The sun had only recently lifted itself from the east and cast a dull glow across the ground. Long shadows stretched out from the slow, pondering column of carts, prisoners and riders. It was a sorry group, yet a number of men all carrying weapons, made their way around the group and kept them moving forward. Each of the carts was packed with prisoners of all ages whilst several more were laden down with booty, presumably taken from one of their many raids into the civilised lands of the South.

Synne’s head felt like it had been pounded by a heavy log for the last hour. She must have been unconscious for hours, as it was now only just starting to get light. She looked about but her vision appeared slightly blurred, either from drugs or concussion, or both. As her focus returned, she could see she was in a large cage that was being carried on the back of a cart. Along with her were three others, all in torn clothing though only one she recognised from her own town. It was Jonas, one of her brother’s recruits.

“Synne, you’re okay. I thought you were never going to stir,” said the man with a happy but strained smile.

Synne lifted her hand to her head and the pain kicked in immediately.

“Argh, that hurts!”

“Shh, keep your voice down or they’ll come back over,” explained one of the other prisoners.

The inside of the cart was filthy and the bars that kept them trapped were made from rusting iron that looked suspiciously like looted fencing that had been welded or bolted together to form a crude cage. A large padlock the size of a man’s fist hung from a bar to the right on what was evidently the hinged gate. She looked back at Jonas, he was a little older than her, and at times in the past they had sparred against each other under the tutelage of Ulric.

Jonas crept over to her side of the cage and after checking for guards whispered quietly.

“They don’t want us talking, they killed one of the prisoners when we left for arguing.”

“What happened?” asked Synne as she nursed her head.

“I, I don’t know. The last thing I saw was your brother being dragged away in chains along with most of the other warriors.”

“Is he here, is he still alive?”

“He was alive the last time I saw him, but I don’t hold out much for his chances. They dragged the rest of us away to this group of Raiders before we could do anything to help. You’re lucky, you had so much filth and blood on you they didn’t recognise you, otherwise they would most certainly have killed you,” replied Jonas.

“What about your family, Jonas, you have a wife and a new child don’t you?” she asked though dreading what he would say.

“I don’t know, they are with my wife’s family at the Trading Post in Jackson. They weren’t due to come back with the goods caravan for another two weeks.”

He may have been trying to stay calm, but the look of doubt and fear in his face told Synne it was playing heavily on his mind. She could easily see that this was a topic best avoided for the time being. Right now, they had more pressing concerns.

“This group that has us, who are they? What do they want with us?” asked Synne.

Jonas sat down but stayed close. The other two prisoners stayed where they were, each looking sullen and defeated.

“They are Raiders, no doubt. Do you know what the weird thing is though?” he asked.

Synne raised her eyebrow but said nothing.

“Well, we were handed to these people by the Raiders that attacked the town. I saw one of the attackers handing them coin, weird because if they were doing it to sell prisoners they would be collecting, not paying.”

“Maybe they had already done an exchange of some kind, the prisoners were just an extra. How about Haven? Is the town okay?”

Synne’s question, though honest also betrayed a sense of doom about the answer. There was little chance the town was safe after such a devastating raid.

“No way of knowing, I did see lots of smoke rising from the Hall and the library as we were taken away. I know a lot of people tried to escape during the battle but the city itself, I think it is gone now. I’m sorry,” he said.

Synne was still, she almost looked dead until she caught her breath and sighed. She looked about the cart and then as if she had been kicked, shook herself into action.

“Either way we need to get out of here, I will not be kept as a prisoner by these scum.”

“Out?” said one of the other men as he overheard their whispered conversation. The nearest leaned a little closer but kept his voice low.

“When we left there were two other men in here, where do you think they are now? The way we figure, it looks like they split everybody up and they are sending us to different places. These aren’t the people that attacked Haven, they are Raiders from the North.”

Synne looked around, trying to work out where they were.

“How do you know they are Raiders from the North?” asked Synne.

When they come a bit closer just take a look at their clothing. They all bear the marks and equipment of the Northern tribes. We’ve met them before in battle at the Flatlands,” explained one of the men.

Synne looked carefully at the guards walking alongside the carts and could just make out some of the markings and equipment. They were certainly distinctive but there was nothing she recognised, outside of the kind of gear any of the wandering tribes or Raiders might use, certainly nothing unique to this group. She turned back and whispered over to Jonas.

“How long have we been on these carts?”

“At least two days, maybe a little longer.”

