Becoming Woman Ch. 01byNaivelyWandering©
Author's note: There are no quick fixes here. I've taken what I wanted from the ages, and left behind what I didn't want, and therefore the resulting chapters are not nearly close to historically accurate.
Thank-you again, Kelly for your help editing!
A commotion outside his window drew the King's attention, and Imlan looked out of his study window to see his children screaming for him, clinging to Gamon, galloping desperately towards the castle.
Before he could think to move, he saw Balron, his chief battle strategist and First Knight, meet them in the castle courtyard. His senses returning, he took the tower steps two at a time, sprinting through the stone halls and out to the entrance, meeting his children just inside the castle walls.
"Flein? Fohnrir? What is it? What's wrong?!"
The young woman and man ran into his arms, slamming his body with their own. Much too old to be clinging to him so tightly, trembling into his cloaks.
"My Lord, they say it was an ambush out past the Forest of Dunhill. Thirty raiders, maybe more," Balron said, watching the twins gripping their father.
"Papa, there was a woman, she saved us and-" Fohnrir sobbed, unable to go on.
"-she made Gamon bring us home, we couldn't help her fight them," Flein finished for his twin sister.
Imlan nodded into his children's hair, rubbing soothing circles on their backs.
"Balron, take your best battalion. I want those bandits dead," he ordered, and his second in command nodded and turned, yelling orders at the door guards.
"We'll find them, and deal with them," he said, and bowed, leaving his King to tend to his children.
"And the woman!" Fohnrir shouted, pulling back out of her father's grasp. "She needs your help!"
Imlan and Balron exchanged significant looks, both thinking exactly the same thing. A single woman stood no chance, facing thirty merciless raiders, but the First Knight nodded once to the young woman, and headed for the armoury.
Balron looked around the strewn battlefield. The raiders had put his soldiers to the test, but in the end, his men had bested them with very few casualties on their side. Now, his men pulled the corpses of the greasy pack together. They'd stay until the pile of dead bodies was nothing but ash. He'd seen enough battles himself to have learned to close his nose to the stink of burning flesh, and instead focussed on looking for the mysterious woman the Prince and Princess had spoken of between the ruin of bodies.
Just as he began to doubt the woman had even existed, a shout caught his attention.
"Sir! Come quickly!"
Balron turned his attention to one of his squires, a short, skinny, young redhead who'd only seen battle twice, leaning over a body, thirty paces away.
"What is it? Dead or alive?"
"Alive, and a woman, I think, Sir," he replied, using the tip of his sword to lift the blood-stained tunic.
"Enough of that," Balron cursed, kicking the sword-tip away.
He saw why Don had trouble distinguishing the gender. Her dark brown hair was cut ragged and short, not even touching her shoulders, her face covered in blood and dirt. He'd never seen a woman wearing a tunic and breeches before, and frowned at the strange sight of her. He pulled his helmet off to get a better look. Kneeling down, he inspected her wounds, noting the dirty, black dagger stabbed through her left arm.
Touching the edge of the blade, he ran his finger over his tongue. Don gagged at the sight of his Master licking the droplet of blood off his finger, and was relieved to see him immediately spit it back out.
"Poisoned. Help me get her on horseback. Lord Imlan will want to see she survives long enough to hear his gratitude," he said, and together, he and Don picked her up.
"She's bleeding underneath," Don muttered, seeing blood trickle down his arm.
"Damn. Turn her over then."
Balron grimaced; if her injuries were too grave, there would be no point returning her to the kingdom.
Being careful not to agitate the injured arm, they moved her over onto her side so that Balron could see to her back. Through the torn tunic, a deep gash ran from her right shoulder, down to the middle of her spine.
"She's too far gone, she won't make it," Don realised aloud, watching his captain's expression change.
"She will if we hurry. Get her on the horse and make for the healing houses. Don't stop for anything or anyone."
Uninterested in being backhanded for arguing with his captain, Don helped him lift the dying girl onto his horse, and then climbed on behind her, holding her in place. He didn't believe there was a giddy goat's chance she'd live, but he knew better than to disobey an order.
"Tell the King of our success. We'll return before sun-down. Now, go!" he said, and slapped the horse's rump, sending his squire away with his charge.
Turning back to the burning pile of enemy bodies, Balron watched the flames lick high into the afternoon sky, watched the flames turn from orange to red and back again, and even a man of strength, such as himself shivered at the dark omen.
