Nik was at the camp for only another week after he arrived, and Taru knew that something was up, because he usually stayed
for at least the same amount of time that he was away. Dayn wasn’t talking about it, but Jaki had told her that she
had seen Dayn and a bunch of the other older people talking quietly in the corner late one night. Taru hated being kept in
the dark, but Jaki told her that it was probably for their own safety that they weren’t being told things. She knew
that, but she still felt left out. Lessons had been cancelled for all but the most elite fighting groups, and Taru was worried.
Hawk had come to her room the other night and asked her to come join with the more advanced mounted class the next day, rather
then her usual group. She was pleased that he thought she was good enough for the group, but was also worried that perhaps
they just needed more fighters.
This group was learning formations, and it was something that Taru had never had to do before. It was interesting to see how
the horses worked together in a unit, creating an impenetrable barrier that would stop almost anything. Hawk drilled them
for hours, and for the first time since her early days at the camp, Taru went home sore from her lessons. She slept well all
week until Hawk told them why they were training this hard.
“Nikkaron brough us some troubling news when he last came. Demerita has won his northern border skirmish with Terotmal,
and now has time to think about us. Rederick has convinced him that we pose a threat to Malaquent, and is mounting a small
attack force to see if they can eliminate us.” He scanned the group to see if anyone was not truly ready for this. “We
are going to meet them head on. Nik believes that they will be mostly an unmounted group, and as such we should be able to
take care of them easily. We’ll start marching tomorrow, and if all goes well we should strike the first blow to Malaquent
and show them we are something to be worried about.”
They were dismissed after that, mostly to give them time to take in the information and to pack for the journey. Taru went
to find Jaki, and told her the news. The older girl was not surprised, but was a little surprised that Taru was included in
the group going.
“I didn’t think Shet would allow you to go on something so dangerous.” She told Taru. “He seems to
think that you are more important as a mage then as a soldier.”
Taru had shrugged, and both of the girls had set to packing as many things as possible in Taru’s small travel bag. She
didn’t think she would need much, but it was better to be over prepared then not have something she might need. Jaki
also gave her a small store of herbs and medicines. Taru didn’t know what to think. She knew that they had to do something
to fight against Malaquent, and to try and get Demerita our of power, but she had never really thought about what that might
mean as far as fighting went. Everyone she trained with was a friend, and to lose even one of them would be very painful.
Taru had seen battles of course. In the Compound whenever a group was doing poorly they were forced to fight a much better
group, and those who were killed were seen as acceptable losses.
That night she dreamed of her last day in the Compound again. It had been an ordinary day, she had gotten up, went to physical
training, then to equestrian training, and while that had been a particularly good day it had still been ordinary. Blue Sky
had then joined her and they had unit training together until dinner. At dinner she was approached by a man she had not seen
before and was told that she was to see Demerita after her dinner. Taru had no idea why the leader of the Compound would want
to see her, but she didn’t argue, she was well aware of what would have happened if she had. She had slowly finished
her food, the whole time pondering what could possibly be the reason for a meeting with Demerita. She knew where he lived,
and so after dinner walked over to the large building.
It had all happened quickly after that. He had invited her in, and she was stupidly pleased at how friendly he was to her.
He had no asked her to speak, instead telling her that he had seen her riding that day and that she was very skilled on a
horse. She had replied with a smile and when he had led her to another room in the house she had suspected nothing. Looking
back on it now, she should have realized what was going on long before it actually happened. When he had first opened the
door to his bedroom she was confused, and then the fear had come, but by that point it was far too late. She had thought to
run, but he was ready for that, and grabbed both of her wrists, twisting them up behind her back and pushing her over to the
“You should be honored you little bitch. Not everyone is asked to share my bed.” He hissed in her ear and she
shuddered at the warm breath. She of course knew what was going to happen now, she had been told by an older girl about sex,
and why they couldn’t do it here. Her entire body froze and she didn’t fight much as he ripped her clothing from
her. His smile as he did it was the most vivid memory she had. He was enjoying this, and that was something Taru could not
understand at all.
He shoved her onto the bed, and Taru’s mind noted how much softer it was then her own. It was strange things like that,
that she remembered most; that and the pain. He did nothing to prepare her, simply unbuttoning his pants, and switching his
grip on her wrists. She felt his weight crushing her to the mattress first, and then a pain worse then any beating as he shoved
roughly into her. She would have screamed if she could, as it was her mouth opened and her eyes squeezed shut, but no sound
came from her. She had thought that the first rough entry would be the worst, but the pain mounted with each thrust, and soon
tears leaked from each of her eyes. She kept them closed, not wanting to see. Feeling was more then enough right now. She
didn’t even think to try and speak mentally, to ask him to stop; she knew that anything she said or did would be useless.
