Horsemen

The horsemen are coming. They always come. Now we can hear them, the galloping monsters thundering through wasted lands and out of the forest.

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6. Brenna

I awoke to the sound of loud footsteps shaking the earth I rested on. I looked around and saw Berit’s eyes staring my face.

“Sleep well, Brenna? Was you warm and cosy in your blanket?” She sneered at me, smiling cruelly.

“Oh would you be quiet, Berit. I am trying to listen, don’t you hear the footsteps?”

“No, I hear nothing of the sort.”

“Something is coming.” I looked around me as best I could with my restraints. I felt something dig into my ribs and saw a knife. I tried to move my hand to retrieve it and was delighted to find that my ropes had become loose enough over the night for me to reach it. I quickly got out of my rope jail and ran over the girl who still hadn’t provided me with a name.

“What is your name?” I questioned as I cut her ropes. She said nothing, just stared ahead. “Has she said a word to you?” I asked, looking towards Berit.

“No, when she stopped her pathetic crying she just sat like that, all night. Now are you going to leave me here or what?” Her complete dismissal of the girl disgusted me. I retrieved my blanket and tucked it around her, she remained unresponsive.

I walked over to Berit and cut the ropes around the tree, leaving her hands bound. “I will release your hands only if I need your help.” I told her, looking her in the eye.

There was a loud crack. Nearby a tree began to fall away to unveil a large creature. It could only be described as a large dog, though it had a number of bull-like qualities, with its neck and horns. Its black eyes were framed by a white face. It was awful, the white. It looked like the skin of a dead maiden after she had been drained of blood. The head was attached to a thick, strong neck where the white began to fade. My eyes followed the change of colour into the ebony black. It was a shade I had only ever seen once before. The man who murdered my mother had a cloak the same colour, it was the only memory I had of her, and it was branded into soul.

It turned its massive head to us and its eyes locked onto the girl's still frame. The head dipped and the creature scuffed its paw on the ground as it slowly began to stalk towards us. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Then Berit’s body threw its self into mine and we crashed to the floor.

Cut my cord!” She screamed at me. It snapped me back into reality and I remembered a lesson Fianna had taught me about defence.

I turned and swung my knife down to where it landed between her wrists to free her and rolled over, pushing myself up into a standing position. I turned to the beast where it was preparing to leap for the girl. I broke into a run, anticipating the position of the creature as I did; managing to choose correctly. I dived, thrusting the knife in front of me and imbedding it into the flesh of its neck. Though this did not stop it and it leaped into the air, taking me with it.

Time seemed to slowdown as the creature began to arch in the air towards the girl, who still sat there unmoving. I realised I had one chance to save her life and began to bring the imbedded knife towards me, slicing through the flesh of the creature. Blood covered my hand as we crashed onto the floor, the creature catching the girl in its mouth and crushing her as its jaws locked into death.

Everything was still. I stared at the girl, her vacant eyes staring above her. Her skin turning rapidly white, blending in with the fleshy dead  head of the creature I had just killed. I didn’t move.

It seemed like forever before Berit came over and inspected the creature with a stick, breaking my trance. I slipped off of the creatures back and walked over to the girl, closing her eyes for her. As I knew she would never be free of the creature’s jaws, I left her there and I walked back over to the creature taking the knife from its throat. I turned and stabbed it into a tree, where it would stay.

“Nice work, you managed to kill her.” Berit called to me, her eyes burning holes in the back of my head.

I turned and darted towards her, pinning her to a tree. “I tried to save her life, which is more than you would ever think to do. I probably saved many more by killing that-that, thing.” I spat at her before releasing her.

She didn’t speak after that, we just sat there waiting. We could try to escape but we knew we’d die. So we waited. For ever we waited until I saw a man approaching.

I stood up, grabbing a sharp stick to use as a weapon if needed. But it was just my Rider, coming to fetch me.

“Hello, Rider.” I called to him. Standing straighter and dropping my stick.

“Hello. I see you survived.” Then he looked down to my hands and walked towards me, lifting them. “Are you hurt?” He asked, raising his gaze to my eyes once again.

“Not apart from the scrapes from when I ran my back down that tree. The blood belongs to that.” I said, gesturing my chin at the beast. “It killed a girl; she is trapped in its jaws.”

“Well, let me take you to my tent, I will clean your wounds and provide you with food.” He then proceeded to lift me, cradling me in his arms as he walked back to the camp, leaving Berit behind. I turned my head to her and saw her staring at us, curiosity clouding her gaze.

When we arrived outside the tent he set me down so that he could unfasten the knot keeping the tent flaps closed. Once he had opened it he stepped aside, holding one flap open and gesturing me inside.

When I walked in I was amazed. All of the inner walls had been painted in intricate designs and patterns of all colours. There was a large bed against the far wall and a chest of draws next to it. A small table and two chairs sat in the centre and there was a bath with steaming water inside. I turned to the Rider, he was looking at me as if he was not only studying my reaction, but waiting for me to say something.

“This is beautiful, Rider.” I said softly to him.

“Th-Thank you.” He stumbled as he broke his gaze and stepped inside. “Disrobe and step into the bath so I can see to your back.”

I did as I was told; though I was not comfortable about being naked in front of him. Once in the bath he came over with a bowl and a cloth. He sat behind me on a stool and began to use the cloth to dab my back, this was not painful. Then I heard him dip the cloth into the bowl and he dabbed my back again. Only this time it stung, causing me to flinch away.

“I’m sorry, but you need this. It cleans the wound and prevents infection.” He said quietly, before gently touching his hand to my shoulder and guiding me back to where I once sat. He continued the torture for a while until he had cleaned my whole back. “There you go. I will go fetch you a clean dress.”