Don held the dying girl to his chest as he rode the mare hard back to the kingdom. He dared not hold her injured arm with the knife still buried through it, but it jostled badly, and he ended up holding it against her own chest, feeling the blade under her skin, making him swallow back bile.
As soon as he was within the castle gates, guards rushed forward, and helped lower the girl off the beast. His mail was covered in her blood; he sighed to himself, and dropped down too, following them as they carried her swiftly to the healing houses.
"Squire! Where is your master?"
Emble, the King's personal advisor joined him as they watched the guard lower the woman gently onto one of the beds. The healers ushered the guards out, but left Don and Emble together.
"He sees to the burning of the enemy, my Lord. We have been victorious."
"And there were none of our men injured?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at the young man's blood-covered chainmail.
"A few dead, Handsworth and another I don't know, but no others with serious injuries, my lord. Sir Balron told me to bring this woman back-"
One of the healers turned from attending to their patient to give them a nasty glare.
"Go and fetch the king from his study. If this is the woman who saved the prince and princess, then he will want to thank her before she dies."
Don nodded and bowed, then left the advisor to watch the healers tend to the woman.
Running through the castle to the King's study, Don stopped abruptly outside the door when he heard both twins and father engaged in a heated discussion.
"You know never to leave boundaries of our land without your personal guard! What were you thinking?!"
"We're sorry, papa, we just wanted to swim in the river," Flein started, but his father interrupted him.
"The river? Oh, the river!" The King's voice rose in volume even more. "And who would be there to pull you out of the river? Henceforth, I forbid you to leave this castle!"
"But, papa-" Fohnrir whined, but her father's glare stopped her from continuing.
"No buts. You're lucky you weren't killed! Now, go to your rooms. When Balron returns I'll have him tell you all about the horrors of the raiders and perhaps you'll think twice before running off."
"Yes, papa," they replied in sulky unison, and then swept out of the room, passing Don by without a glance.
Don stepped quickly into the room, and Imlan directed his fierce glare at him.
"Speak," he said tersely, pacing the study.
"My Lord, Sir Balron bade me return with a woman, and to tell you-"
"Where is she?" Imlan interrupted, wide-eyed.
"In the healing house, Sire," Don replied immediately, and ran to keep up with his King as he swept through the castle, holding his crown on his head as he ran. "It doesn't look good for her. And Sir Balron bade me tell you the attack was a success," he added, panting, but keeping pace with his Lord.
"Where?" the King demanded as they came upon the many doors of the healing house.
Imlan skidded to a halt just inside the room the boy had pointed at. Emble's dark eyes were glued to one of the healers, who had hold of the dagger penetrating a bloodied arm. Just as she pulled intruding weapon from flesh, the woman's eyes opened, and a horrific, high pitched shriek echoed off the walls.
Shivers ran up the King's arms at the terrifying scream, Emble flinched, and Don threw his hands over his ears, all staring in shock at the thrashing girl, but her fierce struggle ceased just as quickly as it had started, and she fell back onto the bedding, lying deathly still.
"Out, my Lords. Out! NOW!" the healer hollered, and shooed the three men out of the room, more healers coming running to her aide.
Imlan paced the corridor outside like a caged animal. He'd released the squire to clean himself up hours ago, and was left with his advisor Emble, exuding calm as always, sitting wrapped in his robes on the stonework windowsill, watching his Lord walk back and forth in the corridor.
Finally, just as Imlan considered banging his fist against the wooden door, it opened, and a handful of healers stepped wearily out, blood covering most of their hands. They nodded and bowed as they walked past him, and he strode into the room to find only two left with the unconscious girl, one changing the sheets under her from the bloodied mess to fresh linen, the other wiping a damp cloth over her face. She'd even been changed out of the grubby clothes into a clean, cream satin shift.
Her left arm was bandaged, and more bandages peeked out over the shoulder of her gown, and he deduced they were wrapped all the way around her chest as well.
"Will she live?" Emble asked softly, stepping closer.
The healer dabbing at her face nodded, and took the cloth away.
"Aye, my Lords, though her injuries are severe. She'll be bedridden for at least a few weeks," she replied, and taking the bowl of water and cloth, she stood back to let Emble, who was knowledgeable in medicines, step up to the unconscious girl's side.
"I will stay," Imlan said quietly, and took the wooden seat next to the bed before his Advisor could sit in it. "I wish to thank her properly when she wakes."
The healer shrugged and shook her head, unconcerned that she was speaking directly to the lord of the land.
"She'll not wake for another day at least. The fever's on her and that's porthos root on her wounds. Even if she does wake, she'll be too muddled to hear you."
