The first chapter in my second book. The Viking Clans have taken Zavala. However, one of the villagers managed to escape. Now, they wait anxiously, preparing for the inevitable enemy counterattack.
Chapter 1: Interlude
Alena experienced life in fits and spurts as she slipped in and out of consciousness. One second a vaguely familiar man stood over her, the next, she felt herself being carried. She heard strange voices, muddled as if she were underwater. Something tugged at her, and she was vaguely aware of someone screaming.
When she finally came to she was lying down, staring at a strange ceiling. Confused, she tried to sit up... and immediately regretted it as pain lanced through her chest and belly.
The pain soon subsided, and Alena was able to take stock of her current situation. She glanced down and immediately noticed that feathered shafts no longer stood out of her chest and belly. In their place were tightly-wrapped white bandages. Well, white except for where a little red blood seeped through.
She blinked slowly, turning her head and coming face-to-face with a short-haired girl lying on her right side with her head propped up on her hand about two paces away. It took a second for Alena to recognize that it was Emmy--the girl prodigy who had taught Alena how to wrestle. Emmy smiled widely and flashed her the thumbs up.
"Why hello there sleepyhead!" Emmy exclaimed.
Still a little groggy, Alena took a second to register the words. What was Emmy doing here?
Alena looked Emmy up and down. The girl was heavily bandaged, even more than she herself was. One cloth was tied around her right thigh. Bandages were wrapped around nearly her entire torso. They were thickest around her midriff, where a huge stain spread from her left side. Judging by the freshness of the blood, the wound was probably still bleeding.
"Are you okay?" Alena asked, skeptically concerned. Groggy though she was, Alena had an inkling of what Emmy’s answer would be. She was the Flat-Chested Demon after all.
"Oh yeah, don't worry about me," replied Emmy cheerfully. "It's mostly stopped bleeding," she said, gently tapping the bandages around her belly with her free hand.
"You won't believe this," continued Emmy unbidden, "These guys know way more about healing than we do. I got my innards slashed up pretty good and thought I was a goner, but some old hag was able to stitch them back together. It was really fascinating to watch!"
Breathlessly, Emmy went on to tell the whole story about her fight, her wounds, and her treatment, gesturing and hacking and slashing as if she was still in battle.
Alena sighed heavily, exhausted. She didn't know what was crazier, the fact that Emmy could still move around despite her wounds, the fact that she had remained conscious as her guts were sown together, or the fact that she seemed to have enjoyed the experience. Alena herself felt like shit; even just breathing was painful. Emmy’s good mood made it feel all the worse.
It wasn’t just the sliced flesh of her left breast that was making it painful. The bandage around her chest was too tight; it was compressing her chest and squeezing her breasts flat against her ribs. It probably had to be that tight to stop the bleeding though. It could have been worse; it would probably have been even more painful if she’d had bigger breasts.
I guess small breasts do have their advantages, she thought, I can’t wait to tell that to Loni.
In an instant, all the memories of that day came rushing back. The barbarian attackers, the slaughter of her comrades, the two arrows piercing her body. But most vividly, the accusing, questioning look in Loni’s eyes as she crumpled on the beach, a bloody hole carved in her belly. Tears welled up in Alena’s eyes and she sniffled once, then twice.
“What’s wrong?” asked Emmy, concerned.
“It’s nothing,” replied Alena unconvincingly. She brought her left hand up to wipe away the first trickling tears, but it was already caked in blood.
She knew it was her own blood, but in her mind, it was Loni’s.
That thought broke the dam and now a flood of tears flowed down her cheeks. Emmy shuffled over and curled up next to her, bringing an arm over Alena’s chest to embrace her gently.
“You’re alright. It’s okay,” Emmy said soothingly.
Alena broke down and sobbed, hugging Emmy close. It hurt to move, and the weight of Emmy’s small frame caused the wounds in her chest and belly to ache. But right now, the emotional pain outweighed the physical.
