There is no warning rattle at the door. I hear it burst open as the horns bellow through the camp. Voices scream in panic outside our small house. I fall out of bed and hide in the closet just like Mum always tells me to do if the horns ever sound.
We are supposed to be safe here. Mum always tells me we are safe.
I hear him walk into my room. Boards creak under the weight of him. I move my head close to the floor and watch his boots meander around the room. He isn’t rushed. He is looking for someone.
He is looking for me.
I can only watch in horror as he turns slowly toward the closet door and I know it’s over. I wonder where Mum is hiding. Her daily warning pops into my mind.
One day, they’ll come for you, dear. You mustn’t be afraid. It is all meant to happen.
The closet door swings open. All I can do is stare up at the beast of a man. He reminds me of the gladiators Mum used to tell me about. He is draped in leather and wears a skirt. I smile and he tilts his head at me. Before I can react, he reaches down and scoops me up in his arms. My instincts kick in and I thrash uselessly against him. He is too strong and I am just a little girl.
“What is your name?” I ask as he moves out of my bedroom. He stops and stares at me before walking down the hall and out the front door. I forget the question as I take in the sight of my village. Houses burn. Bodies lie in the grass at our feet. Tears well up in my eyes when I see my friend Marco lying still on the ground.
“What did you do?” I ask him. I don’t get a response. He steps over the bodies of my friends and family as if they are nothing. I try to look away. I bury my face in the big man’s chest. The leather crossing it is smooth. I trace the markings of a bird on his left breast. The skin is raised. He flinches at my touch.
I force myself to look to where he is taking me. I avoid the ground littered with the bodies of my kin. A group of six men stand in a circle at the edge of the forest. A woman is on her knees in the middle. She has long, beautiful, blonde hair and her back is straight as a board; strong and defiant.
“Mum!” I yell, pushing against my captor. He sets me down on the ground and I’m off. The circle parts for me and she takes me in her arms. Tears pour out of my eyes as she squeezes me tight and kisses my head.
“Is this her?” one of the men ask her. She kisses me over and over before whispering in my ear.
“You will survive this, my dear.”
I pull away.
“So this is it?” I ask. She takes my face in her hands and smiles. Warmth flows through me at the sight of it.
“You were always meant to survive this,” she says again. “Don’t ever forget that.”
As if on cue, huge hands grab my arms and yank me away from her. I don’t fight. I trust her. The smile stays with her as the big man throws me over his shoulder and hauls me away into the woods. I watch Mum’s hand slide in and out of her gown. The knife is clumsy in her grasp. As I disappear into the woods, I hear her screams and know that it’s over.
“Where are you taking me?” I ask the big man. There are more markings on his shoulders and down his backside. I’ve never seen anything like them. The big man stays silent. He flips me underneath his arm with ease and I see a small carriage in the distance. A knot forms deep in my stomach.
“I will survive this. I’m meant to survive this,” I whisper.
The big man grunts in response and I look up to him in surprise. He stares down at me with a grim smile.
“No one survives this, little girl.”