First of a series of stories I have in mind. Enjoy.
Most girls could tell what would happen to them as they grew older. They would come of age, marry, bear children, manage a household on a farm or something similar, live and grow old all in pretty much the same place they had been born in. Yes, for most, it was as sure as the change of the seasons.
One remote village, however, had a young woman who was far from average, an enthusiastic, energetic, vivacious girl with dark blue hair and bright green eyes. Rather than spend her entire life in one place, she wanted to see what was out there. She did not really care where, whether it be Crimea, Daein, Begnion, or even the wilds of Gallia, as long as it was out there, anywhere but here. Rather than learn to cook and sew and clean, she wanted to learn the sword. No, Mia was not like most girls.
She did not know why she was the way she was, nor did she care. What mattered was that she did feel this way and so she had her heart on set on it. Her parents were somewhat put off by her attitude. They were content with their lives and the home they had built from the ground up, nevertheless they realized that a headstrong young woman such as their daughter was not going to get over this wander lust any time soon. And so, after much consideration, talking, and worrying, they decided to let the girl go and make her own way in the world.
Just to be safe, and sate her somewhat until then, her father started taking her aside for a few minutes each day and teaching her some basic swordplay with a pair of wooden sticks. She applied herself with exhausting enthusiasm, and energy and tenacity that made him feel his age, even though he was just shy of forty. Others in town thought he was wasting his time teaching a girl swordplay. Mia simply stuck her tongue out at such detractors and threw herself in with greater determination.
The day of her departure she was so excited she could barely sleep, but regardless, she was up at the crack of dawn, with an energy that bordered on the supernatural. Stepping outside, she made her way to the main thoroughfare in the village and looked up and down its length until her father came to see her off. Before she left, he had a parting gift for her: a sword, nothing fancy, just a typical iron sword that soldiers were often issued, one that he himself had carried during his days as a militiaman. He also gave her directions to a town of some decent size that was not too far away and which was not too dangerous to travel to. Still, he counseled her to find a caravan or other large group as it would be safer that way. Once there she should be able to find someone to train her in sword fighting, or anything else she wanted.
After a final quick embrace (she had never been one for sentimentality) she turned and started down the road in the direction he had indicated. With his gift in her grasp, and his words in her thoughts, Mia thought the world was hers for the taking. Never did she think that anything could get between her and her dreams.
A week later, Mia was wondering why she had ever left home. Upon reaching her destination, she had set out to look for a swordmaster to train her, firmly believing that none could possibly turn her down. She was shocked when she was repeatedly rejected. "You're too scrawny," one told her. "This isn't a game, girl," said another. "Women shouldn't be swordfighters." The most encouraging had been, "Come back when you're older," but that was little improvement. And so it went, one day after another.
Now, with her funds beginning to dwindle, she contemplated her next action. Do I go home? Do I stay and find something here? Her original thought had been…what had been her original plan? Looking back she realized she had not planned much beyond traveling to the town. Now as she sat in a run-down tavern she felt she should just give up and go back, resign herself to her fate and learn to sew, and all those other housewife things.
She sighed. After I told everyone what I would do, that would be humiliating.
But it looked like she would wind up doing that anyway, if not in the village, then here in this town. If that is to be my fate, I might as well be somewhere familiar, rather than surrounded by strangers. She shook her head. No, Pops believed in me. He said I have potential.
But he admitted he was no expert, her thoughts suddenly turned negative again. He had been trained to fight common soldiers or brigands, not engage in the epic sword fights she envisioned for herself.
She closed her eyes and drew up such a clash in her mind; she facing her archrival, blade drawn, ready to match his in a spectacular match of flashing steel and human skill, all against the backdrop of the rising sun. Or should it be a setting sun? She thought for a moment before deciding that "battle at dawn" sounded better than "battle at dusk."
But it won't be either if I can't learn to fight, she thought.
Sighing again, she reached into her pouch, feeling how many coins she had left. Not enough. Another surprise, each of those instructors had a price for their services. She had thought that daring swordfighters simply traveled the countryside looking for challenges to their skill, not waiting in boring towns for people to give them money. This is so disappointing.
