Author's Note: This is the second draft of My Beloved. Since I am now editing and rewriting it, the updates won't be swift, and I may rewrite things after I've posted them. So bear with me as I try to make this story the best it can be. I'll try to keep the characters true to their original selves. I hope you like the changes.
And no, though I'm flattered that so many of you are anxious to read more of the story, I will not send you the first draft to read. :)
The beginning of the 6th century AD
Equos, month of horse-time
Anwen of Glien ducked under the branches of a white willow tree and sat on the grassy bank of the stream. Dipping her fingers into the cold flow, she watched as the water swirled around her fingers and rippled over rocks, seeming to laugh as it rushed by. The quiet afternoon was broken only by the sound of birds, twittering, calling, singing to their hearts' content. God, what a beautiful world You've made, she thought.
"Anwen?" the voice was the one that Anwen had been waiting for, and she answered his inquiry with a smile when the young man ducked into sight. He took a seat beside her and was silent, merely watching her face. She was highly aware of his scrutiny as she turned back to watch the water.
Cadeyrn, son of Daimhin, had often insinuated that he loved her. He complimented her beauty, praised her intelligence, and almost daily spoke of her ability to be both a compassionate woman, and a fierce warrior. She was the epitome of what a woman of the tribe should be, so he said. Any man would be fortunate to have his woman fight by his side, and in the footsteps of many of her female ancestors, Anwen was just as skilled in cooking a meal as she was in wielding a sword.
"Anwen, do you… do you mind that we might marry some day?" Cadeyrn's words were soft, timid. He sounded as if he was afraid her answer would be yes. That she would tell him she did not want to be his wife.
She swung her head around to look at him, her brown hair catching the breeze as she studied his face. For a moment, his brown eyes grew worried. She could not help the small frown that passed over her brows; it was a life-changing decision, and her moment's hesitation seemed to bother him. But as soon as her lips turned upward, relief erased his worry. She rocked sideways once before answering him.
"No," her answer was quiet as she felt her confidence grow. "I don't mind at all."
Her answer emboldened him, and he took her hand. Looking a bit embarrassed, he took out a small leather pouch and gave it to her. Anwen shook the pouch curiously before turning it upside down to spill out a tangle of silver. A small gasp escaped her lips as she lifted the silver chain and gazed at the clear blue stone set on the pendant. Cadeyrn touched her hair and smiled at her.
"I know that the approval of our family is needed for betrothal, but I would like to offer this as a… token." He swallowed nervously. "For our future."
She fastened the chain around her neck and squeezed his hand, her heart soaring with the birds above them. "I think they will approve."
Cadeyrn, emboldened even more by her smile, kissed her forehead. Comfortable silence reigned as they sat together, watching the stream pass by.
Anwen glanced out the open door, her thoughts on anything but the clear blue sky and lush green grasses outdoors. She was absentmindedly cleaning the large, circular room that she and her family called home. The dirt floor was packed nicely, and any small stones or leaves or grass that had been tracked in were easily swept outside.
In the middle of the room was the fire pit, where the meals were cooked, and a narrow hole above in the thatched roof sufficed to let the smoke out. Their bedding was rolled up and stored against the back wall, beside a barrel of pickled beef and baskets of wheat, oats, and millet. A chicken clucked her pleasure as she picked up beetles and bits of seed from around the stored grain.
Shooing the hen out of the hut with her broom, Anwen paused for a moment as the warm summer breeze toyed with her hair. I wonder if Cadeyrn and I really will be married? Máithar is sure to be pleased that he has asked for my hand, though the decision is still up to Athair. She sighed at the thought of her father, who had been gone for months at war, along with almost every man who was able to fight. A few of the women had gone as well, to stay by their husbands' sides.
It was now doubted that they would ever return; the Saxons were ruthless and their forces far outnumbered the meager army of the Celts' quickly gathered forces.
Glancing at her sheathed sword, which sat by the door, she wondered if she would ever go to war. Would she take up her weapon someday and march beside her husband against the enemy? Would a time come in her future wherein she fought with Cadeyrn, if they wed? What would he think of her then? Would he be proud, or afraid for her?
He had a caring spirit, and she admired that. She was glad that Cadeyrn was pursuing her, and not one of the other young men who lived in the village. He was very much what she had hoped for in a husband, although she was still a little hesitant to return his affection. Am I afraid? she wondered silently. But what did she have to fear?
