Luka drew back her bow and fired. The arrow hit the middle of the target, a small glass bottle atop a bale of hay. It shattered into a million pieces. A flicker of a smile crossed her face, as the people around her clapped and cheered.
“A perfect shot, Luka, you’re by far the best archer in our group.” Johan’s voice boomed through the tree line.
This time of year, the surrounding forest was washed in gold, green and brown. The small crowd of town rebels, dressed mainly in brown and dark green, blended perfectly into that background.
Luka kept her expression neutral. But on the inside, she was beaming. To get that sort of praise from Johan, the leader of the group, was something to be proud of.
Johan’s wife, Marian, with their newly born son cradled in her slim arms, nodded in agreement.
To outsiders the couple would seem like doting parents, proud of their daughter’s achievements.
“May I have your attention for a moment?” Johan’s deep voice rang out to all the members of the rebel group who had gathered around Luka and the other archers.
“There will be an urgent meeting at my place and I want everybody to attend. Please, be there at sunset.”
Only a true leader like Johan could say this with such authority, without people feeling offended or commandeered.
The group quickly dispersed. Luka could feel the excitement and the questions hang in the air and she herself was curious what the urgency of the meeting was all about.
She slowly followed Johan and Marian to their modest but large hut, built on the outskirts of the township. The rebel community, which consisted of a small group of mostly men, was situated closest to the forest that surrounded the township; by far the poorest area. A perfect place to hide the Rebellion.
Luka shivered, as a cool wind caused a sudden chill in the air. She tightened the roughly sewn cloak around her shoulders and covered her long dark hair with the hood. It will be winter soon, she thought, as she looked into the distance towards the township, where the houses were very much closer together; her former home, where she had lived with her parents.
She remembered her early childhood years, the feeling of safety that came with the certainty of unconditional parental love and nurturing. That happy time was gone forever. She wanted to curl up into herself, to die then and there.
But instead, she raised her glance towards the mountains above the township, where the castle’s tall towers silhouetted darkly against the fading golden light of the setting sun. Where the royal family was living their comfortable, extravagant life at the cost of their subjects in the township below them.
Not for long, thought Luka, clenching her fists. Those greedy grubs will have to pay for her loss and for every evil act that they committed towards the towns people. It was easier to turn the pain of her grief into anger, rather than suffering the heartache.
She entered the hut, which felt warm and welcoming. Johan had started the wood fire stove while Marian lit a few homemade candles. The scent of burning wood mixed with that of the melting beeswax. It combined with the comforting aroma of herbal tea that was brewing on the stove.
Marian put down the tiny infant, who had contently fallen asleep, cheeks rosy from a good feed, into the wooden cradle.
They pushed the long rustic table and benches to the middle of the living space for the upcoming meeting. The rebels slowly trickled in, some bearing gifts of precious honeycombs in earthenware bowls, others with bunches of dried flowers and fresh herbs.
They were all familiar with Luka’s healing powers, her ability to make herbal potions for a variety of ailments and injuries. This she inherited from her parents, who were well known healers in the township.
The visitors had settled down with a bowl of steaming hot tea, while they engaged in some general conversation and banter. After a while Johan made the familiar gesture of raising his hand to command attention.
“Well folks, this is going to be a crucial time. We have all prepared for this event during the past year and I must say, I am proud of your dedication to the harsh training schedules and the great results you all have achieved.”
Johan included all rebels in the group into the penetrating gaze of his large black eyes. It always seemed to Luka that there were no secrets to be kept as Johan’s eyes seemed to bore into one’s very soul.
“The plan that I am about to reveal, is going to be extremely risky and dangerous……”
She caught Marian’s glance towards Johan. Luka noticed a nearly imperceptible tremor of her friend’s full mouth, which she tried to stop as she bit her lower lip as hard as possible. Her eyes misted over. It turned the unusual clear blue into a dark murky colour.
Only Luka knew the deep abiding love Marian had for Johan, the fiercely protective feelings she had towards him. Those two were made for each other and Luka could only imagine Marian’s fear of loosing her soulmate.
“The plan is this,” continued Johan. ” We are going to kidnap the prince and hold him hostage, until our demands are met by the king. Each of you have your own grievances and stories to tell, so I need your help to make up a comprehensive list.”
“Starting with you, Seth, would you tell us your story?”
Seth, a large muscly man, his face disfigured with a deep scar across his left cheekbone, took a deep breath and swallowed several times, before he spoke with a hoarse voice that broke at times.
“My father had been held captive and tortured for no other reason than that he was too sick to meet the quota of meat supply to the castle. They accused him of stealing part of it. He came back with broken bones and died soon after they released him. The bastards…. I want to stop this carnage.”