Coming back to the reality she had been so rudely introduced to, she tried to organize her thoughts. After a quick count of money, she decided she could stay here for another three days. If by then she had not found a trainer who would take her or a means to replenish what she had spent, she would return home, even though if she did, she would likely be ensuring that she would spend the rest of her life in that village.
Sigh. Better get moving.
For the rest of the day she wandered around, looking to see what there was that she could do. Asking a nearby guard gave her an idea, but it was not encouraging. It seemed the only options were either tending a bar at a tavern, or assisting a baker or butcher or some other such thing. Maybe the fletcher, or being a hand at a stable, as deadly boring as they sounded.
"In need of some gold, young Miss?"
Mia turned to see who was speaking, a middle aged man with greasy looking hair and dark eyes roamed uncomfortably over her.
"Who are you?"
"Oh, just a dealer in…fine goods, among other things, information, for example. I know things dearie, I know who has what, who's with whom, and where to get whatever it is you want."
"So, what do you want with me?"
"You are in need of coin, are you not?" he asked.
"Yeah, do you know where I can get some?" Something about this man made her uneasy.
"Of course, there is always a way for a dazzling young beauty such as yourself to make gold. I can imagine there would be any number of men who would love to make use of your…services. And they would pay quite handsomely for it as well." By now his implication was obvious and she wanted nothing more to do with him.
"Sorry, not interested." Mia turned to leave but was stopped by a hand grabbing her arm.
"No?" he breathed less than inch from her ear. "You should really reconsider." He started pulling her in the direction of a nearby alley.
"Let me go!"
He chuckled, as though she were joking. His other hand had snaked around her waist and was now traveling up her stomach towards her…
She suddenly stomped down, her foot connecting with his. He yelped in surprise more than pain and she jerked herself out of his grip. Then she turned toward him, taking a fighting stance. Though her sword remained sheathed, she gripped the hilt, ready to draw.
The "Dealer" stared at her for a few more minutes before seeming to decide she was more trouble than she was worth. With a contemptuous snort, he hurried off.
After her encounter, Mia suddenly realized it was near sundown, and the streets were emptier, most people having returned to their homes, probably why she had been accosted just now. She was pleased at having driven the creep off. Serves him right for thinking I'm some helpless little girl.
Still, as unpleasant as he had been and unsavory his suggestions, it did not change the fact that she was in ever more desperate need of money. Too late for that today. Dejectedly, she trudged back to the inn where she had taken lodging.
She had not gotten far when she noticed a rough looking group staring at her. Mia was not naturally prone to fear, but she still got nervous in some situations, and this was one such situation. She quickened her pace.
It had gotten darker when she noticed two figures blocking her path. She turned to avoid them but they moved to stay in front of her. Her annoyance grew until she got close enough to see their faces. She stopped in shock. It was the Dealer! He grinned leeringly at her and seemed to beckon with his hands.
Mia shook her head adamantly, but when she sensed movement behind her, she realized to her horror that he was signaling to someone else. Taking a quick look over her shoulder, she saw three other men, one of which appeared to be a town guard; probably his area to stand guard tonight, so his group had no fear of an alarm being raised.
Suddenly, Mia felt very alone, and with that sensation came fear. She knew what these men wanted and now they were going to take it.
"You should have accepted when I first made the offer, dearie." The Dealer grinned maliciously.
Drawing her sword, she waited for a reaction. Two axes and a sword appeared while the Dealer drew a dagger. The guard lowered his lance.
Mia knew she was doomed. There was no way an inexperienced swordfighter could fight off five men, even if two of them were wielding axes. Still, she would make them hurt before they took her, and if need be, she decided, she would throw herself on her sword rather than let them have her. Most likely they would kill her anyway.
"Alright then, who's first?" She glared at them, hoping to intimidate them, but they seemed to merely find it amusing. She might as well have been a puppy yapping at a pack of wolves.
One of the axe fighters stepped forward and took an experimental swing at her. She barely ducked in time. Now the swordsman stepped up, offering a quick thrust which she blocked with a clumsy parry. Their grins widened, and she realized that they had figured her skill level. Now they each seemed to attack in turn laughing at her attempts to ward them off. Twice she attempted to rush through a gap in the human wall but each time she was pushed back into the midst of them.
