Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
All Rights Reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher Heartland Indie Publishing LLC. This e-book is licensed only for the personal enjoyment of visitors to this site.
It’s a Freebie 4 u.

Chapter 9

Kleb had been gone two weeks when he returned to the general. He had chosen not to stay with Mir’s people. It had been a long march back to the camp. Upon his arrival, he was immediately brought to the general’s tent. Kleb was led in and he knelt before the general.
General Azar asked, “Where is Captain Azarit?”
“He decided not to return.”
The general almost spat it, “Traitor. His men will pay for his treason.”
It was not lost on Kleb that he was one of Azarit’s men.
General Azar asked, “Were you successful?”
“Yes, general. I have a proposed treaty.” Kleb handed over the scroll.
Azar took the scroll and handed it to one of his advisors and said, “You will address me as lord.”
Kleb said, “Yes, Lord.” Kleb knew then that Azar was already planning to be king here. He would not honor the treaty.
The general asked, “How do you assess this queen?”
Kleb said, “She is formidable.”
The general’s voice rose as he said, “Don’t tell me what I already know! What is she like as a person?”
Kleb said, “She kept us at arm’s length. I think she may be devious.”
Azar said, “That is to be expected. All women have devious ways and are not to be trusted.”
Kleb said, “As you say, Lord Azar.”
The general said, “What have you learned about the enemy?”
Kleb said, “The queen is no fool. She kept us in a small community. I learned nothing of strategic value except that she had some women warriors in her inner circle.”
Azar said, “Leave me.”
Kleb bowed and left. He was no fool and knew he had little time. He went to his company and told the other sergeants what had happened and of Azar’s comments as he packed up his few belongings. Fifteen minutes later Kleb was running across the plain in the semi-darkness of a full moon. Most of what had been Captain Azarit’s company was following. The company was in the best shape of any of the soldiers with the general. They would not be caught.
The next morning, those of Azarit’s company who stayed behind were executed. There were thirty nine in all who were put to the sword. Azar thought it would serve to keep the other troops in line. He was wrong. That night, over a hundred and eighty soldiers deserted.
Kleb and most of Azarit’s former company arrived at the edge of the woods. Kleb found the spot where he and Azarit had entered the forest. He took off his weapons and started walking leaving the company just inside the edge of the woods. Kleb had gone only a short distance when he was met by five women warriors.
The one in charge said, “Why are you here?”
Kleb remembered seeing her at the queen’s banquet. He said, “I am Kleb and I have come to ask the queen for refuge for me and my men.”
“Why have you changed your mind?”
“Azar was going to execute all those who served under Captain Azarit so we fled.”
The “You may stay where you are and you will not be harmed. I will send word to the queen.”
Kleb said, “We will wait and hunt close to camp.”
The women warriors seemed to just disappear into the forest. Kleb headed back to meet with his men. When he arrived, he told his men about the encounter. His men made camp. Some men went to set snares and others to hunt. During the next three days the size of the company with Kleb almost doubled.
On the fourth day, the woman warrior stepped from the forest and approached Kleb. She said, “Kleb, the queen has agreed to give you refuge. You must leave your weapons and they will be collected. You will be brought to a place where you will make a home. You will be provided with tools and women for wives. Do you agree?”
Kleb gathered the men and told them the offer. There was a long discussion. In the end, seven left the forest with their weapons. The others left their weapons in a pile and gathered their belongings. They set off following the female warrior to their new home.
The female warrior stopped as the sun was setting. She turned to Kleb and said, “We will camp here.”
Kleb nodded and told his companions. As they were making camp, Kleb asked the woman warrior, “How do they call you?”
“I am called Kimber.”
Kleb said, “What will happen when we arrive?”
Kimber said, “There will be all the tools you need to build a village. When you have shelters built and food stored, the women who volunteer to consider becoming your wives will start to come.”
The journey to the new site took three days and the men were completely lost by the time they arrived. Kleb immediately recognized that the place was an ideal location for a village. There was a crystal clear stream running into a valley lake, grasslands, virgin timber, and plenty of game.
Kleb turned to Kimber and said, “We can make a good home here.”
Kimber nodded. She said, “There are two draft horses to move logs and the tools you will need, there,” and she pointed.
Kleb said, “Thank you.”
Kimber nodded and left. Kleb watched her leave.
The first thing the men did was to build temporary shelter and make camp. There were men in the group who knew how to make fish traps and others who knew how to make snares. Others worked on making bows and spears to hunt larger game. Tasks were divided and some men went fishing and hunting while others did other work to prepare a village site, including clearing land to plant crops. Small game was plentiful and the men built a smoke house to smoke fish and meat. Men were assigned to cut logs and build dwellings.
The men had been at work for ten days when they saw a group coming from the woods. The men recognized Azarit and Kimber who were accompanied by others who had left General Azar. They were all men from Azarit’s company. Kleb had been notching logs and so was in the village. He ran to greet Azar and they embraced.
Kleb said, “You are looking good, friend.”
Azar said, “As do you.”
Kimber said, “You have made bows.”
Kleb said, “And spears. We are good hunters.”
Kimber nodded.
It was almost three months after the men had come to the woodland valley that the first group of women came to appraise the men. Of each ten who came, nine stayed. The war had taken a toll on the male population. The women who did not find men they liked, left after three days in the village.

Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
All Rights Reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher Heartland Indie Publishing LLC. This e-book is licensed only for the personal enjoyment of visitors to this site.
It’s a Freebie 4 u.

Chapter 7

General Azar was informed there was a ship on the horizon. He ordered the signal fires set. When the ship was close to shore, Azar went to watch its approach. The ship did not beach but sent a small boat ashore with six sailors rowing and one soldier sitting at the back. The small boat beached and the officer got out. To Azar’s surprise the sailors shoved the boat off and started rowing back to the ship.
Azar watched as the officer made his way up the steep slope. The junior officer marched to where Azar stood and saluted.
Azar asked, “How far behind are the other ships?”
The junior officer said, “Sir, I am afraid there are no other ships coming.” He handed a message to Azar. It had the seal of the Lord High Chancellor.
Azar went to his tent and opened the letter. He ignored the preamble and got to the heart of the message.
“His Most Illustrious Majesty has received the report from the ship’s captain who escaped the pillage of the port. His Divine Majesty is appalled at the scope of your failure. Your cowardice and incompetence in the face of the savages you were sent to conquer is an embarrassment to the Empire and to the Emperor. Your army is disbanded and you and your men are banished. Your fate is in your own hands.”
Azar put the letter down. Azar was surprised. He had expected that the emperor might hold him accountable, but he never dreamed his men would be abandoned here. There was more to this than met the eye.
Azar called for the officer who brought the message to come. The officer came into the tent and saluted.
Azar said, “Take a seat. What are you called?”
“Jista, Sir.”
“Tell me, Jista, what was happening when you left and why were you in particular sent?”
Jista sighed, “There is civil war in the empire. Some generals rose up against the emperor. I was sent because I am expendable and my uncle serves in one of the armies that rebelled.”
Azar said, “Tell me which generals rebelled.”
Jista recited the names and Azar now knew why he and his men had been abandoned. His mentor was the general leading the rebellion.
Azar asked, “Why did the rebellion start?”
Jista said, “It is rumored the emperor is mad. He is said to have carried out mass executions and torture for pleasure and raped the wives of prominent individuals.”
Azar said, “Is it true or rumored?”
Jista said, “As I will die here, I have no reason to mislead. It is true. My sister was among those taken to the emperor. Her abused body was dumped outside the city and relatives found it. I have no doubt.”
Azar sighed. He called for his second.

Chapter 8

Mir received the messenger. He had been brought blindfolded after having come under a truce. When the blindfold was removed, the man took a knee.
He said, “Majesty. General Azar requests an audience under truce with the Queen of the Forests.”
Mir said, “For what purpose?”
The soldier said, “He did not tell me, Majesty.”
Mir asked, “Where does he propose we meet?”
The soldier said, “He will come with one man to a place of your choosing, if you give your word that he will be given safe passage there and back.”
Mir said, “We will meet here and I give my word General Azar will be given safe passage. You will be taken back to where you entered the forest. Five days after you leave the forest, a guide will come for the general if he is with but one man. You will stay with us and you will be taken back to the forest’s edge in the morning”
The soldier said, “Thank you, Majesty.”
Mir said, “You may rise and leave us.”
Two guards took the soldier away.
Mir looked at Mysha and Lex, “I doubt it will be the general who will come. It will likely be a substitute who comes.”
Lex said, “I agree. It is unlikely the general will come.”
It was two days later when the soldier was brought into Azar’s presence. He gave a salute.
Azar asked, “Well?”
“She will meet with you, General. She said to come five days after I leave the forest. It has been two.”
Azar smiled, “She knows how long it would take on horse. She leaves no time for planning or moving a large force. I expected as much. You have done well. You may go get some rest.”
“Yes, sir.” The soldier gave a head bow and left.
Azar left the next morning with one of the army’s best fighters and another man. It was not General Azar but one of his namesake officers. They arrived at the edge of the forest early. The third man took the horses and left. Azar and his man Kleb waited. The man with the horses no sooner got out of sight than a woman came from the forest.
Azar appraised the woman. She was obviously a warrior and was dressed as such but her female endowments were obvious in spite of the armor she wore. It was armor taken from one of Azar’s dead soldiers. The woman bore several wound scars on her arms. She also carried a spear, a bow and arrows, as well as a sword.
The woman walked up and asked, “Which of you is Azar?”
Azar said, “I am.”
Mysha noted he spoke her language well but with a strange accent.
“I am Mysha. Follow me.”
The woman turned and Azar motioned to Kleb and they followed. They travelled for hours at a blistering pace. Azar noted that Mysha was probably stronger and in better shape than most of his soldiers. They did not stop to eat or drink. Azar and Kleb followed Mysha’s lead and ate and drank as they travelled. It was near dark when Mysha finally stopped. She turned to Azar and spoke for the first time.
“We will camp here tonight.”
Azar nodded agreement. Mysha started to cut wood for a fire and Kleb left to find food. Azar cut some pine boughs to use for bedding. He laid them out around the fire, a safe distance away. Kleb brought back a helmet full of berries. Mysha started the fire as the evening was getting cool. They sat by the fire and Azar took jerky from his bag. He offered some to Mysha and Kleb, who took some. Kleb passed the berries.
As they ate, Azar asked, “Have you always lived in the forest?”
Mysha looked at Azar, “I have always hunted here.”
Azar now suspected that the people he fought had lived in the open until he had come with emperor’s army.
Mysha asked, “Why did you come to our land?”
Azar sighed, “My King ordered it. I obeyed.”
Mysha said, “Your King is greedy.”
Azar said, “Yes.”
Mysha looked at Azar at it was apparent she was surprised at the answer. Mysha took out a wineskin and said, “Wine.”
Azar said, “I hope it is just drugged to make us sleep and not poisoned.”
Mysha smiled. She handed it to Azar who drank of it. It was good. Mysha motioned to Kleb and Azar handed him the wine.
When they had finished eating, Mysha said, “I will take first watch. The fire will keep predators away as long as it is kept burning.”
Azar knew that if the queen wanted them dead they would die. He nodded to Kleb and they lay down but they kept their swords by their sides. Azar went to sleep almost immediately.
Azar woke to the sounds of people about. He looked up and realized he was in a small building. He knew then for certain he had been drugged. He looked around and found his sword was by the sleeping pallet he rested on. His armor was also there. His clothes had been removed and he was naked. Mysha came into the room with his clothes.
Mysha smiled and said, “Your clothes have been cleaned.” She put them on his pallet and left.
Azar dressed, but he did not put on his armor or sword. His purse had not been taken and he scooped it up. He went outside where Kleb was waiting. Azar noted that they were in a large town that was situated in a broad wooded valley. He knew he had been drugged only as a way of keeping him from knowing the way.
Kleb said, “My Lord.”
Azar said, “I think we have arrived.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“They did not want us to know the way.”
Kleb said, “They were wise to take precautions until they know our intentions.”
“Yes.” Azar started walking and Kleb followed. Azar had no idea where they were. He didn’t even know how long they had been drugged. Had it been one night or more? He supposed it didn’t matter. One way or the other, their fates were in the queen’s hands. If the queen wanted them dead, they would be.
They walked the streets of the town and the activity was what a person would expect in a large town. They found a market and inspected goods in the stalls. They spent the morning exploring and returned to their temporary quarters. Mysha was waiting outside for them.
Azar said, “Greetings.”
Mysha asked, “Did you enjoy your exploration?”
“I did.”
“The queen will grant you an audience.”
Azar asked, “When?”
“At midafternoon.”
Azar said, “As her majesty commands.”
Mysha looked at Azar, “It was an invitation not a command. If it were a command, I would be accompanied by a number of warriors.”
Azar said, “I meant no disrespect but to show I recognize your queen rules here.”
Mysha nodded, “I meant no offense to you. I’m a warrior and not an emissary.”
Kleb smiled and said, “I understand.”
Mysha realized that Kleb understood their language. She looked at him and said, “I suppose you do. I also think you must be a warrior of great skill to be body guard to the general.”
Kleb did not reply.
Mysha said, “I will come for you when the time is near.”
Azar nodded, “We’ll be ready.”
Mysha no sooner left than a woman brought food and drink. Azar and Kleb ate it and waited. When Mysha returned, they had cleaned themselves and were ready to go meet the queen. They left their weapons and armor in their quarters.
Azar and Kleb followed Mysha to a large open area. In the center was a structure with a stone floor and a roof but no walls. Large poles held the roof up. In the middle of the structure was a throne and a woman sat on it.
They were still some distance away when Azar asked, “Mysha, is that the queen?”
“Yes.”
They stopped at the edge of the structure and the queen motioned them forward. Azar followed Mysha with Kleb hanging back. Azar went and knelt on one knee before the queen and bowed his head. He knew this was required, but as a man he wanted to look at the queen. She was extremely attractive.
Mir said, “Interesting. You may rise.”
Azar stood but did not speak.
Mir asked, “Are you Azar?”
Azar nodded, “Yes, Majesty.”
“Why did you come?”
Azar said, “It was necessary, Majesty.”
“Why?”
Azar said, “There is rebellion in my former homeland. Because the army’s immediate superior was part of the rebellion and because we did not bring riches from this land nor conquer it, the army has been abandoned and banished. I have been released from my allegiance to the king.”
Mir said, “Your king is not very wise. You are a good leader and your men are brave warriors.”
“Thank you, Majesty.”
Mir said, “How do I know what you say is true?”
Azar said, “Majesty, you know it is true because no ships have come but one which sent the king’s letter. That ship did not land but put a small boat ashore before sailing off.”
Mir knew what Azar said was true.
Mir nodded and asked, “Do you have the king’s letter with you?”
The request had been anticipated and Azar took it out. An older man came and retrieved it. He read it and looked at the queen and nodded.
Mir said, “What do you want of me?”
“Majesty, we have no sovereign nor homeland. On my own behalf, and that of the men with me, I bring the offer to give you our allegiance if we may settle here.”
Mir said, “What if I refuse?”
Azar said, “Majesty, we will be in a desperate position. We will try to settle part of the land and war will go on for some time. Many on both sides will die and both sides will lose but one side will lose more; probably my side for you have the stronger position. It makes more sense for me to give you my allegiance so all may live. We may do this as we no longer have a sovereign.”
Mir asked, “What is in it for my people?”
It did not escape Azar’s notice that Mir had been concerned about what was in it for her people and not herself. It seemed to him that this queen thought they were one in the same.
“You gain an army, men to work the land, men to wed the widows, and peace.”
Mir said, “And you survive.”
Azar said, “There is mutual benefit, Majesty.”
Mir said, “You would have to earn our trust.”
Azar looked at Mir and said, “I understand, Majesty. I would offer myself willingly to be hostage to the good behavior of the men.”
Mir was not blind. She recognized that Azar was ogling her though he did it respectfully. Truth was, she found him quite handsome. Still, he was a dangerous man and she would have to be careful with him. She did not know who he was but he wasn’t the general.
Mir said, “I will consider the matter. You will attend me for the evening meal. You may leave.”
Azar bowed deeply and left.
As they walked, Kleb said, “That went better than I expected.”
Azar said, “This queen is no fool.”
Kleb said, “She will want us to disarm.”
“For a time and until we are in so far we cannot escape the clutches of a new life.”
Kleb said, “The life here may be better than the one we left.”
Azar said, “I have no doubt of it. However, for the general and his inner circle, it will be another matter. Their riches and estates are gone. I fear the general’s greed may color his actions. I am concerned that he plays a dangerous game with his men’s lives.”
The men returned to their quarters and talked until Mysha came to get them for the evening meal.
Azar greeted her, “Hail, Mysha.”
Mysha smiled and said, “Honored guest.” Mysha turned to Kleb, “Greetings.”
Kleb bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment.
Mysha said, “It is time to go to the meeting place.” She set out and Azar walked by her side with Kleb following.
Azar asked, “Is this your queen’s normal place of residence?”
Mysha said, “No.”
Azar said, “I see.”
Mysha said, “I’m sure you do.”
Azar said, “It is wise not to let the enemy know too much.”
Mysha asked, “So, we are still enemies?”
“That will be up to the queen. It is my hope we will not be.”
Mysha replied, “It takes two parties to make peace.”
Azar nodded his head, “True. For our part, the matter is decided.”
Azar was surprised to find that tables had been set out under the open roofed area. Nearby, meat was cooking on spits over open fires. Azar noted that there were more women than men in attendance. He had expected that. Azar noted that there were women who were obviously warriors and some who were not. Those women who were not warriors were cooking, serving, and doing those duties he was used to seeing women do.
Azar followed Mysha to a table which was obviously the queen’s table for it had a chair at it. The rest of the seating at the tables consisted of benches of varying lengths. Most of the tables were already occupied. Mysha motioned to places and they sat down in the seats at the queen’s table but furthest from queen’s chair. A woman brought drinks.
Mysha took a sip. Kleb followed her lead.
Kleb said, “This is good. What is it?”
Mysha said, “A fermented drink made from honey.”
Azar took a drink and said, “It is very good.”
Mysha said, “I like your wine better.”
Azar sighed, “But we no longer will have access to that and you do not have vineyards here.”
Mysha said, “There is opportunity in that. Would the fruit grow here?”
Azar said, “I think so.”
Mysha said, “I might arrange it once there is peace.”
The queen came and everyone rose and bowed.
Mir sat and the man beside her said, “You may all be seated.”
Everyone sat. Mysha rose and introduced the guests. “Friends, I present Azar.” Mysha motioned and Azar stood. Mysha added, “And his warrior companion, Kleb.” She motioned to Kleb and he stood. Mysha added, “They are guests of the queen.”
Mysha sat and Azar and Kleb followed her lead.
Mir motioned and the servers brought food. It was a feast and Azar’s mouth watered for he had not eaten so well since he’d arrived in this land.
Azar asked the man across the table, “What are you called?”
“I am Bange.”
Mysha added, “He commanded troops that attacked your army in the open plain.”
Azar said, “You fought valiantly.”
Bange said, “Winning is what we sought.”
Azar said, “In a way you did?”
Bange looked at Azar and asked, “How do you reckon that?”
“We are here seeking peace and you are not at our camp seeking a truce.”
Bange nodded and started back at his meal.
Mysha said, “Bange was never one for talk.” Mysha caught Kleb looking at her lustfully. She said, “You had best find easier prey, Kleb. The warrior women have seen the work of your troops against defenseless women.”
Azar said, “There have been harsh deeds done by both sides.”
Mysha said, “True. The difference is you kicked in the door to our home to do it.”
Azar nodded, “Also true. The question is are we at a point where it is in the interest of both parties to move forward and let go of past hurts?”
Mysha said, “You talk more like a peacemaker than a general.”
Azar shrugged, “There is a time for war and a time for peace making.”
It was a pleasant dinner and Azar enjoyed it. He also enjoyed a little too much drink and was feeling no pain when he and Kleb returned to their quarters. Kleb was with a female companion who had served at the banquet.
In the middle of the night, Mir woke with a start and bolted up into a sitting position. She knew it had been a dream vision. She swung her legs off her sleeping pallet and sat thinking. She thought about the meaning of the dream. In the dream, a large bear was on its rear legs, its claws out, and moving to attack. Mir avoided it and a small bear jumped off the large bear making the large bear smaller in the process. This was repeated several times until what had been the large bear was just slightly larger than a cub. Mir grabbed the bear in one hand and strangled it.
Mir thought about her last vision. The bear had been following a honey trail. The bear was obviously the enemy general Azar and his army. So the ferocious bear of this dream must be the same. So who was the first small bear? It occurred to Mir that her guest was not General Azar. Mir smiled and went back to sleep.
The queen rose early and with some of her trusted warriors went into the mountains where they hunted and killed a ram. They took it to the top of the mountain and made a burnt offering in thanksgiving for the dream warning. It was midday when they returned.
About the same time that Mir returned from the mountain, Azar was bathing. He had slept late because he had drunk too much last evening. He knew he would not make that mistake again. It was not in keeping with how a general would act, or was it?
A messenger came and said, “The queen requires you to meet with her.”
Azar said, “I’ll get Kleb.”
“You are to come alone.”
Azar nodded and said, “Lead on.”
When Azar arrived at the usual place he found only the queen and Mysha waiting. Azar found that strange. Mir motioned Azar forward and he went to her and bowed, “Majesty.”
Mir reached out with her mind and found Azar resisted. He had a wall around his mind. Mir had never encountered such a thing before and it was strong. She knew she could break down the wall but it would damage the man; she had given her word not to harm him.
Azar, for his part, was stunned. He knew what this queen had done. He had a little gift that he had used seldom but he had never been attacked in that manner. The attack had been fierce but he could tell it had been done with little effort. Azar knew this queen was not one to fool with.
Mir said, “On your honor and your life, what is your true name?”
“Azarit, but my fellow warriors call me Azar.”
Mir could tell he was telling the truth so asked, “And your rank.”
Azarit said, “Captain.”
Mir said, “Your namesake, the general, considers you expendable. I extended the safe passage to him and not to you.”
Azarit said, “Yes, Majesty.”
Mir asked, “Then why did you come? Your king has released his men, or is that a deception too?”
Azarit said, “I am released, but in a hostile land what choice do I have? If I did not obey, I would have no camp and be surrounded by enemies. On one side would be your people and the other the general with both sides seeking my life.”
Mir asked, “Will your general honor any treaty he makes with me?”
Azarit hesitated before saying, “I doubt it. He is a prideful and ambitious man. I suspect his pride will not allow him to serve a woman and his ambition will drive him to overcome you by any means.”
“And you?”
Azarit said, “I judge a person by character and deeds. I have no ambition to be a king. I know what I am.”
“What is that?”
Azarit answered, “A warrior by training and a man of modest ambition.”
Mir asked, “Why are you in the army?”
“Majesty, I was conscripted.”
Mir said, “I do not understand conscripted.”
Azarit said, “I was forced into military service.”
“How were you forced?”
“I was taken as a lad and given a choice; I could fight for the emperor or be executed. When I was taken far from my homeland, the army became my family and I was tied to it for survival.”
Mir said, “Interesting. I give you a choice.”
“Majesty, what is that?”
“You may give oath not to take up arms against me or my people, and you will be free to go. You will no longer be an enemy of our people. Alternately, you may return to the general.”
Azarit said, “Majesty, I choose not to return.”
Mir asked, “Will you join my army?”
Azarit said, “I have no stomach to slay my former fellow warriors. I do not wish to fight against them though I would take up arms against others who come.”
Mir said, “That is agreeable.”

 

Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
All Rights Reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher Heartland Indie Publishing LLC. This e-book is licensed only for the personal enjoyment of visitors to this site.

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Chapter 5

Mir and Lex arrived at the great meeting place to find only Wald and Cormard present.
Lex asked, “Where are the others?”
Cormard said, “Dead. We captured and burned the port but at a great cost. We killed every enemy soldier but lost two thirds of our men.”
Mir sat down, “It was too great a cost.”
Wald said, “The only good thing is that between the two ports we have killed more than half of the enemy army.”
Lex said, “But that still leaves about half.”
Wald ask, “I suppose you had heavy casualties?”
Mir said evasively, “More than I would have liked.”
Cormard said, “We are the only four independent chiefs left.”
Lex said, “Three. I have given my allegiance to Mir as queen.”
Cormard looked at Mir and said, “So your casualties were not that great and you intend to force us under your rule?”
Mir said in a quiet voice, “No. I do not want to lead anyone who does not willingly follow.”
Wald said, “I am glad to hear that.”
Cormard said, “We must follow up and attack now.”
Mir said, “That is what they are expecting.”
Wald said, “Then what do you propose we do?”
Mir smiled, “Let them retreat to the coast. I have fought this general for years. He is an intelligent man and will not stay where his army will starve. He knows we will attack his men when they leave their fortifications to go foraging. I expect he will go to the coast to protect his arriving ships. The sea is his lifeline.”
Cormard said, “It is the act of a coward.”
Mir said, “I think you underestimate this general.”
Wald said, “Then what do you propose to do?”
Mir said, “Just what we have done. We have deprived them of profit for years. It has cost them much more to stay than they have gained. We need not kill them all but continue to bleed them until they leave or are too weak to resist.”
Cormard said, “The enemy is on the run. I am no coward to sit around and wait.”
Wald said, “I agree.”
Mir said, “To attack when there is no advantage would be a mistake.”
Cormard said, “So you will hide in the forests while we go out to do battle.”
Mir nodded and said, “I will remain in the forests.”
Cormard and Wald rose and stomped off.
Lex said, “They are going to get themselves and their followers killed.”
Mir nodded agreement and said, “It is unnecessary. Time is on our side.”

