Trees whooshed past me, looking as if they were moving of their own accord. The packed earth of the small footpath was hard and unforgiving on my bare feet. Hounds bayed in the distance, their howls sending a chill down my spine.
They were coming for me.
Run, run, run! I shrieked in my mind. I ran as fast as possible, finding the strength in my fear. The faster I ran, the less the danger approached. I ran as if my life depended on it, which it did.
Those horrid creatures were faster than me, stronger than me. They came closer, ever closer, until I could feel their horrible breath on my neck, hot and disgusting. The smell was enough to kill a person.
The ground shook from the force of their paws. The closer they came, the more the ground quaked. Just as I was about to turn around and outsmart them, they descended upon me.
A large, furry body hit my smaller body. The weight and the impact of the dog pushed me into the ground, into the packed earth. My body screamed from exhaustion and pain.
I was positive something was broken or injured horribly. Those horrible creatures were large, around the size of my beloved wolves. But these monstrosities were not the workings of my forest. They hailed from lands to the east, lands I wished to never see.
I struggled under the weight of the beast, adrenaline and pain coursing through my body. Goddess, I begged, save me!
After giving up on getting the hound off me, I heard someone nearby. Footsteps pounded through the earth, I could feel them. I heard their ragged breathing.
The person whistled, and the weight that crushed me was suddenly gone. Hope coursed through my mind, I had hope. This person might help me.
That hope was destroyed when rough hands grabbed my arms and pulled me up. Those hands, I had felt them grab me; touch me, too often for comfort.
"You filthy piece of trash," he growled into my ear. I flinched, but said nothing, for fear of further punishment.
He continued to call me horrible, terrible names. They were names my mother never would have approved of. But my mother was dead. They all were dead.
Tears brimmed in my eyes as their faces flashed through my mind. My mother, my father, my aunt and uncle, my grandmother, and my little cousins, all dead now.
I remembered the night we were attacked. Our village catching fire, the soldiers murdering people, and the way that one, horrible man looked at me. His lust filled gaze, combined with the blood of my people and the flames surrounding us haunted my sleep. I shuddered at the memories, wishing I could forget everything.
My master finally stopped his rants and released me from his grip. I rubbed my arm, trying to sooth the pain a little bit. I felt sick, faint, but stood strong. I would never show my fear in the face of danger.
"Back to the house," he ordered.
We walked through the forest, towards the south, where my master lived. I walked behind him, with the hounds surrounding us.
Back to slavery, back to fear, I was walking back to all that. I was walking back to torture.
To distract myself from my morbid thoughts, I concentrated on the forest life. Squirrels hopped from tree to tree gracefully. A family of birds sang high in the trees. I was calmed by them, by my brothers and sisters.
Something unnatural caught my eye. A flash of dark hair. Green eyes. A bow.
Before I could process these images, arrows started to fly through the air. Yowls of pain erupted from the hounds; they mixed with the sound of my master's curses. He pushed me to the ground.
I fell on my backside, remembering a situation like this not long ago.
I had been particularly rebellious that day. Refusing to do my chores properly, trying to escape again. My master would have none of that.
While in my quarters, he came. He slapped me, hard. I fell onto the ground. He looked at me, a horrid expression on his face. The most I remember is screaming and begging for him to let me go, to stop. It still haunted me.
He thought he had taught me my place, but in actuality, he made me even more rebellious. I now had many reasons to hate that man, and to want to escape from him.
As I looked around, trying to see what was happening, I saw a young man emerge from the woods. He was the one attacking us.
My master raised his sword, shouted a battle cry, and fell over, dead. An arrow was lodged in his chest, right where his heart was. The young man had killed him.
I stayed sitting on the ground, looking up at the young man, terrified yet thankful. Maybe he was the answer to my prayers. Or he was a slave trader who planned on reselling me.
I shook the thought from my head, and watched as the young man approached me, kneeling next to me. He gently reached for my hand. I went rigid at the contact, scared. He looked at me like I was a wounded animal, which was right on his part.
"Are you ok?" I relaxed slightly at the sound of my native tongue, a language I hadn't heard in years.
"Who are you?" I whispered. The possibilities of the things he could do to me, the horrid events that could happen, went through my mind. I tried to dismiss them, but they still lingered.
"My name is Caden. I'm here to help you." Help me? Why would he do that? I didn't even know him, why would he risk his life for me? I searched his green eyes for falsehood, for any ulterior motive. There was only sincerity.
"I knew your father. He was a good man. I will not let his daughter die." There was something else, something he was hiding from me, but the mention of my father pushed those thoughts away.
I missed my father greatly; he had died when I was seven, almost ten years ago, six years before we were attacked. If he had known this man, then I was safe for now.
"Thank you," I whispered.
"We must be going, they'll come for him soon." He looked at the corpse of my master with distaste. Did he know about everything that monster had done to me?
We left, taking all the supplies we could find. That day we travelled as fast as possible, trying to keep as silent as possible. If anyone found us, it would prove disastrous.
I prayed that no soldiers were near. I couldn't go back to slavery, back to torture. I would rather die, like my father had. He was lucky.
By nightfall we made camp, with a low fire burning for light. I shivered and moved closer to the weak flames. We dared not add another log for fear of being detected, but I was so cold.
I shivered again, trying to wrap my thin clothing around myself to keep out the cold. Caden moved closer to me and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. I didn't complain about being close to him, instead grateful for the heat he provided.
Once night had completely blanketed us in darkness and the only light was from our dying fire, I sighed.
"Caden, is there something you are keeping from me?" I asked, keeping my voice low in fear of being overheard.
"Don't you remember me?" he asked. I searched my memory for something, anything. These past couple years I had been trying to forget everything from my past, there were too many horrible memories.
"I'm sorry, I don't."
"We used to know each other, before our village was attacked. Remember, we used to go into the woods and count how many animals we saw, all the trees and flowers?" I stared at him, mouth open wide.
"I do remember. I thought you had died!" I said, louder, wrapping my arms around him. He was one of my best friends; I hadn't seen him in years. Most of everyone I knew had died in the attack.
"I thought you had died, too," he whispered in my ear. I leaned against him, resting my head on his shoulder. I loved having the feeling of him near me again, the feeling that I would forever be safe.
"There's something I need to tell you," he said after an hour of lying on the ground, in each others arms.
"What is that?" I whispered.
"Your father promised you to me ten years ago, while he was lying on his deathbed." I stayed silent, thinking of what he had said.
That would make sense, promising me to my best friend, someone my father knew would take care of me. I didn't oppose the match; I would love to be with Caden.
I fell asleep that night thinking of my future with him. In my dream, we had two children who looked just like Caden, bright green eyes and dark brown hair. They were wonderful children.
I had married him, and we were madly in love. One day, he came home from a hunt. Upon seeing him, I ran to him. He picked me up, spun me around in his arms, and kissed me passionately. I loved him, I loved his kiss, and I loved the feeling of him holding me, the safety his arms offered me.
The beautiful dream ended horribly.
Voices shouted obscenities and orders all around us. I woke up, seeing a horrific site in front of me. Someone grabbed me, pulled me to my feet roughly.
Caden was held by two soldiers. He was thrashing about, trying to escape from their hold, cursing at them. I was held by a soldier who held onto my arm tightly, bruising my skin. I almost yelped in pain, but my eyes locked with Caden's.
"I lo-" he said before a soldier plunged his dagger into Caden's chest.
I stood there, my knees weak, staring into the eyes of the man who had killed my love. My betrothed was dead, my future was gone. I was now going to be sold back into slavery.