I was walking back down the mountain when it happened, the raid. I instinctively dropped the pack on my back to face the threat. Who am I you wonder? I am the man who changes his personality depending on who is near him. I am the man who nobody every truly knows no matter how long they spend with me. That is until this trip and this disaster.
It was a walking trip to study different landscapes for my geography course or at least that’s what the school had sold it as. My fellow students and I had just seen it as a reason to get away from the endless lessons and work. There were thirty of us and five teachers on the trip and we were relishing the freedom that we were given. Now before you decide we’re kids let me tell you that this was a sixth form geography trip though admittedly not all of us studied geography.
We’d taken a boat out to the island to climb the mountain that resided there. It had been an easy climb and we’d stopped at its peak for a while before we realised it was getting dark. The descent was a frantic scrabble to get to flatter ground before darkness fell. There in lay the blame for our current predicament.
So when I saw our attackers I deposited my pack and reached a hand to my back to retrieve the sword that wasn’t there. I should have remembered that in present company I never carried it instead preferring to keep the skill unknown. Cursing to myself I unsheathed instead the dagger that was always strapped to my leg. It was too late though, as I looked around to see where my help was needed, I saw most of my companions held in the arms of our captors and the others close to being seized. One of the men approached me and I looked down at the blade in my hand and sighed. Adopting what looked like a film star’s fighting pose I struck out and deliberately overbalanced letting myself be seized by the man. He smiled at me as he bound my wrists, “don’t carry a blade if you can’t wield it.”
We were blindfolded and loaded into a wagon to face our fate wherever the men’s base was. I could sense the panic of those around me but was powerless to do anything about it. One of the teachers had decided to try and control the situation. “Okay everyone stay calm. They probably just want our valuables then they’ll let us go.”
I resisted the urge to laugh at that, the men around us didn’t. If they just wanted to rob us we would be still on the mountainside. No, these men wanted something more. I was seated at the side of the wagon and could hear one of the men walking directly behind me. “I doubt it,” I muttered under my breath. I heard a slight shift in his movements, there was no questioning that. Satisfied that I had an answer I lent my head back and passed into a deep sleep ready to face what was coming when it came.
I was woken when we arrived and by woken I mean rolled out of the wagon to wake at the impact of hitting the floor. I struggled to my feet and moments later felt a pair of hands on the back of my head untying my blindfold. Instantly I closed my eyes and it was seconds later that the cloth was removed. I slowly cracked them open letting my eyes adjust to the light that I was allowing before opening them a little more. When they were open I looked around at my surroundings seeing my companions still blinking as they tried to adjust to the sudden light.
Suddenly I was grabbed by a man and dragged into a nearby building. I looked around at the room I’d been taken too. It was a hall of some type with a large rectangle marked out in its centre. The sight of the cuffs on the metal chain along its edge made my heart beat in terror but I forced myself to keep moving. I was still as they were fastened round my wrists and the moment the man stepped back I slid to the floor. I watched as more and more of my companions were brought in; I watched as they struggled when they saw their fate and I remained silent as they shouted defiance.
One of the teachers was chained next to me and they took my silence for fear, “don’t worry we will be gone soon enough.” I turned to look at her and offered a soft smile as though I was comforted while inside I cursed her optimism. Why could she not see what was happening here?
The leader of the men stood before us and I had to work had to keep a smirk from my face; now my companions would realise that this was no joke. As soon as the thought crossed my mind I felt ashamed. They weren’t to know what was coming. “I’m going to offer you a chance to leave,” the leader said, “you will have to fight for it though.” I looked at him sharply maybe I could get us out of this.
“Fight how?” A teacher asked from my right where he was standing. Now my chance of bargaining a way out was gone.
The leader laughed and drew his sword, “Fight with a sword. If you can beat me you can go free.” I watched as he grinned evilly at the man, “you’ve just volunteered to go first.” I let out a groan as the teacher was released and lent my head back against the wall with closed eyes. I let my breathing slow and settled down to wait until the end of what would surely be a fast fight.
The teacher was unchained and a sword handed to him. He took it in an untrained hand and walked forward uneasily as he headed to the centre of the room. Our captors stood back to line the walls as the fight began. I counted my breaths until it was over wishing that I couldn’t hear the sounds of metal on metal and of swords striking home. I had just reached a count of ten when the man died. I opened my eyes to see a head on the floor. “You have a day before the next fight.”