Chapter 6

The officer entered the general’s tent and saluted, “There is news, my Lord.”
Azar asked, “Well?”
The officer said, “The northern port was attacked and burned. The garrison there was overrun. All our men were killed or maimed.”
“Maimed?”
The officer took a breath, “Only fifty four of our men survived. They are all blind, have been whipped, and have lost a thumb.”
The general cursed. He paused and said, “Do the men know?”
“Yes sir.”
“And?”
The officer said, “It is the first time I have seen so many in fear of an enemy.”
The general said, “Burn the nearest town.”
The officer said, “It is already burned.”
The general said, “Good work.”
The officer said, “The Battle Queen of the Forest ordered it, Lord.”
The general cursed again and looked at his second. The second looked at the officer and asked, “And the farms.”
“Abandoned and the fields have not been planted.”
His second said, “They mean to starve us.”
Azar nodded and said, “And they just might succeed, if we stay here. Give the order; we retreat to the southern port. Send messages to all the outposts.”
The scouts Mir had sent reported that the enemy was retreating to the coast.
General Azar thought to be deliberate in gathering his army and retreating to the coast. He would gather all his outpost garrisons to him as he retreated. The army would bring every scrap of food and everything they had of value.
Azar expected the savages would not meet him in open battle. They had no need to. Azar knew he was in a very difficult position. This Queen of the Forest was a formidable enemy. For the first time in his career, Azar had been fought to a standstill.
The army had only been travelling for a day when a scout returned with the news. The southern port had fallen and been burned. There were no survivors.
That night when the army camped, Azar paced. He knew he had few options open to him but the sea was his lifeline. Unless he colonized an area, there would be no staying here. The best option was to settle an open area but it would have to be done quickly.
Azar was walking the camp when the attack came in the early morning hours. A sentry sounded the alarm. Still, many of Azar’s men died in their bedrolls. Azar’s troops were professionals and soon rallied and formed up and were fighting fiercely with the enemy. The battle raged for several hours and then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ended.
Azar saw the carnage as the sun rose. Bodies were strewn everywhere. Azar could see half his wagons had been consumed by fire as had many of the tents. The battle had been one of attrition. Azar awaited the reports.
His second came to him, “My lord, we have suffered fourteen hundred and eleven killed and about another seven hundred wounded. About half the wounds are serious.”
Azar said, “May the gods protect us from these madmen. How many of them died.”
“Sir, at last count, just a little over twelve hundred.”
Azar asked, “And their wounded?”
“Sir, there were no enemy wounded on the field. It seems a few who were wounded took their own lives rather than be captured.”
Azar nodded. He hated this enemy, but he also respected them as warriors.
The army did not take the days it would require to dispose of their dead. The stripped the bodies of valuables and left the next morning. The bodies of their comrades, as well as those of the enemy, were left on the battlefield
The army made for the port. It took the army five days to reach the area. Azar had his men establish camp on a bay adjoining the burned port town. Ships could beach there at high tide and unload at low tide.
Well before Azar’s army reached the coast, the survivors of the attack on the army returned to the forests. A scout came to report to Mir. It was Bel. When she entered the Queen’s cave, Mysha and Skjold were there.
Bel came before Mir’s throne and gave a head bow and said, “Majesty, Cormard and Wald are dead. Just over three hundred survived the attack and many are wounded. They are coming here and they ask for sanctuary and will pledge allegiance to you as Queen.”
Mir asked, “How did they fight?”
“Bravely until it was useless to fight anymore.”
Mir said, “We will take them. Who leads?”
“The man Bange.”
Mir said, “Bring him to me.”
Bel gave a head bow and said, “As you command, my Queen.”
When Bange arrived with the survivors, he was brought before the queen and took a knee. He said, “My Queen, your fierceness in battle is only equaled by the mercy you have shown me and the men with me.”
Mir asked, “How is it you live?”
Bange said, “There comes a time in every battle when one is victorious and one is defeated. It was our time of defeat. There were only three hundred against almost three thousand. To continue was to waste lives. The sun was rising and they would have killed us. We would not have taken as many of them as there were of us.”
Mir said, “So it was reason and not cowardice that resulted in retreat?”
Bange was still kneeling and said, “Majesty, I ordered the retreat. The men but obeyed. If you find fault in my action, then the fault is mine alone.”
Mir could see Bange was wounded and bandaged in several places. Mir asked, “Would you make the same decision again under the same circumstances?”
“Yes, Majesty.”
Mir said, “Good. It was wise under the circumstances. Go rest and recover from you wounds. I fear I will have need of you and your men. You may leave and join your men.”
Bange said, “Thank you, Majesty.” He got up and left.
Mir looked at Lex. “What do you think?”
Lex said, “I think I would have done the same in his position.”
Mir nodded agreement. “Though they died bravely, it was folly for Wald and Cormard to engage the enemy in open battle when they did not have to.”
Lex said, “They did bleed the enemy heavily.”
Mir said, “Knowing this general, it is not over yet.”

  This is the 3rd installment of the book.  

 

Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara

First Release 2018

All Rights Reserved

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher Heartland Indie Publishing LLC. This e-book is licensed only for the personal enjoyment of visitors to this site. 

It’s a Freebie 4 u.

 

Chapter 3

Mir and her band travelled slowly due to the spring melt. They were careful to keep to higher ground and keep their feet dry. It was early afternoon when they arrived at their destination. From a nearby hilltop they could see what had once been their home. It appeared to be abandoned and burned. The walls had been torn down.
Mir looked at Mysha. Mysha said, “It is worse than I expected.”
Mir’s response was to nod agreement, “You and I will go scout the village. The others will hide here.”
Mir and Mysha went down into the abandoned village and looked around. They did not speak a word. It was obvious the place had been attacked and burned. The bodies had been left for the carrion eaters. There were human bones scattered everywhere.
Mir looked at Mysha, “Let us leave this place.”
Mir and Mysha joined the others. The group left to return to their own camp. They had gone about a mile when Mir stepped off the trail and motioned to Mysha who came and stood by her.
Mir said, “We are being followed.”
Mysha nodded.
Mir gave orders. Two of the group took the horses further on and the rest of the group set an ambush and waited. It was not long until those following came into view. Mir counted seventeen women. They were haggard and struggling to keep up to Mir’s group.
The leader was surprised when Mir appeared in front of her with sword and shield at the ready. The woman immediately took a knee and those following did the same.
The woman said, “Mir, we place ourselves at your mercy. We rebelled against your authority and have paid the price.”
Mir asked, “Is that you, Doree?”
Doree said, “It is I.”
Mir said, “I hardly recognized you. You are too thin.”
Doree answered, “We fled the village well before the enemy came and it seems it was the right thing to do. We live while the others died. We found a place where there was some game and made a winter camp.”
Mir said, “You may come with us.”
Doree said, “You are merciful.”
Mir said, “Rise and follow us. When we find a place, we will stop and eat.”
Mir motioned and the others in her party came into view. The group set out but Mir slowed the pace. It was not long before they came to a place of large flat rocks where Mir stopped the group. A guard was set and a fire started.
Mir said, “Doree, your people will only be given a little food. It seems they have been on short ration for a long time and too much food will trouble their stomachs.”
Doree nodded, “I will tell them,” and went to do so. She came back and reported, “It is done.”
Mir said, “Sit with me. Tell me what happened.”
Doree sat and took a deep breath, “It started well enough. At first, we all worked together. After a while, the men wanted to just order the women about and not do any work. The men also started to play favorites, you know, for bed favors returned. Resentment started. There was conflict and the men tried to bring all the women into line by the use of force. I saw the trouble coming because there was not enough food being gathered and preserved.”
Doree paused and looked at Mir before continuing, “Those of us who hunted were supporting those who contributed no work and it was obvious there would not be enough food for everyone. The best hunters went with you. We decided we would fare better alone, so we took out one dark night. We found our own place well away from the village. We left before the enemy army came. If we’d left even earlier, we’d have fared better. Even though we got a late start, we all survived but one. She took sick with fever. We returned to the fortress yesterday.”
Mir asked, “Did you find anyone alive?”
“No.”
Mir said, “We have a safe place. It has much game and is easy to defend. We will have to build up our numbers, but I think the enemy will drive more and more into the forests.”

Chapter 4

The captain marched at the front of the column of his hundred. His men were renowned in the army of his emperor. They were well trained and they all wore metal breastplates and helmets. They carried metal shields, good swords, and metal tipped spears. They were the elite of the elite. Still, the captain wished he was in a more civilized place.
In the three years since the battle which was supposed to end in conquest, the army had been bled by encounter after encounter with the local savages. This time these savages would not be facing conscripts but professional and highly experienced troops. His men did not shy from close in fighting; they relished it. The captain was confident that the close quarters in the forest would not hamper their effectiveness in the least.
The trail was just wide enough for two men to march abreast and that was how they were proceeding. When it started, the captain did not have time to give orders. He realized too late that the large log swinging down from the high trees was about to sweep him away. He dove forward but he was not quite quick enough and the large swinging log hit him on the forehead as he threw himself down. The log crushed his skull and broke his neck before it swept away a half dozen men.
The troops were well trained and immediately they turned so they were back to back facing outward, shield to shield, with their spears ready. The attack did not come from the sides but from above.
The savages knew where the weaknesses in the enemy’s armor were. Arrows from above killed a handful and wounded many. Those soldiers were hit by arrows aimed at the back of their legs and other places where they had no armor. Arrows struck their sides and necks. The troops had no way of countering the archery attack from the tree limbs above so they just tried to cover themselves with their shields. Even if they’d had some way to counter attack, they could see nothing. It suddenly become eerily quiet and there was no movement to be seen in the trees.
One of the junior officers gave orders and the troop reorganized and moved back the way they had come. Many of the wounded had to be helped by their comrades as they limped along with arrows still protruding from their legs. The company moved sidestepping keeping the shield walls relatively intact. They had gone several hundred yards when several large trees came crashing onto the trail and crushing some of the troops but more importantly, separating them from their comrades.
In the confusion that resulted, the savages attacked. Less than seventy of the elite troops remained to face the savages and though they were good fighters, they were overwhelmed by the ferocity and surprise of the attack by several hundred savages.
The young officer in charge tried to fend off the attack of the tribe’s leader. He realized as the warrior struck him down that he had been defeated by a woman.
Two days later, a survivor was found wondering at the edge of the field where the emperor’s army had built its fortress. He was brought to the general.
Lord General Azar was aghast at the man’s appearance. His arm was broken and would not likely heal right. His eyes had been gouged out and his upper body was naked and bore the stripes of a whipping. His sword hand thumb had been cut off.
The general asked, “Your name and unit?”
Though the man could hardly stand, he slowly came to attention. It was obvious it took all his effort to stay on his feet. The man gave his name and rank.
The general asked, “What of your hundred?”
The man said in a hoarse voice, “Sir, they are all dead. We stood and fought to the last man. I was knocked unconscious and kept alive to bring a message.”
The general said, “Who sends this message and what is it?”
The soldier paused then said, “Sir, it is insulting.”
“Nonetheless, tell me.”
The soldier took a deep breath and said, “The Battle Queen of the Forests sends this message to the general of the invaders. You blindly kill the innocent, so we will blind your troops. You whip the innocent at the least provocation, so we will whip your troops. You take away the peoples means of livelihood, so we will take away your soldier’s ability to wage war. You take no prisoners after battle, but we will send yours back to you. In the future, we will not kill all your men but send many back as we send this man. Leave or it will be your fate, too.”
The soldier stood hanging his head and said, “Sir, we fought bravely. I ask that you have mercy and give me death for I no longer have a use since I have delivered the message.”
Lord General Azar realized the man was broken in spirit. He nodded to his second, Gyn, and the man was taken away by other soldiers to be granted his desire.
Gyn said, “He is the first to survive a sortie into the forests. All the others were lost without a trace. Over two thousand good men have gone into the forests never to be seen again.”
The general said, “This war bleeds us dry and this land has little value and yields little of use. How long will we spend so much blood and treasure without hope of profit?”
Gyn sighed and said, “Until the emperor tells us to leave.”
“Until I receive further orders, we will not send men into the forests. We will keep to the open plains.”
Gyn just nodded.
As Lord General Azar had been meeting with the survivor, Mir met with the tribal chiefs. She sat in the great gathering place deep in the forests. She was surrounded by the nine major chiefs. Mir had been her tribe’s savior and the chiefs had been forced to give way to her because of the number of people, men and women, who had flocked to her. Her people were the best fed, best trained, and thanks to arms taken from the enemy, the best armed.
Two chiefs who had challenged her had learned a hard lesson, one that ended on a funeral pyre. Like it or not, the chiefs had to include Mir.
It was Wald who said what everyone else was thinking, “We have grown stronger while the enemy has grown weaker. It is time to attack in strength before the summer allows the enemy to bring fresh troops by ship.”
Mir listened to the men argue how best to take advantage of their strength. Mir listened for some time without saying a word. When it was apparent the men could not come to an agreement and there was a pause in the talk, Mir leaned forward on the log on which she was seated. The men looked at her.
Mir said, “If we attacked the enemy in force, we would no doubt prevail but our losses would be great. The enemy would not suffer as they deserve. I would have them suffer for the misery and death they have caused. Instead of a direct attack, we should cause them to starve. Attack and burn the two ports where they have their ships and warehouses. We would not suffer as a great a number of casualties to do it. At the same time, order all the farms to be abandoned and the people on them to come to the woods. Crops will not be planted in the fields for we can now feed the farmers and their families until the enemy is defeated. Burn everything that would be of use to the enemy.”
Lex said, “It is a good plan. They will have to forage or retreat to the seaports. If they forage we take them in small groups as we have in the past.”
Mir said, “And there will be much loot to be had in the ports.” Mir knew the thought of plunder would be attractive to the men.
Cormard looked at Mir and said, “We will have to split our forces.”
Mir nodded agreement and said, “Yes. It would be best if we attack both ports at the same time before one can be reinforced.”
It was Wald who stated the obvious, “Mir has almost as many warriors as the rest of us put together. Who would place himself under her command?”
Lex said, “My tribe has the smallest number of warriors. I will go with Mir.”
Mir felt a sense of relief. Of all the tribal chiefs, Lex was the smartest and most reasonable. He and his men were also among the best warriors. Lex would not let the fact Mir led, keep him from profit. Mir knew that he had already calculated that his chances of incurring minimum casualties and the greatest profit would be to go with her.
Cormard said, “It makes sense for Mir and Lex to take the port nearest to them.”
Mir could tell Cormard expected her to object. The port was the largest and thus had the largest garrison. What Mir knew from her spies, was that the garrison there was complacent and the commander lazy. It was rumored the commander was a political appointee and not a professional soldier. As a result, the men he led were undisciplined. The other chiefs would face greater resistance, though lesser numbers, at the other port. The commander there was a professional soldier and made sure his troops remained alert and battle ready.
Mir said, “Agreed.”
Lex looked at her but said nothing. He had reasoned if Mir had agreed so readily, there was a reason. The other chiefs disdain for a woman warrior led them to think Mir had been manipulated into accepting the more dangerous mission. When she suffered the greater casualties her position and power would be lessened.
Wald asked, “Are all in agreement?”
The response was unanimous and so it was agreed. The timing of the attacks was then agreed to.
After the meeting ended, Lex caught up to Mir outside, “I take it you know something they don’t.”
Mir said, “My scouts have already been in both ports. We will have the better chance and greater profit.”
Lex said, “We need a plan.”
