Chapter 1

I often think about the place I have learnt to call home, the familiar streets, faces and sounds. I left all that behind four months ago, riding out on a single horse. It had been hard, but it was something I had to do for myself. I had too much reliance on other people, no longer my own person. I was called 'the girl that's always with those knight's or 'Merlin's friend'. I had let my life become controlled by those around me, even if I love them – I needed to regain myself. For the first time since being here, I'm finding my own path and not relying on the paths of others to follow down.

My life was constantly on a roll there, depriving of the ability to really think about the events of the last year. It seemed as though every month I was putting my life on the line for other people, but not once did I save myself. I nearly died for Merlin – actually, I did! And I did it without a second thought – a notion that now terrifies me as I think back over it. I had been so willing. Not that I would not give my life for my friends now; that would never change but Merlin held my life in his hands for so long and all I did was nod and play along.

Merlin hadn't taken my leaving particularly well and would not talk to me in the week leading up to my departure but gave in on the day before. He admitted he felt that it was his fault I wanted to leave because the bond had been forcing me to stay around and now, I am free of it. I happily assured him it was not, and I loved every moment in Camelot. We skirted around the talk of performing the oath again one day, which I was glad for.

Castor was the only one who truly understood my reasoning, the one who supported me in the fullest. I talked about everything that had happened, from beginning to end so no secrets where hidden. He explained he felt the same after a while in Camelot, and before knighthood, spent a year travelling around. How could we travel to a foreign land and time and only see one city? He helped me pack and load my horse, wishing me safe travels. Torj wished me well too, hoping that I would return safely to Camelot when I need to.

Leon had been harder since I didn't know how to tell him. He was upset, like Merlin, thinking it was his fault. I told him Camelot remains my home, and that I would return but I hinted that he should look for someone else, asking him about the Lady Maria, to which he had responded that she was 'fine enough'. We spent my last night in his room awake until the early morning just talking and enjoying each other's company. He offered me gold to help me which I refused but found it in my bag after I left anyway. It hurt my heart just as much as I think I hurt his to leave but I am simply just not good enough – not the right family, lack of money, influence. Marriage is a strategy here. He didn't see me off in the morning but that was because I didn't wake him. My goodbyes already said, and I could not bear to do them again.

Arthur was much like Torj, not really a man of emotion but he wished me well and granted me a fine horse to take.

I wrote to Merlin at least once a fortnight, sending letters. I assume he has sent me just as many but I struggled to receive them if I was not still in the same place as where I sent them and are lost or destroyed. I have not worn a dress since I left, sticking to pants for ease of travel. In some places this earned me looks from the locals but others didn't bat an eyelid.

I used to have my bow on me, one that I stole from the armoury but while spending the night in a tavern near Mercia, I came back out to see my horse and everything on it stolen from me. I was rightfully pissed but I had my satchel with anything important in there with me, leaving me with only a few possessions and no weapon.

Which leads me to my current mission. In the city of Mercia, which is under to rule of King Bayard, there is a blacksmith who has previously tried to rip me off when I questioned the price of a new weapon. The night has fallen and my dark cloak hides me in the shadows, the hood covering my face.

The dark of the night sends people home, only some torches lighting the way and late travellers seen roaming about. I am not stupid either, I have seen enough crime shows to know how to do this. I had watched the blacksmith for the past two nights, following his routine. His home is two stories, the welding and store down on the ground and his 'home' above. He's a richer man, one who can afford to -and deserves – to lose a sword.

I would have loved another bow but the only type readily available is the crossbow which is not my weapon of choice, easier to lug around without a horse. The bow in Camelot had been one from many years ago, something they are trained in but seldom used them in battle. So a sword it is.

I peek around a corner out of the alleyway as three guards just pass. As the coast clears, I move silently to the blacksmiths. Of course, the door is locked but the man is stingy with his money, leaving a broken window only covered in a loose piece wood which can be pushed away easily. So, I do just that, tipping it so it flips, catching it on the wall and my fingers press down to stop it from falling. The window is small but so am I. Using the crate underneath my feet, I step on it, still making sure I hold to wood to the inside wall and heave myself upfront first through the window. I am screwed if somebody comes up behind or in front, but I can see around, the blacksmith nowhere to be seen. I lean down, sliding the wood along the wall until it reaches his floor where I can finally let it fall without noise.