As Alena sobbed into Emmy’s hair, Emmy too felt a knot well up in her throat and tears well up in her eyes. Emmy had lost so much—all of her friends had fallen in Zavala’s defense, and she’d seen the bodies of her family piled up like trash in the square. Emmy had thought she was on her way to join them. A part of her wished she had. In a moment, she was weeping bitterly into Alena’s shoulder.
Alena realized then that Emmy was not an inhuman goddess of war, living only for pain, death, and battle. In reality, Emmy was just a frightened little girl, as terrified of death as Alena herself had been. Her cheerful demeanor was a front, masking the hurt and fear she felt inside. The pain of death might have been preferable to the pain of surviving.
Together, Alena and Emmy cried out their pain until no more tears would flow. They stayed in each other’s arms, each finding the other’s presence soothing. Nothing could fill the void in Alena’s heart, but she felt now like her life wasn’t over.
Looking beyond Emmy, Alena could see a heavily bearded man sleeping fitfully. Alena knew she should've panicked at the sight of an enemy lying in the same room, but she was too tired for such things. Still, his presence confused her.
Emmy followed her gaze and could guess Alena's questions.
"We're in the Chief's house. You and I were brought in here to be treated by the invaders' healer," said Emmy, "I don't know why though. All the others here are invaders."
“How long was I out?” asked Alena.
“You slept for about three days.” Emmy left out the part about her feverish ravings and the fact that she had almost died two nights before. Alena didn’t need to know that just yet. “When you’re up for it, we’ll get you some food.”
“Okay,” replied Alena. Despite sleeping for three days, she felt weak and tired. Food sounded good, but right now she needed more sleep. Alena drifted off, Emmy still in her arms.
Three days. It had been three days since my forces captured Zavala. It took a day for the square to be cleared of corpses, and the embers of the grain silos where they’d been piled for burning were just now growing cold. The captured wounded that could be moved were brought indoors on the second day. There were only 108 now; thirty-one had died of their wounds. The carts of supplies from my staging point had finally arrive yesterday as well.
My warriors were settling into a rotation of sentry duty, rest, and building defenses. Building defenses was most important. Despite my best efforts, a single Zavalan villager had escaped and had managed to warn some of the outlying farmers. Without a doubt, they had gone to warn whatever armies existed in the area that a large force had managed to capture Zavala.
Based on the terrain, I expected any attack to come from the water. The overland terrain was heavily wooded and only one narrow road. Nor were there any good points to disembark troops quickly for twenty miles in either direction. Even if there were, a single watcher on the water would have spotted them with ease. Any army large enough to attack my force would have to land on the beach.
I spent some time talking to some of the captured and wounded Zavalans, trying to get a feel for the major militaries in the area. Most were decidedly uncooperative, but with some… convincing… I got enough to piece together a decent picture of the area.
These lands were on the northern end of what they called the “Empire of Arkadia” in the land of Amazonia. Zavala itself was located on the banks of a long, thin fjord that cut east and south to join the brackish body of water the Arkadians called Claymore Bay. Claymore Bay opened to the Great Sea far to the east, but was enclosed to the west by a wide isthmus known as the Golem’s Neck. The landmass north of Claymore Bay Bay, which contained all the territory explored and conquered by the Clans, was called Land’s Head. Arkadian legend held that in the days of the divines when the world was covered by water, the warrior goddess Helena slew a mighty golem, creating the land. When the golem fell, the sea filled the gap left by Helena’s sword. The rocky strip of The Neck was all that held the golem’s head to his body.
Villages and towns speckled the coast of the Claymore Bay with the regional capital a few days travel to the east. The good news was that the region’s armies were essentially local militia, and would have to be mobilized before they could be brought to bear against us. The bad news was that there was a lot of them and since most were concentrated along the waterfront, it was relatively easy to gather a large force. I expected them to take some two weeks to muster a reaction force. It was day four; I had little time left. I planned to use that time to entrench and reinforce my position.
