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Chapter 3 - Invaders
Autumn turned into winter, and winter gave way to spring, which reluctantly stopped its rains for the bright rays of summer. Aeowynn was sitting on a grassy hill near the north road with a group of children arrayed around her. The children from the surrounding farms had come to hear her tell stories from the holy scripts. She had already recited several of them and had now launched into a fairy tale of her own making. They were hanging on her words as she spun adventures with fantastical creatures, heroes and heroines and ruthless villains.
In the distance a rider appeared on the road. It wasn't uncommon for visitors to come down from the northern villages, but it was strange that this one rode so swiftly. Aeowynn's story trailed off as she stood, telling the younger children to stay back as the rider closed in. Nearing her, the monk, as she could now see his robes flapping behind him, reigned in, halting his horse. Clouds of dust rose as they skidded to a stop.
“Bryn?” She had not expected him this early, and to be riding so quickly. “Oh Bryn! You’re back! How were your adventures? I’m so happy to see you. I’ve got some cold tea here. Stop and rest and…”
“Aeowynn! They’re coming down the coast! They’re burning everything in their path. We need to warn Prior Martyn. We need to go now!”
“What? What in Tamos’ blessed name are you talking about? Who’s coming?”
“Monsters. In ships. They look like fierce warriors with tusks and axes… and they’ve killed so many already. I’ve heard the name ‘Orc’. We need to warn the others, there’s no time.”
This stunned Aeowynn. Bryn had never been this serious in his entire life. His words scared her and she glanced around at the children, who were even more frightened. Turning to one of the older girls, she said, “Maella, you need to bring the children to your father. You live the nearest. Tell him everything that Brother Bryn has said. He will take you all to safety and can warn the other farmers. Now go, in Tamos’ name, and be swift!” She helped Maella round the children up and start off, away from the threat of danger. Then she grabbed Bryn’s hand and hoisted herself up behind him on the gray mare. “What in heaven’s pure blaze is going on, Bryn?”
Bryn was quiet for a moment as he concentrated on bringing the horse up to a gallop. “They’re raiders, from across the ocean. Hideous creatures bent on destroying our villages and enslaving us. I was at Belhal when the news came from the coastal towns. They’re all gone. Everyone killed or taken. And they’re moving down the coast. How long have you been out here?”
“Most of the morning. But why are they here? What do they want?”
“No one knows. We've sent messengers, but none came back.”
Bryn crested the final hill as a scene of absolute horror unfolded below. The monastery was on fire and they could see figures darting about as groups of warriors hunted them down with axes, spears and swords. He let out a cry of anguish as Aeowynn sat there dumbfounded.
“They haven’t reached the convent yet. Where’s Beca? Aeowynn, where is Beca?” His voice cracked with emotion.
“She should be there. She had wash duty today.”
“We will get her. I have to get her out.”
“Yes. Approach from the North-West. We should be hidden from view there.”
Bryn angled their direction and after a few moments the monastery and the horrors that were occurring there were hidden from site. The smoke was still visible as a constant reminder that this nightmare was real. Aeowynn started murmuring prayers under her breath, anything to keep from breaking down. She could imagine the invaders turning towards the convent at any moment. It was lower than the monastery and around the side of a hillock up on the west sea cliff. This made it out of the line of sight. There was a good chance that the Sisters were not yet aware of the massacre happening.
Aeowynn leaned closer against her brother’s back, closing her eyes and willing the horse to grow wings and fly. With a jolt she realized that they were there, just inside the common area of the convent. They jumped off the horse and Aeowynn grabbed the nearest Sister.
“Invaders are here. They’ve come on ships. The monastery is destroyed and they’re killing monks. They could be here any moment. Raise the alarm. We need to run. Now!”
The Sister looked bewildered for a moment, glanced at the dark smoke rising over the common hall, asked Bryn a few questions and then snapped into action. In a few minutes the entire convent was buzzing like a disturbed wasp nest. Bryn was calling out for Beca but they couldn’t find her.
There was a loud shriek and chaos erupted. A large spear came flying from behind them and impaled a girl standing next to Aeowynn.
“They’ve surrounded us!” Her voice was hoarse and she wasn’t certain that anyone could hear. Then she saw the invaders. Most of them were taller than a man and much broader across the shoulder. Their ears were swept up into points and their skin color varied from green to pale gray. Large tusks protruded from the bottom jaws of many, while others had rows of sharp pointed teeth. Those with hair wore it long, tied back with beads or bones. They wore skins and furs of beasts unknown to Aeowynn and brandished cruel looking axes, long spears and large vicious swords. They snarled with glee as they reached out with massive fists to grab at their victims. Screams were cut short as they broke necks and slashed at the Sisters.
Bryn grabbed her hand and pulled her behind the edge of a building. “We need to find Beca.”
“I know, Bryn. I can’t see her anywhere.”
“Ok, stay close and follow me.” He reached down and pulled out a hunting knife. It looked so small compared the gigantic steel the invaders had.
Smoke filled the air as the warriors threw torches into the thatched roofs. They moved around the building and dashed across a corner of the yard to the stables. They found Beca there, cowering under the advances of a pale green monster. It didn't seem as big as the others but no less deadly. It's one hand had grabbed her hair while the other brandished a wicked looking curved sword. With a yell of pure rage Bryn descended on the beast. It wasn't expecting an attack and failed to bring up its sword before Bryn sunk his knife deep into the back of its neck. The Orc fell, wrenching the knife out of Bryn's hands. A dark red, almost black, geyser of blood pumped out of the wound. Bryn fell to his knees, gathering Beca into his arms. She looked up, startled to see who saved her. She sobbed and clung to him.
Before Aeowynn could rush to them, a dark shape entered the stable blocking her.
“Puny, human girl. You are mine now.” The warrior raised it's sword to strike at her.
Not stopping to think, she grabbed a pitch fork leaning against the wall and flowed automatically into the sword dance forms she had learned. It wasn't the same as whirling the colored sticks of Juthai and as his sword connected with the oak handle she almost lost her grip. He growled in surprise but she didn't hesitate. Pivoting on one foot she brought the pitch fork up and pushed the tines into his neck. He fell over backward, his sword clattering to the floor. She sank down shaking in disbelief over what happened.
Bryn and Beca came over and knelt beside her. He covered her shaking hands with his. “It's over ‘Wynn. We need to get out of here.”
They stood, peering out of the stables gloom, watching the foul creatures haul the women and girls away. They would surely be caught if they tried to escape now, but it was only a matter of time before one of them would come looking for the slain Orcs.
Bryn stroked Beca's hair. “I had to come back for you. I rode for days once I found out what was happening. I'll never leave you again.” She clung tighter to his tunic.
“How do we get out of here?” Aeowynn picked up the dead Orc’s sword and tested its balance and grip. It was still stained red, so she grabbed some straw and wiped it down.