To my beloved Angie, hopefully one day I will be able to dedicate an actual book to you-my very own muse, who sings my song, and knows my heart- because I whispered the lyrics and allowed it to be-
All the men paused when from the dazzling sun-light stepped a shinning hawk- helmed war Goddess, dressed in a leather, hawk-crested breast plate, brown boots to her knees and a yellow tunic, a scarlet cape flew behind her.
Bewildered they did not know whether to worship her, provoke her, or let her be, though her being-evil or good was a mystery to them. She was as tall as the tallest of them; her eyes were as clear as streaming water, her hair the platinum of the east.
"There goes an amazon"one of them managed his voice unsure.
Her reply was a cry from her tanned throat and from the crashing foliage an army of women was born, their swords drawn, their bows strung.
I was amongst them, roaring like a lioness, and in other ways appearing as a beast to the men we ambushed.I am not of the valley, but the plains, far away- my skin is darker, the color of the earth as all my people of Terralin.
The myths say that we are people of the earth, we were the first to till the soil and coax forth the gifts of life, to dig and coax forth the gifts of ore, and gem that lie dormant for all peoples. Our skin is the color of the brown-red earth, our hair is as dark as the un-refined ore, our eyes as hard and shiny as the gems we mine.
Being of the earth is called primitive here in Fletalin; I am branded as a savage, capable only of carnage, war. Naturally, they want me on their side, and so I fight for the realm Fletalin, where everyone is fair, but not so fair as Commander Bryseis Grafeal. I am a man-killer; fearlessly filled with instincts that allow me to prowl like the wind, everywhere at once, make my attack like the rain.
I stood as still as a tree once the attack is over, the men we ambushed were the only obstacle between our army and Fletalin.
The soldiers remove their helms, silken hair tumbles forth, they untie their hard leather battle dresses, lift off their brazen breast plates engraved with the star of Fletalin.
I stand still with blood on my boots and tunic, all over my hands and sword, turning back to a human mind, noticing the waste of life.
"Come now"says Bryseis smiling, "There will be much feasting and festivities at the palace, perhaps we will even get you a woman"
She pats me hard and we all walk to the spring to wash the blood off, a messenger goes ahead to fetch servant girls. They come as the water runs red with gore, bearing scented soaps and oils, and clean tunics.
They all flock around Bryseis as she bathes and talks with them; the girls dry her as she faces the west and the setting sun. She kisses one, the one she has chosen for her bed, a brown haired girl who blushes and bows.
Bryseis laughs heartily and all the girls scatter to let her dress in another yellow tunic along with her leather ceremonial kilt decorated with hawk feathers dyed red and a scarlet sash to lay on her shoulder and down across her breast, it is embroidered in gold with the likeness of a hawk-her personal crest.
The rest of us dress in leather kilts over tunics, all are allowed to display their own crest in war with their shoulder guards and with their arm and shin guards if they can afford to do so.
Though I am a soldier of second rank, I have nothing more than my sporran badge to show my class. My own personal crest is displayed in my shoulder guards; the flaps are embroidered with the designs of my homeland; the clouds and fading sun symbol of Terralin.
In ceremony we are allowed our sashes and sporrans that display our badges. I used Terralin cloth my refusal to let go of some of my original traditions further alienates me when we are not in battle.
I remount my horse, as the Commander does.
None among us are brave as Bryseis Grafeal, none as handsome, none as strong, all of these qualities I admire about her, there is only one I dislike.
"Now to face that fat nagging cow the queen,"she announces once she has dressed and crowned herself with a band of gold in the shape of a hawk's head at her brow, with wings that encircle her head.
Everyone laughs, the soldiers hate queen Minestra, they cannot wait until the day Bryseis makes good of her claim on the queen, for marriage.
Once past the guard post we make haste to the palace, country peasants stop their work in the fields to watch. It has been two years since we departed on our latest journey, Bryseis' campaign to defeat our enemies in the mountain country of Niamlin and I expected cheering from the people. Instead there is a sour note that lingers in the air.
Some soldiers wave, they cannot forget where they came from; others hold their heads up towards our destination, as Bryseis who always avoids peasants. I soon understand the grim faces of the women of Fletalin. I have never understood politics; even in my own homeland, but in the Amazon Valley the government is divided. War and other such matters of diplomacy are handled by the army led by a commander while domestic matters are handled by the queen and her council of scholars. Bryseis has told me that as a child the valley was torn apart by rebellion. Her mother, Lycia commander then made a move to make all matters of Fletalin her charge, and she instilled her unfufilled dream in her daughter to carry out.
As we approach the palace I am awed by the beauty of it, there were never such sights in Terralin, no silver gilded gated palaces, nestled in great valley cities. Surrounding the palace are high stone, walls, and marked in colored gems with the old Fletalin insignias of the green owl.
The palace herself seems to reach the clouds from her lone hilltop; at her four crowns one feels as though they can look out onto the entire world. She-the palace is made from white sandstone, and is invisible in the snow, and is like carved ivory in the summer and spring months.
The surrounding city welcomes us as the country did, the merchants at their carts of fruits, breads, and meats, as well as weapons and baubles. The clerks peer at us from their shops wearily, and advocates stopped lecturing their clients to watch. In the square the militia fires flaming arrows into a woodpile to start a bond fire, as the priestesses set out offerings to the Goddess.
Before I set foot onto Fletalin for the first time I had heard many stories of great cities, of my new state I had heard very little, only of amazons with no use for men, and then I am ashamed to admit, that I thought it all a fantasy.
As we approached the court rushed out to greet us, all the wives and lovers, dressed in the personal crests of their soldiers, looked on in dread to see if theirs was lost in battle. There was then joyous relief matched with tears as they were swept back into the arms of their loves.
I lay eyes on Queen Minestra, as calm as ever, cheeks just as red as she greeted Bryseis Grafeal, with a curt kiss, her eyes filled with dread as they wandered past the fair Commander into the crowd of soldiers being reunited with their loves, as they either looked on at each other jealously wondering of the passion shared with another during their leave, or greedily trying to take in every mote of their lover's countenance.
When our gaze met Minestra smiled, then her eyes wondering back to Bryseis, they linked arms and walked into the hall, the others following.I stayed back, planning to go back down the hill and into the city, down to the fields where there was a family there whom I was great friends with.
"Roe"Vestia appeared at my arm, she was Minestra's red haired cousin, a slight woman who dealt in sorcery, she was a known harlot, a once favorite of Bryseis.
"H'lo"I said to her.
She clasped my hand and bent to kiss it, I pulled it away quickly not wanting any dealings with her.
"I am like you dear Roe, I have no one to dine with, and tonight, I will still be alone"she informed.
"I find that unbelievable,"I answered.
She pouted as a small child would, "Your words are cruel-"
My attentions turned to a sobbing woman, who wore a gold circlet in the form of an asp around her arm, the soon to be bride of a fallen warrior. A priestess was on hand to comfort her, empty words to the young woman, meaningless words.
I was suddenly very weary and allowed Vestia to tug me in any direction, her words of drinking and dancing and love-making echoing in my head, just as empty and meaningless.
The dinning hall was a beautiful sight, the food was pilled high, glistening with sugars and spices still I longed for simple fair, in simpler surroundings.
I sat with Vestia on my arm, barely eating anything, dividing my attentions between the flame haired woman and the queen crowned with a dainty silver hawk like the Commander's.
She looked bored, and I found myself wishing something would happen to make her smile, Bryseis Grafeal would have not succeeded, she was telling stories to the court of our battles, ignoring Minestra.
I could never forget her, not for a minute, I was her eternal servant, her jester, concubine, and handmaiden, all in secret.
"Without my dark sister the war would not be as full of jest as it is"Bryseis bragged and motioned to me across the table, "She killed half a dozen men today, drove down on them like a bull"she laughed, "And once she shot a man down from a bushed hill top, and none of us knew he was there, the stealthy fellow"
"It is good to here the war is going so well"Minestra spoke of.
Bryseis sighed, "Of course"
"Now maybe we can go back to trading out surplus grain with Niamlin"Minestra said.
Outraged the Queen asked, "Why wouldn't we go back to trading?"
"Because, those Niam dogs will never eat my bread, and rear another army"Bryseis answered, "If we feed wolves scraps from our tables they will soon be sitting at them"
"The people depend on the money from surplus grain for their children's tuition, the teachers are already paid next to nothing"Minestra pounded her palm on the table and I decided she was most beautiful when outraged.
"Why educate peasants in the first place?" Bryseis asked, "What use does a farm girl for books?"
"Beast"Minestra accused and stood, "Please excuse me"
Bryseis grabbed her arm, "Wait for your escorts"
"I need no escorts"the Queen spat.
"Of course you do"Bryseis insisted and sent two soldiers off with her, then brow bent she returned to her meal, she looked up at Vestia and I.
"My, are you two cozy tonight"she commented, then she pointed to Vestia.
"You. You know all the dealings of the castle, who has our queen been seeing nights in my absence?"
"I hardly think this is the time or place for such a discussion"Vestia answered boldly, "I hardly think the Queen's lovers are any business of yours since she has not promised herself to you."
Bryseis grew angry, "Thinking is an uncommonly nasty habit for a harlot to have."
"As it is for soldiers"Vestia retorted, standing and leaving the hall.
"These royal women are such babies" Bryseis exclaimed causing a great cheer from the soldiers, "Begin the music, let us dance."
The musicians began to play and Bryseis took my hand, "I will dance with my dark sister first, only if she is not angry with me for chasing away her prospects for love this evening"
I gripped her, for no soldier dishonors Bryseis Grafeal and we danced a wild peasant dance across the floor, until she found her servant girl from the spring, and the two left me to sneak away to the stables for my horse.
I galloped through the night and the city to the farm house of Myseaus, a woman of forty who worked the land with her wife Liber, and they were fortunate enough to have a daughter, a girl of seventeen Pharae. Unwanted all sorts of women bring unwanted girl children to our bridge, who have heard of Fletalin and want a peaceful life for their girls.
Peasants usually become the parents of these children, while women of status choose the children stolen during raids.
Myseaus welcomed me, she was graying, her hands strong enough to be warriors but were only used for tilling fields. At the beginning of the season I helped her, for I was raised turning earth. Working side by side with anyone as proud and strong as Myseaus was a privilege and I honored the woman graciously whenever I saw her.
I sat by the fire amongst them and drank a hearty soup, then smoked with Liber and Myseaus. Their daughter Pharae was not the girl I remembered, in not even a year she had blossomed considerably. She blushed when I presented her with a small silver chain and charm of a silver flower. For the beautiful Liber and Myseaus an ivory clock for their mantel.
"Surely this is too fine for our house," the practical Myseaus said, but when she saw that Liber had fallen in love with the finery she relented. "You honor us, Roe"
"As you honor me"I told them, and we continued to talk long into the night.
We retired late, them to their beds and me to the stables. I do not think I understand why I so enjoy sleeping amongst hay. I have the most refreshing sleep than in a bed, or even outside under the stars. Myseaus calls it an eccentricity of mine.
As I lay a top a thick blanket stuffed with hay, and dozing, another body stole next to me, embracing me.
"I turned to her, "I thought you would never come"
She laughed, and kissed me.
Another advantage of my friend's stables was the immense privacy from the court, all of them gossips.
She sighed, "That fool Bryseis has me under armed guard"
"How did you escape them?"
"They were drunk, and also grumpy at having to leave the party-two of my ladies distracted them long enough for me to escape"
It was my turn to laugh.
She sighed another sweet breath in my ear "I have not slept peacefully in months"
"No?"I asked, "Why?"
"My dreams do not allow me,"she said.
"Is there something that frightens you?"I asked.
"Then what?"I asked. "What do you dream of?"
"You. Touching me. Such a fire has started inside me, Roe, only you can quell it"
Then her lips were on my face, softly.
"I would have never returned were it not for my dreams"I began to undress her.
She made my hands still with her own, "You will all leave soon, Bryseis will have another scheme to take Niamlin-Why not quit the army? You could take charge of the militia, and when Bryseis returns-"
I sit up, "Over throw her?"
"Yes"she holds her clothes to her middle, her breasts bare, "If there is anyone-"
I put a hand to her lips, "You don't know what you ask"
"I do-"she said
"She has been kind to me--"I began
"And she is evil,"Minestra said.
"It would be betrayal-no matter"
Her palms were at either side of my face, "Am I not betrayed? I am no soldier, but I am defender of my country-she will wage war until there is nothing left. We have to stop her"
"The militia of pages and retired soldiers?"I ask, "Against the great Fletalin army? Bryseis would have the ones not killed in war, hanged"
"She will not take my land- I thought you were noble enough to aid me, but you are like the soldiers, just dogs of Bryseis, eagerly following her command-loyal to her, blind to her madness"she dresses and stands.
Her words leave me stunned, and I watch her leave my heart is stilled in my chest, refusing to beat until I stand and follow.
I quickly catch up to her and seize her arm.
"You know that I love you Minestra-and I would gladly do anything you ask"
She turned wrenching her arm away,
"Roe I have no use for your good intentions"
"And I have no use of you trying to rule me-holding your heart hostage unless I do as you command"I sighed,
"Do you not love me?"
"During these times I can love no one, no thing but Fletalin"she said and turned away.
The truth. It hurt me more than a dozen men lying dead at my feet, and I had done it all for her. Including following Bryseis.
I dropped her arm,
"And I can love no thing or no one but you"
She looked at me through the darkness of the night, eyes shinning;
"I must go,"she said then, "Before I am missed-"
"What has happened in these two years that have hardened you?"I asked.
She shook her head, "Nothing but prosperity, Roe, two wonderful years without that yellow-bitch Bryseis, they opened my eyes-now it will all end with her return, unless something is done"
Then she is gone from me, not a glance behind her as a swift horse carries her to the palace.
The one I loved, has hardened her heart to me.
I woke to heavy footsteps before me, I opened my eyes expecting to see Myseaus.
There was Commander Bryseis Grafeal in all her glory, helmed and high.
I received a stern kick in my side before I could sit up, I yelped and was instantly on my feet.
"Commander"I mutter and remember the queen.
Bryseis smiled, "Grafean. There is an uprising of peasants we must deal with"
She left the stables, and stood beyond lighting a pipe.
I dress, tempted to just grab my sword and cut her down as she stood.
But I would have sooner agreed with Minestra's plan to build an army against her.
I went out to find Grafeal mounted and ready to go.
She rode away fast, nearly everything is a competition between us, and I was glad to be match for such a champion. Bryseis had given me her name, counted me as her dark sister. She often jested that I was a punishment from the Goddess for her arrogance, one who could match or beat her every skill.
Bryseis Grafeal was always the better rider, and I was made heavy by sleep, I struggled to keep up, to her pleasure, as I questioned of the peasant uprising.
"They are burning the granary down,"she told me.
"Why would they do such a thing?"I asked.
"Who knows why gentle cows sometimes charge?"Bryseis asked, "No one is dumb enough to know but the cows, usually all they need is a strapping"she laughed, "It's a happy coincidence that the strap is made from their own hide"
She galloped ahead of me and through the open gates of town where amongst the proud buildings smoke rose like a great black monster of many arms, reaching into the sky.
The town's people were gathered around the granary, beating holes into the great cylinder store, and the grain ran out like scurrying beetles, where it was scooped up by the people, in buckets, and if one had no buckets, she used a hat or even her hands to throw it into the fire, a stack of burning grain.
The soldiers waited, watching until Grafeal showed up and ordered the peasants to stop the burning.
They seemed to pay her no mind, only scooped up the fruits of their seasons of labor in the fields and threw it into the fire.
Bryseis Grafeal dismounted her horse and grabbed up the nearest woman, who shuddered but otherwise appeared unafraid of the commander.
"Stupid sow, you dare to protest the actions of the war council"Bryseis accused shaking the woman very hard, then drawing back her hand to slap her.
"Commander Grafeal"a soldier called and pointed across the square, "There comes the queen"
Minestra came on fast riding a fat mare used to nothing more than trotting about for show. Both were disheveled, having rushed from the castle without their usual decorations, no feathered mane, no silver crown or beaded bridled, no velvet gown.
Bryseis discarded the woman who returned to scooping grain, and turned to me,
"Charge on them, sweep these warriors to drive the demons back and out of the square"
"And if they refuse?"I asked.
"Give them some blood and they shall move" she said, and went to receive the queen.
I turned my eyes to the peasants burning the grain, I could not draw my sword and attack, or sweep the army to do so, these were not my enemy, these were my friends, easily they could have been Myseaus, her beautiful Liber, or their fair Pharae.
"We should be moving on them now"a soldier said, they had heard the command given to me.
I turned to see that it was Zul, her crest was a Jaybird, she was a young one of hot blood, she would have happily hacked her sisters to pieces if it were the command of Bryseis.
"Hold back"I told her.
"They'll burn down the city"she said, her horse fidgeted as she inched it close to me.
"Hold back"I told her.
"You blatantly disobey the Commander's orders. You brown dog. Are you afraid of peasants?"she asked.
"I fear nothing but my own guilt if I hurt any of these defenseless women"I declared.
Zul turned to the soldiers; "I say we charge on them without the dark one"
A puzzled murmur went through them but none moved.
"Who will charge with me?"she asked.
I searched the square for Bryseis and Minestra, they were close by, I saw them through the flames, having a heated debate on the other side of the square.
"Do you want to charge on your own sisters?"I asked, "Those who toil the land? The ones you fight to protect? You should run your own selves through, you have defended your land only to hurt her yourself"
"I say we do as Bryseis commands,"Zul argued.
"I say hold back,"I roared.
They held back, still unsure of what to do, then the crowd hushed, as they queen began to speak.
"Gentle women of Fletalin, I know you mean well, that all unused surplus must be given back to the Goddess as an offering, since we are unable accept such gifts at this time. Still, must we burn it in the streets endangering the lives of our people? Would it not be better to use the grain to give to the Goddess's children, her deer who perish in the winter, and her birds who thin so?"the queen pleaded and the women of Fletalin listened, their reaction almost instantly of shame.
Minestra took a heavy breath as if she were very tired; her lids wavered, "Let us"
She began then paused, "Let us all gather the-"
The queen fell to her knees and fainted in the square, the women gathered around to see about her, blocking my sight.
I dismounted and ran across the square, pushing past the women, I could hear the shouts of Bryseis Grafeal telling them to clear a path.
"Here"she said lifting the weak queen onto my shoulder, "Use my horse to take her back to the castle"she pulled her mare to me, "Watch her dark sister, allow her to see no one until I deal with the peasantry"she said to me with a swift urgency, "Send the ones who were supposed to be watching her here to me"
Bryseis helped me seat the queen on the mare, and off we went back towards the castle. It was magic having Minestra so close to me, smelling the scent of her hair as it flew carelessly in the breeze.
I forced the horse faster forcing myself to ignore Minestra and become lost in the rhythmic hoof beats.
Aean and Gwain the ones who were on watch of the queen the night before, were perplexed to see me carrying in the woman they were supposed to be guarding.
"The queen"Aean gasped, she was a soldier of second rank her personal crest was a fox, and she was just as wily.
"Bryseis will have our tongues cut out and fed to the fowl,"Gwain announced helping me with Minestra into her chambers.
"The Commander wants to see you right away"I told them and was led back to the hallway by Gwain, a fanciful fool with her head in the clouds, her crest was a mermaid brandishing a sword. She was said to have been as a child stolen in a raid from a kingdom on the coast. Having heard the legends of women with fish tails for legs, she chose the mythical creature. I figured it quite silly.
"It's ridiculous,"she declared, "A queen needs not be watched like a babe"
"Why the watch?"I asked.
"Gentle, Roe"Aean smiled, "You are indeed naïve to the goings on between Minestra and Bryseis"
"The Commander hired spies before we left for the last battles"Gwain told me,
"She has made it clear that no one is to touch the queen, and left her talking dogs to document all dealings with Minestra"
I knew that Bryseis had laid claim on the queen, being the Commander she was an excellent candidate for a suitor. Minestra refused her on several violent occasions, and as I learned from my comrades Aean and Gwain, on the last, the night before the army left Bryseis had left the queen's chambers and made a great ruckus in front of the entire hall.
"She was furious"Gwain told me, "Her words were this: Minestra is mine, from this night on anyone who makes love with her shall answer to me"
"Everyone took her serious, even though the claim was ridiculous, still I have heard that when we left our queen who regularly has her choice of lovers amongst the scholars of the court was being avoided like a blight. No one wanted to be alone with her more than very short time, for fear that Bryseis would find out"
I shuddered thinking of my poor queen, alone for two years (though we swore that I would have no such dealings with soldiers and she with no members of the court) her bed cold, I was grateful though she had taken no lovers, and at the same time hurt, I had no idea the queen took part in such a selection of women.
"Aye"said Aean misreading my thoughts, "Bryseis will surely have our tongues, who knows who the queen could have been out with last night to have heard about the uprising"
My heart sank, more jealousies, I shook myself and wished my comrades luck and tried to comfort them.
They left reluctantly, and I entered the queen's chambers, she sat up on a couch drinking water.
She sighed refreshed and reached her arms for me, hazel eyes shinning, full-face smiling, black-brown curls tumbling around.
"Gentle, Roe, my true love"
The Goddess could have damned Fletalin if I entered those arms, and I still would have. Bryseis could have my tongue, she could have taken my fingers too and I still would have found a way to pleasure my queen that morning, her hair all a tangle, her heart beating like the hoof beats.
The scholar kept her head bowed as Grafeal paced a circle around her, arm draped by her scarlet cape.
"You"Bryseis shouted suddenly, making everyone in the room start, "I left strict orders that no one was to touch the queen, that she is mine, and if she ever hopes of ecstasy I will be the one to give it."
I swallowed guilt like stones, these stones tasted of the queen and I was sure she lingered on my fingers as I had just hastily left her chambers when Grafeal called me.
"Do you have anything to say on your own behalf? You are a scholar aren't you? Should you not spout something eloquent in your behalf?"
"I-I"the scholar Loadice began, and could not go on.
I imagined how she and the queen could have ended up making love, Loadice's specialty was the stars a favorite subject of my queen. I imagined them having sugar liquor and laying under a night sky, Laodice explaining all she knew, every word awing Minestra.
"She begged me"Laodice burst into a sob, "Begged me to touch her, she said there was no way you would know it was me, there are dozens of other women here-"
"You thought you could trick me?"Bryseis laughed, she looked at me, then to Laodice, "My soldiers want you punished...I will let them decided what to do...perhaps my dark sister has a plan?"
I was honored, the soldiers in the room cheered.
"Perhaps, we should duel"I suggested instantly.
Bryseis threw her head back and laughter, "Surely you who tear down men like weeds in your path do not mean to fight this fat, weak scholar?"
I drew my sword to show that I meant to fight and handed it to Laodice, Bryseis gave me her own blade.
"Let the duel begin,"she announced, turning in a swirl of scarlet.
My blade was much too heavy for the scholar she barely lifted it off the floor.
I doubled the commander's sword in a circle and brought it close to Laodice's ear, if she had not made a swift movement of her neck, her entire ear would have fallen to the floor, instead the blade nicked her.
The soldiers cheered.
The scholar fell on her ass and sobbed, cupping her ear, the Commander bent to the good side and told her,
"Back in my country those who commit adultery with the queen have the offending member cut off. Consider yourself lucky to have your hand, and tongue, now out of my sight you dog"
The scholar scrambled on her knees to the door where she stopped and turned,
"She will never love you, yellow haired swine"
Laodice quickly opened the door and was gone.
Bryseis watched, evil brewing in her heart and head, she called upon an older soldier, Voelia one of her most trusted soldiers and secretary.
"Make sure that the queen's precious pet is shown out of the gates, blindfold her, we will see how she fairs in a world of men, where her knowledge means nothing"
She smiled at me, "Very good show, Grafean. Very good"
Minestra entered the room that very minute, "What have you done, Bryseis?"
"I have done nothing"was her reply.
"Surely Laodice's ear does not bleed on it's own?"Minestra asked.
"I am a swine who knows nothing of why women bleed"Bryseis argued, "They do walk upright, which poses all sorts of opportunities to injure themselves"
The soldiers laughed.
"I would like to talk to you alone" Minestra said, "Everyone out of here"
No one moved.
"They obey no command, but mine, Queen, these are not peasants or scholars who can be moved even by your pleading" Bryseis told her.
"Send them out"Minestra commanded, "Or must you always play for your audience, even in our marriage bed?"
Bryseis stopped cold, then motioned her hand to dismiss us, we left as ordered, I was more reluctant; Minestra refused to look at me as I passed.
Aean and Gwain caught me at the end of the hall, they were merrily drunk and I scolded them.
"There is a secret celebration going on" Aean told me.
"Yes"Gwain said, "It seems the queen was with Bryseis last night, the soldier who brought the news of the uprising to Bryseis saw the queen bare armed on her belly, sleeping like a babe; she over heard the news and made her way to the square"
Aean flushed, "Bryseis is very pleased, still worried though, the queen is obviously a terrible bed-fellow, if you ask me she is much too prim and proper to be anyone's lover, maybe scholars, but not soldiers"
I grinned at her joke, but not her meaning. I knew the queen quite differently, as a passionate lover.
"Come with us. Have some wine, Roe"Gwain smiled slyly, "There is so much love in the air, all should partake in it"
Aean laughed rudely, "Speaking of claims, Gwain, you surely will face the wrath of Vestia if you bother her own dark Roe" she wrapped her in her agile arms, "Do not worry my love, I lay my claim on you"
Gwain scoffed, "You are just as bad a lover as the queen"
Then they were off leaving me standing in the hall, I went to the armory to practice shooting. I told a page near-by to bring my bow and arrows, a large weapon by Fletalin standards, it had been made by Terralin men to shoot, and I had always been as strong as the strongest.
The bow was my father's, carved from Terralin wood, and originally strung with her fibers. The arrows were ones I had carved myself I once used stone points, not the Fletalin way of sharp metal. Now my ways were there's, and I do admit that metal was much better than stone.
The few others stood down as I entered my archery was admired, and was always scrutinized by the other soldiers, as I was better than even the great Grafeal.
"Your bow, Roe Grafean"the page stood terribly close, smelling of exotic oils, her fingers jeweled. I turned to see Vestia smiling at me.
"I hope the day finds you well,"she said.
"It does,"I answered stringing my bow.
"You have no reason to lie"she said her fingers brushing my neck, "I know of your bitterness"
I sent an arrow flying into the heart of a target.
"Good shot"she exclaimed clasping her hands, as I re-strung, "I do enjoy the look on your face before you shoot, poised, determined, the strength in your arms, I see it tightening under your skin"
I shot again knocking the first arrow off its mark. I plucked another arrow.
"I wonder if you would hold me in the same way"she whispered, "Tight and quivering in your strong arms. Would you look as determined and aplomb?"
My third arrow ended up in the grass behind the target, the soldiers laughed, amused at what caused my error.
"Drop that bow and take her"someone yelled.
"Go on, Roe Grafean, she won't expect marriage, she's a harlot"was another cry.
Vestia looked up stabbing at them with fury using her eyes, she then looked ashamed, "I only came to soothe your heart, Roe Grafean, I do not care for power, I do not care if you are not the fair Commander of Fletalin"
I drew her by the arm away from the armory and to the garden a beautiful place full of sweet flowers and berries. At the fountain I turned to see Vestia crying, she drew away when I noticed.
"See, you have made me low in spirit. Me the happy harlot"
"Do not speak that way of yourself,"I told her.
"It is true. I will never be considered a proper lady, but I have never had a suitor,
I am always ignored. I grew up in the house with the great Bryseis Grafeal, and the intelligent Minestra. There are always lovers, not many wives"
I touched my hand to her face softly and she turned her face to kiss it.
I begin to sob, "She never loved me. I will not be her whore any longer, not when she marries Bryseis, not ever-"
"I always knew that you would understand, Roe, you are more sensitive than this court of dogs"she sighed, "How my spirit lifts to think of you, it scares me to think that I of all might actually love someone"
"How could you love me?"I asked.
"It is very easy with you, Roe, I heard of the way you refused to fight the peasants, you are a thousand times more noble than Bryseis, she calls you a sister, she knows you are her equal, that you could rule this land, and you will one day"she pulled close to my breast, lowered her lids and smiled relishing me.
I laughed through my tears, "I will"
"I am serious,"she said, "Do you know of the legend of the return of the great Hazure, the owl of the land"
I frowned, "I believe I have"
She laughed, "I have scried something most interesting, my gentle Roe, and tonight I shall show you, if you only allow me some time alone with you"
I was unsure until she kissed my face.
"I am your servant, gentle Roe, I want to help you know of your destiny"
"Then tonight...when?"I asked, not sure what she spoke of, but willing to entertain any new distractions.
"When the moon is directly over the castle, and shining in the court yard,"she told me, she stood on the tips of her toes and kissed me shyly as a virgin would, then left me without another word.
I returned to the armory where Bryseis Grafeal was organizing a hunting party, with the queen on her arm.
"Roe, back so soon from Vestia?"she asked.
"We merely talked,"I said after giving the queen a proper bow, something the soldiers always neglected to do, out of plain disrespect.
"The disciplined Roe"Bryseis announced, "Always so courteous to the ladies"
The soldiers laughed, I avoided Minestra's eyes but still felt them burning me like fire.
"Please join us Roe Grafean, everyone does enjoy your shooting"the queen spoke.
"I am sorry my queen, I have not the heart for it"I told her, our gazes had to be forced from each other.
"Then let us take our leave,"the queen told Bryseis who drew her off by the arm.
I turned my back, as so not to see the two of them so close, I was hurt and angry that Minestra had not told me of any plans to become engaged to the Commander. She had simply lay with me, and sent me on my way so not to arouse the suspicions of Bryseis. Minestra was no more a virgin than her cousin, if I was her true love than she a court full of them. I seriously began to doubt that my queen loved anyone but her dear Fletalin.
I rode to the home of Myseaus when I was sure the hunting party was far up the road. My friend was washing her bloody hands and happily reported that she had just slaughtered an old hog for a feast amongst the peasantry in honor of the grain burning.
"Such a matter is most dangerous in these new times of being so civil"Myseaus told me, "In the old days all surplus that could not be sold was burned, I never remember there being so much. Thanks to the queen we have had the greatest season yet, without that meddlin' the Commander does"
"Liber saw her here this morning looking for you"she said, "Frightened her, she comes from far south where the soldiers are even worse"
"Mother"Pharae called, as she appeared from the side of the barn, "Are you done with that hog?"
"Aye"Myseaus answered her, waving stained hands "I saved some blood for you"she turned to me, "I have never heard of a country girl with a weak stomach."
Pharae showed her distaste and greeted me almost quietly.
"Roe Grafean"she asked, "Why are you not out hunting with the others. I saw even the queen out on the road today."
"I had not the heart for it"I told her.
"You are down today"she said, "What is the matter?"
"You would not understand,"I told her.
"I certainly would understand"she said, "Is it about Bryseis?"
"In a way"I said.
"You've grown up since last I saw you,"I told her, "But I doubt if you are ready to hear what plagues me."
"I can offer my services as a confidant, and you don't have to listen to my naïve views if you don't feel like it."
I laugh and tell her;
"It seems I have no way. I am a petty, jealous, dog of Bryseis."
"You are no dog of Bryseis,"she tried to reassure me, "You are your own being."
"No, I hurt someone today, when she commanded me."
"This person was a guilty one?"Pharae asked.
"Only of a silly rule Bryseis made,"I said.
"Still they were guilty"Pharae said, "Rules are rules no matter how silly."
"You are much wiser in two years,"I jested.
"I am no wiser,"she laughed.
I smiled at her.
"Now gentle ladies, let's off to the party,"Myseaus said.
"Only after you change,"Liber said, she appeared with a garland for her daughter's head.
"Oh Mother not a garland,"Pharae pouted as it was placed upon her head, "I hate parties."
"We have so few of them,"Liber said to her, "And you love to dance."
I greeted the lovely Liber who kissed my cheek and enquired about the uprising.
"Everything went without one getting hurt, except the queen fainted,"I told her.
"I heard of that"Liber said, "An awful thing, all the smoke took the breath from her"
"Now"Myseaus appeared in a fine violet tunic, "Surely we are ready."
"Join us"Pharae said to me.
"Surely a soldier would not be welcome,"I begin but Myseaus stops me.
"Not a soldier, but a friend is always welcome"Mysaeus insisted.
I had no idea how welcome I was; I was quite well known amongst the farmers of Fletalin. I was the soldier who had rushed the queen back to the palace after her faint. They all knew me as the Commander's dark sister, and all night I heard of my strength and courage and gentleness.
"Is it true you shoot a bow two times wide, and three times as long as standard bows?"someone asked.
"Close to that"I had answered that and many other questions, as the women looked on in awe that awed me.
The party was held under a great canopy, the dancing done around it, I had countless dance partners that night including Mysaeus, Liber and a spry old woman, but Pharae found me and claimed me until midnight when I chanced to look up at the moon and remember Vestia.
"I must go,"I said to Pharae who refused to let me go.
"I thought you would sleep in our barn tonight"she said.
"I must stand sentry tonight"I lied, "In the west crown of the castle"
"What is there to stand for?"she asked.
"I suppose there is always something; a rule is a rule you said so yourself"I laughed to see the look on her face as her own words ruined her plans.
She too laughed, "I shall have to learn that being a woman your words will most always come back to haunt you."
She kissed my cheek, "Go on your sentry Grafean"and giving a tiny salute she returned to the party.
I rode fast to the gates and tried to confidently ask a group of soldiers the destination to Vestia's chambers. They made such a ruckus taunting me that I told them good night and went to find Vestia myself. I went to the hallway parallel to Minestra's chambers thinking that Vestia's would be near, but there were so many doors I knew not which one to knock. Where there were no torches I knew no one was, but still I picked one up and headed closer to the darkness.
I heard a low melodious singing and expected to find haints, the faint voice grew louder and when I reached the door from whence it came I opened it to find Vestia as pretty as a maid in her night gown, hair braided into a red-gold rope.
She was lighting candles around a chair facing a tall mirror that stood on two black wrought iron feet fashioned into claws.
"Roe Grafean"she padded across the room and took my hands into her own,
"Come inside, would you like wine?"
I was quite parched and said that I would, she sat me upon a sofa and brought too much wine in a wooden cup. I drank as she watched me quietly as a bold bird would closely inspect a person.I handed her the cup and she slowly drank the wine I had left; a flirtatious Fletalin tradition.
"You must take off your kilt and sandals" she told me, "Leave only your undergarment, sit over there"she pointed to the chair circled by candles.
I did so as she busied herself in a large oak closet.
I sat before the mirror and made a face at myself as I waited, in the glass I saw Vestia quickly steal behind me. I turned to see no one there.
"Roe"I heard her voice and turned, she stood before me with a fat brown wafer in her hand.
"I was at a party earlier on and would not have eaten so much if I'd known you were a baker,"I said.
She laughed, "I have never seen you in a silly mood, Roe, I rather enjoy it. This wafer has sleeping herbs in it, not the kind that helps an old woman get to sleep, but a vision herb, so that I may show you". "Vision herb"I said, and asked, "Will you eat one?"
"Are you afraid of a plant?"she asked, "I will not take one because I know how to bring on the visions, it takes years to learn and we do not have the time."
She held out the wafer, "Trust me, Roe, I will let nothing happen to you."
Wary of touching the thing I ate it from her hand like some wild creature tamed, she laughed as I chewed the wafer which was quite tasty reminding me of my girl hood in Terralin, and the celebrations we had, I used to be quite fond of sweets and would gorge myself at the great tables.
"There"Vestia spoke directly into my ear, "Relax yourself, close your eyes."
I did so.
"What ever you are thinking of, hold it there and slowly black it out and think of an owl flying high in the night, below a full moon."
I did so finding myself able to see the lone figure of the owl quite vividly.
"Imagine that you are that owl"she whispered, "Proud, strong, brown, mysterious, full over power."
"I cannot"I said, unable to picture myself as an owl.
"If you open your eyes, you'll find it quite easy"she told me.
I opened my eyes and saw through the mirror the world quickly passing as if the view of an owl soaring, I saw the ghostly flutter of wings.
"You are that owl, Roe"she whispered, "The great Hazure who made us who we are, who first chased the men from the queendom, years ago.
The prophesy says, there will come the time of the hawk, then the great Hazure shall return, angered at her divided people and she shall make right all that is wrong.
"She will come from the south as if from the mother earth herself, a warrior of the purest heart, to make right all that is wrong."
I was silent my voice then echoed through my head, "I am this Hazure?"
"You are"she answered, the owl was gone and there was nothing but darkness, and our voices ringing in my head.
"Bryseis is evil,"she told me, "No better than the men the surround us, she will sink our island if the prophesy is not true."
I thought of the peasants in the square that Bryseis ordered me to trample upon, simple women like Myseaus, Liber and Pharae, like my own mother.
"She will rape the very symbol of Fletalin, she plans to defile our queen, turn Minestra into her own slave...Is that what you want to see Roe Hazure?"
No that was not what I wanted, not ever, and I would try all in my will to stop it.
"Your prophesy will come true, Vestia, I am Hazure, the great owl, I will make right all that is wrong."
I awoke expecting the arms of Minestra, and found the red head lying next to me, still asleep; the sun crawled across me as if trying to find her face.
She stirred when I did and smiled at me,
"Good morning, Roe Hazure."
"Good morning, gentle Vestia."
She grinned, "No one has ever addressed me so."
I kissed her, and she bowed her head, then stood to fetch a basin and scented soap. Together we washed, and Vestia anointed me with lemony smelling oil that warmed my muscles and joints.
I received it all in a bliss, the oil, Vestia's kisses, and promises of the future. I realized that I should have always listened to her.
She left me, saying that there was a rap at the door.
I lay dozing, prying my eyes open as the queen appeared:
"Where is she?"Minestra asked, then gave a tiny gasp upon seeing me naked and oiled in Vestia's bed.
"Whore"she turned to her cousin, "You have your talons on her and she is not yet cold from my arms."
"She is none of yours"Vestia told the queen, "She is none of mine, she is her own."
"What do you speak of?"Minestra asked, "Is this some silly game for you, Vestia?"
"This is no game"I told the queen, "Vestia shall be my wife, I will announce to the court my claim for her, and if that claim is not challenged as it is the law, we shall be engaged."
There was a harsh laugh and Bryseis appeared, the enemy.
"My dark sister, you give me a turn"she laughed, "You two are certainly an unlikely match."
Vestia quickly handed me my under garment and I slipped it on.
"You must forgive the queen"Bryseis laughed and sighed, "She makes all the matches here her business, surely you two must be given some chance, and I will give it."
Minestra cast her eyes away from me; I saw all that we once had broken.
"I shall announce it to the court right away"Bryseis took the arm of the queen,
"Come Minestra, you silly hare. Leave these lovers alone."
They departed and Vestia shut the door, and turned on her heels,
"Have you lost your mind?"she asked.
"No"I answered putting on my tunic, then my kilt.
"I believe you have,"she said helping me with my sash, "Minestra is to be yours, you shall reunite the queendom, how will you do that with a wife?"
"I shall"I said, "We do not need to be married to make compromises for the good of the Queendom."
"I cannot marry you."
"I am the great Hazure"I jested, "I'll have any woman I want."
She laughed, and scolded me,
"Do not blaspheme."
I knelt in front of her, and she too knelt.
"No one shall ever call you a harlot again, or a whore, not in my presence, not in yours"I told her, "I'll rend them with my bare hands."
She kissed me.
"They do not bow to the queen but they will to you"I told her.
She kissed me once again,
"I don't deserve gifts from the Goddess, yet she has given me such a wonderful thing."
She helped me dress, bringing a dark green band, tying it around my head.
"The color of ancient Fletalin"she told me, "Before the violet of Minestra's grandmother, before the scarlet of Lycia and Bryseis."
I in turn helped her dress in a green gown, and was glad I was a soldier and not a lady, there was too much work in being pretty and prim.
We were the gossip of the court Vestia and I breakfasted out in the garden, on fruits and berries quite aware of the stares and hushed voices.
I left Vestia soon, Bryseis sent Gwain to fetch me, we -all of the soldiers-were to meet in the great hall. The Commander was there, behind her tacked a large map of the queendom and the areas surrounding her.
There was a greed in her heart which I had never seen, I knew she wanted another raid, I just did not know where.
"Gold"Bryseis exclaimed, "Caves and caves of gold; we shall capture the mountain people's mines, and have the men mine the gold for us."
Voelia spoke up, "What need do we have for gold?"
"Plenty of need"Bryseis told us, "The Niamlin dogs trade with gold to all of the countries, even over the sea...without it they are nothing."
Everyone was silent.
"We shall destroy them slowly by taking away their gold, they will not suspect such a tactic."
The soldiers were silent, they were thinking of the several nights they had spent in the arms of their wives, and lovers.
"What are you?"Bryseis asked, "Warriors or hens roosting?"
"I am a warrior"Zul spoke up.
Bryseis smiled, then turned to me.
"I am a warrior,"I said.
"Once we have the Niamlin mines"Bryseis said, "We will have them, we will expand our Queendom, until the world is ours."
The soldiers cheered, they were all warriors.
"We ride at dawn"Bryseis announced, then turned to Voelia to oversee the preparation weapons and horses.
I wandered the castle looking for Vestia and found her waiting for me at the stables, I found myself pleased to see her.
She greeted me with a kiss and an embrace, neither of us said a word, the day had been full of too many words.
I lived most of my life in the world of men, scorned by them, because I was skilled in their habits. I never believed I would have a lover, until I came to Fletalin and learned of their ways. I had no other woman but Minestra, and never thought that making love to another would be so different.
Vestia was like visiting another country, her landscape was much unlike Minestra's-which I explored like a raging flood too long held back by a dam. Her legs circled me as I lay between them, her hands explored my back, her arms pulled me closer. I forced myself to slow this frenzy, and was tender with Vestia, and that night I acquainted myself with this new woman, mapped out the curvy roads of her hips, and the sweet hills on her chest, the flat plain of her belly, the sloping canyon of her parted thighs, and the hot channel between them.
She woke me hours before dawn to prepare for Bryseis' trek, if she had not I would have over slept.
"Forgive me,"she said when I was dressed with my helmet under my arm, "I cannot bear to see you away."
A tear came to her eye and she turned, ashamed.
"I shall have to learn to be brave when you leave. I do not want to be as the other soldier's wives, mourning them as if they were dead-"
I walked around to face her, "I am the one who mourns, I will miss you."
She smiled and embraced me, "Until we meet again, Roe Hazure."
"Until we meet again, gentle Vestia."
My place was next to Bryseis, in the ranks, not a day before I would have given my own life to save hers, now I saw her as she really was a golden swine.
"I must apologize"Bryseis said as we rode, "The queen is very jealous of any affections her cousin receives, she'd rather Vestia to be a lonely old maid, which she is the exact opposite of. You seemed to have tamed her a bit though--"
I said nothing not wanting to invoke an argument from Bryseis; in truth I had tamed no one. I believe that gentleness is received by gentleness with all but dogs. Lady Vestia was no dog.
"We have talked-"I began, but Gwain interrupted.
"You have talked between her legs,"she laughed and Bryseis never in her life having turned a deaf ear to a vulgar joke, laughed heartily.
I grew hot in the face but said nothing.
"Who has not had such a talk with Lady Vestia?"Zul asked, happy to be included in a discussion among a senior rank.
"She's not spoken of as the deflowerer because of her garden"Gwain said, "She's the reason there is so much love making in the court, once a virgin meets her, they become as insatiable as she."
"I always knew she would find someone special to her one day"Aeagia said sensing my anger, "And what a noble choice she has found."
"Aye"Bryseis exclaimed, "That is my dark sister, killer of men, tamer of wild women."
I turned behind me, the city of Fletalin looked very small, the castle the high center of a flower. It would be two moons before I returned to her, expecting the open arms of my fiance, and my friends, but only to find a dark cloud over my fair city, the dark cloud of blight.
A week after our departure from the valley we came upon the vast mountains of Niamlin, towering above us, leering from the sky, and capped with snow.
We made camp in thick underbrush, by the foothills watching for several days before setting out to tame the slopes. None of us were experienced climbers, and even the fleetest of us were soon tired. Bryseis pressed on, determined to take the Niam dogs by surprise and stealing their gold.
After a day of climbing the soldiers were exhausted, and the cold began to bite at them through the thick furs we had brought along. The night following the first day I curled up tight and dreamed of my fiancÈ, while Aeagia and Gwain, despite the bitter chill made a fierce frolic under their combined sleeping furs.
Bryseis bidding me to see the sun rise over the jagged rocks awakened me before dawn.
"A beautiful sight eh Grafeal?"she asked as the morning blessed the new day with her rosy fingers, through which bled brilliant shafts of light that illuminated the snow.
"I would say so"I answered, we both sat upon a large rock facing East.
"You could not see such a sight from behind a palace wall-this is my dream dark sister, to see all of what the world has to offer, to make it my own"she turned to me, "Can you not agree with anyone wanting such a thing?"
"My people believe that the world belongs to no one, not even the Gods-only that we use her resources for our own prosperity, and that we must be kind-"
"Primitive talk"she interrupted, "Silly things they make up so women will stay in their place, all the while men take and take-that is what my mother the great Lycia always said of religion."
"Perhaps so"I say quietly.
Bryseis sighs impatiently, "How am I to see anything locked behind a palace wall? How am I to have the world I want with a nagging queen, and ignorant people who only want to live their lives simply and with no glory?"
"Then you should speak to them as passionately as you speak now"I say, "Go to the people-"
"How could I ever convince them to think as I do?"Bryseis asked, she seemed very much like a girl then, trying to figure a way to win friends to vote her leader of some silly game.
"I should have victories"she brightens, "They want to be impressed, they want a celebration-something to celebrate-to be proud of. They also need to know. How big and horrid the world of man is. How indecent and depraved. How protected they are, and who protects them."
Bryseis jumped from her rock and paced, really on to some new idea,
"We must have this victory and return with fanfare and stories, and they shall not turn without seeing or hearing something about me, about my army-perhaps banners- and plays, and a poem-story."
I only sit watching her wondering what this brainstorm will bring about once we return to Fletalin.
The soldiers have gathered themselves, and we are ready to press on.
This day is no easier than the last, and towards the end it seems we have happened upon a bit of luck; in a frozen, endless yawn we find a great cave in the rock. There is a marker, a rock painted with lines. There are carts tied with ropes and forgotten tools and torches.
"It must lead to the mines"Bryseis deduces, and we are lead on into the caves.
"Amazing"Gwain steals next to me once we are inside, "We are inside a mountain."
"What a happy thing to report to the court"Aeagia whistles, "That I have made love inside of a mountain."
They laugh, and I along with them-but a great rumble interrupts us, the day behind us is turned to black, as the cave is cluttered with a tumbled of rock.
Nervously torches are lit, and in the panic I hear Bryseis calling out to, I pass through the crowd of soldiers for her orders. As I do a great wind rushes past me, and several screams ring out in the semi-darkness. As the torches begin to glow bright, I see a stream of blood before me. A great rock was rigged on a rope, so when it was tripped the rock would swing out crushing all in its path.
Two women have been killed, the first soldier I do not know well, but the second is Zul, the young hooligan.
"What is this?"Bryseis yells, "The Niam dogs have set traps."
"Perhaps many more"I say surveying the damage done.
"This whole cave is a trap"Gwain says, "That rock slide was no coincidence I feel."
"We are doomed,"Aeagia gasps.
"No, there are only two fallen"Bryseis perks, "We must be wary of more traps until we find our way out."
"And if there is no way?"Aeagia asks, "Perhaps that was the meaning, to trap us in here to be killed by traps, or starved if we live long enough to."
"None of this"Bryseis collars her, "Aeagia this darkness, and any Niam traps are no match for any of us-perhaps you will succumb, but not I, and not any one who is a true Fletalin warrior."
The soldiers agreed,
Aeagia looked sick as she was let loose, Gwain comforted her, and after saying an invocation to the Goddess; we pressed on.
Minestra rode through the city dressed as a warrior would, in a tunic, her hair tied back; flanked by her own army, a battalion of medical scholars and others trained as nurse. The blight had come on soon after Bryseis left on her fool's errand, a crippling disease that turned strong women in mewling kittens. It smothered the lungs with such phlegm that they were drowned in their sleep. Red blotches patched these afflicted women, broken vessels seeping blood to the under-surface of their skin. So many had died so quickly, adding to the panic, women turned their sick ones into the street, they refused to leave their homes.
There was no one to help dispose of the dead, but the dying.
They reached the sick house over crowded with women and babies, who sat out in the street since there was no room. Two well women were pulling at a girl named Pharae who helped out, she was a peasant and did not have much of an education, but she was passionate about finding a cure, and learned quickly.
She had figured out a way to loosen the phlegm in the sick women's lungs, by steaming a herb and having all the women breath in the steams, then take turns lying on their backs while their chests were pounded by another.
"What is happening here?"Minestra demanded of the women.
They bowed immediately letting go of the girl who turned to face her.
"We have come for our daughter, Your Grace"the stoutest of them said, "We fear that she will too become sick."
"Mother I can't leave now"the girl had been beautiful when she first arrived to help, now her eyes were sunken from lack of sleep or either the blight, her cheeks sallow.
"Please"the smaller woman begged the girl, "You will surely catch the plague here of all places."
"I must help keep these people alive for as long as I can until a cure is found, then it will not matter if I catch the blight-"
"And how close are they to that?"the stout woman grew angry and grabbed one of the scholars by the collar, "Not so much-"
The small woman and girl were on her in an instant.
"Mysaeus"the small woman said, "There is no reason for violence."
The stout woman shrugged her off dropping the scholar, "I do not know how you feel Lyber, but I will not let my daughter die like this."
She grabbed the girl and slung her over her shoulder, the girl screaming and fighting.
"Please drop her,"Minestra pleaded running alongside the woman, "She has helped so much, she indeed has prolonged the lives of many."
"And I must make sure that I prolong hers" Mysaeus turned to her.
The girl gave a strangled scream, coughed, and spat a clod of blood-streaked phlegm.
Lyber gave a cry of grief as Myseaus set Pharae on the ground.
"You stupid girl"she sobbed, "Now see, you are sick-"
Pharae began to sob in turn, "I will not die Mother,"she cried, "I will not." Myseaus pulled her daughter close as Lyber hugged them both.
"I have to go,"she told her mothers, her face suddenly very brave.
"The people here need me...when we find a cure I will come back to you"she kissed them both and walked away to the sick house, glancing at her mothers sobbing in the street only once before entering the realm of death.
Minestra took her hand, "You are a very brave girl, once this is over you shall be a member of my court, as will your Mothers."
The girl gave a small nod and began to fetch water for the sick women.
Minestra helped the scholars begin to steam the roots; they began with pots, gathering women around them with blankets over their heads to trap the mist. Then Pharae thought of a great stove to fill the entire sick house with steam.
Minestra ordered forgers to make several of the great furnaces that filled the hospital with a dizzying mist. The scholars were trying new ideas for cures on different women, studying their volumes through the night, and testing their theories during the day.
Minestra spent the day pounding the red blotched chests of peasant women, and returned to the castle that evening, leaving young Pharae and the ones well enough move to run the steamers and pound into the night.
Minestra offered the girl rest in the castle, but she refused.
The panic had long reached the court turning the cheerful place into a castle of ghosts who moved coldly and silently, their soldiers gone, their people sick.
Vestia only dared to wander as she pleased, she looked as wan as ever, and spent nights in the towers keeping watch for any signs of the soldiers return. That evening she paced the hall, coming to Minestra for news of the blight.
"Has a cure been found?"she asked.
"We do not know"Minestra told her.
"Come"Vestia surveyed her cousin's countenance, "I have a hot supper and bath waiting for you."
Minestra too grateful to be surprised went to her royal chambers to find just that. "I am ashamed to say that I need some solace tonight"Vestia said as Minestra sank into her hot bath.
"You should not feel so,"Minestra said.
"I am so scared for us"Vestia said.
"As am I,"Minestra sighed, "I almost wish that Bryseis was here. I know that a blight is one thing she can not fight off with her army...still."
"I understand, it has been too long since their departure, two months with no word worries me"Vestia said, they were silent, "I believe I will follow you to the hospital from now on."
"I am happy of that"Minestra said, "Please though, do not bring any silly magic props and charms--"
"Why not?"Vestia asked outraged.
"Science will wage this war against the blight, we do not need idle."
"What do you think science was born of?" Vestia asked.
"I know very well where science was born of, it is reason, instead of saying the products of magic is of will or spirits"Minestra scoffed.
"Grafeal is as superstitious as they come "Vestia argued "-And Roe believes in sorcery."
"Soldiers"Minestra scoffed again, "Roe is not what I thought her to be."
"Because she will not put up with your courting of scholars in her absence, and Bryseis"Vestia interrupted.
"What use can I have for a warrior who does not want to fight?"Minestra asks.
"What do you expect of her?"Vestia asks, "She is everything you thought of her before the start of all these events. Now, I of all people have her heart."
"Why take her heart if you feel you do not deserve it?"Minestra asked, she began to bath herself.
"No one has ever wanted mine, or acted like they wanted mine, and she is kinder and gentler than any person in this realm, scholar, soldier, peasant or priestess...what burns me is that I know she will be back in your arms the first chance she gets. Bryseis will have both your heads-"
"For the sake of my people, I will wed Bryseis, for then on I will have only her"Minestra said, rinsing herself of suds and soap, then standing.
Vestia fetched a robe and wrapped her.
"Can you of all women claim to be faithful to such a bull as Bryseis?"
Vestia gave a sly smile, "She is wonderful ‘tween the sheets, still not at all like Roe."
"That is true"Minestra whispered stifling a smile, "Still Bryseis will already be suspicious of me, I will do nothing to invoke her anger, or harm Roe."
Vestia sighed, "Cousin, what of your own happiness?"
"My own happiness will be to stop all of this silly warring and do something to better Fletalin, to educate our people...I want no radical revolution, I have learned from my mother's mistake that revolution is not the way, if she had started a gradual change things would be quite different today."
"There would still be no sorcerers," Vestia said, offering a plate of bread and cheese to her.
After a week will still found ourselves shut up in that cave, wandering forward, all the while the Niam traps snared us like rabbits. Over fifty women were slaughtered in that one-week, and Bryseis had nearly gone mad.
"I do not know who to fear more"Gwain confided in me, "And my poor love Aeagia, she too is barely holding together."
The torches had gone out days before and we learned to sense each other through touch, and sound. Each time I stood next to Aeagia I could feel shivers wracking her body sometimes she refused to move, usually after another trap was sprung.
When she became like this Gwain would promise to marry her once they returned home, and promised that she could wear a white gown and a garland, and ribbons if she wanted to.
"There will be a huge feast my love"Gwain was telling her, "All in honor of our union."
Bryseis called for us, me and Gwain who left her beloved in the hands of another.
"Those Niam dogs will not have us"The commander ranted, I felt her hand grip my shoulder firmly, "There must be a way out of this hell."
"If it is hell then there can be no way out,"Gwain said.
"That has to be that fool Gwain"Bryseis said, "The women are already half mad from the darkness, and the death, she means to help them along into lunacy."
Gwain was gone then, and the two of us stood together, the footsteps of shuffling soldiers about us.
"I am loosing them Grafeal"she said, "I would fear a mutiny, but they cannot see me"at this she gave a mad cackle.
The shuffling all around us grew into a stampede that nearly masked a rumbling that had become lethally familiar to us.
"Another trap"Bryseis pulled me back.
I shook her off and ran towards the clamor,
"Bring light"I called, "Bring light."
