But he was on horseback. Barely five paces had she gone before a hand seized her upper arm, forcing her into a rough stop that would have sent her over had it not been for his grip. Anger more than anything showed itself on her delicate face as she glared up at her captor. At once his beauty stunned her. Not in the usual way where Alpha felt she would happily marry them and settle in one of the little round houses at the edge of the village, perhaps with three or four children clustered around the benches in the kitchen. No. It was more of an instinct. This was a man who could hold sword, spear and bow and her need to be protected nudged inside her like a curious animal sniffing hopefully at the first airs of spring. His blonde hair was far too long to be deemed acceptable in her village and bore some signs of, what she suspected, being on patrol for a long time. Under his blue eyes the dark circles confirmed her earlier suspicion. He glared back at her with a sense of both determination and, at the same time, relief.
‘Lease my arm, soldier.’ The words fell from her mouth before she had formed them but the title seemed to fit him even if his armour was perhaps more elaborate than she would expect from a foot soldier. He did as directed.
‘My name is Chance. If you value your-’ His words were broken off by a sudden thunder of the leaves around them and the ground suddenly seemed to shake so badly the horse looked sure to bolt until the rider whispered a word to halt him.
A herd of horsed and riders were upon them all with hair as black as Alpha’s own but though she stopped to stare, no other did. Chance manoeuvred his horse between her and the onslaught of horsemen, the rump of the beast pressing her behind a tree before it leapt off at command and charged the horsemen. Alpha watched Chance swing a heavy looking two-handed sword from a sheath on his back and cleave a man’s helm in two and breaking the jaw of another with the hilt on the backswing. Bile rose in her throat. Not for the fallen men but the danger the boy was in. The horse beneath him kicked when someone was foolish enough to stray too close but more and more men were coming and swamping both charger and rider. Chance gave two short whistles while sheering another soldier under the armpit before slitting the throat of the nearest horse that fell, bringing down the rider as well. His horse pranced agitatedly, aware of the imminent chance of failure and with the air that it was not used to such an outcome. Suddenly, two more horse bearing blonde riders leapt from the trees behind Alpha and she noticed nothing else other than the relief that spread across Chance’s face.
The three riders seemed to begin to cleave a path through the horsemen but just as victory seemed to turn in their favour, and their horses were climbing unsteadily over the bodies of the fallen, more black haired men advanced. Some bore arrows. A man who looked to be the leader sat astride a dark charger flicked back his dark hair that fell in lank lines across his face and fitted an arrow into the string of his bow slowly, calculating movements. Squaring his shoulders and pulling the shaft back until it reached the corner of his unemotional grey eye, he exhaled, took aim once more and leased the arrow. One of the pair to join Chance, though, had seen the danger and yanked sharply on the bridle of his horse so he turned in an attempt to protect Chance. Alpha watched as the shaft sunk into the flank of his horse and, rearing on his hind legs in pain and fright, lost his footing and fell to the leafy ground where his rider rolled beside. She screamed. Chance looked up at her through the legs of the advancing horsemen and mouthed for her to run. So she did. But it was too late. They had heard her scream and five of the horsemen were advancing on her.