And now, the next chapter
The blood-smeared knife sliced through the air and landed, thunk, right in the creature’s eye.
“You have to show me how to do that,” Rina said. “I’m good with a knife up-close, but I can’t throw it like that.”
“It’s in how you hold it.” Troy took her hand and placed a knife in it. “Like this.” He stood behind her and held her arm. He rested his other hand on her hip, rotating it slightly. “Aim with your whole body. We’re aiming for that tree trunk. Throw like this.”
Rina threw. “I did it!”
“Good.” Troy handed her another knife. “Do it yourself this time.”
This throw was not as accurate as the first, but after several more tries, most of which at first bounced ineffectually off the tree trunk, she managed to consistently get it to stick in the tree, even if it wasn’t quite where she was aiming. She kept practicing all evening while Troy skinned the creature. They’d found that the meat of the creatures was inedible, but the strong hides made exceptional roofs.
The next day, she and Troy practiced fencing. He’d taught her the basics years ago, when he first began training to be a soldier, so he’d have someone to practice with, but Rina knew she needed to hone her skills if she wanted to stand a chance against the king’s forces.
Her arms burned and her legs nearly gave out, but she couldn’t stop now.
“Again,” she demanded every time Troy disarmed her or delivered what would be a killing blow. “Again.”
“No. It’s time for a break.”
“I don’t’ need a break,” Rina insisted between gasps as she fought to catch her breath.
Troy stepped toward her and took her sword. He quietly walked both his sword and hers back to the shelter.
“Troy, come back. I need to learn this.”
He emerged from the shelter and came to her. He slid his arms around her waist and looked at her. “You won’t learn any faster by wearing yourself out. You need some rest. Besides, it’s almost dusk. We need to build a fire and catch something to eat.”
Rina sighed. “You build the fire and I’ll go get food.”
She left Troy within the safety of the camp and its blood-lined border, took her bow, and wandered into the forest. She came upon a covey of quail and shot two before they managed to scurry to safety. At least there was one fighting skill she had mastered.
As she walked back toward the camp, a rabbit crossed her path, pausing to sniff the air. She stood still and carefully pulled a knife from her belt. Squaring her hips the way Troy showed her, holding the knife just so, she threw.
The knife struck the rabbit right in the neck.
By the time she reached the camp, she’d killed three more rabbits and two more quail with her knives, despite having missed twice as many more throwing inaccurately.
“What are all these for?” Troy asked. “We can’t eat all of them, and they’ll attract wild animals. The kinds that aren’t going to be stopped by the blood barrier.”
“We’ll take them into town tomorrow and trade them.”
“Knives. And swords. Whatever we can get. We have to start building an armory.”
Troy took the animals from her without another word. He would follow her and support her, but she could see in his eyes he didn’t believe they could win. The king was too strong, his sorcerers too powerful.
Maybe he was right, but she had to try.
They walked to the village before dawn the next morning. Rina handed Troy two rabbits and a quail, keeping one of each. “Take those to the blacksmith and see how many knives he’ll make for us in return. I’m going to go see my mother. Meet me by the tree behind her house at noon.”
Troy took an alley that led toward the back of the blacksmith’s shop, and Rina walked around the outside of the village until she reached Margaret’s house. She tapped softly at the back door.
Margaret opened it a crack, her face white, eyes wide with fear. She visibly relaxed when she saw Rina. “What are you doing here?”
“I brought you this.” Rina held out the rabbit and the quail. “What’s wrong?”
“Come in, quickly.” Margaret glanced out the door, checking all around before closing it.
“Mother, what is going on?”
Margaret led Rina to the front room. The windows were covered and it was dark except for the glow of coals in the fireplace. A man lay on the hearth, his arm badly wounded, and a woman sat beside him, weeping softly.
Rina hurried to the man’s side. “What happened?”
“The king’s soldiers attacked him last night,” Margaret said. “They accused him of plotting against the king because he refused to give them any more of his crops.”
“We needed that to survive,” the woman moaned. “Our children are practically starving as it is.” She pointed to three young children asleep on a mat in the corner.
Rina and Margaret worked quickly, washing and bandaging the man’s wound.
“They’ll be back,” Margaret said softly. “The soldiers will come to take him to prison, and they’ll take everything of value. Tarin and the children will starve. They need a place to hide.”
Rina took a deep breath. There was only one solution. She hadn’t wanted to drag anyone else into her vendetta, but the king was now turning on his own people. She had no other choice. “They’ll have to come with me. To the forest.”
The woman gasped. “You would sacrifice us to the creatures?”
“You’ll be safe if you do as I say. It won’t be easy. You’ll all have to help care for the camp, and learn to use weapons to defend yourselves, but you’ll be safe from the king’s men.”
Margaret drew Rina to the kitchen. “What are you thinking? These people are farmers, not soldiers. You can’t expect them to start a war.”
Rina looked at her mother. “The land is a barren wasteland. It has yielded all it can. People will soon begin to starve, and the king will slaughter them for not giving up what little they have. The only way to survive is to fight back. I don’t expect them to begin the war. I expect them to fight in the war that has already begun.”
What is to come: