In recognition of Geek Pride Day, premiummediagroup.ru called on all willing writers to let their freak flag fly high for a special publication! For those of you who have discovered my Geek Pride story I hope you read them all.
May 25th was first organized as Geek Pride Day by the Spanish blogger Germán Martínez (known online as señor Buebo) in 2006 and has slowly gained international recognition (in certain Geek circles) from there.
Thank you very much to Both Kate and Paul for being my proofreaders for this. You are both the most amazing people!
Part 1. Mirabel
Mirabel stood very still. Her back was against the wall her eyes on the floor. Don't speak. Don't move. Shallow breathing, no noise, be a statue. Blend in. Don't stick out. Don't draw attention. Disappear. It was a mantra that rose up from the darkest recesses of her mind from her childhood, and she used it now as she heard the muted noises of something or someone moving around in the other room of the cabin. As if on automatic pilot she had leapt out of bed at the loud thud and moved against the wall in the darkest shadow of the room where no light spilt from the small window. To be caught in bed was to be vulnerable and she had been brought up to be strong and fearless.
The loud clicking that told her it was a rodent finally broke through her terror, and she took a deep breath. She didn't think she had left a window open, and pushing herself from the wall on wooden legs she padded out to the living room as she went to investigate how it could have gotten in. She frowned as she felt a breeze caress her face and the dying fire flicked. Mirabel turned and immediately noticed the shuttered window was slightly ajar.
Had she left it that way? She was obsessive about her security and safety born from a lifetime of living with the battle-hardened veteran who was her father. He had told her horrific stories of what happened to women taken by victorious armies and sometimes by bands of brigands within their own armies. Or as in her mother's case a single enemy of her father. She found it hard to believe she could have overlooked an open window. A small crash sounded behind her, and she turned expecting the rodent she had heard earlier but was confronted by a young man who had obviously not expected to find her in the cabin.
"Is this the home of Goren the Axeman?" Tevin asked confused by the appearance of the young woman.
"It was until he was ordered back to the battlements by our Lord Dorian. Now it is my home until he returns," Mirabel said shortly.
"What is your right to take a man's home while he is away at war?" Tevin questioned her drawing himself up to his full height.
"What is your right to be here in his home?" she countered, her temper flaring.
"He is less than a day's ride from here, and I was sent ahead to lay a fire for him and ensure food and a dry bed were available to him here. He has been away from home for some time," the young man stood his ground. "You will have to find somewhere else to sleep, woman," he dismissed her as a woman displaced by the war who had taken advantage of an abandoned cabin.
"I will not!" she raged. "You cannot know Goren at all if you do not know of my existence and my right to be here. Get out of my home!" She stepped back toward the kitchen table where a large heavy, flat-bottomed pan lay. She held the small dagger her father had given her between the soft folds of her nightgown. She had no wish to kill, but she would fight rather than let him harm her or unhouse her.
The young squire had heard enough. He took a menacing step toward the woman. He cared not if she had a knife. He was skilled in hand-to-hand combat with real men; a woman held no real threat for him. He said nothing as he continued to move slowly toward her.
"And how will you tell him that you threw his daughter onto the street in her nightgown like some back-alley city whore," she spat at him noting that he paused but did not stop at her words.
"He has no wife or child," the young man sneered. "This much I know."
"You are wrong but touch me and seal your doom because my father will kill you," Mirabel said with such certainty she stopped him in his tracks.
"Prove it," he snarled. "Describe the man who owns this house. Tell me about Goren the Axeman."
"I will not cater to the demands of a thief who stole into my home in the middle of the night. Go back to Goren and tell him Mirabel awaits his return," she sneered at him.
"We are at an impasse then, for I will not, and if you do not prove your right to be here then you must leave," he moved again toward her. She looked as if she might turn to run, but instead, she turned to the table and then turned back with such speed that he barely saw the pan in her hand before it crashed against the side of his skull. There was a momentary cry of astonishment and pain before his knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor.
