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Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Warlord's Daughter - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Where is my son?”
Adira is training with the new soldiers, sir!” His aide immediately informed the Warlord.
Why on Earth is she doing that? She's far more advanced than they are,” he wondered in confusion.
You misunderstand, she's in charge of the training. The drill sergeant fell ill this morning,” the aide clarified.
Is she?” Taking advantage of the fact that no one could see his face – they were alone in his tent and his back was to his aide – the Warlord grinned in pride. Even so, his aide sensed the emotion, and covered an amused smile.
Just then, one of the guards outside the Warlord's tent announced the arrival of visitors. “Enter!” He commanded.
The two men continued to chuckle as they entered the tent. They were Generals under the Warlord's command, but hadn't had to report directly to him in years. He crinkled his brow in a curious frown.
Are you celebrating the temporary break in fighting by allowing a spectacle for the men, my Prince?” One of the Generals asked. “There's a small boy apparently in charge of this morning's training exercises.”
That's my son,” the Warlord stated.
You're joking!” Both Generals burst out.
There's no way any son of yours could be so short!”
What is he... 10 years old?”
Adira is 15.”
Before either General could respond to the confusing statement, the tent flap was flung aside. Adira strode in as if she owned the place. “There's not one new recruit worth his breakfast! I was tempted to beat them all within an inch of their lives!”
She gestured for the attendant following her to set the platter of food on the table and then leave.
Adira, you must be patient with the new soldiers. Of course they don't know how to defend themselves yet. A good drill sergeant pushes them to learn without pushing them too far.”
If you say so father, but I'm telling you, I'll be shocked if any of them learn a spit's worth of skill! Anyway, it's time for breakfast, we should eat before something disastrous happens.” Adira gestured for the two visiting Generals to have a seat and join them as she waited for her father to take his seat.
Adira, I believe I heard these two mention something about a temporary break in the fighting,” the Warlord informed her, piling an enormous amount of food from the platter onto his plate.
A break in the fighting? Now?” Adira questioned, startled enough that she almost forgot to fill her plate.
Uh... yes, my Prince,” the older of the two generals confirmed for the Warlord. He was slightly quicker at recovering his composure. Neither of them had expected the Warlord's son to be a girl! “We thought you knew, but the war is temporarily halted. We've conquered our way far enough south that our enemies hope to find a way to negotiate with us before we conquer them completely.”
Good luck to them!” The Warlord snorted in disbelief. “My brother will never stop until he has conquered the entire continent!”
The older General smirked. “Be that as it may, they've managed to talk our King into taking a break while they negotiate.”
The second General smiled. “Some of the soldiers are being allowed to go home, and you've been summoned to the palace.”
I see,” the Warlord acknowledged, suppressing his joy at seeing his wife once more. His oldest daughter – at 19 – was already beyond the ideal age of marriage, so she was likely at court waiting for the King to arrange a match for her. If she was at court, then her mother was sure to be there too.
Adira groaned. “Go home?! How pointless! We're nearly at the enemy capitol! By this time next year, the war will be won; then we can go home!”
Adira... we cannot disobey our King,” her father reminded her.
Yes father,” she agreed with a frustrated sigh. She pushed away her empty plate, having already eaten her fill. “I'm going to go train the new recruits until they drop from exhaustion. Before we leave, I wish to make it absolutely clear that they will not slack off in our absence.”
The Warlord could not contain an amused smirk. “Have fun, Adira.” He waited until she was gone before talking to the visiting Generals. “She may be short, but she is strong and skilled enough to equal 10 soldiers. No man could ask for a finer son!”
But... she's a girl...” the younger General pointed out, as if this fact had somehow escaped the Warlord's attention. Women were generally not allowed to be soldiers.
So?” The Warlord asked with a challenging glare. Both Generals decided that it was in their best interest to drop the matter, and shook their heads.

*******

Adira felt inexplicably agitated and nervous. She rode at her father's side in silence, but kept looking around. Something just didn't feel right. None of their men – not even her father – sensed danger, so Adira forced herself to relax.
The next thing she knew, they were surrounded by 100 men led by a man even taller than her father. He must be at least 7 and a half feet tall! Adira calculated their odds. At 10 enemies for each of them, the fight would be hard, but she was certain they would win.
Surrender!” The enemy leader commanded.
Never!” Her father shouted stubbornly, and Adira responded by rapidly shooting as many men with her bow and arrows as she could. These men were relying on numbers and their swords to win this battle, but Adira knew that – for her at least – a halberd would give her a much longer reach, and make it impossible for anyone to get inside her defenses.
But first, she planned to take out as many enemies with her bow as possible. Their men followed suit, which made the enemies have to work twice as carefully. Adira didn't realize it at first, but the enemy commander had a plan. He silently challenged her father to a one-on-one fight while his soldiers slowly whittled away at their men.
His plan won't work! Father will make short work of him while I help the men take care of the rest!
Just as she and her three surviving men managed to kill the last of their ambushers, a new crowd of 100 enemy soldiers appeared. They were fresh while she was running low on energy. She looked to her father, who was still battling the enemy commander. Both men seemed evenly matched, and their fight was growing ever more vicious as each was determined to win.
One look at her men was enough to see that they were growing weary, so Adira knew that it was up to her to kill as many enemies as it took until her father won his fight and the rest of the ambushers fled. She held her halberd at the ready, and shouted a war cry as she rushed towards the new attackers.
Suddenly, she felt a stinging in the side of her neck. The world grew blurry, but despite her sudden lethargy, she clearly saw her father shake his head in confusion, and then fall to the ground. The gigantic enemy commander wasted no time in separating her father's head from his shoulders.
No!” She cried out as too many soldiers to count surrounded her. They knocked her weapon from her hands, and beat her to death. They felt that a quick death was too good for someone who had killed so many of their brethren. Thankfully, she passed out long before they finished brutalizing her.
Enough!” The enemy commander called out eventually. “The Warlord and his son are dead! It's time to go; leave them to rot!”
His men nodded in reluctant acceptance, but obeyed.

*******

For nearly two days, Adira fought to stay alive. Her body hurt, and whatever they had managed to inject her with caused her to remain in a delirious sleep. She alternated between freezing and feeling like she was roasting over a huge bonfire. Her clothes were unbearable, so she tore them off, tearing most of her short nails in the process.
Her many wounds filled with dirt as she squirmed around seeking relief from the pain, the heat, the cold, and then – just when a fever raged throughout her body – a rain came that chilled her to her very core. Even in her restless unconscious state, she longed for death to finally bring her relief.

What happened over there?” A young man asked as he pointed out what looked like a massacre a hundred or so feet in front of them. His five brothers fell silent as they each suddenly wondered the same thing.
The oldest finally made a decision. “We should take a look and help out if there are any survivors.” His brothers nodded in solemn agreement.
Together, the brothers checked for signs of life, but found only one.
She's alive, but just barely.”
One of the brothers volunteered to clean her up, but it was hard to remove the thick layer of mud without any water. As he worked, the others dug the best grave the could under the circumstances, and then carefully laid the dead bodies to rest. They only took anything that might identify the men so that when the girl woke up – if she lived – she could inform their families about what had happened.
Once the girl was wrapped in a blanket to cover her dirt-laden nudity, the brothers resumed their journey home. The one who had cleaned her sat in the wagon holding her in hopes that he could warm her up.
She's still as cold as death!” A different brother remarked, placing a hand on her forehead.
It was normally only an hour to their farm from here, but the brothers decided to go as fast as possible. Even a minute could be the difference between life and death for her.
The moment they arrived at their house, the oldest brother asked the two youngest to help him fill the tub with mildly hot water. Another brother busied himself gathering herbs and ointments to treat her wounds. The one holding her – keeping her warm – continued to do so until the bath was ready. Which left the last brother with nothing to do, so he did what did best; cook. He figured a nourishing broth would be the best thing for her, and set about boiling up a powerful concoction.
Finally, the bath was ready, and all the brothers carefully helped wash away the dried blood. They prayed that most of it wasn't hers, but judging by the cuts, bruises, and wounds, the blood almost certainly belonged to her.
Who could do such a thing to such a young girl?” They couldn't tell her exact age, but based on her height, they guess that she was probably 10 or 12.
Why would anyone do this to her?”
The brothers shook their heads in concern, but no answers provided themselves.
It seemed like the very moment she was clean, she started thrashing about in the tub. “Hot,” she murmured.
They took this as their cue to get her out of the now filthy water. She struggled, fighting them in her sleep.
Look,” the oldest brother pointed out to the one that was handy with herbs and medicines. “She's bleeding between her legs. They must have raped her.”
No wonder she's fighting us,” he replied sadly. “If you all can just hold her down for a few moments, I'll slather her with ointment and bandage her up the best I can.”
It took them some time, but finally, they had her slathered and bandaged up so that she resembled a mummified corpse. She'd stopped fighting them well before they'd finished.
She's practically freezing again!” The healer exclaimed, and then sighed. “We'll take turns keeping her warm. That way we can all get our chores done and still make sure she's cared for.”
The one that had kept her warm the entire ride home shook his head. “I have to go milk the cows. I can't take another turn just yet.”
The brother who was good at cooking shrugged. “The broth is simmering now, so I've got some time before I need to check on it.”
Good, I'll make some more ointment and then take a turn,” the healer stated. Everyone nodded in agreement, and then helped tuck her into their father's bed before they went off to do their chores.
The oldest stayed with the healer and the cook for a moment longer than the others. “I'll clean out and reorganize the loft to make room for her. Father might be disappointed in us...”
For saving her life?!” The healer asked incredulously.
The oldest shrugged. “He has a strict rule against adopting girls.”
The cook chuckled. “We haven't adopted her. The moment she's healed enough to go home, we'll return her to her folks.”
With a nod, the oldest left.

I know some readers hate when new characters aren't introduced immediately, but the reason for this lack of introduction is that they are about to introduce themselves to Adira, and had I already done so, I believe that it would have just been repetitive and confusing. When rereading and editing this, I tried to figure out how to add their names conversationally, but it seemed even more awkward when I did, so just take comfort in the fact that they will all have names in the next chapter, lol!

Go To Chapter 2 

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