“Two days? I thought we had been attacked yesterday!” exclaimed Synne, though much louder than she intended.

One of the guards moved closer to the cage and Synne did her best to look unconscious and groaning. The man watched for a moment before wandering off. Jonas leaned in a little closer and spoke quietly.

“You have been drifting in and out of consciousness since after the attack. You’re lucky they didn’t kill you on the spot, something tells me they don’t want the injured for their plans. You were awake long enough for us to load you in here. You didn’t wake once yesterday, we thought you’d had it,” he said before sitting back.

After a few minutes, Synne lifted herself up a little and looked ahead. From the side of the cart she could see the track was expanding into some kind of storage area. On one side was a small wood whilst most of the space was taken up with temporary buildings, mainly storage rooms and cylindrical tanks, probably for storing liquids of some kind. To the side of the thinly wooded area was a large wooden structure that looked to Synne like a form of crane.

“Everybody out!” called one of the Raiders.

As the gate opened, the four of them were herded out and into a group with more prisoners. Now that Synne was out of the cage, she could see the rest. A short distance in front of her cart, were another three, each packed out with men and women. The prisoners were pulled out one by one from their cages and forced to stand in three rows, all stood facing away from the carts. A dozen armed Raiders were scattered around the group and another three moved along the line with a bucket and ladle. They stopped at each person giving a small drink of water. A short distance away, there were three more Raiders, each of them mounted on a large horse, and carrying long spears. They moved slowly around the group, checking both on those inside and outside the perimeter. Synne watched them but deep down knew she could never outrun a horse and those riders looked like they knew what they were doing. Her head hurt enough as it was, the last thing she needed was a spear in her back. A dark skinned man with a scar running from his forehead down to his jaw stepped forward. He was flanked by two equally tough looking Raiders. Each man carried a curved blade on his side and one carried some form of firearm or folding crossbow in a sheath on his back.

“I am Khan, leader of this clan. You are here because you are weak and because we are not. We are not far from the market now where we will move you on to our camps. Some will have the option to volunteer to join our fine warriors, others will be taken to the mines to work. Whoever is left will be traded with the slavers, perhaps for something more useful,” he said with a laugh as he walked along the line.

As he moved, the other two guards moved along the group, checking each of the prisoners and determining where they would go. They pulled out the odd person, usually the ones that looked the tallest or strongest.

“In time you will find our clan offers safety in numbers and strength, of which we have much of both. If you try to not follow orders, you will be punished. If anybody tries to leave they will be executed, on the spot. Understood?” he asked, as he stopped.

“Now, who wants to volunteer to join our warriors?” he asked with a smirk.

The two guards started pushing men and the occasional woman to the front, though a few struggled and tried to stay where they were. One man pushed back the guard as he tried to move him.

“Stop!” barked Khan.

He marched forward and stopped in front of the troublesome man.

“What is your name?” he demanded.

The terrified looking man muttered something.

“Speak up!”

“Uh, my name is Mathew,” he finally spurted out.

“Mathew, why do you recoil from our warriors. Are they not good enough for you?” he shouted.

The man made to say something, but a signal from Khan was followed by a staff being struck across the back of his legs. He dropped down to his knees, crying in pain and humiliation.

“You’re pathetic. We have a mine that is perfect for you to work in, well, perfect until you die!” he shouted as he swung his fist and struck the man in the temple.

Mathew collapsed to the ground unconscious.

“As you can see, we give you simple choices. Respect them and you will be treated fairly,” he said.

Khan moved along the line and stopped at Synne. He looked at her for a moment, looking confused.

“What is your name?” he demanded.

“Jane,” replied Synne.

“She is from the party handed over last night,” explained one of the guards.

Khan reached out and examined her hands.

“You’re not a labourer are you? Who are you?”

“I worked in the library of Lord Galan, until you Raiders murdered him!” she said, though she was evidently trying hard to stay in control.

“I murdered him? Ah, of course,” he answered with a smile.

“You will be pleased to know then that the House of Galan is no more. Its lands have been forfeited to be split between the League and the Brotherhood, apparently,” he added.

“I think the military would be perfect for you, don’t you think?” he asked.

Synne made to speak but she was instantly punched hard in the stomach, she dropped down, retching from the pain.

“Don’t think, don’t speak, just obey and you will live!” barked Khan.

One of the guards started laughing as he pushed out two more prisoners to the front. Synne noticed Jonas was also at the front. He looked over to Synne, signalling with his face as to whether now was the time to do something. Synne turned her head, it was far too dangerous just yet. She moved her eyes up so Jonas could follow her gaze and spot the horsemen. As Jonas spotted them, Synne twisted her head, it was immediately clear to Jonas what she was saying.

