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Sunday, May 6, 2012
The Warlord's Daughter - Chapter 3
Adira hummed as she collected eggs from the many chickens her new family owned. It had been over a month since the ambush, and she felt fairly safe that no one would come looking for her. The relief was nearly overwhelming!
I just need to be certain that I can actually beat the giant who killed my father, and then I can leave here to hunt him down.
As she carried the basket full of eggs toward the house, she noticed that Jomin was leading his boys through staff exercises. They looked decently skilled, and could make valuable additions to the King's army if trained. Her brow furrowed from her thoughts.
“Something wrong?” Hemi asked.
They had mentioned the war a couple of times, all grateful that it was halted for now, so she felt comfortable asking her most burning question. “Why have none of you enlisted in the army? Why were none of you conscripted?”
Immediately, they all looked sad. Natan cleared his throat. “We're all orphans from the war. We've all had fathers and even brothers die in action. The King himself decreed that war orphans do not need to enlist and will not be conscripted unless our country faces a dire emergency.”
“Oh...” Adira murmured. She'd known they were all adopted, but she hadn't ever thought about why. A new thought occurred to her. “But don't you want to enlist so that you can help defeat those who orphaned you?”
“No,” Dael answered with a shake of his head. “We'd all much rather support the troops by ensuring that they have plenty of food to eat. Our farm is one of several that hold a contract with the King. So long as the war continues, we will never have to worry about a buyer for the livestock we raise.”
“I see...” Adira muttered, conflicted about their answer. The warrior in her strongly felt that they should all enlist tomorrow, but she had long been drilled in strategy and the logistics of keeping the soldiers well fed and strong. What they said made total sense from a logistics point of view.
Jomin smiled at her. “How about you? Would you like to learn to use a staff. Maybe knowing how to defend yourself will keep you safe should you ever find yourself in such a terrible situation in the future.”
Adira bit her lip in indecision. If she trained with them, they might realize that she was more skilled than even Jomin, but if she didn't train, her skills might get rusty. “Um... just let me put these eggs in the pantry, and then I'll give it a try.”
A few minutes later, she was breathing carefully as a reminder not to let her true skills show. Ironically, her time training in new recruits helped her know how to pretend that she had no idea what she was doing. Jomin adjusted her grip and stance, and then led her through some basic blocks.
She repeated the blocks for several minutes, and then her mind wandered.
“You're three today, Adira! Practically a full grown warrior! Stop swinging your staff around wildly and start blocking my blows! Or do you like getting your hands whacked?”
“Father,” Adira whispered softly, and then shook her head to discourage the tear that wanted to fall.
Jomin hadn't heard her, but he suspected that she was suddenly depressed. He smiled in an effort to cheer her up. “Hey... if you learn enough to defend against wolves and other wild creatures, I might let you take turns herding the sheep.”
Jomin owned several square miles of land, and they all took turns bringing the flock out to new pasture for a week or so at a time so that the grass in the closer paddocks had time to grow between grazing. Adira grinned. “I'd like that!”
Later that night, she pulled the curtain across her part of the loft, and sat quietly thinking until everyone else fell asleep. If I want to keep my skills in top condition, I am going to need much more serious training than simply waving a staff around...
Now that her body was healed, she had reverted to her normal sleep routine. She rarely got more than 6 hours of sleep. Most days, she'd gone to bed well after sunset – her duties required her to do so many things that often midnight arrived before she crawled into bed! Then, she nearly always woke up before the sun did, and trained intensely for hours until breakfast was served.
These days she may well have gotten more sleep, but nightmares kept waking her up. She'd learned not to cry out as much, but still... sleeping was a chore she'd rather avoid. Besides, training hard before going to sleep always helped calm her mind.
The deep and even breathing of her adopted brothers made her smile fondly. They really would make excellent soldiers, and she longed to make them part of her army. Yet, they were so very happy here, and she was reluctant to disrupt their idyllic lives.
Deciding that the time was right, she slipped out the window, and climbed onto the roof. She took great care not to make a sound as she moved through her many exercises. The roof was slanted on either side to keep rain drops from pooling together on it, and was tiled with special tiles made from baked clay.
These two factors combined to keep her on her toes, but she relished in the challenge presented. A few hours later, her muscles were warm, and her body felt fluid.
I still have all my skills! I didn't forget or lose anything! This almost caused her to jump for joy, but she refrained lest she accidentally wake her brothers.
She lowered herself back into the loft, and fell asleep almost instantly. For the first time since she'd been beaten nearly to death, she felt like herself.
“Good Job, Adira!” Jomin praised. “You're learning the staff surprisingly quickly.”
