Happily Ever After – Extract 1

Lavie is sent to investigate an enemy camp, without being noticed…

(Please note this has not been edited.)

Leaving the horses hobbled and a man with them in case we need to leave in a hurry, we move closer. The pass is a narrow gash between two high hills. It extends about a mile and a half before opening out, and is only wide enough for three horses abreast at the narrowest point. The hills rise above, steeply at first then level out for a bit, giving a good space to place archers. It’s the ideal spot for an ambush.

I send the two remaining men to get as close to the camp at the pass entrance as they can, but decide to climb up to the ridge myself. There are fires starting to appear both on the ground and either side so I know need to be careful. I suspect we have the larger army, but without surprise we will lose much of that advantage.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. About how easily all of this comes to me. I might have shunned needle work for beating on Harry as a child, and my courtly manners consisted mostly of remembering to say good night to my husband before going to bed, but I was still raised a noblewoman. There are times when I wake up at night and wonder where this person has come from. It’s not that I hate what I have become, quite the opposite.

I think that’s what scares me most.

I shake my head and push the thoughts aside. Now is not the time to be dealing with them. I concentrate instead on scrambling up the rocky hillside. It’s not difficult, as long as I pay attention, but there’s the risk of breaking an ankle if I don’t watch my footing.

I can see the glow of a fire on the ridge, above and to my right. I can’t get much closer without risking myself, but I want to be able to bring back something useful to Brendan. Keeping close to the ground, I push on a bit higher, until I can crawl out to the edge on my belly.

The camp lies sprawled below me. Judging from the fires, I can tell their numbers are small, probably less than half ours. But that’s all it would take to hold this place for a while. Trenches have been dug at the far end and filled with sharpened logs to stop charges, and in the growing gloom I can see large boulders on the ground that must have been pushed from above. I suspect that, come daybreak, a greater number will be up on the walls, ready to harass with arrows.

I have to admit, I am impressed. I can’t think of a single thing I would have done differently of it were me in charge down there. I take another look, committing the camp, its layout and defences to memory. Fortunately all their traps lie facing the pass. There is nothing that will prevent us riding straight into their backs come dawn.

Satisfied, I crawl away and start to make my way down the hill, just as the man is making his way up. We both stop, face to face, too shocked to respond. I notice one hand is still fumbling on the laces of his britches and I almost laugh. This man is going to die tonight because he chose the wrong moment to piss.

I react first. I have no armour, no weapon beyond my dagger in order to move as quickly and quietly as possible. Stepping forwards, I shove one hand across his mouth. Before he can react, my dagger is in the other hand and at his throat.

“Not a sound,” I murmur. His eyes go wide, and then he nods, very slowly.

Cautiously, I take my hand from his mouth. When he doesn’t do anything stupid, I move behind him, keeping my blade on his throat. I push him gently with my free hand down the slope. It’s an awkward, clumsy manoeuvre, but I need him as far away from his companions as possible.

We are almost at the bottom when he stumbles over a rock. I fall forwards and he rolls away. Cursing under my breath, I launch myself at him as he opens his mouth to yell. If he gets a single sound out we are lost. My heart beats rapidly in my chest, and I’m afraid that the army will hear it, even if I do manage to silence the man.

I can feel him drawing in for a yell as I land by his chest. My elbow strikes out and I catch him just below the jaw. Instead of a roar, what comes out of his mouth is a wet choking sound. I slam my hand over his mouth again.

“That was the last mistake you will ever make,” I hiss.

His eyes beg me for mercy, but there is too much at stake for me to spare his life. My hand goes for my dagger and I curse again as I find the belt empty. It must have fallen from my grip in the struggle. No matter. There are plenty of weapons.

It only takes a moment of fumbling on the grass before my hand closes over a suitable rock. I bring it down three times, hard on his temple and watch the light go out of his eyes. I drop the rock and sit back, breathing heavily. And then it hits me. I’ve made a stupid mistake. Even if I have silenced this man, he has comrades.

And sooner or later they are going to come looking for him.

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