A chapter of this book will be released every week to 10 days.
Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
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This is a fictional work coming from the author’s imagination. Any similarity to actual persons, events, places, organizations and companies, is purely coincidental.
Published by Heartland Indie Publishing LLC
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Mir watched from atop the wooden battlements. What she saw was shocking. She ran down the stairs, her dress swishing as she took the stairs three at a time, her grandfather’s sword in its sheath slapping against her side. Mir had taken to carrying sword and knife inside the walls all the time since the able men had left. Women did not usually carry weapons in the town unless they were returning from a hunt. There was no one left who would challenge her about it. There were three reasons they would not. First was the fact she was the chief’s daughter. Secondly, to do so would be dangerous. Thirdly, it was known Mir had special powers.
Mir took after her father who was a giant of a man and a great warrior. He towered almost a foot above most men and was known for his strength and fierceness in battle. Mir’s mother had been the tallest of women, taller than most men, so it was natural that Mir was a tall woman. Mir had gotten the best of both parents; her mother’s attractive features, knowledge, and special gifts, as well as her father’s size, strength, athletic build, and warrior nature. Mir treasured the special knowledge and talent she inherited from her mother above her size and physical beauty.
Mir was a desirable female version of her father. It was her intimidating presence that had kept her from having any suitors. She had yet to meet a man that was even close to being her equal. Most men who had thought to approach her were frozen by her “stare” and simply walked away. Mir thought that any man who could not resist her “mind tickling” was not worthy.
Mir’s long legs carried her swiftly through the gate and toward the returning warriors. She knew the returning group was much too small and the few men in the group who were still mobile were limping along or moving slowly. There were also two wagons full of wounded.
Could it be so bad? Mir could hardly believe it as she approached. Almost two hundred strong and able men had left the forest to join the battle against the invaders. The returning band numbered less than twenty and most of those were so badly wounded that they had to be carried in wagons.
Mir could tell her father was moving by sheer willpower. Without word, she went and took his arm and put it around her shoulders. He did not protest, but leaned against her. She took much of his weight.
Other women started to arrive and help the men. The few old men, three younger men who had been left to recover from previous wounds, and young boys, all of whom had been left behind, stayed at their posts on the walls as was their duty.
It seemed to take forever for the small party to travel the last few hundred yards to the safety of the walls. Once in, the gates were closed and the women immediately went to work tending the wounded. Mir’s father pointed and she took him to a bench by the gate. She lowered him onto the bench.
Her father looked at Mir, “I can go no further. I will die here.”
Mir said, “Father, it cannot be!”
“Listen, my daughter. You must take the survivors who will follow you to the forests. The enemy will come. You have little time. Listen to my last words. The enemy will only be defeated among the trees of the thick forests. We cannot beat them in open combat for their numbers are too great. They are like ants which keep coming in waves. Take away the profit from their conquest and make them pay dearly and they will leave. It is a lesson many lives have been spent to learn. If only the other chiefs had listened to me.”
He put his head on Mir’s shoulder and passed. Mir sighed deeply knowing intuitively what she must do. She knelt and put her father’s body over her shoulder and slowly carried him the hundred yards to their home. Everyone stopped what they were doing and bowed as she passed.
They bowed partly out of respect for their dead chief but also because Mir was his heir. She was also carrying her father’s body and there were few men who could carry such a load. Mir took her father to their home and took off his leather armor and his weapons. Mir wondered, as she washed then dressed her father’s body in clean clothes for the funeral pyre, how it was that he had made it home. He had three bandaged wounds and each was serious. Any of the wounds would have stopped a lesser man.
Mir took off her dress and her grandfather’s old weapons. She went to her father’s storage chest and put on some of her father’s clothes and then his armor. She took his sword and sheath with belt and buckled it around her waist. Mir dressed her father in clean clothes and then picked him up and carried him toward the gate. People started following her.
