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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Roy

The Escape

Updated: Apr 9


Another branch slapped her in the face, and she cursed herself mentally for taking this path. Her legs were burning, and her breathing was getting harder to control. She’d seen the mounted soldiers coming well before they’d gotten to her. Deciding to avoid a possible confrontation, she’d stepped into the woods. That’s where she’d found the well-worn but narrow game trail that paralleled the main road. It wasn’t straight like the road, though. It twisted and meandered about, sometimes turning away from the road and other times coming right up to it before turning back again.


SLAP!


The heavy branch caught her across the shoulder and cheek, clawing at her clothing and jerking her off balance. She stumbled, throwing out an arm to stop herself from colliding headlong into another tree.


“Cursed the damned gods!” She didn’t actually believe in the gods. They’d certainly never done anything for her. She didn’t see that as a reason she couldn’t throw the occasional curse their way. When she’d started running, it was without the knowledge that there were trackers moving with the group of mounted soldiers. She’d caught on to their presence when an arrow had passed over her shoulder and lodged in a tree ahead of her. A glance behind confirmed an entire group trailing behind her. Luckily, the game trail was too overgrown with hanging branches and had too many twists and turns for them to get many clear shots at her.


She burst from the trees onto the road startling the soldier’s mounts with her sudden appearance. One horse reared back throwing its rider while the other next to it snorted and shook its head. The two horses sudden stop grouped up the riders behind causing confusion. She continued across the road and down the game trail on the other side. Bowstrings twanged behind her and she spun while ducking down. An arrow grazed her arm leaving a fiery line and another passed her nose before she rounded the next bend and was hidden by the thick foliage.


“Motherless whores!” The insult was probably only going to encourage further pursuit, but her arm stung. It was also a waste of breath she was quickly running out of. She was angry at herself for not paying more attention to her surroundings. If she had, she might have seen the group before they’d spotted her.


She was in peak physical condition and could march and even jog all day. This was a sprint. They’d been playing this game of chase through the forest for over twenty turns now. The Scouts behind her were used to running full out for long distances and were slowly gaining on her. She would need to decide soon if she was going to turn and fight or continue to run. Much longer and she would not have the stamina required to fight the unknown number of scouts. That wasn’t even considering the men who were mounted and rested.


She was gaining small advantages by cutting across the smaller turns in the trail. Instead of taking the parts that turned back on themselves, she cut through the underbrush either by charging straight through or jumping over. She suspected the scouts were wise to this by now. The gap between them was growing smaller again. She needed to slow them down somehow. Another branch raked across her face as she came around a sharp turn giving her an idea and a hatred for the forest. Pulling out her sword, she cut through every branch she could as she ran past them. Hopefully, littering the trail with as many trip hazards as possible would slow them down.


The trail on this side did not follow the main road as the other side had. It felt like she was moving steadily away from it but with all the twists and turns; she wasn’t sure. The trees suddenly ended in a clearing with a small outcropping. The distance from the trees to the edge was short and the ground was covered in a layer of loose gravel. Her feet slid as she tried to stop her forward momentum. At the very edge, she stared down a drop of a hundred feet or more with a large river at the bottom. Turning quickly, she took in the area surrounding her. There wasn’t much to look at. She stood on a wide outcropping boxed in by a dense wall of trees and undergrowth. The only way off was over the edge or back down the trail she came from.


“Damn!” She was trapped. She could head back down the trail and meet her pursuers there or she could meet them here. It wouldn’t be smart to fight the scouts in the woods. That was their environment. They knew the trees and woods and how best to move. While the open outcropping wasn’t her favored terrain it didn’t give them the advantage either. She really didn’t want to fight them, though. While she was sure she could beat them individually, she wasn’t so sure how many were behind her. Looking back over the edge, she decided.


“This is easy. Little run, little jump and splash. Yeah…” The self-motivation wasn’t convincing. At the tree’s edge, she faced the outcropping. She needed to get enough speed to clear the bank of the river below and hit the center. Her moment of doubt and hesitation was shattered by the sound of breaking branches in the forest behind her. She charged for the edge of the cliff with a yell of defiance that was quickly abandoned.


“AAAhhhhhcrap! What the hell am I thinking?!” She tried to stop but the loose gravel kept her going forward and her feet came out from under her. She hit the ground and continued to slide toward the edge. She rolled and clawed frantically at the ground trying to stop herself. Her feet left solid ground and floated out over the chasm for a brief moment before starting to fall. The fingers of her right hand caught in a crack, and she jerked to a stop with her lower half hanging off the edge. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” She scrambled, quickly pulling her legs back onto solid ground and stood up just in time to face the first scout that broke through the trees.


