She opened her eyes and tried to focus on her surroundings. A ray of sunlight gleamed through the room and onto her face. The sun stood low on the horizon, and its soft light gave her the impression that it had just risen. If it was morning. She must have slept for a long time since the last moments she remembered before the lights in her head turned off were also in the morning hours.
Slowly her perception focused on the room she was in. She laid in a bed, and an infusion was attached to her arm. This, in combination with the light and clean appearance of the room, made it almost look like she was in a hospital. She tried to stand up to inspect the room a little closer, but a burning ache pulsed through her body as soon as she moved. She sank back into her pillow, trying to recover from the wave of pain. She now grew more interested in the state of her body and became aware of her dangerously light clothing. Her armor was gone as well as the leather undergarment, which usually gave her the minimum protection she needed to feel comfortable. Instead, she was covered in a garment made of linen, and the blade she had carried the last time she could remember was replaced with a little clip on her finger, which was attached to a beeping monitor.
If she would have been in a more collected state of mind, she might have wondered about the level of comfort and modernity around her, but in her current confusion and vulnerability she just felt more and more terrified.
She also noticed that she was not alone. She detected a vaguely familiar face in the bed next to her. Indeed, this was the same girl that had been with her on the last morning. The morning they were ambushed. She could not recall her name, but a sign that was attached to the side of her bed reminded her that this girl was named Adrestia. She appeared peaceful. Her hair laid orderly on her pillow and she must recently have been cleaned, since no sweat, dirt, or blood stuck to her skin anymore. Adrestia looked to untouched by the events of the past days that she wondered for a second of she was dead. But she could detect a slight movement in Adrestia´s chest.
She closed her eyes again. She was in danger. She felt it. And she was in no constitution to protect herself. She forced herself to recall everything she remembered, hoping she could gain some clarity. She had been traveling. It was a long, exhausting journey. One of those journeys you only undertake when you are desperate. And she had been desperate. She had lived in isolation for three years. Three years of nothing but hunger, desperation, and fear. She just felt unable to leave the fortress. The fortress had been her home. Its where she was raised. Where she learned writing and reading and fighting. Its where her family’s´ graves are. No matter how horrible she felt, she never could have left the fortress. That was until she was asked to.
She had been shocked when she saw the car pull up to her fortress, and the messenger was not pleased when she greeted him with a knife on his throat. “Are you insane?”, he hissed at her “Where is your lord?” “I am the Lord,” she coolly replied. “What do you want from me?” “I have a message for Lord Maximus.” “I am Erida, his daughter. What is your message?” She had lowered her knife now but was still ready to use it if whenever she had to. “I have strict orders to only deliver the message to Lord Maximus.” Said the messenger with a little haughty smile. This little sign of confidence angered Erida, who immediately raised her knife again. Who did he think she was? Did he believe his strict orders gave him any kind of power over her? She was the one with the knife and she was the one with the power. “Well you can´t. Maximum is dead.” Erida bluntly replied. “You can either tell me or leave.” While making this offer, Erida pushed the point of the blade a little into the messenger´s neck, suggesting that leaving was not a choice for him. “Alright”, grunted the messenger, who realized that giving in was the smarter decision. But Erida did not lower the knife, and instead waited for him to start talking. “It is a letter. I don´t know the message” he confessed, and slowly moved a hand into his pocket, to pull out a letter. Only after Erida had secured the letter in her hands did she let off the messenger.
The letter looked official and she recognized Alfredas´ seal on the envelope. It took her a couple of minutes to understand what was written. Reading has never been a strong suit of hers and she never showed much interest in it anyway. It was an invitation to the king. Alfredas called for all his lords to renew their pledge of allegiance to him. In return, he offered a bond of protection. Outside threats would be combated together and every subject that was suffering could be sent to the capital, where they would receive not only protection but also work, food, and housing.
