She got further than she had with Chance and had put several trees between herself and the three blonde soldiers that lay entangled with the horsemen surely to die in the vain fight for her life. A rough hand seized her scalp and lifted her off the floor by her hair, the forest floor rushing past beneath her. She screamed again and dug her filthy nails into the hand of her captor and struggled against his prison. His grip only tightened and the band slowed to a stop.

‘Let me go!’ She spat and swung her hands at whatever part of them she could reach but did not seem to do much damage.

‘Get the rope, and quickly before she gets loose.’ One of them grunted.

‘Bastards!’ She yelled as they tied her hands together along with her legs and put a sack over her head.

They hoisted her onto one of the horses, facing backwards and attached to the beast only with her thighs where fear overcame her and she began to tremble all over. Fear was present now, very present. Forcing herself to take deep breaths, she focused on clinging to the jostling animal and tried not to think about Chance and his companions. It had long past nightfall when the party finally slowed to a trot and stronger lights other than the faint torches her captors used to ride with came into view beneath the rough material and word of their arrival appeared to be spreading quickly. The fear could be held no longer as they stopped on a surface harder than earth and Alpha felt something warm between her legs. Beneath the sack she closed her eyes against the embarrassment and the laughter that erupted. 

Reinforcements arrived about three minutes after he had told Alpha to run but he knew it was too late to send someone after her for her recapture was not an option. He and the twins were at their limit when the rest of their troop had answered his whistle signal and thankfully all had been spared. All except the one they really needed. He cursed and spat on the ground. Grasping his sword from where he had thrown it he drove it into the ground, wincing slightly at the bruising left by a well-aimed spear to his ribs, to clean the blood and gore off the metal. Then, again, he glanced at his poor fallen horse whom he had raised since a foal and knew him in battle perhaps more so even than his sword. Despite what others said, his sword did indeed understand him and seemed to know which path to arch before his own arm had responded.

‘My Prince?’ John, his second in command, asked.

‘I will get her back.’ He snarled, snatching out of the saddlebag the thin strip of gold that signified his royalty. It was folly to wear such a thing to battle unless he wanted every pair of eyes to seek him out first. 

‘I doubt that not.’ John, though, looked more defeated than Chance had ever seen him.

Scowling, he spat in the dirt and mounted the nearest horse to him. He was a prince, why should he wait for permission? Trotting off back towards Carin where his kin awaited his news-but the news they would receive, where their undefeated prince was not only bested in battle but nearly killed for his efforts. Rage welled up in him for his lost prestige but it quickly turned to regret; regret at not being able to save Alpha and regret for letting her fall captive to the Sarinians. Too many times had he seen the devastation the Sarinians left on their prisoners and, as both parties knew the fate she had yet to play out, Chance knew there would be no light torture for her. She must be rescued and rescued quickly. He did not kid himself, though, that this was likely.

The twins followed Chance out of the camp immediately as if they were attached on string to him and shortly the rest of the company were in formation behind them, their hoof prints clearing a path through the mud of the battle field. None of the men, nor the two bow-women and one spear-women, had ever retreated from a battle anything but victorious and the gloom was evident and talk minimal. The party entered single file through the gates to the city that arched far above their bowed heads where every family member who lined the streets in anticipation of their success fell immediately silent and sombre. Eyes sought first loved ones, then the prince, then the captain. All were safe. So why the melancholy? They began to look closer at the party, checking the number, the bearing...Then they saw the damage. But only to a few. Their prince bore a deep gash from his right temple that snaked around the back of his neck and more blood seeped through patches in his clothes and there were rents in his armour. Whispers exploded all around.

Chance dismounted the horse had borrowed and fought his way through the throng of military men and well wishers across the courtyard, past the fountain, up the stairs and through the big oak doors to the palace.

‘Son?’ Came the carrying voice of his father, the king, as he came into view, apparently hurrying to the group outside of his home.

The End

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