The last of our torches were lit and shined into our latest tragedy, a trail of blood ran from another rock fall, in it on her bent knees was Gwain, squinting heavily from the light her hands folded over the top of her head.
"My love"she murmured, "My precious Aeagia."
I noticed then the sun, it's shine burning my eyes though I recognized it as being one of a fading day. It caused Gwain to mourn with her eyes shut, while the rest of us gladly suffered as we stared up high at the gaping hole in the wall of the cave.
"Your grace"one of the peasants called as Minestra and the scholars rode on the hospital, "The girl Pharae has fallen ill."
"No"Minestra muttered, she jumped off her horse before it could stop, she stumbled and the peasant helped her straight.
Vestia sighed; she had grown to admire the brilliant peasant girl who helped at the hospital. The girl had figured a way to steam a certain herb that let out vapors that loosened the horrid diseased phlegm.
As they went into the steamy hospital, the sick were like ghosts in the white smoke.
Vestia did not seem to be disturbed, her hair glowed through clouds, blood fallen in milk.
They went to where Pharae was fallen, frightfully calm.
Minestra took her hand, "Do not worry, Pharae, we will surely find a cure."
Pharae said nothing, she was quite ill.
"Look it's the witch"the girl finally said looking up into Vestia's eyes, the look of death was there, making the queen's cousin wince.
"Not quite"Vestia replied, not perturbed.
The girl laughed then coughed and spat into a cloth, "Roe Grafeal has chosen nicely."
Minestra sighed, "Have you been listening to peasant gossip?"
The girl laughed dryly, "I heard this from Roe's own lips. She thought I was a foolish girl, not such a fool that I could not see into her heart."
Vestia stepped back.
"Poor thing"Minestra said, then turned to Vestia, "They say batty things sometimes, when the illness gets very bad."
"Batty am I now?"Pharae asked, "So very batty that I know why the sickness spreads so?"
"The city's well system"Pharae shook her head, "It is so silly we should have figured it long ago...so many used the wells to gather water, they dump their waste--"
"Goddess, what shall we do?"Minestra asked.
"I am a country girl"Pharae said, "You will have to figure it yourself."
"Rest"Minestra told her, "I will tell your parents-"
"Tell them nothing"Pharae said, "Tell them that I give them my love, I am too busy today to see them, say I am in good spirits and bringing hope to the sick people here. Tell them that I apologize for not being able to graze the cows and that I send them my love too...act as if I am not sick at all."
Minestra nodded, "I will, you rest."
The girl nodded and lay back onto her cot.
Minestra walked a few paces then paused to clear an itch in her throat, a strange substance, she opened her mouth and spat. In the gloom she could not see, but she knew, that the horrid blight was beginning to lay claim on her.
The next day near the time we had discovered the hole, an entire day after the death of poor Aeagia; I stood before it swinging a sword bent into a hook around my head.
"It needs to go out and catch onto something"Bryseis said, "A nook in the rock perhaps"
"It's as high above us as the top of the palace wall would be,"I say still swinging.
"This is our only hope"Bryseis said.
I let go of the hook and it fell short of even the edge of the hole.
"Try again Grafeal"Bryseis moaned.
I swung again and the bent sword flew somewhere into the darkness, the knot had not been secured.
As the women fetched around in the darkness for it, Bryseis clutched my arm.
"My dark sister, if anyone can pitch that contraption out of here, it is you."
I nodded, the sword was tied to the rope, and to the rope was tied cloaks, furs and any other thing that could be strung together.
My third try sent the hook soaring out of the hole, catching on to something sturdy.
The soldiers cheered as I tested my weight and began to scale the wall. Our number had lessened since we were first shut inside the cave, but I was sure we were too many to each climb the make shift rope.
I felt the many fabrics and furs grow taunt under me and I was degraded several inches. I quickly scrambled higher, but found myself sinking fast, the edge of the hole began to darken a bit as small pebbles began to rain on me. I gripped the rope tight as more rocks fell, each sheet heavier than the next.
Below the commander called for me in alarm. I began to climb down the rope resisting the blows of rock that battered me against the wall. I felt my grip loosen and too fell like a stone to the floor of the cave.
Their farm seemed a desolate place that particular winter a dead place in a dying country. Lyber paused from bringing in the wash to see it all, it had been days since she had laid eyes on anyone but Myseaus, before the blight there had always been passing neighbors to call to-and without Pharae a drab air had taken over
"Hello"a voice called and she started, then looked up to see Roe.
"Oh, Goddess, Roe Grafeal"Lyber fell into her arms sobbing.
"Gentle, Lyber"she was puzzled knowing the worst had happened, "Tell me what is the matter?"
She sobbed not able to speak.
Myseaus appeared, once a hearty woman she was as haggard as a beggar.
"There is a blight here"she said, "Already many women have been carried off to death, if that were not bad enough the black hands seized our Pharae."
"No"Roe spat, "She is not dead!"
Lyber in her arms still only sobbed shaking the both of them.
Myseaus hung her head.
"My friends"Roe's voice caught in her throat nearly, "Surely--"
"She was buried last week"Myseaus said, "They wanted to burn her as they do the other corpses, but not my Pharae. If only she had stayed home instead of playing healer in town."
Roe clutched Lyber and cried myself for the beautiful, wise girl.
"The queen was on our side, she understood, she and the scholars have been trying to find a cure all of this time."
"The queen?"Roe asked.
"She risks her very life to help the sick" Myseaus said, "She is even more spirited than her mother."
"She is not sick?' Roe asked.
"We have not been into town to hear from her, news does not travel as well as usual,"Myseaus said.
"My friends, I tell you now your gentle Pharae has not died in vain."
They watched as the brave soldier galloped towards the hospital seeing all the devastation that blight had left in its stead
The hospital haunted by the sick and the newly returned soldiers gaunt from their journey, driving people inside, some of them were bricking the top of a well. Minestra stood weakly with the aid of a crutch, dressed in blood stained finery.
Bryseis was before her on horseback her hand extended.
Minestra refused her, "I will not run and hide, I am as sick as the peasants here, do you mean to quarantine me too?"
"Whatever it takes."
"What is happening here?"Roe asked appearing from the crowd gathered in the street.
Minestra watched her, just as wan as the other soldiers looked, and a little stooped over on her mount.
"Surely you now know of the blight that has taken residence during our absence."
"Now I have come to take action, I am holding all these people to this hospital so they cannot infect others. All those who I find out are sick will be brought here. The wells are being shut."
"And what of the cure?"Minestra asked.
"There is no cure as far as I am concerned,"Bryseis growled.
"There is a cure?"Roe asked.
"Silence"Bryseis yelled, "Get to a post."
"I will call a meeting"the queen said, "Then we shall decide."
"There will be no meeting only action" Bryseis dismounted, seizing Minestra by the wrist.
"I am still queen"Minestra ripped herself from Bryseis's grip with surprising strength,
"We will all meet at the castle--"
"The castle-"Bryseis muttered, "Fine if a meeting is what you want, you'll have it, until then the sick stay here."
"Grafeal"Bryseis turned to Roe, "Ride ahead to the castle, prepare the court"the she lowered her voice "And a proper sick room along with some physicians for the queen."
Grafeal did as she was told casting a worried glance back at her queen.
The court was deserted as Roe ran the halls announcing the return of the soldiers and Bryseis and the meeting.
Vestia almost did not believe that her love had returned, limping painfully, but alive.
Roe paused out of breath from heralding; Vestia had not known her to become fatigued so fast.
"Roe"Vestia called, and ran into her embrace.
"Gentle Vestia"Roe savored her presence, "It is good to find you well."
"Awful things have happened,"she said.
"I know"Roe answered in tears struggling to catch her breath.
"Are you hurt?"she asked.
"It is only my age catching up with me" Roe jested breathlessly.
"No, you are hurt"she put her hands to the soldier's bruised ribs, "You have been struck a mighty blow."
"It did not kill me or lame me."
"Only a happy median"she sighed, "Surely you must not go on any more crusades, you must retire."
"No"she insisted, "Tell me what happened-"
"Not now"she tried to pull away from her.
"Was it so terrible?"she asked her eyes wide.
Roe nodded, "There will be much more grief, for we did not conquer the Niamlin mines, they nearly took us all "a sob caught her and Vestia drew her into the garden, where they sat.
"Roe, please, tell me what has hurt you so."
"Bryseis"she gasped, "She's a fool; we went into the mountains ready to fight, in truth we knew nothing of the passes and caves, and the traps set by the Niamlin men."
"Dark hideous things, it was days before we saw the light again, then women kept getting snapped up in traps, we only figured then that it was a Niam trick to trap enemies down there, starve them, or get them killed in one of their awful snares. I can remember the great rush of air and then the screams of soldiers in pain, one was even snapped up right next to me, and young Zul, she was killed, and dear Aeagia she was killed. Now I come here, to my home and find more dead."
"How were you hurt?"Vestia asked.
"We found a way out, but there was a tumble of heavy rock, I was nearly crushed, but by the hair on my head I was spared, still I was trapped for hours.
The fool Bryseis would not rest until I was freed, she kept me talking to her as she urged the other women on, tore her own fingers trying to dig me out. I fear that she really can love, but does not know how to, perhaps I thought, perhaps she has seen the error of her ways and wants to change. I was just as much a fool as she, now she wants to quarantine all the women, to just let them die. The only reason she has called this meeting is to trick Minestra into coming to the castle."
Vestia put her arm ‘round her, "You see. Now you believe, soon my love it will be time to act, to show Bryseis Grafeal that you are her master and you shall be the master of all Fletalin."
"First things first"Vestia said"You must win the people, save them from this blight, the scholars know the cure, but it is outside of this realm, sold in the Niamlin market."
"I will go with or without the blessing of Bryseis."
Minestra sat flanked by two of her scholars, just strong enough to sit up, her wits just as feeble as her body.
"As I have said before"Bryseis continued, "All sick will report to the hospital where they will stay."
"You have no right to hand out death sentences, to these innocent women"Minestra told Bryseis.
"I have every right if they stand to eventually kill all of Fletalin with their dreadful blight"Bryseis said.
Roe was next to her, brown hands balled up into fists, Vestia stroked her fore arm trying to calm her. Minestra noticed how beautiful they looked together, very noble and very much in love.
"I have say in this realm and no one will be locked away as a prisoner, for nothing but deeds of evil against Fletalin, you should be put away right now for trying to break such a rule"Minestra told Bryseis angering her.
"You are surely delirious from fever, no one talks to me that way"Bryseis was truly angered.
"I will talk"the queen answered, "I will tell what is on everyone's mind right now. Where are half of our soldiers? Are they in the Niam mountains dead?"
Bryseis stood pounding her fist on the table startling Roe and Vestia;
"They died honorable deaths-"
"They died fighting for shiny rocks, miles from their home and people, there can be no honor in that"Minestra stood too with the aid of her scholars.
"How dare you?"Bryseis Grafeal asked, "How dare you question what I lead my soldiers to?"
"I do more than dare"Minestra said, "I challenge you to send some of them out to fetch the cure for the blight, to prove to me that they can do something for their land."
Bryseis walked towards her, "I have to prove nothing to no being but the Goddess."
"You of all are pious, Grafeal?"she asked, "Then surely this is a holy mission, to save these children of the Goddess."
"I barely have any soldiers to spare for anything, let alone another crusade"Bryseis retorted, "Maybe one, and of their own volition."
Minestra turned to the soldiers, "Which of you brave ones are willing to go on a quest to save your people."
"I shall"a young soldier stood, "I have returned to find my family dead-"
Bryseis's glower stopped her cold,
"You've lost your reasoning. Bah. Does anyone have a better cause for going on such a journey?"
There was shift in the room as Roe stood carefully, she had been wounded, Minestra could see, but still she stood, leaving her red headed lover to look up at her with reverence.
"My dark sister"Bryseis sounded as if she had been betrayed, "Surely you do not mean to get yourself killed after meeting with death just weeks ago."
"There should be nothing for me to fear, the cure is quite far from Niamlin, I look like a Terralin, I shall pose as a merchant buying wares, then be on my way."
"Surely"Bryseis said, "Surely you do not want to leave the comforts of the castle, the arms of your lover, I hardly believe she can stand another of your departures."
"She has seen the terror of the blight" Roe said, "She has insisted that even if I am by her side, my lady cannot be happy until everyone is well again, neither can I."
"Then, noble lovers; you shall go Grafeal my sister...you have been most loyal to me and I will allow this mission"Bryseis said, "To be carried out at your leisure."
"I shall go immediately"Roe stood and bowed to the queen then took Lady Vestia's hand.
Minestra watched them go, she did not notice Bryseis walk to her.
"Come"she said, "You will rest here in the castle until Roe returns."
"I must go back to the hospital-"she began.
"It will only be a matter of days before the cure arrives"Bryseis said, "You will not live those days if you are on your feet constantly...then I will rule Fletalin."
Minestra stood on uneasy feet, "I am in no mood for politics, Bryseis."
"Neither am I"Bryseis revealed, "I am weary, just as you are."
The Queen allowed herself to be drawn to her quarters as Lady Vestia and Roe came upon their own.
Weary; we lay for a moment in silence.
Lady Vestia then dressed my bruised ribs in strips of linen plastered with a lemony salve.
"Do you believe in magic?"she asked.
"I am curious of it, since you have shown me some"I said.
"Then would you believe that if in a spot of trouble I could help you hastily from this very room?"she asked.
"That is hard to believe,"I told her.
"Have my circlet"she said talking the silver band from her arm, there was an almondine of amethyst there.
I laughed a little remembering the stories I had heard of almond shaped jewels and amazons, what they represented.
So not to seem as though I ridiculed Vestia's idea, I put the circlet aside.
"I missed your own sweet almondine"I jested and found it beneath Vestia's gown and kissed it until she purred.
"Return to me soon"she said, "I am impatient to spend the rest of my life at the whims of you lips."
I agreed that I would and left her; Voelia had a cart prepared for me, and the clothes of a merchant, including a hat of coarse fur.
I redressed and met my farewell party, Bryseis, Voelia and Gwain; who kissed my cheek, and promised that she would come after me if I did not return soon.
I told them goodbye and they wished me luck, Bryseis was drunk and nearly maudlin. I left them forcing myself not to glance back at the land I had come to love.
It took a day for me to ride out to the merchant's road, I had a big brown tow horse and cart, and fell into the line of travelers going to and fro.
I passed many travelers, merchants as I was supposed to be, and several whole families whose little ones waved, smiling at me. There loners ones too, scoundrels, thugs waiting for the chance to rob a merchant or a family. As I approached Niamlin there were knights on patrol bearing the land's insignia on the breast.I found a back road hoping to come across a village. My search was for a certain root, Fletalin's name for it was philadendrum, but I could not use the language for fear of being found out.
Vestia had drawn up a picture of the root so that I could show it. I realized that I may have forgotten it and began to check my person. A sudden sound caused me to look behind me, there was nothing; still I knew someone was following me. I stopped my horse and dismounted.
There were men in the woods, most likely robbers.
I drew my sword and waited, listening as their leader made up his mind if I was I was formidable. I turned and remounted, never letting my guard down; I rode on the men following me not at stealthy as they though.
I let them figure I had only thought I heard a natural sound of the woods, and had forgotten.
They were planning to ambush me I could hear them dividing, there were nine of them, four to my right, three to my left, two behind me. I kept my horse at a steady pace and went about my way, until they decided to attack.
I leapt from my horse and drew my sword, driving it backwards into the heart of one coward; I then turned to the side and belted his cohort in the nose with the heel of my hand. I turned to my right barreling into four men, falling two. I broke into a run noting my surroundings as I ran.
They followed, I had only killed one, and I reminded myself to be careful of the remaining six. I jumped into a tree and waited for four of them to pass, then jumped for the two who lagged.
I killed one, and the other came for me, yelling for his comrades.
Our swords locked, he was stronger, I was more clever, I stomped his foot and pushed him backwards pinning him to the ground with my sword and taking up his for the last four.
They were thugs as I predicted, having not been trained they were all brawn.
Having slain them all I went to the last;
"Don't kill me,"he begged.
"I will not, unless you attempt more harm on me,"I told him, "Worthless robber, killing innocent merchants for their purses."
"We are not killers,"he told me, "Only slavers, the dark ones like yourself have come to fetch a good price in Niam markets. We capture any strays we can find."
I ripped my sword from him, causing him to moan pitifully.
Taking his sword I ran back to my horse, and rode on to a village reminding myself to be careful. I could not turn back even if Terralin were being captured as slaves.
The village was a small and the market place was so, still I found what I was looking for. I saw no slaves in the place and figured that the thug was lying or only the rich owned slaves.
My cart full I turned back towards Fletalin, taking a night to rest in the woods.
I woke up at dusk to shouts, men and whips.
I sat up on my bed of bowers, and heard the language of Terralin, ones screaming prayers of deliverance. I dressed quickly and found the sources to be a train of slavers and slaves being driven to Niamlin.
I followed them the morning not sure what I would do, most of the thirty slavers looked to be soldiers. Surely I could not battle them.
Around noon the party stopped; the soldiers rounding the captured ones into a great pack, like cattle, daring them to stray.
I watched them from afar, watching them, my people; men, children, women- old fathers, and old mothers-stolen from their homeland.
They were frightened and if I began to attack the soldiers alone, I was unsure if I would have any aid from them. I made a circle around the party- and came upon a large rock, where I was sure I could get a good vantage.
Minding my wound, I halfway scaled the rock, when I was violently yanked and pulled to the ground. I drew my sword, while leaping to my feet and found that my attacker a Terralin girl dressed like a warrior-with a sword.
If I had not moved from her blow, explaining in a hushed tone in the language of Terralin, she would have surely killed me, for she was ready that day to battle.
I dropped my sword and showed my hands to prove I meant no harm.
She disarmed me and told me to stand.
"Who are you?"she asked.
"Roe Prictkal"I told her using the surname I had not used in years.
"Prictkal?"She asked, "As in the second Providence?"
"I am from there and I have never seen you among the Prictkal clan,"
she drew her sword "Tell the truth, dog."
"I am of Fletalin now"I explained, "My mother is Rhaviel, my father was a warrior, Drulel; my brother is a farmer named Chea-"
She stood back and let me stand, "I am Hara, of the Krictol clan."
Hara was named after my favorite river in Terralin, right outside of my Providence. We Terralin women are strong, but few of us ever become warriors, and so I was curious of this girl-she could be no older than Pharae.
Hara had the typical Terralin features, brown skin, dark hair and narrow eyes, we are usually stout women, still there are a few of us who come out dainty-the ones who are prized by noblemen, they are no use as farm women.
Hara was as such, but well muscled; I could tell that she was very fleet footed.
She inspected me, then asked;
"Why are you so far from Fletalin?"
"I was on business, when I saw those line of people-"
"You should have kept going"she said, "Soon there will be a blood bath, I will slay all the dogs who have taken my people. "
"You, alone?"I asked.
"I have broken such lines before"she said "And saved dozens."
"How old are you?"I asked.
"Old enough"she answered, "I have no time to argue with you stranger, go on your way."
"I mean to help,"I said.
She stopped and sized me, "You are a soldier. It is a shame our men do not let women fight."
"The amazons are different,"I try to explain, "We have a large--"
"I know the stories"she stopped me with her hand, "Personally I do not fight for any land, but Terralin, if the men will not have me in their army, I will do their job better than them, all alone."
I noticed she wore a large quiver on her back filled with arrows, and realized she must have learned to become an excellent marksman.
"I must strike now"she said distractedly, "They will not rest much longer,"
she gave an arrogant grin, "You may stay to watch if you please."
"I will, thank you"I answered curtly, she scaled the rock quickly-she amazed me not yet a woman and taking on thirty men. She was still alive and that spoke a lot of her.
She stood poised in the rock and began to launch perfectly aimed arrows; the first two wounded a man through the leg, and a horse's flank.
Below the men drew their swords and scanned the forest, Hara launched more arrows and in the next few minutes killed ten of the soldiers.
The last of them, grabbed up children and women as shields fighting off the men who refused to let them.
Hara's next arrow wounded a child through the arm.
"No"I yelled in our language, "You'll kill them all."
"I need no voice of reason"she growled and launched another arrow barely hitting one of the Niam soldiers in the neck, squirting blood onto his shield, a screaming woman.
I scaled the rock and removed Hara's quiver, spilling all the arrows.
"Bitch"she yelled, "What side are you on?"
"The side of those innocent people--"
She scoffed, "You know nothing; sometimes when I attack parties the soldiers began to kill the hostages in frustration-the death of a few is better than not putting up a fight."
I ran from her, slinging her quiver into the woods, she was on my heels.
I reached the screaming people, clearing some foliage roaring, the soldiers roared in return and attacked.
Hara helped me, out of the boldness of youth, and I discovered what she already knew; she was not a fighter, not face to face, she was swift, and cunning, not very strong, not against men.
When the cowards that I had not slain, fled, the people of Terralin cheered and clasped my hands.
"Are you mad?"she asked, "Those men were great in number. Did you expect to slay them all?"
"I am no stranger to slaying men,"I told her.
"Yes, oh great warrior of Fletalin; they have made you as crazy as they are."
"We must get going,"I said, "Before those men return with reinforcements."
"This way"Hara directed the people east.
"East?"I asked, "That is going deeper into Niamlin country."
"There is lush wilderness there, I take that trail, it has led many people to safety"Hara grew angry, "I do not need you to disagree with my route, these people are already burdened in their hearts."
"Go on about your business amazon"she spat, "I do not need you to lead these people."
Angry I turned, deciding that the world was suddenly full of arrogant and brilliant youngsters; the future would certainly be a strange one.
I went to my cart, it was true, I was no longer of Terralin, years had passed since I had last set foot on her, and in my heart, I had not paid homage to the gods in nearly that time.
I found my cart and mounted my horse, hungry from my day I reached into my saddlebag for food, while rummaging I found Vestia's circlet. I marveled at how small it was barely a bracelet on my wrist. I would have to get home to her quickly. I tucked the almondine in my clothes and continued to look for the rest of the dried meat and fruit I had packed.
A blow to my chest sent me to the ground, jarring the ache back to my bruised ribs. As I writhed in pain another blow caught me on the back, I rolled over as men shackled my arms and legs. I roared startling them at least.
"That is the one"a familiar voice said, I looked up to see the thug I had spared, "The slave woman who fights like an amazon."
There were several soldiers, "Could be" one said.
"I remember the leader"the other in a raunchy tone, "If only I could tame that beautiful, blond beast."
"This one is strange though, traveling alone, in a territory where her people are taken captive-"the thief said,"All sorts of women go to Fletalin and become amazons--"
"Quiet"the first soldier laughed, "She is only a slave stealer, we have searched for this one months."
"Slave stealer?"the thug asked.
"She Liberates them, the Terralin bitch" the second soldier commented.
"Then she will fetch me a handsome price," the thug said, "Much more than an amazon would."
The soldiers laughed and tossed him a small purse, the thug shook it-
"A slave stealer is far more than this," he shouted.
The soldiers laughed, "Can we help if you tell us you want to sell a chicken and show us a cow?"the second one said, then to me, "On your feet."
I sat on the ground, and received a kick for disobedience.
"She does not understand"the first soldier grabbed my chains and urged me up.
"She understands"the thug told them, "She has watched every word you have spoken...she spoke to me...she'll show you stupid soldiers up."
The second soldier drew his sword and chased the thug away.
"Come on, heifer"the first soldier pulled me forward, the second bringing up the rear.
"What about her cart?"he asked.
"What need do we for Xanadendrum roots and a furry nag?"the other asked,
"We'll get handsome Niam horses with the money from this brown slut."
They laughed once more, and I would have killed them if not chained.
We traveled the entire night, and did not stop for sleep as I had hoped; they kept a close eye on me not wanting to jeopardize their bounty.
By morning we arrived at the great city of Niam, the mountains where Fletalin warriors lay dead, ghosts behind the great tower of the royal castle.
The first thing I saw when entering was a great shrine being built to the king and his royal wife and daughter. The girl's image was finished and what a fine one it was. All the labor was being done by my brothers and sisters of Terralin, captured and sold away from their home.
They looked on at me in sadness as I was brought in bound by chains, I turned away from them in shame. I was led to the Niam town square where the people of Terralin were sold in groups.
The soldiers, cocky as they led in me, bragged to their friends that they had caught the slave Liberator.
Their friends laughed at them immediately.
"She does not look it, only a big wash woman."
The second soldier spoke up, "She just slaughtered five men."
"If so who wants a fighter to work in their house hold?"the auctioneer said.
"The authorities are offering a reward, we just wanted to see if any of you wanted to buy and tame her. She looks as if she can carry a donkey's load"one of the soldiers said.
"I doubt it"the auctioneer said, "The slave women are strong, not as much as the men, and much too spirited, they require a lot of breaking."
"Soldiers should stay so and not try to do the work of slavers,"a man said impatiently.
"Move on"the auctioneer told them, "I have many valid customers with decent slaves to sell."
"It is no matter"one soldier told the other, as we walked away from the auction block,
"The authorities will be happy to pay us."
As it turned out the authorities were not interested in me either.
"We already have the slave Liberator,"the judge told the soldiers.
"No we have her here"the soldiers insisted.
"No we caught her and the slaves she stole" the judge assured them.
"You lie"one of the soldiers told him.
"Bring out the girl,"the judge told one of the guards standing outside of the prison.
"You're just going to have to sell her as a slave"the judge told them as we waited.
"No one wants her, the older women are too dangerous"one of the soldiers said,
"She watches everything, I imagine she is very crafty, a menace in some way."
The guard brought out Hara in a short garment of coarse fabric, her feet were bare and muddy, ankles and wrists shackled as mine.
The second soldier grinned, "She hardly looks a warrior, just a girl"he went to touch Hara's breast but she struck him in the temple with her chains.
He cursed and drew his sword; the guard quickly struck Hara behind the leg driving her to the ground, and went after the soldier.
"I meant to tell you to be wary,"the judge said laughing, "She's quick, and mean."
"She needs a good lesson"the soldier checked his head.
"And the man rich enough to teach it will be lucky indeed"the judge grinned, "This warrior virgin will fetch a high price."
"Virgin?"the soldiers asked.
"We had a physician examine her. Of course after she is spoiled in that way she'll be put to death"the judge said, "She's much too dangerous for anything more."
I could not hold myself any longer; I grabbed the bleeding soldier between my arms and choked him with my chains. His friends drew, but I dropped him and kept his sword.
I fought with the other soldier and wounded his thigh; I threw the sword to Hara and took his. With our backs together we fought the guards that quickly surrounded us. As I had noted before Hara was not much of fighter, and was quickly lashed into submission by a whip-master.
I slay him and before I could turn my back I was set upon.
I gave up, deciding to live and fight another day.
I was separated from Hara and chained in a cell after being beaten halfway to death. I lay there in some kind of filth, entertained by a stupor, dreams of my love and her lemony salve and linen. I remembered the almondine and pulled it from inside of my clothes.
I was in such a peril that I needed more than a sorceress but a Goddess.
I lay there the night I tried to keep my wits about me, not sink into despair. I had promised to bring back the cure, and make love to my lady once again.
Shortly after dusk there was a commotion at my cell, I looked up to see a hooded figure being escorted by the guards.
"Fix her up for interrogation by the king and his men"the guard said.
"The king?"the figure asked, a woman, her voice so familiar, I sat up despite my pains.
"They believe she is not of Terralin, but an amazon"the guard said, "To think those Fletalin cows have been stealing our slaves is enough to make me personally want to kill them, no matter how beautiful the legends say they are."
"Is she so dangerous?"the figure asked.
"Yeah"the guard opened the door, "You'll have a dangerous job with her, Healer...if she is of Terralin then she'll slit your throat, if she is an amazon you may be pretty enough to turn her fancy."
The healer stepped in, "Hello...?"
I moved slightly.
The healer startled and stopped, the guards laughed.
"Roe"the healer whispered, so only I could hear, "My love it's me-"
She stole quickly to my side and bent, "Hi, I'm here to help you"she said in a shaky voice, "I'm here to help."
"Vestia"I whispered, "How...?"
"Don't worry, I'm safe in my chambers, this is a different form of me"she put her hand to my face, "They've hurt you, the brutes."
"What is it my love"she began to rummage through a pouch of healing implements and herbs.
"I believe in magic,"I said.
"Stop"she nearly laughed, "You'll have them figure me out."
She patched me up all the while explaining her plan, she was leaving a potion on the floor next to me, it would make me sleep so I would appear dead, when my alleged body was discovered, I would be carted out and then we would flee the city.
"And the girl?"I asked.
"What girl?"she asked.
"I understand we cannot save everyone, but the girl, she will be put to death too. I can't let that be,"I told her, "Is there a chance you could save her?"
"Roe, it would be a risk for the both of us, only I can revive you or you surely will die"she told me.
"I will take it,"I said.
"Is this girl so important?"she asked, "That you would not only risk your life but mine, perhaps you have picked up more than Bryseis' name."
"No my love"I explained, "She is a very brave Terralin girl, the men will rape her, if they already have not."
Vestia hung her head, "Describe her, and when you wake she will be there with me."
"You are truly my love,"I told her.
"And you are mine"she smiled, "Now I'll go and think up a plan for your girl."
"Go safely"I told her.
Then I was alone with the potion; I walked my cell glowering at the guards like a caged animal.
"She is well"one of them said, "That healer is good."
"We will have to call her back to check on the prisoners regularly"another sneered.
I drank the potion and fell into a drowse.
When I woke again the stars were far above me, and even closer was my love.
"Stop the wagon"she said and it stopped.
"Roe, sit up my dear, I may need you to fight."
I sat up, I was in the cart, surrounded by the healing herbs, Hara had mounted the horse and was driving us through the forest.She looked on at me with concern, and I told her in our language to keep driving. She gave a holler and we were moving.
I looked behind us and saw torches, men on our backs.
"We may need to drop the cart,"Hara said.
"No"I told her, and then looked around for Vestia.
"The ghost woman is gone again?"she asked.
"She is not a ghost, she's my wife to be," I explained.
Hara did not turn, "There's a river up ahead, should I cross or follow it?"
"Turn now"I told her, "We'll do neither."
"We'll make ourselves lost."
"Better lost than dead,"I told her.
"I agree"she turned and we went into the trees, "I can use that pass no more."
"I'll help you find another,"I told her.
"Of course"she called, "I can barely see anything."
"The horse can, let her lead the way,"I told her.
She did so and we lost the men in the woods.
Morning came and we switched positions, "You have piloted us from danger,"I told her cheerily.
She grinned sleepily, "So where do you believe we are?"
I turned to the direction of Fletalin, "Days from home."
"Terralin or Fletalin?"she asked.
"Then we will part here"she leapt from the wagon.
I stopped and dismounted, "Hara, come back."
"My home is Terralin, I am not a traitor," she said.
"Why would you say traitor? Fletalin and Terralin have never fought,"I told her.
"Anything that is not Terralin is against Terralin, she told me.
"The same Terralin that does not want you in their army?"I asked, "The kind that values you only for your beauty and frame, not for your wits and skills. I know how it is especially for dainty girls like yourself."
She sat on the ground and shook her head; "They wanted to marry me off to the chief's son. I was to be part of his ever-growing collection of wives. I can out run, ride, hunt, and wit him..."
I pulled her to her feet, "No matter what you do they will never understand, no matter how many slaves you rescue."
"I know that"she told, "I have a different motive than I used to have, now I only want to help people."
"That is a noble cause"I told her, "For years we have tried to defeat Niamlin, to no avail, one day we will though and there must be someone with us there to speak up for the people of Terralin."
"As I told you before, I work alone"she told me, "I need no fair weaklings to aid me..."
I let go of her.
"I thank you and your wife, but dying in the name of freedom would have been an honor for me"she said, "Still it is good to live and help others."
"Stupid girl"I yelled, "You only succeeded in getting them captured and enslaved..."
"I was always successful until you showed up, dog"she spat, "I have not abandoned my people."
"You only serve yourself"I told her, "Half way a coward deep down. If you don't come with me you'll only one day serve a man as not even his wife, but his whore and footstool."
She snarled and drew her sword.
"Drop it"I called to her.
She ran at me so swiftly I barely had time to draw, our swords locked, but I was much stronger. I pushed her back and onto her ass, she quickly stood on her arms and kicked me in the ribs.
Winded I backed into a tree dropping my sword Hara was on me her blade at my throat.
She laughed, "I did not tell you before, but back at home they talk of you, they say you were a great fighter that there was no place for you....there will be one for me-I will make one."
I ran at her avoiding her sword as I tackled her to the ground knocking the air from her. I pinned her shoulders.
"Don't you know I tried the same?"I asked, "Did they not tell you of how I joined a band of men trying to defeat the local bandits? How we were captured and almost killed if I had not escaped and fought those bandits myself. It was the first time I battled that way, nineteen years ago it was; something came over me and before I knew it all eight men were dead or mortally wounded at my feet."
I gave Hara a shake, "Those men were so jealous of my victory they did not allow me to travel home with them, they only beat and raped me. They did not figure that I would live, but I did. I lived a month in the woods blind and mad with rage, I came home and slay them all. They had told everyone I was killed by the robbers, the exact thing that happens to women who try and fight....the liars. One of them was the father of a child I had later. I left it there with my family and began to wander until I came to Fletalin."
"You're a liar"she called to me, "They said you wanted nothing to do with a child, there is no room for being a warrior and a mother they told me you said so..."
I said nothing only stared at her.
"You should have given a second thought to your lust if you did not want a child...I suspect you do not have to worry about that anymore"she yelled.
"Hara"I could only say then pulling her to her feet "You are not of the Krictol clan are you?"
She turned away from me, but I grabbed her face and inspected it. My mother Rhiavel was a small woman, that uncharacteristic trait of Terralin women. My father was too poor to have more than one wife, and would have had to been rich to have my mother. She fell in love with him and refused to be sold off to any man.
I was as big as her by the time of my twelfth year.
Looking upon Hara's face I saw her, "You are the spitting image of Rhiavel, my mother. I don't know why I never saw it. I never thought I had a girl...I did not look."
Hara stepped, "So you admit it."
"Gods, I never thought I would ever make something so beautiful"I ignored her anger and touched her once more.
"Stop it"she fought me; I only grabbed her and crushed her to my bosom.
"My very own daughter."
She struggled, "I am none of yours, dog."
"No wonder you are so fierce"I set her in front of me and walked around her, "You are much swifter than I have ever been, but not as strong as me, or as smart."
She scoffed, "I am as smart as grandfather, he was a great warrior."
"And not smart as a dog"I laughed, "And a drunk."
"How dare you?"she asked.
"He must have died before you could notice,"I said.
"Then you must be blind,"I laughed.
She laughed, "Well he is a drunk, but it is rude to say."
"Who taught you to fight?"I asked.
"I paid a boy learning to be a soldier in the village, after his lessons he would teach me all he knew. He got older and figured it was ridiculous to teach me and more proper to try and marry me."
I laughed, "I could teach you better, even put you in the army."
"Fletalin's army"she made a face.
"Come back with me"I said.
"Are you not curious of your own mother?" I asked.
"No"she told me.
"You are,"I teased, "And also of the workings of Fletalin, you are too stubborn to admit it."
"Did you not ever wonder about me?"she asked.
I hung my head, "Rarely, I never thought I would be faced with Terralin again. I made a new life, and what a wonderful one it is. I was hurt after what happened to me, I wanted to forget."
"So you left me"she spat, "Now you want me to come along with you like a little pet."
"I want to make up for leaving you,"I told her, "I want to show you a better life."
She paused seeming to weigh the possibilities, "I would like to rest for a week or so, I need new weapons and a swift horse and I would like to meet this wife of yours who helped save my life."
"How about a moon?"I asked.
"If I can stomach it"she answered and climbed into the wagon, "What are the roots for?" "To cure a blight,"I said.
Not knowing the language of Fletalin, I explained about the sickness since there is nothing like it in Terralin.I also explained the ways a Fletalin, my friends Lyber and Myseaus, and Bryseis.
"I do not think I will like that Bryseis person,"Hara said.
I laughed and began to teach her some of the words of the Fletalin language.
Mysaeus answered the door and gave a cry, latching on to me, it had been several hours since dusk.
"Lyber, Lyber she has returned."
Her wife appeared, "Did you bring the cure?"
"Yes I have,"I told her.
"Then why do you dally?"Mysaeus asked.
"I need to ask a favor of you,"I told them.
"Anything for you, Roe"Lyber said.
I turned and pulled in Hara, "This is my daughter"I told them.
Lyber gasped, "You never told us you had a daughter."
"To tell the truth I did not know I had one,"I said to her.
"She is beautiful"Myseaus said, "Roe...such a beauty."
I told Hara what they thought of her and she smiled shyly.
"Bring her in"Lyber exclaimed, "She must be exhausted, not to mention starved,"she took Hara by the arm.
"I need her to stay here until I return," I told her.
"Then she shall"Myseaus nodded not taking her eyes from Hara, "She is so much like my Pharae..."
"I am sorry,"I told her.
Myseaus shook her head, "Go deliver the cure, Roe, your fair one shall be fine here."
I called to Hara whose interest was captured by a bowl of steaming soup.
"I'll be back in the morning."
Hara nodded and I left.
I galloped to the castle and was met by Bryseis on her horse; by the light of the lantern I had borrowed from Myseaus she looked haggard.
"Give me herbs for the queen"she said out of breath.
I dismounted and filled her saddle bag, after which she embraced me,
"I knew you would not fail."
"And let you down my commander?"I asked to which she answered with a hearty laugh and rode off.
"Go to the sick house"she told me, "I have already sent the scholars."
I entered the city and was met by the scholars who congratulated me by clasping my travel weary hands as they unloaded the herbs to make into an elixir.
There, giving directions was Vestia who had a great pot set boiling in the middle of the street. The sick that could walk were directed in a line while the scholars set up a brigade of cups passing elixir along to those who lay too weak to move.
I helped with all of this, though my bones urged me to quit.
By dawn I sent word to the house of Myseaus that all was fine and to hold on to Hara for a while longer.
Vestia and I went back to the castle to rest, which I could not do, my body complained for comfort and I complained.
"You'll be the death of me,"she complained, but I knew that she was glad to see me. She fetched her lemony salve and linen strips to wrap my sore parts.
Finally free of aches I looked on adoringly as my love slept, until a drowse claimed me. I awoke to knocks on the chamber door, it was Bryseis her old self again dressed splendidly and playful.
"Roe the queen and I have ordered a banquet tonight, she is feeling well and would like to see you"she announced, "In your very honor, and your dear fiancÈ and to tell everyone of our engagement."
"I congratulate you, Bryseis"I said and nearly bowed.
She stopped me, "No none of that my friend"she smiled, "You are my equal now, and once the queen and I are married we shall conquer the world together."
"The world?"I asked.
"Yes, Niamlin, then on from there"she exclaimed.
"Has the queen agreed to this?"I asked.
Bryseis frowned, "No but I will keep her very busy. Why do you question? Do you not want to rule the world?"
"There will be much to celebrate tonight then"I grinned.
She clapped my back, "There will my sister."
I returned to the chamber where Vestia was up, she had heard Bryseis's plans.
"She's mad"she said, "That is the only explanation for one who wants to try and conquer the world...she must be stopped my love and soon."
She kissed me, the first we had shared since my return.
I told Vestia of Hara.
"I knew there was something familiar about that girl"she grinned.
"I should not have brought her here"I said, "She is something for Bryseis to weaken me with."
"She is a warrior is she not?"Vestia asked.
"She can fight by your side"Vestia told me, "Another person you can fully trust besides me."
"I can't allow her to be hurt or killed," I said to Vestia.
"This is only about you and Bryseis, do not be frightened of her my love. She has soldiers, but you have their hearts, they are just waiting for someone brave and strong to take over."
"I do not know."
She caught my face in her hands, "This is fate my dear, she does not wait for long, and if ignored she will smite you."
I kissed her and told her she gave me much strength.
"Darling"she kissed me in return, "You are your own strength."
"Myseaus"Lyber called, "Do not let her hurt herself with that silly mare."
Myseaus laughed as she helped Hara onto the horse, "This girl was more likely born riding horses, her mother is Roe Grafeal..."
Lyber stepped from the porch as the girl led the horse around the barn it trotted gracefully for her.
Then she yelled her into a gallop.
"Hara"Myseaus called as the girl sped away.
She turned and smiled mischievously.
"She'll most likely kill herself"Lyber worried, "Go fetch her, Myseaus."
Myseaus grumbled and mounted the second mare, "I wonder how I am to fetch one going so quickly."
Hara hoped that all Fletalin horses were as swift, it was only a farm horse she was on and still it flew across the plain.
She came to a road and galloped across to another field, startling a tall blond on a horse who was going at a leisurely pace.Hara crossed the road again since the other field had crops in it, she had gotten in trouble back home too many times for trampling crops.
The blond had kicked her horse faster and was fast gaining Hara who slowed the golden haired one could certainly have a race if she wanted.
She caught up to Hara, slowing too until she gave a whoop and sent the country mare flying once again. The blond was just as skilled and quickly over took Hara; she smiled at the wild brown girl truly enjoying the pursuit.
Annoyed Hara urged her horse faster; the blond kept pace and grabbed her arm, calling for the horse to slow. Hara struggled with her and when the horses slowed she shoved the woman off her horse, lost balance and too fell rolling to avoid the hooves.
Myseaus caught up with them and recognized the other rider as Bryseis Grafeal, and her heart nearly stopped when both lost their steeds and fell to the ground.
She quickly dismounted and bowed as they got to their feet:
"Commander Bryseis, I thank you."
Bryseis caught the girl by the arm, "Who is this strange girl?"
"Hara is her name"Myseaus said.
The girl kicked Bryseis in the shin but the commander did not let go, she only turned Hara to face her.
"You little cow, do not struggle with me" Bryseis yelled, "I am the commander here-"
"She does not understand"Myseaus explained, "She is foreign."
"Who has brought her here, do you know?" Bryseis asked.
"Yes, Roe Grafeal brought her, she is her daughter."
"Don't jest me woman,"Bryseis shouted.
"I do not"Myseaus bowed, "She did not have time to explain but I suppose they were reunited during her excursion."
Bryseis grinned, "What a pretty thing she is, it's astounding, I thought my eyes were playing me for a fool."
Hara continued to struggle and Bryseis let her go and flipped her cape.
"A most interesting development."
I did not know how but Bryseis had found my daughter before I had a chance to.
I meant to fetch her before I met the queen before the banquet to present her.
Lyber told me they had gone riding so I trotted out to the field on my horse to find Hara with Myseaus and the commander who grinned the way a cat does at a wounded bird.
"Roe is this girl really yours?"Bryseis asked as I rode up, and dismounted.
Hara ran to me, she had been truly scared and I was angrily anxious to know if Bryseis had tried to get at her as she does with all girls.
"Yes, she is my daughter"I said, as Hara inspected me in my finery, I almost felt ashamed of it. "It is a very long story."
"She's fierce"Bryseis said and I knew she was thinking of a different aspect of my daughter.
I agreed to Hara's fierceness.
"No matter"Bryseis said, "You have earned the right not to bow to me, she has not...she has only made matters worse by wounding my shin, and sullying my garments."
"She wants you to bow to her,"I told Hara in our language.
"Do you want me to?"the girl asked.
"Then I shall obey my mother"Hara smiled.
I spoke to Bryseis, "She is not used to our customs and I have taken no time to explain."
"Fine then"the commander said, mounting her horse "There will be more than enough time for politeness tonight at the banquet."
"I do not think she is ready for such a thing"I said to Bryseis.
"It has been declared that all members of the court shall appear, Roe, and your daughter is a member"she insisted, "I shall expect her there tonight."
"Very well commander"I said.
Bryseis rode away.
"Hara"I said, "See what trouble you have started..."
"I have done nothing, she is no goddess, I will fall her on her ass"my daughter replied.
"Bryseis is not the type you want to insult"I sighed, "You do not understand, now she will not rest until she has you."
Hara laughed harshly,"I belong to no one, not even you if I don't feel it".
"I am sorry, Roe"Myseaus told me, "I let her on the mare and before I knew it she was off."
"Don't worry my friend, she's a scamp"I replied.
Hara went to the mare and petted her.
"She'll fit in well tonight then"Myseaus commented.
By the time we reached her house there were several servants from the court.
"Lady Vestia has sent them"Lyber told us, "For the young Hara."
I informed my daughter of this and she stopped in her tracks, "What for?"
"To clean you up my dear"I told her.
"I am clean"Hara exclaimed, "I refuse to dress like you mother."
"You cannot attend a royal banquet unless you are,"I told her.
"Then I want a cape,"she told me, "Like the one Bryseis has."
We galloped ahead of Vestia's servants, Hara several feet in front of me. Vestia had sent her an embroidered green tunic, she looked like a page playing soldier.
Her hair had been washed and brushed with some kind of oil so it shined like a cache of black jewels.
I was very proud of her beauty and fierceness, and I could not wait to show her to the queen.
Vestia greeted us with hugs.
Hara told me to tell Vestia that she was very honored to meet her.
"As it is for me to finally meet you" Vestia took a small step back to inspect us, "Now what a fine family I'm marrying into."
On our way to the castle I had explained that I was ranked under Bryseis in the army, and that Vestia was cousin to the queen. My daughter seemed very impressed by the little power I had, I wanted her to be proud to thrive here.
We all went to see the queen who was still relatively weak but on her feet. Vestia gave her some kind of herb upon greeting.
"And who is this?"Minestra asked taking Hara's hands after the girl gave a most elegant bow.
"She is my long lost daughter, Hara,"I told her.
"Daughter?"Minestra asked, "I am shocked, I never thought-"
"Roe surprised us all with Hara"Vestia said, "She is a pleasant one though."
I translated all this to Hara who smiled shyly.
Vestia and Hara left to leave us to talk, I found old memories returning of making love to Minestra during the short moments we had alone, how very pleasurable though quick they had been.
"I am thinking the very same thing"the queen put her hand to my face, "Roe."
"Minestra"I breathed and gathered her in my arms, burying my face in her throat. I was filled with such a fire for her I was out of my head; we passed through the halls of her chambers still locked in each other's arms, to her bed.
I kissed her so that I took her breath.
"Roe, we must not,"she said, "You mean to marry Vestia."
As if it were my fault we could not make love.
"As you plan to marry Bryseis"I stood and smoothed my clothes.
"Then we must put an end to this,"she told me.
"We shall,"I answered.
"Do you love her?"Minestra asked, "Vestia."
"I do,"I told her.
"I do not love Bryseis, only my Queendom."
"Why would you trust her of all?"I asked, "She's a scoundrel, a greedy diabolical liar."
"Such words"Minestra worried, "I fear they are all true."
"They are,"I told her, "She is not the one to help rule."
"She already does"Minestra said, "She has an entire army, I only have scholars."
She had given up long ago, she was going to give it all to Bryseis.
"For what?"I asked, "What can she possibly offer you in exchange for your surrender."
"I get few spoils in this war"Minestra told me, "Trade with other countries, an system of education, a certain amount of funds each year to support all that I can with it."
I shook my head, "This is not good Minestra."
"What do you know?"she asked, "You are not a queen, half your people are not dead of a blight."
"No"I shook my head, "It is still not right."
"Then do something about it, Roe"she took my arm, and I looked into her eyes, she was asking me then and there to go against Bryseis, "We do not wed until midsummer...please...you are my love always, Roe, I beg of you to stop her."
The dinner was a splendid affair with all of the court Bryseis made my daughter her game that evening. I wanted to kill the yellow bitch for all the wrong she had done; poor Minestra, the dead women in the Niam mountains, for the realm of Fletalin, for my daughter.
While I talked with the queen Vestia had taught Hara to do a little dancing, and once there was some wine in her she danced with all the soldiers and ladies who were all in love with her.
Upon meeting Bryseis, Hara bowed so gracefully I wanted to laugh, especially at the stupefied look on the commander's face. Through the evening I caught their eyes meeting, which I did not like. Hara was using her beauty to vex Bryseis, only fueling any desires she had.
The dancing broke and Commander Bryseis honored me and Vestia and of course my lovely daughter. I bowed to the crowd and told them it was only my honor as a soldier of Fletalin and a servant of our queen.
"Long live the queen"I toasted her.
Everyone agreed and the dancing commenced.
"Mother"Hara who was at my left said, "Shall I dance with Commander Bryseis?"
"You are much too young for wiles my dear, please leave that to the women."
I told her, and she only grew annoyed.
"Are you afraid that I will provoke a fight between the two of you?"she asked.
She left promptly with Gwain who gladly promised to keep an eye on her.
"What was that all about?"Vestia at my right asked.
"Hara does not understand the desires of Bryseis the conniving bitch,"I told her.
"Your mind has been troubled all night" Vestia touched my temple, "Shall we walk?" "Let's"I replied.
"It is about your talk with the queen isn't it?"she asked.
"Yes it is"I answered, "She begged me to somehow stop her marriage to Bryseis."
"She is right"Vestia said.
"I will most likely get us all exiled or hanged"I sighed.
"Who went out and risked their life to get the healing herb?"Vestia asked, "Who is more brave and noble than anyone here?"
"That does not make me immortal"I told her, we sat on a stone bench.
"I believe that you will and make a fine leader"she kissed me, "Now you need rest, and to strengthen your alliances."
"My only allies are you and Hara"I said "And not even she likes me much."
"She wants you to be more than you are" Vestia told me,"She knows you can rule this realm, and Bryseis, not serve her."
"What about you my beloved ally?"I kissed her, "What may I do to strengthen my ties with you?"
She grinned and that told me all she wanted.
I stood and pulled her to a well -bowered stone bench, where I beheld her in the ivy shadowed moonlight.
"Back in Niam I saw the king building huge likenesses of his family"I said, "I will build you one."
She laughed, "Only Goddesses have shrines."
"Oh stop fishing for compliments"I bit her playfully.
"Oh I am not a goddess?"she asked.
"Of course"I said as she sat up and untied the back of her gown.
I kissed her naked belly, then breasts and neck.
I made love to her there in the bowers and we only left because the stone was to cold and forbidding allowing us to sleep.
Hara went looking for her mother, Bryseis followed.
The girl had nearly wandered to the garden before Bryseis stopped her by calling her name. She turned and gave that look of bravado that drove her mad.
As she approached the girl could not keep her eyes from one of Bryseis's many jeweled swords.
She unsheathed it, "Pretty no?"
The girl handled the sword like her mother.
"So you know how to use it"Bryseis commented, walking close to the girl and nearly walked into the point of the golden sword.
Bryseis laughed, "I know you understand me when I say that I shall have you girl."
The girl grinned and shook her head, Bryseis by passed the point of the sword and grabbed the girl gently, caressed her.
"Has anyone ever kissed you before my pretty little Hara?"she asked "I can tell, no matter how resilient a girl acts, I can tell how really innocent she is, and you are quite innocent my dear."
Bryseis moved closer and kissed her.
"Hmmm a virgin"Bryseis said, there was a clink as the tip of the sword hit the ground. Hara's eyes were closed her lips gave a tremor.
"You keep that my dear"Bryseis closed her hand over the girl's smaller one that held the sword. She kissed Hara's cheek and left her.
Once, just like all women, Fletalin was joined with the creature man.
Fletalin was a good place, yet not as good, for man is oppressive, and he started wars with other lands, and captured their people and made them slaves.
There was one called Hazure, not of noble birth, herself a foreigner, who knew this was wrong. And so she banded together a faction, peasant women, for the men were afraid of change, and all the men and women in the court would do nothing to damage their status.
The first true women of Fletalin were farmers, and seamstresses, midwives, and young scholars. They armed themselves with what they knew; their needles, their hoes and axes, their herbs and books-and finally swords.
Hazure was their leader and the bravest amongst them, she was not much for speaking, but of acting. She was wise and knew the woods and all the ways of nature, she knew the magic of the Goddess. She fought a man's army with a ragged woman's, and when she had driven the men out she taught the women of Fletalin all she knew.
Many years later before closing her eyes to sleep forever, her daughters by her side and her old wife clutching her hand, Hazure told them all to fill their heads with knowledge she could not provide-to put study and scholarly endeavors above all, and to never be too proud to learn from other nations.
And it was said that when she died there was a great flutter of wings at the window of her death room, and when all turned they saw, a white owl carrying away the soul of the great Hazure.
It is said that one day the owl will return carrying the soul of Hazure-to once again seek out and destroy any kind of tyranny.
Vestia and I were married several months after my return in the temple of the Goddess. All of the soldiers were present, and outside the peasantry cheered nearly all of them were fully well from the blight; they called me a heroine.
When I was amongst them I took pains to share the light with Bryseis and of course my beautiful wife who was so joyous on the occasion of our wedding she was ten fold as lovely as usual. The soldiers kneeled to her as I had predicted they would.
Hara blended well with everyone, each day she picked up more on the Fletalin language, all the while I prepared her for the army, and she begged to be taught to be a sorceress, which pleased Vestia.
"Surely you can not learn so much in so little time as a fortnight, or even a moon,"I said to her.
"Perhaps then"she said, "I shall have to stay longer."
We were out riding the next morning after my wedding, Vestia too who smiled at the conversation I was having with Hara.
"That is very good to know"she laughed and galloped ahead of us, shrieking with delight as she disturbed a small group of pheasants.
"You love her"Hara said, her statement halfway a question by her tone.
"Of course, she is my wife"I told her.
"Yes, still you love the queen I have noticed"she said, riding the chestnut colored mare from Myseaus's farm, she had fallen in love with the beast and insisted I trade another with my friend.
"Not as I love Vestia,"I told her, "It is safe to love her, and not the queen."
"I do not understand,"she said.
"Do not try,"I said, "Only focus yourself for the army, you will have to try like all the other pages..."
"I can beat all the other pages,"she laughed.
It was true but I did not admit it to her, she was much too brash with everything and everyone, including Bryseis who had taken to sending her gifts. It had not been hard for my daughter to become as saucy as the other privileged girls, and I feared she was in for a big lesson.
Hara pulled her bow and chased after a stag that dashed into some trees.
"She is going about that all wrong"I commented to Vestia.
"Roe, she is barely a woman"my wife said, "She's strong minded and will have her way no matter what-"
"A young Bryseis"I said.
"Maybe so, yet she has you to guide her" Vestia said, "She will be a fine ruler someday."
"I pray she will"I said, "And how are you my dove?"
"Very well"she said curtly and kissed me.
"Very well"I repeated.
Bryseis galloped by bow in hand, "Is there anything your daughter can't do?"she called and sounded her horn, bringing on several pages with a cart to haul dead game.
Curious I left Vestia's side and followed her into the foliage where Hara had downed the stag. On closer inspection it had a great set of antlers and a brown coat spotted white.
"As nearly beautiful as his predator" Bryseis smiled.
"If you like beasts"Hara said in perfect Fletalin.
"Hara"I warned and she ducked her head and I apologized to Bryseis.
"Quite alright"Bryseis said, "She is not a soldier yet, let her be as smart as she pleases."
The pages came to haul away the stag and Hara followed them at my bidding.
"Are you sure you want her to be a soldier?"Bryseis asked, "She is much too small, even though she is swift..."
"She says a soldier is all she as ever wanted to be commander"I said, "Where we come from women are not allowed that makes her want it even more."
Bryseis sighed, "You have told her that she cannot be so brazen towards me in front of my ranks."
"I have explained, commander"I said, "She shall be treated as an unruly soldier as any other would, I assure you."
"I know you will not show favor, Roe" Bryseis smiled "You are much too honest and fair...you would hand an enemy his sword if he dropped it"she grew stony, "Just make sure your girl does not bring herself trouble."
