Jezbel was standing on the hillside looking down as the small dots of men searched through the burnt out husks of the houses, her eyes narrowed against the morning suns, her breath visible in the cool of the dawn air.
"They have come because there was not delivery of goods from the village for Harvest Festival."
Jezbel jumped and whirled around to face Korin a frown on her face.
"They come to late." She said in clipped tones.
He nodded and then shrugged. "You can hardly blame them for what happened."
"Can't I?" She turned once again to look down at the men, the King's soldiers rooting through what was left of their lives. "They expect goods and services from us to fill their larders and their bellies but when we need them they are not there." Her words were almost spit out with venom for those who she saw as failing them.
"Should we alert them that we are here?" Korin's tone implied that he had not missed the rancor in her voice but he chose to ignore it.
"Why should we?" She shrugged, not taking her eyes from the sight. "It would be better if they thought us dead and gone. Then no one can touch us again. They will assume that someone passed and buried the bodies. We can simply hide here until they leave."
A hand was placed on her shoulder and Jezbel fought not to shake it off. Touch was not something she enjoyed anymore but she respected the old soldier too much to cause insult.
"Would you hide your whole life, Jezbel?" He said, his tone gentled.
"No," She replied in a soft voice that matched his. "But I will make myself known in my own way and when I am ready. If they knew we were here they would give us no choice but to leave and never again will I be at another's will."
A pause settled between them, Korin saying nothing but letting her get control of her emotions as the men below began to search the surrounding forests.
"We shall ask the others then," He said at last. "The majority shall rule as always."
Jezbel nodded and turned toward the cave mouth hidden by vines and close growing trees gnarled and stunted on the hillside granite.
"Aye, we will ask but, regardless, I will not go."
"And what will you do then alone?"
"I don't know," She said walking toward the place that had now become home to her and the other girls who had survived. "But I will not allow another man to mold my destiny for me nor will I trust any man but you with that destiny. Never again." Her voice left no doubt about how likely that would be.
"So you have said. Many times." Korin's tone was not judgemental. It had always seemed to Jezbel as if he could understand anothers pain and thoughts even more than they themselves could.
"And so I continue to say," She said simply. "Until a man...any man...can give me a reason why it should be otherwise."
It was almost unanimous. They would stay and word would spread that the village had been totally destroyed. The soldiers had searched and found the cave but the many passageways and cavernes allowed the girls a way to stay hidden.
They had lost much during and after the tragedy for many of their sisters in turmoil had taken their own lives days and weeks after it had happened, unable to live with the horror, the nightmares and the terror that remained, leaving only about twenty of them to an unknown future.
"And what now?" Semoan said on the evening that the soldiers had left for Marrokville.
"I don't know," Jezbel said once again looking around at those with her, their faces softly lit by the campfire.
"We can survive but to what end?" One of the girls, Loretta, piped in.
"That would depend on what you wish for your future," Korin's voice came from the shadows where he sat on blankets piled beneath him.
"I wish never to live through that again!" Another of the girls answered, arms folded about herself as if chilled by the very thought and the sentiment was echoed throughout the cavern they occupied.
"Than you must work toward that."
"How?" Jezbel quizzed the old man.
"Training," He said simply. "We have gathered every sword and weapon the village was left with. Most are not worthy of the name but they will do. In the morning begins your training. If you are to stand alone you will need the skills to do so.
And so it began.