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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5. Fianna

Water dripped outside the cave, a slow pitter patter blending in with the sounds of the forest. I lay curled up, watching the drops glisten against the darkness of the trees that loomed in the distance, surrounding me. The soggy wet mud was covered with leaves which rested undisturbed as the animals cowered away out of the rain and left me there in peace.

Every time I closed my eyes, images of my mother flashed before my eyes, her pain, her life, her love. It gave me warmth as I laid there during the first cold night, spooked by every sound and rustle. The hard rock dug into my side as if it wanted me off its smooth back just to point out how lost and alone I really was.

I had no real idea where I was going; I just let my feet walk onwards, forwards, hoping I would somehow stumble onto the Riders place. I imagined it would be somewhere dark, like a humongous caste, oozing power and authority. Midnight black horses would line the area, daring us to enter like they were people themselves hungered for maidens’ blood. In those few nights I had been training, I saw fire-breathing dragons circling the tallest towers, their sapient eyes grazing down upon you. I saw werewolves tearing through forests on the single whiff of my sent lingering in the air. Soon I stopped these fantasies. They were beatable.  They had to be, because if they weren't then I wouldn't get Brenna back. No matter the strength of the blood that coursed through our veins, she was my sister in all the ways which mattered.

I opened my eyes, thankful I had got some sleep. An early morning chill freshened the damp woods as I flung my cloak tight around my shoulders. The grey-green material helped me blend in as I strode out into the open, a sudden boldness taking over me. It didn’t last long, soon the mud was clinging to my leather boots and dragging down the hem of my cloak, making my passage harder as I pushed through brambles. My progress slowed and I stopped.

Looking around me I heard nothing except the scuttle of animals and my heavy heart pumping. The trees stayed still, gloating in their numbers at my small frame, ant size compared to them. They blocked out the sun and no heat found its way to where I stood, almost at awe. I would be lying if I said it didn’t scare me, but sudden freedom overtook my senses as it dawned on me no one knew where I was, if I was safe. It felt like no one needed or knew me. No responsibilities. I clenched my eyes shut, forcing the selfish thoughts out of my mind and turned away from that spot and marked it. Drawing an ‘X’ with the blade of my small knife, I was able to recognise the places I had been in order to help me get home. I hoped it would come in handy. I hoped I would be able to use it.

*  *  *

The man stood at least seven foot tall, Fianna was sure of it. His bulk filled the entire gap in their doorway, cutting off the light and throwing shadows across the wooden floor. Not saying anything, he stood there for, what seemed to her, an age. She wondered what he wanted as she fiddled with the cover of her book, staring back up at him. Finally the silence grew too much for her.

“Sir, is there something I can do for you?” He just continued looking at her. His face was so high up she could barely make out the wide eyes and hanging mouth that looked at her with wonder.

She pondered if he was deaf. Deciding he was too close to the clouds to hear her, she spoke louder. “Sir? Who are you?”

This time he spoke. He spoke in a way she had never heard before in all her five years, much more fluid than usual, like a much better version of the round-a-bout that came to the village every summer. If his voice was a round-a-bout, the horses would move silently, almost ghost like to a faraway music box. But the music box would work. Unlike any that Fianna was used to.

“I have come to see Kennis.”

Her eyes went as wide as the man’s.

“Why do you want to see mummy?”

“She’s your mother?”

“Yes. And she’s not to see anyone. I have to look after her and Brenna and Daddy. Well, Daddy says he’ll look after us but he’s working and mummy’s ill. So I can’t let you past, you see.” She straightened her back with importance, trying to reach his size. His hand moved to a long handle around his waist. “What’s that?”

Taking his hand away and kneeling in front of her, he answered. “Nothing to worry about. You are a brave child but I’m afraid I have to see your mummy and can’t let you stop me.” He put his hand on her shoulder and gently tried to push her to the side. She refused to move.

Fianna started getting angry. What sort of answer was that? And how dare he try to push her to the side when she had told him of her mission? She wouldn’t let him past, he may be taller but she wasn’t afraid.

“Let me pass.”

“No.”

“Let me pass.” His volume rose and she gulped in surprise.

“No.”

His handsome face burned red and he thrust her against the wall. Pain exploded in her right shoulder and tears threatened to spill. But Fianna had promised to look after them. The man’s feet thundered up the stairs as she ran after him, tripping over her dress, causing more bruises to her white skin.

Brenna started to wail, filling the air with her toddler cries. Fianna moved faster, bursting into her mother’s room where the man stood, holding the handle which extended into a long blade.

Her mother’s beautiful face was drawn as she shouted at Fianna to get Brenna out of here. But she refused to oblige.

“Sir, you are very rude, and that hurt!”  She yelled over her sister’s silly screaming. Walking up to him, she punched his leg as hard as she could to show him she meant business.

He started to laugh. “Get out of here like your mother said and take your sister.” Fianna narrowed her eyes and told her sister to get out, which she did without question. “You’re staying? You won’t like this.”

He was right.

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