The girl sat nervously on her grey pony. The animal shifted beneath her, picking up the tremblings of its rider.
“Father I am scared.”
A big man near the head of the column turned to look at her. Though his face was hidden behind a great black beard his blue eyes met the girl’s and he smiled.
“Mac will look after you, lass. You are safe.”
The girl relaxed a little with the reassurance but her father did not. He turned back to the front and she could tell he was waiting for something. The strong young man-at-arms known as Mac moved his own mare closer to his charge, determined not to fail in the task his Lord had given him. Other men gathered close, some on their strong chargers and others on foot. All of them were well armed and ready to protect their Lord and his daughter. All of them were waiting for the ambush. The girl looked nervously about her. For the most part their journey had taken them through fields and villages, but to get into the valley that was their destination they now had to pass through a dark wood. Across the narrow path in front of them was a felled tree. Mac had told her it was a simple but effective way to stop travellers so they could be surrounded and attacked.. Now her vision was filled with all the different ways the bad men might try and kill her father. Finally, in the silence, the Lord at the head of the column barked orders and men began to move. Six men at arms were deployed with what axes they could find – two tree axes and four war axes – to start clearing the road. A pair each went to the ends of the large trunk and began hacking their way through. The remaining two soldiers cleared the trunk of branches. By the time the men were finished they would be able to roll the wood out of the way. But it would take a long while. Lord Tratham would not allow any man to become complacent as he over saw the task. The men respected their Lord, and did not grumble when he did not join them in the hard work. If they had been in the safety of his own lands he might have helped, but he needed to remain on his horse to be ready when the attack came.
The girl became restless. She had been riding all day and wanted a break. In the beginning her journey had been an adventure. Her father had chosen to bring her in a goods wagon, saying that a carriage would draw too much unwanted attention. The girl had taken to giving up the wagon and instead riding her pony next to him, asking questions about the land they were travelling through. He had humored her for the most part, but occassionaly he complained that young ladies should not make great journeys on horseback and she should act like the noblewoman she would grow up to be, and take her place in the wagon. She would obey for as long as she could, but curiosity always had her calling for her pony before the day was done. Now she wondered if it would be safer in the wagon, which was covered. She heard one of the men give a grunt and was surprised to see him grab at her pony. Stepper shied into Mac’s mare and the girl nearly lost her seat as she watched the man. He had missed Stepper and fell to the ground. The end of an arrow was sticking out of his neck and blood was spurting from him. The girl screamed.
Her father whipped his horse around and shouted at Mac. As the air suddenly became a rain of arrows Mac grabbed the girl’s reins and hauled Stepper to him. Tratham was shouting more orders to the rest of the men and trying to get to his daughter. Just as he began to draw near the enemy swept out from the trees and into his men.
“Get Sari out of here! Get her to the castle, NOW!”
The girl could not say goodbye to her father, her voice had frozen, and she was whisked away. She looked back and their eyes met briefly before an arrow suddenly appeared in his chest and he turned his horse back into the fighting.
“Father!” She screamed. She nearly fell as the pony cleared the fallen tree and followed Mac’s Windward as she galloped away.
They didn’t get far before Stepper stumbled. Sari kept moving forward and she landed on the front of the saddle. It hurt and she cried out but Stepper could not stand again and fell forward. Without thinking the girl leapt from her pony and rolled in the dust. She fell further than she thought she would and when she finally stopped she lay still, trying not to cry. It was cooler and softer where she had landed than on the road and Sari didn’t move. Her head hurt where she had banged and she was sure there were scratches on her arms. They stung. She heard shouts and the sounds of fighting. Somewhere back where her father was a horse screamed and she whimpered when she heard it. Someone came down into the ditch where she lay and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you alright Milady? Will I be needin to carry ye?”
It was Mac. She sniffed and looked up at him. “I’m alright thank you, just sore. May I ride with you on Windward?”
He looked sad.
“I be greatly sorry Milady, but Windward bolted when I came for you. We’ll be on foot for now.”
Sari stood on trembling legs and brushed down her skirts.
“Very well.”They made their way cautiously through the woods. Mac kept them off the road but he seemed to know which direction they should be travelling in. After an hour or so they heard the thunderous rumble of many running horses. They crept over to the road and peered through the undergrowth. As many as forty mounted horsemen thundered past. They all wielded an axe and a sword each. There were no shields and no coats of arms. The men were not riding to Tratham’s rescue.