Chapter Four

Maria awoke at six in the morning, no-one else in her family were awake. She wanted to get out… just leave this place for a little. She looked at her sister and kissed her cheek as she slept. "Maybe if I ride to Honon Ree I can watch Luke go." she said. "… if he hasn't gone yet." she said sadly and stood. She left the room.

In the hall, Maria looked to her parents closed door. "I'm sorry." she whispered to the door and then tiptoed down the stairs. She looked to the front door and then around the dark quiet kitchen. She left the house quietly. Walking out, she took her saddle and bridle and then made her way to Talu and tacked up the old horse. She mounted and then rode slowly towards the forest. Looking around. She made Talu trot, then canter as they made there way up a hill. Maria looked around for any sign of them. There were a few crushed plants and fresh footprints in the mud. "They came this way." Maria said to her horse as the old horse cantered slowly up and up the hill towards a mountain trail that would lead down into a place the village called 'Honon Ree.' Honon Ree was a place where soldiers would wait before being sent out to battle through the mountains.

Maria made Talu walk as her hooves touched the mountain trail. Maria rode on. After a small time, they were nearing the bottom. Maria smiled as she looked at the soldiers, sitting around and talking. She dismounted. "Luke must be here too…" she said and lead the horse on foot. She looked around the at the men and then walked to one who was shaving with just a sharp blade. "Excuse me…" she said slowly and he turned to look at her. He was a little unsure at seeing a woman here. "Can you help me?" Maria asked.

He nodded. "What's the problem, Miss?" he asked and lowered the blade. He watched her and raised an eyebrow. "… You do know that this is Honon Ree?"

"Yes. I know. I was looking for someone." Maria said and looked at him. "I am looking for someone named Luke." Maria tried to think of the joke name that Luke had once told her. "Umm… he is know as…umm…" she thought as the man looked at her, listening.

"There are a few Luke's, not many though, but, I know a lot of them… There are only about twenty different Luke's here… I'll know who you mean by their nickname… or even number."

"He does have a nickname… I'm just trying to remember it. It made him laugh." Maria said. "It wasn't a man's nickname…"

The man in front of her gave a smile. He knew who she meant now. "Florence?" he asked.

"Florence?" Maria asked and smiled at the name.

"Florence nightingale…" the male told her and laughed a little, looking at her. "Boy… that man can sing." he told her. "So… everyone who knows him calls him Florence."

"He never told me about the 'Florence' part… only nightingale." Maria smiled.

The man smiled at her, "Well… Florence left yesterday." he told her. He lost his smile a little and looked at her. "I hope he returns to you safely soon…" he said and turned his back to her. He was hiding something.

Maria looked at him, "Is something wrong?" she asked. "You look like you're hiding… or… keeping something from me."

He looked at her over his shoulder. "Look, go home…" he told her. "I can't tell you anything. If I see him, I will say that his lady is waiting."

Maria didn't like something in the tone of his voice. Something seemed to be wrong. "… What… umm, who are you?" she asked.

"I am Captain Xain." he said to her. "I lead and order this troop, the Petrels." he said. "I can not give you information about the troop that left before us." he said. As he stopped talking, a horn was sounded. It carried through the hole of Honon Ree. "Look, Miss. This troop is moving out. You must go…" he told her. "Now."

Maria looked at him and then at Talu, she mounted slowly, looking at the Captain, "Please… please tell me… and, what troop is my Luke in? What's it called?"

The horn was sounded again, men were moving around fast, grabbing weapons, backpacks and anything else that they had. "No." Captain Xain told her and felt his chin, then placed his blade onto his belt and a man rushed over with a strong bay mare and the Captain mounted and looked at her. "Luke's troop is called 'Lynx'. Now… Goodbye, Miss… I will try and tell Luke that his Lady is waiting." he told her and the horse trotted forwards. He looked around, ordering people to move out.

Maria looked at him and then the men around her. She turned Talu and rode back up the mountain path, out of Honon Ree until she got to the forest. "What was he hiding?" she asked as he looked to the ground and dismounted, she sadly lead her horse to a lake and sat down. Talu sniffed her hair and then lowered her head to the grass.

