool to clean off. As soon as I get a location, we should be off to find the child. Do you know why your Queen was looking for him?” He handed my dagger back to me.
I shook my head, “I do not know why she would be interested in a child like that. I do not even remember a child being born after the Princess in our household.” I stood up and headed towards the pool, wanting to clear my head and get clean from the day’s trek. I kept my back to the fire as I stripped out of my clothes and laid them on a rock near the water’s edge. I dove under the water and let the water swirl around me. I waited until I was started to feel faint before I surfaced in the center of the pool.
I stood up in the waist high water and reached down to grab the fine-grit sand under my feet. I used the sand to scrub my skin and hair. I walked over to the water fall and let the water rinse me off; the cold water beating my head and shoulders. I used the water to clean off the blade and hilt of the dagger, repurifying it. I looked back towards the fire and saw Garrett lying on the ground, his face away from me. I took that as a sign that he would not see me and I exited the pool, grabbing my clothes as I went. I stood in the other side of the fire, letting the heat dry me off.
I put my back to the fire and I heard a gasp from behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw Garrett staring at my back. I turned away and closed my eyes, knowing what he was shocked about. I stepped away from the light and put my clothes back on, despite still being slightly damp. I walked back to the fire and put my shoes back on and then my overcoat to cover my skin from neck to toes.
He sat up, just staring at me with a concoction of emotions that I could not decipher. I sat down across the fire, using the small blaze to put space between the two of us. “You should be going to sleep so that you can find the child.” I spoke curtly before I heard him rustle and I assumed he settled in for sleep.
I stared into the fire, trying to figure out the best way I would get my revenge on the Merchant. Each idea was more elaborate and bloody than the last, but that did not stop my fantasizing. I knew for sure that I would do the killing blow, and I would be looking into his cold black eyes as the life drained from him.
The adrenaline and exhaustion were starting to take over my body as I sat in front of the dying embers. I struggled to keep my eyes open, so, I stood up and walked around the fire, trying to keep myself from falling asleep.
I passed by Garrett’s sleeping form and looked down at the wild man. The river helped to clean his skin and clothes. It helped me to see his sharp features and the muscles that peeked from the holes in his clothes. His brown hair was long and needed to be brushed and pulled back. He was handsome, I would give him that, and when both quests are completed, I bet he could find himself a beautiful maiden and start a family for himself.
I took a few more laps around the glade, trying to keep myself awake. I looked up at the moons and saw that we were just nearing midnight. I walked back over to the fire a few times, before walking back to the edge of the glade. On one of the walks back to the fire, he woke up and startled me. He sat up and stretched, “It is still night?” I nodded as I sat next to him. He looked over at me and saw my eyes flutter, wanting sleep. “Get some sleep; I will stand guard for the time being.”
I shook my head, “You said that we needed to go as soon as you found the child.”
“The child is not going anywhere, trust me. Get some rest, because tomorrow is going to be the start of a very long journey.”
I took off my overcoat and laid down, putting the jacket on top of me as a blanket. I heard Garrett shuffle closer to me, before he grabbed my head and set it on his thigh. I opened an eye up at him, but he was looking off into the distance. The heat of the fire and my jacket helped me to drift to sleep.