Mir said, “We will discuss it over the evening meal.”
A week later, the huntress Doree entered the port town. Doree wore no armor nor carried any weapons. She wore a country dress and had done all she could to make herself as unattractive as possible. No one paid any attention to her as she entered the town.
About the same time, the huntress Camry entered the town from a different direction driving a farm wagon pulled by a single horse. The wagon seemed to be filled with farm produce and entered the town without challenge or inspection. Soldiers were nearby, but they paid little attention to Camry. She was, after all, just a woman.
Several dozen women entered the town that day. The town was not fortified. It was an open port town and though the invader’s barracks at the edge of town had some walls, the rest of the port was easy to enter.
The women who had slipped into town went into hiding until it was dark. The women then came from all over the town and gathered in a storage barn near the docks. There the three wagons that had been smuggled into town were unloaded. The produce on top was piled in a corner and the weapons and armor underneath were distributed.
On the edge of town, Mir could see the two sentries from where she hid. She watched as two women approached the men then engaged them in talk. It was obvious the women were flirting with the men. The sentries were undisciplined and the women easily tempted them away from their posts with promises of pleasure.
Bel was one of the women and she led soldier by the hand into a dark alley and they embraced. The soldier started to lift Bel’s dress as they kissed. Bel did it with such finesse that the soldier did not realize what was happening until it was too late.
Bel had her left hand behind the man’s head. He was so overpowered with lust that he did not pay attention as Bel’s right hand moved. Her knife suddenly slit his throat as they were still kissing. The man staggered backward and tried to cry out but couldn’t. Bel finished him.
Bel went to aid the other woman who was not faring so well. The man she had led off had overpowered her. He was about to have his way when Bel came up behind him and slid her knife across his throat.
Mir watched Bel come out of the shadow and signal. Mir and her people calmly and quietly walked from hiding and into the town. Two of Mir’s warriors handed armor and weapons to Bel and her companion. They slipped into the alley and put the armor on and ran after Mir and her warriors.
Mir’s warriors converged on the enemy barracks from all directions while staying in the shadows. They reached the poorly fortified barracks which consisted of a former trader’s house, warehouse, and several outbuildings. The buildings were surrounded by a high wall that had been designed to keep thieves out rather than to be defended.
There were two sentries outside the wall on each side of the improvised barracks. They were all taken by arrows. Only one sentry had managed to make any appreciable noise before dying. It had not been enough to raise an alarm.
Mir led her group quietly through one of the open gates and into the buildings where soldiers were sleeping. She encountered a man in the hall and killed him but not before he shouted the alarm.
Mir’s warriors swarmed into the buildings and spread out. Most of the enemy died in their barracks trying to dress or get to their weapons that were on racks near the doors. Whether armed or unarmed, the enemy soldiers were cut down. It was a massacre. A few managed to flee outside where they were met by arrows.
The sounds of screams and battle cries could be heard throughout the town. The noise was a signal.
At the docks, there were about a dozen sentries who were now nervous because of the noise from the barracks. The sounds were the signal for Mysha, who led the women who had gathered near the docks. She and her warriors charged from the surrounding streets.
Mysha let out a chilling war cry as she attacked the first sentry. The man seemed paralyzed with fear and Mysha pierced him with her spear. She encountered the second man who stood ready to fight with his shield raised and a sword in his hand. He expected Mysha to stab with her spear but instead she ran into him using her shield as a weapon. She knocked him off the dock into the water. She kept going. A man on one of the boats was trying to cast off and Mysha threw her spear and it pierced the man. He fell dead.
Mysha drew her sword and kept going. Her warriors were now boarding the boats and killing the crew members who resisted. Mysha reached the end of the dock just in time to see one ship that had been anchored in the harbor, moving out to sea. She also saw crews swimming away.
The boats at the docks had been captured.
At the barracks, Mir had fought her way to the heart of the enemy compound. The commander and a dozen of his men had organized a defense in the middle of the courtyard, but it was too little too late. They stood in the middle of the courtyard surrounded by Mir’s warriors. Mir looked at her enemy. Some were in loin cloths and others were partially dressed. They had swords and shields but no armor.
Mir pulled up and yelled, “Stand fast.”
Her warriors stood and did not attack. Mir motioned to archers who came forward.
Mir simply said in a low voice, “Kill them with arrows.”
Her command was carried out though the enemy soldiers tried a last desperate charge to escape.
As Mir left the barrack’s courtyard, a runner came and without formality reported, “Lex has taken the warehouses. He is already loading wagons.”
Mir motioned to Bel who came.
Mir gave her orders, “Pick thirty warriors and find wagons and horses to bring the wounded to the edge of the forest. Pack up all the weapons and armor and anything of value.”
Bel said, “It will be done.”
Mir and most of her warriors left for the warehouse area. Mir arrived to find Lex’s men loading wagons.
Lex came to meet Mir and said, “The surprise was total.”
Mir said, “Yes. Your casualties?”
“Light. Fourteen wounded and four dead. You?”
Mir said, “I don’t know yet.”
Lex said, “Some of the warehouses have nothing but food in them. We are sorting through looking for the things of value.”
Mir said, “I will leave people to help you.”
Lex nodded.
Mir gave orders for some of her people to stay and help Lex and then she headed for the docks. She arrived to find Mysha had commandeered wagons. Mysha saw Mir coming and came to her.
Mir said, “How were your casualties?”
“One dead, three wounded. The crews put up little resistance and there were only a dozen soldiers here. It was over quickly. I could use some extra hands to help offload the valuable cargo. There is a shipment of weapons and armor.”
Mir gave orders.
A runner came and said, “Galt asks that you come quickly with a substantial force. He has found something of great importance.”
Mir knew Galt was a steady and smart man not prone to exaggeration. If he thought it was important, it was.
Mir said, “Lead us,” and motioned for her warriors to follow her.
They marched about four blocks to a plain looking building that was the office for the harbor master. Galt had posted a strong guard. About forty enemy bodies littered the ground around the building. Mir went inside with four of her warriors and left the rest outside.
Galt was pacing when Mir came in. He said to her, “It is good you came quickly.”
He walked away assuming Mir would follow, and she did. He led her to a room where there were several locked chests. The lock had been broken off one. Galt lifted the lid.
Mir looked at the contents and said, “Probably pay for the army and coin for expenses. We need pack animals.”
Galt said, “I have already sent someone to find such.”
Mir nodded.
Galt added, “We expected the building held something valuable when we saw the size of the guard.”
Mir asked, “What were your casualties.”
Galt said, “Seven dead, eighteen wounded; most are walking wounded. The soldiers here were probably the best of the garrison.”
Mir said, “Probably.”
Galt said, “There is wine here. Would you like a drink?”
Mir nodded.
It was midday when Mir and Lex left the harbor town with their victorious forces. The column was longer leaving because the victors took every draft animal and pack animal in the city with them. They were packed and loaded with loot. Behind them, the port city was burning but the ships were sailing away manned by some of Mir’s people. They would be taken to a bay where they would be beached in hidden coves. The column of smoke from the port town rose high into the sky.
Mir had scouts out as her force retreated to the forests. They reached the edge of the woods by midafternoon and kept marching. At dusk, they stopped to rest but there would be no fires that evening because they were not deep enough in the forest to be reasonably safe.
Mir was sitting against a tree eating cold food when Lex came with his own plate and cup. He said, “May I sit and talk with you?”
Mir nodded agreement and Lex sat. Mir took a small bite of her food.
Lex said, “You are a natural leader and you govern well.”
Mir smiled and said, “And you are a great warrior.”
Lex finished chewing his mouthful and said, “But I recognize my limitations.”
“What is on your mind?”
“I think about who should lead all the people?”
Mir finished a bite, “And you think you should lead?”
Lex said, “No. I think you should lead.”

       Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara

This is the second installment of the serial book Mir. 

Watch every 7-10 days for a new chapter.

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.
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Chapter 2

For two days, it was quiet in the camp. On the second day Mysha returned. On day three, Mir asked the men and women to gather.
Mir addressed the group, “Tomorrow I will leave for a better place to winter. There is natural shelter and much game. I will take all those who wish to go. I advise you to come because the elevation here is high and there will probably be heavy snow and game is not as plentiful.”
Mir stepped down and there was much discussion among those who had listened.
Mysha came to Mir, “I will go and the best women hunters have already decided to follow you.”
Mir said, “Good. I think it is time.”
Mysha knew what she meant. She gathered those that believed as she and Mir did. They hunted a prize worthy of sacrifice. They took it to the top of the nearest peak and made a burnt offering to the Creator.
On day three, Mir was surprised to find that everyone including the men had decided to go with her. There would be no further violent disagreements. Those who were going with her were the strongest, smartest, and most independent of the tribe. They were warriors or huntresses. The huntresses had roamed far and wide with their husbands or fathers before those men had died in the fight against the invaders.
Mir’s band travelled deeper into the woods than any of them, except Mir, had ever been. Mir led them for two days to the fertile valley that teamed with game. She had discovered the caves when she’d hunted here. Her special gift had enabled her to find this place.
Mir said as she dropped her pack, “The caves are cool in summer and warm in winter. The largest has a spring and pool deep inside it and there is a narrow chimney from which smoke will escape from a large winter fire. The cave has many alcoves which will make good sleeping areas. We just have to clear out any creatures now here. Mysha, choose five and bring us venison. Bel, take some women and gather edibles.” Mir pointed, “You will find berries and nuts about a half mile that way near a stream.” Mir said, “The rest of us will make camp.”
It did not take the women in camp long to clean out the large cave which had two entrances. They soon had a fire pit ready outside and had explored the inside. This one cave would easily accommodate a hundred people so they had plenty of room.
Skold took some of the women and went to cut wood. As dusk approached three of the women who had gone with Skold had returned. Skold and one woman were still gone. Mir was worried and went looking for them. She found them.
Mir found old Skold coupling with a woman, Gaylee, who was a third his age. Skold who was on the bottom, looked at Mir and said, “I’m old, not dead.”
Mir turned and walked back to camp. When Skold returned to camp, Mir took him aside.
Mir said, “Friend Skold, we cannot afford for all the women to end up with child. I require that you restrict your recreation to the one.”
Skold smiled and said, “A most reasonable command. I will obey.”
“Good.”
Mir was not worried about the other men who were married. It would turn out that Skold may have been old, but he could still father children.
The next day the men and several women started construction of a palisade in front of two cave entrances. It would keep animals such as wolves and bears at bay.
Mir and Mysha and a few close huntresses went up the mountain. They hunted and killed a mountain goat and took it to the top of the mountain. They built an altar and slaughtered it. They built a fire and offered the goat as a burnt sacrifice to the Creator. These women all believed there was only one God and not a myriad of competing gods who struggled for dominance.
It was dusk when the women returned to camp.
Skold came to Mir, “I assume you were making a sacrifice of thanksgiving?”
“Yes. Do you have a problem with that?”
Skold said, “What is one more god?”
Mir said, “It is not one more, but the only one.”
Skold said, “Well, if we survive the winter, I may just believe in your Creator God.”
Mir said, “Good.”
Skold was obviously taken aback.
Throughout the fall the group fished, hunted, trapped, and gathered. They prepared, preserved, and stored up more than enough food to get them through the winter. The group had sufficient salt and tanned furs to augment the fur winter garments they had brought with them. They cut and stored a lot of wood for the winter fires.
Each day, Skold would train the women in small groups for at least an hour. They learned how to use battle weapons. Though most could use the bow and spear well, few were good with sword and shield. Over the winter that changed. The women got stronger, harder, and more accomplished.
Each full moon, Mir would go to the mountain top to make a sacrifice. The group of women who went with her increased as the weeks passed. At first, it was the success they were having that made the people believe in Mir’s God. As time went on, they grew to see the logic of it in all that was around them. Mir pointed to the unity and complexity of nature and the laws which governed the natural order. She explained that such a grand design could not exist in the presence of competing gods.
As the weather got colder, the group made one of the smaller caves into a shelter for the horses and gathered winter feed for them. Through the fall, the horses were pastured under guard to protect them from the wolves that roamed the area. In the process the guards obtained some nice wolf pelts.
The winter was harsher than usual that year, but the group wintered well. There was only one sickness and the woman died. The only time that winter that most of the group left the cave at once was for the building of the funeral pyre and the funeral ceremony.
Finally, spring broke. It was a sunny day and the snow was melting. Skold came and stood beside Mir who was looking over the valley. The scream was quite loud and Skold winced.
Mir said with a smile, “Her suffering is your fault.”
Skold sighed, “I know.”
Mir smiled, “She’ll soon forget the pain and enjoy that she is a mother.”
Skold said, “I hope it is a son.”
Mir said, “I have often wondered if you followed me not out of loyalty but out of lust. Being the unattached male seemed to have its advantage for you.”
Skold smiled, “Indeed. An old man, when he is the only available man, still may have some appeal.”
Mir said, “I will be taking a dozen with me to see how those who stayed behind have fared.”
Skold said, “I fear not well. They should have followed you.”
One of the women came to Skold and said, “You have a son.”
Skold smiled and followed the woman. Gaylee had given birth to the first child to be born in the group and Mir hoped there would be more. Mir knew Gaylee’s child, once weaned, would be cared for by one of the four older women who would be the camp keepers. In the meantime, Gaylee would stay close to the camp.
The next morning, Mir went hunting. Later, she climbed the mountain with most of her tribe. On top of the mountain, they burned the meat as an offering to God.
The next day, Mir, along with two warriors and a dozen huntresses, left for the fortress. They took horses packing what they needed and relief supplies for any survivors at the fortress.
Mysha, who was walking next to Mir, said, “I fear those left behind are dead.”
Mir said, “Even if the enemy did not attack, I doubt they wintered as well as we did in the caves.”
Mysha said, “It was a long winter. A few times I even considered that Skold didn’t look so bad after all.”
Mir laughed and Mysha smiled.

A chapter of this book will be released every week to 10 days.

Copyright 2015 by Michael O’Gara
First Release 2018
eBook Edition

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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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Chapter 1

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.”
Mir nodded.
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?”
“Yes.”
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.