The Horsemen Will Ride
Jennifer Ford
A thousand years have passed since the brutal slaying of the Watchers - six immortal men who kept ... Show More
Genres:
Adventure, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult

Chapter 1

    There was no time to slow down. Only moments ago arrows were zinging past his head, so despite the danger Jayce gritted his teeth and pressed his horse to a slightly faster pace. He had no fears for the safety of his horse; Rune could certainly manage worse than this dense forest. He had no fears for himself either. He was not afraid of death. Truth be told, he welcomed death; it just refused to take him. But Jacye was determined not to be captured alive, so he let his horse run and did his best to hang on.

    Seeing a large, low hanging branch directly ahead, Jayce flatened himself across Rune's back, pressing the left side of his face into the base of Rune's neck. The branch cleared mere inches above him. He winced as seconds later a smaller branch raked against his face. From experience, he knew the lingering sting meant it left a gash across his right cheek. Jayce straightened, alert for any and all sources of danger.

    A few minutes later they crashed through the last of the underbrush and were free of the dense woods. Jayce let out a sigh of relief as Rune surged into a full gallop. The giant war horse seemed just as anxious as Jayce to put more distance between themselves and Galston. They had been pursued from the small town of Tesdale far to the north all the way to the realm's border.

    The danger mostly behind them, the irony of his situation caused Jayce to laugh. Even to his own ears it sounded dark and bitter. Two days ago, when they should have already been on their way back to safety in Varna, he had led his patrol of five men deeper into Galston. The whole point of the patrol was to find answers about Jochem, hopefully gain some insight to how Jochem was operating, and ascertain how much of a threat he was. For twelve days, they found nothing. The time came to leave, but Jayce persisted. He knew they were close. They were tracking down the source of rumored trouble, and the path led them further north, to Tesdale. When things started to go wrong, it happened all at once, and everything simply disintegrated around them. It seemd Jochem had anticipated their arrival and prepared a trap for them, which they obligingly walked right into. Once attacked, Jayce had leapt at the enemy with full abandon, and yet he was the only one to escape. Once again, death had rejected him.

    Rune snorted loudly, tossing his head as if sensing Jayce's thoughts.

    "It's all right, old boy," he said, giving the horse an encouraging pat.

    Rune was no ordinary war horse. Standing a full two hands taller than any other horse with the girth to match his size, thick muscles rippled smoothly beneath his skin. To simply say he was black did him no justice. During the day, sunlight seemed to be swallowed into the darkness of him. At night his coat had a glossy sheen while his mane and tail appeared soft and shiny. Rune was a Tanepi horse, from the wild herd that roamed the island of Keladrie. It was said that the Tanepi were created by the Watchers back in the days of old, and that they still carried within them some remnants of magic from those days. They were capable of feats no ordinary horse could endure. They could run faster and for longer lengths. Their skin was tougher and when injured they healed quickly with little or no help. No Tanepi could be taken from the island by force, they left only if they chose to. Once they chose a person, the bond created between horse and rider was breakable only by death. Rune had appeared out of nowhere years ago, before the trouble began. He was the only thing left Jayce cared about.

    After several leagues of uneventful hard riding, Jayce knew they would see no more of their attackers. Jochem was bold, but he was neither stupid or rash. That was one of the reasons he had been so successful in his campaign. The open countryside of Marrist was a picture of peaceful tranquility, as perfect as any day in late spring could be. It was hard to picture the lush fields torn apart with soldiers and strife everywhere, but Jayce knew such times were not far off. Marrist shared a border with Galston, and Jochem would soon be on the move to conquer more territory. Marrist would likely be his next target. The northern territory of Marrist was open fields, farm land, and scattered small towns. There would be little opposition to overcome. Jochem had to be stopped.

