Prologue

The boy shivered.

Not because of the blistering cold.

But from fear.

Fear of a bloodshed. Fear of dying.

But he was not alone.

There was another child, a girl even younger than him, and even more frightened. She was only inches away from him, in a small corner of the dilapidated, abandoned house.

War had ravaged the village, a small peripheral region originally under Roman control, but now laid to waste after the barbaric attacks of the Goths.

And now, one year later, food was scarce, and unquantifiable orphaned children littered every part of the territory. Still, chaos reigned, as Rome refused to reclaim the territory, not wanting to incur the Gothic’s wrath. And the Goths, having exhausted the ground of its resources, had not the slightest desire to rebuild it.

The boy had seen death. Headless corpses and lifeless amputees left to decompose on the dirt roads.

But he had never witnessed the actual slaughter process.

Not until today.

Four young warriors in their prime, upped against a much older, rugged man.

“Kreio, give us what we want, and we will leave you unharmed,” said the leading warrior, his voice thick with a Gothic accent.

The old man snorted with contempt.

A moment’s hesitation.

And then the four armed men attacked with amazing coordination, each aiming their swords at a different anatomy of their unmoving victim.

In his blinding terror, the boy could feel a tinge of sympathy for the old man. The severity of the situation made him numb, but his sense of chivalry demanded otherwise. He had been holding a small rock in his hand, and with whatever strength that he could muster, he threw it towards the warriors.

Not that anyone noticed, or that the old man would need his help anyway.

With a speed that betrayed his age, the old man unsheathed his sword, and with adroit dexterity, he moved his blade in a strange arch, that slit the wrists of all his four opponents, forcing them to drop their weapon.

His next move, also done in lightning swiftness, was to cut his nemeses’ throats, ending their lives with the minimum of fuss.

Such ingenious nimbleness. Such a mastery of the sword.

The boy was spellbound. But he stayed hidden from sight, and importantly, he kept silent.

His companion, the little girl that he had temporarily forgotten, however, could not stifle a muffled scream. It was not exactly a piercing sound, but in the unforgivingly quiet night, it was a disturbance that could mean life and death.
“Come out,” the old man ordered authoritatively.

Both the boy and girl were now awash with trepidation, their faces aspen white. The boy held the girl’s hands tight, begging with his eyes that she remained hush. But the girl, stricken with anxiety, was on the brink of a complete breakdown.

The boy knew he had to stand up. If he only revealed himself, the little girl might not be discovered. The other option was the death of both him and the girl.

He stood up, intentionally making some noises, while at the same time, knocking out the girl with a heavy blow to her back, so that she would faint from the impact.

“Sir,” he pleaded with a pounding heart. “I didn’t see anything. I was asleep...”

The old man appeared to be contemplating. His feet seemed slightly unstable. For the last few years, it was not his custom to spare anyone who knew his whereabouts. It did not matter if the person was aware of his identity. He had been let down too many times to know the implication of being merciful.

But there was something about the boy that made him think otherwise. Maybe he was reminded of his own son, a mere ten year old child at the time of his death. Strangely, both had that thick mop of sparkling, lustrous blonde hair, images which brought back memories of his beloved wife’s long tresses. His dear Orithia. She who had been defiled by ogling men, and then brutally murdered, her blood left to drip as she hang dying from a crucifix.

“Come with me,” the old man said.

The boy’s legs were heavy, as if weighed down by lead. But he knew better than to disobey. The old man’s stocky frame was blocking the door’s passage, and even if he was to make his escape, he would need to follow the man out.

Out in the open field, he might just stand a chance.

*


Go to Part I