Chapter 1: Terror on the Beach
Rowan ran lightly down the path that led to the beach, watching the ground as she placed her soft booted feet on the uneven path. The morning was already hot, even the birds were no longer singing, conserving their energy through the heat of the day. The sun dappled the ground as she entered the tree lined section of the path that she loved so well. She slowed to a walk and relished the cooler shadows. The ocean breeze lifted the stands of her long blond hair that had come loose from her braid. She reached up and tucked them back behind her ear. She was looking forward to her morning ride. Roanus, her young grey stallion, was making beautiful progress and she expected to be able to take him out soon on tour with her comrades.
Perhaps a swim in the surf afterward their ride would be good, giving her the opportunity to work with him in a less familiar environment and further develop the trust between rider and mount.
The path opened and the pebble strewn shore crunched under her feet until she reached the fine white sand. Rowan reached up to shade her eyes, scanning the surf. As she was about to turn towards the shore path that led to the lower stable and training corral, something odd caught her attention. She frowned, studying a strange boulder on the beach that she had never seen before. Then it moved and Rowan gasped.
It was a person!
She swiftly glanced along the shore – no boats or other people.
Rowan strode forward slowly, her senses on high alert. As she approached she saw that it was a man, still wet from swimming ashore or being washed up, she wasn't sure. He had no weapons that she could see. She walked around to stand with the sun behind her so she could see him clearly. He was not Myrian.
"Are you alright?" She shifted so her shadow fell over him.
He blinked and brought a hand up to shade his eyes. He gave her a piercing look, but then groaned and sagged back to the sand.
Rowan moved up beside him and knelt down. She pulled her water skin from its strap and helped him take a sip. "Where have you come from?"
He shook his head, grasping at the water. Rowan offered him more, waited for him to drink his fill as she looked over him. "Are you wounded?"
The man shook his head and struggled to sit up, Rowan helped him but stepped back when he tried to hold onto her.
He said something, but she couldn't understand him.
He tried again in broken common. "I sank boat."
"Your ship sank?" The man nodded.
Rowan scanned the beach again, looking for debris. There was nothing but the man before her. "Where?" she asked.
He waved vaguely in the direction of the left arm of the bay which curved around to make a natural breakwater.
"Did your ship run aground? Where is the rest of your crew?" Rowan looked back at the stranger, the hair on the back of her neck beginning to rise. "I will take you to see a healer," she said. "Can you walk?"
He nodded, and struggled to his feet. Rowan stepped forward to help him, but suddenly there was a long dagger pointed at her chest. She gasped and pulled back but he grabbed her wrist and hauled her toward him, trying to wrap his arm around her throat.
Rowan resisted. He pulled harder. Then she charged, using his momentum to knock him down. He landed with a surprised grunt as she rolled off him, stripping the knife from his grasp. She pulled her sword from its scabbard on her back, leveling it at him. "Who are you? Where is your crew, pirate?"
The man raised his hands up in surrender. He gazed up at her and began to cackle with a sinister smile.
An arrow whistled passed her – close enough for her to feel the puff of air from its passage.
A group of pirates were climbing over the rocks of the jetty. There were more in a boat rowing around the headland.
Another arrow was shot at her. She dove at the man on the ground, summersaulted over him to land in the sand beside him. She hauled on his far arm, pulling him over her just as a flurry of arrows landed around her. The man screamed, stiffening. Rowan scrambled up before they could knock and re-draw. She pelted up the beach to the the trees, zigzagged to make herself a harder target as more arrows rained down.
Then she was in the trees, running back up the path.
Home. It was a risk to lure them there, but she knew the terrain, the game trails and places to hide.
Somehow she needed to raise the alarm. Maybe if she could lead them into the wilderness...
When she had gone some distance, she swerved off the path into the trees and doubled back, keeping her foot falls quiet and slowing her breathing. She stopped and ducked down as voices sounded close by – spoken in the garbled mix of tongues that pirates often used. She could make out only a few words. They were intent on finding her before she could raise the alarm and there was a larger ship coming to land.
How could they have made it through the Myrian Fleet?
Rowan crouched lower as the men ran past up the trail. After the last one, she stepped quietly out onto the trail behind them and began to follow.
Andin had gone to the rock quarry to find stone for his next carving early this morning. If she could get to him, he could run the high path to the garrison and raise the alarm. She ducked back off the path and headed up toward the quarry. It would take the pirates time to make it up to their home but her mother was there, unprepared and unsuspecting. Rowan would have to beat the pirates there once she found her younger brother.
She was sweating when she finally reached the quarry, her legs aching from the climb and she stood on the edge of the cut out mountainside to listen. Finally, the tap tap tap of a hammer sounded from the far side where the stone had been hollowed out almost into a cave. Rowan dashed towards the sound and when she came around the corner into the hollow, she nearly collided with her brother.
"Rowan!" Andin dropped his hammer and several rock samples scattered to ground. "What are you –
"Andin, pirates!" Rowan gasped for breath. "There are pirates landing on the beach. They are headed up the path to the house."
Andin dropped the rest of his gear and grasped her by the shoulders. "Mother is home!" He made to move past her but she grabbed his arm and spun him to face her.
"There are too many for just the two of us and mother to handle. I need you to get to the garrison. Find Dell and Lesana, they will still be there before the patrol heads out for the day. Tell them an entire ship is landing."
Andin's eyes went wide. "Rowan that could be up to fifty men!"
"I know. Just go. Run like you've never run in your life."
"Come with me."
Rowan shook her head. "No. If I don't get back to warn mother she will not stand a chance."
Andin looked at her with that frown of disapproval she knew so well from her little brother. "Don't you dare try to take them all on by yourself."
Rowan gave him a push toward the far side of the quarry where the high path began. "Don't worry, I know this land better than they do. They won't even see me coming."
She watched for a moment as her brother hit his stride and began to run full tilt. He was tall and fit and would make good time.
Her bravado gone, Rowan swallowed and turned back the way she had come. She broke into a run and began to wend her way down toward their home.
She could only hope to get to her mother in time.
Copyrights: ©Kindrie Grove Studios Inc.
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