Knight of the Radiant Order
Sigrid opened her eyes in darkness, disoriented -- struggling with her blanket. A strong hand gripped her shoulder, shaking her awake.
“S’not morning, yet,” the girl muttered.
“Shhh, brave girl,” said her mother, voice tense and afraid. “Get up now, come on. We’ve got to go.”
Blinking, Sigrid pushed herself up and out of bed. The frame was becoming too small for her -- her feet nearly dangled off the end. Her mother was already back in the other room -- moving around blindly without a lantern or stoking the fire. Sigrid rubbed her face.
“Mama?” she called. “What’s…”
Her mother hurried back into her room. “Hush,” she whispered. “Not so loud. Here, I’ve got your shawl. Come on, now.”
Sigrid’s mother wrapped the well worn wool around her daughter’s shoulders -- as though she were still a young child and not nearly eleven -- and then hurried them to the door of their neat cottage. Her mother opened the door a crack, peering out into the darkness. With the door open, Sigrid could hear the familiar roll and crash of the nearby ocean -- and other sounds: running footsteps, the crackle of a fire… and was that someone weeping?
“What’s wrong, mama?” whispered Sigrid. “Is it raiders?”
“Yes,” replied her mother.
As though the word were an evil spell, the first scream cut through the night and the chaos began.
Shouts sounded around the village -- coordinated commands. A great whoosh filled the air as thatch roofs caught fire. More screams followed -- and laughter.
Sigrid dashed across the room, retrieving the iron rod she used to stoke the fire. Then she returned to the door and her mother.
“Mama?” whispered Sigrid. Her mother was stiff with fear -- a neighbor’s house was already alight. They heard a crash as someone kicked in a nearby door.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you, mama,” said Sigrid, taking her mother’s hand.
Her mother smiled faintly, red hair in a braid over one shoulder.
“I know, brave girl,” she said. “Ready to run?”
They stepped into a nightmare. Their neighbors were escaping burning homes or being dragged out. In the torchlight, it was hard to see the raiders -- they became monstrous beings of shadow and fire. Sigrid held her poker tightly in one hand and matched her mother’s grip with the other.
Their flight became a blur - running and then backtracking along the dirt paths of the village, ducking between houses, hiding behind low garden fences. And always they were cut off -- the raiders seemed to be everywhere.
Sigrid’s mother was taking deep breaths, trying to keep herself calm, while they waited for yet another group to pass.
When the raiders disappeared from sight, she whispered, “Just a little farther, brave girl.” And her voice was steady.
Sigrid nodded, controlling her own fear.
Sigrid’s mother stepped out into the path -- right as three raiders did the same -- hardly a house away. With wicked grins, they gave chase.
Together, Sigrid and her mother turned and fled -- finding themselves in the midst of the small village square.
At the square’s center had been a statue of Damen, the Armorer. The noble smith, divine servant of Kassandra, leaning on the hilt of his great hammer, with a benevolent smile on his face. The statue predated the village, remnant of some forgotten settlement.
Now, it was toppled -- the bronze legs twisted and snapped, the expression seeming unnatural as it looked up from its fallen place.
Sigrid and her mother reached the statue, but got no further. More raiders appeared from the other side of the square -- and the ones chasing them caught up.
Sigrid brandished her poker, trying not to appear afraid. Her mother was sobbing, pressed back against the plinth of the broken statue.
“Well, well,” said one of the raiders. “We’ve a fencer, lads.” He’d drawn his cutlass. The blade was well-cared for and made for use. He brought it up and on guard with Sigrid, a mocking smile on his lips. His companions jeered as the little girl brought up her poker.
With sudden, vicious speed the raider swung the cutlass hard at the poker -- knocking it out of Sigrid’s hand, before slashing at the girl.
Sigrid stumbled back -- but she wouldn’t have been fast enough if her mother hadn’t pulled her out of the way.
