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Chapter 1 - The Screams Were Real
Swimming up through layers of dream and nightmare, Elana suddenly realized that the screams were real. Groggily, she sat up on her bed, automatically reaching for the forms of her younger sisters on each side. Beona and Renewyn still slept. Still faint, but growing louder, the screams which had awakened her continued. Now she could hear the clash of metal on metal.
She crawled from the bed and raced to the window. Lights flickered against the midnight sky – the roofs of several of the village’s houses were in flames! Smoke, more bitter than the familiar hearthfires, bit into her lungs. She could see dark forms darting from shadow to shadow.
Snatching up her cloak and throwing it around her night shift, she dashed to her parent’s room. Her father, Charamer, was dressing with grim speed, while her mother, Marbrona, clutching Elana’s youngest brother to her breast with one arm, stuffed blankets into a bundle with the other hand.
“Wake the younger ones,” her father snapped. “We have to get them into the root cellar. Orcs have attacked the village.” Going to a chest against the wall, he lifted out his seldom-used sword. Strapping the belt around his waist, he strode off to the boys’ bedroom.
Returning to her room, Elana found four-year-old Beona sobbing, eleven year-old Renewyn holding her, eyes big and frightened. Elana tried to smile reassuringly, though her own heart was pounding nearly out of control. “Come on,” she said, scooping up Beona. “Get the cloaks, Renewyn, we’ve got to get out to the root cellar. We’ll be safe there.” Will we? she wondered, but she shoved the thought down as she grabbed her belt with its small knife and slung it over her shoulder. Then she grabbed Renewyn’s hand and ran out of the house.
Joining their mother and the three boys, they hurried down the path to the root cellar. The screams were louder and closer now, and shouts and snarls seemed terrifyingly near. They reached the small rise where the root cellar was dug, its heavy wooden doors promising refuge. Setting down Beona by their mother, who was burdened with the baby and bundle, Elana helped Gareden, at fourteen almost as tall as their father, but gangly, struggle with the stout beam that barred the doors. They wrestled it free, then hauled the doors open.
At that moment, two hideous shapes burst around the corner of the house. In her seventeen years, Elana had never seen orcs before, but what else could they be? Hunched and grotesque, they screeched with glee at finding new victims, and lurched toward the family.
Barely thinking, Elana shoved the heavy beam at Gareden. “Get them in,” she gasped. Giving her mother a rough shove toward the downward-leading steps, she stepped to the rear of the group, snatching her belt knife with fingers that suddenly seemed numb. She faced the approaching orcs, holding her pitifully inadequate weapon, hoping only to buy enough time for the rest of her family to escape.
They paused when they saw her, then laughed evilly and came on. She slashed wildly at the first one’s face, drawing blood with a small gash. He batted the knife away negligently, while the other grabbed her from behind, clamping his hand over her mouth. Kicking wildly, she bit down hard on the filthy hand, causing the orc to loosen his grip for a moment. She wrenched away, and turning saw the last of her family members disappear down the dark steps, the doors slamming shut behind. They shook as the heavy beam was thrown into the inside sockets, placed there for just such a need as this. Tears of relief stung her eyes as the orcs seized her again, then her heart failed as she realized the horror of her own fate.
The larger orc flung her over his shoulder, and she was carried to the outskirts of the village. There the band of orcs was reassembling, many the worse for their battle with the men of the village. They seemed to be retreating, Elana saw with hope, beaten back by the valor of the townspeople. Some had plunder, sacks of food, purses with a few gold coins, a horse, and a few goats, but not much.
“Look what we caught!” Elana’s captor shouted. “She’s a frisky one. She’ll be a fine addition to Burnruk’s collection!” The other orcs roared with obscene laughter, poking at her, and only laughed harder when she struggled. She was thrown to the ground, and a sack was shoved over her head. She nearly gagged at the overpowering stench of onions, garlic, and rotting meat apparently left from the sack’s last contents, as she was bound hand and foot with rough ropes, and slung over the horse’s back.
The next few hours were a blur. Miserably uncomfortable, yet crushingly tired, Elana occasionally half dozed, her head banging against one side of the horse, her feet the other, as the orc gang jogged along. It seemed like years, but must have been only hours, when she realized she could begin to see the coarse threads of the sack in the grey light of early dawn. Wracking her brain for everything she knew about orcs – precious little – she was almost sure she remembered they couldn’t stand sunlight. But her faint hope was dashed when she heard the voices of her captors change, calling greetings, and the answering shouts of other orcs welcoming the raiding party home.
She was lifted from the horse, slung over an orc’s shoulder, and was carried into darkness, down, down, where the echoes of the orcs’ clashing boots told of narrow stone tunnels. Deeper and deeper, twisting and turning, Elana had no idea how long they traveled. Finally, she was thrown down onto a hard rock floor. Her hands and feet were unbound, and the sack was removed from her head.
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