Cadyrn was gentle, hardworking, kind, and strong. Although he was not the handsomest man in the village, his features were pleasing to her, and he had none of the vanity or pride that a few of the others cultivated. Every time she saw him, she was uplifted by his nature. She enjoyed his conversation.
Yet, there was hesitation in her heart. She felt as though God was telling her to wait for something. What, she did not know. To her, Cadeyrn was the icon of perfection when it came to the sort of man she had longed and prayed for.
Fiddling with the silver chain around her neck, she leaned her hip against the frame of the door, and stared out into the beautiful day. She had not yet had the opportunity to show her mother Cadeyrn's token of affection; with the small uncertainty in her heart, she was not sure she wanted to explain its meaning. Once she told her mother, the entire village would know. They were most likely already speculating about her and Cadeyrn.
At seventeen, she was the only woman her age who was yet unmarried and childless. Though it was customary for the parents to make a match, Gwenhwyfar and Aheirin preferred to let Anwen make her own choice, with their blessing. As long as they approved of the man she chose, she was free to marry whomever she wanted, whenever she decided she was ready.
Rubbing her thumb over the blue stone in her necklace, she bit her lower lip. I think I love Cadeyrn. He makes me smile, just to think about him, and every time I see him, my heart flutters. Is it a good fluttering? She shifted and pondered the sensations she experienced around Cadeyrn. It makes me feel… almost nervous.
"There you are, my love." The gentle voice of Anwen's mother broke into her thoughts. She quickly straightened and smiled to greet her mother.
Gwenhwyfar's delicate features and blue eyes matched her daughter's perfectly. Their relation was unmistakable, even to strangers. A tender expression adorned her face as she stepped softly over to her daughter, a basket full of herbs and berries balanced on her hip. Her somewhat worn green léine flowed smoothly with her movements.
Studying her mother, Anwen tried to imagine her as she would have been, had the Saxons not invaded. With her marriage to Aheirin, who descended from the leaders of the Glien tribe, she would have been adorned with more than just the simple torc that wrapped around her neck. She would have had servants to do the work that roughened her hands with calluses. She would have been plump, her face devoid of the gentle worry lines, her smile not tinged with sadness.
Though her family still held the respect and leadership of almost royalty, they were reduced to live as the poorest of their village did; their livestock slept in their huts in the winter for added warmth, and they harvested barely enough to feed their family. Their clothing was worn, and the most valuable things they owned were their swords.
Anwen frowned slightly. For an instant, she wished she had been born long ago, when the inhabitants of Britain had lived peacefully. No Saxons, no Romans; just the quiet land and industrious people, living together in harmony.
"Why the dark look, my love?" Gwenhwyfar asked.
Anwen broke away from her thoughts and paid attention to her mother. "Nothing important, Maíthar."
Just dreams and wishes, all of them futile. She shook her head slightly. With the Celts' love for fighting, she doubted there had ever not been a time of war. When there were no invading enemies to attack, the tribes turned on each other. Bloodlust ran deep in their veins.
Gwenhwyfar briefly caressed her daughter's face with a gentle hand. "Edana has been looking for you."
Anwen stood and smiled at the thought of her young sister. Edana had just turned five, and was very demanding of attention. She was not spoiled, though, but sweet in her own way. "Where is she?"
Gwenhwyfar shook her head with a small laugh. "In the trees; at the creek; with the animals; who knows?" Her face was amused as she spoke of her youngest child.
Anwen laughed and nodded with understanding. Edana was never still for long. "I'll find her." She slipped out with one last glance at her mother's face, which was now wishful as her blue eyes searched the scenes of a faraway time.
Edana was not about to let the puppy get away.
Anwen caught sight of her small sister following a little mangy ball of fur around bushes, through the stream, and toward a hill. The five-year-old was focused intently on her prey; a stone tripped her, momentarily tumbling her to the ground, but it did not deter her from her prize. She was up and running before Anwen could catch her.
"Eda!" Anwen called to her sister. She was soundly ignored.
Hastening her pace, Anwen picked up Edana, only to find herself being kicked and pushed by a wriggling creature with a panicked look on her eyes.
"'Lease, Anwen, I can't let him get away!" the little girl gasped, pausing to gaze earnestly into Anwen's face.