One of Khan’s lieutenants walked over and spoke to him for several minutes but the sound level was too low for Synne to hear whatever it was that they were discussing. Whilst the conversation continued, Synne watched what was going on. It was clear that the prisoners were from many different places. Some were members of the great Houses, most were simply workers or traders from the large flatlands that ran across the land. She couldn’t understand why there were so many of them, the Raiders were surely not this well organised, unless they were being helped of course. They must have huge numbers in the Wastelands to be able to carry out operations like this. She started to think about the rumours she and Ulric had discussed, when a loud whistle came from over the ridge. The guards moved along the prisoners and attached manacles to each person. A chain ran from one to the next that created a series of long lines of prisoners. As they started to move off towards the storage buildings, the carts moved in the opposite direction. Synne wondered to herself if they were going into storage or more likely back to the violence and confusion of the lands she had left to find more prisoners.

“Hey, what are you looking at?” shouted one of the men as he struck Synne with a leather whip.

The rough leather made her wince and gave her a red slash across her side that stung. She turned back ahead and followed the rest of the line as they snaked through the array of buildings. It was clear this was some kind of temporary storage area or depot, though where it was in relation to her own lands she had no idea. How long had she even been unconscious? They moved past the first few buildings, Synne could see wooden crates and stacked weapons, mainly spears and axes though at least one was stacked with crossbows. Another building was full of clothing, furs and skins. They walked around the corner to be greeted by dozens of people running about. Some were carrying goods on their shoulders whilst other groups were trading wares on a series of tables.

The man that was walking behind Synne took a step closer and whispered to her.

“This must be the Horizon Market. I’ve heard of this place, it’s where you can buy anything from what people say. Food, clothing, weapons, drugs, the lot.”

“Horizon Market. I thought it had been closed down by the Brotherhood years ago in the attack a few seasons ago when we cleared large areas around here,” said Synne.

“Doesn’t look like it, does it? Who told you that, the men of the Brotherhood and you believed them?” said the man with a chortle.

The columns of prisoners continued shambling along with their Raider escort always staying close by. None of the traders or workers gave them a moment’s notice, they were obviously a common sight. They passed a long hut and then came to a raised stone platform that ran alongside a set of parallel iron rails. A great whistle came from further away and Synne was shocked to see a metal beast making slow progress along the rails. Some of the prisoners recoiled at the sight and sound but Synne was almost excited. She had read about this form of transport before but had never seen a picture of what it looked like. As the machine came closer, it slowed and then stopped with a great screeching of metal. A plume of steam hissed from the top and then it was still.

The guards made them continue their movement up onto the long raised platform that ran alongside the tracks. From this position, Synne was able to get a good look at the machine. It looked as though it was fabricated from parts salvaged from many places, as it was different faded colours. Most of the machine was taken up with a great metal cylinder, the length of two or three carts. On top of this was a platform with several men stood carrying crossbows. A vertical cylinder pushed up several feet from the top and steam trickled from it. Behind this engine part of the train were four large sections, all of which were like long metal carts and open at the top. One carried many containers that were already being unloaded. Two carried open topped metal carts full of materials of some kind, presumably from the mines Khan had been describing. The final section carried a dozen cages that were empty. It was towards these that the guards moved the first line of prisoners. These were the ones selected for work in the mines. Synne watched them go but wasn’t sorry she hadn’t been selected. The fact that prisoners went one way and materials came back was not lost on her. The mine was obviously a one-way trip.

As they stood watching, the guards relaxed a little and the prisoners were allowed to mingle a little, though they were still being watched carefully. Jonas moved slowly towards Synne and stopped next to her.

“Are we travelling on that thing as well?” he asked quietly.

Synne looked at the train in detail before replying.

“I don’t think so, look at the space they have on it.”

As she spoke, the guards walked over and called out to the prisoners. As the line moved along the pairs of prisoners were moved up to the carts that were loaded with what looked like black rocks. As each one was tipped down a ramp to waiting carts, the prisoners were lifted into the carts that were about the same size as the cage that Synne had been inside until recently. Each one took time as it took several minutes to scrape out the crumbling back rocks to make space for the prisoners.

“What is that stuff?” asked Jonas.

I think it’s coal, it looks too hard to be peat,” she replied.

“Coal?” asked the other man.

