by Raving Madly
A group of bandits attack and murder a young family
The sun had set several hours earlier, and the small farmhouse was an island of light in the middle of the dark fields. Inside, the farmer sat by the hearth, stoking the fire, a mug of beer in his hand.
His wife sat on the other side of the hearth, knitting quietly, a small smile on her face. Every once in a while she would look over at him, and her smile would grow larger for just a moment.
Abruptly, the farmer set down his mug and went to the door.
“What is it, love?” his wife asked him.
“I thought I heard something,” he answered. “Out by the barn, maybe.” He quietly opened the door, wincing at the shriek of the rusty iron hinges, and slipped outside.
The night smelled deeply of freshly cut plants, manure, and the herbs growing nearby in the small garden by the house. It was a combination the farmer had sampled hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, but this time, something was different. A new scent, something that evaded description, carried with the breeze.
His scythe was leaning against the wall of the house, where he had left it after clearing the south field. He gripped it hard now, his knuckles white in the darkness of the night. He made his way across the dusty ground to the barn as quietly as he could.
For a moment he thought it odd that the horses were so quiet if something was out here. He almost turned around and went back to his fire at the thought, but decided to make sure of it.
The heavy barn door was on the far side, letting him lead the plow horses right out into the fields, or the oxen straight to the road for market day. He slowly, cautiously walked around the barn, and heard nothing. Not even the occasional whicker of the horses or lowing of the oxen.
When he rounded the corner to the front of the barn, he stopped in shock. The heavy wooden door was lying twisted and burned on the ground, and the frame it had swung open on was splintered and scorched.
Swallowing his fear, he pressed on into the barn. Normally the horses would greet him with all manner of noise, but they wouldn’t this night, he saw. The stalls that lined the sides of the barn were empty. The only things remaining in the barn were straw and dung.
The farmer sank to his knees, the scythe falling nearly noiselessly into the dirt. For a moment he knew absolute despair. The animals in the barn were worth more than everything else on the farm, save the land itself. He cursed, wondering how he would explain this to his wife, who even now was expecting their first child.
Then he heard her scream.
Scrambling to his feet and fumbling for the scythe, he turned and ran from the barn, his despair at the loss of his animals now pushed aside by concern for his wife. He ran for the house as fast as he’d ever run in his life. The scythe banged against his legs and he twisted it out of his way.
His wife was backed into the far corner of the room, and small group of men crowded around her, grabbing at her hair and tearing at her dress.
With a shout of anger, he swung the scythe at the nearest man, cutting deeply into his neck. The next one, the man in the middle, spat out a curse and ducked his next swing. The two remaining men looked at each other and grinned, slowly stepping away from each other, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to watch the both.
It ended quickly. They were trained soldiers, and he was only a farmer. He’d been to war once, years ago, but he’d not raised a blade in anger for over a decade. One of the grabbed the scythe away from him and hit him on the head while the other one knifed him from behind.
The pain was horrific. It felt as though burning embers were lodged in his back, shooting their heat right up to his brain. He tried to resist, but his arms and legs wouldn’t obey him. As the men bound him to the chair he’d been seated in earlier, he tried to ask what they wanted, but all that came out was a groan.
With him immobilized, they returned to his wife. She was frozen in the corner, like a deer in the light of a lantern. Her hands had flown up to cover her mouth, and she was making little gasping noises.
He tried to reassure her, but again, he could only manage a groan. His head felt inexplicably heavy, and it lolled forward on his neck. He was sweating now, though the night was cool. He forced his head back up, gritted his teeth against the pain, and tried to focus on Maggy.
They had her on the floor, and were raping her. Every once in a while she would scream, but the rest of the time she simply sobbed. As ever, the sound of her tears tore at his heart. He struggled against the rough rope, felt the warmth of blood on his wrists join the river of heat running down his back.
“Stop it!” he screamed in frustration, startled to hear his own voice again. The bandits of course, paid him no heed.
When they had finished with his wife, they cut her throat and headed outside to rejoin the rest of their company who had already left with the livestock.
Outside the door there was a group of men waiting, all holding torches. They wore mail and held swords in their fists. The leader, in the center was dressed in full armor, a suit of heavy plate mail enameled a deep purple. In the flickering light of the torches it seemed black, and the golden traceries on his gauntlets gleamed.
The older of the two bandits, a grizzled veteran with three days of black stubble on his face, narrowed his eyes at the golden crown blazoned across the knight’s breastplate.. Revulsion filled him, overshadowing any fear he might have felt, and he spat. “King’s men. Piss on you, and your king.” The sour smell of wine came out with his words.
The men did not move, save one. The man in the purple armor strode forward, his armor clanking as he moved. The heavy cloak behind him barely stirred as he walked forward. He lowered his torch and looked closely at the breast of the bandit’s tunics.
“I see no sigil on your tunic, peasant. Whom do you serve?” he demanded. His breath rattled through the slots of his greathelm.
“I serve no one, you whore’s son. I-“
Before he could continue, the knight had whipped his sword from its scabbard and slammed it into the side of the head with the flat of the blade. The bandit dropped to the floor like a sack of rocks. The knight turned to the younger of the two, and held the point of his sword to the apple of his throat. “Again, whom do you serve, peasant?”
The man –boy really- was visibly sweating. Frightening farmers and raping their wives as one thing, but this was a fully armed and armored knight, backed by at least four other men. And behind them, he could see the remainder of their gang tied and slung across their horses. “I-I serve…”
“Yes? Come on, man, out with it.”
“Lord Ravin,” he finally muttered, lowering his head to stare at the ground.
“Ah, the fearsome Stormlord himself. I might have known.” The knight shook his head and sheathed his sword. “Sergeant, take these men into custody. We’ll be cutting short our patrol and returning to Wildwood. Lord Venner was still loyal this morning, at least.”
Walking to his horse, he removed the heavy helm from his head and hung it from the saddle. He was a young man, with a gaunt, clean-shaven face. His hair was matted down to his skull from sweat and the weight of his helm, but it was a curious shade of gold, and his incredibly blue eyes were cold as ice as they looked at the bandits.
“As you command, my lord.” The four men quickly bound the two bandits and threw them over the backs of their horses.
“Take their horses as well. We’ll have need of them shortly. See if there is anything else of value close by. They won’t be needing it anymore.” He swung up into his saddle and turned his huge black destrier back the way they had come.
“What of the farmer and his wife, Prince Lucas?” one of the guardsmen asked. “He’s badly hurt, but still alive.”
“We’ve no time for the dead, soldier,” he called back as he rode off. “Leave them and let’s move on.”