Sigrid fell against the broken statue of the Armorer, scrambling for something that could help them. Something to throw. Something to fight with. The raiders were laughing still -- and her mother was standing in front of Sigrid, empty hands out.
Sigrid’s fingers closed on something. She looked down -- she had found the hilt of the Armorer’s hammer. Except, it wasn’t dull bronze any more. It was bright white and gold, marked with ancient runes.
Sigrid heard a sound like a wet intake of breath -- and then a cough.
When she turned back, her mother was falling and the raider’s cutlass was red with blood. The raider looked back at his companion -- laughing at a joke.
With a roar, the girl heaved the hammer up -- arms protesting, muscles straining. She brought the weapon over her head, back so far she almost over balanced, and then swung it with all her might into the raider’s mirthful face.
He fell in a shower of blood. Sigrid screamed and kept screaming. She brought the hammer down again on the fallen raider -- turning the rest of his skull to a pulp of blood and bone. The raiders weren’t laughing now. Sigrid turned to the next one.
At dawn, the Radiant Order rode into the village.
Sir Tomaso grieved as they did. A day ago, this place would have been idyllic. The green hills were dotted with overgrown marble foundations -- ruins of a larger town that must have been here long, long ago. Even now, escaped sheep grazed on the hillside, overlooking the bright blue ocean and a pale sandy beach. Overhead, Kassandra’s sun shone in the gentle sky -- looking down on the burnt husks of small houses and fishing boats.
The Knights of the Order looked fine in their sunburst tabards and their armor -- their arrival heralded by a cacophony of hooves and the fearless call of the horns. They sat straight in their saddles, but the truth was that they were near exhaustion. Raiders had been making coordinated attacks along this coast for a month -- and they were stretched thin. The knights had ridden through the early morning to get here… too late again.
And yet. There were survivors.
That was a surprise.
The knights did what they could, carrying the wounded and praying for the dead.
Sir Tomaso grunted as he dismounted. He was getting too old for so many new sorrows. He looked for where he could make himself helpful - and saw three survivors clustered near a desecrated statue, talking quietly.
The knight walked to them -- noticing that there were a number of bodies here that had not been collected or cared for. Disturbed, he realized they were raiders, slain by a blunt weapon. Smashed hands, smashed knees and faces… around the square were dozens of raiders dead in a similar manner.
When he reached the villagers he asked, “Good people… what happened here?”
They looked at each other, afraid, and then -- as though it was an answer -- looked over to the ruined statue. Leaning back against the broken plinth was a skinny girl covered in blood. She held a dead woman in her arms and beside her was an enormous hammer, glittering with gold ornamentation in the morning light.
Sir Tomaso crossed to the girl. He knelt down and removed his helm, unsure if she was dead or sleeping.
With gauntleted hands, he carefully lifted the dead woman away -- setting her gently aside. He could see that the child’s skinny chest rose and fell. She was alive, but she did not wake.
“She did this all?” asked the knight, incredulous.
“She’s a demon,” whispered one of the villagers.
“We’d all be dead if…”
“Does she have any family?” asked the knight, cutting through their chatter.
“Only the mother,” admitted one of the villagers, sadly. Tomaso looked at the dead woman and then to the hammer.
The weapon was clean, not a drop of blood on it, despite its night of grim work.
“No normal child could do that…”
“She’d have died if--”
“Monsters make monsters,” said one woman, voice bitter and fearful.
“They make heroes too, sometimes,” said Sir Tomaso.
The knight carefully scooped up the girl, cradling her against his chest as he walked back towards his brothers. They were already regrouping -- a few would stay to help, but most of them needed to return to Fort Neracia and Port Amity. If there was another raid, they had to be ready to ride out fast again. Perhaps next time, they would arrive in time to do more than honor the dead.
“What have you found, Brother Tomaso?” asked his commander.
“I am not certain,” replied Tomaso. “Perhaps a miracle. I think she should come with us until we know for sure. Someone will need to go back for her hammer -- I could not carry them both. And I suspect she’ll want it, when she wakes.”