“Yes, it is mined from under the ground and is used for fuel. You can use it for heat or to power a machine like this one,” she said pointing to the noisy train.

“Have you seen one of these machines before?” asked Jonas.

“No, but I have read about them. According to some of our old books, these machines used to run from town to town across the land. It was a quick and safe way to move people and goods about. This isn’t one of those machines though, it has been built from scraps. Look, you can see steam escaping from the pipes and tubes. It is a rough copy of what somebody thought the old machines looked like.”

Jonas looked at the train and the number of prisoners and guards moving around it.

“Maybe that’s the way it used to be, doesn’t look that way now though, does it? From here it looks like an old rusting bathtub with steam coming out the top,” he said with a barely disguised hint or sarcasm.

“True, true. It does appear to work though and that is impressive.”

It took almost half an hour for all of the carts to be emptied before it came to Synne. As she was moved along the platform she was able to get a better look at the machine. As she had thought, it was roughly made from lumps of rusting iron and cylinders. What intrigued her more than the machine though was the mind behind it. There was much science in the design and construction of a steam power plant and even more to fit it inside a machine, that could move on metal tracks. The Raiders surely didn’t have the knowledge, skills or desire to create such an item. So who did?

“Come on, get in!” shouted the nearest guard.

Synne needed little encouragement however and pulled herself inside, quickly followed by her companion. As they sat down the guard lifted their chain to the side of the cart and padlocked it to a metal ring. With the prisoners secure, he jumped down and moved to the next pair. Synne turned to the man with her, she had spoken to him briefly before.

“Look, I don’t know about you but I’m going to get out of here, you with me?” she asked him.

The man sitting next to her needed little persuasion, he even looked a little excited.

“Hell yes, I’m not working for these bastards. They killed most of the people they took from my village. Women, children, animals, they killed the lot. They even burned my farm,” he said with passion.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Synne as she thought back to her own town and family.

“What did you have in mind?”

“I’m not sure yet, I’ll think of something though. Just watch for my signal and don’t do anything to draw attention,” replied Synne reassuringly.

There was much shouting and running about from the guards as they positioned themselves at key locations on the train. With a whistle from the engine and a great gush of steam, the train started to move slowly from the raised platform. As it moved Synne could feel the clacketing sound through the floor as they passed over the joined sections of the old iron tracks. They started to build up speed and in minutes were moving at a pace that could easily equal a galloping horse through the countryside. The depot and market faded away to be replaced with the open plains and its small number of hills.

“Where are we going?” asked the man.

Synne looked ahead and strained her eyes. The light was fading but she was certain she could make out the shape of mountains. She thought back to the map, their father had shown her and Ulric. At the thought of home, she felt a sick ache in her stomach. Her father was dead, her brother missing and the rest of her friends were probably scattered to slavers and traders throughout the land. She turned her attention back to her current situation and looked at the line of mountains.

“Mountains, I think we might be heading for the North of the Wastelands, those look like the Black Mountains to me.”

“The Wastelands? I thought that was contaminated, we’ve been told to never go near the place or we’ll get the sickness,” explained the man as a look of panic spread over his face.

“Yeah, I’ve heard exactly the same thing about the place though something tells me I think we’ve been lied to.”

Synne looked off to the guards, trying to find any possible chance for escape. Each of the men had a rough, weary look to them but they also looked fit and very dangerous. They were not near enough to keep a close on on Synne, but they all carried projectile weapons and she had no doubt, that excessive noise or attempts to escape would be dealt with swiftly.

“I don’t know about you but everything I’ve heard from that place is bad. We had at least two scouting parties go missing when they went to the Wastelands. We assumed it was from the sickness. If they are taking us there, I doubt we’ll see home again. Stay alert, I’ve got a plan,” said Synne mysteriously.

She strained her shoulder as she twisted around, looking for Jonas. About eight people further down she could see him, still shackled to his own cart and looking directly at her. Synne gave him a signal and Jonas responded with a nod. She turned back and looked about the cart. There were two other pairs of people in there with them and they were doing their best to avoid eye contact. It was hardly surprising, they had no reason to trust her and probably a few days ago, they were working on their farms or workshops, only to be dragged away by these men.

Her attention was drawn to the metal strip running along the top of the cart that the ring and padlock were fitted to. She slid forward a few inches so she could get a better look. The strip was held in place by eight thick brass screws that were pushed into the old wood. She lifted her hand to the surface and checked each of them, they were all firm apart from the last one that wiggled just a little.

