We weaved through the simple bamboo buildings and finally arrived at the door of a big wooden palace on a hill. It was like no other building that I had ever seen. It was painted red, and had two stories. Each story had a black, curved, triangle roof. There were blooming apple trees in two rows leading up to two massive doors. As we went up to the doors they were opened for us. A short man with long jet-black hair tied up in a tight braid at the back of his head met us there, “The governor has been waiting for you,” he stated simply as he turned, motioning for us to follow. He led us through halls filled with exotic statues and ornaments; we stared with open mouths as we were led to the governor.
Our mouths were still wide open when we were led in front of the governor, “You are enjoying this place I see,” he said, amusement showing on his face.
Good, then we must not be in trouble, “Yes sir, very much, this whole area is beautiful! And the people are very kind,” I replied.
“Ahh,” the governor sighed, “the people in this village may be, but I cannot say that is true of all the people here…You may be wondering why I asked you here,” he said, examining my face waiting for my reaction. When he got little except one of rapt attention he continued, “This town is under attack, it may not seem so at the moment, but it is. Every night an army of brigands attacks and loots what they can, worst of all they take not only our belongings, but our women and children too. We have very few people trained to defend against these invaders so when I heard that a group of fighters had arrived and was staying here for a while…well, I would like to ask for your help.” He finished.
“Let me ask my friends,” I told him then moved into a huddle with me friends. “What do you four think?” I asked, “Shall we help them? I think we might as well considering that we will be staying here for several nights anyways…” I trailed off, waiting for their assent or dissent.
They all eventually nodded, so I turned back to the governor, “We have decided that we will help you,” I stated simply.
A huge smile broke out on the governor’s face, “Thank you! We will always remember this!” He said happily.
“Ah, when I came I noticed this town has no walls or barricades. I would suggest you sent all your men into the forest to chop down wood for a barricade. Once they have gotten the wood, they need to stack up the logs around this village to form a barricade about half a man high at least; that is, for tonight, I don’t think they could get much more than that done tonight. I would suggest getting to work on a better barricade tomorrow,” I told him.
The governor nodded and promised to put as many7 men as possible on the job. With that we went back to the inn. “So, shall we make a plan then?” I asked when we got there.
“Well it might help if we had a plan…” Erin volunteered. We all agreed that a plan was probably a good idea, so we got to work making one. The governor had told us they always came from the south, so we decided to put most of our forces there. However, we made a line of people within shouting distance to alert us if they came from another direction. I decided to put myself on a building at the edge of the village near where the bandits usually attacked. Then we went to see how the walls were going.
I had an idea when I saw that they hadn’t gotten round to blocking up the area where the bandits usually attacked. I went to the man who was organizing the building process and told him not to block off that area, but instead make it look unfinished; then to dig a hole there and cover it with a layer of thin bamboo. Next, I told him to put a layer of dirt and leaves on top of that. He smiled at my idea and promised that it would be done; he even put sharpened bamboo stakes at the bottom of the hole.
After that I took my team and a group of armed men and we went and cut a lot of bamboo. Once we had taken it back and sharpened it we went down to the almost-finished blockade. I ordered them to put the bamboo stakes in at the bottom of the barrier so as to further discourage anyone trying to climb over it.
Once all the work on the barricade was done, I took the men who would be fighting and we trained them as best we could in one day. As night fell we all took our posts. My group was hidden completely. Most of the men guarding the place where we were hoping they would enter were also hidden. There was slightly more people visibly guarding it so as not to arouse suspicion, but hopefully not so many as to scare off any attack.
It was about midnight when we saw the first signs of the attackers. It was about an hour later when they made their first assault, and it was right where we wanted it to be.
The first wave charged and was impaled in our trap. The second wave of attackers jumped over the pit and began to attack the few people there were there. Emily, Arianna, and Michael charged into the battle, their skill in weapon wielding far superior to everyone else’s; including those of the attackers. Erin and I hung back a little; waiting for a third wave, which made itself evident once about half of the second wave of attackers had been decimated.
As soon as they got within range of my bow, I started to take them down; they didn’t even make it to the pit before they were all killed. I dashed through the dying fray and picked out as many of my arrows as possible; then dashed back to my spot. No more came that night.
I set up a system of watches and then went to get some sleep. The next morning the governor came to thank us personally. “We aren’t done yet sir, you should get you men to start work on an actual wall today, if the attackers haven’t tried again by the time the wall is finished then we will be on our way again,” I told him.