Attacks increased in number, one would divert her attention while another made a quick jab from behind her, then watch as she spun around trying to hit them before they got out of reach, but always they were too fast. Already she was beginning to tire, and eventually they would become bored of this game get to what they really wanted.
"What have we here?" came a new voice. The brigands started. They had been so focused on tormenting their prey that they had forgotten to see if anyone was coming. Turning to the source, they saw a young man with a sword to the Dealer's neck and a dangerous glint in his eye.
The guard made a started to move but the newcomer pressed to sword more tightly into his captive's neck. "Tell them to back off. Now!"
The Dealer gulped and said, "Do it!"
The other four retreated slightly, weapons still in hand. That done, the newcomer turned the Dealer around and pointed the sword at his throat.
"Well? What's going on here?" He asked.
"W-We have…that is the guard there had captured this girl," the swordsman glanced down at Mia. "She is a dangerous criminal."
"So dangerous that it takes five men to subdue her?"
"It's a ruse," the Dealer protested. "She's trying to lull us into a false sense of security!"
"Obviously she succeeded." The swordsman was clearly not taken in. "Now when I noticed the clamor, I asked guards to come investigate if I did not return in five minutes."
The guard started visibly and the other two looked ready to bolt. The Dealer's face twisted in a sneer. "Very well."
The Dealer stalked past Mia, glared down at her, then turned with a jerk of his head. "Let's go." With that, the Dealer and his cronies disappeared into the night, save the guard, who quickly ran to a street corner and took an official looking position as though nothing had happened.
When they were gone, the swordsman started off in the opposite direction. Mia watched him go until he turned and asked, "Are you coming?"
"Huh? Oh!" She shook herself out of her daze and started after him.
"So that's how I wound up there. And now it looks like I'll have to go home and start a life as a quaint village woman, with a cozy home, dozen children, knitting mittens and socks for them…"
The swordsman, Kalen, as he had called himself, listened attentively as Mia told her story. "And what do you plan to do after learning the sword?"
"Well…" She thought for a moment.
"I…I don't know."
"Just as I thought. There are many things a skilled sword fighter can do. There is the army, acting as a mercenary, working for some noble, but if do not have the foresight to at least look into possibilities and form contingency plans, or any other plan for that matter, you are not going to get very far in anything."
"Well, what do you do?"
"I am something of a mercenary. I travel around seeing what there is to be done and I do it." He grinned, "For the right price, of course."
"That's just what I always thought a sword fighter was like!" she exclaimed.
"There are some like myself. But it is not an easy life. I am constantly on the move, living in the wilds, and in times of peace, my income is more likely to come from bandits who make the mistake of waylaying me on the highway than a paid commission."
"I don't care about that! I just want to learn to sword fight, to meet another and have an epic battle, and especially to meet my archrival and beat him!" she cried loudly.
Kalen shook his head in amusement. "Is that truly your heart's desire?"
For a moment they locked eyes and his seemed to look through hers, as if measuring her will. A moment passed, then two, then…
"Do you believe in the Goddess?"
"Huh?" Where did that come from?
"Ashera. The Goddess."
"I know. And I don't know. I never really thought about it."
"Hmmm…" he seemed contemplative. "I do believe in Her. I believe She puts people in certain places to effect greater things, or to build them into what She wants them to be."
"And, you think this might be…like that?"
"Maybe." He paused. "Meet me outside the town in the morning. We will see what happens."
The next morning Mia arose, washed, dressed, and went out to find Kalen. Her search eventually led her to a spot near a clump of trees. There she found him putting himself through a vigorous sword routine.
As she watched, he made several forward thrusts, parried an imagined blow, and counterattacked with a swing at where the neck would be, then spun around to face the opposite direction.
Noticing her, he beckoned her forward.
"Good morning," he said when she arrived.
"Hi." A pause. "So, ummm…what were you going to do?"
"Attack me!" he cried, brandishing his sword before him.
Mia simply stared at him.