Adira laughed. “What's so hard about this? You just keep repeating the same moves over and over until you can do them in your sleep. Then you let your body react.” This was exactly why she could never understand why new recruits had a hard time learning the basics. The basics were so easy even a baby could do them!
Jomin laughed. “You can say that because it comes easily to you. Many others have to struggle for years to learn what you've learned in the past three months. I think it's time you learned how to herd the sheep. I think Dael would be the best one to teach you.”
Adira nodded, already knowing that Dael was gifted when it came to handling animals. Dael handed her a small bow with a quiver of arrows. She was used to using a much bigger bow, but one look at Hemi's face made her push her disappointment to the back of her mind.
“Did you make this for me?” She asked her youngest adopted brother; the only one actually younger than her. Hemi nodded with a pleased grin.
“Thank you!” Adira gushed, hugging him.
“No problem,” he grumbled, his cheeks flushed from embarrassment.
Adira did not want to have to pretend that she knew nothing about a bow. Pretending to learn how to use it would take far too long. Court Ladies often hunted with their men for entertainment, and they assumed that she was a Lady of some sort, so she examined the bow carefully.
“This feels... familiar...” she murmured. “Hmm...” Taking careful aim at a fence post, she released an arrow and watched it hit her target exactly where she wanted it to. She looked around for another suitable target. There was an old tree that the boys often practiced their archery on. It was dead, and a permanent circular target had been carved into it. She had 5 arrows left, but three should be more than plenty to prove that she knew what she was doing.
“I feel like I've done this before...” She mumbled vaguely just as she shot the first of the three arrows at the target. She aimed them so that they all landed in the bullseye, but separated a tiny bit so that they didn't damage each other.
“Wow!” Hemi gaped in astonishment. “I'd say you must have done this before!”
“Hemi...” Adira paused as if considering her words. “Something feels strange. This bow isn't big enough. I think it's supposed to be much bigger.”
Hemi nodded. “I can make you a bigger bow while you're out with Dael.
Adira grinned. “Thank you!”
Amin cast Adira a mildly suspicious look, and then glanced at Jomin. Jomin simply shook his head as if saying that Amin was imagining things.
Adira had never learned how to herd sheep before, even so, she absorbed the knowledge Dael gave her like she was born to it. She liked shepherding; the quiet was soothing. If only Dael weren't with her, she'd be able to really push herself in her training.
As night fell, they started a fire to keep them warm, and then set up their blankets. It was nearing fall – the time of year when most of the sheep were sent to the King to be slaughtered, preserved, and set aside until needed to feed the troops – so the nights grew surprisingly cold.
Adira had flirted with all of her new brothers equally in an effort to make them care for her, but she'd never had such an excellent opportunity as this. She made a noise that announced that she was cold.
“Dael... Can I snuggle up to you? I'm freezing!”
Dael suppressed a groan. “Sure.”
Adira wasted no time merging their blankets together and pressing her body into his warmth. “Thank you,” she whispered before lightly kissing him on the lips. “I feel so much better knowing that you're protecting me from the cold. Ever since... well, the cold has really bothered me...”
“I understand,” Dael replied, forcing himself not to think of her in anyway except as his sister.
This flirting stuff is fun! Adira informed herself and she pretended to fall asleep.
The fire usually kept the wolves away, and the sheep knew it. They instinctively huddled close enough to the fire that they were safe from predators, but not so close that the smoke and the smell bothered them.
As soon as Dael was asleep, Adira crawled out of their blankets, disappeared into the woods, and then practiced her skills to her heart's content. Dael woke slightly as she returned.
“Where did you go?” He asked sleepily.
“Just behind the tree,” Adira assured him, which was code for emptying her bladder, which technically she had done.
“Go back to sleep,” Adira whispered, kissing him lightly once more.
Dael moaned. “You shouldn't do that.”
“Why not?” Adira asked innocently. “Don't sisters normally kiss their brothers?”
“Yes,” Dael answered, but refused to explain any further. “You go back to sleep.”
Adira nodded, and followed his advice.
In the morning, Adira woke up to find that it was strangely hard to breathe. She opened her eyes to find Dael sleeping on top of her. A smile stretched her lips.
Aww... he looks so sweet when he sleeps!
She shook him. “Dael, wake up!”
“'S somethin' wrong?” He slurred as his brain struggled to wake up. “The sun's not even up yet,” he said even before he cracked open an eye to check whether or not it was true.
“Nothing's wrong per se, it's just that you're heavy!” Adira insisted.
