The meaty smack of the man’s fist colliding with Father’s jaw, jarred me awake. Before my head had cleared of its dreams I was at the wagon’s door peering through a gap between the planks. A narrow sliver of the world came into view and my heart skipped a beat. Father staggered and fell into the dusty road. The moon glinted off of blood on his face. A pack of dark shadows loomed over him. Bits of armor and weapons flashed.
“Loot the wagon,” someone growled. “This piss pot is done.”
The shadows prowled closer and I scrambled back from the door, my heartbeat thudding in my ears. She looked around at the dark wagon interior. Bales of furs, boxes of spices, sacks of shells all bound for the annual bazaar filled every nook and cranny. No place to hide.
"Why didn't he listen," I whispered. There had been warnings and rumors about the roads being dangerous this year. Mother had even begged him to hire guards or at least purchase a sword but he had insisted they didn't have enough money. "Now we're going to be robbed and murdered."
I dove between two fur bales, trying to slither between the tightly packed hides as the door flew open.
“There’s someone in there!”
“Well, get them out, idiot!” shouted the first voice.
I tried to pull my knees in, tried to wriggle my way farther into the shelter of the furs but I couldn't move. I resolved not to scream when they found my. All too soon, a pair of rough hands seized my ankles and dragged me from between the bales and flung me from the wagon. I hit the ground hard, sand raking my palms and forearms raw. Above me towered a man clad in a rusty coat of mail. He carried a hatchet in one hand and a pair of knives thrust into his broad belt. Shadows hid his face, save for his eyes and the tip of his crooked nose which seemed to glimmer palely in the star light.
“Looks like we found a treat!”
“Don’t touch her,” Father groaned from where he lay.
The bandit chief laughed and turned, delivering a savage kick to Father’s head. I lunged up from the ground, teeth bared. Someone grabbed me by the shoulder. I could see another one just in the corner of my eye drawing a weapon. Someone laughed, maybe that one, maybe another.
And everything changed.
Time seemed to slow down. The leader almost casually raised his hatched to bring down on Father's head. I could see the man's smile through the darkness. See his big crooked teeth. I knew he would kill us both even as something solid and substantial appeared in my free hand. A sword. A deadly, needle pointed blade just my size, with sweeping guards that encased my hand in flowing ribbons of steel. I had no time to wonder where it came from, or even what to do with it for the sword seemed to move on its own, twist me round to drive hungrily into the belly of the man holding my shoulder. His grip vanished with a choked scream. I gulped down the shock and vile surging at the back of my throat as the sword leapt free from his body and whirled me back towards the chief.
“Stop!” I screamed, my voice sounded strangely high with fear and excitement. I brandished the strange sword, trying to keep the point of the miraculous blade leveled at his chest. The big man, who seemed to be moving with a snail's, oozing slowness, paused in his killing stroke to laborously turn his gaze on me. He watched me for an instant, and then his hand ax flashed towards me. Again the sword seemed to move of its own accord, twisting the edge out in a sweeping block. Time snapped back to its usual pace as hatchet and hand spun off into the night. The bandit chief collapsed in a shrieking heap.
I rounded on the other thieves but they were already running so I turned back to Father.
As suddenly as it had appeared the sword vanished, but I hardly noticed for Father stirred from where he lay and wrapped his arm around her muttering half coherent words of comfort and thanks.