Anwen smiled and nodded, "I'll help you catch him."
They ran after the puppy, who was now halfway up the hill, his short black nose pressed to the ground as he followed the trail of a rabbit or squirrel. He was a cute little thing, though his fur was stringy and grey; his tail wagged energetically, and his big brown eyes were curious. Just as he reached the top of the ridge, Anwen scooped him up and deposited him in the waiting arms of her sister.
But Edana's excited "T'ank you." was interrupted by the sound of pounding hooves, and Anwen whirled around. What she saw terrified her.
At least a hundred men and horses thundered towards them, fully armored. Saxons. Dirt flung up behind them, and beaten turf was left in their wake. A huge mass of terror and death was headed straight for the unsuspecting village. Anwen turned and grabbed Edana, bolting towards her home. Oh, how far it was!
When Cadeyrn saw Anwen running down the hill, carrying Edana in her arms, worry immediately shot through him. He had never seen Anwen so frantic. He jogged towards them, trying to decipher the panicked words Anwen screamed; was Edana hurt? No, Edana seemed well. Her dark eyes were alarmed, but she was almost smiling as she cuddled a puppy to her chest.
"Saxons!" Anwen yelled again, her voice hoarse. She did not slow down to meet him.
"What?" Cadeyrn grabbed her arm before she could pass him. He was not sure he had heard her right; the Saxon tribes invading the land could not possibly be this far inland. Could they?
She shoved Edana into his arms. "Saxons are riding for the village!" Her gaze was wild. "Maíthar and the others, they're gathering wood. I have to find them!" She did not wait for him to respond. Before he could even comprehend what she had said, she was speeding through the huts, shouting a warning to everyone she passed.
Cadeyrn stood for a moment in shock, watching Anwen disappear into a grove of trees. As the village suddenly exploded into action before him, it sunk in. Saxons. Raiding. Now.
Putting Edana down, he bent before her. She was not paying attention to him; she cradled her puppy in one arm and ruffled its dirty fur with her stubby fingers. A giggle escaped her throat, and he felt his heart constrict. He lifted her chin and wondered how he was going to tell her that the war had come to them.
"Eda, I need you to go to your hut and…" And what? Who would protect her if they found her alone in her home? The Saxons might kill her. But he could not say that. It would frighten her to death, and when Edana was afraid, she froze. "We're going to play a game. Go to your house. Hide, and don't come out. Anwen and I and your maíthar are going to see who can find you first. Okay?"
Edana nodded, her innocent face somber. She knew something was wrong.
But she did not immediately leave, and Cadeyrn frowned. "What is it?"
She looked confused, but serious. "What about my dog?" She lifted the small, mangy puppy, expression concerned.
"Take him with you." he told her. "And Edana, be very quiet."
Edana did not hesitate, and ran off towards her home, toddling as fast as her little feet could carry her. Anwen emerged from the trees, alone, and Cadeyrn watched as she and her sister went inside their home. A lump formed in his throat. God, keep them safe, he prayed quickly. He was not able to pause for long; the pounding of hooves filled the air, and he hurried to his own home to retrieve his sword.
The likelihood that any of the villagers would survive was next to nothing. Cadeyrn was one of the few able men who had stayed behind for the safety of the tribe. Though many of the women were as fierce warriors as the men, they were no match against a horde of ruthless barbarians. Their fight would be short and bloody. Many lives would be lost.
Yet, Cadeyrn did not despair. Such battles had been fought before; his kin were skilled with their weapons, and he had the God of miracles on his side. As the pounding of hooves filled the air, he noticed a still figure in the madness of the frantic melee, and he met the eyes of Brennan of Glien with a tense nod and a smile.
It was time for battle.
Oh, God… Anwen was frozen in the middle of the hut, unable to think, unable to act, unable to pray. No amount of training could have prepared her for the reality of this raid. The Saxons had come. They were pounding into the village. They were killing her people.
An arrow whizzed through the door, and she jerked into action. She had to protect Edana. They might kill her, but she could not let them slaughter her sister.
Rushing to the chest that Edana was concealed in, she raised the lid and lifted the child from her hiding place. A brief smile came to her face when she spotted the puppy, huddled in the corner of the chest. He was wagging his short little tail, all wiggles and curiosity. Anwen shook her head and looked back at Edana, whose wide brown eyes were frightened.