“Ah, got you!” she whispered to herself as she proceeded to remove the bolt.

The other screws where firm however and it required a full ten minutes of digging around in her clothing and inside the cart before she found a coin pushed inside her jacket. It was damaged but perfect for this most important of tasks. The carriage continued to rattle as they travelled along the tracks and towards the mountains. As they moved on Synne worked tirelessly on the band until she had loosened and removed all but one of the screws. With a gentle pull, she could easily lift the band that held her manacles to the side of the cart. As she freed herself, one of the others in the cart spotted what she had done and made to move towards her. Synne raised her finger to her mouth to make him keep quiet.

“Ssh, I will help you as well. Keep still, we can’t try to escape until it is completely dark,” she whispered.

The man nodded and watched as Synne replaced one of the screws so it was held tight before leaning to the others in the cart.

“Loosen the screws, don’t remove them yet though. When it is dark we’ll jump and head for the mountains. Okay?” she asked.

The passengers all nodded in eagerness and waited patiently. Synne looked back further along the train to where Jonas was still watching. Synne looked to his side and indicted towards the metal band. Jonas wasn’t quite sure what she was trying to communicate but following his eyes her noticed the band on his own cart. Synne lifted her hand a little but not too much to draw attention. She showed Jonas the coin before moving it to the metal band and the screws. Jonas quickly saw what she was doing and started to look around for a tool he could use.

Synne moved backwards and looked ahead, watching for signs of trouble from the guards. So far, it was clear they were obviously far more interested in watching the horizon than the beaten and dejected prisoners. The mountains were getting closer and Synne could see the train track followed a winding course that disappeared up into their craggy heights. The sun was getting lower now and the shadows from the mountains cast long, dark shapes across the open plains. She thought back to the map and tried to work out roughly where they might be. This track was too far north for it to be the tracks they had come across during previous operations against the Raiders. Unless of course the tracks turned away at some point, and travelled parallel to the mountains rather than heading between them. Either way it didn’t matter. The sun was setting to the left and that was the west so she was heading away from home. Her plan was simple, escape to the mountains and find shelter. Then work out a way back home, find her brother and seek vengeance on those that had caused so much death and misery. It was beginning to look like it would be time soon enough.

Synne looked along the train to Jonas who lifted something metal and nodded to her. She couldn’t make out what it was but the important thing was that he had removed his metal bands the same as Synne. With just a few twists, she removed the one on her own cart and with a tug it pulled away, the chains from the six prisoners clattered to the ground. Synne’s heart fluttered as she worried they would be heard. It shouldn’t have concerned her though, nobody could hear with the noise coming from the tracks.

Are you ready?” she asked the others with her.

“Now, when we’re moving? Shouldn’t we wait till we’ve stopped?” asked one of them, scared by the speed they were travelling.

“No, that would be the death of us all. If we wait and try to escape when the train is still we will be easily spotted and they will hunt us down and kill us. They are fit, strong and well equipped with weapons. Do you think you can escape them and their crossbows?  No, we have to jump, and fast, before we hit the rocks or it will kill us anyway.”

Synne checked the others, noting each of them was waiting for the word. She turned back to the obviously frightened man.

“It is dangerous but I’m willing to risk it. Are you?”

The man said nothing, he just sat there looking terrified.

“It’s up to you, I’m going. Ready?” she asked the others.

They nodded once more and readied themselves to go. Synne signalled to Jonas and he started to move about, hopefully making himself ready to jump. Synne gave one last look to the side of the train to check the ground, it was dark but this looked like the last stretch of grass before they reached the rocks and mountainside.

“Now!” she shouted.

With great effort, the six passengers lifted themselves up to the side of the cart. The ground below hurtled past at a frightening speed. It didn’t stop Synne though who jumped first, quickly followed by the other four. As they hit the ground and disappeared into the darkness a small group from Jonas’s cart did the same. Synne hit the ground hard but did her best to roll and she tumbled along the grass until coming to a halt. The rest seemed unscathed apart from Jenson who was howling in pain on the floor. Synne lifted herself up quickly and moved over to check him. As she moved, she heard shouting from the train. As it moved away, she spotted the man who had refused to jump. He was standing up on cart, presumably too scared to jump but waving his arms and drawing attention to them and himself.

“Stupid moron, he’ll get us caught!” cried Jonas who was jogging back towards the group.

A flash of smoke came from one of the guards on the train and the man tumbled in agony from the train and hit the ground hard. Synne ran over to him, followed by two of the others. When she reached him he was already dead, his neck or back must have been broken because he was completely still, killed outright.

