(Well, here goes another section of the fast growing novel. If you have been following and reading, then hopefully you will enjoy this next “installment”)
Part I The Calling
Start section 12 (twelve)
Lo said goodbye to Nal and Donna and refusing to eat any more of their remaining victuals, told them that he intended, by his “super” speed to gain the village before nightfall and conduct his business in the shortest of time. He’d be back, he said, in a couple of days, three at the most. If something went wrong he’d contact Nal and try to explain. And he added, only to be mocked, “If food runs out, you’ll have to do some hunting, Nal.”
“Oh really? O master, thank you, I would have never, being no more than a silly woman with a deadly bow, been able to think of such a brilliant solution to hunger! I abase myself before my lord.”
“Now that was a truly idiotic thing to say on my part wasn’t it. I apologize to you both for my patriarchal hubris.”
Like a ghost he disappeared down the side of the hill. They heard nothing more.
“Oh, Nal, what can I do now? I love Lo! I love him with all of my heart! What do I do when he returns? How can you even look at me and not hate me?”
“Donna, listen. I love Lo for eternity. I have eternity with him, you do not. You cannot hurt me by loving him. All women love Lo, Donna. It’s something in him that calls to them. All women want a Lo for a husband, and you, a nubile fourteen, how could you not? Of course you love him and desire him. I want you to love him. Give yourself to him while you can, be a gift to him to thank him for delivering you from Torglynn and other things you will some day realize. Come, let us hold each other and pretend we have him between us.”
So they did. So they also professed an undying love for one-another as only some women can do with each other and also some too-few men. Or the kind of women who truly share a common lover. The kind of love that, it bears mentioning, the Christian God who recently entered these lands, ostensibly abhors. And no wonder, for in such love there grow fields of acceptance, understanding and peace. No God of lightning, thunder, bloodshed and fiery condemnation could tolerate such weakness, nor wimpy followers and disciples who allowed it to be and turned a blind eye. ‘Death to them! Death to their corruption! Death to their families too! Death, death, death! And then hell for eternity!’
O, do you hear the thunder play across the darkened skies? Tremble!
“Are you ready to start learning swordplay, Donna?”
“How can we, there’s only one short sword for us.”
“Sorry girl, but that sword is never used for training! That sword is alive; it has a spirit in it that guides it. It is a killer sword. If I used it you would die instantly, even if I tried to hold the blow, I couldn’t. When I handle that sword for a fight, I become the sword, quite mindless, not human at all. I become a killing machine. No one has ever been able to beat me when I’ve used my sword, even in the two-on-one events when I am the ‘one.’ I always win. The same as with the bow, I cannot miss. When I use my own weapon I become the weapon, even with the dagger if I use it in a fight.”
“How do you keep them so sharp? I saw you pull your sword and pass a piece of cloth over it and the cloth parted so cleanly of its own weight, just by passing over the blade.”
“I have a stone tucked away in another part of the scabbard. I was shown how to use it properly, sparingly. That blade is made of a steel no longer in use on this world. It hardly ever needs touching and does not get used up. That is important. Many people destroy good swords by running their stones too harshly or much too often on the cutting edges. Swords so treated die; they lose their temper and become useless. Never buy a used sword from a street vendor, Donna. They come mostly from returned or retired Guardsmen and they are dead swords. Now let’s go and cut ourselves some short sticks of green wood and do some serious sparring. There is no more time to waste. Oh look up there! See that wolf on the rise over there?”
“Oh yes. He’s so big! Shouldn’t you get your bow? Will he attack us?”
“No, he’s a friend of mine. Let’s go see him.”
Saying that, Nal put down her staff and tucked her dagger in her sleeve, then walked deliberately towards the big grey animal who stood stiff, waiting. She approached him to within a yard, then indicating to Donna to imitate her, she got down on her knees and once more opened her hands to the wolf, as did Donna. The animal realized that Donna was a part of Nal and he bowed to both of them, walked stiffly to Nal, went down and again laid his head in her lap, waiting for the pleasant healing touch and the ear massage. Donna very gingerly approached on her knees and having gained the attention of the wolf, offered to caress his pelt. He acquiesced by closing his eyes and letting out a loud breath through his nostrils. Then both healers went over the wolf’s body, pulling out thistles, burdocks and devil’s claws from the lustrous fur. When they had finished, they indicated to their new friend that they had to go by slowly standing up. The wolf stood up also and gave his head nod for thank you, turned around and proudly walked away.
“Oh, Nal, that was so wonderful, so amazing. How did you meet him?”
“Last night. At first I was just a convenient prey for him, but I taught him otherwise. He’s quite young, no more than three years I reckon, so he has much to learn yet. I do hope he’s not foolish enough to trust humans after this though. Now to work girl, we’ve wasted much time.”
She found a thicket of reasonably straight green shoots and slashed through four of them, cutting them sword length and limbing them as they walked back to the cave. Then began Donna’s training. After about an hour she had enough. Her hands were blistered as she used both hands or either hands in trying to parry Nal’s endless attacks. She was covered in sweat and her legs and arms were aching and shaking.
“I never thought using a sword was such hard work! How do you do it?”
“Years of training since I was a child. My mother insisted and our master agreed though she was his legal slave as he loved her in his twisted sort of way. He got me trainers to teach me, and my mother knew a thing or two about sword play also. The master enjoyed watching my mother and I sparring. He often made us do it naked and after, when she was covered in sweat he took her down to the floor and had sex with her. I had excellent training in more ways than can be imagined and after my mother died, I continued on my own or sometimes with another slave girl, doing much the same for him until finally I escaped.”
“Oh? Why would you leave him?”