Maria looked at her horse as she lay on the ground. "It took us three hours to ride from home to Honon Ree and then here… and all we learnt was Luke's nickname and his troops name." she said and looked at her horse. "Well, I think it was three hours." She looked at the sky. "Yes, it's about nine in the morning…" she said and then just lay on the ground. Watching her horse eat.

Maria didn't move for a long hour. She was just thinking about Luke and where he could be. A large noise was heard, like an explosion. Maria sat up. "That came from the mountains!" she said fast and stood. "What… what just happened?" she asked and looked at her horse. "Talu… maybe someone was hurt…" she said and mounted. The horse cantered as fast as she could. Then trotted again when they came to the mountain trail going down. Maria looked at her horse's ears as Talu flickered her ears, listening. "What is it, girl?" she asked and the horse stopped as they entered the ground at the bottom, Honon Ree.

Talu looked to the path that the men had gone down. Maria gently kicked her on. The horse cantered on the hard rock path and snorted, then listened. Talu cantered on, the path was clear for a while, until Talu stopped dead and looked.

"Talu?" Maria said and looked down to her horse. "What is it?" she asked. Some of the rocks around them were black, like soot on them. Maria raised an eyebrow and looked at Talu again as Talu backed up. "No, Talu… no…" she said and kicked her on slightly. The mare snorted loudly and walked on. Though her hooves were heavy as she thumped them down.

Maria scanned over the trail. She looked at rocks with large scratch marks on. "Oh my…" she said and looked around at a small rock slid to the left. But she road around it. Only to find a man… hurt badly. He was laying, his legs crushed under the rocks and his head bleeding heavily. Maria stared and then rode to him and dismounted fast. "Sir?" She looked at him, his thick black hair was dripping with blood. She didn't think he would answer… until he half opened his eyes.

"Hello?" he said slowly with a sore voice. Blood ran from his mouth.

Maria let go of the reins and knelt to the man. "Sir, what happened?"

"Dragon." he answered. He looked up to her. "Why are… why are you here?" he asked.

Maria looked at him and stroked his cheek, then tried to move the rocks that pinned his legs down. "I heard a bang…" she said. She couldn't move the rocks.

"Leave it." he told her. "You can not move them, nor can I… I am going to die." he said, looking at her. "I am ready for death."

Maria looked at him, she couldn't believe his words. "But, Sir… where is your troop?" she asked.

"They had to run…" he told her. "The dragon attacked. The troop attacked back. I don't know what happened." he said, looking at her. "I was hit by these rock as they left."

"And… they just left you?" Maria asked. "… How could they?"

He looked at her and smiled. "There will be no chance for me." he told her, laying his head on the ground.

Maria looked at him sadly, "I'm so sorry." she said and felt his hair. "But, can you help me?" she asked.

"With what?" he asked, looking at her. "I can not do much."

"Please, Sir… please tell me about the troop called 'Lynx'" she said, looking at him. "I need to know…"

"That troop are being used as a distraction." he answered.

"A… a distraction?" Maria asked. "Sir… what do you mean?"

"Troop Lynx are going to be send to the bottom of Jareven Creek." he said, looking at her. "They are going to be used… make the enemy think that that is where our army will be entering. When we will really be coming down from the mountains when the enemy attack them… or even…after. The troop do not know though." he said and his eyes closed.

"Sir?" Maria said as his eyes closed. Tears ran down her cheeks. "Sir… they are just using my Luke's troop?" she asked and looked at him, but the male no longer moved. He was dead, lifeless.

Maria stood and cried into her horses neck, "My Luke is going to be killed… that's why his troop was sent out first…" she said and then looked at her horse as Talu nuzzled her side gently. "Unless… unless I warn him… ride… yes…" she said and looked down the trail. "Though… I could maybe… no…" she looked at the man, then his backpack behind him. "Unless I go to… war…" she said and looked at the male, she went to his backpack and opened it. She looked in and saw food wrapped, a metal water bottle and… and a uniform…

Maria looked at the uniform and pulled it out. "… Talu, why can't a woman fight?"