Dael forced his eyes to focus on her, and then gasped. “I'm so sorry!” He scrambled to sit up, embarrassed that he was literally laying on top of her. His hands had even been places they shouldn't be, such as resting on her small breast and cupping her firm buttocks.
Adira stretched happily, glad to have his weight off her. She yawned loudly. “So... should I start making breakfast, or should I go look for more firewood?”
“You can start on breakfast, I'll go take care of my wood. I mean get rid of some wood! I mean find some firewood!” Dael practically shouted the last sentence as he rushed off to complete his chore.
Adira was no stranger to men – her soldiers often described such things when they didn't think she was listening – so she had a pretty good idea what Dael was thinking. She quietly giggled to herself as she located the pack of salted pork that they'd brought with them. She needed to slice off any parts that had gone bad, and then slice the rest into thick slabs to fry up.
Adira had to wait a bit longer than she considered adequate for fetching firewood, but she had woken him up probably an hour before he wanted to, so she figured that it balanced in the end. Finally, Dael returned. He quickly woke up the sleeping fire, and soon breakfast was sizzling away.
After they ate, the silence got to Dael. He was used to the silence when he was shepherding alone, but this felt unnatural to him.
“We will stay here for the entire week, unless the sheep run out of grass. The sheep range out quite a bit, but return to the fire each night, so the job's easy enough. Until the wolves get desperate...”
Adira nodded, smiling at him sweetly. Would my mother and sister be proud of me for manipulating these men so easily with my feminine wiles, or would they think I am overdoing it? This thought gave her pause. She didn't have any prior practice to compare it to. Just what she'd watched her mother and sister do.
“In the meantime,” Dael added. “If you want to practice your staff lessons, or maybe hunt a bit...”
“Staff lessons,” Adira decided.
Two days passed with them watching over the flock and sparring. Adira felt that life was officially perfect. If she didn't have a pressing desire to get revenge for her father's murder at some point, she would almost be willing to truly forget her entire life up 'til now.
An eerie scream shattered to tranquility. Dael rushed investigate the sound, Adira just one step behind him. Panic coursed through her veins as she wondered if perhaps enemy soldiers had found her after all, and were attacking someone nearby.
Dael assured her that nothing was seriously wrong. One of the sheep had inadvertently stepped in small snake hole, and broke a leg.
“This one is considered a cull now. Until it's leg mends, it won't eat as much as it should nor gain enough weight. That means that this sheep is destined for our larder. However, we won't kill it now,” Dael explained, wrapping the broken leg in a splint.
“That scream sounded so human,” Adira murmured, her heart finally ceasing it's thunderous beating.
“I'm of the opinion that all creatures sound the same when in pain,” Dael stated.
When it was time to return to the farm with the flock, Dael carried the injured sheep in his arms. Adira cast him a puzzled look.
“Isn't it heavy?”
Dael shrugged. “I'm used to it. Sheep get injured surprisingly often... about once every other time they are taken out. I'm usually called in to help get the unlucky sheep back home.”
“Aww... How sweet!” Adira teased goodnaturedly.
“Yeah yeah! I'm a big softie!” Dael responded to the teasing gracefully.
The moment they walked through the door, Amin asked to see Adira. He wanted to make sure she hadn't overexerted herself so soon after healing from her injuries. Adira let him fuss over her, surprised to realize that she was very fond of Amin.
He had healed her. More than that, he had cared for her; helping her when she couldn't help herself. She silently vowed that after her inevitable battle with the giant, if she was injured, she would trust no one to heal her but Amin.
He sighed in relief. “I was so worried that you would re-injure yourself. Thankfully, you seem to be in perfect health.”
Dael chuckled. “You should have seen her! It's like she was born to herd sheep!”
Amin smiled at Dael. “Do you need me to take a look at that injured sheep?”
Dael shook his head, bristling slightly. Animals were his specialty, and he didn't need help caring for them. “Nah... I'm about to go settle her in a stall and give her a bundle of hay. She should be fine. She just needs her bone to heal.”
Amin nodded in understanding, and Dael left. Everyone else was out of the house doing chores, except Marek. He was busy cooking their dinner – which was coming up soon.
Amin brushed Adira's cheek. “I'm glad you're fine.”
Oh... Adira suddenly realized that he didn't just care for her, he cared for her! “Thank you for your concern, but I'm fine.” She smiled reassuringly, and then kissed him softly. “No need to worry about me.”
Amin watched her walk away. His heart was beating faster than normal, and he was inexplicably confused. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “She's my sister... just my sister!” He muttered to himself fervently under his breath.
Go To Chapter 4
Go To Chapter 4