Erida considered the offer. She had no subjects. Everyone in the region was gone beside her. No one would profit from her pledge. But her father had always valued the connection to Alfredas, and not pledging would certainly break this bond. She had no personal interest in the Bond of the Lords, such unions never held anyway, but her father had believed them to be the key to peace.
“Are you coming?”, the messenger asked. He was waiting for Erida to enter the car or give him some sort of order. “I need to think.”, was her answer. “Maybe you want to discuss the matter with the king personally?”, he asked. “No.” “Fine. Not having to sit through that car ride with you is probably the best anyway.”, the messenger said before hastily jumping into the car and driving away, before Erida could attack him again. She stood still for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the car clinging off in the distance. Then she started walking. She knew what she had to do. She knew it all along and just did not want to be close to the messenger any longer. She already wore her armor and her blade and had nothing else she wanted to bring on this journey, so she just started walking. She followed the road the car had left on. Even though the asphalt was in a bad shape, with cracks and holes everywhere, it was still easier to walk on compared to the thickly overgrown forest grounds. She estimated that her journey would roughly take a week. She liked walking and any foods she would need she could just steal from the fields and houses she would cross on her journey. She had learned how to make a living with nothing. With such cheerful thoughts she almost felt excitement. The closer she came to Dowick, the capital, the more people she saw. Sometimes a car passed by her, doubtlessly containing a lord or some other important person on their way to the king, but most of them traveled by food, with a horse wagon here and there. Initially she tried to avoid being seen by others, but the number of travelers grew so large that it was impossible to stay away from them. This is where she met Adrestia. She had sat in the back of a wagon, watching Erida trot along, face down, all by herself. Despite the masses of odd people, she had encountered on the road, the lonely young woman with the heavy armor, which was usually only worn by the rich, intrigued her. Adrestia had whistled at Erida to gain her attention and then held an apple towards Erida. She did not take the apple right away, but eventually her instincts overcame her distrust, and she quickly grabbed the apple. “I am Adrestia.”, but Erida did not answer and only distanced herself from the cart again. From this point on, the two kept inspecting one another. Adrestia kept offering food, which Erida quickly grabbed only to distance herself from the cart again, as quickly as possible. Adrestia felt like she was trying to gain the trust of a wild animal, by tempting it to come closer and talking to it calmingly. She tried to talk to Erida, but all Erida would say is “thanks”, before hasting away again. Erida knew that her behavior was not the best and that she did not show herself very grateful for the free food, but it was all she felt like she could do. She could not talk to anyone, tell them about herself. She rather stayed by herself.
And then, on the last morning of their journey, they were ambushed. Erida could not recall where they came from, they were just there, all over the road, killing everyone there. No questions were asked and there did not appear to be a certain target. This ambush was directed against everyone. And they did not simply kill the people. They tortured them. Slowly, cruelly, did they crush bones and tear flesh. Erida knew what she had to do. This was not the first time she was confronted with such a situation. All she had to do was run. That she had always kept her distance from the other travelers was an advantage now, since she was not in the focus of the happening. She ran to hide in the forest to the sides of the road. On her way, she spotted the cart of the girl. The barrel in which they stored their apples had tipped over and the fruits were rolling all over the ground. The girl was not there anymore, but surely, she was the source of one of the many screams that were echoing through the air. The voice Erida had heard singing at night now probably made a horrifying sound. The friendly brown eyes struck with horror. Erida never made a conscious decision, but her feet started carrying her towards the cart. Once she moved around it, the fight became visible. There was the older woman, assembly Adrestia’s mother, cowering on the floor, screaming in agony. Large parts of her underarms had been chopped off. In front of her stood Adrestia. She had a sword in her hands and battled a ruthless looking man. She knew how to work with a blade, placing smaller cuts all over the man´s body, looking for his weakness. Before Erida was able to make her way towards them to support Adrestia, a second person, with a helmet and sword, jumped in front of her. Erida had to react quickly and dodge to the side so the sword of the opponent would not slice her in two. This was an uneven fight since Erida had to take great care to avoid the frequent sword strikes and was unable to get close enough to do damage with her knife. Then the broad side of the sword hit her on the head and Erida was knocked down. She rolled onto her back, only to see the masked warrior plunge towards her. In the last second Erida rolled to the side, causing her opponent to fall onto the ground. She jumped onto the persons back, quickly sinking her knife into the unprotected neckline, right beneath the helmet. After regaining her sense of direction, she was able to spot Adrestia. She must have managed to strike down the man she was fighting since a corps know laid to her feet, but already a new man with a bloody ax had taken attention to her. Again, Erida started trembling towards them, but as she was only a few feet away from them, someone tackled her down and Erida´s memory turned off.