I left her and found Hara drinking with the pages and several ladies, all of who were in love with her.
"Hara"I called startling them all.
"What is it mother?"she asked.
"Draw your sword,"I said.
She did so.
"Well"I said in the language of Terralin, "Hold it up if you mean to duel."
I used the flat of my sword to swat her hip.
"Mother that hurts"she exclaimed.
"You want to see how it is to provoke someone like the commander, how it would be to fight her?"I asked, "How it will be to fight an enemy who will not think twice if you are dead at the end of their blade"
"Are you insane?"she asked.
"No, I'm the enemy, just as sane and brazen as you"I sliced my sword so it came very close to her.
"Now is not the time for a silly lecture," she said in Fletalin language.
"This is no lecture, just a lesson,"I answered in Terralinish, "Come along, you groom'ed dog, pretty brown dog."
Angry she used her sword to try and strike mine from my hand, I held on to it though and ran at her like a mad woman. She ran at me calling my bluff causing our swords to lock.
"This is not like the day in the woods,"I told her, "You will not get the better of me strength wise."
She did not listen only barred down on her sword with all of her little might, trying to get the better of me. I pushed her backwards and she nearly lost her balance.
"I could have killed you that time,"I told her, "Enemies do not let you get upright, men especially have no honor at all."
She ran at me and I moved to the side hitting the back of her legs with my sword causing her to fall forward onto the ground, she quickly rolled over raising her sword to deflect any blows. I struck the sword out of her hand.
"Roe, what are you doing?"I turned to see Vestia and Bryseis along with the pages and ladies.
"Stay out of this"I told her picking up Hara and setting her on her feet and shoving her backwards.
"What will you do now?"I asked, "Stomp my shin?"I grabbed her arm and twisted, "I am a man who wants you as captive- can you escape me."
She struggled and could not.
"Stop it now"Vestia appeared and slapped me, "You'll hurt her."
"Have you lost your mind, Roe?"my wife asked grabbing my face in her hands, I was numb to her. I glanced at Hara who stood and ran towards the stables.
"You go and fetch her, Roe, before she leaves,"Vestia demanded, angrily.
I went after Hara and found her leaving the stables heading towards the woods, not even on her favorite mare.
I rode in front of the girl catching her reigns.
Hara was crying, and I had never seen her do so, it broke my heart especially since I had caused her tears.
"Away from me"she said, "You are an evil woman-"
"Perhaps"I took one of her arms and she snatched it back.
"Hara I only wanted to show you what trouble brazenness could cause you,"I told her, "There are dangerous foes out there, it is dangerous to fight them, but even more so to flirt with them."
"I am sorry that I cannot be as humble as you mother,"she cried, "Letting an idiot rule when you could easily take her down."
"What is this?"I asked, "Even my own daughter wants me to defy my commander."
"Who else wants it so?"she asked.
"The queen, and Vestia, and my own mind partly"I said.
"You should very well listen"she began to ride away.
"You ladies are not very good allies"I called, "All you can do is talk, and plot,
and the one of you who can fight can only fight pages."
Hara stopped her horse and turned, then went along.
I rode to catch up with her calling her name with such conviction she stopped.
"So you wish your mother to rule the land?"I asked.
"Yes and I wish to fight along side her" Hara said, "She will allow me no fun though."
"Hara"I said, "Your fun is much too dangerous to continue"
"I only wanted to show her she cannot have all she wants"Hara sniffed, "Bryseis the old fool, she cannot have me...none of those idiots of the court may have me."
"A lone warrior"I laughed, "You are young now--"
"Yes, I am young"she mocked, "And will one day find the love of my life, and I probably will not be able to have her because of some circumstance, or some swine like Bryseis."
"Hopefully you'll have a happier life"I told her, "Now let's return, Vestia slapped me very hard and I am so dumb I just now feel the sting...bringing you back will be the only way she will forgive me."
Hara gave a short laugh.
"I am so sorry if I hurt you"I told her, "I only wanted to humble you some."
"I forgive you mother, in exchange for a promise,"she said.
"Promise me that one day I can be captain of your army."
"I promise,"I laughed.
We clasped arms and returned to the castle.
Vestia waited alone for us, still very cross.
I helped Hara from her horse, and Vestia greeted her, inquired of her aches and threw me a nasty look. She left to give her aid and I was not invited.
Bryseis appeared laughing;
"You remind me of my own mother, Lycia" she said, "She was rough with me but loved me, I did not understand it until I was older...she had to show me the ways of war...Vestia will ruin her with coddling."
"She could do with a little coddling"I said of Hara, "I think I was a bit too rough."
"Of course not"Bryseis exclaimed, "You'll do a fine job of raising her, she will definitely be the next captain, perhaps even take my place some day, she will have much more experience over any child of mine. I could rest in my grave knowing that she ruled my army."
She patted my back, "She is the future Roe you must take care."
I did not seek Vestia for the rest of the day and she did not come to me, not until I had supped alone that evening and was nearly asleep in our chambers. She smelled of her healing salve and I knew Hara was resting comfortably. I shifted to hold my wife but she growled for me not to touch her.
"Any woman who wants to make a new Bryseis for the world, can do so but will be no wife of mine"she muttered.
"The path Hara wants to take will be a harsh one."
"Does she need harshness from her own mother?"Vestia asked.
"She does if her mother helps command the army"I said, "Things are forgiven between Hara and I"I captured her in my arms, "Dove, I am also sorry to you, and must ask you something."
"What?"she asked, not won over.
"Have you ever considered joining the army?"I asked, "You have a mean right hand."
She laughed and turned to me at last hugging me around the neck,
"I don't use it sparingly."
I laughed and kissed her, "My love, my fair lady Vestia."
The sounds of clashing swords rang though the air as I toured Bryseis over the ranks as they sparred.
"Hara has improved much more"the commander commented.
"She has,"I agreed.
"All the soldiers say she is an exceptional fighter, they believe the way you came about her was some magic."
"The way I came about her?"I asked.
"Oh yes"I said, "A most happy gift from such misfortune."
It was nearly midsummer, and the air was anxious for the wedding of Bryseis. I had not talked with Minestra in weeks though I did hear from my wife that she was not looking forward to her marriage.
"She will do fine in the upcoming raid" Bryseis said.
"Raid?"I came to attention.
"Yes a raid"the commander was quite annoyed, "On a small village for a child."
"A child?"I asked.
"Has the sun sapped you of you scruples...a child for Minestra and I"Bryseis said, "Motherhood should keep her quite busy."I said nothing in return.
"We leave immediately, to return with the child by nightfall tomorrow"Bryseis said, and yelled, "Call ranks."
I said nothing in return.
"Call ranks captain"Bryseis insisted and I did so, the soldiers cheered.
She laughed with triumph, "We ride, soldiers, in the morn."
The soldiers scattered to prepare, Bryseis went to the arms of some girl, and I went to see the queen. A group of ladies were quickly retreating from her chambers when I appeared, carrying sewing baskets spilling spools of silver thread, trailing yards of white silk.
"The queen has refused to allow us to finish her dress"one of them informed me, "Bryseis will be angry, we are already behind schedule."
"Never mind the Commander, where is the queen?"
"Sobbin' her eyes out"another of the ladies said, "It is silly, will she cry on her wedding day?"
I left them and went to Minestra's chambers.
She lay on her bed sobbing dressed in her half made wedding dress, black tresses spilled over quivering from her sobs.
I touched her and she turned ‘round, and I caught her in my arms.
"I hate her Roe"she sobbed, "I truly do."
"You do not have to marry her,"I said.
"She'll be furious"Minestra sighed her sobbing abated.
We were silent for a time.
"Recall when we first made love?"she asked.
I nodded that I had but she told me the story all over.
"You had been here a year, impressing everyone with your skills, and catching my gaze. We spent that whole time just watching each other slyly."
"Then we happened upon each other in the garden one evening"I added.
"You said nothing to me in greeting, only gathered me in your arms and kissed me. I was so surprised and so exhilarated, your arms and hands were so strong, they felt so good to me"she looked up at me.
"Your lips were as soft and sweet as flowers"I said, closing my eyes in remembrance, "Then we went to the stables."
"I had never been in one let alone made love in one"she laughed. "You were so tender with me."
I kissed her she held my head in her hands pushing me away.
"Go to your wife Captain"she sighed.
"I am sorry"I said, "I came to comfort you."
"There is no comfort for me my love"she answered.
The next morning Hara dashed down the stairway trying to find Lady Vestia, as she bounded to the end someone caught her and she would have began to fight if she had not seen a flash of gold hair.
"Commander"she said finding herself at the end of Bryseis's gaze.
"Just the lovely I was looking for" Bryseis smiled.
Hara tried to struggle away; "I cannot bow to you Commander if you are holding me so."
"Now is not the time for that"she backed Hara into some mock doorway that actually opened when Bryseis pushed it.
A lamp smoldered a low red glow, and Hara turned to see a plush fainting couch. Bryseis kissed her, sternly forcing Hara to sit; she kneeled in front of her.
"I am to meet Lady Vestia-"Hara said.
"She shall wait for you"Bryseis whispered untying the soldier's tunic.
"You have lived in the world of men, and know of their brutalities, that they have convinced their woman are pleasures. Do you not?"
"Yet you do not know the ways of Fletalin" Bryseis pulled the tunic past Hara's breasts and caressed them with her palms through the under garment, "The ways of pleasure here?"
"I am not sure I know what you speak of" Hara said breathlessly.
Bryseis pulled down her undergarment and kissed her naked breasts, tasting them as she would a fine meal if she were ravished past the point of using utensils.
Hara gave a short startled moan.
She was vaguely aware of her clothes sliding to the floor as Bryseis lay her down.
The commander's hands sailed across her body, down between her legs where Bryseis caressed the hair-covered mound of flesh there.
The commander's lips moved to her and Hara's prayers were answered when hands were replaced with lips at her quivering center that tingled from the new sensation.
"Where has my fierce one gone?"Bryseis whispered, then sat up and removed her own tunic and undergarment.
Hara touched the other woman's full breasts they felt nearly feverish.
She lifted herself to kiss them, but a knock startled her.
"I do hope your are here commander"the voice outside said, "Queen Minestra calls for you--"
"It is only Voelia my sweet"Bryseis whispered, "She is the only one who knows of my secret rooms and only bothers me when it is urgent."
She pulled on her tunic and left the room.
Hara quickly dressed and listened to the conversation.
"Minestra refuses to continue to finish being fitted for her dress"Voelia reported,
"She will not lend her opinion to the flower arrangements--"
"Enough"Bryseis said coldly, "Go to her tell her I am coming."
Hara left the small room slipping past Bryseis.
"My sweet...let me finish with you."
Hara shook her head, "I can't, I mustn't....Lady Vestia expects me-"
She scampered off, throwing a glance behind her as she rounded the corner
Vestia poured over some books when Hara finally arrived looking as if she had seen a ghost.
"What is wrong gentle Hara"Vestia stood and cupped the young one's face in her hands, "Has someone frightened you?"
Hara shook her head, tears melted down her eyes.
"What is wrong, you must tell me."
"Please, what I am about to tell you, do not tell mother--"
"It depends on the seriousness of this matter, and whom it involves"Vestia sat down urging Hara to join her. "You mother is my wife, you are her beloved so you are mine also."
"I am a whore"Hara sobbed, "That Bryseis she seduced me, and I had no will to stop her."
Vestia embraced her step-daughter, "Now darling, calm yourself and tell me what happened?"
"She drew me into a secret room, and we kissed, and striped we out of our clothes, but Voelia knew of the room and came for Bryseis to tell of some matters with the queen."
Vestia went cold; "I will go have a talk with the fiend."
Hara gasped, "Mother will surely find out then."
"No she will not"Vestia stood, "I know Bryseis, she would never let on to Roe that she tried to seduce you-this is none of your fault, you are a ripe girl, who has never been touched until now" she smiled a bit, "You are even more beautiful than your mother, and if all were as brazen as Bryseis, there would be attempts to seduce you half the day."
"Even if I nearly gave in to an evil woman such as the Commander."
"It changes nothing, you are still strong and still brave, and swift, and admired in this court."
Hara kissed her cheek, "My thanks mother."
Lady Vestia smiled and left to find Bryseis, who was back in the garden chatting with some ladies. Vestia shooed them.
"My long-lost red kitten"Bryseis exclaimed, "What can I do to service you." Vestia glowered, "You can leave Hara be."
Bryseis raised her eyebrows, "I could, yet I will not."
"You will Commander, she is only a young girl."
"Young yes, but still too old to be clinging to her virginity as if it were a rag-doll--"
"Does love mean anything to you?"Vestia asked, "Hara is not fond of you, no one is not even the queen."
Bryseis slapped her, "You red headed whore, you are the wife of my best soldier, a Lady perhaps, but still a whore. What do you know of love?"
Vestia regained herself refusing to cry, "I know more than you possibly ever will, your wife to be cries constantly, and you are chasing girls, power mad bitch what do you care?"
Bryseis lunged at her but stopped, "Go to your wife, Vestia, go before I strangle all the breath from you--"
"You have brought yourself to abuse your captain's daughter and wife, why not murder one of them?"
"Insolence"Bryseis thundered causing the other woman to pause, "I want you out of my sight--"
Roe paced across the garden, "What is happening?"
"Your wife dares to confront me"Bryseis spat, "If she were any other woman she'd be dead on the end of my sword."
"Vestia"Roe hissed, then spied the red blaze of flesh across her cheek.
"What has been done here?"she whirled on Bryseis.
"Yes."Roe thundered, "My wife, and no one is to put a hand on her."
"She was disrespectful and you are not setting example for her."
"She is not a soldier, she is a lady and I demand she be treated as such, or would you even dare to put a hand on the queen herself?"
Bryseis grinned, "You treat your wife as you will and I will treat mine as I will. When Minestra craves to be coddled she can come to you and when your wife craves a slap she can come to me, or so I will assume if she craves one if she ever dares to confront me again."
That said Bryseis flipped her cape and walked away, she stopped and called over her shoulder, "Do not look so sour my friend we have a raid a-coming."
Roe clenched her jaw as she watched the Commander disappear she turned slowly to Vestia.
"My love, I am so sorry for this."
"There is nothing for you to be sorry for."
"There is plenty, my wife is abused, my queen is abused, and I am too much of a coward to act...I fear...I"Roe turned away, "I must go now, there is a raid, we should be back this evening."
Vestia said nothing as her wife walked away, a warrior at the cross roads of greatness, she only needed a sign to point her in the right direction.
Pages brought horses loaded with gear, me, Bryseis, a few other soldiers including Hara were privileged enough to have our own mares.
Armor was passed out and we were all helmed, me numbly, I was supposed to be stopping this. It was insanity to bring a child into her brutish game of politics, to use the sanctity of marriage to steal and corrupt Queendom.
We rode out fast, the young soldiers singing their battle songs, foolish enough to be taken by Bryseis's grand show. The senior ranks and my wise Hara looked worried, and they all looked to me.
I knew then that the time was close at hand, the time for me to take control of the army. At midday we arrived on the village, the people took cover in fright only being a group of farmers with no warriors among them, especially not enough to battle and army.
That was why Bryseis chose the village, a royal woman called for a royal child, but she was too much of a coward to go for child of another local court, especially the much, hated Niamlin.
"We have come to do no harm"Bryseis told them, "Only to exchange gold."
The chief of the village came out, "We are a poor village and have nothing to trade for gold"
"I have come for a child, a girl child for which I will pay twice her weight in gold"Bryseis explained.
"A girl child?"the chief asked incredulously.
"Yes"Bryeis answered, "They are not of much value to you, to us they are priceless"
The chief eyed her, "If they are so priceless surely two of your magnificent horses, one for me and one for the father of the girl, is little to pay...along with the gold of course. For such a girl."
Bryseis laughed, "You are a born leader old man. A great negotiator, I am Commander Bryseis Grafeal and to your price agree of one healthy girl child of no more than 18 moons, no less than nine."
"People of the village"the chief called, "Families with girl babes come from your homes if you agree to these terms nothing more for we are simple people."
A great wail rose in the village from the mothers as their girls were taken from their arms. Some husbands left their huts still struggling with their wives, eager to present their babes to Bryseis.
She dismounted and motioned for me to do so, stopping to inspect each of the children. She finished still not satisfied.
"There was one I saw"she announced, "A red headed girl run away with her mother, for her I will give my own sword, three horses and four times her weight in gold."
The chief looked sorrowful, "That would be the daughter of Chyna, a widow, she has no husband to tell her what is right."
"Yes"Bryseis said, "So she'd have no interest in gold or horses or swords, her wealth is in every strand of the red hair, every blush of her girl...such a cherished child is worth a stately ransom."
Ransom. The word stung me; Bryseis was taking advantage of the brutish will of men, their greed and disregard for women and girls. That was lower than a man could ever sink. Bryseis was nothing but a yellow swine.
The chief called to some men to go to the house of Chyna and retrieve her baby.
"Bryseis"I hissed lowly, "Surely you will not allow a child to be ripped from her mother's grasp?"
"I am paying for her"the Commander told me, "Is it better to wage war on this village and take the child as a spoil?"
The men came pulling a woman behind them.
"She has hidden the child,"one of them told the chief.
I called to Bryseis once more but she raised her hand to quiet me.
"Please brave warrior"Chyna begged, "Please forget my little fair Ju she is pretty yes but dumb as a sow."
Bryseis laughed, "My mother was a poor woman like you, in a village just as this, my fair wise Chyna-not much else I know of her because I was sold to Lycia who fell in love with my golden hair and clear eyes, the village was paid the ransom of a goddess."
Bryseis was lying; she had been stolen from another royal family, just as she planned to steal this girl.
"Now I am commander of an army, my wife is a queen. I have received a good education, all can belong to Ju who will one day rule in my place and her own daughters after her, never to be ruled by a man or burdened by his seed and brutish will"
"How dare you insult us"the chief exclaimed.
"Hush little man"Bryseis told him.
"Give her what she wants"A villager called he slapped China "Where have you hidden the girl, bitch."
"See how they are?"Bryseis asked.
"Never, I will never"Chyna cried.
"Selfish, foolish woman"Bryseis said, "You dishonor your village and your child."
"I'll have none of it"the chief said, "Take the babe and leave us."
"It is up to Chyna"Bryseis said, playing her usual games, she was annoyed now and wanted to cause some damage before she left the village.
"Even if I order the slaughter of every child here?"Bryseis asked.
"Please"The chief, begged, "Go on fetch the girl, I hear her cries."
One of the men got the girl and returned with her, red face streaked with tears.
He handed her to Bryseis who removed her helm and took the child.
"Give them the gold,"she said, "We have a new princess."
"Filthy swine-bitch"Chyna spat, "May the goddess curse your golden head, may your army be-damned."
The other women made signs and too spat in the dirt, it seemed as one.
"Now, I trade with you fairly, and you curse me-"Bryseis Grafeal was angry,
"Well if I am to have the fury of the goddess, give me all of her fury...warriors kill all the children here."
"Surely we cannot take arms against children,"I said.
"Kill them I say"Bryseis yelled the baby in her arms began to squall.
"No"I told her, removing my sword and dropping it "I will have no part in this."
The others drew their swords I turned to see them drop theirs onto the ground.
"Harlots"Bryseis called, "Disobedient. Are you not of Fletalin?"
I shook my head, "Not of the Fletalin that murders and steals children."
"My own sister"Bryseis hissed, "The one who I have given the name that the great Lycia gave me, turned against me."
"This is mad,"I told her, "You have the babe, now let us go."
"Mad am I?"Bryseis asked pushing the child aside, the girl fell to the earth her landing knocking the wind from her.
Chyna hurried to pick her up, and Bryseis drew her sword to slay the woman.
I lunged from my horse and pushed the commander over the rear of her horse.
"Mutiny"she exclaimed, "Mutiny- I order you my army to pick up your swords and kill that brown dog."
They did nothing, only looked at me.
"Move out"I told them, "Move out."
I mounted my horse and rode away, the army of Fletalin following me.
I kept Hara close to me as we rode home, Bryseis calling that she would have my head for insolence.
"If you want my army take it rightly,"she said, "Duel me."
I ignored her until Voelia informed me that now I had to duel with Bryseis, or be brought in front of the council on charges ranging from attempted assassination to treason.
Once in sight of the castle Bryseis's ranting grew worse, she charged me with her horse trying to cause me to fall.
"Come on you brown bitch,"she called, "Once I kill you I'll burn your wife at the stake and make your daughter my whore."
I could back down no more...
"I accept your duel Grafeal,"I told her, "What shall it be?"
"Swords"she said, "Right here right now, make a ring and light torches...call the council and the court...it is Fletalin honor, once you are dead I shall take all you have as you would if you killed me."
"Mother"Hara said to me, "Perhaps this is too soon-"
"No, Hara"I said, "I have accepted the challenge."
"Please Mother, I am scared for you."
"Go on to Vestia,"I said. "If anything should happen, flee."
It was too late of course the court came not taking time to preen themselves. The council came with their books and began to record an agreement between Bryseis and I to be signed. If I was killed, my wife and daughter were all her own.
The scholars made up a ring, with the use of their calculation instruments. Great torches were lit to make up for the fading sun.
The council consecrated the circle and blessed us warriors, the victor and the one who would never step out of the ring alive. As this went on I looked about me to see Vestia and the queen, arm and arm, hands clutching. I wished that they were not there to see me to distract me. Also I did not want to see them die.
We stepped into the ring.
Bryseis wore no helmet, so I wore no helmet.
"So fair my sister"she said when we entered the ring, she drew her sword, twirled it then seemed to move swiftly for my belly, but instead tried to drive her sword through my foot.
I dodged the blow and we were upright, our swords locked, her strength was amazing. She kneed my ribs bringing back the old pain from the Niamlin mountains, with all I had I tried not to let the pain weaken me, but I was and Bryseis knocked me to the ground.
I rolled away from her sword but into another kick to my ribs.
"Does knowing what I am going to do to them slow you?"Bryseis asked, "Knowing that your lovely wife will be my mistress, your daughter my slave?"
"I rather see them dead,"I told her getting to my feet.
Our swords drew sparks as they were struck against each other. Bryseis fought with the fury of two women, and I could do nothing but ward off the blows.
I saw a chance to wound her hand and took it; Bryseis dropped her sword and ran at me knowing that I would not kill her unarmed. I dropped my sword and we began to grapple.
I punched her hard in the chest, and then in the neck, she gave a choked roar for blood and went for my throat locking her strong hands around it.
I was able to hold on to consciousness and butt her head with my own; she let go staggering close to her sword which she flipped into her hand with her foot.
I lunged for mine a move that proved to be a mistake; Bryseis caught my side running my flank clean through, staking me to the ground.
I kicked her back and pulled the sword out, I was in a squat trying to stand when Bryseis ran at me once more. I flipped her over me; she grabbed the back on my tunic and was on me once I fell, trying to pluck out my eyes.
I grabbed my dagger from my boot and cut her right above the eye, then once again kicked her away.
"I have always imagined how it would be to fight you to the death, Roe"she said blinking away blood, "You do not disappoint"
"I am glad,"I told her, throwing the dagger away.
She ran at me once more and I met her with a flying kick to the chest, she lay stunned. I decided not to let her stand ever again.
I was on her my knee in her belly my forearm crushing her throat.
A blind panic filled her eyes as she struggled against me, as her throat began to give way. She snarled at me as I bear down harder her mind busy working on ways to get the better of me once again.
She quickly realized that it was over, I saw her make the decision to give up and die, the fight in her eyes faded, her snarl grew almost sorrowful.
Her throat caved in and she was dead.
I feared that I was likely to follow; I stood slowly, and walked towards the outside of the ring. As I stepped from the battle the court cheered, the soldiers saluted me.
"Women, of Fletalin"I called to them, "Now is the end of the tyranny of Bryseis Grafeal, the scarlet hawk. Now come I, Roe Hazure owl of the land."
A great cheer rose up, and I knew then that I was not to die, not for a very long time.
Then, I was Commander.
Pipes played and drums beat as Bryseis's body was carried off to be burned on the royal lake, where all the dead royals were floated out and set afire.
I led the army which followed the cart that held Bryseis's linen wrapped body; it was driven by one of the council members, as was tradition.
I had insisted that Bryseis have the funeral of a commander even though her life had been dishonorable. The service was made a silent one by the council the trademark of one who had lived corruptly, there were to be no words said over her body by loved ones or even blessed ones.
I turned behind me to see Minestra's royal wagon, Vestia was in there with her.
I longed for the verbal comforts of my wife; we had been too surrounded by medical scholars the night before to talk. The only thing I had been able to do was order a proper funeral for Bryseis.
During the night I had actually dreamt the horrid woman was alive, and even as I watched her funeral pyre be lit and sent sailing did I wish her not to be dead.
The second half of the ceremony then took place, my coronation.
I kneeled before the queen and received the helm of Bryseis, I felt strange putting it on my head. I gave my captain's sash to Gwain, who gave her lieutenant's sash to my daughter.
I felt an even heavier weight be pressed upon me.
There were festivities the entire day in my honor, even beyond the court. I had ridden out of the court to escape the joyous occasion only to find that word had spread of Bryseis death. Singing and music rose from the city as I watched from a hill.
"They all know that better times have arrived"Vestia said, I turned to see that she followed me on Hara's horse.
"I only hope that I do not let them down" I said, she rode next to me and clasped my hand, kissing it.
"Of course you won't"she said, she regarded my new uniform, "It will take me a time to get used to you in Bryseis's uniform."
"I do look incredibly regal in this long cape"I said, mine was green as we spoke my helmet was being made. I preferred silver to gold, and green over the scarlet of Bryseis. The soldiers had nearly exhausted the tailors of the court trying to get green tunics, the lieutenants green sashes.
"You've always been regal my love"Vestia smiled at me, then in Terrlin language she said with a perfect accent, "Every move you make in that uniform makes my whole body blush...tonight I shall show you how very pleased I am with you."
I laughed, "Who taught you that?"
"I've picked up some words from you and Hara, but she taught me a few choice words"Vestia smiled.
"Well I cannot wait"I turned my horse towards the castle and my wife followed calling behind me, "I'll be careful not to finish you off."
We frolicked to the castle and onto her chambers like children, where we instantly aged into lovers. Vestia made love to me more passionately than she ever had. We finally had the rest of our lives it seemed, to make love, to grow old together.
I slept in her arms that night in a peaceful sleep violated by thoughts of Bryseis a filthy corpse deep under the ground clawing through dirt towards the surface, it caught in her mouth as she moved like some lethargic blind creature.
"But she was not buried"Vestia exclaimed nearly in tears, my troubled sleep had caused her to wake me to inquire.
"I know, I know"I said still panicked.
"She is gone, Roe"Vestia told me, "She will never see another day"
"Of course"I answered, "I slay her myself"
Now for something fun, a little song I made up-it's no madrigal-but hey-who likes madrigals anyway-but ditties-I never met anyone who did'nt like a good ditty-especially after some modern ale...
FLETALIN DRINKING SONG:
If ever the goddess blessed a land
over which her waters ran
molded with her own very hand
that place would be Fletalin
our mothers and our daughters
will sing of our great martyr
that brave and handsome Hazure
she lay down for the slaughter
home where we are brave and free
to fight our fight and drink our fill
take up our swords, roar like the sea
And take a lusty lady
That queen and fighter of old
Hazure the bravest soul
That will ever walked this earth
Brought her sisters to their rightful rank
We'll raise out glasses high and sing
Toast at what tomorrow may bring
Death per'aps a glory
Never the end of this story.
I never thought that I would be sitting at a table with a man and smiling at him.
Yet there I was negotiating a trade pact with the king of Aislan, not only were we to trade grain and other such goods with them, but our literature for their ingenious inventions; ideas, knowledge for knowledge.
The king was as pleased as I was with this agreement and Minestra beat us in this joy. Together we had built a meeting hall between our realms so that all could feel safe not being confined in the others walls for communication to take place.
