Here is a scene from a potential fantasy novel that’s been rattling around in my head for many years. I’ve come to realize I will never actually write anything else from this particular book, but I thought this scene might be worth sharing.
As usual, Bran had been give a place at the edge of the camp, some distance away from the horses and all the gear, but close enough that the others could easily keep an eye on him. He was sitting on an old, half rotten log looking at the men and women setting up camp for the night. He raised his bound hands to his face to scratch at the stubble on his chin while he contemplated his situation. They were so busy he might be able to sneak off into the nearby bushes, but if he really wanted to get away from them he would need a horse; the way things were there was no chance for that. He let his hands drop to his lap then turned to look out through the trees towards the river. In this season it was almost completely dry, just a narrow stream trickling through a landscape of dried mud and sun bleached rocks.
As he sat there looking he spotted a cloud of dust on the horizon, he glanced over at the others but none of them paid the least bit attention. He kept watching and little by little the cloud grew larger as it moved closer and soon enough he could make out the faint outlines of some figures in the cloud. The others had finished making camp but they were still not paying attention.
A little while later the figures came into clear view. Eirik, always more watchful than the rest, was the first to notice them. He stood up and pointed towards the cloud of dust “Riders!” he declared. “Are they coming for us?” Tombor wondered. “I don’t know,” Eirik replied, “but if they are we need to be ready for them”. With that, Eirik started giving out orders for the others in rapid succession. Janna was to put out the fire then gather the civilians, ready to flee, while Tombor and the other men at arms were to ready their weapons and set up a defensive line. Eirik himself grabbed his bow then started sneaking towards the edge of the forest to get a better view of the riders. Bran smiled, Eirik was a capable commander, if the riders were coming here they wouldn’t find an easy target.
Some minutes passed while the group readied themselves in silence; Janna put out the fire without making too much smoke, then she and the other civilians hid in the undergrowth a short distance behind the camp. Meanwhile Tombor and the other soldiers donned their armor and readied their spears then took up defensive positions a few meters behind the treeline where the riders’ mobility would be limited. Bran barely paid attention to their preparation, his focus was on the riders: there were eight of them, all dressed in black, and no lances or spears as far as he could see. It also became clear to him that the riders were indeed heading for their camp.
Though he felt as safe as he could be with Eirik and the others defending the camp, Bran kept observing the riders as they got closer. Suddenly, he noticed something that made his heart drop to his knees; out in the dried river bed, some distance off to the left , was a small figure playing in the sand – Ailina! Somehow no one had noticed that the girl was missing when Janna and the other civilians went to hide, and now she was out in the open, exposed to the danger of the riders.
He stood up and looked around, considering his options. It only took him a few seconds to realize he was the one best positioned to save her, but he wouldn’t be much use against the riders without a weapon. He glanced over at Eirik – the man was fully concentrated on the approaching riders – then started moving towards the girl, making sure to stay hidden among the trees; with a bit of luck he could move the girl to safety without anyone noticing. He had only moved a short distance when a loud noise alerted him that the battle had started. He look up only to see the one thing that should not happen, a rider had diverged from the group and was heading straight for Ailina. He swore under his breath then took off running.
As he ran he bent down and scooped up a fist size rock from the ground, and when he was close enough to the rider he flung it with full force at the man. It hit him square in the chest and he bent backwards in the saddle from the force, for a moment it looked like he would fall but then he steadied himself and spurred on his horse once more. While the stone hadn’t taken the rider out it had bought Bran some time, determined not to waste it, he gritted his teeth and plunged forward with increased speed. When they go closer to each other the rider drew his sword and Bran, thinking fast, ripped the cloak from his shoulders, the brooch holding it flying off, and started swinging it above his head in a wide arc. As they closed, he swung the cloak around one last time then brought it down on the rider’s sword. The heavy cloth wrapped around the blade and wrenched the sword from the man’s hand. Bran dove towards the ground to avoid being trampled by the horse, rolled over his shoulder and came up standing. Not wasting time to look back, he dashed towards Ailina, who had seen their fight and was now screaming in terror, scooped her up in his arms as best he could and ran for the tree line. Just as he entered the woods he could hear the neighing of the horse behind him as the rider reined it in.
He weaved between the trees as he ran, hoping he could throw the rider off the trail. He spotted a thicket of bushes growing at the base of a large tree and ducked in behind them, squeezing himself into the gap between the tree trunk and the bushes, then pressed his hands over Ailina’s mouth to keep her from screaming. He sat there, his heart pounding in his ears, peering out through the branches and could just make out the rider who was making his way through the forest, sword at the ready. As the rider got closer he felt that his heart was beating so loudly that the other man must surely hear it. For a moment he imagined this must indeed be the case, because the rider looked right at his hiding place, but the man saw nothing; instead he turned and started walking away in another direction. When he saw that, Bran relaxed and without noticing, his grip over Ailina’s mouth loosened a tiny bit. The girl let out a faint yelp which Bran quickly stifled but it was too late, the rider had noticed and was now coming towards them with purposeful steps. He raised his sword and was just about to drive it into the bushes when there was a thud and he stopped dead in his tracks; the sword fell from his hand and he slumped to the ground in a crumpled heap.
Bran had instinctively closed his eyes the moment before the sword would pierce his body, but when a few seconds passed without any pain he opened them again. He peered out through the leaves and saw the rider’s body on the ground. For a moment he wondered what had happened then he spotted Eirik some distance away, bow in hand. He loosened his grip on Ailina and she immediately freed herself from his arms, crawled out from the bushes and ran over to hug Eirik’s legs. Bran remained seated for a few moments as the tension washed out of his body in long shuddering breaths.
When he had calmed down sufficiently, he crawled out from the his hiding spot and got to his feet. Eirik took a few steps towards him, one arm protectively around Ailina. “Thank you for saving the girl’s life,” he said, a faint smile playing across his lips, “I hadn’t expected that from someone like you.” Bran nodded in response but said nothing. “But that doesn’t change anything in your situation,” now the smile was gone, “let’s go back to camp, you lead the way.”