Authors: Sam Farren
Tags: #adventure, #fantasy, #dragons, #knights, #necromancy, #lesbian fiction, #lgbt fiction, #queer fiction
Copyright 2015 Sam Farren
Published by Sam Farren at Smashwords
Cover art copyright 2015 Molly Gur
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For my wonderful friends who have read my endless, typo-ridden drafts, endured me bouncing ideas off them at 3am, and have met me with enthusiasm, feedback, and book-altering suggestions; for those who have kept me motivated with art, fic, and rampant keysmashing; and for anyone who has delved into a fantasy novel and not seen themselves reflected in the world therein.
She still went by Sir Ightham, back then. When she came to our village, no one suspected her to be in exile, or that exile was hardly the worst of it.
I was a farmer, raised in a village that had been happily overlooked throughout much of history. We were nestled within a shallow valley, a thicket of trees growing tall on one side, and the only excitement that ever filtered through was the occasional wolf, hoping to make an easy meal of a stray sheep. The surrounding settlements considered ours to be
, and my life ought to have been pleasantly mundane.
I shouldn't have had any tales to tell that would give a Knight reason to pause.
Yet in the months leading up to Sir Ightham's arrival, I was facing an exile of my own. I already had a story to tell, one that could've breathed life into long volumes of texts. I thought that I had long since reached the conclusion of it all; that I was living in my own epilogue.
Despite that, everything started with her arrival. I was twenty-three, and all the secrets I had striven to keep inside had slipped between my fingers and seeped into the dirt, poisoning the village.
But as I said, she still went by Sir Ightham, in those days. We thought it was the start of better things for us all.
The stubborn ground clung to the last of the cold, but clear skies and crisp air marked mid-Mersa and the timely arrival of spring.
Newborn lambs gathered enough courage and coordination to leave their mothers' sides, and curiously nudged my knees as I kept watch, inevitably tumbling into my lap. They bleated – or at least tried to – and I helped them back onto twitchy legs, sending them on their way. Seconds later, convinced they'd never taken an unsteady step in their lives, they were bouncing in the long grass.
The villagers didn't know I tended to the sheep. In their minds, I was confined to the farmhouse, locked in my room lest I so much as glance at any of food they'd purchased from my father.
The hills where we kept our sheep were wide and open, and there was nowhere safer for me. From the top of a tree stump older than I was, I could see everything: the dirt path leading away from the rickety fence at the bottom of the hill, winding around our farmhouse, heading lower and lower into the village itself.
I would've seen anyone approach from a mile away.
More than once I'd imagined a mob coming my way. Not individual villagers, not people I recognised, people I'd grown up around; just a roiling mass, all anger and fear, grasping for simple, bloody solutions. I think I did it to entertain myself while the sheep slept under stars I'd charted a hundred times over.
But as things were, no one ever wandered further than the farmhouse.
“At least you're all adorable,” I murmured to another lamb who'd dared to wobble my way. He hopped on the spot and I offered him a handful of grass from between my bare feet. The lamb ate happily, wagging his stump of a tail as though the whole hillside wasn't covered in more of the same.
I took what company I could get and fed the gathering crowd of curious lambs by hand, until something mercifully drew my attention. A figure in the distance ran up the dirt path, completely bypassing the farmhouse. I stood and the lambs scattered. For a moment, for one single, blissful moment, I was actually
Until I realised who it was.
My brother. I sat back down, but didn't feel the sting of disappointment too strongly. Michael wasn't much of a farmer and never had been. He had a knack for handling financial matters; managing our accounts, keeping track of what we'd sold at market and how much crop we'd yielded from each field, and saw to personally paying the farm's few workers. It wasn't often he wandered out to the fields, much less the steep hills the sheep grazed upon.
“Rowan!” he called, waving his hands above his head. His breath puffed out of him and his face was red, but his grin was unmissable. “Hurry it up, would you? The hill's working against me.”
I did him the favour of jogging down to meet him, and he clasped my shoulders with both hands.
“Has something happened?” I asked. The last time I'd seen him that happy, he'd just returned from a nearby town, dragging his weight in books behind him.
“Has it ever!” he declared, shaking me. “You'll never guess what, though.”
I waited for him to continue, but he stared down at me, brow raised, expecting me to guess at something I'd never get right. He shook me again and I shrugged, earning a sigh mixed with a laugh for my ignorance. Luckily for me, Michael had never been good at keeping anything remotely intriguing to himself.
. Down in the village, in
village, there's a Knight—an actual, breathing, living Knight. In our village!” He brought his hands up, forming fists that near enough trembled with excitement. I tilted my head to the side, unable to parse what he'd said. He slammed his hands back down as though trying to drive me into the dirt. “Are you listening? A Knight! In the village! Isn't it amazing?”
