Irene fired three final arrows as the enemy rushed from the shores. Then she drew the sword, determined to protect the women and children inside.
The large man approaching had blood matted in his beard and crusted on his clothes. At least some of it was his own, but Irene doubted all of it was.
"Tasty," he murmured, slashing with his blade.
Irene turned it, the arc swinging harmlessly to the ground. She used her own lighter sword and greater speed to bring the tip up his right arm. His broadsword didn't require two hands, but his left was awkward as it tried to lift the unaccustomed weight. Irene used the moment to slam her blade into the side of his neck, over his armor. He fell in a heap, blood running out in a stream. The smell of it, the taste. Her vision seemed to fill with red and her breath slowed, her grip on the sword tightening. She would stand against them all. The blood made her strong, made her mad. She dispatched the second and third man with little more difficulty. A slice to her shoulder stung and made her slower, but the pain was distant, outside the blood haze. She waited for the next.
He wasn't long coming. He was taller than the fallen men, but thinner as well. His sword was lighter as well, making him more than a match for Irene. She turned his blade as well, the blood-fire making her confident.
"What are you doing with a sword, woman?" he asked, pulling her attention to his face. Only a smudge of blood marred his sharp-angled features, though another streak darkened his otherwise fair hair. "You'll get yourself killed."
It was what her brothers had always warned her. It had gotten all of them killed. More and more men came from the shore. There was no defense left.
"I will kill you," she promised. Then she swung again, her attack easily thwarted.
The man did exactly what she'd always feared Owen would. He took her sword wrist in his free hand, catching her second thrust. His grip was so hard, so painful, she cried out and dropped her sword, her free hand going to his.
It became worse. The men rushing past into the hall were bad enough. She heard screams from the women inside, knowing what those men would do. The same thing this man was about to do.
"Tell me, sword maid, are you virgin?"
She kicked him in the genitals.
"Oh, that was unwise," he groaned. His sword hilt came to connect with her cheek. Her head spun to the side and white and red flecks dotted her vision. Her own blood coated her tongue. Instead of strong, it made her sick. He was going to hurt her, rape her, and she wouldn't be able to stop him. She would be damned before she invited him. One of her teeth shifted with her tongue and came loose. Grimacing, she spat it in his face.
He laughed and shoved her against the building, holding both wrists in one hand, pinned to the wall. She tried to kick, but he put a knee to her belly, knocking out her breath. While she was winded, he grabbed a hold of her breast through her tunic.
"Yes, I do think you'll come to regret that."
Tears burned at her shame, her helplessness. She had never been helpless before. Regardless of the futility, she fought him.
"Now, now. You are quite pretty and I'd hate to permanently damage that face, but I will if you make me." He punched her again, this time on the jaw. Her tongue, caught between her teeth, was bitten through, renewing the blood in her mouth. Once more, she found herself seeing red and white flecks, fighting pain.
She pulled with all her might, all her weight, letting her knees go limp. He lost his hold, and she rolled away.
He landed on her back, pinning her between his legs. "This will work." He put a hand to the back of her neck, pushing her cheek into the dirt while he pushed up her tunic.
"You can scream, if you want," he told her while she tried to imagine she was anywhere else. She remembered running through the woods, disappearing among the trunks, wishing she had run when they breached the shore. It wasn't working. She could feel the burning where he violated her, hear the screams of her aunts, her mother. She didn't scream. Her fear, her pain, her anger all burned lower in her body.
"I will kill you," she said again. "I will kill you all."
The man atop her either didn't hear or didn't care.