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There were screams in the distance, and the sounds of battle. There shouldn't have been, there wasn't a military post anywhere near them. Just the constable in his office, and the few weapons he had in racks to hand out to the men of the village when there was a hue & cry, or bandits threatened. They had not had to be used for many years - until now.

Jared gripped his father's spear nervously and peered over the lip of the old quarry where they were all hiding. The village elders had seen the rising column of dust from the south at mid-morning, and with the notice from Beyol about the invasion, had decided that the best thing was to lie low and pretend that the place was deserted. It hadn't worked. Shortly after noon, the column of dust had split and the distinct sources of each regiment and company could be seen. The enemy scouts had spotted the village, and had turned back to summon a company of horsemen to raze the place. The elders ordered the women to barricade themselves in the big stone church, the most solidly built building in the village, while the constable did his best to organise a defence. The children had been rounded up and put in the care of three of the oldest children in the village, Jared, Deren and Martha - the hunter's son, the headsman's son, and the butcher's daughter. Jared's father had handed him a boar spear and told him to watch over the others, then they were all sent to run and hide in the quarry.

They had been there ten minutes before the screams started. The older ones, who listened-in on the gossip of the adults and the conversations of the elders, knew what they probably meant. The younger ones didn't; they had treated it as a game, a fun game of runaway, with everyone to be back home among their families by sunset for a meal and bed. Then the screams had started. The village was no more than a mile away, and the wind was in the right direction. The sound carried. The predominant sounds were those of the ring of metal on metal, and of hoofbeat on turf. But the screams were in there among them, always the screams. Screams of men, screams of fathers, older brothers, uncles. There was no way to know if any of the screams belonged to the men of the invading army, but it was unlikely. Lightly armed farmers and bakers and brewers and craftsmen against trained soldiers?

The little ones had stopped playing. They might not all have known what the sounds were, or what they meant, but they could sense the worry of the older ones, and they could tell the sounds that were coming from the village were not good ones. Most of them just stood there, looking blankly towards the village in puzzlement. Some had sat or lain down, were shivering or rocking. A few were crying.

Martha crept up to stand next to Jared. He was a few inches taller than her, so while his head was above the lip of the quarry, hers wasn't. "Will they come here?" she asked, quietly.

"I don't know," he replied, equally subdued. Maybe they thought that if they could hear the screams, they might be able to tell which ones belonged to their parents, and know when they fell. "We left a trail."

"Can we cover it?" she asked after a moment.

"No point," Jared replied. "We could only cover maybe fifty yards before we'd be certain to be spotted, and it all points straight here."

"Will they find it?"

"If they've got anyone who used to be a half-trained hunter, they can't miss it."

"We're going to die, aren't we?" she asked almost in a whisper after a minute. Jared was still for a while, then silently nodded.

"Let us know if they come," Martha told him, then slipped away.

"Well?" Deren asked when she passed him.

"They're killing people," she told him, "and we're likely next."

"What can we do?"

Martha shook her head. "Nothing," she whispered, choking back tears.

Deren looked around in frustration and embarrassment, hoping for some inspiration. "Underground. The quarry goes underground."

Martha looked at him blankly. "What?"

"We can hide underground. They won't follow us, and if they do, they'll be afoot. We can ambush them, pick them off on by one."

Martha shook her head. "It's just one big cavern underground. No passages, nowhere to hide. And it's unsafe, the roof could come down any moment. We'd be trapped, crushed."

"Uncertain death against certain death. Which do you prefer?"

Martha didn't answer. She just stared at him for several long uncomortable moments, and went to find her nieces who were sitting quietly at the base of a big rock, staring blankly into space.

Several long minutes later, Jared came down from his lookout position. "The screams have stopped," he told Deren.

"That's ... that's good, right?"

Jared shrugged. He headed back up to the lip of the quarry. After a moment, Deren, then Martha, followed.

They could just about see the horsemen milling around the village. Either they weren't interested in following the childrens' trail, or they thought they had time to follow them later. They didn't seem to be doing much.

"The village looks different," Deren said after a while.

"They've taken the thatch off most of the houses," Jared replied.

"Why?" Deren asked.

"Forage?" Jared shrugged again.

"Fire," Martha told them, raising her arm to point at the church.

They looked. The stones of the church were fine, and the empty windows were high enough off the ground that not even a horseman could get through. But wisps and curls of smoke were coming from those windows, and from some they could even see the flickering red tongues of flame.

"Stone doesn't burn," Deren said, trying to reassure the others.

"People do," Jared reminded him hollowly. Moments later, the shape of the horsemen clustered around the church bulged and rippled, as the women in the church opened the main doors and ran out to escape the heat and smoke and flames. There were more screams now, as the horsemen - well, they didn't know exactly, some of them would have had some idea, but they didn't know if the horsemen were doing that, or had gone back to killing. They were probably killing the old ones, and the babies, but the rest ... Martha shuddered.

"How long to nightfall?" she asked.

Jared glanced up. "Couple of hours? It's still early in the year."

"Do you think they'll be too busy to come after us until tomorrow?"

Neither of the boys felt like they could give an answer. There were just under four hundred people in the village, half of which were women, and a third of the remainder living out their dotage. A third of that remainder were children. That left maybe a hundred men of fighting age and a hundred women of marriageable age. A company of horsemen in the Knights of the Green Cross or the Demonan army was sixty-strong. With their advantages of training, armour, weapons, and the speed, weight and height of the horse, the soldiers would have been able to ride down any serious opposition in their first charge, and take their time mopping up. They wouldn't have taken many casualties.

Would the soldiers be content to pillage the village and then rejoin their army's advance? Would they follow the trail the children had left immediately they had finished with the women? Would their army's advance require them to not bother chasing down small groups of inconsequential villagers once they'd had their fun?

"What are you thinking?" Jared asked.

"Everyone in the village is dead," Martha said. "If we stay here, so will we be. If they don't come after us until nightfall, we can take them all north, away from here, stay ahead of their army until we reach safety."

"Safety? Where?"

"I don't know. Madrada? The mountains?"

"We'll never make it," Deren pointed out. "We'll be travelling at night, which is slow, and the little ones will slow us down more. We don't have any food or water, and anywhere we go we'll leave a trail to be followed. We don't even know if there's anywhere to hide during the day while we're travelling."

"The next village is less than ten miles that way," Jared pointed. "We should be able to get there, and they'll help us."

"Can you lead us all there after dark, Jared?" Martha asked, unbearable hope welling in her voice.

Jared was quiet for a long time. "I can try."

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