Each morning I took time to check up on my wounded warriors. These men and women had sacrificed themselves on my command; I owed them nothing less to show my appreciation. Sigrid knew when I would arrive and hobbled over to brief me on each casualty’s condition. Aarik Olufson had died in the night. That wasn’t unexpected, but it was still unfortunate. None of the others’ conditions had changed. I spent a few minutes talking to the ones who were awake.
At the end of the longhouse, Hroaldr Jonssen was trying hard to sleep. He popped one eye open as I approached.
“Damn kids won’t shut up,” he grumbled.
The “kids” were of course the two young Zavalan girl warriors lying half a dozen paces away. They were supposed to be great warriors, identified by some of my Chosen men during battle. At the moment they lay curled up together like cute little kittens. Looking at them like that, I suspected Torstein Ironbones and Geir Buckshelm had gone soft in the head.
I’d ignored them before, but now I noticed one of them staring up at me. I stared down at her in return. Slowly, she unfurled herself from the arms of her counterpart, a lioness waking from an afternoon nap. She stretched her legs luxuriously, her gaze locked on mine as she stood. Her eyes betrayed neither fear nor defiance. Indeed, her expression seemed to me more like mild curiosity, a satisfied predator idly eying next week’s meal. Her hand on her uninjured right hip, she looked me up and down and then regarded me steadily. I returned the favor.
She looked to me to be about thirteen or fourteen summers. She was taller than average for her age with a body that was lean, fit, and tanned. Her sandy hair was close-cropped, slightly matted after days without a wash. She wore nothing but the bandages that covered virtually her entire torso, from the tops of her breasts to the bottom of her hips. More bandages wrapped her right thigh. Her shaved pussy lay bared, in stark contrast to the modesty her bandages provided the rest of her body.
“You should lay back down, girl,” I said, “Your wounds are serious.”
“Nah, I’m good,” she responded nonchalantly.
“You should listen to your Lord,” I said, adding an edge of authority to my voice.
“Why?” she asked.
Huh? I was at a loss. Was I using the wrong word in the local trade-speech? How could someone not know why they should listen to a Lord? Was she deliberately defying me? But as I gazed into her eyes, I saw neither ignorance nor defiance. This girl just saw no reason why she should lie down when she was perfectly capable of standing.
“So you’re the one who killed two of my warriors I take it.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“It should’ve been three,” she responded matter-of-factly, pushing restlessly at the straw floor with her toes.
“You must be feverish. I sincerely doubt that a welp like you has the skill to beat one, much less three, of my warriors,” I said.
“Why don’t we find out right now?” she retorted.
I blinked a few times then realized that my mouth had been hanging open just slightly in an expression of incredulity. One look at her made it clear that that was crazy. The bandages above her left hip were stained red. A smaller red splotch stained the bandages around her right thigh. I cleared my throat to cover my shock and to buy a moment to collect myself.
“No. You missed your chance to die in battle. Your wounds have not had time to heal.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she responded, “I can handle it.”
Ha! I thought. I like this girl! She was straightforward and tough. Maybe Geir was right about her. That, or Geir needed significantly more bladework.
Of course, I couldn’t say that. Outwardly I shrugged and turned towards the door. “It’s your funeral.”
She followed me out of the manor house. There were a couple wooden practice swords propped up on the wall outside. Even on expeditions, my warriors liked to polish their sword skills either to improve or relieve stress. We each grabbed one and walked down the steps to the square. She felt the weight, took a few experimental cuts, and winced as the movements aggravated her injuries.
“You sure you want to do this?” I asked.
In response, she assumed a fighting position. I too took up a fighting stance.
“Come at me then!”
Without hesitation she lunged forward, aiming to impale me in the gut. I batted the blade aside with ease. She redressed and jabbed at me. I swatted away her sword with contempt. Any real fight would have ended right there.
“It’s not a damn butter knife, girl!” I sneered, derision coloring my admonishment.
“Then give me a knife!” she replied, “I’ve never fought with one of these before.”