“We are honored that you choose to stay, and very thankful,” the governor told us happily.
“We are always happy to help,” I replied.
After more banter the governor left us to get on with training the men that weren’t working on constructing the wall. It was a long hard day, but night eventually fell and we resumed the same positions as last night. There was no attack that night and eventually we went to sleep. That routine went on for four days as the wall got progressively longer and longer.
On the fifth day there was another attack, the wall was half done, but they came up at the barrier we had made the first day and tried to rip out the stakes we had buried there. I had trained several people to use a short bow, so we made quick work of them, then replaced the stakes and got back to work.
A second wave came that same day, about three hours later. This time they caught us by surprise and managed to get inside. I caught a prisoner, but the rest were killed before they could do any damage.
“Where is your camp?” I snarled at the man who I had captured.
“I-I can take you there, j-just promise not to k-kill me!” He stuttered, obviously scared.
“If you take us there then I’ll spare your useless life,” I spat at him; I can’t stand people who capture and kill others for material gain.
My rag-tag group of teenagers gagged and hobbled the man, then let him lead us to his camp. When we got within hearing range of them we grabbed him and tied him to a near-by tree. I crept up behind a bush and looked at them. There weren’t very many left; maybe ten or eleven. There were many, many empty tents though. They had been slashed and looted. So I assumed that they belonged to the people who had tried to attack us. There was one big tent in the middle which was guarded by four men. Inside I could see the outlines of quite a few people. Many of them weren’t taller than four feet. The rest seemed to be women.
I surmised that they must be the ones that had been captured before we had arrived. I motioned my companions to me, “That tent has all their prisoners; there are only about eleven people left here, and they seem to be getting ready to move out. I say we pick off as many as we can without the others noticing, then when we are noticed we continue to fight until we have freed the prisoners.” I told them. They all agreed that it was a good plan, so I started to look for any people by themselves at the edges of the camp. I found one going out to go to relieve himself; he was dead before he even knew there was anything wrong. Michael materialized out of some nearby bushes and dragged his body out of sight. Three more went down. Then the fifth person to die was noticed, and the alarm was raised. I quickly made myself visible, “You are surrounded!” I bluffed, “Put down your weapons and lie facedown on the ground if you want to live!”
They all did just as I told them too and we moved down on them. We quickly tied them hand and foot then I rushed to the prisoners’ tent. As I entered the tent the smell of offal hit me like a wave and I winced. The prisoners were all tied up and in pitiful condition. Several of the children, all of them were girls and I supposed they were destined for the slave market, were so weak that they couldn’t move. I carefully scooped up a five-year-old little girl and carried her to my horse and then went back for another. When I went back into the tent Erin was hunched over a ten-year-old girl and had her emaciated head in her lap. Emily was with one of the women, who had just been released and was holding her almost dead baby in her hands.
“Luke,” she called, “you need to help this baby, it’s almost dead!” I went over to the mother, there was a look of desperation in her eyes, and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t let me hold her baby.
“I save your baby’s life ma’am,” I said, holding out a hand to touch the baby.
When the mother didn’t flinch away, just continued to cry, I laid my hand on the baby’s head and merged with its body to see what the problem with it was. It was hungry, very hungry, but that wasn’t what was killing it. There was some internal bleeding. I closed it up then woke the baby up and went back to myself. You need to feed it, I told the mother, who nodded vigorously and went over to a semi-private corner of the tent to feed her baby.
Once we had loaded all our horses with the children that were to weak to walk, we started off, I had another child in my arms. She looked about eight years old, she was dirty and her hair was matted with mud and sweat. As she clung to me I could feel her ribs poking through and winced at how hungry she must be. I looked into her big, brown eyes and saw thanks and wonder. She was actually very pretty, and if she were clean and well fed she would have had me somewhere close to ensorcelled.
I sent Michael ahead to make sure that there would be food and care for these poor people when we arrived at the village. The girl in my arms squirmed and started to cry.
“Shhh, we are almost there,” I told her, holding her close to me; I hated to see abused children, it reminded me of how Emily had been treated, when there had been absolutely nothing I could do about it except take away the pain when I saw her. Thinking of that I looked into the girl I was holding. She wasn’t hurt…just hungry, tired, and cold. I held her closer to me, hoping my body heat would help to warm her up. She put her skinny little arms around my neck and dug her head into my shoulder.
“Where is your mother?” I asked her.
That set off a round of tears, “Th-they killed them. Mommy and Daddy are d-dead.”