The King had brought his family as I had brought mine, and we were both honored at the trust we held.
The pact was signed and we bonded it by having an early supper before departing, each party leaving a set of scholars, soldiers and ambassadors to better learn of each other's ways and history.
I rode home with my party proud of the improvements I had made the last five years. I had made an ally which we had desperately needed since Bryseis had destroyed all bonds with other realms. Aislan was the only kingdom she had not insulted, and once they told their allies that we were not under her tyranny, they would surely want to make agreements.
"Roe"I heard my wife call and turned to see her gallop towards me on some soldier's horse.
"Darling"I said, "Why are you not in the coach with the queen?"
She leaned to kiss me, "It is uncommonly stuffy in there, especially since the queen called a soldier to her."
My heart sank; since I had killed Bryseis the queen had taken many lovers, soldiers, and scholars alike. Every time I heard rumor of yet another affair my heart broke.
Vestia knew this and it saddened her, she had become more robust in the last years, a bit rounder.
"No matter"I said, "Her life beyond the affairs of Fletalin is her own."
"She's becoming a whore"Vestia murmured, "Even more of a joke among the soldiers, a pity among the rest of the court."
"How so?"I asked.
"They all know that she wants you"Vestia began to cry, "And you do all you can to avoid her, because if I were not around she would be yours."
I dismounted and quickly went to her helping her from her horse.
"No Lady Vestia" I said grabbing her shoulders, "I love you and only you, and it hurts me to see the queen so desperately lonely, yet I would be hurt ever so much more if I trampled all the kindness and loyalty you showed me, how you devoted yourself to me and encouraged me, and never gave into any silly weak passions while I was away. I was never the queen's only lover, I would have died for her, yet she took her choice of the scholars-"
Vestia put her hand softly to my mouth, "I am sorry to reawake a bitterness-"
"No my love, don't be"I sighed and kissed her, "I was silly to involve my emotions in the queen's affairs when I should view them with the eyes of a Commander who half rules this realm. It's an unbecoming way for a queen to act and I shall tell her so."
"You'll only make her angry-"Vestia said, "I will talk with her as I should have and not been so jealous of affections from you she in truth did not have."
"Then do so my wife"I said remounting, she climbed on behind me and I called her horse over to me and took it's reins to lead it along with us.
The sun began to lower to the right of us, in the distance I saw Hara showing Gwain how to trick-ride, and laughing she fell off her mount. Hara helped her up and my captain clung to her for a time.
I grunted just loud enough for Vestia to pick up, she would surely know of the exact status of Gwain and my daughter.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Gwain"I answered, "She is rather close to Hara of late."
"She is very fond of the captain"Vestia said, "But of late Hara is known as the virgin goddess by all."
"How silly"I said plainly, in truth very pleased.
"She and Gwain always have a good time as just friends,"Vestia said. "They are always into some sort of trouble."
"Gwain is a fool, she should not bother with her."
"Fool enough to be a captain of your army"Vestia laughed.
I sighed, "Fool enough to be so doggedly brave on the battlefield, in the mountains of Niamlin she did all she could to save her precious Aeagia but when she could not and we had to move on, she did so while others were nearly insane from grief we had lost so many. I decided then that if I were ever commander Gwain would be my captain."
"She's a good solider"Vestia nodded, "And very charming-"
"A dreamer half the time"I said gruffly.
"Mother"Hara called and galloped over, Gwain following, "There lies Fletalin"
I nodded to her and turned my horse, over a thin band of forest that led to thicker woods, I could see the palace.
"Vestia"Hara greeted her; "I did not see you there."
"I'm only slinking,"she laughed.
"It is such a pain to have mothers who always in each others embrace"Hara jested.
"Better than feuding mothers"Gwain said, and bowed to us, "Your Graces"
"Captain"I greeted her, "It is a fine evening, is it not?"
"Yes Commander it is"her eyes spied Hara and came back to mine, I would have thought she had done it on purpose but I knew it was not true. Gwain was truly in love with Hara, and my daughter was too young to notice.
I galloped ahead with my lady at my back startled from her doze, we passed through the trees to the river and the bridge.
At the bridge I found no posted soldiers to greet us, there were usually lit torches. I figured the posts were out at some kind of play and had not yet lit them. I dismounted and called for them as the others came through the trees.
"Where are the posts?"Gwain asked instantly, "I told them we would return at this time"
The queen's coach appeared, and stopped, the door opened.
"Back Minestra" I called and drew my sword, something was definitely wrong.
Gwain did so as Hara and the rest of the army.
"Hold back"my Captain said, "Don't fight unless you are sure what it is you'll do battle with or you'll hack each other to pieces."
"Mother"Hara called in a distressed voice.
"What it is it?" I asked.
"The posts"she said, "I see them."
"There"she said pointing into some trees there were the posts swinging by their necks.
"Vestia into the coach"I told my wife, "Gwain, Hara, come with me."
They did so, the rest of the soldiers stayed with the coach.
The posts were in an awful condition their faces had been scratched away as if by some wild creature, the skin ragged hanging in shreds their throats had been torn out.
"What brutality is this?"I asked.
"I do not know" Gwain said her back to Hara trying to shield her from carnage.
"Tell the others what has happened,"I told Hara who gladly did so.
"How could someone have hung them like this, without brute strength to hold the bodies...?" Gwain asked.
"And tall enough to tie them so?"I asked, "They are high up, even higher than if one was on a horse."
Some soldiers came their stomachs instantly turning weak at the sight.
I was just as sickened by the care the killer had taken to show the bodies, a gruesome display for me and my returning party.
"Let's cut them down,"I told Gwain. "We'll have to bury them here."
Hara was out by the garden when she saw Bryseis; she drew her sword which turned out to be the one the former commander had given her.
"Back you dog" Hara called to her, "I'll kill you again."
Bryseis Grafeal walked on to her as if Hara had not threatened her life.
Hara attacked her, but only ended up in the demon's arms, their lips meeting in a kiss....
She woke up screaming, still held by strong arms.
"Lieutenant" someone said and shook her, "Hara."
She opened her eyes because the voice was sweetly familiar, it was Gwain.
"You called out, I was already sleepless and came"she smiled.
Hara tried to catch her breath and clung to her friend before remembering that she had gone to sleep after bathing without dressing.
"I was only dreaming"she pulled away from Gwain, and covered her breasts with the sheet, though she was not sure she could be seen with the light of Gwain's candle.
"After what was seen today, I suspect you would have nightmares"she stood, having brought her sword, she went to the end of the chambers to the door,
"It is alright everyone"she said, "Hara had a nightmare."
She turned to Hara's bed, "Goodnight, Lieutenant."
"Gwain"she called, "If you are sleepless, and I can not return to sleep, perhaps you'd stay."
"I do not want to intrude"her voice wavered.
"You will not," Hara told her, "Please stay."
Gwain came to her bedside, candle in her hand.
"Perhaps it is not best that I stay long,"she said.
"Why is that?" Hara asked.
"The soldiers talk, the court talks"Gwain said, "I do not want to tarnish your image."
"How would I be tarnished?"Hara asked winding her sheet into a suitable garment.
"Your celibacy is admired, it is believed you are made stronger and more intelligent by it" Gwain answered. "Like a Goddess."
Hara laughed, "They could think what they want, I will always be stronger and intelligent, even if I were not a virgin." Gwain laughed too, "If you are not scared anymore I shall go."
"I was never scared, I only wanted company on this strange night, comfort after having such a horrible vision"Hara told her.
"Then I shall give it"Gwain bowed her head.
"You know, I am not the commander"Hara said, "Only her daughter, I am a lieutenant."
At that she lay before Gwain.
"I heard that you are a great lover. Why do you hesitate my friend?"she asked.
"You are much too beautiful"she said gravely, "I dare say I can barely breathe now, if I touched you I would surely suffocate."
Hara took Gwain's hand and put it at her belly, moving it so it carressed the sheet so the warmth of her hand meddled with the skin beneath the sheet.
"Are you not dead yet?"she asked.
"Suffocation is an agonizingly slow death,"Gwain said.
"Come Gwain" Hara tugged at her "Lay with me. Make love to me tonight."
"I am sorry"was her reply, "I cannot, my mind is heavy with grief and thoughts. I would be a fool to ask such a beauty to save herself for me, but I do. For a moment when I can show you all there is about love-making, a sweet time when I will show you ecstasy, as I get only from looking upon you."
"You are a fool" Hara said, "I will wait though, my heart is already yours. Stay next to me this night with your arms ‘round me. That is my condition."
"Then I agree to it lady"Gwain said and lay next to her.
Hara kissed her cheek chastely, and soon fell asleep.
"Have you seen Lady Vestia?"I asked several soldiers doing a tour of the royal halls.
"No Commander" one of them told me, "We have toured the royal halls all through the night in shifts as you asked, we would have seen the Lady Vestia leave your chambers and escorted her to where she wanted to go."
"I am sure she is fine then"I said to them and walked to the garden, half the mornings I had known her Vestia had risen early.
I asked several scholars of her whereabouts and they did not know, I finally visited the queen's chambers.
"Has the queen awaken yet?"I asked the post at her door.
"No Commander" the post replied quite nervously.
"Is she alone soldier?"I asked.
"No"the post replied.
I opened the chamber door and went inside to find Minestra twisted in her bed sheets a naked woman I knew as a soldier next to her with no cover.
I grabbed up the solider who was not only sleeping away the drunkenness of making love to the queen but the effects of wine.
I shook her, "On your feet."
The soldier stood at attention.
"I never want you here again soldier, do you hear?"I asked.
The soldier swallowed and nodded.
"Spread the word that the queen will not be a whore even if she wants it, tell them there will be consequences"I told her, "out."
The soldier grabbed her clothes and left.
"You are Bryseis now?"Minestra asked.
"No"I answered, "I only mean to prevent a period you will regret."
"My whore period"she exclaimed.
"I am Roe Hazure, Commander and part ruler of this Queendom, and if you are acting like a harlot-girl and not a queen I will have to rule it alone"I told her.
"I do not care" the queen shouted, "I have everything I like and I do not want it. I am a wretched woman now, drowning my sorrows in acts with lovers and wine."
"Minestra?"I asked, "What is wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. Everything is absolutely fine, the people are learning to read now, and there are some in training to be healers, and all types of scholars. We have established a trade and alliance with Aislin."
"Then why are you miserable?"I asked.
She sat and hung her head, then looked up at me, "I don't have you Roe, my true love."
I stood, sword suddenly very heavy at my side, my long cape nearly tripping me.
"Yes, I know, you have a wife now"she sighed, "You know what I used to wish on those long crusades of Bryseis's? That she would die and you would return and I could have you freely"
"I know not what to say"I went to the door, "I must go, Minestra."
I left her without another look, and continued my quest for Vestia going to the soilder's quarters to inquire Hara about her.
I opened her door to find my daughter in the arms of Gwain and dressed in only a sheet. We all stared at each other for an agonizing quarter of a minute before I shut the door and retreated into the misty blue pre-morn.
"These damnable women"I muttered as I left the castle door and after greeting the guards. As I stepped out I saw in the mist three figures very close together a lone horse trailing behind them.
I called to the guards, who joined me,
"Who goes?"I asked drawing my sword.
"Commander"a familiar voice gasped, a solider whose name I could not remember.
"What is it?"I asked.
"Girls in the village..."she breathed, "A dozen of them, murdered."
"Murdered?"I asked, walking close to see two soldiers holding up a soiled and bruised creature, a stranger to me but for a few red tresses not matted.
"What's this?"I grabbed the face delicately and saw my wife's eyes.
"Call alarm"I yelled to the others, grabbing Vestia in my arms, "Call alarm."
I ran to the infirmary and kicked open the door and lay Vestia on the nearest table.
"Scholars"I called and they came surprised to see me.
"Who is this?" one asked.
"This is Lady Vestia,"I roared as if it were obvious.
The doctors immediately checked for breathing.
"Is she alive?" I asked.
"Yes Commander" I was told her as they checked for wounds, and finding none serious they undressed and washed her.
Hara joined me, "What has happened, Mother?"she asked. "The soldiers told me they found Vestia in town beaten and girls murdered."
"I am not sure," I told her.
"Gwain has ridden out to investigate,"she said going to the long table and softly touching Vestia's bruised face.
My Lady opened her eyes and looked around the room, she saw Hara and called for me.
"I am here,"I told her.
"I have failed miserably"she began to sob.
I gathered her in my arms, "Rest yourself, my love."
"Several households say their girls just rose from their beds and walked out the door, thrashing when their mother's tried to stop them"Gwain explained,
"Many followed only to find some succubus kissing and touching them like a lover as she drained them of their life's blood...it was so powerful none could stop it, except Lady Vestia who fought it with magic."
"Magic?"I asked, then added, "It did not do much to help-"
Gwain nodded sadly, we stood out in a field where their families were carrying those bodies of a dozen, Fletalin girls away in carts.
"Some rode out and called for soldiers but by then it was too late the demon had gone."
"I reckon this is the same who murdered the posts as the bridge"I said.
"I do not know if I can put much stock in my next statement."
"What is it?"I asked.
"It is mad, but you know this demon from another battle"Gwain informed.
"Out with it"I told her.
"The women said the succubus had the face of Bryseis Grafeal."
"It certainly did not"my wife told me at our supper table, we were alone that night as I had requested.
"It is in truth a succubus, some evil that has targeted our realm. It has the power to control young women in their dreams, to call them to it for their blood. It feeds from them and each time grows more powerful"she sounded quite disgusted and pushed her plate away.
"Vestia, you are not a warrior. If you had seen it coming in a vision you should have told me, I would have believed you and had all the soldiers-"
"This thing cannot be fought with swords, only magic"she told me, "And I fear I have not enough in me to kill it."
"You cannot put this upon yourself to defend the realm from a demon."
"I must,"she told me with conviction. "Everyone else has forgotten magic."
"Maybe then, there is another way,"I said.
"Roe please" Vestia said.
"I won't let you fight this demon again, it could have killed you,"I told her,
"The soldiers and I will guard the village as well as the castle. Gwain is gathering volunteers for a militia, we'll lash every young girl to her bed if we have to."
My wife said nothing.
"Have you ever known a succubus to grow very powerful?"I asked.
She shook her head, "They are compelled wanderers, which drains them."
"Very well, once it finds it cannot have any more Fletalin girls it will go"
"It does not work like that,"she said.
"It will"I insisted, "Do these demons have a weakness?"
"Their eyes"she said "That will slow the bitch down, not for long. To destroy a succubus you must disable it long enough to pour a concoction down its throat."
"Give it to me then"I held out my hand and she removed a vial from her pocket of crystal blue liquid, "Make up a pot of it we will need to give some to everyone."
"Roe"Vestia said, "This is not amateur magic, this is a serious-"
"I'll not have you set foot from this castle...someone must protect Hara."
"Her too?" Vestia asked, "If there is ever a battle will you lock her away, is she only a mascot for your army?"
"I will protect my family with all that I have,"I told her.
"If anything happens to her or me, do not measure what you have by it."she said.
"Don't be cryptic"I stood knocking several cups over in my violence, "Nothing will happen, I am Roe Hazure, owl of the land-a legend come true."
"Legends have disasters too, it is what makes them strong"she told me.
"I pray you would have told me that before I slay Bryseis"I left her.
I wondered to the garden where Minestra sat alone.
"Commander"she smiled sadly, "What a horrid day for Fletalin."
I agreed and took her hand.
"Vestia is being stubborn, insisting magic is the answer to our crisis."
"Perhaps she is right"Minestra said.
"Maybe so"I said, "Not by her hands though, I am keeping her here tonight with Hara, I can let nothing happen to them."
"Have you told Hara this?"she asked.
"No"I answered, "She will not understand either."
Minestra kissed my hand,
"I do, but then I am not a mage or a soldier, I am used to being protected."
Hara paced Vestia's quarters, "I cannot believe mother is making me stay behind."
Vestia sighed in response.
"-And even ordering you her wife to do as she commands."
Her step mother stood, "Hara, do you remember what I have taught you about magic?"
"Come here then to the hearth"Vestia motioned her over as she kneeled before the flames.
Hara did so and kneeled.
"See that loose brick?"Vestia asked pointing into the hearth, and when Hara spotted it"Reach in and grab it."
She did so, through the flames, Vestia had taught her not to feel the heat, not to allow her body to burn.
Hara saw a book behind the brick and quickly pulled it out so the fire would not damage it.
"This is my own grimoire"she said, "Full of all the spells I have ever practiced and learned, I want you to take it."
Hara shoved the book to her stepmother, "No"tears sprang in her eyes "No."
"You must" Vestia told her, "If anything should happen to me you will have all the spells and magic I have ever attempted."
Hara took the book, "What frightens you mother?"she asked "That you will give away your most prized possession."
"I was frightened of what is out there, but hearing you call me your mother kills all the inconsistencies in my soul, I want you to live dear Hara, and flourish here in Fletalin, a whole Fletalin with no monsters lurking about."
She embraced her stepdaughter, "Now let us rest, tonight."
Hara nodded and left for her chambers.
Hara had cried herself to sleep and woke to a shift of her clothes someone else was in the bed with her touching her thighs and parting them.
Hara reached down and touched a soft warm curl of hair and knew it was Gwain. She almost protested, but only moaned when Gwain's lips touched her, kissed her between her legs where her mother's enemy had kissed her before.
"My love"Hara gasped in amazement, as Gwain grasped Hara's loins and buried her head deeper within her parted thighs.
Gwain pushed at the back of Hara's thighs lifting her legs a bit and rocking her back and forth.
Storms of pleasure surged through her, Hara arched her back, joyously braving each wave and disregarding her fleeting will, and giving in.
Something seeped past her ecstasy, a pain in her right thigh so disguised by sensuality it intensified the rush that went through Hara's body that rolled in waves with the current of her lover's tongue.
"My love"she exclaimed once again when the pain came again and she weakened more. Hara began to sense something was strange when her heartbeat slowed since it had quickened with her rising ecstasy.
She called to Gwain but got no answer only that feeling of delight that was sapping her of her life.
Vestia burst through the door bringing a torch and light to the room, she pushed Gwain away with light. Exhausted Hara lay back confused and disoriented.
Vestia found the succubus Bryseis draining Hara's blood through her thigh.
Repulsed she threw a bolt of burning light at the demon, finally prepared to battle the resurrected commander.
It had broken her heart but she had lied to Roe about the demon being Bryseis, lied about the demon moving on to another place, sure that she could send it back to it's grave with her own magic.
"There is no use,"Bryseis told her, "The girl is mine, next Fletalin will be"
She leapt at Vestia knocking her into the wall stunning her, then returning to her meal of Hara, who had sat up still dazed. Bryseis hissed and she lay down, the demon hovered above her, "Call me your love once again."
She grinned a set of fangs hungrily kissing Hara's breasts, belly and thighs.
"Off her, demon" Gwain held her sword to Bryseis's head.
The succubus quickly snatched the sword and was on the young captain, talons instead of hands locking onto Gwain's throat.
The Captain produced a dagger and cut above the demon's eye as she had seen Roe do in the battle where she had supposedly killed Bryseis.
Infuriated the demon grabbed her face, "For that you'll suffer worse than that betrayer Grafeal."
Lady Vestia ran at Byrseis from behind, the demon whirled and caught a face full of blue petals and black dust. She shrieked and turned towards the wall running full speed.
Instead of impacting, the demon dissolved into the wall causing the solid mass to ripple like water.
Gwain was on the bloody bed examining Hara,
"Goddess help me, it's nearly killed her"she exclaimed.
Hara would not wake.
I paced her sick room for hours, the words of Gwain and Vestia echoing in my head, how the demon had lay with my daughter, drank blood from her.
"She would have never lay willingly with such a creature"I had argued.
"She would have if she thought it someone she loved, it can change itself"Vestia explained, "After that it would not have taken much for her to fall prey."
I turned to my wife then, by Hara's bedside, she was crying.
"Don't cry, my love,"I told her, "You tried to protect her-"
"Roe, I could have done more, how I wish I could have done more."
"No"I embraced her, "You did what you could."
"I did not" Vestia exclaimed, "There are plenty of things I could have done--"
There was a knock at the door and I called for the party to enter, it was Gwain. And surprisingly some guards and members of the council.
I greeted them and asked the nature of their visit.
"Unfortunately" Tor the head of the council spoke up after a lengthy silence, "We are here to arrest the lady Vestia."
"On what grounds?"I advanced and calmed myself so not to frighten them of course they would not come to arrest my wife with no reason, out of some kind of spite.
"On the grounds of witchery"Tor said.
"Witchery?"I asked, "There is no crime in that? She saved my daughter-"
"She could have also prevented the attack, and also the deaths of those girls the other night" the head councilwoman told me. "We have found the proof in her book of spells that was in Hara's room."
"How?"I turned to my wife.
Vestia spoke up, "It was I who gave Bryseis immortality. I told her how to prepare what to say on the moment of her death, everything."
My spirit was crushed and I forced my eyes from the bed of my dying daughter,
"Vestia, why would you do such a thing?"
"It was long before I met you, Roe, back during the times I have tried to forget, when I was a whore. I would have done anything to please Bryseis, and the knowledge of immortality was what she wanted...I told her what to do, whom to seek."Vestia hung her head "I tried to keep her from returning, the night of her death I performed a ritual. I suppose it did not work. "
I turned from her and all the others.
"Roe"she said "I'd give my life for Hara's, so that I would have never been so foolish-" "She has confessed"Tor said, "Arrest her."
"No"I turned, "Only she knows how to stop the demon Bryseis-"
"She is a traitor to the Queendom,"Tor said.
"Only because Bryseis was a part of the Queendom, no one had the nerve to see through her evil heart, to confront her, not even my wife"I argued.
"If it had been known, Bryseis would have been punished. Such workings are banned, this is more than a simple spell, a back door to immortality...look what it has caused."Tor sighed, "These are stressful times, a demon is on the loose, your daughter is sick-"
"I do not need my wife jailed,"I said, "Especially when she is the only one who holds knowledge of how Bryseis can be sent to hell."
"She must be punished for what she has done, we are not lax on royalty they are punished more severely than others, because they are royal."
"Roe"Vestia took my hand her in own,"I will go with them, there is no sense causing a fray among the court when so much is going on."
"There of course will be a trial,"Tor said.
"Then what?"I asked, "Execution? Exile?"
Tor shook her head.
"I won't allow it" I turned to Vestia, she averted her gaze and went to the soldiers. They escorted her from the room.
"Where will she go?"I asked.
"To one of the towers"Tor responded, "I am sorry for this, Commander, all of what has happened will be noted, how she came willingly so not to add to our trouble times with a civil disruption. Right now watch over Hara."
I watched my wife leave, and knew not whether to follow or stay with my daughter.
I relented to stay and walked over to the bed where Gwain held tight to Hara's hand.
"What has the bitch done to her?"she asked,"Is she dying?"
"The doctors say her body is fine"I said in reply, "If it is Bryseis back from the dead, then Hara is her first tactic in destroying me."
"It was the commander"Gwain said, "Looked as she did, only she had fangs like a dog and glowing eyes...I cut her above the eye and it drove her into a frenzy-"
"The very wound I gave her"I said, "I cannot fathom this, I have killed my enemy and in her death she has gained more power than I ever will."
At that Hara sat straight up in bed and began to scream, thrashing herself about on the bed.
I held on to her, called her name to calm her, but she continued to cry out, she fought me wildly as if I were not her mother at all but the demon that had attacked her.
Gwain ran from the room calling for the doctors and I held Hara close to me, restraining her, and pleading with her to awake from her manic trance, to no avail.
I left her with the doctors, closing her door behind me.
Gwain stood gently pressing a hand to her head.
"Captain"I said my tone telling her to stand attention, "Call the ranks, Bryseis shall have no peace tonight- we will hunt the demon down."
She heard them through the girl.
"No one shall have peace then"Bryseis said aloud.
She had been to the other side, the underworld, where the sinful spirits ranted, gnashing their teeth, tearing at themselves. She had been destined to be one of them, she had known even when she lived, and so she got the whore Vestia to fetch for her the secrets of the afterlife.
Carried on her body always was the spell to return her soul to her body once she reached the gates of hell. Vestia had tattooed it on the roof of her mouth, and told her the words to say upon her death, no doubt the whore knew how to undo her spell.
Vestia leaned over the funeral lake, where all royalty and warriors lay. She had brought them blood the night before, on this night though her exploits had been selfish.
She wanted the girl Hara, not her death, just her blood, soon Bryseis would have the power to turn the girl against Fletalin and her bitch mother, Roe.
"Daughter" Lycia's spirit called from the lake; in life she had been a tall woman with dark hair and eyes. She had been called the fiercest woman in all the history of Fletalin, but also one of the most beautiful.
"Yes mother" Bryseis called.
"Tonight should be the night you free me and all of my warriors from the underworld...where is our blood?"
"Tomorrow night mother, tomorrow"Bryseis told her.
Fool"Lycia said, "Every minute you do not act can be a moment against us...instead of pining for that girl, you should have killed the witch."
"I will kill her and use her blood to help free you"Bryseis said, "See the sun is nearly up, I must rest and absorb this girl's blood-"
"You shall, and tomorrow we will be free"Lycia exclaimed.
"Yes mother, free"Bryseis said and walked into the watery grave.
"My love"I called to Vestia in her cell.
She looked up from her writing by the light of a single candle, though it was full morning, the towers were dark.
She brought her candle and papers to the bars and kissed me through them.
"You are so weary"she said.
I nodded, "And sore."
"There is salve in our quarters, if the council has not dismantled them looking for magical implements for my trial"she leaned on the bars weary herself.
I was thinking of her soft hands applying the lemony smelling salve to my sore parts.
"Roe"she put a hand to my face, "I am truly sorry, this is all my fault. I have ruined everything and lied to you."
"Vestia please" I kissed her, "I am sure you can fix it-"
"I do not think I can, Roe"she said, and handed papers to me through the bars,
"Tomorrow retrieve my book from the council, it is Hara's now, put these papers with it."
"They will not let me have your book of spells-"
"Of course they will"she said pressing the papers in my hand, she had coiled and tied them with a red ribbon. "Tomorrow."
I nodded and sat on the floor, she sat too,
"Have you eaten?"I asked.
"No"she said, "I don't think I could."
I called to the guards to bring breakfast for her.
"You need to eat,"I said.
"Only if you eat with me"she said and smiled grimly,
"Minestra came to see me."
"Finally crawled from her bed with some young soldier to notice the death,"I snorted.
"Roe, do not be bitter to her"she leaned close to me and whispered, "She knows some magic, I taught her a time ago before the time we hated each other, she is contacting the old woman who taught me and may be able to help in this."
"Tell me more of Bryseis's abilities,"I said.
"She can manipulate masses, walls, the ground perhaps, she melted into a stone wall before my very eyes, still her eyes are a weakness, as all demon's are, the potion I gave you should suffice...there is also a store of blue petals and black powder in our quarters, a ring should be made around Hara's bed, and can be made around a person or group of people to protect them from her.
The flowers are the blossoms of the holy tree it is grown around temples and hospitals, and those who know better grow it around their homes"
"And the powder?"I asked.
"The old woman will know of it,"she said.
Her breakfast came, a tray of pudding with figs, cheese, bread, and fruit.
We shared it both eating just to make sure that the other would, our appetites having abandoned us.
"Go on and rest,"she told me, "You'll need it"
"I must look in on Hara,"I said standing strangely comforted by the meal.
"Promise me you'll rest"she took my hand.
"I promise"I put my hand to her face, "I also promise that you will not be jailed here forever, and soon we'll make love as we used to do, but first I'll need your hands and that salve"
She laughed, though tears escaped her eyes.
"Do not cry,"I said, my heart breaking, I gave a silly grin to deny it, "You are my wife and I love you."
She bowed her head one hand gripping the bars, the other my hand.
"I love you, now go and rest"she looked up at me and I knew her heart was broken too.
