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Andras Chatise ignored the rain as best he could. He had always detested the outdoors, particularly the Lowlands, and he would only tolerate short excursions when he knew that he could indulge in his vices. Leaving Bathroy to bleed some orphan dry had a certain appeal. Exposing himself to the rain, the mud and the locals in order to skirmish with some savages was another matter entirely.

‘We won’t go,’ the chanting had intensified. Much like the rain, it was steady, relentless and undaunted by the mood of his uncle.

‘You’ll go or you’ll die,’ Volo’s shouting was barely audible above the hundreds of voices. Some chanted, others cursed, but the general tone was unmistakeable.

‘We won’t go!’ The children seemed to vanish as the men shouldered their way to the front lines. Not a one of them had a weapon to hand. They looked ready to skirmish and while they had the numbers, Andras knew that his men had the superior arms.

Men on horse and crossbows will make short work of this lot. He dabbed at his mouth with a cloth and then transferred it into his useless hand. He then let go of the reins and raised his working arm to signal the crossbowmen to load. Andras hoped the horse he was atop was well trained, he lowered his arm and snatched up the reins. The horse seemed to sense his unease and it began to move about restlessly.

‘We won’t go!’

If this dull beast throws me, I’ll remove his whole arm. And that of his precious son. The Bathroy stable master had done his job, the horse settled as Andras kneed it.

His uncle was still raging, oblivious to the sounds of men loading their crossbows while the lancers moved around to give them a clear shot. Volo was right about one thing, Andras hated when his uncle was right. It usually meant having to hear about it continually. This isn’t ideal for horsemen, it’s too narrow to manoeuvre. One charge is all they will get.

The thought faded as did the chanting.

Andras looked around. It was not the disdainful glance that a noble would usually give this situation. It was a true look. For the first time, Andras saw the Scrapi woman standing before him. Her resolve was clear, as was her indifference towards Volo’s threats. She was undaunted and unbroken. She was all strength and determination and the people at her back were bolstered by the sight of her.

We must act fast, Andras dabbed at his mouth in anticipation. ‘Take aim!’ This should sort the old crone out.

Then Andras saw the stoic old woman deflect his uncle’s sword. In the same movement she drove her thick walking stick into Volo’s face. The sound of teeth breaking was unmistakable. As were the garbled screams of his uncle.

The beginnings of a smile flickered across his lips as Andras began to give the final order. The words, however, caught in his throat as two arrows bloomed from Volo’s chest.

‘The woods! They’re in the woods!’ The crossbowmen knew what he meant. They turned left and right watching their squad mates as they met the same fate as Volo Chatise. Arrows flew out of the bushes on either side of the Bathroy men faster than the crossbowmen could return fire.

Two cavalrymen charged towards Volo’s body, but one took an arrow to the neck and the second was thrown by his horse.

In all the chaos, Andras could not help but notice the intense smell of oranges.

CW SY 2013