“Look, his stomach,” said one of the escaped prisoners.

A pool of dark blood was forming on the man’s stomach and more dripped from behind him.

“What kind of weapon could do that?” asked Jonas.

“I think I know,” answered Synne.

Several more flashes came from the train and the whistle and whine of crossbow bolts and metal rounds flew past them to thud into the ground. The oncoming fire forced the group to scatter and try to find immediate shelter in the open ground. A scream of metal came from the tracks along with shouting. The train was slowing and alongside the wheels, great orange sparks sprayed like a great display. A horrifying scream from the grinding metal of the wheels in the tracks was all the signal the group needed to know their escape had been detected.

“You idiot!” shouted Synne, as she looked down at the man who had blown their opportunity,

“Come on, they’ll be here any second!” shouted Jonas.

Synne nodded and joined them as they turned and ran from the tracks and towards the rocks leading to the mountains. Synne and Jonas rushed over to Jenson who was still groaning as the rest moved ahead.

“Move it, Jenson, we need to go!” shouted Synne.

Jonas and Synne grabbed him about the arms and lifted him up. He howled but did his best to keep moving as they followed the rest as they made their way to mountains. Eleven prisoners were running as fast as they could, but the distance between the base of the mountains seemed to be just as far by the time the train had stopped. They kept moving though even though Synne felt her lungs would burst at the exertion. A flicker of light and smoke came from the dark train and another volley of ammunition blasted around them. It did nothing of note other than to give them all encouragement to keep moving. A dozen guards were now on the ground and running towards them. Every few seconds one would stop and fire his crossbows as they went.

It all seemed to be working when one of the prisoners from Jonas’ cart was hit in the shoulder. The impact was heavy and he stumbled and then fell into the undergrowth. Synne saw him fall and would have rushed to help him apart from the fact that she was already helping to move Jenson. The wounded man stood up and as he stopped to pull out the bolt, a second struck him in the back of the head killing him instantly. His lifeless body toppled forward and to the ground.

“We can’t stop, we need to get into cover!” cried Synne.

The first of the group had reached the lower rocks that stood almost as tall as a man and some of them stopped to get their breath, whilst the rest kept moving further into the rocks. Another volley of bolts flew overhead that brought down another prisoner.

A bolt clattered off the rocks in front of them as they made their way through the rough terrain at the base of the mountain. A short distance ahead was some kind of overgrown cave entrance and some of the prisoners were already forcing their way inside. Jonas turned to say something to Synne, when he took a wooden bolt in his left shoulder and crashed to the floor in pain. As he tumbled down, he dropped the wounded Jenson and tumbled over him. Synne managed to avoid them both and ducked behind one of the rocks as more bolts flew in.

“Give me a hand,” said Jonas as he tried to pull out the bolt.

“No, leave it in, it will cause more damage of you pull it out, trust me!” said Synne as she moved to leave the safety of the rock.

“Leave me,” said Jenson, “I can barely walk now.”

“No, I’m not leaving you behind for those animals,” said Synne as she grabbed him.

Jonas stood up and though in pain still managed to grab the man’s arm to help him move.

“She’s right, we’re not leaving anybody behind for them, come on.”

Jonas tried to pull the man, but he was as strong as he was stubborn, he turned and looked at them both and then without pausing staggered away and back in the direction they had come from, right into the path of the Raiders.

“No!” shouted Synne, but she was held back by Jonas.

The two watched the man in stunned silence. A number of bolts whistled past him but somehow he managed to avoid them. Then he dropped and it looked as though he had been hit. Incredibly, he stood up, this time holding what looked like a substantial rock and continued on his rush to them. He lifted it above his head and ran the last few steps, obviously intent on striking his pursuers. Half a dozen bolts must have struck him as he stopped in his tracks and then fell backwards, a whole host of wooden spikes protruded from his torso.

“Poor bastard!” swore Jonas as he stood up.

He and Synne looked at the options ahead of them. The cave was only twenty feet or so away but there was also a rocky path leading into the mountains to the right. So far all but one of the prisoners had chosen the cave, only one of the escaped women had chosen the mountain path.

“The cave?” asked Jonas.

Synne looked at their options and then quickly back at the closing enemy.

“No, the mountain. What are the odds that the cave is blocked or leads to water and we are trapped? The mountain give us options, come on!” she cried and with a mighty effort the two rushed from their cover and to the rough track.