"Come now! I can't wait all day. Attack me! Take a swing, a thrust, anything!" He smirked, "Or are you afraid? See this is why we don't usually give swords to women."
That did it. Mia drew her sword and ran at him with a yell.
Kalen simply stepped aside and watched her fly by. "Again."
Once again she lunged at him and again he dodged. "This isn't a joust, you know. Come stand here." He indicated the spot before him.
Silently she went over and stood facing him.
"Now take a stance." He ordered.
Obediently, Mia spread her feet and held her sword directly in front of her. He took a moment to observe her, walking around her, eyes switching between the spacing of her feet to the grip she had on her hilt.
"Hold your sword more like this, with the hilt in front of your hip, tip pointed at either their chest or throat."
He watched as she followed his instructions. "Now when you attack, there is no need to throw yourself at an opponent. The wonderful thing about swords is that they can move to almost any position without moving your body at all." He demonstrated, moving his sword about his body without shifting his stance.
"Consider other weapons: a lance man, for example carries a weapon almost as long as he is. It has long reach, but is more unwieldy. The axe on the other hand needs a great deal of force behind it. It has a lot of power but has a shorter reach. Their lack of leverage requires those who use them to throw themselves into the attack. Should the attack fail, they will require a moment to set themselves again, whereas sword users can recover almost instantly, and why the sword usually has an advantage over the axe."
He returned to his original position. "Now, keeping in mind what I just said, attack me!"
Mia watched him for a moment, considering how to proceed. She saw that his sword was held low, far from his face, so she started with a swing toward his neck. He blocked it easily, but seemed pleased that she had learned. "Again!"
By the end of the day, Kalen seemed to have found his answer, whatever it was. Turning to the exhausted girl he said, "I will be leaving tomorrow. If you wish to come along, meet me here at the same time as this morning." Mia did not need to be told twice.
Thus began their travels together. Kalen would set their course and they would go. Along the way he would train Mia and refine her swordplay, as well as offer a few life's lessons along the way. Where they found work they accomplished their objective with great efficacy, Mia happily swinging her sword, Kalen being more sober in his task. Where they found none, they foraged in the wilds for or raided the caches of bandits in the area. Sometimes they had great success, other times they did not, and once found themselves on the verge of starving, kept alive only by Kalen making a stew out of roots, and roasting grasshoppers.
They continued as such for three years, during which they began to make their way toward Crimea. When Mia asked why there specifically he simply said, "A strange wind is blowing." During this time he began to train her more rigorously, and to make contingency plans. What was happening to put him on edge Mia could not begin to guess.
One evening found them approaching the Crimean capital of Melior. It was late, and the gates had already been closed for the night.
Kalen stood for a while staring at it. "A quiet, peaceful kingdom," he said, wistfully.
Turning to Mia he said, "Our services will be needed here."
Once again, he seemed to sense something she could not.
He continued, "If we should get separated in the coming days, do not worry about me. Concentrate on your own survival. You know enough now. You can go alone if you need to."
"What? Is something going to happen?"
Kalen simply stared at the distant Castle Crimea.
The following morning, he decided to head south to a smaller town rather than into Melior. Stopping at the local market he watched the crowds while Mia looked for food. She was interrupted by a sudden commotion, a soldier had appeared bearing dire news.
"Daein has invaded! Melior is under siege. We need volunteers to bolster the army."
Having heard this pronouncement, Mia turned to Kalen, who nodded toward the soldier who was taking the signatures of volunteers. Approaching him, she asked to sign on.
The soldier looked surprised. "You? You look a little young to fight a war. Can you even use that sword?" Mia felt her teeth grinding.
Kalen chose that moment to step forward. "Trust me she can. I taught her myself."
The recruiter locked eyes with him for a moment before nodding, "Very well."
"Both of you be here tomorrow morning. We will join up with other groups of recruits and militias, and march to Melior. Once there we will break the siege and drive the Daein from our soil."
In her excitement, Mia never noticed that the soldier did not seem to believe his own words.
The next morning, Mia awoke at dawn, as usual, washed, dressed, and armed herself before running out to where the makeshift army had assembled. Kalen was already there she saw.