Turning myself around so I face the roof, I use the framing of the window to pull one leg in then the other and drop down. The room is quiet, only lit by embers of a forgotten fire. Swords hang from racks on the roof, welding tools strew across a large bench. I hear no footsteps of the blacksmith and I smirk, knowing I am getting away with crime.

I trail my hand along the line of finished swords, looking at each of them closely. They all have different designs, some dark, some long, some more decorative, and some had stones in them. I get to the end of the line where I see the one I want. An average-sized blade, perfect for my height and a silver handle. The design is simple, with straight edges and a black band around it for grip. But what I love is the round emerald stone on the hilt, which turns this plain sword into a beautifully deadly weapon.

If I am being honest, it reminds me of the necklace I found back in Camelot, one I wish I had bought.

I pull it down from the rack, feeling its weight. The blacksmith may be rude and condescending, but he could rival poor Tom for quality. I have acquired a sheath earlier today from a vendor selling them for dirt cheap. I put the sword away, taking a moment to feel the weight against my hip, something I am not accustomed to.

I go to the locked door, flipping the latch to let myself out when I hear stomping down the stairs. The blacksmith, carrying a lantern and broadsword see's me, caught it the act.

"Hey!" he shrieks, running forward.

I run out the door, slamming it behind me to give myself an extra moment and run into the night, clutching my satchel and sword against me to stop them flying about. No longer in hiding, I run through the night in the middle of the street, both laughing and scared as I hear the man's profanity calling me. I turn down the alleyway I know, taking more turns throughout the city. The adrenaline pumps through my veins, as I do something I'd never thought I would have. Castor would be proud.

When I slow back down to a walk, I am at the city's edge near my makeshift campsite which is only filled with a firepit I made last night and a fallen log I rolled over. I had checked over my shoulder multiple times and nobody had seen me or followed me, but I hold my newly acquired sword at the ready for a while, just to make sure.

Once I am certain of my safety, I spend time lighting the fire and cooking meat I had bought the day just passing. I longed to hunt but without a crossbow or normal bow, it wasn't a plausible option with my lack of trap knowledge.

I have no bedroll anymore, something else I would have to find, or steal later so I use my cloak and stay near to fire to keep me warm. It is these nights I feel the loneliest, used to the squabble of men to fill the void of silence. But quiet is nice too.

The next few days I spend travelling out of Mercia, no true destination in mind but I stick to the roads. I glare at the men who pass me on horses, grumbling about my lost form of transport. One benefit of travelling on foot though, as I have learned the hard way is that my endurance has sky-rocketed, hauling my belongings on my back and side and walking for hours non-stop.

The sound of nature is a satisfactory supplement for music, almost surreal. Bird song is almost constant and sounds nothing like the Australian birds that would wake me up in the morning if I had left my window open. Not that I truly remember them, my memories of my previous life fading slowly each passing day.

As night begins to fall again, I find myself outside a small village. I don't know who's land I am in, but the village looks harmless itself. A place of warmth and a good meal. Although I would never admit it, I am grateful for Leon's coin for I do not know if I would still be alive without it. I don't know how people do this for years at a time. I have no skill to offer in exchange besides sewing but I brought nothing with me besides simple thread to sew patches in my own clothes but even that was lost when my horse was stolen.

The village is lively, children running about through a vegetable garden while the mother is sitting by, chatting to her neighbour. A blacksmith outside, hammering on his anvil. Torches line the street with loose chickens pecking away at the ground. It reminds me of Ealdor.

I wander through until I find the place I am looking for – a building with a hanging sign reading, 'The Silver Rat'.

"Lovely," I mutter to myself but push the door open anyway.

Inside is as most taverns are around these parts, quiet with men gambling and drinking away the sound of their wife's voice. Nothing like the one in Camelot. I order a meal and a bed for the night, glad to not have to sleep on dirt and sticks at least for one sleep.

