The sun rose high in the clear sky; its beams of light radiating the forest from above. Birds chirped songs of happiness, and in the thick of the forest, a single carriage moved along the dirt road. The small girl peeked her head out of the window opening to observe horseback soldiers in motion.
"How much longer?"
The soldier closest to the window turned his head in the direction of the voice. "It is merely a day ride from here, my lady."
His response reacted in her smile. The girl, alongside her mother, watched him closely. He returned her smile and bowed his head in respect. If she didn't know that Artimus was good friends with her mother, she would have thought him ill of trying to win favour with her. And she wouldn't let that happen. Not on her watch.
"It appears our little one does not approve."
Artimus chuckled and leaned forward in the saddle of his horse to meet her face more closely. "And what is it that bothers the little miss now?"
She stared at him for a second before hmphing. "Daddy told me to make sure that no bad men hurt mommy. And that's what I'll do."
"Oh," he raised his eyebrow. "I think I may know what this is about." A burst of laughter came from her mother and it sounded as good as the bird's songs. Her pout increased as they found something funny that she could not understand.
"Do not worry." A strong finger tapped her nose. "Your mother only has affections for your father."
Her lips opened to form a reply just as something fast whipped past her eyes behind Artimus. "Arggh!" A distance voice yelled before something fell to the ground. She watched Artimus, suddenly feeling a surge of panic take over her small heart. His face was no longer smiling. Instead, he watched something somewhere ahead of them before shifting back to face them.
"Stay as far in the carriage as you can, my lady."
Her mother's big hands suddenly wrapped around her small body and scooted them further into the carriage. She gasped in surprise during the action. At the same time, Artimus had disappeared from the side of the carriage.
"It's an ambush! Protect the lady!" His voice came from outside.
"Mother," she looked up into her face. "What's happening?"Her mother always looked just like her reflection, with the same brown eyes and black hair. Worried eyes focused on the sounds outside before she finally slipped her gaze to her daughter's face. She patted the side of her head before cupping her small head into her chest. "Shhh," mother cooed. "It's going to be okay." But her voice was shaky and it didn't escape the ears of Tsu-Ming.
There were more shouts from outside and it scared her into closing her eyes and wrapping her arms around her mother.
"Stand your guard. We mustn't let them reach the lady!"
Clink. Clink. Clink. Tsu-Ming recognised the sound of blades against blades, as she had frequented the training grounds on her father's manner lots of times.
"Hold them off!" Came instructions from Artimis. Not a moment later, his head peaked through the opening with frenzied eyes. "We need to get you out of here." His voice was low and held urgency. He extended his hand out to the lady and she took it. Artimus helped her as she got out of the carriage first and then grabbed for Tsu-Ming as she was still young to step down on her own. When their feet hit the ground, he quickly assisted them onto the horse brought from another soldier.
It was then she finally noticed people trying to reach the carriage who was being stopped by their soldiers. "I will be right behind you guys, so I want you to keep riding and stop for no one." Her mother nodded down at Artimus, Tsu-Ming captured between her mother's arms and the horse's reigns. Artimus kicked the behind of the horse and it gave a neigh of surprise before the horse was escaping the horror before them. Tsu-Ming honed in on the dead who lay between pools of blood. "No," she whimpered.
"Be strong for me, Tsu-Ming." She heard her mother whisper in her ear. "Don't break yet, my daughter. We will get out of this."
And even though she was scared and she wished this was all a bad dream, her mother's sweet voice always gave her courage. She nodded, silently. "That's my good girl." One minute, her mother was sitting up straight. The next. She seemed to begin to slump over Tsu-Ming and her weight was becoming heavy upon the horse. "Mother," she said. "You're crushing me." Looking over her shoulder, her eyes widened at the arrow that was driven into her shoulder. "Mother," her voice shook. "It's an arrow."
"It's okay," she replied in a low voice. "We will get-" The words drifted off her tongue as she fell from the horse and crashed to the dirt floor. Tsu-Ming would have been pulled with her if not for grabbing hold of the horse's reigns they had slipped from her grasp.
"Mother!" She yelled from the horse. Her body was still against the ground and showed no signs of responding. Arrows soared through the sky as Artimus emerged through some trees. He swerved the arrows to the ground with the block of his sword. "Artimus!" Tsu-Ming called out from the horse. She didn't know how to ride a horse, her lips trembling as she held the reigns.
An arrow wiped close to her head, the tip slicing her kneck as it zoomed past and stabbed the wood of a tree mere inches from her. "Argghh," she clutched her kneck in pain, feeling the hotness of the blood that had emerged as a result. The horse in shock reared up on all fours and she was forced to leave the grip of her kneck and clutch the horses with all the strength she could muster.
The horse broke into a gallop, diverting trees and jumping over rocks and branches.
In the distance, Tsu-Ming noticed the emergence of cliffs.
"No, No, No," she gripped the reigns and pulled. Hard. "Stop you stupid horsey!" It kept for the direction of the cliffs and decided to halt just before diving over the cliff, understanding finally dawning in its eyes. Tsu-Ming sat in the saddle, the horse nearly hanging over the cliff and silence enveloping her for this brief. Then she broke out in a horrible cry. At the horror of it all.