“I saw you fighting with one during the battle,” I said.
“I picked that one up off the ground because I didn’t have anything else!”
“Then show me the skill you showed back then!”
With a mighty roar I charged, aiming to deliver a chop to her collar. Deftly, she deflected my blade, allowing it to slide down the length of hers. She followed with a waist-high slash, forcing me to back away. She riposted and I knocked her blade aside with a backhanded parry, then swung to deliver another chop to her collar. She ducked underneath the blade and sprang forward. She slashed, aiming to take my guts out. But the move was predictable—a standard technique taught to all swordsmen. I knocked her blade away with another backhanded parry, then smacked her on the back with the flat of my own as she blundered past.
“One to zero,” I said, backing away, “With that skill you couldn’t beat the greenest of rookies!”
Her brow furrowed and she pursed her lips. She hadn’t liked that comment.
A small crowd of my warriors had gathered at this point, eager to watch the duel. Rumors of the Zavalan warrioress had filtered around amongst my host, and many wanted to see if the rumors were true. Some of them had briefly watched her duel with Geir in this very square just a few days ago. This fight seemed no less real. I assumed a guard stance and awaited the girl’s attack.
She advanced cautiously this time, circling, circling, awaiting an opening. I lashed out with a horizontal slash as she picked up her right foot. Instead of trying to block my attack, she rolled underneath and sprang forward in a counterattack. Surprised by the move, I barely managed to turn away her blade with my own, allowing my momentum to carry me forward and give me some space. I turned back to face her and attacked with a series of cuts. I swiped low first. Then at her neck. Then a jab at her belly. She turned aside each attack with some difficulty. I pressed forward, locking up her blade and bringing the fight in close where I could bring my superior strength to bear. Aware of her disadvantaged, the girl ducked my left-handed punch and rolled away. I pursued, forcing her back on her heels with a flurry of blows. Wood chopped into wood as she blocked each thrust. All she needed was an opening. She found one as I launched a reckless head-high slash. Ducking the move, she lunged forward.
A lesser swordsman might have felt her blade crunch through his chest. But I twisted aside, allowing her blade to pass under my left arm. I used that arm to trap her extended sword arm against my body, then tapped her on the head with my wooden blade.
“Two to zero,” I said, releasing my grip and shoving her away.
The girl was good, no doubt about that. She had great instincts and was quickly learning how to use her weapon. Still, she had no chance against me. Her wounds were sapping her strength; she glistened with sweat and panted heavily, her face flushed with a trace of fever. Nevertheless, she resumed her stance, determined to continue.
I attacked aggressively, thrusting forward then hacking horizontally. She gave ground and avoided both attacks. She leapt forward to counterattack, imitating my earlier downward swing at the collarbone. I blocked it edge-on, using my superior strength to stop her blow. She rebounded off the blade, her arms swinging high. Seeing an opening, I lunged. Quick as a flash, the girl side-stepped my thrust, then brought her own sword down, knocking mine to the dirt. I kept a hold on the weapon, but at the cost of my balance. Lunge interrupted, I stumbled forward until my throat rested on the tip of her blade.
“One to two,” she said, smiling weakly.
The assembled crowd applauded, hooted and hollered. I put down the practice sword and stood. The match was over.
“Alright you traitorous bastards, get back to work!” I shouted in mock rage. My warriors went back to what they were doing, laughing and patting each other on the back. More than a few coins changed hands.
The girl swayed slightly and fell to one knee, exhausted. Now that my bloodlust had faded, I noticed that the splotches of red on her bandages were significantly larger and redder than they had been before. The fighting had re-opened her wounds and she was bleeding once more. I knelt and draped her right arm over my shoulder, then stood. She leaned gratefully on the support as we hobbled back towards the manor house.
“What’s your name, girl?” I asked.
“Emmy,” she replied breathlessly, “And you are?”