The people had known that after the battle there would be wounded and that a funeral pyre would be needed. They had built one as was their practice. By the time Mir arrived where the funeral pyre was built, most of the people were there and bodies had been placed on the lower tiers. Mir put her father’s body on the top level of the pyre in the place of honor. She stood on top of the funeral pyre and held up her hands and said in a loud voice, “Oh great Creator, I beseech you to accept my father’s spirit into your presence.”
A man’s voice called out, “Woman, get down! You disrespect the gods.”
Mir’s temper flared. She jumped off the pyre. The man who had insulted her was Aslak. Mir knew Aslak was a coward who always found an excuse to shirk from battle yet saw himself as worthy to lead. An “accident” cutting wood had kept him from the last battle. Mir touched him with her mind invoking the fear that was near the surface and then struck him with her fist. The blow knocked him over
The man got up slowly and looked around saying, “You disrespect the tribe’s gods.”
Mir said, “Those things made by the hands of men can neither speak nor move so how can they be deserving of your worship? The works of the Great Creator are apparent all around and are evident to those with eyes to see.”
Aslak went for his sword.
Mir kicked Aslak in the chest and knocked him down again. Mir then quickly drew her father’s sword and put it to Aslak’s throat, “Who are you to command me?”
Aslak looked around and realized no one would come to his aid. He also realized his life hung in the balance and said, “No one.”
The matter was settled. At least it was settled for the time being.
Mir looked around before proclaiming, “The enemy comes. I will lead those who wish to follow me into the deep forests. I will force no one to follow me. For those who do, there will no longer be man or woman, only tribe members. Women will have to fight and do man’s work if we are to live. Too many men have died. Women arm yourselves and everyone put on your ancestors’ and family armor for the journey. Gather weapons, tools, and what will be needed to survive. Take all that we can manage remembering wagons will be of no use in the deep woods for we can only go there on foot and leading horses. We will need to take only what we and our animals can carry. Hurry for life is for the living and we will not have time for mourning until we reach sanctuary in the deep woods. We leave at first light.”
Mir went and started a torch and lit the funeral pyre. The people watched for a while and some prayed to whatever gods they worshipped. After a few minutes, people started drifting away.
Skold, one of the older warriors, who had been an advisor to her father, came to Mir. He said, “Aslak is not to be trusted.”
Mir looked at Skold, “When he challenges, and he will, his life will be forfeit for he has no right to do so. The law is clear, man or woman, it is for me to rule unless successfully challenged by a relative or I yield up my position.”
Skold smiled. “You are like your father in more than appearance.”
Mir asked, “What of the wounded?”
Skold sighed, “All but six have died. There are five other wounded who, like me, can journey. One cannot.”
Mir sighed, “Then he will die here alone or with others who choose to stay. Only those who leave will live.”
Skold nodded agreement, “It is unfortunate but necessary for the survival of the tribe.”
Mir said, “Stay close, friend of my father. I will need your advice.”
Skold smiled and said, “I am also friend to your father’s daughter.” He gave Mir a head bow. He turned and walked away.
Mir watched Skold leave.
Mysha, a huntress and long-time friend of Mir came, “There is already a debate about whether we should leave.”
Mir looked at Mysha and said, “And what are your thoughts?”
“To stay here is to die. The enemy will come and we cannot successfully defend this place.”
Mir said, “Then let us organize those who are smart enough to leave.”
Certain members of the tribe worked throughout the night. By morning they had gathered all that would be most useful for survival. They had brought it all outside the walls. Fifty nine single or widowed women, the five wounded men able to travel, along with their families, were preparing to go with Mir. The group going with Mir were from the families which had been the best hunters and warriors. As a result, they had much of value to bring. Most of the tribes horses had been owned by the families of those going with Mir and the group was preparing to pack the horses with their prized belongings.
Mir saw the trouble brewing and called out to Mysha, “Prepare,” and pointed. Several women knew what was happening and grabbed their bows and prepared.
