Wendy looked down into the valley, and began to weep. "It was the Theocracy," said Guido, her boyfriend. He put an arm about her shoulders and felt her shaking with rage and grief.
Below them, in what had been a scenic little valley, there used to be a tidy little village. Now, only smouldering ruins hugged the teal waters of the shallow bay. Fishing boats, which were moored in neat rows at the villages piers were just masts poking above the water, like banner poles, with tattered and burnt banners of creamy white, the remains of their sails.
Even from almost a mile away, the stench of cooked meat came to Wendy's nose, and nearly caused her to vomit. A handful of people seemed to have survived the raid, moving slowly through the wreckage that had been their homes and lives.
Wendy took a deep breath and nudged her horse to a walk, moving down the crushed gravel path to Verdello. She hoped there would be some assistance she could give to the terrorized villagers, but feared that there would be none.
Guido followed her upon his own horse. Neither of them were wealthy enough to own a horse, but they had recently earned a few guilders and were reputable enough, barely, to rent them from one of the many stablers on the edge of Vilders, with a substantial deposit, naturally.
Many of the dead had been, already, gathered in the town square, wrapped in sailcloth. Dozens of corpses lined in neat rows. The people of Verdello were tidy, even now. Wendy gave a small whimper of a laugh with the thought that their graves would likely be in neat rows as well, and they would not jostle in the line queuing up for entry to the Portal of Forever.
Between the dead, and the few living, there were not nearly enough people accounted for. "It was a slave raid," said Wendy in a very quiet tone. "Half the people are gone."
Guido nodded, watching the villagers with saddened eyes. Slave raids were the most common raiding the Theocracy performed. They constantly needed more slaves for their insatiable appetites.
The young couple had come here, on the occassion of Wendy's nineteenth birthday, to spend a few days in the beautiful, quiet little village, enjoying the much-celebrated hospitality of the people and their unparalleled seafood preparation techniques.
The thought of food nearly caused Wendy to vomit again, and the cloying stench of cooked pork hanging in the air, which was not pork, aided her resistance to that not one whit.
One of the villagers approached them. An elderly woman, too old to have offered either resistance to the Theocracy, or to be of use as a slave. "Sir and madam. Please, help me. I cannot lift my husband's body, please help me to get him to the square." She was bravely not crying, but Wendy could see that she had been and would be again, very soon.
Guido instantly nodded, and leaped down from his mount, not even waiting, as he normally did, to see what Wendy would wish of him. He already knew. He handed Wendy the reigns for his horse as she, herself dismounted. He took the elderly widow's arm and she guided him off among the still floating puffs of smoke that filled the village.
Wendy tied the horses to a chunk of fallen timber and walked to where several people were hovering around a table, sewing bodies into makeshift canvas cerements. The five people, men and women alike, turned to stare at her a moment as she walked up to the table. One of the women silently held out a large sailcloth needle with a trailing length of twine through its eye. Wendy took it and they all went to their business.
After four hours of that, Wendy stood back from the table, people had come and gone from the group preparing the bodies for burial. Guido had not returned yet, though she suspected he was making himself useful elsewhere. The old woman had stood to the side as they had sewn her husband into a cloth, crying while one of the young women of the village had comforted her.
Wendy walked a ways from the square, hoping to clear her nose of the stench of death. Guido was there, on the side of the main avenue through town, helping men, in a group, set some tables under the eaves of a large elm. The only 'roof' left in the village right now. Food was being salvaged as it was found and taken to those tables.
The sun was now low and mercifully, it looked to be a clear night coming to them. It might grow a bit chilly, but it would not rain. "How are you doing?" asked Guido, solicitously as she stood with a haunted expression on her heart-shaped face. He ran fingers over her smoke-greasy hair and she leaned into him for support.
"I'll be fine," she said unconvincingly. "Others have suffered more than I this day."
As the sun touched the western horizon, a column of soldiery of the city-state marched into the village with a few handcarts. They promptly began throwing their aid into the cleanup efforts, though that would soon be ended for the day, as the light failed. Mostly, they set up a few tents for the comfort of the elderly and infirm, and their healer tended to the wounded. The village's priests had been slain or taken.