She must have passed out. How unfortunate. How high were the chances that her attackers had decided not to kill them, and instead aided them back to life? But on the other hand, who else would have done such a thing? Before Erida could decide as to where she was and what she should do, the voice in the bed next to her started talking. “Are you awake?” “Yes,” Erida answered quickly and looked at the other woman. “How are you?” “I guess I am alive.” Said Adrestia quietly, tears starting to roll down her cheeks. This confused Erida. Should she not be relieved? But Adrestia spoke again. “They are all dead. I saw all of them die.” Erica’s heart grew heavy. She knew what Adrestia meant. The pain in her voice was awfully familiar. Erida wanted to say something soothing, but she knew that there were no words. Adrestia´s crying continued, and for the first time in years Erida felt like she needed to say something. “It won´t get better,” was what Erida finally got out. Adrestia´s confused look made her add to that statement. “But you will grow used to it.” What a stupid thing to say. She had probably made things worse. But Adrestia got in control of herself and wanted to find out more about the strange girl. What is your name?” “Erida” “Why are you here?” Erida obviously did not know why she was here, but she assumed Adrestia meant why she was on the road. “I am a lord,” was Erida´s final answer. Adrestia inspected her, obviously trying to detect her lying. “You´re not like a lord.” “What do you mean?” “You do not look like one and you surely do not behave like one.” “How do you want me to behave?” Adrestia thought for a second and then said “Well besides that fact that you travel on foot without any subjects, you don´t talk like one. Lords are always diplomatic, but you are just quiet.” Erida had nothing to say to that and instead just inquired where they are. “I don´t know. They would not tell.” Erida continued starring at Adrestia, making it apparent that she wanted more information. “They came in cars to where we were ambushed, I guess to help us. But they were late. Almost everyone was dead by the time they arrived. But they were able to kill many of them too. Only a handful was able to escape into the forest. After they had the situation under control, they searched for survivors. It took quite some convincing that you were still alive and that they could save you, but they finally agreed and loaded the two of us into the back of a car. It was crazy, I have never been in a car. It felt so quick. But no one would tell me who they are or where we were going. When they opened the car doors again, we were inside. They rushed you onto one of these portable beds and wanted me to get in one too. When I tried to tell them that I don´t need one, they just gave me an injection and I fell asleep.” Adrestia ended her story a little embarrassed, but Erida barely noticed. She thought about what she had just heard. So, these people where not their attackers, but they did not want to say who they are either. And they had constrained Adrestia as soon as she showed some hesitation. These actions did not out them as enemies, but they also did not qualify them to be called friends either. Now a man in some scrubs entered and Adrestia and Erida both grew tense, but he did not seem dangerous. He actually did not show any interest in them at all. He checked the bag of Erida´s infusion and turned off the little monitor she was attached to. Then he moved on to Adrestia and wrote something on a little clipboard at the end of her bed. Then he got a wheelchair out of the corner of the room and tried to move Erida into the chair. “Don´t touch me! I can walk on my own.” “No, you can´t” was his simply but kindly voiced reply. And really, just by him moving her body the burning pain was back in every muscle of her body. After he positioned her in the chair, he moved her towards the exit. He stopped at the door and turned towards Adrestia, who was still sitting on her bed. “You don´t want to come?” She quickly jumped up and moved next to them. “Where are we?”, she inquired. “You will see.”, was his only response.