"Darling, I am going to take you to the edge of the trees. As soon as we get there, I want you to run as hard and fast as you can. Don't stop for anyone, and when you get to our special fort, I want you to hide. I will come for you as soon as I can." She stroked her sister's cheek, heart constricting. "Do you understand?"
Edana nodded earnestly and threw her arms around Anwen's neck, squeezing with as much strength as her chubby arms contained. Anwen choked on a sob and hugged her sister fiercely, whispering a prayer. "God, keep her safe." Then she took a deep breath, grabbed her sword, and headed for the door. They had to get out.
"Wait!" Edana cried out pleadingly. "My dog!"
Anwen whirled and snatched the mutt from the chest, dropping her weapon in the process. As she bent to grasp the hilt of her blade, an urgent crackling filled the air, and a shower of ash and sparks rained down on them. The roof was on fire. She had no time to repossess her sword. It was now or never.
Bolting out of the hut, she pressed Edana's face into her shoulder. If her sister saw the bodies sprawled lifeless in the dirt, she would be forever scarred. It was only by the grace of God and a deep love for her sister that Anwen could keep running. Those were her friends, lying dead on trampled grass. She had grown up with them. Laughed with them. Shared her hopes and dreams with them.
Darting around a prostrate body, she found herself face-to-face with a warrior. He lunged at her, and for one terrifying moment, Anwen thought his blade would slice through her and her sister. But they were saved by Cadeyrn, who knocked the man down. Anwen felt helpless as her betrothed struggled with the Saxon, receiving as many blows as he gave. Though she knew she should run, she could not leave Cadeyrn without knowing that he won.
She did not have to wait long. Just when his opponent thought he had triumphed, Cadeyrn shoved an arrow into the man's chest and pushed him away. The Saxon fell to the ground, lifeless.
Anwen met Cadeyrn's gaze, unable to say everything that was in her heart. A fight raged behind her, and she knew that he might not survive it. The urgent words that rose within her would not pass her lips. She wanted to tell him that she loved him. That if he did not live through this battle, she did not know what she would do. That he was the man she had always wanted, the man she had waited for.
But she could only stand there and hope that he read it in her eyes.
With a reassuring smile, Cadeyrn reached out and caressed her cheek. He knew what she could not say. "Go," he told her.
Anwen hesitated. She could not leave him thus. Before he could command her to depart again, she pulled him to her, and kissed him. It was a brief moment, but she poured everything she felt onto his lips. His tears were on her skin when they separated. He, too, had words in his gaze that could not be spoken.
Pressing his lips to hers once more, he stroked Edana's hair and backed away. "Go!" he rebuked her.
This time, Anwen obeyed. She turned on her heel, and she ran for the trees. Her heart ached to know that she might not see Cadeyrn again; that he might be killed, that she might be captured. Protect him, she begged her God. Keep him alive, please. Tears clouded her vision, but she kept running.
And as much as she wanted to see him once more, she did not look back.
It was a miracle that they reached the grove of aspens unscathed. Edana was tense, clutching the puppy as if it were her only protection. The most difficult task Anwen had ever performed in her life was the one she was faced with now: breaking Edana's one-armed hold around her neck, and putting her sister down. Edana's fear-filled eyes pierced her heart, but she could not pause to say goodbye.
"Run, Eda!" She pushed her sister away. "Run!"
Edana scurried through the trees, tripping on a stone, dropping her puppy. She was out of sight before Anwen could finish a second prayer. She would be safe.
The sudden, animalistic snarl of a warrior startled her from her prayers, and Anwen was rudely yanked backwards into the chest of a Saxon. He growled something leering and guttural into her ear; she could not understand the words, but she fully comprehended his meaning, for his hand pulled at her léine with lecherous intention. He would regret it.
Jerking the back of her head into his face, Anwen twisted away from him before he could react. As he fumbled for his sword, she scooped a handful of dirt from the ground, and threw it into his eyes. He was sightless, but she was weaponless. Swiftly, she searched the area for anything to help her; a stick, a rock, a wayward arrow. When her eyes fell upon a dead kinsman not five feet away, she did not hesitate.