We were left alone with the corpse of a man who until minutes ago had been one of us. A man who had been forced into a game that was not his own because I had not played my hand. Yet I didn’t regret it; I couldn’t regret it now. Later once we were out of here I could feel remorse but for now I had to play by the rules of the game that few knew. I fell asleep to the sounds of my female companions cry and the teachers trying to comfort us in broken voices.
When I awoke I knew I was the only one who had rested. I stretched out with a yawn and the teacher at my side shot me a disbelieving look. I guess they hadn’t known that I had slept in the wagon but falling asleep moments after someone had been killed was apparently a little odd. I shrugged and studied our surroundings and found little to erase my boredom. I let my mind wander as I waited for the return of our captors.
“Well, time to try again to secure your release,” a voice said from the doorway and I looked across. “Who’s volunteering?”
The chain behind my back pulled and I looked across to see a teacher standing and knew what I must do. As the men came forward to release the teacher I stood, “I volunteer,” I announced. The leader of our captures looked my way with a grin and motioned for his men to unchain me. It was with a heavy heart that I stepped forward ignoring the pleas from behind me not to do this.
I took the offered sword and gave it a testing swing and smiled. It was with confident steps that I approached the middle of the room and the man who stood there. I held the flat of the blade across my heart and offered a bow as the man across from me shot me a disbelieving look before he too bowed. “It would seem that you are a swordsman.” I didn’t bother with a reply instead taking a step to the left and starting the fight. Across the circle my step was mirrored and we began to circle with swords held out to our sides.
Suddenly we met in a clash of metal and exchanged fast blows. I locked my eyes to his watching for a hint of his next move and he did the same to me. We moved against each other our bodies almost touching and then separated before we spun apart again. I was vaguely aware of my companions watching in awestruck silence but my mind was focused solely on the fight.
I was warned moments before he lunged and took a step back. It was too late for him to pull the blow and he stumbled forward. I moved forward again darting around him to stand at his back my sword at his throat. He stiffened in my hold and let his sword drop to the floor, “kill me,” he hissed.
“We go free?” I asked loud enough for my voice to carry over the room.
“My word,” he replied and one of his men echoed him. I looked around the room at his men waiting for the inevitable blow; at my companions who were still too stunned to speak and I lowered the sword. I watched him step away and turn to face me in wonder, “Why?”
“I admire any who don’t hide who they are.” I replied glancing at the sword in my hand before I handed it to him. “I regret that I cannot do it myself.” He gave me a look so understanding of my plight that I had to look away and my gaze rested on my companions.
He followed my gaze and motioned to his men who set about releasing them from their bonds. “Of course, your friends and you are free to go,” he looked as if he wanted to say more but instead he turned away and walked to the other side of the room. I approached my friends and smiled reassuringly at them before pulling one aside and pressing a dagger into his hand. “Get them out of here,” I said, watching the dagger be concealed in his clothes.
“What about you?” He asked a little too loudly and several people glanced our way. I could sense the eyes of their leader on my back but refused to turn and look.
“I’m going to stay here for a while. There is something that I want to discuss.” I sensed the shock that sounded throughout the room but didn’t act on it. Instead I looked at the teacher who had tried to comfort me earlier, “take them back to the hotel. You’ll want to head to the west.” I fished in my pocket and drew out a compass which I passed across.
“How do you know?” One of the men asked me but I didn’t answer instead watching as my companions left. I ignored the pleading looks they shot me as though asking me to come with them but I stood silent watching them leave.
I stood alone and watched in sadness for I knew what they had lost, what I had lost, and we still had more to lose. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see their leader standing there comforting me, “you know who we are.”
“I do,” I answered calmly. “It is an honour to meet the riders of the mountain.” Around me I heard stifled gasps and I turned to look at them. “This isn’t your real base. It’s just a front for those you wish to kill.”
The leader looked at me curiously before he extended a hand and asked, “Would you like to see our real one?” I hesitated before taking the hand with a nod and letting him lead me away from the building. We walked along a track that took us down into a hidden valley and then I could see a mass of tents sprawled out before me. There stood only one permanent building which appeared to be a stable. The leader released my hand and moved his arm to rest in companionship across my shoulders. As we neared the tents people looked up and started as they saw me their eyes darting curiously to the man at my side.
Want to know the rest of the story? Look out for captured part 2 – coming the 2nd of December