Imperials washed through the village, spitting foul words and threatening the folk. Brushing metal sounded as they unsheathed their swords and pointed them this way and that.
"Give up yer gold if yer know what's good for yer!" they yelled, fires breeding on thatched roofs. I dropped my basket and fled, leaving bundles of herbs and vegetables strewn in the road. By this time, dozens of folk ran through the village while the troops herded them like vicious dogs. I rushed inside, slamming the door shut and bolting it. The stillness of my home competed against the commotion outside, as the noise and violence begged to come indoors; smash up the pots, break the chairs and collapse the roof. I sniffed the air. My home hadn't been targeted yet.
I busied myself, checking the shutters, the locks and keeping a blade near. Killing an imperial carried a hefty consequence, but thieves taking advantage of another troop-intrusion wouldn't get off so lightly, if I could help it. I sat myself down, slowly lowering myself into the chair as if I'd have to jump up at any moment. Soon, I could hear women screaming and children crying; sounds following the protests of men. Good men, who wanted to protect their homes, their things, their families. Honest folk. I'd have been lucky to have one, but my significant other turned out to be much different.
Tentatively, I peeked through a crack in the door. Figures blurred by, accompanied by the haze of flames and a mixture of terror. But a sound pierced through the blanket of noise, close and distinct. It was a baby. Instinctively, I followed it with my eyes, straining to peer downwards through the slit in the wood. Releasing the bolt, I finally opened the door.
On the ground, neatly wrapped in a blanket, laid a baby. A small, pink bundle with a face that captured the horror of the scene. Gaping mouth, screwed up eyes and a scarlet visage. It was hard to focus on it because pairs of legs rushed by every moment or so, and a flash of metal or the birth of a fire would steal my attention. Without second thoughts, I darted out into the road and scooped the babe up into my arms. I surprised myself; how maternal, how reckless it seemed. Around me, villagers scarpered and troops came clanking in their armour. The air was damp with blood, dry with burning. I ran back. Back to the safety of my home, clutching the baby close to my chest and dodging shouts, weaving between run-aways. I got inside, fearing a chase and turned, shutting the door with a single hand and fumbling with the bolt. As it slid into place, something hit the outside with a thud. The crackling of fire was too near now. Panicked, I ran to the back, opened another door and escaped.
The backstreets were quiet, but footfalls echoed between the buildings. The delicate sounds of feet meeting the earth, not armoured shoes or screeching blades. Relief. I chose my route in a fraction of a moment and pursued it. Oddly, the baby had stopped crying and had instead buried its face in my chest, comforted by the constant rocking of my movements. The village was small and compact, and soon I was out in an open field. But I felt vulnerable here, so I ducked down near some hedges. The noise of the settlement died down as I stretched the distance. I turned, trying to see if my home was perishing, but I couldn't tell. The evening was drawing on into night now and I had no means of keeping warm. All I had was a blanket, but that was the baby's.
I found a small patch of woodland. It was a vague memory of my childhood, but I was otherwise quite lost. Still, it was peaceful. I walked around, trying to choose the best place to squat. Eventually, I discovered a tree with strange roots that jutted from the ground like ribs, forming a small shelter. I squeezed inside and dared to look at the infant in my arms.
She was warm and tiny, asleep. The shade obscured her face but I could discern her dark hair, curling in tufts on her head. I stroked her cheek with my knuckle, astounded by the little girl I'd rescued. Was she abandoned? Dropped? The latter was incredulous, but the chaos could render anyone numb and soft and foolish. However, what mother wouldn't run back for her child? I pondered. Maybe the Lord had put her there. But why? I was poor, plain and without a husband. I was barely suitable for marriage now. I wasn't a mother. I thought deeper on that statement. That didn't matter anymore. I would look after this child, and with that vow, I brought the babe closer and curled up in the darkness.