She lay there, with him ripping her apart from the inside, and did nothing. A final thrust and he fell on top of her. The
air was pushed from her lungs and she gasped for breath. He kissed the top of her head then, and left her on the bed.
“You have ten minutes, get yourself decent, or I’ll throw you out however you are.” He left the room, and
Taru took only a moment to gather herself. She raced from the building, tears blurring her vision. She raced to the one person
she thought would help her, Blue Sky. She knew her unit mate didn’t like her, but she thought that he would at least
help her get to the infirmary to make sure she would live. She had been horribly wrong.
When he had found out what happened he had snarled and leapt at her. She had shamed him for the last time, and he was done
with her. If he couldn’t get a new unit mate while she was alive, he would make sure that she didn’t live. He
slashed at her with teeth and claws, and when it started raining he left her outside near the wall. There was no way that
she would live until the morning. As he stalked off, he didn’t see the dark shadow slipping over the wall.
Taru woke with a gasp, covered in sweat. Tears rolled down her face and pooled on the blanket. She had not been troubled by
that dream for a long time, and she knew that it was the thought of fighting that had brought it on. She just hoped that she
would be able to do what was needed of her in the battle. She wouldn’t let herself freeze, or do anything to put her
friends in danger. She would put these evil thoughts out of her mind. She was stronger then Demerita could ever dream of,
she would not let his memory endanger her or any she was with. She flopped back onto her pillow, knowing that sleep would
not be coming to her any more that night, but also knowing that she needed to rest her body.
She must have slept some; because the next day came much sooner then she thought it should. The day dawned with a fog covering
the ground, and clouds blocking out the sun. She shivered as she crossed her small room to get dressed. Winter had still not
allowed spring to come, and while the days were warm and nice, the mornings and nights were still cold. She pulled on her
riding pants, and a long sleeved shirt. Her boots were by the door, and she slipped into them before grabbing a leather vest
off of her chair and shrugging into it as well. She didn’t know if they would be riding in armor or not, but either
way she wanted her vest.
She was one of the first ones to arrive at the stables, and went over to Free’s stall. The stallion was happy to see
her, as always, and she gave him half an apple she had been eating on the way over. He munched happily on the treat, and then
lipped her hair, leaving a sticky mess in her bangs. She shoved him off, and gave him a kiss on his velvet nose. She gathered
his tack from the large tack room, and began to carefully arrange it so that every piece was tight yet comfortable. The other
few people who had arrived before her were doing the same, making sure to check and double check that everything was in place.
She patted Free, and rubbed under his forelock before going to gather her weapons. She didn’t use the standard sword
or shield. Hers were lighter, made so that she could move more easily and quickly. They didn’t provide as much protection,
but most of her training had been in avoiding getting hit at all.
She buckled the sword’s sheath to the saddle, and tied the shield behind it; both within easy grabbing distance. Her
lance fitted into a small leather cup with a strap towards the front of the saddle, so it rested close to her knee. She made
sure all the weapons were secured onto the saddle properly, and then added her bag to the back of the saddle, resting on Free’s
rump. They had been taught how to get a horse dressed for a march, but this was her first time ever doing it for real. By
the time she finished all her preparations most of the others had shown up and were in various stages of getting ready. She
saw Hawk sitting by the door and she nodded to him. He stood up and padded over to Free’s stall. He checked over all
the tack and smiled at her when he was done.
“Good job Taru. Everything looks to be in place. When we head out, be sure to stay near the middle of the formation.
Those with stronger shields and larger swords will be the outer and front riders.” He wagged both of his tails at her
and set off to check the other horses. Taru kept up a soft rubbing of Free’s velvet muzzle, and occasionally scratched
under his forelock. He loved the attention, but was still slightly uneasy, as he could sense her tension. It wasn’t
long before Hawk barked a command, and they all quickly mounted their horses. There were seventy-three people in their small
unit, and Taru allowed herself to settle towards the middle of the ranks. They took up a sedate pace as they exited the camp,
but as they reached the edge and entered the forests beyond they slowly started a ground-eating lope that quickly left the
camp behind them.
Onto Chapter 8