The two-room hut was wrapped in darkness. Mara peered through a crack in the wooden board covering the window just as two armed guards marched by. She held her breath, watching when they paused on the road to scan the row of hovels.
Would they notice the boarded-up window of Helen’s cottage among the rest? Mara gripped the fire iron in her hand, ready if they came charging in. She almost expected them to. They dragged her mother away just days before, but they wouldn’t take Mara without a fight. If she had to, she would use more than the fire iron to fight them off. It was a definite risk. It could put her mother in even greater danger, and if Mara failed, the consequences would be fatal for them both.
No. She couldn’t do it. She never had to fight before, and even her unnatural gift might be no match against men with swords. Besides, if they were looking for her, exposing herself would put Helen in danger as well. The poor widow was only trying to help by hiding Mara after they came for her mother. But the magistrate wouldn’t see it that way. Helen would get thrown in chains just as fast as the others. Mara couldn’t let that happen to Helen. She was their only friend.
Even though there were almost 200 people living within the walls of Moorthrop, Mara and her mother were outsiders. They were poor, lived on the very outskirts of the village, and unlike the rest of the peasants, they had no kin that stretched back to the village’s inception. Mara’s mother had arrived in Moorthrop 19 years earlier, when Mara was only an infant. Most villagers claimed heritage to the time of the Romans. And after the fall of the empire, their ancestors were the ones who built the village, shielding themselves from the war and invasions that ravaged so much of the realm. The once great Roman Empire was still in ruins, but being just a two-day journey from the western sea, and under the protection of King Gerren in the east, Moorthrop managed to survive.
Every new moon Moorthrop opened its gates to western merchants trading in spices, linens, and pottery. The newly-appointed magistrate and his sheriff kept order in Moorthrop, and their soldiers, when not drunk, or fighting amongst themselves, manned the walls. In a world of chaos and war, this should have been a blessed thing. But the magistrate was austere, and his Christian laws cast a dark shadow on a village with no God. Now it wasn’t what lie outside the walls of Moorthrop that threatened the people, but what they had let in.