He was older than her by at least twenty years she guessed. His breathing was easy like he hadn’t just been chasing someone through the woods for almost thirty turns. He didn’t charge right at her but held back and waited. He wasn’t stupid. They stared each other down as more scouts stepped through the break in the trees at the trailhead. Her fingers burned from trying to stop herself from going over the edge and she was sure there was at least one fingernail torn. She wanted to brush herself off and examine her hands, but those things didn’t matter anymore. She was trapped and unless she changed her mind about the long jump behind her; she was going to have to fight.

“Surrender and we’ll make it quick.” The first one, obviously the commander, stepped forward as he spoke.


“HA!” She scoffed. That wasn’t going to happen. She wasn’t going to surrender and there was no way they were going to make anything quick. Not only would they kill her slowly, but with nine men, rape was first on the list of tortures she’d endure. No, she was going to go down swinging. She sniffed loudly, smacked her lips and drew her sword and dagger. “Come on, so I can cut your little peckers off.” Taking one last deep breath, she calmed herself and charged. By the surprised expressions on their faces and the way they scrambled to draw their own blades, they hadn’t expected her to charge them. They should’ve known better.


Two drew their bows and fired before she reached the group. She twisted, avoiding the first one and batted the second arrow away with her sword. The first man she reached was just clearing his sword from his scabbard when her knife took him under the chin. She spun, twisting around his falling body, batted away a sword stroke aimed at her head and removed the hand that held it. The man screamed and fell on his butt clutching the bleeding stump. She spun quickly to her right again. The man charging her thought it was to avoid him. Too late, he realized it was to avoid the arrow aimed at her back. He died slowly clutching at the feathered end protruding from his throat.


In a few seconds, she’d reduced their number from nine to six. The advantage she’d gained from surprise was gone now and the scouts were spreading out. Two more abandoned their swords and drew their bows instead. The remaining two moved toward her with drawn short swords to coral her, giving the archers room to shoot. She slapped another arrow away with her sword and swerved her upper body out of the path of a second. A third arrow hit her in the thigh piercing straight through.


“Gaah!” She ignored the pain and launched her dagger overhand at the scout. The dagger sunk into his eye killing him instantly. The younger sword wielder ignored a shouted warning from the leader and charged her. He looked to be about her age… young. Too young to have people trying to kill you. Also, too young to try killing people. She slipped under his high sword swing stepping past him. Her sword slid across his exposed mid-section just below the edge of his leather armor as she moved past. The pain caused by the arrow in her leg made her movement slightly awkward.


“No! nonono.” The young man’s sword clattered to the ground as he fell to his knees and occupied his hands with trying to hold his innards in. She should have finished him, but she wasn’t given a chance.


Another arrow flew at her, and she slapped it away. Two more came, followed closely by a third. One grazed her ribs while the other two passed closely across her chest. There were three remaining archers and the leader who approached her from the side. His angle of approach left the bowmen a clear line of sight and they were aiming for her center mass now. More arrows came at her keeping her moving. She’d been lucky so far, but that luck would run out quickly if she didn’t figure something out. She let her movements carry her closer to the veteran commander. Her best chance was to engage him in close combat and use his proximity to slow the rain of arrows. Another arrow got too close for comfort and pierced the soft flesh of her arm. It passed completely through and disappeared into the trees behind her.


“You pillock!” She pulled another dagger from the small of her back and hurled it at the offending archer. He’d already started moving but it was too late. She changed the motion of her throw to match his. The dagger sunk into his shoulder causing him to cry out and fall clutching at the knife.


Distracted by the archer, the veteran caught her off guard, lunging at her from the side. She flicked her sword up to parry an attack that wasn’t there. He was good. Her estimation of his skill was off. She figured he would be decent with a blade but not good. She underestimated him and it almost got her killed. The original attack changed direction avoiding her blade and came in low across her stomach. She wouldn’t be able to get her sword down fast enough to parry and it was too late to get out of the way. She did the only thing she could and charged. Her other hand came down hitting the sword at the pommel as she slid forward into the scout. By moving closer, she would take most of the energy out of the strike. Her hand hitting the pommel would further slow it down changing a killing blow to a shallow cut.


The veteran hadn’t expected her to charge. He was good but not as good as her. She stepped inside his front foot and rammed him with her shoulder shoving him back off balance. The remaining two archers were trying to get a clear shot, so she followed the veteran as he stumbled and slid across the loose gravel. Keeping him close was keeping them from shooting. She needed to maneuver him so she could get closer to one of them.


