At this rate, she’d never get home in time. Aine patted Orinda’s neck, knowing the chestnut mare couldn’t go any faster on this treacherous ground. The snow had spent the day melting, turning their path into a rocky line of mud with brambles on both sides.
The horse’s ears flicked forward, drawing Aine’s attention. She caught a clang of metal on metal muffled by the trees. No one should be out here. Her parents owned this land and kept it wild on purpose. Orinda whickered and stopped, radiating fear. More clangs spoke of a battle, and the horse must have scented a predator. Certain kinds of men–the unwashed, battle-inclined sort–provoked this response from Orinda too.
“Easy,” Aine murmured to the horse. “I won’t let them hurt you.” She pulled her slender bow from its pocket lashed to the saddle and strung it with practiced ease. If she’d known she’d run into bandits or raiders out here, she would’ve ridden Apricot instead of Orinda. This mare had no experience with battle and would be more hindrance than help.
Two men stumbled into view on the path, swords clashing. One wore a dark green cloak and fitted leather armor. He held his left arm close to his body, a dark, wet stain spreading around a rip in the leather covering his bicep. She recognized the other. He wore a twisted snarl as he repeatedly chopped his sword down at the stranger.
Aine nocked an arrow to her bowstring and cleared her throat. “Fionn.”
The village bully paused and looked up. His eyes flicked from the point of her arrow to her face. “Stay out of this, Aine.”
The stranger sagged, panting, and took a step away from Fionn. He favored his right leg. He also kept quiet.
“You’ve strayed onto Prinden land,” Aine said. She kept her arrow ready to fire at Fionn’s neck. After enduring his unwanted advances every time she visited town since he hit puberty six years ago, she longed to let the arrow fly. There would be repercussions for this incident, but she had a hard time caring right now. “Leave now or never leave again.”
Fionn pointed at the stranger with his sword. “He tried to rob me!”
Aine snorted. “I doubt that. It’s more likely you tried to rob him. Get off our land.”
“Fine,” Fionn snarled. He spat on the ground in front of Orinda and glared at Aine. His nostrils twitched and his jaw clenched. No doubt, he wanted to toss a threat at her, yet lacked the wit to form one on the spot. Jerking away, he turned the same glare on the stranger and stormed away.
Aine turned her arrow to aim at the stranger. “These are private lands.”
He leaned against a tree and nodded. “My apologies for trespassing. You guessed right. I passed through the nearby town and he accosted me on the way out. I’m headed to…” His words slurred towards the end then he crumpled to ground, unconscious.
Letting her bow go slack, Aine sighed. “I guess he won’t rob or murder us while he’s out cold.” She patted the horse again and climbed down to gather up the household’s new guest. Now she was really late.
Lee French has published several fantasy and science fiction novels, and is a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff
Image credit: Archer With The Horse by angmara at deviantart.com