Disclaimer: I own nothing of Tamora Pierce's fantasy! I own the people in this story, that's it. Malynna, Gaerith, Movis, Salendra, Malessa, and their father are the people I own—I made up the place called Albrethe, too. Oh well, I hope you like it. It takes place in the war before women were given the chance to be knighted.
Beyond These Fields
I am old now, withered like some sort of late summer flower that tried to survive the fall. Once, a very long time ago, I was young and vibrant and I played in these now overgrown, lonely fields that stretch to the horizon. I would lose whole days in those fields, with my brother, my best friend at my side. Gaerith would take my hand in his, the crop was above my head then, and he would lead me blinded through those dense plants. When the crops were nearly to his own chin, he would put me up on my shoulders while I shouted commands. The sound of the horses, the water well, and the churning butter would fade and only Gaerith's voice remained, telling me the stories of our ancestors, praising our mother and father's people.
Then the war came and all was dark in the land. First Father and Gaerith left, but the problems did not stop there. Mother had to sell the servants and livestock, save one horse to travel to the nearest village for supplies, leaving the fields unattended and the back breaking work to ourselves. Our oldest two servants, an elderly man and woman refused to leave for our home had also been theirs.
When my mother fell ill, the whole place fell into a black abyss, shadows lurking in every corner and the fields forever a grayish brown--not worth planting in. I came to take over most of the household chores, my mind astray with thoughts of the past and those days in the fields with my brother.
Now and then letters came, telling us of Father and Gaerith's current condition, but there was no way to reply. Mother took to her bed for good. After some time a letter came summoning me to my uncle's presence, but I refused to go. I'd never leave my home—my mother. Salendra urged me to go, but I defied everyone, even my own father's wishes. "I won't leave my home to ruin."
"But we'll be here," Salendra insisted, "we will not let your home decay. All will be well."
My temper was foul as a child and it had not died. "My pest of an uncle may think me a fool, but I refuse to let you think it of me!" I snapped, grabbing at the clean breeches that I wore to wash the windows. "I want only to be here and take care of my home!"
Movis came in then, the old man bent over, but his wise old eyes set on me. "With the war coming ever closer, child, how can you think to defend your home? You must go to your uncle's home, there is nothing left here for you."
"I will die on my own soil."
"But death is a long ways off for you, Malynna." Salendra took my hand. "One day, when the war is over, you may return to this home and you may start anew."
"I will wait for my father and brother."
Salendra and Mavis glanced at each other wryly, and then looked to me sorrowfully. "What?" I queried in my consternation. "What of those dour looks?"
"Oh child, the war will only take from this land." Salendra grew misty eyed. "Your own mother Malessa knows this."
"I promised Gaerith I would not let our home be destroyed—that I would do everything in my power if need be."
"Go to your uncle's." Salendra begged me. "Go where you will be safe. Live to fight another day, child!"
My heart weakened at the thought of how powerless I truly was--being a woman. How could everyone think me a helpless child? I was nearly a woman, although I no longer looked the part of a girl. While broadening my shoulders, the heavy work and the strain of my muscles remained a strange joy to me—to feel my body working. To lay at night, my body pounding from the hard work—I'd never experienced anything so releasing, except when I had been in the fields with my brother Gaerith.
Without further adieu I had been coerced into agreeing to stay with my petty uncle to the north, but in my heart I felt defiance grow. Two days after a letter had been sent to my uncle, I began to have dreams of the carriage coming to claim me from my home—I fought, but none listened and I was dragged away from my home into a carriage where the dead bodies of my father and brother lay. It was frightening, all that blood, and their eyes open, dazed, like the young calf that had been discarded by the wolves when the dogs came chasing. When I woke to the break of day I became ill and after releasing my stomach, I came downstairs to find the house empty. Salendra and Movis were nowhere to be seen, but I soon came upon them in the barn where whispers stole into the walls and burrowed beneath the hay when I entered. "Salendra! Movis!" I called to them, angry they would be so secretive. "Where—"
"Shh, child!" Salendra's voice snapped. "Over here!"
When I found the stall the two were in, I hesitated to open it, and then it swung open on its own, Salendra standing there beside the horse, packed and ready to go and old Movis with a sword in hand. At first I was angry and then when my mind settled, quicker than usual, I became disheartened so badly I was nearly in tears. "You would leave us?" I asked, my eyes swelling. "But, why?"
"Never, darling Malynna, never." Salendra hugged me, securing my faith in her again, and then she pulled away. "We're not the one's that must go."