The recruiter was speaking. "I will not lie to you, the situation is grave. The Knights of Crimea are barricaded inside Melior, and we have no word on the Royal Family. If we can draw the Daein after us, it may give Lord Renning the chance he needs to drive them off completely. "
Following this, he gave orders to start marching. Outside the town, they met up with other groups of volunteers and militias then marched in a body to the outskirts of the capital.
A ring of darkness comprised of the black Daein armor encircled the city, while winged figures filled the sky overhead.
"The plan is simple. We will split into two groups, one to the east and one to the west. We will engage the perimeter guards; after they sound the alarm part of the main army will break off to engage us. We will then retreat to the south and take cover in the woods." A simple enough plan.
The force was then split in two; Mia became part of the western force while Kalen went with the east force.
Mia, much to her delight, was one of those who attacked the enemy head on. Looking ahead, she saw her target: a group of four, two lances, a sword and axe. Easy. One of the lancers had a horn. Perfect, he had to be last.
She and a few others rose from where they had crept up, weapons raised. The guards had a few moments to realize what was happening before Mia was on top of the axe fighter.
The first part went according to plan. The ambushed guards raised an alarm and part of the siege army came to pursue them. They had also counted on three or four wyvern riders as part of the pursuit. Instead however, close to fifteen came to attack them.
A few were downed by archers, but close to a dozen still bore down in them as well as the main ground force. Outnumbered and outmatched, the Crimeans had no choice but to continue their retreat as the wyverns began to sweep through their ranks.
Mia found herself engaging a wyvern lord with an axe. She wasn't so much concerned about the rider, as she felt she could handle him. It's that lizard he's on. Each time she tried to attack the rider, the large reptilian head snapped at her.
The wyvern suddenly lurched, knocking its rider off. Mia caught a glimpse of an arrow in its neck before rushing at the rider. He took a swing with his axe, which she easily dodged and countered with her blade in his throat.
She then ran for the tree line.
Hours later Mia realized she was lost. She had tried to keep track of where she'd been but one tree looks pretty much like another. Eventually, she found a stream that, if nothing else, could lead her out of this wood. Then she could get her bearings. However, the light was getting low, and not having a torch on her, decided to stay where she was for the time being. So, hoping there were no wild creatures and that there would be no sudden cold snap, she placed her sword next to her, and curled up on the ground for the night.
Dawn found her still sleeping the next morning. She woke to find the sun already climbing into the sky. I must've been more tired than I thought. She was also hungry, but not so much that she felt like foraging around the trees for breakfast. Instead she went to the stream to sate herself of thirst. Kneeling down, she scooped water with her hands drank three gulps, washed her face, then rose and turned and stopped at the sight of a spear leveled at her throat. Holding it was a man in black armor. A quick glance around showed two more Daeins nearby, and her sword was lying on the ground where she had slept. Oh, I am stupid!
When night came she sat in the Daein camp, hands bound behind her back, against one of their supply wagons, watching dejectedly as they went about their business. How am I gonna get out of this?
As the days went on Mia began to feel for the first time in her life a sense of absolute hopelessness. Captured by an army that had just conquered another country, wrists aching from their bindings, and, worst of all, she was separated from her sword. It was almost enough to make her cry.
At least they treated her well enough, barely, but she worried about what would happen when they got where they were going. Added to worry was confusion, as her captors kept moving in a southerly direction toward…Gallia? Why would they be going there? Of course, no one offered an answer, and they continued into the wooded country eventually stopping for a time at an abandoned castle, where the soldiers took the opportunity to rest and maintain their equipment.
I need to get out of here! She started scanning everything around her, looking for anything that could hack the ropes off her wrists. The soldiers were smart enough to keep her away from the weapons storage, but surely there were other things that could…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of something whizzing through the air followed by a meaty thunk! As she watched, one of the soldiers fell over dead.
"To arms! We're under attack!" Instantly there was pandemonium as soldiers readied weapons and rushed to face their attackers. Two more whizzes were heard and two more soldiers fell, each with an arrow perfectly between their eyes. Whoever that is they're a good shot. She couldn't even see them from where she was.