She avoided looking at his face as she bent and slid the dagger from his limp hand. There was no time to say a prayer for his soul; her foe stumbled towards her, swinging his blade blindly. Just as she leapt up to face him, he tripped, lost his grip on his sword, and fell on top of her. Warm blood emptied onto her hand as her dagger sliced through his flesh.
He was dead.
Pushing him off of her, Anwen stole the heavy blade from his hand. She had no time to pull her weapon from his chest; another Saxon was charging towards her, and her dagger was no match for his sword. She raised her weapon just in time to block his attack, but the force of his blow pushed her backwards. Unlike the man she had just killed, this warrior's sole intent was to take her life. Ruthlessly, he slammed his fist into her cheek, knocking her to the ground, and he raised his sword to finish her.
Staring into the wild eyes of her enemy, Anwen instinctively braced herself and raised her blade, though she had little hope that it would stop him. This is the last thing I am to see. She could not tear her gaze from the bloodied face of death above her, and the sword that barreled towards her chest.
But a sudden command sliced through the air, a guttural snarl that stopped the Saxon's blade just before it hit her. He held the tip of his sword against her neck, breathing heavily; she could see the temptation in his eyes to disobey whomever had ceased his movements. He wanted nothing more than to kill her instantly.
A shadow fell over her, and the soldier was shoved away by a powerfully built man that inspected her with startling gray-green eyes. Swiftly, Anwen rolled away and snatched an arrow from the dirt. She was on her feet and waiting for an attack, but it never came. The soldier was standing back, chin lowered, glaring at her sullenly. The other man- by all appearances the leader in the raid- merely watched her.
Something about him struck her with a deep fear. The utter calm that surrounded him was eerie; behind him, flames erupted as another hut caught on fire. Men slaughtered her people. Screams tore through the air. Yet he did not so much as glance behind him, even when one of her kinsmen charged, yelling, and was promptly cut down by the soldier who had nearly taken her life.
Slowly, Anwen edged to one side, towards the dagger she could see gleaming less than a foot away. The man's eyes followed her movements, but he made no move to stop her. He let her grab the blade, watched as she straightened and tensed, and he did not move. It was almost as if he was curious to see what she would do next.
Pulling air into her lungs, she tightened her grip on the dagger, and remembered her brother's words to her. Never fear, Anwen. Fear only weakens you. Fear only brings death. He had drilled it into her with every sparring blow. Never fear. Never give up. Never back away.
"Never," she breathed.
Darting to the side, Anwen attacked the soldier instead of the leader, hoping to get behind him and gain the upper hand. She stabbed the arrow through the soldier's neck before he had time to react, and whirled to block the blow she expected to be coming at her. But she had no time to face him; as the soldier dropped to the ground, her arm was twisted behind her and she was caught against the man's chest with a blade beneath her chin.
He moved with a speed faster than anyone she had ever seen.
Though she still possessed her weapon, Anwen dared not to move as his lips brushed her ear and he murmured, "I believe you no longer need this." His other hand slid down her arm, and he pried the dagger from her fingers.
Shock ran through her; how did this man know her language? Had she unknowingly attacked one of her own? As soon as he had taken her blade, he released her. Anwen pulled away quickly and turned.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
A smile crossed his lips; with a slightly mocking bow, he lowered his head and spread his arm. "Alaric, son of Sigebehrt."
A chill ran through Anwen at the mention of that name. Sigebehrt was rumored to be one of the most ruthless Saxon warlords in the land. He killed without mercy for children or cripples, spared no-one, razed villages to rubble.
"God, help us," Anwen whispered, unable to help the weakness that ran through her. Few survived the attacks of Sigebehrt and his men.
Alaric stepped closer, reaching out to stroke her cheek. "Come, love, your face is much to pretty to hold fear."
She flinched when his fingers touched her skin. "Will you kill me as your men have killed my people?" The courage she had held just moments ago was slipping away. By the wails rising up around her, she knew that they were defeated.
He shook his head and tipped her chin upward. "Death would not become you."
Suddenly, a body hurled into him and knocked him forward. Anwen barely caught sight of her mother's face as Gwenhwyfar's protective yell was cut short by Alaric's instinctive blow. Gwenhwyfar flew backwards, hitting the ground with a heavy thud; her weapon fell limply from her hand, and her eyes were shocked.