Mirabel looked at the fallen man and considered him. People always underestimated her, she shook her head. She took up some twine she knew would not hold him long should he wake and bound his hands and feet. She took the small sword he carried and searched him, coming up with several small knives. She lay them all on the table—she was not a thief, and he could retrieve them once her father arrived. If he arrived. She had some doubts about that. He had been gone for such a long time.
Mirabel went to her room and dressed quickly in case any more surprises came her way. She had no reason to doubt the man's words, but she had even less reason to believe him. If he were indeed her father's squire, surely Goren would have mentioned the fact that he had a daughter. The fact that he had said that he knew there was no wife or daughter without a doubt disturbed her, and she considered if the Goren The Axeman returning home, to her home, was an imposter. Her father was not a knight and would therefore never have a squire, and she sighed hoping beyond hope that despite this man and his lies, her father was not dead.
The question now was, should she stay or should she go? She certainly didn't want to have to face any more men or someone pretending to her father. Her father would counsel her to be cautious. He had trained her since her mother's death to never be as weak and docile as other women tended to be. He had taught her to fight with knives, to hunt with a bow and how to survive out in the wildlands if she had to. Should she go to the house of her friend or seek out the wise woman? Should she head into the forest alone? She could always wait and see who turned up, her father or an imposter, she reasoned. She didn't want to leave her home, she was happy here.
"Caution is the better part of Valour" Mirabel's father would often advise her or at least something like that. She went to pack her sack with the few valuables she owned still contemplating which of her friends she would ask to shelter her. If it was an imposter sent by the king she may endanger them if they chose to make an issue of the one woman who could expose the deception.
Goren was not a man for ceremony. He knew the legend that surrounded him, and when on the battlefield he was used as a talisman for the men who stood with him. He had survived the first of the civil wars between the four realms of the kingdom because he rode with great men and learned the lessons they had to teach well. He had seen men about to break and run hold fast just through the battle cry of such legendary men. In this last war, he had filled that void and stood on the front lines to mock and anger the enemy much to the amusement of his men.
He groaned as he rose with the sun. He was far too old for war, and there were few men left alive who could have called him from his home to join the battle lines again. He had gone to his friend's aid, however, the one friend who could have called him from his mountain home, Hagos his sword brother. Hagos had died at Fort Fennec and Goren had embraced no other sword brothers standing alone and leading the ragtag remnants of the men of the Kayode mountains alongside the Duke's son and heir to the realm, Dorian.
The old Duke had died, however, and Goren along with Sieben, Dorian's sword brother, had hunted for the missing heir for days following the enemies defeat. They had found him in a temple dedicated to the twin sky Gods of Tempest and Zephyr. The horrors they had endured along with the certainty of death on that final day as they faced the hordes of tribesmen had affected them all but none more so than the young Prince who felt honour bound to save his men. The late arrival of reinforcements from the capital had been the only thing to save them, and the knowledge weighed heavily on Goren and his companions.
Goren stretched out his limbs flexing the muscles and marvelling at the healer's skill. He barely felt the pain in his knee that had been a constant companion to him for many years now, and the muscles in the shoulder of his axe arm did not protest his movements. He was pleased and stood dressing in his leather jerkin and pants before pulling on his old boots. Then he went to make his farewells to the new Duke of the southern province, and to whom he had handed his commission when he asked to take his leave of the army. He had stayed at the castle far too long for the ceremony making the young Prince Duke of the Southern Realm, and it was time to go home.
The noise of his boots was loud on the slate-floored castle halls as he made his way to the east tower. Goren ignored the ceremonial guard who tried to stop him entering the room and pushed the doors open, slamming them behind him. He ignored the woman on her knees tending to the Duke's morning erection and took a seat opposite him. He had stood side-by-side with him, as an equal, in defence of their king and country, and he was not about to scrape and snivel now that they had returned home to their own lands.
"You could at least pretend to follow the protocols of court," Dorian grumbled at the hero of his small but effective army.