I turned once as I walked away to see her watching me go, illuminated with one tiny candle, and I could turn no more because a sob caught me
I stopped on the stair and doubled over sobbing, denying the strange feeling that I would never see my Vestia alive again.
Minestra sat with Hara, watching her.
I asked of the petals and powder and she showed me the tight ring around Hara's bed.
"I did not want the doctors to inquiring,"she said.
"Very good"I touched Hara's face and she gave a sigh that startled me.
"How is Vestia?" she asked.
"Still locked up"I was short with her.
"Roe, there is nothing I can do of this"Minestra said, "Vestia gave Bryseis the spell-"
I narrowed my eyes at her, and giving one look at Hara, left to rest.
It seemed I had only shut my eyes for a time before, Gwain alerted me of the setting sun.
"How is Hara?"I asked.
"She has sat up and talks"
I was glad of that and went to see her immediately.
Hara was glad to see me she looked ashen and weak, but very relieved to see me.
"Mother"she sighed as I took her in my arms, "They tell me Vestia is imprisoned."
"Not for long my dear"I told her, "How do you feel?"
"Very ill mother"she said.
"She has lost a lot of blood,"Minestra said meekly.
"Commander, we are assembled for your instruction"Gwain entered the room and stated.
"I must go,"I told Hara; she let go of me reluctantly.
"Please be wary."
"I always am"I smiled at her and received one back.
I divided up my army, leaving some at the castle and taking the rest out into the village. Minestra had already sent word for them to use the blue flowers and powder to ring around their homes, and by dusk everyone was indoors, except for the ones brave enough to join the militia.
We patrolled half the night, I had stopped with my company at a well to drink, when we heard screams in an alley and ran to find their cause.
That bitch Bryseis was attacking a woman.
I ran at her drawing my sword, the demon hissed dropping the woman.
"Commander Roe" she said, "Come to slay the demon."
"Yes as I will over and over until the demon is put away."
"I have no time for this tonight"she hissed, quickly picking up the woman and putting her over her shoulder "Soon I'll kill you, Roe Grafeal, tonight I will just have your daughter."
With that she leapt into the air to the roof of a building and scampered off.
Some soldiers gave chase on horseback; the rest rode with me to the castle where I ran to Hara's sick room.
I opened the door sword drawn to find her being bathed by Minestra.
"Mother"Hara said, "Back so soon?"
She saw my sword then and stood from her tub, Minestra helped to dry her.
"What's the matter?"they asked.
"Nothing now"I grumbled, "Except that bitch Bryseis is leading me along like a wooden toy on wheels with a string."
Hara began to dress.
"You are feeling well then?"I asked.
"Yes"My daughter, said "Good enough to walk to the tower and see Mother."
I smiled, she had taken to calling Vestia mother too, "I am not sure, it could be dangerous."
"I must see her" Hara said, "I had awful dreams mother-"
She came into my embrace.
"Let us go then,"I said keeping my sword drawn.
The towers were chilly and I asked the guard if Lady Vestia had been brought anything to warm her.
"Blankets commander"the guard told me, "With her dinner."
Hara held on to my cloak and I felt her twitch at the thought of Vestia on a stone cold floor with nothing but blankets.
"We shall have to send a bed,"Minestra said, she too held on to my cloak.
Vestia's single candle was snuffed, so the cell was black as pitch, I called her name and when I got no answer I waved the guard's torch.
In the blaze of orange firelight I saw my lady, my dear wife Vestia hanging by her neck by one of the accursed blankets. I gasped and dropped the torch and pushed Hara back, she had seen though and began to scream in anguish.
"Take her down," I told the guard, who fought with Hara to make her calm.
I took her keys and opened the cell, running hoping I was not too late, maybe her still form was still warm, her life still idling away, perhaps she would live if she could only breathe.
"Vestia"I moaned finding no way to cut her down, I caught her arm and felt no life in it. I called to the guards and another came up, I hoisted her onto my shoulders so she could cut my dead wife down.
She was barely warm by then, her face the color of ice, her body limp.
"Blood"Bryseis exclaimed as the funeral lake bubbled as if it boiled, "I bring it to you Lycia and all those brave warriors of old who perished in battle. I bring you life."
At that a bolt of lightning arched from the sky catching Bryseis Grafeal, pushing her to her knees before the lake. She began to vomit all the blood she had taken that night.
The lake received it and ceased it's boiling, at that she spread her arms and fell in, as rosy fingered dawn made her way from the east.
The council allowed my wife no funeral pyre at the lake; they said to avoid the chance that she had herself used the spell to return from the dead, she would have to be buried.
Just as Vestia told me they handed over her book to me, they told me to bury it with her. I did no such thing. Hara and I gave Vestia a Terralin style funeral since we bury our dead, not burn them, in my homeland we believe that we came from the earth so essentially must return to give life to the land through our decay.
Myseaus allowed us to use her land, the very spot where Pharae was lay.
Hara sang the Terralin ululation for mothers and wives as Myseaus and I moved the earth over my Lady's boxed body.
Our tears fell in with the soil as we worked and grieved. When we finished shoveling the earth, Hara began a new song, the Terralin song for dead warriors fallen in battle.
I sang it too having remembered the song as a child, it was an honor to be buried with that song being sang. I was sure Vestia would have been more than honored at her funeral.
I felt as if half of my world had crumbled into darkness. I would never receive her loving touch after a long day of riding and sparing with the young soldiers, nor her smile when worries of the Queendom claimed me.
Vestia had made me into a new person, and just as the spring rains pass after the ground grows green, she too was gone from me.
The day was cold and mother warned Hara to gather her cloak around her to ward off the chill. She should have felt the sting of the day, yet she felt as warm as if it were summer time. Even as she rode home with mother, and the queen Hara felt the battle within her, the battle of good and evil.
Mother had been reluctant to tell her, but Hara learned that she had been bitten by the demon Bryseis. She knew then that the demon had been after more than blood, and began to peruse Vestia's grimoire in search of an answer. Sitting in her quarters, having at last a moment alone.
She read in the last entry, a letter to her, that Bryseis's spell of immortality had made her into a drinker of blood with the power to turn others into such ghouls and use them as her servants.
Hara remembered Bryseis's words as she battled with her mother, that she would kill Vestia and have her as her slave, as her whore.
Hara knew that Bryseis was quite powerful but not enough to have all of Fletalin as she vaguely recalled the demon swearing that she would take the Queendom.
"The bitch has a plan"Hara remarked, "Perhaps to put enough in her spell to have an entire army of blood-drained peasant girls to wage war."
Hara stood and called to Gwain who quickly came.
"What are the state of the girl's bitten?"she asked.
"All dead, but you"Gwain said.
Hara paced, "Then she only needs their energy..."
"Bryseis"Hara sat down "There is no telling what secrets she has brought back from the underworld."
"You believe she has gone there?"
"Of course, she was dead for a time; my culture talks of an underworld, so does the one of Fletalin, the people of Aislin and even the Niam dogs speak of an underworld" Hara explained as Gwain took a seat, she still wore her battle kilt but had removed her breast-plate.
"Such a trip had probably compounded her evil"Gwain sighed standing wearily.
"You should rest"Hara said, walking to her love, "Sit for awhile."
Gwain did so as Hara walked behind her and embraced her shoulder.
"Tonight perhaps I can take your place on watch,"she said.
"No, I am captain"Gwain said, "The other soldiers and your mother are just as weary."
"My mother does not know that this battle will be won with more than brawn and a little magic, we will need much more magic."
"Has magic not caused enough trouble?"Gwain asked, "Lady Vestia has taken her own life-"
"No"Hara argued, "She'd have never done that-" "She gave an evil woman the key to immortality"Gwain interrupted.
"She was different then, younger, Bryseis could have threatened her."
"Magic is dangerous thing"Gwain had spotted the book, "And here you are dabbling in it once more."
"I will, because it the only thing that shall save us."
Gwain stood, "Then you shall raise worse than the dead"then was gone.
Hara glowered at the door until it slammed shut, another trick among others Vestia had taught her.
"You are very strong physically, so such workings will come easy to you...there is will to match your muscle..."Lady Vestia had explained, "Just will what you want to happen."
"How I will miss her,"Hara said aloud.
"If I am ever in an open doorway in your vicinity I shall be wary"Bryseis said, she was there suddenly standing before a tapestry of woven roses, Vestia had given her.
"You"Hara exclaimed, "A brazen vermin out in the day."
"Soon I shall rule the day as I rule the night,"Bryseis the demon said.
"You rule nothing, Bryseis, but the burial lake"Hara told her.
Bryseis nearly spoke again when a dagger flew from the right of the room piercing her arm, she laughed.
"You are full of tricks my dear, it will be my pleasure to dissect you and find out each and every one"Bryseis took a step forward.
"You murdered Lady Vestia"Hara said.
The demon stopped, "Do not jest me, girl"she spat "I have not killed the Lady. Yet."
"I have just come from her funeral, they would not allow her to be burned--" "No"the demon Bryseis hissed, "She cannot be dead."
"She is"Hara said, "You murdered her."
"I have not" Bryseis insisted, her fury causing a hot wind to stir in the room, the demon whirled and melded into the floor.
"Bitch"Hara said to the silence, "You shall pay dearly for what you have done"
She picked up Lady Vestia's grimoire clutching it close to her bosom.
Roe stood staring at Vestia's vanity, bottles of fragrances stood alert waiting for their lady's return. A silver brush still held strings of red hair, while a box of jewels offered rings, strands of pearls and broaches.
Roe recalled the day she was shooting arrows and whom she thought was a page with jeweled fingers appeared. She had turned to look and see those eyes, looking as somber at the last time Roe looked into them through the drab gray bars of a prison cell.
"My love"she went to their bed also filled with sweet memories and sat, and wept, "You have gone from me..."
Roe wiped her face and began to compose herself, there was still Fletalin, the land she had come to love. She breathed deep and caught strongly the scent of that lemony salve, and other sharp herbs, along with the smell of lavender oil and roses.
Roe stood and whirled, "Vestia?"
"My love"came a faint whisper.
"Vestia"Roe called out and shook her head, "Surely...surely I've gone mad."
"No"was the reply, "Do you believe your wife was so little filled with magic that she could not have made a way to return and say goodbye to you?"
Roe sank to the floor, "My love, my wife, how could I begin to say goodbye to you."
"Never do my love,"she said, "For I will always be with you, though we may never touch or look into each other's eyes again."
Roe's throat caught with a sob, the very words she dreaded to say aloud.
"Know that I did what was good for Fletalin. Please understand, there was only one way I could truly help save this land..."
"By dying?"Roe called in anguish, "Surely-"
"No my love, there is a force much stronger than Bryseis, now, something that has lay dormant, waiting for such a chance as to live again."
Lycia rose from the burial pool, clothed in the finery she had been burned in while her daughter Bryseis took place as commander.
"Mother"the fool said now, giving a bow of her head.
"Bryseis"Lycia said coolly, at her death she had been mid-aged, her dark hair beginning to gray. She had been of stout body, with a round face studded with amber eyes.
Now she had all that again, along with her own strength doubled.
She turned to the pool as others rose, her dead army from the revolution, only the ones who had been most loyal to her left their grave to join her, giving a rank of over a hundred.
They filed out of the water and formed lines of twenty before Bryseis and Lycia.
"Now Fletalin will be ours..."Bryseis said.
"First, I will get the girl"Bryseis hissed.
Lycia walked the first line of the ranks, "Bryseis, it is no wonder you lost this kingdom, you put too much stock in girls."
"I swore at my death-"Bryseis began.
"Then you shall have the girl"Lycia smiled, but Bryseis did not trust it, "You'll have plenty of time to chase her, dog, since you'll have nothing to do with my army."
"Your army?" Bryseis asked, "I gathered the blood--"
"Now I will lead the army"Lycia growled, "You were always a runt, I gave you so much, I gave you a Queendom, ready to be molded by a decent hand...you have let it be turned into the land my pitiful wife always wanted."
Bryseis went to attack her mother, and with a gesture of her hand, Lycia sent ten of her soldiers to thwart her. They pushed Bryseis to the ground Lycia walked and stood over her.
"Swine"Lycia exclaimed, "Blood-drinker, you will have whatever I give you and like it...you let the mage kill herself and who knows where her unleashed powers lie....have your girl, and no other after her."
"That is barely enough blood to keep me for the next evening, let alone as long as I wish to live"Bryseis pleaded, "Mother, I do not wish to die again."
"Then feast on vermin,"Lycia said, "After that girl you shall have no other."
Bryseis hissed and was let go, "Bitch, I should have left you where you were."
"Out of my sight"Lycia said coolly.
Bryseis turned panting, a wild animal, so diseased she had been banished from her pack. She fled into the darkness of the night, desperate for her promised meal.
Hara slept an uneasy sleep she felt the floor hum slightly, so that she would not have known if she had not attuned herself to know when Bryseis returned.
Hara pretended to sleep as the demon stalked to her bed, and sat on the end, almost shyly. Hara felt Bryeis's eyes upon her as she feigned sleep not sure what to do sensing the demon's reluctance to attack her. Then to her surprise Bryseis began to weep.
Hara sat up to see the demon hunched over her head in her hands.
Hara leaned over and touched Bryseis lightly, the demon turned in a fury hissing. Hara startled dropping the sheet she held to her breast.
"Who can say that they have seen a demon weep?"Hara asked.
"I am no demon" Bryseis said, facing away "Only a blood drinker, doomed to spend the rest of my days feasting on rats...I still have my own mind, I wish I was a demon, so that I would not regret what I have done."
Hara touched her once more and Bryseis turned and seized her.
"What do you regret?"Hara asked in a gentle whisper.
"I mourn that I have given my mother Lycia and her army life again. Now she has banished me...you are my last meal, then vermin."
Hara laughed, "My death will further her cause, she uses you like a dog."
Bryseis hissed again forcing Hara's back to the bed, baring her fangs.
"No matter my love"Bryseis said, "Your blood will stain the lips of my memory, when I suck at vermin I will dream of your sweetness."
Hara moved her face closer to Bryseis's letting her lips brush her chilled flesh as she spoke once more.
"Why ever have to feast on vermin, when my sweet blood can be yours each night?"Hara asked.
"Speak"Bryseis snapped. "There is no way you may have enough blood to last so long."
"If we are bonded, then there are ways my blood can be potent enough so that a little will be enough to hold you from night to night."
"What are the circumstances of this bonding?"Bryseis asked.
"There are spirits, called djin"Hara said, "Spirits that live off blood and serve their masters."
"So I am to be your slave?"Bryseis declared.
"No Bryseis Grafeal"Hara said, "Once we are bonded, we are one, whatever happens is for our own survival, if you do not drink from me, I will die, as you will."
"I am to serve you"Bryseis sat up, "In magical workings?"
"Yes, workings that will make us both powerful"Hara smiled, "Just because we are bonded"
"And these workings will be against my mother"Bryseis said.
"To save Fletalin,"Hara said.
Bryseis nodded, "To make your blood more potent, what shall we do?"
Hara smiled secretly, "A clue, Bryseis, djin can only come to those who are virgins."
Roe sat with Gwain, Voelia and a twenty other soldiers that she had put in charge of groups to sweep the countryside and city. They pondered a map and how to divide up into each sweep's territory.
Roe paused to take a sip of sweet refreshing wine as the wise Voelia her hair swept back in a silver halo sectioned off the map.
The room began to shake and all caught the table or each other to keep from losing their balance.
Over a dozen new forms filled the room, pale gaunt women dressed for battle in scarlet capes and bronze.
The women of Fletalin drew their swords and waited for the others to strike.
A distinguished woman stepped from the ghostly ranks, though she was stout she was beautiful enough to be a lady, but her eyes told she was a warrior, the leader of the others.
Roe stepped forward startling when she heard a shriek from her side;
"It is Lycia Grafreal"Voelia said clutching the commander's shoulder,
"Returned from the dead."
Hara lapped the blood that the seeped from the cut she had made on Bryseis chilly breast. Bryseis collapsed on her convulsing, weakening, as if darkness was claiming her soul once more "I believe you have tricked me girl."
Hara pried herself from under her, and moved until her back was against the head board, she gave a bloody gasp for breath parting her thighs before Bryseis who lay on her side shaking.
"Drink"Hara commanded breathlessly, "Drink or we both shall die."
Bryseis pulled herself to her, baring her fangs and biting.
Hara cried out in pain, but then Bryseis's hands were upon her, moving so dexteriously the agony was forgotten. Bryseis could feel the strength returning to her as she drank from Hara while making love to her.
Soon she was filled, as with girls she had taken before, it took longer to be satiated. Surely the girl had done her a great deed, Bryseis swore then and there that she would do all she could to fulfill her part of the bargain.
To affirm her vow Bryseis replaced her hand with her mouth, suckling at the little appendage, swollen with rapture.
Hara grabbed a handful of her dark lover's hair, urging her djin to bring her to ecstasy. She arched her back calling out once more, not from pain but pleasure.
A new feeling claimed Bryseis and when she was alive she would have called it a fainting spell, and the loss of air was making her giddy. She collapsed on Hara's breast and was held closer in the girl's arms.
"We are one now Bryseis Grafeal"Hara said when she caught her breath.
"Why?"Bryseis asked, "Why would you want to be a part of me?"
"You kissed me in the garden"Hara said, "It was very tender...I do not believe you have ever been physically harsh with a lover, and you are a great warrior, even though you used your skills to hurt. I have sent all your evil away, Bryseis, you are in the same mind you were when first born. Tonight you begin once more with me as your mother...our life will be a very long one indeed.
"It is a good thing to return and be challenged with such a foe,"Lycia growled as she clashed swords with Roe who grunted and matched her blow for blow.
"This Queendom is mine"Roe allowed herself to say.
"Not for long" Lycia said, Roe knocked the sword from her hand and ran at the bitch pinning her to the floor.
Lycia sent a balled hand flying into Roe's nose with a grunt she pushed the Commander back, leaping to her feet.
Roe scrambled backwards blinking tears of pain from her eyes, through the blur she watched Lycia raise her foot and bring it down with a thud trying to stomp her legs.
Voelia called for her to move and Roe did so in time to save a badly bruised or perhaps broken shin. Knowing the woman who had sired Bryseis, Roe would have to battle with all that she had and she feared she did not have much since the death of her beloved Vestia.
She remembered what her love had warned her before her death. She had been so wise, a guarding star in Roe's life.
Lycia growled and flicked her arms out to her sides, one each forearm four blades appeared in a row like the fins of a shark.
Roe's sword was slid to her and she grabbed it up catching the first of the razor sharp blows from the cuffs on Lycia's arms.
Roe grunted as she heaved herself to her feet pushing the bitch backwards. She came at Roe slashing her forearms in such a way they could barely be dodged.
Roe brought her sword up as Lycia advanced catching the blades and bending several slightly sending sparks.
Lycia gave a war cry as she stepped back, her troops echoing the same sentiment. She jumped high into the air quickly sailing over Roe's head, reaching down and shredding her front, cutting her chin, and maybe more if Roe had not hit the floor.
Lycia planted her feet and the opposite wall and sprang back to the floor like a cat. There were more cheers from her dead hooligans.
A low growl reverberating through the room stopped them there was Hara, a giant black dog whose own shoulders reached the height of Hara's elbow. The ruff at the back of its neck bushed, the massive head lowered revealing gleaming ivory fangs. The dog leaped running at Lycia who took to the air once more, the dog jumped too and caught her cape bringing her to the floor with a crash, then it was upon her.
Lycia screamed then melted into the floor, her comrades did the same.
The dog stood stiff, puzzled, then moved to Hara where it sat on its haunches.
"Hara"I said regarding the dog, "What is this monstrous creature?"
"A spell"Hara told me, she ran to her mother and embraced her, "Mother left it for me, she is not gone totally from us, she lives on in the magic"
"The magic in you"I said.
"Yes"Hara sighed, "She left it to me"
"And it is what Lycia is after"I looked past her at the dog who seemed to listen and understand our words like no ordinary animal.
"What is the nature of this dog?"I asked.
"A good nature" Hara insisted drawing from me and the dog came, she rested a hand on it's head.
I did not like the look of this huge black dog, then I was not accustomed to magic.
"Send it away, Hara,"I said, "If it causes any trouble...well you do recall what happen to my beloved Vestia."
"Mother please" she embraced me once more. "This is a good thing, I would not use this if I thought there was any ounce of danger."
"Perhaps Vestia thought so too, and she is dead by her own hands."
"Dead"Hara answered, "So that Fletalin could be safe, you had no idea of the power she had, the power that intensified when she loved you and I, and did all she could to make Fletalin a better place, to even compound the power in her soul by giving her own life."
I looked around me at the other soldiers.
"Surely as ever, I truly admire, Lady Vestia"Gwain spoke up.
"As I"Voelia said.
"As I"came another, and resounded throughout the whole room
"We will all speak to the council on her behalf so she may receive the honor she so deserves"Voelia said. "She had died for our very way of life...and everyone who lives here shall know."
"Then"I said my voice throttled by emotion, "Perhaps she did not die in vain."
Hara walked quickly in front of me, the odd long black cloak about her caught with a dark green broach of Vestia's around the girl's neck.
"My dear you walk too quickly for your tired mother"I said, nose swollen from the previous night, chin stitched and bandages.
Hara slowed, she seemed a different person and I knew it was that damned magic, she had a glow about her and all the court suddenly called her a great mage.
Even poor Gwain was distanced from her, she lagged further behind me stopping every so often to chat with a peasant or help with some load. She would catch up to us only to find some red faced woman hauling wood and stop to assist.
I found myself preferring Gwain to be Hara's love than that awful black dog, and her magic.
Hara stopped in front of a brothel and announced, "The witch is here."
"Here?"I asked, "I cannot go in there, I am Commander of the Fletalin army-"
"They are only women, mother"Hara laughed, "I am sure you can out duel them."
I turned to Gwain who gave her foolish smile and went past me and followed Hara inside.
Reluctantly I too followed.
It was morning and the whorehouse was beginning to stir, half drunken patrons said their goodbyes to drowsy half dressed sluts. Hara already talked to the bar matron who pointed to a side door.
Gwain and I were not allowed to follow.
The matron a burly woman who would have done well in the army explained, "Commander, Retrata has only been expecting the young one"
Hara gave me a look of assurance and walked through the door.
Beyond the door was a very tiny room, with an altar against the wall, a fat stone goddess sat on a table surrounded by candles and rotting offerings, gold draped her.
Hara had no offering but coin and this goddess she suspected needed no sort of money. Hara removed her dagger and cut a lock of her hair, then she took a bit of silver string from the embroidery on her tunic and tied it.
She gave this as an offering.
"A most gracious gift"a voice said and Hara turned, a Terralin woman was before her, the kind that reminded her of her fat aunts who though a dark brown managed to have rosy cheeks. They always smelled of spices and coal, and earth.
"Blood and money would have been an insult, food too dull; that will be as cherished as gold"as Hara's aunts the woman's hair was tied back with a raw-hide strap.
"Are you the witch?"Hara asked.
"In this place I am a witch"the old woman said, "In Terralin I am Adandera."
"And besides, Adande?"Hara asked, recalling that the word was not spoken lightly. She had never bothered to question it, not wanting to bring taboo.
"I am Retrata Torktal"the old woman gave a little bow, "Now come Hara, here is where you begin your journey."
"You already know me,"Hara said.
"Yes"Retrata said, "The Lady Vestia told me that you would come here."
"She was imprisoned, we were able to talk"Retrata said, growing annoyed at the questions, she pushed at the left wall and it moved, revealing another room lit with candles.
Hara followed, "Did you talk through magic?"
"No I hauled my fat ass to the castle and they let a strange dark peasant woman go all the way up to the tower to talk with a prisoner."
Hara laughed a bit.
Retrata closed the wall behind her and motioned for Hara to sit on a cushion on the floor before an earthen basin painted orange and yellow, the colors of Terralin. She too sat and watched as Hara removed her cloak.
"What form of magic is that?"the old woman asked.
"Djin"Hara said proudly.
Retrata pursed her lips, "Damned virgins."
Hara could not help but smile.
Retrata reached into the bowl which was filled with water, it's shimmer seemed to have a light of it's own, the reflecting light shown in the adande's eyes.
She sighed, "Yes, you have a long journey ahead of you, my Hara, and it begins in your home land-"
"I must go back?"Hara asked.
"Yes"the old woman was annoyed, "Only to visit my sister adandera, they can give you knowledge of the powers of the earth. Your step-mother, Vestia has given you a most versatile power, the power of air."
"As in the elements"Hara deducted.
"Yes, and you my dear shall have all of them, you and your djin shall be the most powerful things that walk these realms"Retrata shivered from the thought of having such power.
Hara smiled down at the waters "And what of the other elements? Fire? Water?"
Retrata waved her hand, "All you will know, but beware my child, use what you have wisely, even when you are such a powerful mage"
Hara nodded gravely, "Of course-"
The old woman shook her head, "Of course, of course....you are barely a woman, prodigies are dangerous, young with too much knowledge spoils. You have given your precious virginity to tame some rogue spirit"
"There is much magic in all virgins, for me to not use it--"
"For you not to use it on your first love, or even some passing soldier who burned you alive it felt with passion, is more of a waste"she shook her head.
"I have my djin" Hara exclaimed.
"And how do you think you will ever find a lover? One who will not mind you being pleasured by some spirit? And if you plan to hide it one not foolish or jealous enough to ask questions?"
"What I did was to save my family's honor, this land's honor"Hara stood, "You will be glad, especially when your whores are not being found dead anymore."
Retrata shook her head, she handed Hara a wooden amulet on a leather string, it was a copy of the goddess in the vestibule fat and busty.
"Give this to my sisters and bring it back to me."
Hara nodded, "I am forever in your debt adandera...I will change this world, not one of slavery, not one crawling with demons, a good world not just for Fletalin, but for all."
Retrata watched the girl go, such a brave one already growing bitterness inside.
"Just wait until she learns that she too has sacrificed her life for Fletalin, for the world perhaps, not her body, maybe her soul"
"NO"I exclaimed when Hara asked to be allowed to return to Terrlin to consult with witches, especially of the black Troktal clan.
"Mother I must" Hara said.
"No"I answered, "We need no help from witches."
"Adandera"she corrected using the Terralin word for female sorceress where it is looked down upon, a strange and dangerous practice.
"You of all do not believe the prejudices of men?"my daughter asked.
"How is it that I do?"I asked.
"They are powerful women and because of that they are exiled, ridiculed, feared, just like you and I were mother, except their power is not in brawn or intellect of the sword."
"Aye"I said. "That may be true, I will not have you traipsing the land, right through Niamlin country--"
"I did for years, Mother--"she began but I stopped her.
"And you were caught, and if it were not for me would have been murdered."
"You would have not survived yourself were it not for Lady Vestia's magic"she argued.
We paused staring at each other, sister Gwain had been watching the match of words and inhaled deeply as if she had been holding her breath.
Hara turned from me, "I will go mother, if you say I shall or not."
My patience imploded then, I stalked to her grabbing her arm and turning her to face me; "I am Commander here"I thundered, "If I say no one leaves, then it will be, if I ban magic, then that shall be."
"Then you will have no daughter"she said to me her voice serene.
"Either way I will have no daughter"I grumbled letting go, "Surely you will get yourself killed."
"No"Hara insisted her manner the same, "I will return and together we will defeat that fiend Lycia."
I embraced her though still angry at her stubborn will.
"I give my word I will return, mother."
I laughed at the promise, "No one knows what the fates have planned"
"Perhaps some of us do"she sighed.
The next night brought more evils than the last. Roe fought Lycia's demons in the streets of the city, and watched the deaths of three soldiers. Broken and bloody she climbed the stair to her chambers at dawn to meet the queen.
"Minestra"Roe bowed slightly and felt agony.
"Do you desire comforts?"she asked.
Roe did, but the thought of any hands touching her other than Vestia's saddened her.