I bring my meal which is simple and cheap to an almost empty table, one man at the other end alone but he does not seem to be in the mood to talk. He has long brown hair and a Roman nose, but the rest of the features are covered. I let him be, eating into my meal.

One table, in particular, is obnoxiously loud, two men drunkenly slurring their words. Just like the man at my table I pay them no mind. I manage to keep my head down and finish my meal without any interactions with others.

My plate now empty and my legs tired, I decide it is time to retire for the night. Sometimes I would find myself drinking and getting to know people – I have come across a few people that I have made friends with already but tonight was not a night I wanted to spend talking. I remove myself from the table, sauntering away to the back of the tavern to wear a few small rooms are kept for travellers such as myself.

Halfway across the tavern, I pass those men who were making a ruckus before, doing my best to ignore them when an unexpected force sends me tumbling into one of the two men. Pushing off of him, I regain my balance, glaring at the drunken man who knocked me over in the first place.

"Sorry," I mutter to the man I coincidently fell into, but he is growling, getting out of his seat and stands over me. He is taller than any man I have seen, he would make Leon, one of the tallest knights look dwarfed. He growls, revealing his yellows teeth, spit flying from his mouth. Drips of liquid mixed on his beard.

"You made me spill my drink, little girl," he snarls, taking a step closer which I didn't think is possible since now there is almost no space between us. I shake my head, stepping back to put some distance between us.

"No, I was pushed," I argue, my voice much softer than I would have liked. He leans forward, pushing his face directly into mine.

"You made me spill my drink. So…buy me a new one," he demands, eyes twitching. His friend looks on, smirking with the same feral look.

"No," I say, holding my ground. "I didn't do anything. Buy it yourself," I spit back.

Frankly, that doesn't sit well with the man. Using only one hand, he pushes my shoulder which sends me to the ground. He stands tall once again, only this time drawing a sword from his hip and points the tip at my neck.

"I won't ask again, little girl," his eyes light up, almost antagonising me to say no. "Buy. Me. A. Drink."

My hand flies to my own side, pulling my newly acquired sword from its sheath. I point it right back at him, slowly getting up. It becomes a standoff, the rest of the tavern silent as their entertainment in this dull place starts to begin. A woman with a sword which she doesn't know how to use, (not that I would tell them that) and a giant man who has scars that weren't made from kittens playing with him.

"You think you could win against me, little girl," he taunts.

I don't answer, sick of his voice so instead I swing my sword at him, aiming for the neck or face. He doges easily, moving out of my reach. He has the advantage of arm length on his side but I'm a much smaller target than he is. He swings his sword back, not even bothering for a surprise manoeuvre which I put to his cockiness. I duck, seeing the sword from a mile away. I aim back at him, aiming for anywhere where I could do a little bit of damage. The eyes, neck, his wielding hand. Even his foot.

Our swords lock and he flips his own around, sending mine away from me, onto the floor just out of reach. I stare at him, my hair frizzy and falling down beside my face and I think this may be it. But a new sword enters the fight. I follow its arm and see that it belongs to the man who was seated at my table, now standing with a smirk on his face.

"I suggest you don't," the new man warns. The giant man growls again, swinging his sword at the new man. They engage in a battle, giant man's friend now joining in, seeing that the new man actually knows something about fighting., posing a new threat. He pulls moves I've never seen before, a fighting style that Camelot doesn't train in. I dive for my sword on the ground and using its hilt, I slam it against the head of the giant's friend's head as he isn't looking. He falls to the ground unconscious, and the tavern cheers, enjoying their free entertainment. I look back to the fight between giant and the new man. The new man stays smirking, fighting him off with ease. I jump back as he picks up a jug, tossing it at him and bits fly everywhere.

New man uses the same technique I do as the giant is distracted by his cut face and uses the hilt against his skull. Both giant man and his friend lying unconscious on the ground, surrounded by spilt drink and broken ceramic.

I look up to the man who helped me, practically laughing as I do.

"Thank you," I say, extending a hand. "I'm Elena."

He looks at my hand with a frown but then reaches to join his own, giving me a half-smile.