    Jayce thought of the council waiting for him. Would they believe him? He reasoned they would, though his message was going to be hard for them to swallow. The mission had not been in vain, despite the loss of his men. To the best of his knowledge, three of them were still alive. Jayce grimaced, an unsavory taste filling his mouth. He knew what would become of those men. He had learned Jochem's secret; the reason why Jochem's men killed off women, children, and elderly. The same reason why they tried to capture all able-bodied men alive. It was the stuff of nightmares. If he hadn't witnessed it with his own eyes, he would never have believed it.

    Pulling away from his darkening thoughts, Jayce was surprised to find they had already reached Accalia. The scattered ruins were all about them. Whatever had happened here was lost to history. No one knew what had been here or what had ended it, but it had been catastrophic. Clear traces of fire still remained on the stones. Accalia was a mystery; nothing was normal here. The ferns were white. Exotic flowers grew among the ruins that existed nowhere else. Instead of grass, some kind of thick moss covered the ground. Despite all the time this place had been vacant, nothing grew on the stones and no birds or animals took shelter inside them.

    A single archway rising up from nothing caught his eye, the elegant masonry still evident despite the state of the ruined stones. A sudden memory leapt out at him, causing his breath to catch in his throat. He had brought Loralye here once, to picnic under that very arch. Her lovely face was suddenly before him with her deep blue eyes smiling at him, framed by waves of her light golden hair.

    Swallowing the lump rising in his throat, Jayce pushed aside the memories of his wife. Loralye was dead. His children were dead. His entire family was gone, murdered by that bastard Jochem. Jayce hardened his resolve. This war had gone on long enough. The time for his revenge was almost at hand.

    They turned, heading around a corner section of wall. Rune abruptly skidded to a halt, the unexpected and awkward motion nearly launching Jayce from the saddle. The swear froze unspoken on Jayce's lips as he found himself staring into bright emerald eyes.

    A woman stood directly in his path, completely unconcerned by the giant war horse dwarfing her. Rune was still adjusting, dancing in place with his sides and nostrils heaving. Once he settled his feet, he threw his head high with a loud snort before bringing it back down with a mighty shake that sent his mane bouncing from side to side.

    Her eyes still locked with his own, Jayce saw her hand almost absent-mindedly reach up to touch the horse. When her hand wrapped around Rune's nose and mouth, the horse gave a deep sigh and went completely still. Dark auburn hair, windswept and wild, framed an oval face smeared with dirt and blood. Her eyes were swollen from crying and tracks from dried tears carved lines down her face, marking her pronounced cheek bones and narrow chin. Her lips and skin were pale, almost devoid of any color.

    Her dress had once been fit for nobility. The green would nearly have matched her eyes. The entire front was designed with inlaid patterns of alternating layers of peach and cream. He guessed the dress had cost more than he would ever be able to afford. Now, however, it was a ruined mess. The entire lower edge was caked with dirt and marked by several deep tears across the hem. The bulk of the dress was covered in old blood, more blood than a single person could have shed. He guessed by the odd patterns that she had held several people as they lay dead or dying.  

    Her eyes still held him. They spoke of intense pain and anguish, acting as a mirror into his own soul.

    Her family was dead. Jayce could tell by her eyes, and the fact that no one would leave such a woman to wander alone. The gods had spared her, but she had been surrounded by death. He was her only chance. It was up to him to save her.

    Before the thought had fully registered, Jayce was off his horse in one fluid motion and on his knees before the woman.

    "My Lady," he spoke gently, concern filling his voice. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

    Her head shook slightly in response.

    "The blood is not mine." Her voice was low and scratchy, as if she had cried her throat raw.

    Jayce bowed his head slightly towards her, placing his hand over his heart.

    "I am Jayce Mazar, Captain of Cavallera's forces," he said, extending his right hand towards her.

    She hesitated only a moment before placing her own hand in his.

    "I would know you anywhere," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

    Jayce glanced back at Rune, realizing that even without wearing his colors, they made a distinctive impression. Of course she recognized him. He covered her hand with his left, carefully phrasing his next question.