"I am off to sleep for a time."
"I have a mint salve"Minestra said, "It is the latest thing, not smelly as that old lemon gruel"
At that Roe fell to her knees before the queen weeping.
"I would give this queendom for that lemony salve, and my wife's hands"
Minestra stooped a bit and hugged her close, "Let me take care of you Roe, it pains me to see you go neglected, sore and unbathed. When was the last time you ate?"
Roe pulled away from her, "Leave me, please Minestra-"
"No I shall not gentle Roe, my truest--"
"Away from me" the commander thundered, drawing her sword with such a swiftness the queen stepped back. Then seeing what she had done, Roe pitched the weapon down the stairs, and retreated.
Hara waited in my chambers with that awful black dog.
"Mother, Gwain has agreed to depart with me,"she said,
"She is all I need, I do not want you to cover me with soldiers and leave Fletalin bare."
I sighed, "Are you practicing flying now?"I asked, "I remember you were far behind me."
"I heard you talking to the queen and detoured"Hara said, "I knew you would
not go to her, since she means to show you kindness."
"My wife is not a week in the grave"I yelled.
"She only wanted to comfort you, not lay with you, mother. You do deserve to be comforted,"she told me.
I was sick, especially of young fawns giving me bits of wisdom, "What do I deserve?"I asked, "My wife is dead, my country is in danger, my daughter wishes to kill herself and is in love with a fool,"I ranted.
Hara hung her head, "Then we are one in the same mother, it seems these days I can only love you."
"Aye"I said, "I know the feeling"
She embraced me and I wondered what she had been like as a cherubic toddler, her hair a mass of black curls. I wished I could have memories of holding her close while so young and dependent on her momma, but the brave young woman before me was what I had to make due with.
"I leave then" Hara pulled from me, her dog was gone, in it's place her long black cloak, she pulled it onto her shoulders and did not turn to look at me again.
An hour later when I was sure that Hara and her party had gone, I went to the garden where Minestra spent her days during these times.
Her skin had gone brown a bit; her hair now had golden streaks from the sun.
She sat on a stone bench her lids low, halfway napping halfway awake.
"Minestra"I called lightly.
Her relaxed posture stiffened.
"I do desire comforts"I told her, "And I desire to comfort you, my queen, please forgive me."
She sighed, "Come sit with me Roe."
I did so.
"Hara is gone," she stated.
"I know,"I answered.
"She is very brave, as much as her mother is"she said.
"Just as stubborn"I sighed.
Minestra stood, "You are tired though, let us go to my chambers to rest"
She stood taking my hand warmly, and I was up, quickly to follow.
"I have always wanted to see the land that produced your mother"Gwain said, "The forest is dark and dense here-and there is something-"she paused, "I do not know what to call it"
"It is nature, pure-where life began according to our myth"Hara answered, "I never listened much, but now I understand."
Gwain nodded as they rode along, Hara becoming reacquainted with the woods.
They came to a mighty river set deep in the ground and she smiled,
"This is the river Hara."
Gwain smiled, "Who gave you the name?"
"My Grandmother" Hara said quietly, "She never told me, but my mother admires this river."
"How do we cross?"Gwain asked, "No one has built a bridge."
"We wade,"Hara laughed, "Welcome to Terralin, Gwain-we do not spoil the land with man made structures."
Gwain shrugged as they rode down stream a bit, to a narrower place, and crossed, the horses grunting in protest of the rushing water.
"Wait here"Hara said once they were across, she striped of her kilt and underneath wore a soft buckskin shift, tied at the waist with a knife-belt, on her back she slung her arrows and bow.
"My providence is close, and I do not wish to bring a pale one around just now."
Gwain agreed, though a little frightened of the woods, and of any Terrlin people without Hara being close by to come to her aid-let alone Niam slavers who would recognize her as being from Fletalin.
Hara left on foot, recalling hunting deer in those very woods, spending most of her time alone wishing for someone to share her heart aches with. She had grown up in her grandmother's home, a loving place with many relatives in neighboring huts, still she had longed for parents-and when she learned that her mother had gone from her at her birth she felt betrayed.
She had been enlightened though, even though the stories her relatives told of Roe Priktal were meant to discourage her from following the same path-she wanted to be a warrior, she felt her blood grow hot when she thought of the independence her mother must have felt to leave a child behind.
She had not known of her mother's rape.
Terralin was divided into four sections, called providences there was state-one, state two, three and four. Her family resided in the edge of the second providence; closest to the borders-an easy access to Niam slavers.
The village had gone to ruin years before, yet every time she had chanced to see it Hara wanted to weep. She recalled the night of the first raid, she was twelve years of age, and grandmother had come to her room calmly and awakened her.
"My child we must go"she had said, "Listen to all I say, or else we will all be killed."
Hara had begun to cry, and she hated herself, but nonetheless she followed Rhiavel and grandfather, Drulel armed with his sword out into the village.
"Take the child and follow the others,"he told Rhiavel, as Uncle Chea joined them, his handsome brown face tormented, he had his bow and arrows.
"Go with the Gods"grandmother had said.
"Blessed Be," said grandfather.
Hara sprinted through the village trying to out run the memories; they had taken refuge in the woods with all the women and children. At dawn only grandfather, Chea and a few others made their way to the somber camp. All of the others were taken by the pale-men the village was ransacked for any remaining women and children, then burned.
The women mourned that day as they moved on telling all of the approaching danger.
They did not end their retreat until they were in the upper edge of the fourth providence. Soon others followed with the same stories, of death and capture-loved ones gone.
The men had banded together to fight, only to return lessened. They all talked about Roe Pricktal in a new light, as a warrior who could have led them to some kind of victory.
Hara took up arms then, she learned the bow and the sword from a boy who was taught. She would be who her mother was not, a savior of her land, instead of a selfish coward.
Hara sighed, she had helped her people-and then left them, just like mother-for her own selfish reasons; the people did not acknowledge her, or revere her like they would have a man.
Perhaps that was also the reason her mother left.
"What's this?" someone asked in Terralin.
She turned to see a young man her own age, he was quite tall and lean-and had obviously lived a hard life.
"A pretty girl all alone-where is your family?"
"I am of the Pricktal clan,"she said.
He laughed, "The one that raised two girl warriors...like so many girls claim to be."
"What do you mean?"she asked.
He smiled and walked closer, "The clans are broken up, the men left are weak, old, or still boys-a lot of girls have taken arms; say they are daughters of Roe Pricktal-sisters of Hara"
"I am Hara,"she said.
"Hara was captured by slavers,"he said simply.
"I escaped"she said, "I have been in Fletalin."
The young man doubled over laughing,
"The Amazon Valley?"
"Please, I need to know where my grandmother is"she said, "Please can you take me to Rhiavel?"
"For your knife, and any food you have"he was suddenly very serious.
"I agree"she said, "After you take me to her I will give you the knife"she reached into her sling of arrows and removed dried fruit and meat.
Ravenous the young man devoured half the food in seconds;
"You sisters of Hara sure eat well"he smiled, "Makes me wish I was one...your grandmother as you call her is only a few hours walk-most have settled back here if you want to call it that-those Niam dogs have left us nothing."
Wary of him Hara followed and inquired about this strange cult, named for her and her mother.
"They are led by one from the North who calls herself, Roe-they are only good with arrows I hear-they kill Niam slavers, and hunt for those who cannot,"he explained.
"Can you not hunt for yourself?"she asked.
"I have no weapons, those amazons make certain they are the only ones with weapons."
"I believe you are only a rogue"she said, "And if you do not lead me to Rhiavel or try anything improper with me I will surely kill you."
He laughed, "Spoken like a true daughter of Roe."
They had walked until darkness blanketed the woods, when they came upon a group of four huts. Hara felt her heart skip, as she was led to a particular one. Keeping with Terralin custom it was marked with a broom tied with a bough signifying that an old wise woman lived there and that she was open to give advice and heal the sick and birth children- all who lived to be old were depended on for their knowledge.
The young man knocked on the door and Rhiavel not at all suspicious of visitors at night opened it wide.
"I brought you another daughter of Roe"the young man said blandly, he stepped aside and Hara saw her grandmother, small and frail, bulked by a shawl.
"Hara"she exclaimed and they embraced, "My child."
"Are you serious old woman?"the young man asked.
"Yes-this is the real daughter of Roe my own granddaughter"Rhiavel was in tears.
"Grandmother, I have missed you"Hara kissed the old woman.
"Wait until the others hear about this"the young man said and was gone.
Rhiavel pulled Hara inside and sat her by the hearth inquiring of her hunger or thirst.
Hara was brought water and bread, and told as she ate her story of finding her mother, and going to join the Amazons.
"Roe lives still?"Rhiavel asked.
"Yes and she is well--she commands the army"Hara said and told of how Roe fought the tyrant Bryseis and fulfilled a prophecy."
"She would have done good here"Rhiavel sighed, "If only we had not chased her away-Drulel is dead-he fought with our own army until all the strength was gone from him-he returned to me one night and slept deep in my arms until he was dead."
Hara's heart filled with sorrow then and she hung her head,
"He died with honor then"she said.
There was a knock on the door and Rhiavel went to open it. A strong voice spoke to her and she stepped away opening it wider, outside a group of young women stood, there seemed to be an ocean of them-Hara stood as one of them entered, a tall broad girl, with a dainty featured face.
She looked at Hara as if sizing her up then smiled.
"Roe, I presume?"Hara asked and the girl nodded.
"Hara-we are glad of your return"she looked outside at the others and added reluctantly"And waiting for your commands."
Hara walked past her and to the frame of the door, "All of you?"she asked absentmindedly, "All of you call yourself my sisters?"
"Yes, Hara" Rhiavel said, "Many of them come to me for guidance, just because I reared you and Roe."
Hara turned away from them, and to Roe,
"It seems you have a commander."
"Yes"Roe said, "You."
"No, this is your army my friend-you know them better than I ever could"Hara smiled, "What is your given name? It is strange calling you my mother's."
Hara smiled, the name meant ‘black mare'.
"Do you ride well?"Hara asked.
Melanippa brightened, "Yes as my father Melanippo"which meant black stallion.
"It seems he meant you to be a rider then, you should keep such a proud name-my mother is quite attached to her own."
"Roe Pricktal lives?"Melanippa asked.
"Yes, we have joined the amazons, she commands their army."
There was whispering among the ones outside.
Hara hoped they would not think her a traitor as she was still under the gaze of Melanippa.
"Fletalin Valley is no myth?"she asked.
"No"Hara answered, "It is a wonderous place, still I would trade it to see Terralin whole again"
"Aid us and things can be like they were, except then we may have more power instead of living unequal to men"she said bitterly, and the others cheered.
Rhiavel stepped in, "During such a troubled time we are all equal- and together we must fight off the Niam devils instead of warring amongst ourselves."
"What is this?" Hara asked.
"The remainder of the old army wished to join forces with Melanippa, but she refuses"Rhiavel explained.
"They only wish to rule us "Melanippa snapped.
"They can never agree on anything,"Rhiavel explained.
"Come to our camp"Melanippa asked, "We never have anything to celebrate but our small victories."
"I will, but I have journeyed with a friend from Fletalin"Hara said, "She is back at the river."
"The Niam woman?"Melanippa asked, "We captured her, and she was a puzzle with her armor and sword, now I understand-we shall free her immediately-our apologies."
Hara smiled, "Only to her do you owe an apology."
The Terralin amazons had a large camp, with horses and many small huts. They all clasped Hara's hand and spoke their names, they were all very strong, and she found herself attracted to their beauty. She had always thought of other girls as silly creatures before she had come to Fletalin, now she thoroughly appreciated them.
Gwain was immediately brought to her, a look of relief washed her friend's face.
"I thought that once they were done puzzling over me that they would surely kill me."
Hara told this to everyone and there were laughs all around.
They were brought seasoned and steaming game, and a bit of wine made of wild berries. Hara retold of the story of finding her mother and the story of her defeat of the tyrant Bryseis, a pang tugging at her heart for she held the same devil within her.
The Terralin girls then went into a wild dance, mimicking the story of Roe Pricktal and her daughter-there was drumming and piping and singing. When the festivities were done, everyone reluctantly retired, some two-by-two.
Melanippa studied Gwain and Hara requesting if they would like separate huts.
Hara understood then why many of them did not want to join forces with the men warriors-they truly had become amazons.
Hara thought of her duties to the djin Bryseis, but decided to request quarters with Gwain.
"They are all very beautiful,"Gwain said of the Terralin amazons once the two were alone.
"You should have been friendlier"Hara said.
"I do not speak the language."
"I believe the language later tonight will surely match the Fletalin language,"Hara laughed.
Gwain neared her, "I have my eyes on one Terralin girl"she put her arms around Hara's waist and bent to kiss her.
"You have had too much wine"Hara backed away.
"I have not" Gwain insisted, "I want to make love to you-Hara you are the dearest to me, and I wish to marry you."
Hara sighed, "I am sorry Gwain, but I cannot accept."
"You do not wish to marry me?"Gwain asked, "Is there another you love?"
"No, it is just, that I am changed now"Hara said turning.
"You mean your magic cannot allow you to love me?"Gwain asked hurt and angry.
"Please understand"Hara left the hut, pulling her cloak around her.
Bryseis hovered above her caressing her breasts with light hands.
"You mourn her," she said to Hara.
"I do, she is my sweet Gwain and I have broken her heart."
Bryseis grunted and brought Hara close to her ecstasy,
"But you are mine."
"As you are mine"Hara called out breathlessly, and Bryseis shuddered.
"I will be your wife-I will serve you-is that not enough?"
Hara clung to the djin, "It is-"
"Then call me your love"Bryseis insisted lurching between Hara's legs until her mouth was near her dark thatch, on her thigh, biting and tasting the blood that trickled forth.
"You are my love"Hara whispered, "You are"
Gwain sparred with a Terralin girl, as others watched showing her Fletalin sword techniques, she had hurdled the language barrier and was fairing well.
Hara told Melanippa that she needed to find Adande.
"Whatever for?" the young commander asked.
"I have learned magic, right now Fletalin is threatened by demons back from the dead,"she told them.
"Then your troubles are greater than ours,"she said.
"Help me find adande and I promise to return with the army of Fletalin to defeat the Niamlin forever"Hara swore before she realized what she had promised.
"Then I am yours to command"Melanippa said clasping her hand, "The hills is where they are, said to have been one of the first to live, mothers of us all though they are cruel and bitter"
"And kind"Hara said.
"Then why do they not aid us in our plight?"Melanippa asked, "If they exist at all."
Hara sighed, "I am sure they do."
"Then we will ride"Melanippa smiled, "We must get you and your friend Terralin horses, surely yours is too dainty to survive the hills."
The hills had always been a mysterious place. The ground was lush and green, sloping sensually to rounded peaks. Packs of sharp rocks jutted here and there, some as tall as a man, as big as horses.
Hara had insisted upon a small party, Melanippa, Gwain, and another Terrlin amazon by the name of Lysippa, a lively girl who asked many questions about Fletalin.
Gwain answered them patiently casting her eyes in sorrow at Hara they said nothing of the night before.
Hara had never wished to hurt Gwain, and once she would have given anything to make love to her. Now she was on the trail of magic, she felt it in her blood, the djin Bryseis's powerful soul melding with her own. When the sun was high over their heads they came upon a sharper hill and once at it's crest looked down to see three crones basking.
They dismounted and descended the hill.
"Look"called one old woman to the other two, "The warrior girls have come"
The other two sat up stretching lazily to see the young women come.
"And our lost lamb has returned-now a young lioness."
The other two crones nodded in agreement.
"You knew of my coming then,"Hara said.
"We have known since we helped birth you"said one crone, she wore a purple shawl underneath a ragged dress-like her sisters her hair was twisted into wild locks the color of half burned coals-black and gray.
"Yes,"said a second, her voice coarse so it was barely understood, "We saw a child who would deliver our land one day and so we brought the gifts that would aid you."
Melanippa spoke up, "Are you truly the mothers of us all?"
"Stupid girl" called the third crone- she had just one eye, the other rotated in her head as if though it had a mind of it's own, "Don't interrupt-myths are myths-some are lies and some are truths-some are both."
"Which is the answer to my question? "Melanippa was persistent.
"No time for story-telling"the first crone called, and moved to the side. Her ragged dress had hid a hole, a gaping mouth in the earth laced with moss.
The second crone stooped and pointed into the darkness,
"Down here"she said.
Hara peered into the hole, then turned to her friends.
She turned to the crones, and took a step towards the crevice, but was held back by Gwain who clasped her wrist.
"I'll go with you,"she said.
"No Gwain"Hara told her, "I must do this alone."
That said she was swallowed up by darkness as she descended into the hole.
Her fall was short and Hara was able to land on her feet, she looked above her to see where she had fallen from, and saw no light, or Gwain's silhouette peering down.
"Do not worry, I am here"said Bryseis.
"How are you here?" Hara asked.
"I suppose this place is magic"Bryseis carried a torch and Hara noticed that she was in her full armor and scarlet cape.
"Which way should we begin this journey?"Hara asked.
"I do not think that matters"Bryseis answered.
She was right, the place had no direction to it, they walked for hours in darkness, their feet made no noise, their voice caused no echo.
"Look"Bryseis paused and showed a garden of rocks before them.
"I believe-" Hara began.
Bryseis quieted her, "There is a woman there among the rocks"
Hara peered, and she did see a woman floating towards them, naked save a skirt of a snug, glistening material around her waist.
"How pretty," Bryseis grinned and went to meet her.
"Wait"Hara called but the djin continued, "Bryseis, I order you to stop."
She continued to pick among the rocks towards the strange woman.
"Is this who has come?"the woman asked, "A girl and a foolish djin."
Hara gasped removing her sword,
"Mistress of this cave, I entreat you-"
The woman was on her, catching Hara's wrists and pulling her into a stern embrace, her eyes were like fire, they burned orange, and yellow, blue at the very center.
She hissed, and Hara felt her legs being wrapped tight, rising up to her waist. Hara forced her eyes too look down and saw what she first perceived as a great snake. The woman shifted, and Hara saw that she had no legs only the tail of a snake, like Gwain's silly mermaid stories.
"Bitch"Bryseis appeared sword drawn.
The snake woman hissed and turned, Hara clutched behind her back like the implement of some mischievous secret. She fought with Bryseis using her hands, catching the sword, and not being sliced-sparks flying as if the hands were metal.
The snake woman grabbed Bryseis sword in both hands and quickly bent it as if it were a new green twig.
Now Bryseis hissed, sending a flying kick into her enemy's ample chest and grabbing the maimed sword and retreating. The snake woman followed, head low, arms making swimming motions as the member below her waist meandered back and forth propelling her, Hara still in tow.
She could see Bryseis in from swiftly maneuvering over jagged rocks, leaping deep cuts made into the hard floor of the cave.
Hara watched as the djin rounded a high stack of stone and disappeared from sight, and when she saw her again Bryseis had scaled the rock. The snake woman was ahead trying still to catch her prey.
Bryseis raised the hooked sword and cut the tail wrapped around Hara.
The monster screamed in pain, and was on her before she landed striking at Hara with clawed hands. Bryseis was on the snake woman's back, arm around her neck, hands at the creature's breasts.
"Now my pretty" Bryseis said, "We'll have a taste of you."
The djin bit the snake woman's neck and began to drink greedily, Hara watched and felt her own desire rise. Bryseis left the creature weak and came to Hara, bestowing a kiss and a mouth filled with blood.
Repulsed, Hara held the gore inside her mouth, a bit trickling down her throat and warming her insides like drink. She swallowed and the cave began to become dark once more, Bryseis standing above her with the amused concern of a woman caring for a lover who has over indulged.
Gwain awoke under the Terralin moon and thought she had never seen anything so beautiful, except for Hara. The girl Lysippa slept too close to her, on the cold mountain, Melanippa on the other side of the camp they had made while waiting for Hara.
The crones had vanished.
Gwain walked around camp, a heavy pain in her head and heart, she felt foolish because the brilliant Hara did not love her, she felt ashamed that it was her only concern, not the danger Fletalin was in. She looked towards the cave, a bit down the mountain, hoping to see Hara emerge so she could tell her that she would not go back to Fletalin, she had no true home unless her true love was there to share it. Gwain decided that she loved Hara more than Fletalin and would gladly see it burn.
"Such evil thoughts my friend,"a lethally familiar voice rang out.
Gwain turned to see Bryseis in her old gold armor and scarlet plumes, a hawk flying across her breast.
"You're dead," she told her, after realizing she had no sword.
"And you are dreaming,"Bryseis pointed to the camp and Gwain saw herself still sleeping very close to the girl Lysippa.
She gasped unsure of what to do.
"You're a fool Gwain"Bryseis snorted, "Never good enough for nothing more than jest, certainly not a soldier."
Gwain took a step back, looking towards the camp and her own sleeping face.
"Are you that foolish? That you are frightened of a dream?"Bryseis taunted.
"Certainly not a proper and worthy lover of Hara."
Gwain took a step forward with menace, "And certainly not you in life, demon, though I am sure your eye more than roamed over her sweet body."
"My eye"Bryseis laughed, "More than my eye knows Hara's ecstasy, her innocence was long ago my meal."
"Though this is a dream I will do harm to you Bryseis, your burning soul will burn more to tell me such lies in my sleep,"Gwain looked around her, raised her hands at her side.
"Are you calling for a sword?"Bryseis mocked, "This is your dream, should you not have a sword?"
Gwain looked past the demon at the crest of a hill, a bright glimmer caught her eye. It came closer the glow, she saw it was fire as high as a woman. Encasing a woman like the cool unburning blue at the center of a flame.
"Hara"Gwain ran past the demon.
Hara fell to her knees clothed in fire, armed in it.
Before Gwain could reach her the crones appeared one pushed Hara to the ground and raised her skirts relieving herself on the burning girl and miraculously quenched the flames.Then came the second crone with a great knife, and cut Hara open deep and long reaching in with quick hands grabbing entrails, gall and spleen mixing them all in new places, then laying her heart on top.
Then came the third crone to wrap her in a ghostly shroud, and picked her up, packed Hara away to another hole and threw her in.
Gwain stood, the new sun on her face, disturbed of the dreams that haunted her the night before.
The girl Lysippa moaned herself awake at Gwain's feet, and she certainly was beautiful, perhaps more than Hara. It would have been fine to sleep in her arms safe from stampeding nightmares.
Gwain walked a way from the camp, to the scene of her terror, and found newly turned earth and broken grass, a sight that made her heart freeze.
On impulse she sank to her knees, clawing at the damaged ground, pulling forth clumps and torn reeds until she saw the thing of her dark slumber, but a patch of filthy flesh. Gwain touched the skin and found it soft, warm, if she dared to put her lips to it she would have recognized the sweet taste of Hara.
She quickly unearthed Hara, found the she did breath and called to the others.
Melanippa and Lysippa came and gasped to find Hara cradled in the earth.
"Does she live?" Lysippa asked.
"She does"Gwain pulled her from the grave naked and dirty.
The other two brought water to revive Hara and when she opened her eyes, they brought clothes. Hara said nothing, though they pleaded for only a word, she only looked to the sky, looked at her own hands. She sat until the dusk that way, Gwain always beside her.
"Will you return to Fletalin with me?"she asked finally, surprising her friend.
"If you will not be my bride I will not, my home is your heart, and if I cannot reside there I am doomed to wander, to have no place"Gwain answered.
"You will not mourn me long gentle Gwain"Hara said, "Here among my sisters, you will find a place."
That said a great wind stirred around them, lifting their hair and garments.
"I am returning to Fletalin, now"Hara stood, Gwain could barely hear her words the gust whistled and almost sounded like a mournful tune. The other two girls and the crones appeared before them not stirred by the wind.
Gwain took a step back and found that the gale swirled only around Hara, lifting her off the ground. They watched as leaves, and grass were picked up in the whirlwind covering Hara. The wind grew furious then roaring around her, swirling high above her head.
Slowly it began to die down dropping the debris picked up.
When the last of the gusts died down she was gone.
Roe found herself once again in battle with Lycia, as she had every night since the first appeared. When darkness came the dead commander and her army terrorized Fletalin starting fires and killing young girls.
Roe fought back with her own army, some nights they won battles, some night they did not.
Lycia seemed to gain strength each time Roe fought her, those hideous metal cuffs that the dark one used for weapons shredding her garments and skin.
They fought on the cobbled streets, that were a market place by day, lined by shops and cluttered with carts, at night they ran with the blood of Fletalin.
Lycia in a fury burst from a pile of over turned barrels that Roe had thrown her into.
"Tonight you die brown bitch,"the demon growled.
"I would believe you this evening"Roe answered, "Yet that is your cry every time"
Lycia roared and ran at her, dark hair streaming sword raised and met her with blows that made Roe's entire body tremble, taking the edge from her defense. She heard the sound of ripping cloth and knew that Lycia had destroyed another one of her tunics.
Roe forced her back and felt a pain at her front; she looked to see blood at her breast.
"You nearly had me"Roe took a step forward and fell to her knees.
Lycia laughed, "It seems that I have"
The demon dropped her sword and raised her cuffed wrists, the sharp metal fins jutting out.
Roe raised her sword ready to fight on her knees to strike a blow back even when her own death was dealt to her.
A wind rushed her back, and a white body over head, as a great white owl attacked Lycia and flew on over the rooftops, circling and returning.
Lycia hissed arms raised as the owl swooped above her once again and in a blink of Roe's eye, changed into a woman; the girl she had once known as her own daughter Hara.
She kicked Lycia over and landed sword ready.
The dead commander sprang to her feet and the battle continued, sparks flying from their clashing swords.Hara backed Lycia close to a wall and the demon climbed it, jumping back to the street.
She grabbed the back of Hara's tunic and tossed her across the square and into a fountain, then with a grin, flew to the site of Hara's splash.
Soldiers rushed to Roe's side and helped her to her feet as more of Lycia's army rushed into the square.
Lycia stood at the edge of the pool like a cat alerted by a splash, and hoping for another and a fish.
The only stirring from the water came from the jets that fell.
Lycia peered in, wary.
The water in the fountain stopped flowing, a small stream rose and fell and the jets were quiet.
Confounded Lycia stepped into the pool.
With a great gush the water rose again, and in the spray Hara appeared, landing behind Lycia and running her through with her sword.
The demon screamed a wail that shook the market square and stumbled across the pool and to her knees. Hara was on her, the next blow she dealt warded by Lycia's cuffs, locking the sword.
The two struggled in the pool, Lycia planting one foot then another and pushing Hara backwards into the pool and leaping high into the air, landing on the steep roof of a shop.
Hara followed leaping just as high fighting with her sword against, Lycia's metal fins.
The demon Lycia tripped Hara and took her sword, flinging it to an adjacent building where it landed with a clatter.Lycia began to swing her arms like a reaper, and roaring, trying to cut Hara down.
Hara jumped to her feet still avoiding Lycia's spikes and jumped to her sword, landing on the other roof that creaked under her weight.
Lycia jumped too and when she landed the roof moaned and gave way.
The building roared, and finally settled, only to be awakened by the battle. The door flew open and Hara landed in the street, swordless still, Lycia behind cackling.
She reached for a dagger, strapped to her leg, but Lycia kicked her.
Hara regained her footing backing away from the approaching demon hissing triumphantly.
Roe ran across the square, cutting down any of Lycia's army that stood in her way, their leader roared when she saw her coming, and went to kill Hara.
Roe called out and threw her sword, Hara jumped, spinning she caught the sword, and as she rotated sliced through the demon Lycia's neck, severing the evil head.
The body crumpled to the street a pile of ashes, and the head disintegrated into the wind.
The army paused and they too fell into the ashes they had burned to during their funerals on the lake. A wind stirred and carried the ash away leaving Fletalin safe once again and proving to the land that she had another great champion, a warrior mage.
I hope you enjoyed Amazons of Fletalin Valley, I wrote it a few years ago, the whole story just sort of fell into place quite nicely.
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