“I’m so sorry! I said, squeezing her tighter, “you know my parents died when I was five.”
“Really?” She asked, her eyes growing into big brown saucers.
“Really really, now, I want you to do something ok?” I asked her, she nodded so I continued, “I want you to picture your parents in your head ok? It might hurt, but you need to keep that memory with you forever. You will be glad you did later on…” I said, a far off look coming into my eyes. I sighed, “I really wish I had done that, I have no memories of my parents,” I said sadly.
“I’ll find you a home, I promise you I will,” I told her. She just nodded and pressed her face into my chest and stayed that way for the rest of the trip back.
There was a huge reception waiting for us at the newly-finished gate. As I unloaded the little kids from my horse, worried parents were quick to scoop them up. Soon all the kids were accounted for…all except the one that had been in my arms and still clung to my legs.
“So, what is your name?” I asked the girl as I lifted her up to my shoulders to take her to the inn; the others had gone back a while before and didn’t know about the girl.
“Julia,” she replied.
“That’s a beautiful name!” I exclaimed. Julia smiled and put her arms around my head.
I would begin looking for someone who would take her tomorrow. The innkeeper greeted us with gusto, and offered us his best rooms. I politely declined…however I did take an extra room, two rooms might be enough for Emily, Erin, Michael, and me, putting Arianna in there was a push but still doable; but tying to put this girl in there too, well that was just to much.
When Julia and I entered the taproom Erin rushed up to us, “Who is that? She is so cute!”
“Her name is Julia, and her parents were killed in one of the attacks. Now there is no one to take care of her,” I said.
“Aww, the poor thing!” Erin exclaimed, taking Julia from me and hugging her, “She is so skinny and dirty!” she said as she pulled her back to get another good look at her. She went to the innkeeper and ordered a big dinner for all of us then took Julia into their room where a bath of warm water awaited Julia’s pleasure…compliments of the innkeeper.
When Julia re-appeared with Erin she was completely clean, her hair almost-dry, and had the prettiest face I had ever seen…other than Emily’s of course.
“Wow!” I exclaimed as she ran to me and I picked her up and set her on my lap, “somebody is looking really pretty now that she has had her bath!” Julia smiled and turned pink.
Emily, who was sitting beside me, ran a hand through her hair, “He’s right you know you are very pretty!”
Julia turned even pinker than before, “Thank you,” she whispered.
The food arrived not long after and Julia set to it with gusto. When the meal was finished and we had all washed up, we gathered around the fireplace and cooed over Julia, she loved all the attention, but was soon asleep on my lap. I took her up to her bed and tucked her in, “Sleep well,” I told her as I left the room and closed the door behind me.
When I got back downstairs and sat next to Emily the first thing she said was, “Can we keep her?”
“I wish we could Emily, but think…I don’t really think we are ready to take care of a little girl yet, not only that but where we are going, we can’t take her. So as much as we love her, maybe more like because we love her, we need to find her somewhere else to stay.”
Emily’s face fell, she knew I was right, but she still liked the idea of taking care of Julia. I pulled her close to me, “I love you,” I said.
She hugged me back, “I love you too, she whispered.
When we finally came out of the hug we found the other three staring at us. We both blushed slightly, “Haven’t you people ever seen other people hugging before? Are we really that interesting to watch?” I asked.
Then it was their turn to look embarrassed and turn red. Satisfied, I let It go and conversation returned to normal. Eventually it got late and we all went to bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night to Julia’s scream. I ran into the room she was staying in with Emily. Emily was beside Julia’s bed, Julia was crying, “Mommy! Daddy! Noooo!” she said in a teary voice.
I went over and knelt beside Emily, “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nightmare,” Emily replied shortly then turned back to Julia.
I picked Julia up and held her close to me; I had nightmares like that sometimes. Like flashbacks of things I didn’t even remember. Scenes of fire, noise, screams, they were the worst kind. I sat down and put her on lap, alternately rubbing her back and stroking her hair until she stopped crying.
“I miss my mommy and daddy,” she sniffed in a wobbly voice.
“I miss mine too, but you know…they are still up there watching you. And one day, when you get old and die, you can go up to meet them,” I told her. That thought calmed her and she buried her head into my shoulder and refused to leave that position. Eventually fell asleep, and then I slowly disentangled her arms from me and laid her down on her bed. Once she had been tucked in I gave Emily a quick hug then left the room so that both of us could get some sleep as well.