“Tore. I command here,” I replied without my title. Lord Baron Tore Aurkyn was too much of a mouthful and this one seemed to care little for titles of nobility. Perhaps I was using the wrong word for it. My knowledge of Arkadi was incomplete after all.
“That was fun; we should do that again sometime,” she said cheerily.
I nodded in agreement as I pushed open the longhouse door. With a little more training, little Emmy had the potential to become a truly formidable warrior—perhaps one of my best. Her training would receive my personal attention.
We picked her way past the others to her spot at the end of the longhouse. Hroaldr and the Zavalan girl were both fast asleep now. Emmy took her arm off my shoulder, turned towards me, and slowly unwrapped the bandages around torso, exposing her flat, hard breasts and the toned muscle of her belly.
“If I couldn’t see you didn’t have a cock, I’d swear you were a boy. Are you sure you’re not a Enoch?” I chortled jokingly.
Emmy reacted as if I had struck her. Her shoulders slumped slightly and the smile disappeared from her face. Her cheerful nature faded in an instant and a thin veil descended behind her eyes. Clearly, my words had touched a nerve.
“My dressing need to be changed,” she said wollenly.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you," I said apologetically.
Emmy nodded, but her face said she hadn't forgiven me. She continued removing her bandages, but now turned away from me so that I could no longer see her breasts. Instead, I saw the long, red cut that ran down from the top of her right shoulder blade and disappeared into the bandages around her waist. A scab had formed, but the sparring had caused it to crack, and rivulets of blood now dripped down her back.
Of course, her back wasn't the only thing I could see.
"I have to say though, that’s one tight ass," I said lecherously.
Emmy whirled around, ready for another fight. She saw me chuckling and it took her a moment to realize I was kidding around with her.
She smiled invitingly. "Come and get it, old man."
I grinned broadly and laughed. After a second, she started to laugh as well. As she did so, some of the sparkle returned to her eyes.
"Please," I said, "I doubt you could put out in your condition."
"Put out?" she asked, head cocked slightly in confusion.
I shook my head, chuckling some more. I guess Emmy really was still a kid at heart. I turned to grab a stack of fresh linens as she continued unwrapping the thick layers of dressings around her waist.
As the bandages around her waist got looser, blood started to flow more freely from her left side until her hip was slick with blood. With a mighty grimace, Emmy pulled off the last layer of linen, revealing a nasty sword wound. Her entire side must have been split open! Sigrid had stitched the wound shut, but blood flowed steadily around the newly-snapped threads. Emmy glanced at the wound then quickly pressed her hand to it to slow the bleeding.
"That wound is serious," I said, rushing over, “We should have my healer take a look at it.”
“Just shut up and bandage the damn thing,” she grunted through gritted teeth.
“Fine, move your hand.”
Gingerly, she pulled it away, her fingers sticky and wet. She held the end of the dressing while I wrapped it tightly around her waist. When it was wrapped, I grabbed a bowl of water and a cloth and used it to clean the cut on her back and the blood on her hip and thigh. As I did so, we chatted about our duel.
“You anticipated my attack in that third round, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yep,” she replied, washing her blood-stained hands in a bowl of water, “I learned the hard way that you barbarians like to lunge when your opponent leaves their guard open. That’s how I got this thing,” she said, tapping her bleeding flank. “I figured you’d use the same move. So I gave you a false opening and you took the bait”
I was surprised that someone so young had such a cerebral understanding of combat. She said I relied too much on brute force. I rebutted that that style suited the shield wall in which Clan warriors preferred to fight. I told her that from my point of view, she relied too much on freedom of movement and used her sword like a knife. She said that it was because she had trained with a knife from a young age and was most comfortable with it.
By that time, I had finally finished changing the dressing around her right thigh. I had other duties to attend to, so we agreed to put our conversation on hold. I walked out astonished and more than a little frightened. Emmy had fought me on near-equal terms with grievous injuries and an unfamiliar weapon. I now heartily agreed with Geir’s assessment: he had been very lucky to survive his encounter with her on the battlefield.