As Kyra rode through the fire-stricken village that was once her home, tears fell from eyes that swore they’d never cry again. She sifted through the piles of cold ash and bone that were once a strong house and a proud family. Her family. Now, just one year from her latest departure there was nothing left to come home to. Kyra’s feet traced the familiar outline of the stone wall that was once her kitchen. Phantom aromas of venison on the fire and fresh bread filled her nostrils. She felt the ghosts of her past surround her as she saw her sister, Catalina, chopping vegetables from their small garden. Her ears tickled with the echoes of her mother calling, “Kyra, fetch papa from the fields for supper.” Kyra took a deep breath and imagined the stone-bottomed houses framed in wood. She saw the remains of the church over the hills in the distance and recollected when it was built. Her feet led her to wander into the charred field where her father spent his long days. The dank, murky air sat heavy on her shoulders; so much destruction. Suddenly she stopped — a pain rushed through her like a knife plunged deep into her stomach. She knelt down beside a skeleton donning a silver pendant. Instinctively her hand rushed to her neck and clutched its mate. She removed the first from the ashy bones and placed it around her own neck. Its delicate metal bearing rigid strength upon her heart.
“My dear Catalina, I do regret what has happened to you.” Staring up at the mountains through her sobs, she watched the dense fog tear over the valley, reflecting her confusion. Kyra took hold of her emotions while walking back to her horse. She pushed back her long auburn hair, and rubbed her eyes. Erasing their moisture allowed her to see more clearly through their emerald glow. She mounted her horse with perfect poise. Surely Byron would have heard some news of this. Quickly she urged her horse southward on the road to Niger Lee.
There was a steady rain as Kyra came upon the old shack that was used as a trading post between her lost Verona Woods and Niger Lee. She stopped and dismounted her horse, approaching the door to see if anyone remained. After an unanswered knock, she walked inside to see only the remains of a tradesman. After finding a small purse of change and a bag of dried meat, she returned to her journey.
The rain tapered off as night fell. Kyra dismounted her horse and led him under a large tree. She removed the saddle and halter and set him to graze. Kyra tucked herself into the valley of two overgrown roots of a tree older than the mountains themselves and looked up at the canopy of branches softly kissing the sky. The air was heavy and still as Kyra closed her eyes. Sleep engulfed her as visions of her farmhouse entered her thoughts. A group of small children were playing by the river that flowed through her father’s fields. Among them were Catalina, and herself.
Being my big sister, Catalina should have been more careful with me by the water. She knows I can’t swim. And letting Lacey push me down, laughing, just for fun…, Kyra thought as she saw herself slip down the riverbank. She remembered the terror of dropping below the water, not breathing. She saw her body floating with the current as an odd looking angel with large wings, surrounded by a golden hue, plucked her from the river’s grasp…
Kyra awoke to the sun’s rays, a bit shaken by her memory. She looked up and whispered, “Byron, you saved me once, come and pluck me again from my sorrow.” She watched the sky for a brief moment before calling her horse. She saddled him, took a few pieces of meat from the saddlebags and led the brown and tan marbled stallion down the path.
Kyra closed her eyes as her feet fell in perfect rhythm as if they had a memory of their own. So many times through her eighteen years, she had traced these same steps. How long ago that seems now. Kyra’s arm jerked as her horse stopped suddenly. She looked around and listened intently. Faintly, she could hear the sounds of running hooves, and caught a glimpse of a deer leaping to catch up with its herd. After listening for a moment, Kyra could hear voices in the distance. She quickly led her horse from the path and settled down among the brush. Kyra could see a small group of men bearing a crimson banner with a golden bird. Behind them, three women, tied at the hands, were being dragged. She shivered as she thought of the fate that awaited them. Quietly, and at a distance, Kyra followed the group about ten leagues. The sun was still bright when one soldier halted and signaled to make camp. Kyra absorbedly watched as the men tethered the women, along with the horses, to the trees. As she stayed, waiting for her chance at a rescue, her mind echoed the solemn advice of her friend telling her to let it be and move on. “Risking your neck for no reason is foolish.”
“Why then did you save me?” Kyra remembered the conversation well.
“That day I was feeling foolish.” Byron had answered.
Kyra took a long, deep breath as the sun finally dropped below the Earth. In her head she could hear the soft voice again, What force drives you to be foolish today my child? In a whisper Kyra replied, “I could do nothing for the ones I loved. Here is my chance to do something to begin my atonement.”
It didn’t take much longer for Kyra to see her opportunity. The men were laid out in a circle next to the fire. The women were on the other side. She would sneak around and release them. Then they were on their own. She took one last preparatory look. All five men were accounted for. They had set no traps and kept no dogs. Seems too easy, Kyra thought to herself. Still, I must be careful. She crept up behind the camp and positioned herself behind a few bushes near where the captives were tied. Quietly she told them not to move. Kyra lifted her dagger from its sheath and cut their ropes before releasing the horses.
“Quickly,” she told them, “go as far as you can and stay out of sight.” Kyra glanced back at the sleeping men and her heart sank. Kyra saw a sight she could never have predicted. Strolling through the camp was a tall, monster of a horse. She must not have secured his reigns. “Curse you wretched stallion,” Kyra whispered under her breath. “Thorn. Thorn, come here.” Kyra ordered as loud as she dared. The horse looked up and happily trotted to its master, stepping on one of the men in the process. “Damned horse!” Kyra said as she mounted Thorn. It took only a moment for the men to be up. Two of the men ran to gather the horses; the others followed the fleeing girls. Kyra turned and pushed Thorn back the way they had come. She kept a close eye over her shoulder and was shocked to find they did not follow her. She continued and found the trail that put her back on course to Niger Lee.
“Stupid horse, you could have gotten us killed.” Kyra’s reprimand was met only by a playful whiney.
Kyra returned her attention from her horse to the narrow trail. She turned forward and was startled to find a stranger in her path.
“Pardon me Miss, I didn’t mean to unnerve you. Is this the way to Niger Lee?”
Kyra looked upon the young lady riding on a small white horse, her golden hair framing her pale face and bright sapphire eyes. “Are you lost?” Kyra answered.
“A little. I bypassed Verona Woods and was afraid I’d gone too far. I‘m Leah, by the way.” The girl approached Kyra and extended her hand.
Kyra studied her and judgingly asked, “Are you always so eager to meet a stranger? One, especially one as pretty as you, should be more careful. I’m Kyra,” she said, accepting Leah’s hand. “I wouldn’t recommend you travel alone. There are many dangers in these woods. I am going to Niger Lee. You may continue with me if you’d like.” Kyra could feel Leah’s eyes searching her body. They stopped briefly at her hip where her crossbow was hung. A small sword was slightly exposed from under her long green cloak.
“How do I know you’re not one of those dangers?” Leah replied with a grin.
Kyra circled her once before saying, “You don’t.”
Continued in part 2 in our Summer 2022 issue.