Aslak came with nine men; some were old men and there were a few young males who were not yet men.
Aslak said, “You are taking too much.”
Mir said, “We take only that which belongs to us by effort or inheritance.”
“Still, it is too much. You must leave us more.”
Mir said, “No!”
Aslak moved to draw his sword but compared to Mir he moved as slow as tree sap in winter. Mir’s blade had slashed his throat before he had his sword fully drawn. A youth charged toward Mir and Mysha’s arrow hit him. He stumbled and fell to his knees and looked at the arrow in his chest and his eyes went wide. He looked at Mir, and then he died. The other men who had been with Aslak turned and walked back to the fortress.
The group finished packing the horses and set out. Mir led them in a direction they had not expected. By noon they were in single file forming a column a half mile long. They travelled along a game trail and ate cold rations as they moved.
Mir had hunted further afield than any other. As a woman, she had been forced to hunt away from men and thus had discovered the furthest parts of the forests not generally known. Mir had a place in mind and it was to that place she was leading the tribe. It was near dusk when Mir came to the clearing by the brook where she usually stopped when coming this way.
Mir said, “We will camp here in the open tonight.”
It was dark when the tail end of the column arrived.
For three days the tribe travelled through mountain passes and narrow gorges before arriving at a crystal clear lake set in a heavily wooded valley.
Everyone was exhausted and Mir said, “We will camp here for two days. We will hunt and fish and regain our strength before moving on.”
That night, Mir had one of her special dreams. In it, a bear was following a trail of honey. In the morning, Mir called for Skold and he came quickly.
Mir said, “Did you sleep well, friend?”
“I did. Like a babe. The air and travel seems to be reviving my spirits and body.”
Mir said, “I will be going hunting with a young companion.”
Skold looked at Mir. He knew she would be hunting men. He simply said, “Mysha?”
Mir nodded and said, “Have her come.”
Mysha came prepared for the trail. Mir was waiting with her weapons and the two women left without a word passing between them. They left and backtracked the trail.
She and Mysha moved at twice the speed the column had moved. What Mir found disturbed her. They collected the markers all day and until it got too dark to continue. They slept under the trees and started out again in the morning. They kept gathering markers. It was midday when they heard them. There were four scouts following the markers.
The scouts were moving silently using hand signals. The chief scout found another piece of cloth. He did not take it off the bush but was examining it when Mir’s arrow took him in the throat. The man beside him was hit by Mysha’s arrow and fell dead. The other two scouts took cover.
The two surviving scouts waited for ten minutes then made a break for it. They ran back the way they had come. They ran for fifteen minutes and then stopped to catch their breath. They were bent over panting when the arrows took their lives.
Mir and Mysha dragged the bodies of the scouts well into the woods and took their weapons and armor. Mir marveled at their breastplates, arm, and leg plates made of metal and not the thick leather the forest people used. One of the scouts was tall and Mir took his armor for herself. Mir and Mysha went back and gathered the weapons and armor from the first two scouts they had killed and hid their bodies in the deep brush. They then travelled back to their tribe jogging all the way. They arrived in the early morning as the tribe was preparing to get underway.
Mir went directly to Skold. He immediately knew something was wrong because Mir and Mysha had enemy weapons and armor strapped to their backs.
Mir said, “Call everyone together, there at the base,” and pointed to a small hill.
Skold left to see it done and Mir turned to Mysha, “Keep your bow handy and watch for the one that flees.”
Mysha said, “As you command,” and gave a head bow before going to see it done.
Mir went to the hill and put down the extra enemy weapons and armor. She stood on top of the hill waiting. She did not speak until the people were gathered.
Mir said, “There is treachery among us.” Mir took her trail pouch and turned it upside down dumping the cloth markers on the ground. “These were left so the enemy could track us. This would have caused us to be killed or enslaved. If you know who these bits of cloth belong to, speak now.”