“Thank you, Rider.” I said, stepping out of the bath and into a robe that had been draped along a rail next to the bath. I turned and the Rider was returning with the dress.

As I got dressed he set the table with bread and cheese. Once I was done I walked over and grabbed two plates that were sat on a large wooden box and set them on the table. He came round and pulled a chair out, gesturing me to sit. As I sat he tucked in the chair before turning to cut some bread and cheese and placing them on the plate in front of me before getting some for himself.

Once he had sat down he started eating, but he was staring at me again. So I decided to ask him why he kept doing so. I cleared my throat and began to speak.

“Rider, may I ask why you keep staring at me?”

“You are different. I feel when I am around you. It is peculiar. May I ask why you stare back at me?”

“Well, I would think that I am entitled to when you insist on staring at me in the first place.”

“May I know your name?”

The question shocked me a little. “It’s Brenna. May I know your name, Rider?”

“Deven. My name is Deven.”

“Ah, ‘little dark one’. Why that name?”

“You tell me, raven with the raven hair.” That made me laugh and I saw him smile.

“May I address you as Deven?”

He pondered this over a bite of bread and cheese. “You may when we are here, without company. But if we are out or if we have company you are to address me properly, Brenna.”

“Understood. What happens now?” I asked after finishing my bread and cheese.

“Now, I show you the village.” He stood and began collecting our plates but I took them towards a basin with soapy water inside of it. I began to clean them and set them on a piece of cloth resting beside the basin. When I turned he hadn’t moved, he just stood there, staring again.

“What?”

“You’re so unusual, Brenna. I don’t understand you.”

“Well, then you have much to learn, Deven.”

“Come along then.”

He held out his arm for me and I wrapped my own around it, linking my arm in his. We stepped outside of the tent into what was becoming a glorious day. He took me left, towards the smaller tents I saw before I was bound to the tree.

“This is where the untied women and the widows live with the young boys.” He said, leading me between tents. Women stopped and stared openly as we walked by.

“Why are they staring at us?”

“Well it is highly unusual for a maiden to be chosen as soon as she enters the village.”

“Chosen?”

“Yes. Remember the night I came for you? I told you that you are mine.”

“What does that mean?”

He took me past a line of trees into another small clearing where young men were riding black horses. “Well, I… felt when I saw you. I knew you were special and unusual from the moment that you stood up to me in the ally.”

I looked up at him to see his eyes on mine again. “You think that I am special?”

“Yes.” He whispered, still looking into my eyes.

We simply stood there staring. All I could see were his white eyes, now I could see they had green flecks streaking through. I felt that I could see through to his soul, though I knew Riders didn’t have them. And he stared back at my violet eyes. No one in the whole town had eyes like mine. I used to love hearing Fianna tell me of my mother’s eyes, and how they were much like mine.

A commotion back in the village had us jolting out of our trance. It sounded like a horse was screaming.

“What is happening?” I asked Deven, trying to see through the trees.

“I don’t know.” He said softly before grabbing my hand and running towards the sound. I struggled to keep up.

When we reached the location of the noise we just saw a horse that was the same white as the creatures head throw a Rider off its back and gallop off into the forest. Three Riders rushed to help the man up but he brushed them off. He turned and spotted me and Deven. He seemed to feel the need to proses the way Deven stood holding my hand with me just behind his left shoulder.

“Why is she out with you at this hour, Rider?” His voice bellowed with rage as he started stamping towards us. I coward further behind Deven.

“I have decided to keep her and was showing her the village, Sir.” He said, straightening his back, but not letting go of my hand.

“She may not be allowed out before noon if you are not tied. Get her inside, now.” He said with a deadly calm. Deven said nothing. He just bowed then turned and walked me back to our tent.

Once back inside he released my hand and sat on a chair. I had thought about what he had said to the ‘Sir’ and had to ask. “What did you mean by you deciding to keep me?”

“It stops any other Rider from trying to mate you. I would ever let them do that to you. I wouldn’t let them harm you.” He looked up at me from where he sat. “What is it about you, Brenna?”

I just stood there, not knowing what to say. So I just said “I don’t know. What do you mean?”

He stood and walk back to me, looking down into my eyes. “I don’t even know what I mean anymore. We aren’t meant to feel. Horsemen don’t feel. I don’t know what it is that I feel, but when I am around you I do feel. Did you see all those women back at the woman’s village?”

“Yes, of course.”

“They were cast away and left to be mated by whoever of us wanted it, apart from the new girl, Berit. But she is new; she will likely be mated by tonight.” I didn’t care for what happened to her after her behaviour in the clearing.

“Why were there only Women and young boys over there? Why no girls?”

“We can only give sons, it is why we must take maidens.” After so many years, to finally understand the Rides was like a gift.

“Will you make me give you a son?” my voice broke as I realised what might happen to me.

“I won't ever make you give me a son, it will happen only when you are ready. Even if that is not tradition, I don’t care. I will not hurt you.” At the news and the care he was giving me I could do nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and hug him as hard as I could. I was somewhat happy feel his arms wrap around me in return as he rested his chin on my head.

“How old are you, Brenna?”

“I am sixteen. Why?”

“I was just wondering.” He paused for a short while before asking, “Are you tired? You had an awful awakening and a busy morning, would you like a nap?”

I smiled into his chest and responded, “Yes, I would like that. Would you, um, read me something? It’s just that my sister, Fianna used to read to me when I wanted to sleep and its comforting to have words read out loud to fall asleep to.”

He pulled back and looking into my eyes. “Of course I’ll read to you.”

Then I collapsed.

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