"You will not have to worry about that any further my friend. I am leaving this morning and returning to my home deep in the mountains. My axe will fell only trees now not men, and I will breathe the clean mountain air. I plan to grow old and let death find me with a full belly and a tankard in my hand," Goren said with a grin. "There is nothing you could do or say to tempt me to stay here with the sycophants and toadies that populate your castle."
"They are a necessary evil my friend; gossip, intrigue and lies are all part and parcel of court life," Dorian said in a strained voice. "There are some benefits to having a court full of wicked women." He grunted as he came into the woman's mouth, and she dutifully swallowed it. He took a moment to enjoy the delicious feel of the mouth milking his orgasm from him before he drew a deep breath and continued. "I will not stop you, you have served me well as you did my father," Dorian said grimacing as the woman pushed his cock back into his pants and went to get up from where she had been kneeling. Dorian stopped her with a stern look, and she settled to her knees again as he continued to speak to Goren. "I will not detain you Goren enjoy your solitude. Good journey my friend, I should like to see your mountain one day; it sounds like a paradise."
"You are welcome to visit at your leisure, Dorian but there are no comforts of the castle there and certainly no whores parading as ladies of the court," he sneered derisively at the well-dressed woman before the Duke. "The women, like the ales, are strong, the meat is fresh and roasted daily, the air is crisp and clear, and neighbours trust each other," he shrugged. "What more could a man want?" Goren asked rhetorically.
"A man could want a woman to stand at his side," Dorian said easily. "I plan to find a woman amongst the mountain people you speak so highly of to show that I am a man of the people, my people. In my search, I may just come and seek such a wife in your village, my friend."
"Good luck with that," Goren chuckled. "I fear mountain women are not what you expect and you will regret that decision."
"From your expression, I can see that you don't think it's possible for me to tame a wild mountain woman," Dorian smiled slyly. "You will be the first I invite to the wedding."
"I don't, but then I never believed you stupid or brave enough to carry through with your threat to knight me. Speaking of which that stupid squire you forced upon me has taken the hint and left me alone now we are in the castle. Find him a more suitable situation once I am gone. He is a good boy, but I have no need of him where I am going," Goren said.
"I doubt that he has left you. It is more likely he went on ahead of you to prepare your home after such a long time away," Dorian speculated.
"What?" Goren roared coming to his feet. "He will be lucky to still be alive if that is the case. I will cut this farewell short. Be well and good luck with taming the women of the mountains. You will need it," Goren chuckled, and without waiting for him to speak, he walked out of the room and the castle trying to hold back the dread he felt for the fate of his squire. He held his concern inside until he mounted the big roan horse and galloped away from the people who knew him as a hero.
Once out in the countryside, he swore in a string of vicious curses and pushed the horse to a run. Goren had kept the knowledge of his daughter from all of the men he had fought with except one, and that one was dead now. He wanted no enemies or disgruntled men that he had belittled on the battlefield to use her for vengeance against him. He had taught her well, and that thought didn't cheer him overly much. She was well equipped to kill the squire if he surprised her. He couldn't imagine the gallant young man would attempt to take advantage of a woman found alone in a house, but you never could tell what lurked deep in a man's mind after so long on the battlefields.
Word spread through the soldiers that Goren had left the castle, and it wasn't long before he heard the sounds of hooves thundering up behind him. He let out another string of curses as the lead riders caught up to him, and he grimaced realising that coming home with a hero was far preferable to these men than riding in alone without any ceremony. What these men didn't realise was that these mountains were too far away from the battlefields for news of individual exploits and triumphs to have come. No one would care who rode into the small towns and villages as long as the men who belonged there returned. They were all heroes to these people because they had survived to see their loved ones again.