The wife of one of the wounded men got up and came and looked at the cloth then at her husband. She looked at Mir and said, “I go to check my husband’s pack.”
The man jumped up and started to run for the woods. He was slowed by this wound which was not completely healed. He only got about ten yards when Mysha’s arrow took him. He fell face down on the ground.
The man’s wife went and stood over him. She spat on him and said, “Traitor.” She searched his body and found a purse. She looked in it and said, “He betrayed us for gold.” She brought the purse and gave it to Mir before walking away.
Mir called for Mysha and said, “Choose another, rest a bit, and then scout our back. I want no other surprises.”
Mysha smiled and said, “As you command,” and left
Mir was dead on her feet, but she knew the column must be on the move. The column marched until midafternoon when Mir called a halt.
Skold came and asked, “Why do we stop?”
Mir said, “It is another day’s march before we will reach the next place where we can make camp. We rest here. The game is plentiful here. We will send out hunters.”
Skold nodded and said, “As you command.”
The hunt was successful and that night they cooked venison, rabbit, and fish over open fires. It was a night of feasting. Everyone slept well and in the morning, well rested and fed, they set out. It became apparent why Mir had chosen the campsite she had, for the tribe traveled most of the day through narrow and winding trails and crevices. Near dusk they came out into a heavily wooded valley.
Mir called out, “We will camp here tonight.”
The camp was set up and guards were posted. Mir was eating when Skold came to her. He said, “The people are quite impressed that you know the way and by your leadership.”
Mir said, “And the men?”
Skold said, “The old ways die hard.” Skold smiled, “They are vastly outnumbered and, though they won’t admit it, they know you are a better warrior than any of us.”
Mir said, “Once we are established and can defend ourselves well, we will invite others to join us.”
Skold asked, “Do you plan to train women as warriors?”
Mir looked at Skold, “What choice is there? Will you help?”
Mir slept well and deeply that night. In the morning, she was up early as the camp was stirring.
The tribe was on the move early and by midday had passed through into another valley. They did not stop but kept going until midafternoon when they stood on a hill overlooking a waterfall. There was a deep pond at the bottom of the falls which in turn spilled into a secondary but gradual water fall that fell over smooth rocks into the stream that ran further into the valley. The area around the falls was heavily wooded.
Mir stopped and said, “We will camp here for a few days and rest.”
Skold said, “It is a beautiful place.”
“It is but there is an even better place, a valley that has abundant game and a lake which collects the water from mountain streams. The lake teams with fish.”
Mir started giving orders.
One of the men, Carl, said, “What gives you the right to lead?”
Mir drew her sword as fast as a snake’s strike and said, “You do not have the right to challenge?”
Carl said, “It is for men to rule,” and drew his sword.
Mir smiled and said, “Your ambition is your undoing. There has been too much death. You may stay with those who will follow you. The rest will go on.”
Carl said, “I will not allow others to go with you.”
Mir knew Carl was a warrior and would turn fear to fury so did not reach out with her mind. Neither did she hesitate but attacked. Her gift let her know an instant before Carl moved what he would do and she instinctively reacted.
Carl stumbled back from the force of Mir’s attack, but he blocked Mir’s first sword blow. He was not as quick as Mir and the second sweep cut him badly and he barely kept it from being a killing cut and then only by jumping back. Mir pressed her advantage and Carl tried to circle, but she cut him off. She feinted a sword thrust. As he moved to block it, she reversed and cut deeply into his sword arm, he screamed, and she finished him.
Everyone including the men were standing stunned. They were in awe. Carl was a warrior of renown and considered a deadly fighter. He was experienced and almost fully healed from his wound but Mir had defeated him quickly and seemingly with ease.
Mir asked, “Is there anyone else?”
No one came forward.
Mir said, “Then we had best get to work.”
She ordered four of the strongest women to prepare a funeral pyre for Carl on the flat rocks and the tribe went about setting up camp.