"But Uncle sends a carriage—"
"Last night Movis and I had a dream—a dream so frighteningly real we both woke with a start." Salendra began. "We dreamt of the war, here, in our own home, soldiers fighting the unspeakable forces of darkness, and then...there was nothing. The castle was in shambles, the barn burnt to the ground, and only a horse lived. This black eyed beauty that is only permitted on rides to town and back. His destiny is south, as is yours."
"In the spare time you had, you learned the ways of this sword. I saw you, speaking to old Gontry, as you slashed right and left." Movis handed it to me. "It rests in your hands like a mace rests in a warrior's. You must go."
"If you don't go, the house will." My mother's weak voice insisted from behind me. I turned, facing her pale form, now gaunt and ghost-like as she gazed at me through misty eyes.
"Malynna, my daughter," Mother took my hands in hers, "in this life we women were given a strange lot. I will not see you break yourself here and I won't allow your uncle's wife to do the same. You've grown strong and you must use that strength for our home--to find your father and brother. We have all of our faith in you."
Salendra took my shoulders, turning me to her. "Go to the nearest village, insist on finding a soldier. Go by a boy's name—we need not teach you to be firm, but you must hide yourself from the men."
In moments I was riding on Gontry, dressed as a simple peasant boy, the saddlebags less-than-full, and my journey was southward, from where the forever gray skies inched toward our farm. Gontry was a charger, a beautiful horse, and he was meant for more than simple use—he told me so as we raced over the fields.
Without my knowing, my mother died in her bed the moment I crossed from my home fields and into the southern lands.
Gontry wanted to run, but I knew better than to waste his speed and energy. Halfway through the fields, he took control and raced through the high grass without permission. It would be the beginning of a long, harsh summer.
The south was as bad as it could have been. I was accepted as an officer, under the name Malen of Albrethe, and sent southward to meet my destiny. Those first few months were a blur—death was rampant and although that first summer I killed no one, I still felt as if the black toll was heavy upon the land of Tortall.
Beasts of all kind crossed my eyes—huge hideous spider-people, men that were half bull, and many women had come to fight on the battlefield. By my fourth month, when frost settled over my sleeping body at night, I woke to find that my whole flank had been wiped out.
Only old Gontry remained, feasting on the dead grass around me and there was no sign of foe or friend for miles. I was on my own—or so I thought.
"Who goes there?"
The deep voice was so unfamiliar and frightening that I dared not move from my spot from behind my horse. "Will you not answer?"
Finally I found the strength within me and stepped out from behind my horse, seeing the dark figure. "Who wishes to know?"
The man furrowed his brows at me, in slight recognition, as I saw two bright blue eyes staring back at me. Eyes softer than the face that had changed so much. "Gaerith?" I asked in disbelief and blinked. "Gaerith of Albrethe?"
Gaerith stared at me, his handsome features taking in my form, but certainly he was confounded. "How do you know my name, lad?"
"I'm no lad." I replied, my heart pounding as I pulled off my grimy helmet. "Don't you remember me? It is I, Malynna."
"Ma—" Gaerith froze for a moment and then, relenting all coldness, he rushed to me, taking me swiftly into his arms and spinning me about, "Malynna!"
"I've searched for you for so long!" I explained quickly. "I—I heard that you weren't dead—that you were alive and fighting! Oh Gaerith!"
"My darling little sister." Gaerith mused, staring at me with those kind, blue eyes. "By the gods, you've grown so."
"You have changed as well, brother…" I smiled at that and stepped back, "and father? Where is father?"
Gaerith's eyes went dark then. "He is home, Malynna, to rest."
"To rest?" I felt my heart stop beating for a moment and then I lowered my eyes. "I have been gone for so long…I didn't know…"
"Oh Malynna!" Gaerith swept me into his arms again. "My little sister—it is so good to see you, to have you with me."
That night Gaerith and I traveled north; trying to find a new company to fight with, but being together was more than enough for the moment. "When we find the company, Malynna, I want you to return home."
"I won't leave you, Gaerith." I replied swiftly. "I've lost everyone else—I could not bear to lose you."
Gaerith went silent at that and then sighed. "You know I won't let you out of my sight."
"And I the same."
We were children again that night, laughing and teasing each other, telling old stories we'd heard for years, and bringing up those old memories on the farm. We ate well together that night, after finding a rabbit and some wild vegetables. Our clothes were tattered, but the night was warmer than usual, and we slept well before waking in the morning and beginning our trot northwards.
There were dead soldiers abound, but it wasn't as if neither of us had seen such a sight before. Gaerith stopped at one, inspecting him.
"Take his boots." Gaerith commanded.
"Yes, his boots," Gaerith was becoming impatient, "Malynna!"
Gaerith grabbed my shoulders, shaking me a bit, gazing into my eyes. "Do you wish to lie here beside him? Do you want the buzzards to feed off of your skin? Why do you hesitate? A battlefield is no place for being proper!"