“Well, he owned my mother and me and naturally after she died he declared I was now his servant and would become his number one concubine. His wife of course hated me with an unbridled hatred and beat me as often as she dared though he’d beat her severely if she bruised me. He liked undressing me and looking at me, feeling my skin, fondling my small breasts as they developed, testing their growth, pinching my nipples. Then his hand would move down slowly over my stomach and down, caressing my pubis. I wasn’t for that sort of thing and I’d get all stiff which made him angry and he would slap me. I knew what would soon come, I’d certainly learned as he did it with my mother. It excited me but I didn’t want it with him, he’d been with my own mother and there was evil in him. I had a temper and I knew for certain I would kill the wife and if he went beyond the touching, I would kill him. Then I’d be hanged, after being publicly whipped first. I knew the rules, but what could they do if I disappeared? How much of a search would he pay for?
“So I packed as lightly as I could, taking only my bow and some arrows, sword and dagger, all having belonged to my mother. I also took enough food for a day, all of which of course being a slave would be considered stealing. If caught I would be subjected to even more terrible physical punishment than a whipping, involving cutting and burning, probably dismembering.
“I slipped into an ox cart filled with hay and thus began my life as an independent fourteen year old girl, alone in a violent man’s world, essentially an escaped slave, something I never allowed myself to forget. I was a runaway slave, a fugitive from justice. How I loath that word! Tricks of survival came quickly and easily to me. I learned how to steal purses while distracting men with my body. I learned how to enter archery contests, making sure always that I lost some shots if it meant the bets would rise and competitors didn’t suspect I was a sharp shooter. Eventually I found a man whom I stayed with as long as he could teach me staff work. He insisted on bedding me which didn’t matter, I wasn’t a virgin, I’d had that taken when I was only eleven summers.”
“Only eleven? Did you look older then?”
“No. A Lord Bishop came to the master’s house to transact some business for the Church, the master dealt in precious stones and very high priced jewellery, and part of the transaction included me.
“I know your reputation, that you like them pure, fresh and young. This one,” he said taking me and making me stand in front of the Bishop, “is from my personal stock and guaranteed to never having been with a man. You can have her for the night, per our agreement.”
My mother, horrified for me, tried to intervene. “She’s my daughter, master, please don’t…!” He hit her so hard she went flying and lost consciousness. I would have rushed to her but that bishop held me by the upper arm so hard I had a large black bruise for weeks thereafter.
“These female slaves tend to forget their place at times and need to be reminded of their status. Sorry about the fracas.”
He clapped his hands and two of our male slaves came and carried my mother away. She never really recovered completely from that blow.
The Bishop looked me over then ordered me to strip, which I did, trembling with fear and hatred. He fondled me then ordered me to walk him to the bedroom where the very painful rest followed. I swore if I ever found that priest, I would kill him. I still hold that vow. I know the city and which cathedral he’s from. I won’t forget to avenge my mother.
“When I’d learned all that Zachary, that being the man’s name, seemed able to teach me of staff work and he became more demanding and abusive I left him also, travelling to another town with a detachment of the guard by pretending I wanted to join up and seducing a couple of the other volunteers.
“I got bolder as I enjoyed my freedom and gained a reputation for being deadly with the sword. I entered two-on-one contests and won those. Contests to the death I already mentioned and obviously won those. Two years I was on the road, just surviving, then I met Lo in a situation where things could have gone very bad for me, but between the two of us we got out of it by doing some necessary culling of some very creepy nobility. Then, both of us disguised, he as an old man, and can he ever do that trick, and I as a little girl, or small boy depending, we left that place and I just went along with him, or maybe he enticed me, I still don’t know for sure, but we hit it off in a sort of strange off-hand way and had some fun for a short time. Then life got away on us, giving us a series of adventures and here we are! Let’s get those blisters healed and eat.”
“You’re only sixteen years old? I thought you were much older, not by the way you look ‘cause you look even younger than I, but by your ways and your understanding of the world. You sound like a very old person to me, so wise. I need to know, since you could not have been a slave around here, how do you know our tongue and ways so well?”
“Simple enough. I wandered up in these parts some eight months ago and made friends with many. I have the same ability as Lo to learn languages, and I made a fast reputation among the locals with my sword and bow skills. In four months I had learned enough to pass as a native but for my face and skin colour, but for that, I told my story that my father had been a faerie lord and my mother a slave from the lands beyond the great deserts. This explained many aspects of my nature and skills and satisfied most. I was never accused of being a sorceress or a witch and if the priests had tried anything the local swains would have hidden me. Before I returned with Lo from the southlands, I had many in love with me and many hopefuls among the older unmarried boys. This kind of life, Donna, is like living on a fast stream, it never stops. I learn and grow and discover but I’m always trying to catch up to myself, never quite succeeding. It’s wild and exciting but also tiresome. I must find a place where I can slow down or this earth body will wear out before it sees its fortieth summer!
“Anything else you want to know? I’m hungry and thirsty.”
Donna just smiled and shrugged to indicate that yes, there were many more things she wanted to know but they would wait. They ate and fed their fire, then tried the water in the boot and thought better of it after tasting it. ‘Eewwww, disgusting!’ they both exclaimed. They drained the boot and put it by the fire to dry.
Donna brightly said, “If you want a water container, I can easily make one out of bark you know. We do this all the time when we go berry hunting in the wilds. All the children of the village know how to made water tight baskets…”
“Well, thanks for that information, Donna. We could have used it yesterday you know.”
“But that’s what so funny. Yesterday I couldn’t remember that I could do this. Everything I remembered was so fuzzy, as if I’d gotten kicked in the head by a horse. I’m sorry but I really didn’t know you needed a container yesterday. I’ll make you one.”
End section 12 (twelve)