More commotion came as apparently two ground fighters had entered the fray. Mia kept trying to find a way out before the excitement got to her. One of the fallen soldiers had dropped his lance not too far away. Not seeing a better choice she carefully moved over to it and began trying to loosen the knots on the rope. She would have preferred an actual blade; the lance just had a point that would take a while longer to work.
She gasped as a heavy footstep landed in front of her. For one panicked moment she thought the Daeins had noticed her trying to escape and were going to finish her before that happened. But no, this guy's armor was blue, not black. He had to be one of the attackers. But what did that mean?
"Hey, you're pretty cute!"
What? Didn't see that coming. Looking up she saw the blue-clad knight had lifted his visor to show a blue-eyed, handsome, kind of goofy looking face.
"How did you get here?"
What Mia's answer was going to be not even she knew, and it will forever be a mystery as another voice sounded at that moment, "Gatrie! Over here!"
The one called "Gatrie" turned and thumped off in the direction of the call, leaving Mia by herself, still tied up.
Gatrie was now speaking with two others, a tall, thin man with a red ponytail and a perpetually bored expression on his face, and a large, powerful looking man hefting the biggest axe she had ever seen like it was nothing. Their conversation was in low voices, as if they feared any surviving soldiers hearing them, but she caught snippets of it.
"…should be there by now…"
"…with Ike of all people…"
"…further south than we realized…"
"…King Gallia must know…"
"…less we have to do with sub-humans…"
"…doesn't do anything foolish…"
The three of them turned toward her. "Can you get me out of this?" she asked, indicating her still bound hands.
The large man stepped over to her drawing a small knife. Seconds later the ropes dropped free, and she began massaging them. "Thanks a lot."
"Don't mention it. I am Greil, leader of a band of mercenaries. These two are Shinon," he pointed to the red-haired archer, "and Gatrie."
"Yeah, I actually already met Gatrie."
"Yeah, he saw me while I was still tied up over there. He said I was cute then he wandered off."
"Oh, whoops." Gatrie seemed to turn red. Shinon had a hand to his forehead rubbing his temples. Greil looked amused.
"That does sound like Gatrie." The Knight turned even redder. "So who are you and how did you get here?"
"Oh, I'm Mia. I was captured by these guys while fighting for Crimea. But I'm usually a mercenary."
She half expected him to laugh, but he didn't. Instead he regarded her with a very serious expression. Then he spoke, "Do you have a weapon?"
"Ummm…gimme a minute." She dashed over to the weapons storage cart and began tearing through it for several minutes until she let out a triumphant cry and jumped out proudly flashing her sword. Finally, all was right with the world again.
Turning to her rescuer, she said, "So, where are you going?"
Greil seemed to consider something before responding, "We are escorting the Princess of Crimea to King Gallia. My son, Ike, is seeing to that at the moment. Speaking of which, we need to get going. Daein has pushed further south than we thought. We need to make sure we have nothing at our back."
"Ok, I'm going to see if I can find my way out of here."
"You are welcome to join us if you wish." Greil said.
She paused. This was the first time she had been taken seriously on her own. No questioning her skill or comments about her being a woman. "I'll think about it."
Greil nodded. "Very well. If we meet up again, you can give me your answer. In the meantime, keep an eye out for my son."
Gatrie spoke up. "Isn't he supposed to be heading the other way?"
Greil looked grimly amused. "Yes, but I know Ike too well. He'll be around here somewhere."
Mia nodded after a moment then headed off trying to find a way out of the castle.
Hours later she was lost again. Entering another part of the castle, she noticed the same black armor that she had become all too familiar with. "Uh-oh. Daein soldiers here too." There were none in her immediate vicinity save one lance wielder, but he didn't seem like too much of a problem. "Now where's that exit…hm?" From somewhere deeper in the castle came the distinctive sound of metal on metal. "What's that sound? Someone…fighting?"
A quick search had located the combatants, a small group was taking on the Daein army. Their leader was a blue-haired young man. Aside from the Daeins, she only knew of one other company of humans this far in Gallia. She ran up to the young man.
"Your name wouldn't happen to be Ike would it?"
And thus Mia enters the stage. Comments and criticisms welcome.