Chapter 1

I was sixteen when the soldiers marched into my village. It was a dreary day; gray clouds covered the sky but no rain fell. My mother and I stood in our doorway, watching them as they marched by to the town square. We did not fear them for they were our soldiers, fighting for our country of Carnil. All the men kept an air of confidence and pride, despite the fact that most were severely injured. My mother went back into the house to fetch her apron and healing supplies.

"I'll be in the town square," she said, tying her apron around her waist. She glanced at the soldiers and added, "The doctor will need all the help he can get."

I nodded and she left to the town square. I watched, leaning against the doorpost, as the soldiers walked by. One man caught my attention. He was on a makeshift stretcher, just a piece of worn-out leather pulled taught between two branches and held by two men. He was alive, I could tell, but just barely. His face was filthy, splattered with blood and dirt. A piece of cloth was tied around his leg in a vain attempt to stop blood from flowing. He stared at me with brilliant blue eyes and I couldn't help but to stare back. His hair was the darkest of darks. He looked to be eighteen and was muscular but not overwhelmingly so. His carriers passed my doorway and I saw him try to turn his head to keep his eyes on me. He couldn't, however. I saw it pained him.

I rushed back into my small house to retrieve my own apron. I hurriedly tied it behind me. I braided my blonde, almost translucent, hair with a bit of ribbon and ran out into the street where the line of soldiers was coming to an end. I picked my way through the crowd until I came to the blue-eyed man. The soldier carrying the rear end of the stretcher smiled at me.

"Ah," he said. "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes? I've had to look at Ethan's ugly face for the past two months."

The man at the front of the stretcher, Ethan, peered over his shoulder and snorted.

"And you think your face is any better, then, Bion?" he said.

I laughed with the two men and then looked down at the young man in the stretcher. He had fallen asleep, obviously not a peaceful one for his face was contorted in pain.

"This here's Maximus," Bion said, nodding towards the injured man. "He's a good, strong lad. Nearly got his leg chopped off, though."

I turned my eyes to Bion. He had a rugged but jovial face, covered with scars and needing a shave, with a smile that looked like it would never fade. He had to be at least in his thirtieth year.

"How did he get injured?" I asked.

"He was one of our best swordsmen so he was put in the front line," Bion explained. "A man from the enemy took a swing at his leg and poor Maximus was too slow to parry it off. But he managed to kill the man before his leg came clean off."

We arrived at the town square. There was an array of tents set up. From within a few, I heard the crying of men. Some were pleading for mercy as women rushed around trying to treat wounds and make dying easier. I followed Bion and Ethan into a tent. They placed Maximus on the ground and moved him out of the stretcher and onto a bedroll. Maximus groaned and his eyes slowly opened. He winced and moved his hand to his right shoulder. I looked around, hoping to find a nurse that could help but found none, all of them being busy with other wounded men.

"Could you help him, Miss?" Ethan asked.

I looked from him to Maximus and then kneeled by the boy. I placed a hand on his forehead to check for fever. He had a fever, probably from infection. I addressed the major wound first: his leg.

"My leg," Maximus said weakly. "I can't feel the pain there anymore."

The blood drained from my face. I quickly untied the cloth from his leg and inspected the cut. Thankfully, it showed no signs of infection. But, it was no longer bleeding (a wound that deep should have been dripping with blood) and his leg from mid-thigh (where the cut was) down was freezing cold and horribly pale.

"It needs to come off, doesn't it, Miss?" Maximus said, studying my face.

My voice caught in my throat when I tried to reply. I nodded and the boy put his head back, blinking back tears.

"There now, Maximus," Bion said gently, putting a hand on Maximus' shoulder. "We'll get you a good wooden leg and you'll look just like the pirates from the stories. It won't be all that bad."

I left them to find someone. I walked through the tent, hearing many screams, many last breaths, until I found a man from our village. He was the doctor's apprentice, Darren. He stood from the stool on which he sat.

"Needing my help, Evaine?" he asked, turning around to take something off the ground.

I nodded and watched as he lifted the saw into his hands.