Rowena screamed. There was no other possible reaction to the sight of Ishak’s body going limp on the end of Erik’s blade. Erik scrambled to his feet, pulling his sword out of Ishak’s body and pushing him aside. He advanced on Rowena who began backing away. Erik smiled evilly as he grew closer to his prey.
Something hit him hard on the back of the head and he dropped to the ground like a stone. Artem stood behind him; the hilt of his knife was the object that had felled Erik, but Artem’s face was now blank, devoid of emotion and fearless.
‘For God’s sake run Ena!’ He yelled at her as he turned to go help Hans who was struggling to keep the two other men at bay.
‘Not without you,’ she called back.
‘Stop being such and idiot and run!’ Rowena backed up, not sure what to do. Her head was telling her to run, Erik might be knocked out for now but it wouldn’t last forever. But her heart told her to stay with Artem. ‘I’ll follow you, just get out of here!’ It was this last yell from Artem that made Rowena turn tail and run. His voice, so calm before was now filled with fear and Rowena didn’t wait to see what had scared him before turning and running.
Her instincts, which were telling her to keep running and not look back, fought with her heart, which was telling her to turn around and look for Artem. For ten minutes her instincts had the upper hand, making her push herself forward and away from the camp. Now she was glad to be wearing trousers, they gave her more freedom so her strides were longer and the fabric from her skirt didn’t get tangled in her legs and trip her up. But her corset was still laced tightly under her shirt, meaning that she couldn’t breath properly and was soon gasping for air. She reached the main road that headed towards Peria and she stopped, collapsing to her knees because of lack of oxygen.
She looked a state. Her hair was tangled and had bits of mud sticking to it, her clothes were also stained with mud and there were smears of blood on her white shirt. I can’t return home looking like this. They wouldn’t let me anywhere near the palace. But she had no other clothes to wear. Erik had taken her blue dress, and her bag containing everything else had been forgotten in the fighting. She now only had what she was standing up in.
‘My diary!’ She clasped her throat as she thought of the contents of her bag. ‘My mother’s necklace!’ Tears filled her eyes and she sobbed uncontrollably, dropping into a curled up ball in the dust. ‘Artem.’ She wanted to die right there in the dirt of the road. She couldn’t see any reason to get up and carry on. She had no food, no water, no money, no protection from the elements and she had lost the man she loved. Her skin was aching for the feel of him against her and her chest was burning for a glimpse of his face. Everything seemed hopeless. She looked at the dagger that she was still clutching onto as if her life depended on it.
She couldn’t believe they were all dead. Shy Lukas, loud Jem, and kind Ishak. There was no way Artem and Hans could have fought off the others by themselves and Erik would show no mercy.
She lay sobbing on the ground for what felt like an eternity, and in reality it must have been hours, because when she found the strength to stand the sun was low in the sky preparing to sink below the horizon and plunge Rowena into darkness. She forced herself to her feet and begin stumbling along the road in the direction of the capital city. When night fell and everything was dark, Rowena didn’t stop, walking mechanically along the straight road, her eyes not seeing anything and feeling completely numb.
It was not until the early hours of the morning, after hours of walking, when she collapsed from exhaustion, curling up in a ball in the undergrowth on the side of the road so she wouldn’t be seen by anyone passing by. But sleep didn’t bring her any more peace. When she closed her eyes she saw the look of cold violence in Artem’s eyes as he knocked Erik out, the sight of Jem and Ishak’s crumpled bodies and the murderous look in Erik’s eyes as he advanced on her. She jolted awake just as Erik raised his sword to kill her. She was breathing heavily and there was a thin layer of sweat on her forehead. Her legs shook as she stood up, climbing out of the hedge where she had been hiding. She made herself forget the fear she was feeling, pushing it down to a place she couldn’t find.
She saw a horse and cart heading towards her along the road, dust flying up behind it. She stood in the middle of the road, her arm held out to ask the driver to stop. The cart showed no signs of slowing but Rowena held her ground and as the driver realized she wasn’t going to move, they pulled on the reigns to bring the horse to a stop.
‘You’re standing in the middle of the road,’ the driver, a woman with muddy brown hair and a round face, shouted at her from the driver’s seat. ‘If you don’t move I’ll have to run you down.’
‘Are you going to Peria?’ Rowena asked, still standing in the middle of the road.
‘Of course. Where else would I be going if I was on this road?’
‘Then all I ask is a lift to Peria. I will be no trouble, I’m just trying to get home.’ The woman eyes Rowena up and down, not sure what to think of this dirty girl with blood on her shirt and a haunted look in her eyes.
‘Alright then, climb up,’ she gave in, motioning to the space beside her on the driver’s seat. Rowena thanked her and scrambled up sitting gratefully next to the woman. ‘Walk on,’ she said to the horse, flicking the reins.
They moved off and Rowena soon got used to the swaying motion of the cart. The woman watched her passenger out of the corner of her eye; unsure of who she was dealing with. She didn’t know any women who would walk around, alone, in the middle of nowhere, dressed in men’s clothing. Probably a foreigner, she thought. They do strange things abroad. In her head it’s probably alright to walk around looking like something the cat dragged in.
'So what’s your name then?’ She asked out loud.
‘Ena,’ Rowena said flatly. ‘My name is Ena.’
‘Ah, that’s an unusual name for these parts. Where do you come from?’
‘Somewhere a long way away,’ she replied ambiguously, her eyes not focusing on anything.
‘Oh a foreigner then?’ The woman grunted when she didn’t get a reply. ‘Well I’m Fialka.’ Rowena still failed to respond. Nice to meet you Fialka, the woman sarcastically said I her head. Thank you so much for giving me a lift. You’re so kind and helpful. People just don’t have manners like they used to.