I opened my mouth, furrowing my brow. Michael was of the opinion that most of the things he said were
, but for once, he might've been selling the story short. A passing merchant drifting into our village would've been amazing; a traveller who'd lost their way and needed a place to stay for the night would've been amazing. We hadn't seen a stranger within our village for five gruelling months. A Knight's arrival was beyond anything most of the Kingdom could ever hope for.
“Are you sure it's a Knight?” I asked. “I mean, thirteen Knights in the whole of Felheim; what's the chance of one coming this far south, and to
Everyone knew that dragons didn't dare to venture too close to the sea, and we were only twenty miles from the coast.
“Oh, she's a Knight alright. Not a soldier or a guard or a wandering mercenary. Nothing so mundane as that,” Michael said, nodding to himself. He stepped back, clapping his hands together. One of the lambs gave a start and I blinked. “I saw her armour for myself! It's nothing less than dragon-bone, there's no doubting that. It's as white as—” He paused, tilting his head back, but there wasn't a passing cloud in the sky worth comparing it to. “It's
. Not the white of bleached bones, it's something more than that. Well, come on! You've got to see her.”
Michael grabbed my wrist before I could protest. He recovered from the journey up through sheer force of excitement, and had more than enough strength left to drag me down the hillside. I made it ten, maybe fifteen steps, reality trailing far behind.
When else would I ever get the chance to see a Knight?
The village thrummed with talk of her and everyone had poured from their homes. All two-hundred of the villagers were gathered in the square, ready to turn their eyes on me, their thoughts against me.
I dug my heels into the dirt, skidding to a stop.
“I can't go down to the village,” I reminded Michael.
He stared at me like I was being a bore and threw his hands in the air.
“Why not? Did anyone ever
you weren't allowed in the village? Have you
going down there?”
Nobody had told me I wasn't welcome. They hadn't given voice to my banishment, though for a time, they enjoyed speaking about me when they knew I was within earshot. But their resentment quickly took on a new tone: doors slamming, windows latched from the inside. I hadn't dared to venture into the village for four months. Perhaps time had softened them...
“We're just going to
! You don't need to be there for more than a few minutes. It'll be fine, Rowan.”
I didn't budge. As scared as the villagers were of me, convinced I had caused last season's crops to fail, I couldn't bring myself to face them, either. Not when there were so many of them. Not when they
. Michael's intentions were good, and at heart, he only ever wanted me to join in his enthusiasm for everything beyond village life, but I couldn't take a step forward.
“You don't get it,” I said, and what I meant was
please don't ask me to explain.
“Oh, I get it, Rowan. I'm your brother—do you think I don't get it every time I go down into the village? I know how people look at me when they think my attention is elsewhere. I know that people say very different things behind my back than they do to me at market. So yes, Rowan, I
. I get it more than you do, hiding away in the hills,” he said, arms folded across his chest. He looked away, scowling at a rock on the hillside.
“That's not fair,” I mumbled.
I didn't want to argue with him. Not here, not now. Not again.
“No, I supposed it isn't. Not on me, and least of all on you,” he said, scowl softening. “Just for a few minutes? You have to try going back eventually, and it's going to be easier to do it sooner, rather than later. Besides, they're all
of you—if anyone tries starting trouble, wave your hands in a menacing manner and they'll run for cover.”
He made his case by waving his fingers in the air, and I supposed that I
like to see the Knight. It was as good an excuse to go back as I was going to get, and considering that no one had hunted me down in the four months I'd been pointedly absent, perhaps they'd leave me be. All I had to do was keep my head down and stay out of trouble.
“Alright—a few minutes,” I said, sprinting off and jumping the fence. “But only because I'll never believe you if I don't see for myself!”
The path had once been riddled with the track marks of carts brought to market from neighbouring towns and villages, but the wind had stolen them. Only footprints remained, footprints belonging to my brother and father; nobody came to our village, no one was willing to trade with us. Not anymore.
The last time I'd gone into the village was a month before my birthday and already well into winter. The cobbled roads were icy, roofs dusted with a sprinkling of snow, but when I stepped in again, I expected the village to have changed in more substantial ways than the seasons' whims dictated. It hadn't, of course. The baker's hadn't moved and the butcher's hadn't closed down, but I looked around as if taking in my surroundings for the first time.
The mismatched houses neatly packed together seemed remarkable. Picturesque, almost, as if people couldn't possibly live in them. I wanted to reach out and touch them. I wanted to reach out and touch everything – the street lamps that weren't due to be lit for hours, the flowers bursting from window boxes, the low benches and the shrine that was older than all else – so that I could believe that I wasn't trapped in the past, or in a dream.