    "My Lady, did anyone from your House survive?"

    "They are all dead," she said simply, unable to say any more. He saw the instant swirl of emotions cascade in her eyes and gently squeezed her hand.

    "I am truly sorry," he said, releasing her hand and rising to his feet. "I cannot leave you here. I must journey with haste to Varna. If you are willing, I offer you my protection and my services. You will be safe in Varna."

    She seemed comforted by his offer. "Yes," she answered. "I will go with you."

    "As we are to travel together, might I know your name?" Jayce inquired politely.

    "You can call me Kae," she replied after a brief pause.

    His eyebrows raised at that, and she almost smiled at the expression on his face.

    "It is a nickname I have grown quite fond of," she explained.

    "Very well," he replied lightly. "My Lady Kae, I am honored to make your acquaintance." He glanced back at Rune and the single saddle. "I regret that I am not properly prepared for company," he began.

    She raised a hand to silence him.

    "It will suffice," she said. "If I am not safe with my Champion then I am not safe anywhere."

    Jayce could not help but wonder at her choice of words as he led her over to Rune. Did she also feel it was no coincidence their paths had crossed? Bending over, he laced his fingers together and presented his cupped hands to Kae.

    She nodded, then lifted her skirts out of the way and put her ruined boot in his hands. Effortlessly, Jayce hoisted her high so that she merely had to twist her torso and sit on the top edge of the saddle. Jayce then used the stirrup to swing himself up, standing just behind the saddle. Lifting Kae by the waist, he slid into the saddle and brought her down in his lap. His arms encircled her as he gathered up the reins, ensuring that she could not fall. It was far from proper etiquette, but considering their options there was no other way.

    He tapped Rune's side slightly with his heel. The horse moved effortlessly, settling quickly into a smooth, easy canter. Kae lightly laced her fingers into Rune’s mane to help maintain her balance, and Jayce was impressed with her efforts. Though his arms encircled her, she rarely touched him. When Rune turned she would lean into his arm for a brief moment, then she quickly straightened herself. Jayce tried to think of the Council, and how he would explain Kae's presence, but he could not focus his thoughts. He kept seeing Kae's green eyes staring at him. He could not shake the inner voice telling him she was important, but he could not explain why. The wind stirred by their passing kept moving her hair across his face, and he could not help but notice its fragrant scent. It did not smell of lavender like Loralye’s hair. It was pleasant, though not overbearing, some scent he could not place.

     Questions kept forming in his mind. Where was she from? How long had she been left to fend for herself? How many people had she seen butchered that her dress held so much blood? Why had Rune accepted her?

    The fact that Rune had accepted her touch was bizarre in and of itself. The Tanepi accepted only one rider and typically had little tolerance for anyone else. Rune made that intolerance quite clear. The horse had a reputation as a nasty biter in every stable across the country. But Rune had not even attempted to bite Kae.
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Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 1/14/2014 7:52:26 PM
  • Andrea Melo commented on :
    1/21/2017 10:40:25 PM
    Very excited to see the development of this story, very interested in the building of these characters. Great writing style. Miss you ladies! Keep it up. You'll go far!
  • Andrea Melo commented on :
    6/18/2016 1:49:14 PM
    Can't wait for this.
  • Andrea Melo commented on :
    6/18/2016 1:49:07 PM
    Can't wait for this.
  • Andrea Melo commented on :
    6/18/2016 1:49:05 PM
    Can't wait for this.
  • Andrea Melo commented on :
    6/18/2016 1:48:59 PM
    Can't wait for this.
  • annah brown commented on :
    4/1/2016 1:20:04 AM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (annh1brown@hotmail.com), ... Show More
  • 6/13/2014 3:45:08 PM
    Decent start and the mystery of the destroyed town and the woman is a good way to get readers interested. I do not like the first 3 paragraphs. They are basically him ... Show More