I stared quietly at the ground beneath me. The small mound was barely noticeable, but I knew this spot well. Even though the marker had disappeared years ago, this makeshift grave never left my memory. I couldn’t believe it had been ten years. Ten years since my life was changed forever. All of those years without the people I considered my family.
As a single tear trickled down my cheek, I replayed every moment of that day in my head. Could I have done something different to change it? Even after all these years, regret was my closest companion. The memories came full force as I looked towards the center of the field, where everything I knew and loved came to a terrible end.
We were just five friends struggling to stay alive. Staying inside the borders of the common territory, we did our best to stay out of trouble. Of course that wasn’t easy in that time. Trouble was everywhere. A rogue warlord had claimed these lands as his own. Times were hard for everyone, especially me.
I was only nine when I lost my parents to Corson and his Army. Refusal to pay his taxes was the claim and the only penalty was death. Ranil and her parents hid me until it was safe. After the grief faded, I learned everything I could about swords. By the time I was thirteen I could beat any adult in a sparring match. I also met Marn, Stile and Palin during that time. We became the best of friends.
Over the next three years, the five of us did anything we could to impede Corson’s ever growing threat to our homes. We knew the lands better and set up traps that left the soldiers wounded and confused. We stole weapons and rigged their equipment. Anything and everything was done to prevent them from completely taking over. Of course for me, it was revenge.
My friends knew of my loss but only Palin understood how deep that pain went. He had lost his family the same way. His anger showed in every action and I could not count the times that we had to keep him from killing someone. Marn did his best, being the biggest of us all, but sometimes rage can make you impervious to even the largest obstacles.
On that day, word came to us that Corson was traveling alone. Ranil went ahead watch for trouble as we set up another trap. We had just finished when she came back to say that Corson’s Army was behind him. I stared at Palin, knowing full well that this wasn’t good. Our trap wasn’t meant for a large army of men, just Corson. Stile muttered under his breath as he saw our enemy come into the clearing.
“We will just have to fight.” Palin looked at each of us as he stood and withdrew his sword.
My whispered counsel went ignored as he looked grimly towards the oncoming figure. Stile, Marn and Ranil exchanged silent words and hid behind trees and boulders. They all knew that the worst was yet to come. After one quick look in Palin’s direction I too went and hid. Burying my head I my hands, I silently wept for my closest friend.
“Maybe he will get lucky. Corson was never a great fighter to begin with.” Ranil whispered as she crouched down beside me.
“It’s not the fighting that I am worried about. Corson has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone I know.” I muttered quickly, tears filling my eyes once more.
“Don’t worry about Palin, Liana. Worry about us when the rest of Corson’s men get here.” Ranil shivered at the thought.
“We can handle them. We did it before and we can do it again.” My smug look made Rania giggle.
The sound of twigs snapping drew my attention to our rear. I rolled my eyes at Marn as he shifted his position. He was ready for a fight and I knew that if things took too long, he would be hard to control. Stile placed a hand on Marn’s shoulder and shook his head. Marn nodded and relaxed. He understood that we didn’t need any more heroics right now. Palin going off alone was enough.
We heard them coming before we saw them. Over a hundred hired thugs made up Corson’s Army. They marched single file towards the center of the field. Each was worse than the previous soldier, if you wanted to call them that. Some still bore scars from our previous incursions. The four of us knew that these men would remember us and there would be no mercy at all.
I looked out from behind the boulder to see Palin and Corson facing each other. I saw Corson throw his head back in laughter. A split second later, his sword was plunged into Palin’s chest. As Palin fell to the ground, a scream I had never heard before filled my ears as Marn thundered past me. Stile quickly followed and the battle began.
The Army underestimated us because of our youth. They had only known us for our traps. None had ever seen us in combat. One by one, the soldiers fell. Any thought of leaving them alive had been taken with Palin’s life. Marn fought two at a time, bringing death quickly and painfully. Stile fought more slowly, enjoying the pain he inflicted on each of his targets. Ranil used her crossbow to take out those who attempted to sneak up on us. I went for Corson himself.
Sword in hand, I ran towards this terror. All of my hate and agony poured out at as I met each of his attempts to take me down. His eyes grew wide at my resistance to die. I pushed forward, slowly leading him to the trap we had set. I knew that getting him there would mean a victory for us. Every inch forward seemed to take forever. I continued my attack as his foot reached the edge of the hole that had been dug.
I heard Ranil scream and time seemed to slow down. I turned my head to see my companions fall. For a split second, I watched as she and Marn were taken down by Corson’s men. I glanced towards where Stile had been last. His body lay on the ground, lifeless. My mind went numb and I screamed for the lives that had been lost.
Years of hatred and revenge finally reached the breaking point. Images of my parents and Palin swam before my eyes as I lunged one final time towards Corson. My sword penetrated his throat as he fell into the hole filled with short wooden spikes. His body lay motionless in the small pit that would become his grave.
The soldier closest to me stared into my eyes. I moved towards him and he ran, dropping his sword. I could hear him yelling about Corson’s death. Soon I was surrounded by the Army, but no one attacked me.
“You’re just a girl, a kid.” One soldier’s surprise was spoken out loud.
I turned to look at him, hate still burning in my eyes. He backed up and lowered his head. Raising my sword, I silently dared any of them to try something. I walked backwards until I was a safe distance, and then ran to see to my friends. I fell down next to Ranil, tears streaming down my face. The savageness of her wounds was too much for me to look at. Her eyes stared at nothing and I quickly closed them.
I could hear the soldiers talking amongst themselves. They were trying to figure out what to do next. With no leader they were just a mindless group. One by one, they left the field. Not one of them even dared to come in my direction. As I looked up, a few of them had removed Corson’s body and were taking it back to his castle. Even now, I don’t know what they actually did with his remains. It wasn’t my concern and never would be.
I spent the rest of the day burying my friends. As I placed the marker, I swore that I would never rest as long as men like Corson ruled. Tears of grief spilled down my face as I walked away from the field. I headed into the woods where I waited for nightfall. Only then, could I go out safely into the world.