"Máithar!" Anwen fell to her mother's side and tried desperately to breathe. Instinctively, she tore cloth from the hem of her dress and pressed it around the dagger in her mother's chest. The scarlet flow that soaked into Gwenhwyfar's green léine and trickled over her white neck was swift to stain Anwen's hands.
"My… my child," Gwenhwyfar pulled Anwen's fingers away from where they feebly attempted to staunch the wound, and she smiled weakly. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.
"No, Máithar, I need to stop the bleeding... you must not talk." Her eyes blurred with tears.
"You are the pride of… my life… my daughter." Gwenhwyfar kissed Anwen's palm and struggled for air. "I go to God."
"Maíthar, no!" Anwen touched her mother's cheeks, stroked her hair, wiped the blood from her chin. "You will live!" Even as she said it, she knew it was not true.
Her mother lifted her fingers and smoothed the tears from Anwen's skin. "No." The light in her eyes began to fade. "But you… will."
As Gwenhwyfar's hand fell limply to the ground, Anwen shook her head. "Maíthar…?" A sob welled up in her chest, constricting her throat, hoarsely breaking through her lips. But Gwenhwyfar was dead.
Heated anger surged with her tears. The Saxon had done this; he would die from the weapon he had used to kill her mother. Jerking the dagger from Gwenhwyfar's chest, Anwen rose and lunged at Alaric where he stood watching, a thin scarlet line spreading over his neck. Her blade did not even come close to him; he batted the dagger out of her hand and grabbed both of her wrists when she tried to claw at his face, but did nothing to strike back at her.
"Why don't you kill me as you killed my mother?" she raged at him. "Slay me and be done with us all!"
His face was expressionless as he waited for her struggles to cease. "Dis Pater and Woden will guide her in the afterlife."
"Your Saxon gods will do nothing," Anwen's eyes fell on the slaughter around them, and all of the anger drained out of her like the blood that spread over the ground. Children she had played with countless times; old women who had given her advice; mothers, sons, daughters; all dead. Despite the heavy warmth of the day, a chill came over her and she started to shake, her hold on her composure rapidly loosening.
Alaric released her then, but she did not move. A vision swirled through her shock-addled brain, and she saw the dead around her lift their arms and stare into her soul with empty gazes, pulling her down into the carnage. She struggled with the scream choking her and pressed her fingers tightly against her mouth, willing herself to be strong and bear the pain gnawing at her heart. Though she had been ready to give up only moments before, she realized that her pride would not let her be weak. Edana was still alive, and there was a chance that Brennus was not yet dead.
As Alaric emitted a shrill whistle and ordered his men in his native language, Anwen stumbled away to search the survivors for her brother. Smoke rose over the village as the thatched roofs of the huts caught fire, and bodies were piled in fleshy heaps to be burned as well. Her kin stood around the piles of carnage, wails of mourning rising from their lips; she did not see Brennus.
Tearing her focus from the small group of people standing around the dead, she began to walk around the bodies still sprawled on the ground for her brother. She did not want to look, but she had to know.
Face after face of those she knew and loved tallied up inside her head. So many were dead; so many lay wounded with no one to help them. Would these Saxons leave them to die? Would they take advantage of the helpless and run blades through their hearts? Anwen bit her lips as she quickly searched the faces of those on the ground. It pained her that she could do nothing for those who lay dying.
And then her eyes fell on the two bodies she did not want to see. Her brother and Cadeyrn, laying side by side as if they had fought back to back. They were both covered in blood. Brennus' chest was sliced open by a blade; Cadeyrn's neck was nearly severed.
Anwen choked back the bile and sank to the ground. She no longer had the strength to stand, nor to hold back the wracking sobs that shook her entire body. Oh, God, why? This cannot be happening! she cried out silently. In moments, my people were destroyed. To what end?
Lifting her eyes she caught sight of her home through the haze of smoke. Its windows flowered with orange flame and black smoke. Despair ripped through her. Lord, am I to lose it all? Those precious walls held memory of everything she loved. Her father's torc was melting in those flames. Her mother's wedding clothes were being eaten by the fire. In view of her greater losses, it should have been inconsequential to lose a few items of jewelry and clothing. But for Anwen, it was the last straw.
When Alaric pulled her up from the ground and wiped away the tears on her cheek, she did not resist. He led her to his horse, a great black stallion that shied only slightly from the dead bodies around him. For a second, the Saxon smiled, his attitude changing from the commanding leader to a caring man. He stroked the stallion's nose softly, speaking to it in a low voice.
