Talath and Deidrit huddled together in the corner of the loft, barely breathing for fear of being heard. The sounds of fighting and the screams of their neighbors had stopped some time before, but neither could find the courage to leave the sheltered hiding spot. Talath gripped the staff at his side, his knuckles white against the dark wood. Deidrit sat motionless, her eye pressed against a hole in the wood, watching the same section of pasture and wood intently. They had been clearing the sodden and rotting hay from the back of the barn when their father had rushed it, pushing them into hiding behind the spare wood box in the loft. Talath had started to follow his father but had been sent back, told to watch over his younger sister and not to move until they came back. The screams had started not long after. From her vantage point, Deidrit caught glimpses of the fight. Strangely dressed men, in long robes and brightly coloured headgear fell upon the farmers, slashing with their long axes. The farmers died quickly, though Deidrit thought she had saw her father bring down an attacker with his staff. The men had quickly searched the house and barn, failing to notice the two hidden by the wall, and rode off. For a long while afterwards, they stayed silent and hidden, in case the men returned.
"Talath," Deidrit hissed at her brother and motioned to the hole. Talath looked through and saw a figure in black pacing around the field, searching for something. They recognized him as Wynn, a strange man who had built a cabin in the thick woods to the north and occasionally came to the village and farms to sell dried meat, preserves and herbs. They watched as he bent down to the ground, rubbing something between his fingers and smelling it.
"What's he doing?" murmured Talath.
"Tal, lets go out to him."
"Dee, those people could still be around."
"Don't you think that they would have already attacked him?"
"I suppose but..."
Deidrit cut him off. "We can't just stay here in the barn. I want to know what happened to Mother and Father, and why those people attacked us."
"All right, but be quiet." Talath edged himself out from the space they had been hidden in and crept over the piles of hay to the edge of the loft. Deidrit followed close behind, keeping close to the wall. Talath peered over the edge, watching as Wynn entered the barn. The man moved easily for his age, and his eyes swept over the barn carefully.
"You can come out at any time," Wynn said. "They're gone."
"How did you..." Talath jumped down from the loft as Deidrit started down the ladder.
"Heard you breathing. The high peaked roof amplifies it slightly."
"Oh. What happened?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
"I don't know. Dad hustled us into the barn and left." said Deidrit.
"Um, I'm not sure how to say this but...your parents are dead. I found their bodies in the village green. It looks like most of the villagers and surrounding farmers were killed and stacked on a pile. I've already set it alight." Wynn nodded sadly as the two broke into tears. He quickly moved them into the house and set them before the hearth. Allowing them to vent their grief, he set about making tea. Night was falling before the pair regained their composure and sat with Wynn at the table.
"I saw men in robes and strange hats fighting in the field." said Deidrit.
"Brightly coloured hats, like layers of cloth wrapped around their heads?" asked Wynn.
"That is the uniform of the Nadrali shock troopers, but I don't think the men were from there."
"Why not?" asked Talath.
Wynn drew a leather packet from his bag and drew out a piece of torn fabric. "The fabric is from one of the invaders. I found it in the field. It is the type of cloth and weave of the Nadre forces but look closely at it."
Talath and Deidrit bent to examine the cloth. "It's covered in red dust," Talath said, shrugging. "So what?"
"The fine red dust is only common to Qendar, to the north. I think that's where the men were from. Why they want to slaughter innocent farmers is beyond me." Wynn rose and went over to the fireplace, idly stirring it with the iron poker. "The question is what to do with you two."
"What do you mean?"
"With the village destroyed, the only source of food will be what you grow here. Your livestock have been killed, save for a few chickens and the crops planted have been badly trampled. I doubt you could survive the winter on what you have here."
"We don't have too many options, I guess. Deidrit and I will walk to Rhuennan and place ourselves on the Queen's Mercy." Talath said.
"Or you could sell the farm to the crown and make your own way." Wynn replied.
"As what? A field hand on someone else's farm? It is not like Deidrit and I have many skills outside of farming."
"Good point. The sale of the farm would give you money to live on while you learned a new craft."
"What new craft? Just choose randomly perhaps?" Talath shook his head. "I don't know what to do."
Wynn sat and looked into the despondent faces of the two teens. They had the same look as the refugees of any war. The look of utter despair and indecision.
"Well, you could come with me." Wynn said softly.
"What?" Deidrit came out of her reverie and looked at Wynn. "Go with you where?"
"Why are you going there?"
"I have to report what has happened to the authorities. You two are caught in the middle of all of this. They will want to hear your account of what happened. They will be able to help you."
"Why would they do that?"
"They have been keeping a close eye on Qendar for several years. This attack as the first direct hostilities from them in years. It could mean that the time has come for action." said Wynn.
"Does this mean that Tierceron is going to war with the Qendarians?" asked Talath.
"Not immediately, but it does change some of the affairs in the higher echelons of the state. Plus, even the Queen of Rhuennan will not go to war over one incident, and it is her land which has been violated."
"So how do I get a chance to hurt them?" muttered Talath, staring into the crackling fire.
"Revenge is a poor lifestyle, Talath. And it rarely makes up for the damage it causes."
"Wynn, are you sure that we should go? The government of Tierceron has no real motivation to help us, and even the Queen wouldn't do much." Deidrit said.
"I can't guarantee anything, but this is a chance to start a new life. Your old one is gone, whether you accept it or not. I feel responsible since I should have noticed the camps of men days ago, but my own business kept me in the mountains till it was too late. By helping you two, perhaps I can make up for failing your parents." said Wynn.
"Wynn, are you a spy?"
"Not exactly. I work for both Tierceron and the Queen as a mobile agent. I keep my eyes and ears open and listen for information that might be important. My version of retirement, anyways." Wynn finished with a slight smile on his face.
Talath looked up suddenly from the fire. "I am going to Tierceron with you." he said flatly. Wynn nodded. Deidrit looked between her brother and the old man for a moment and nodded her head as well.
"Right. Try to sleep. In the morning we'll take what ever personal items from this house and lock it tight. We can register the deed at Raderlin and catch an airship to Tierceron." Talath and Deidrit got up and left the kitchen table, heading for their own rooms. Wynn sat, watching the fire and thinking on the journey ahead, part of him wondering why he had offered to take the pair along with him. "You're getting senile, old man," he said to himself and with a soft chuckle began to settle himself in for the night on the hearth.