The terror spread through the village. People were screaming, taking up the same cry.
“The Dunlendings! The Dunlendings!”
Lily grabbed her bag of possessions. They had been preparing for this attack since before she could remember, it was a necessity, living so close to the Dunlending occupied area of the west-march. She followed her mother out of the house, trying to keep a clear head. Her mother thrust Aisla and Niman’s reins into her hands.
“You’ll have to have your grandmother, Hiana and Palom on Aisla and Nem and Serl on Niman. You and Maya will have to run I’m afraid. Get them as far away from here as you can, do you understand me?”
Lily stared at her mother.
“But… you are not coming? And father?”
Her mother looked with a mixture of sadness and love.
“You know I would have come with you, looked after you… but your father must stay to defend the village… and I must stay with him. You will understand someday, I promise.”
“But we need you! I can’t look after them on my own! I’m only twelve! You can’t leave us now.”
“You can manage Lily, I know you can. Please don’t argue, don’t make it harder than it already is.”
Lily turned to Niman, her hands fumbling to fasten his saddle, the process was hindered by the tears that were falling from her eyes. She could sense her mother watching her, fighting back her own tears.
Lily’s younger sister, ten-year-old Maya came running up, panic in her eyes. She was holding the young baby, Palom.
“Hiana is refusing to come out. She says she wants to stay with father.”
Lily ran inside with her mother. Her mother began to explain urgently to Hiana why she could not stay in the village while Lily took Nem and Serl out of the house. She led them to where the horses were and walked with them to where Niman stood.
“Nem,” She said to the seven-year-old, “You have a very important job, you have to look after your younger brother, Niman can’t carry anyone else so you’ll have to look after Serl all by yourself.”
Nem looked very proud and grown up as she lifted him up. Then she passed Serl up to him. The two boys smiled down at her, and she smiled weakly back up at them. Looking back down the village she could see the Dunlendings. They were so, so near.
“Maya!” She called. “Take Niman up to the top of the hill, wait for me there.”
Maya nodded, giving Lily Palom and taking over Niman’s reins. She began to run up the hill, away from the village.
Their mother came running out of the house with Hiana, they were followed by their grandmother. With skills of agility that Lily would not have expected from the old lady she jumped up onto Aisla and helped get Hiana up. Then she reached down for Palom.
Their mother’s face was white as she looked at them, her tears running freely down her face. Lily looked at her pleadingly.
“Please come Mamma?” She used the name she used to call her mother as a child, she did not feel much more than a child at that moment in time.
“Go Lily!” Her mother said urgently. “Hurry!”
In frustration Lily turned away. She did not look back as she ran up the hill, half blinded by her tears. She joined Maya at the peak of the hill that overlooked the village. Only then did she turn to look at the village.
She turned just in time to see the Dunlendings clash with the village defence. The children and grandmother watched in silence as the Dunlendings rampaged through their village. They could see only too clearly their father, desperately fighting a Dunlending while their mother stood in the shadows. They saw him being cut down as easily as a piece of wood.
And they saw only too clearly their mother, rushing from her hiding place in anguish and bending over their father’s body. They could see the Dunlending coming up behind her, unnoticed in her grief, the sound of his steps drowned out by the screaming that was ripping through the village.
Her screamed pierced their ears and their hearts. Lily could not bring herself to look back to where her mother had been. She could see Maya, white with shock, trembling from head to foot. She reached out a hand and slipped it through the younger girl’s. They remained in silence for a while, but it was broken by the broken voice of their grandmother.
“We have to… leave… this evil, evil place…”
The day seemed to drag on and on. Even the air seemed to be silent, the only sound that could be heard for miles around was the stifled sobs of Hiana. The others walked on in a shocked silence. They had no desire to talk about what they had just seen, yet there didn’t seem to be anything else to talk about. So they stayed silent.
Lily stumbled her way forward. Her eyes did not see what was around her, she was replaying what she had seen in her mind. Over and over again it played as she tried to make sense of it. Nervously she tried not to think of what would happen to them now. She could not bear to think about that right now. What if they were all split up?
Eventually night began to fall. The children’s grandmother began to look for a place to camp for the night. Eventually she spotted something. It was a small cave that could only just fit them all in. Maya threw herself down, exhausted from the walk. She had fallen asleep within seconds. Lily and her grandmother began to get out the few blankets they had with them. The younger children lay down next to Maya and also fell asleep. Lily was tired, more so than she had ever felt in her life. She was not only physically exhausted, but emotionally exhausted as well. However, she waited until her grandmother was tucked up in a blanket before falling asleep herself.
The children were so exhausted that they slept through most of the morning. They wouldn’t have woken up until a lot later if it hadn’t been for a disturbance that occurred shortly before midday.
Lily was dreaming of her parents. There seemed to be a lot of disruption in the dream. Voices that she did not recognise were discussing something that she couldn’t understand. She woke up gradually and opened her eyes.
There was a group of men standing at the entrance of the cave. One of them approached her slowly.
“It’s alright.” He said soothingly. “How did you get to be here? And where are your parents? Is there anything we can do to help?”
Lily looked into the man’s eyes. He looked so sincere. She felt tears running down her cheeks, and they only seemed to be coming faster. In choked tones she explained everything that had happened the day before. The other children and their grandmother crowded round, only half awake.
When she had finished the men talked in lowered tones so that she could not hear. Finally they turned around to look at the children. The first man that had talked to Lily approached her again. He looked her in the eye.
“We’ve had an idea. You could come to the village that we live in. It is not far from here and there is a spare house there that you could live in. It would solve many of your problems…”
Lily did not have to look at her grandmother to know what she thought. With a weariness that seemed to overcome her she nodded slowly.