The horse wore no saddle, only a bridle with which to lead him, and Alaric mounted easily, pulling her up behind him. Anwen had given up her struggle for the moment; Brennus was dead, her mother was dead, Cadeyrn was dead. Had Edana made it to the woods? What would become of her? The five year old knew nothing of survival without food or shelter.
Anwen wished she had the strength to push away from the arms that wrapped around her, but she was weak with grief. She had nothing left. She was riding with her family's murderer to join his people and no doubt become the wife or plaything of the man against whom she rested. Anwen could not accept it. Deep in her mind, she knew that she would rather kill herself for loyalty to her blood than become a part of the Saxons who were slowly taking over the land through violence and persuasive threats. She would never become one of the enemy.
She had to get away.
The sun beat down on the troupe as they gathered their spoils and headed towards the west. Hardly weary after their battle, the men joked and laughed, jabbing what she assumed were insults at the prisoners. The steady gait of the horses gave Anwen time to get over her weariness; time to look for an escape. They neared a creek, and Anwen knew that if there ever was the time to escape, it was now. Once they arrived at the Saxons' camps, there would be too many people around to chance running away.
Along the creek's edge was a small grove of trees and bushes. Anwen weighed her chances as she studied the terrain. Just beyond the aspens was a tall hill, and beyond the hill were some hidden caves, caves that Anwen had played in when she was a child. And hidden in when she was caught in a storm. They were familiar caves; if she could get to them she would be safe.
At that moment, Alaric was turned to give an order, moving his arm. Anwen slid off of the horse, crashed to the ground, and scrambled for the trees. Her ankle ached from her awkward landing, but she didn't care. She picked up her speed, and ran for all she was worth. Glancing back, she saw that they were still on their horses, staring after her in shock.
Anwen pushed her way through the aspens, wincing as branches slapped her face. She could see the hill through the close-growing trees, and she could hear someone pursuing her. God, give me speed. Pebbles slid beneath her feet as she reached the hill and began to climb. The top seemed so far away, but Anwen fought on and nearly fell down the other side.
Her heart leapt. The caves were only a few feet away! She ran in the first opening and darted into the safe darkness. But in her frantic running, she had hidden in a shallow cave. There were no labyrinths to confuse her enemy, no further caves to conceal herself in. She was trapped.
"No…" she gasped.
Footsteps sounded, running closer to her, and she stumbled for some way to hide- there were no rocks large enough to hide behind, no crevices to hide in. She pressed against the furthest corner, panting, and waited. The footsteps slowed, and Alaric walked into view.
"Going somewhere, my love?" A sardonic smile adorned his face as he stopped in the cave mouth and watched her eyes search for a way around him. "I don't think so." His hand closed around her wrist, and he started to lead her out.
She pulled against the vice-like grip, pushing her feet against the ground, but he paid no notice until she reversed her actions and ran forward, pulling him down with her as she tripped. To her chagrin, he landed on top of her as she landed, face forward. For the first time, he displayed anger as he quickly pinned her, grabbing her cascading brown hair and jerking her head to the side.
"You can either walk beside me," he hissed into her ear,"or be beaten for rebellion. Take your choice." He loosed her hair, but kept her pressed to the ground for a few seconds to think on his words.
Finally standing, he pulled her up beside him and started to walk again, his grip on her wrist slightly tighter. Anwen thought the better of it as she wiped sharp pebbles from her cheek and stumbled to keep up with him. Her head ached from the fall and his jerking of her hair, and she could feel wetness of blood as it trickled from a few cuts on her face. Alaric glanced sideways at her, and slowed his pace to let her keep up with him.
The hill presented the same problem to Anwen as it had before; she was weary of moving, and the top seemed to stretch far away. She tried to keep up with him, but failed. Her skirt hem ripped slightly and finally caught Anwen's foot, tangling around her ankle and felling her onto the grassy hill. Not missing a pace, her captor swung her up, and carried her the rest of the way over the hill and to the horses.
This time, he wrapped an arm around Anwen to ensure that she would stay on the strong back of the stallion. As his arm closed around her, Anwen had the trapped feeling that she was his prey, and he had just swooped down to capture her for good.