Elektra and her brothers, Tilliam and Uzziah, have now headed out on their journey to find her son, Rory. Their first destination is to seek help and wisdom from her father, Kratos. They are on their way to the family homestead.
As we headed out, I hung back from my brothers and took the rear. I didn’t feel like talking. Lilka followed the other horses in a steady methodical rhythm, and I didn’t need to do much to keep her going. There were so many emotions flooding my thoughts. It had been five years since we had all been together. Family gatherings had become something of a strain as we all grew older, and our lives had taken such different paths. We really didn’t seem to have much use for one another. We grew up strong and independent. Father was not the coddling type, and made it clear we would get nothing from him. We were expected to leave the house and make it on our own as soon as we were able. Mother had been a constant source of love. She raised us well while father traveled the land, making and selling weapons. She brightened our days with singing, and made work feel like a game as we cleaned and tended the fields around the farm. We had pets and livestock to care for, and my favorite were the horses. But Mother had no power over Father, and his crude ways had broken her down over time. Her health and her heart had suffered, but she still clung to him, hoping and praying that some day he would soften and be able to show her the love she had always craved.
The forest began to thin, opening into a lush green meadow of flowers and grasses. Beyond the meadow was a prairie that expanded for miles. In the distance was a stretch of small mountains. That’s where we were headed. It would be difficult to span the prairie in one day, and then climb the ridge that looked over a valley of crops and grazing lands. Our homestead was beautiful. I almost looked forward to seeing it.
Then I thought of Father, critical Kratos, who I would have to face and ask for help. My pride stung and my mouth grew dry. In his travels he had visited the Ryszard Kingdom many times. He would know men that could help us, who may be willing to show us a way to enter the Kingdom secretly to find my son. But, my gut told me Rory would not be there. Still, there was a chance, and if he weren’t there we would find out where Rurik had taken him. King Ryszard did not love his son, Rurik. He was born of a mistress who had been a handmaiden to the Queen. The truth was not found out until he became a man, and sought to gain his birthright. He may be a bastard son, but he was still the son of a king. Rurik was besieged with greed, seeking revenge for the lack of recognition and attention he should have had as a child. Ryszard acknowledged him as his son, but made it clear he would never hold the crown. Rurik spent his days as a warrior for the Kingdom, and that is how I met him.
In those days I was reckless and driven by the anger I had for my own father. He never believed I could become a warrior, or that I had any right to do so. I was a woman, and women were servants and seamstresses. They were farmer’s wives and shopkeepers, meant to raise children, not spill blood on the battlefield. He abhorred the thought that his daughter would study war. I loved the idea, and the fact that it provoked displeasure in my father made it even more appealing. Rubeus and I would spar for hours while we were growing up, testing father’s swords and other weaponry once he had fired and honed them. Father had been a warrior himself as a young man, and had served as an archer for many years. Having only brothers, I was compelled to learn their games to be included in play and sport. Hard work on the farm had molded my body into a strong fighting vessel, and my skill and athleticism were noticed among the Ryszard guards. They saw me practicing in the village square with other warriors my age, and they recommended my skills to the Constables in command. It also helped that I was beautiful, my long black hair and flashing blue eyes mesmerized many a soldier. But, I wasn’t interested or even aware of their deeper hunger. I was hell-bent on proving my strength as a warrior. Their sexual games or needs did not interest me, and I stayed clear of the pubs and whorehouses they frequented. My goal was to earn their respect, and be accepted as one of them. But there are always those who rattle the chain and challenge your worth. Rurik was one of them.
My first encounter with Rurik was during a sparring match. We had both shown up late to the training session, and had no choice but to be paired together. Our weapons were wooden replicas of broadswords. The tips blunted for our protection. We took our places, and as we shook hands before our session started, Rurik looked me in the eye with a sarcastic grin on his face.
“Come to practice with the real men, have you?” he laughed. “Don’t hurt me too bad, darlin’. I wouldn’t want to mess up that pretty face of yours.”
“It’s just a practice session, don’t get your hopes up,” I replied.
He drove his sword forward, and I easily blocked it with my shield, swiftly turning around to drive a heavy blow to his sword, knocking it out of his hand on my first attempt. I waited for him to pick it up. His glance at me showed a little more respect as he picked up the sword and we started again, this time comfortably going back and forth with sword slashes, and the occasional shield block. We watched each other closely, remembering how we began the fight, and not quite trusting what the other was going to do. We began exchanging heavier sword blows, and he began pushing me back in my stance by the power and strength of his hits. I delivered a sidekick with my right foot directly into his chest, dropped and rolled out of the way as he came back down on me, his sword thrusting into the dirt. I then hit the back of his knees with the side of my sword and he fell to the ground on his back. I stood over him, placing my sword at his throat.
“Should I spare your pretty face?” I asked.
“I underestimated your skill, be assured, I will scratch that smooth cheek of yours next time.”
I pulled my sword away and stretched out my hand to help him up. He grabbed my forearm, springing up on his feet. He flashed me a cocky smile, and gave me a wink.
“Until next time, little vixen.”
Thus began our dance of love and hate.
I shook my head and became aware of the present, again. Looking forward, beyond my brothers, was the valley of our childhood home. I had spent all day lost in memories of the past. It was time to face the future, and the responsibilities ahead.
© 2016, Rebecca Braun. All rights reserved.
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