With all my strength I shoved Gaerith away. "It's disgusting! Stealing from a dead man—would you want someone to steal your own father's boots?"
Gaerith looked away at that, his darkened eyes holding horrors I could never imagine, but I could see by the look on his face what he meant. I looked to Gaerith's own boots, too big for even his feet, but our seal remained on them. Without a second thought, like a brawling boy, I shoved Gaerith again—hard enough to bring him from his stupor. "You pig!" I growled my reprimand. "You stole from your own dead father's feet!"
Gaerith shot fiery eyes in my direction. "You don't know what it is to fight to live, Malynna. These awful four month's you've been coddled. You may think it's disgusting, cruel, vile—whatever you may label it, but you've never starved for days, trapped by the enemy, your father going into delusions!" Gaerith's voice rose now. "Yes, I took my father's boots, but only because he forced me to! He was dying of a wound to the stomach and he ordered me to take them and go. Do you know what it was like leaving him behind?"
I gritted my teeth. "You left him behind?"
"This is survival, Malynna!" Gaerith bellowed. "Not some game!"
Without giving Gaerith more time to rage, I went to the dead soldier's feet and fell to my knees. I grabbed at the boot and tugged as hard as I could and finally, the first boot came off, revealing a pale, swollen, slimy foot. I turned my eyes to the other boot, closing my mind to the putrid odor of death, the sight of the decaying flesh, and I tugged on it. I tried to twist the boot off and ended up successfully ripping the soldier's foot from the leg. I turned and threw up. "Good," Gaerith sighed, giving me some privacy as he went and picked up the boots, "I'll go wash them out for you."
Quickly, I clambered to my feet and ran after him.
We walked side by side northward quietly. "I'm sorry."
I refused to reply, keeping my eyes on the horizon. "Malynna." I turned to Gaerith, his blue eyes full of regret. "I'm sorry."
"You were right." I replied, gritting my teeth. "But I do know what it is to fight to live, Gaerith. You may think being a man, fighting battles—that these things are awful, and they are, but have you ever considered the life of a woman? A life of servitude, granting happiness, and never being able to speak for yourself? I'd much rather be fighting battles to free my country, with good men at my side, than being silent forever."
At that Gaerith nodded his agreement. "Someday, Malynna, when this war is over…"
The royal army's guards had found us; they took us to a new flank, after feeding us and healing our wounds. "Will you still go on with this foolishness, Malynna?"
"Yes." I said. "I won't leave your side, Gaerith. Not as long as I still live."
Gaerith only nodded, biting his teeth. "Then gather your things. We depart tonight."
All the world was a blur once more. War, blood…all I remember was the severe pounding in my ears from the horse's hooves, the war drums—the men's hearts and my own.
There came a battle, one that hung like death over every shoulder's heart, and we knew that the bulk of we soldiers would not return—whether we should be victorious or defeated. Gaerith died that day—defending the land of Tortall. I remember it then, I killed for my first time, but it only felt as if I had twisted a chicken's neck for supper. Nothing was compared to seeing my brother dying.
The flag of Tortall had fallen and Gaerith received it, for should it fall then so should Tortall. An arrow came from behind him, going clean through his heart and that is when he fell.
I ran to Gaerith, the enemies beginning to retreat, and I landed on my knees next to my brother. "Help!" I cried out, lifting my brother's head from the bloodied mud below him. "Help me!"
"Malynna," Gaerith took my wrist in his hand, "raise the flag, Malynna. Raise the flag…so Tortall shall remain free."
I stared at Gaerith, unable to release him—unprepared to lose him to the land of death. "No…" I whispered in disbelief, "Gaerith…please…"
Gaerith released my wrist and his eyes rolled back, those blue, distant eyes filled with hope and lifting to the sky. I gently placed his head back to the earth and covered his eyes…my heart painful as tears rolled down my cheeks. I saw the flag, tattered and in the wind it slopped around in the mud mixed with dead men's blood, sweat, and tears. I took hold of the broken staff and lifted the flag.
I cried out my country's name, the remaining men there to cry out victory, and then…silence. The soldier's bodies were carried off of the battlefield. Gaerith would be going home and, due to injury, I, too, would be going northward.
Now here I am. Alone, or so I figured at first. I was awarded for my service and when the war finally ended the farm was up and running once more. The family grave awaits my presence now, but I'm too much a fighter to leave this earth just yet. Women have now been accepted in the army and as knights of the king.
I fought for Tortall, I fought for my home, and although it took more than I could give, I remain indifferent toward the sacrifices I had to give. Men are not the only ones who can fight.