Wendy and Guido sat at the edge of the firelight as the villagers and soldiers moved among the tables, taking a bit of food and speaking quietly. They were on the steps of one of the burned out houses. They both heard a scraping sound from behind them and turned. A shape rose from among the fallen timbers of the house. It was hard to make out in the low light at the edge of the fire's reach and more so as it was inside the home.
It moaned, then lurched toward the doorway at their backs. Both rose, thinking they were looking on another survivor of the raid, and prepared to be pleased. Then it screamed incoherently and charged at the two of them.
Wendy ducked aside as a massive sword came sweeping from the doorway, Guido was not as swift. The blade caught him under the ribs and lifted him from the ground and he flew back into the clearing. The man, if man he was, stood over six feet tall, and was armor clad from head to toe, black gleaming steel.
There were shrieks from the crowd and the soldiers, taken by surprise, began moving toward the disturbance. Wendy rolled and came up on her feet, her training from goblin-hunting coming back to her instantly. She wore only a small knife, though, and knew she could not face this opponent, even well armed, and hope to win.
The armored man howled in triumph as Guido's body thudded to the ground, and did not move. "No!" screamed Wendy, jerking her knife from its sheath as tears flowed down her cheeks.
The man turned to her now. "Heretic whore!" he screamed in an oddly-accented Ghantian. "You are comely, and will be saved for special favors."
She brandished the ridiculously short knife before her and he took one step toward her, threateningly. "A fiery one," he said, but then turned to face the first wave of soldiery as they rushed toward him with spears. "Fools!" he bellowed as he waded in among them. Their spear points skittered off his armor and he hacked them down, arms and legs flying free of their bodies, heads rolling on the ground, and blood everywhere. The villagers were gone now, disappeared among the ruins, seeking for shelter.
The remaining six soldiers pulled back, then fled, having watched equal their number fall to him in seconds. His sword was pulsing with a sickly yellow light and he panted within his full helm. "Run, dogs! God will show me where to find you when he is ready!" the armored man screamed.
Wendy stood, blinking, then, finally, thought of her own flight. She got half way through a turn when the armored man said a word, a dark word, she could feel its malice even as he spoke it. Her arms and legs failed her and she collapsed to the ground like a marionette with its tethers cut. "No, no, my little firebrand," said the armored man, "we have much to do before you go."
She felt herself lifted and thrown over the back of her own horse. All she could see, hanging over the steed's back was the ground moving past in the moonlight as they left the village. Wendy could not even raise her head. She jounced along as the horses trotted over the intermittent rock and grasses of the coastline.
After an hour, they stopped. She was hauled over the horse's back and propped against a tree. A few minutes later, a small campfire burned and she saw the man moving about the little clearing in a copse of small trees. He had removed his helm, and she watched until he turned to look upon her. His face was alarmingly handsome and fair. Short-cropped blond hair crowned his head and watery blue eyes peered at her.
He once again spoke a dark word and she felt her arms and legs again, and could move her head. "Do not try to flee," he said calmly as she looked about them.
Wendy turned a withering glare onto him. "Why did you take me?" she demanded.
"I have yet to take you," he said, "and I will not. You will give yourself to me, mark that."
Wendy's lips curled up in a cruel smile. "That won't happen," she said. "I do not lie with heretics nor murderers."
"Lest you be a virgin, you've done both, whore!" he screamed, balling one massive fist and raising it over her. The young woman gritted her teeth and refused to flinch. Slowly, the red faded from his fair skin and he lowered the fist. "I can smell your lack of virginity, so I know this is so."
He watched her closely as she rose to her feet unsteadily. Feeling was still coming back to them and they tingled, as if asleep. "I will not try to run, yet," she said. "I know you'll just use your magic upon me again, if I do."
He nodded slowly. "What is your name?" he asked.
"Wendy, if it matters," she replied.
.... There is more of this story ...