He’d just regained his footing when she thrust her sword up toward his face causing him to jerk his head back and flail his sword in front of him. The attack was a feint. She drew her remaining dagger from her back and threw it backhand at the archer on her left. The blade struck true sinking into the man’s neck killing him. A growl of frustration came from the veteran in front of her. He swung his sword in a rapid series of attacks without letting up. The man was trying to press his size advantage, swinging the sword in short, sharp swings with both hands. He was trying to chop her like a piece of firewood.


She dodged the ones she could and blocked only when necessary. Using footwork, she turned and twisted guiding him, so he was between herself and the remaining archer. This path took them alarmingly close to the edge of the outcropping. At this point, she was sweating profusely, and she could feel the blood pooling in her boot from the arrow in her leg. The leg was shaking and slowing her down. She was struggling to avoid a lot of the attacks and was forced to block more and more of them. In turn, her arms were tiring making each blocked attack feel that much harder.


Her foot slipped on the gravel, and she stumbled. The veteran’s eyes lit with triumph as he swung a final killing blow. She turned the stumble into a spin, bringing her blade up and around catching his just behind the crossguard. It was yank from his hands and sailed out over the edge of the cliff. She finished the spin and turned back the other way to bring her sword across at neck level.


“Oomph!” The air was knocked from her lungs.


She didn’t see the remaining archer coming at her from the side. The man tackled her across the midsection. She felt her feet leave the ground and she locked eyes with the veteran as they both stared at each other in shock. The side of the cliff quickly blocked her view of the man as she fell from sight.


The veteran stepped quickly to the edge and watched as the two bodies hit the water far below. From this distance, he couldn’t hear the splash. He continued to wait and watch. After a turn or two, he was rewarded with the sight of two bodies bobbing to the surface further down the river. They were quickly pulled away by the current.


“Gods be damned!” The commander looked around the outcropping. It was hard to believe that one young girl had done all this. He’d been warned she was dangerous. As he looked around the outcropping at his dead scout party, he found himself wishing he’d been more cautious. The young man with the knife in his shoulder was the only one left alive besides himself. If it hadn’t been for the scout that had carried the girl over the side, he would’ve joined the dead.


“Was that her?” The young scout pushed himself to his feet and wandered to the edge.


“Who else would it have been?”


“I don’t know. Someone else?” He sounded like a young child. The veteran looked at him in disgust.


“She was wearing empire clothing and fought like one of the Wardens. It was her.”


“So, we can say we killed her!” The young scout bounced excitedly. The veteran wondered how he’d been assigned to the scouts. He wasn’t smart enough.


“Where’s our proof?”


“We saw her.” The scout’s face scrunched up in a look of confusion.


“Did we? Have a look. Do you see a body down there?”


The young man leaned forward cautiously and peered over the edge. He was just turning back when he felt himself get shoved from behind. He tried to flail his arms and catch his balance. He screamed in pain because of the knife lodged in his shoulder. His scream turned to terror as he toppled over the edge and found the ground rushing toward him.


The commander knew if he went back without proof that the girl was dead, a long, slow death was the best he could hope for. He would attempt to find the body. Barring that, he’d run. He spent a few turns cleaning the area to mask his tracks before he moved through the trees following the cliff in the direction of the river’s flow.


******


“AAAGH!” She bolted upright looking around herself frantically.


“Oh, she’s awake.” The comment was followed by a small, dry laugh. She reached for a weapon that wasn’t there and discovered she was naked. The fur that was covering her sat in her lap exposing her bare chest. She snatched the cover up to her chin, feeling suddenly very vulnerable.


“Where are my clothes?!” Emotions surged through her. Fear, embarrassment, anger. Across the room, her eyes caught sight of what remained of her meager possessions on a small table in the corner. She was in a cabin dimly lit by a small fire in the hearth. A bent old man sat on a stool stirring something in a pot hanging over it. His robes were old, worn and probably had more patches than original fabric. He turned his almost bald head toward her and she found herself staring into one eye.


“Be at ease child. I’m well past the age of caring about womanly things. You would be a bit… hard for my taste, anyway. I preferred my women a bit softer.” He gave her a wink with his empty eye socket. She had to suppress the shudder that ran through her. He chuckled as he stood from the stool and shuffled toward her. Her muscles tensed ready to strike. His hand raised up and shoved a steaming bowl toward her. “Have some food and tell me your story. It’s the least you can do after I fished you from the river. It’s not every day you get to hear about the first woman in the Imperial army in six hundred years, is it Gytell La’Toq?”


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