He thought of Mirabel and hung his head. He could move no faster now or risk the mounts of all these men. The horses were a valuable commodity to these villages and not to be treated with such lack of care. He continued to curse under his breath refusing pleas from the men who rode with him to stray from the fastest path to his home to visit another village along the way. Time was of the essence he knew, and all he could do was hope that Tevin had been lost and not made it to his home or that he and Mirabel had found some common ground to keep them from killing each other.
Tevin groaned and flexed his arms feeling the course twine around his wrists. It took him a while, but he eventually wormed his hands from the bindings the young woman had placed on them. He stood searching the house and finding no sign of the girl in the neat cabin, he blew out a frustrated curse and went to check on the supplies of both food and firewood. His Lord would be here by the afternoon, and he wanted the great man to have to worry about nothing when he arrived.
As the day wore on and he took in the well cared for cabin and its contents, the nagging sensation that the girl had spoken with such conviction worried at his thoughts. Goren was a hero. His name would be carried through history with the likes of Auberon, Tourane and Jarrad. This was not a man who married, had a child and served the village as an axeman, felling trees for houses and bridges. No, it couldn't have been true and if it was, why did she leave?
He hadn't given her much choice he admitted but still if she knew the man it would have been nothing to prove the truth of her words. He put the thought behind him again as he stripped off his shirt to begin chopping wood for the diminished pile at the side of the house. The girl had obviously been here for some time. She had kept the home maintained well and seemed not to have damaged any of the furniture.
He heard the cheers of the villagers like a faraway rumble as the small group of men returning from the great war moved through the village to the home of Goren the Axeman. Tevin hurried to the water barrel and splashed water over his sweat-soaked torso and used his shirt to dry off before entering the cabin to retrieve his spare shirt and went to wait at the front of the cabin to take his Lord's horse for him.
Goren rode up looking like thunder as he saw Tevin, the livid bruise on the side of his face, and no sign of Mirabel. A myriad of scenarios ran through his head, and he could not find a good one where Tevin looked beaten and Mirabel was not present and accounted for on the day he came home. He bade the men he rode with farewell before dismounting his horse and staring at the young man.
"Where is she?" he demanded gruffly
"Gone," Tevin said realising that the woman had been speaking the truth. "She knocked me out, and when I woke she was gone. You did not mention a daughter."
"For good reason laddie," Goren said unsurprised by his daughter's actions. He was beyond grateful that she hadn't killed the young man. A fight and a few lumps were nothing to brush away for a woman of the mountains, but murder would have meant a trial and consequences "Well, you best find her and apologise for making her hit you. She won't have gone far if you had the good sense to tell her I was returning."
"I did," Tevin nodded. "Should I not tend your horse first. She will come back when she sees you are here surely?" He asked.
"Perhaps she will, but you would be wise to find her and make your peace first. That bruise tells me your meeting was not cordial," Goren grumbled. "You are not of the Kayode and do not know our ways. I can forgive you your arrogance and ignorance, but many in this village will not. Trust me, laddie, find her and make your peace."
Goren knew his daughter well enough to know she would not return while Tevin stood with her father and needed him away from the cabin so he could find out the truth of their meeting and why she had felt the need to defend herself so harshly. He chuckled at the size of the bruise marring the young man's face. She was a woman to be reckoned with, strong, intelligent and skilled. Mirabel had learnt her lessons well, not only in the home as most women learned, but in books and the wilds of the forest as well. Goren was proud to be her father and the man who had taught her independence.
Tevin came out of the tree line after an afternoon searching for signs of where the girl would have gone. It was as if she had disappeared completely; no one in the village seemed to even know who he was talking about let alone give him any information on finding her. The people of the mountains, he was discovering, were a suspicious and secretive people.
It wasn't that they were unfriendly. Quite the opposite in fact, especially when Tevin had said he worked for Goren. They spoke in general terms about their village and the surrounding countryside, but when asked directly about the whereabouts of Mirabel they had shut down completely as if they had never heard of her. It was a strange phenomenon and one he couldn't understand. He had skirted the woods around the village seeking any sign of her and with a heavy heart had returned to the cabin to face Goren and his wrath.