"Majesty," Emble started, frowning deeply at him, "I can watch over her and call you if she wakes," he said, but Imlan only frowned back at him.
"No, Emble. It is my honour to watch over the saviour of my children."
"As you wish, Sire," Emble replied, unable to hide his irritation.
Beth turned her face to the setting sun. Standing in the middle of the healing house gardens, she pressed a hand to her distended stomach and allowed herself to drift with the scent of the flowering herbs, taking over the small courtyard garden.
A flurry of ivory satin, pale legs and brown hair flew past, and she all but collapsed, but for the strong body capturing her before she could hit the ground.
"What was that?"
Looking up, she followed her husband's narrowed gaze to the shrinking figure sprinting through the castle grounds. As First Knight to the King, it was Balron's responsibility to make chase, but with his heavily pregnant wife in his arms, he had no desire to attend to his duty.
"Are you alright?" he asked, instead of answering her question, steadying her on her feet again.
"Yes, hello, husband. And who was that?"
Balron considered Beth for a long moment, and taking her hand, began to lead her back into the healing house.
"She was wearing a patient's garb; perhaps she's the one from the forest battle. Tam!" he called, gesturing an armoured guard from his post. "A brown haired, female patient just went running towards the great hall. Take ten men and start a search."
Balron didn't wait for the guard to nod before returning his attention to his wife, and led her slowly back to her room.
He woke, wrapped in linen bandages, covered in layers of blankets, and what annoyed him most was, he was lying on his back. Rolling over, he saw beside him a dark haired man sitting in a wooden chair, his elbow on his thigh, his chin in his hand. His eyes were closed, and he breathed deeply; asleep then, he realised, and threw back the covers, hissing quietly as pain shot up his arm. Confused at the bandaged limb, he tore at the wrappings frantically, ignoring the sharp pain until the bandage sat torn on his discarded bedcovers. Finally, he was looking at a pale, skinny arm, two deep red cuts surrounded by angry bruising, and covered in a green paste sat on the top and bottom of his forearm. He turned the limb, wondering at the wounds intently, surprised at the delicate look the sight before him had. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he was greeted with two slender, pale limbs, peeking out at him from under a creamy satin skirt.
You are no longer what you were, came the witch's voice in his mind, and a vision opened on him of the frantic old woman shrieking into a fire. I call you Morwendor!
The ghostly image faded from his eyes. He scrambled his brain, trying and failing to remember what had happened to him.
Shaking his thoughts clear, he gave the sleeping man a last glance and slipped from the room. Sniffing the air warily, he could smell sickness and herbs, and found himself unable to get the unsettling taste out of his mouth. Passing an outer hall, a breeze picked up around him, and he turned his nose to it, grateful for the scent of nature, and something else, something that made his mouth water. Pinpointing the enchanting aroma to another building, his senses zoned in, and dismissing everything, he gave into instinct, and went sprinting towards it.
Approaching the stone-walled building attached to the tall, pointed castle, Morwendor poked his nose through the window, noting the enticing scent was within. Circling it, he found a door, and skidded inside, elated to find it empty.
Right in front of him was the owner of the scent he'd followed, a metal tray keeping it safe. Leaning over until his nose touched it, Morwendor hesitated for one second before shoving both hands in. Whatever it was, it was warm as he dragged his fingers through it, sticky, dark and warm. He brought one hand to his lips while the other still dug happily around in it, and licked a finger. Sweetness like he'd never experienced melted and spread over his tongue, and before he could stop himself, he'd devoured all of it, licked the tray clean, and started sucking each sticky digit in turn until he was satisfied there was nothing left on his hands.
His mouth tingled with the remaining sweet, nectar flavour, and his stomach was full, but he found himself not quite as satisfied as he thought he'd be.
"Hey! You, there!"
Morwendor turned, and stared wide-eyed at the two shining men standing in front of him. He'd seen men shine like that before, knew they wore something that stopped weapons from hurting them, and knew his only option was flight. Remembering the window he'd peered into earlier, he scrabbled up onto the bench, and before the guards could react, jumped backwards out of the window. Expecting to float down gently, he was shocked to land swiftly in a heap on the ground with a crunch and snap. Seething at the searing pain in his back, Morwendor pushed it to the back of his mind as he searched the grounds for an escape.
A faint reminder of the sweet food he'd just eaten played on the wind, and as it came from the forest and not his own hands, he followed it, ignoring the growing pain in his left arm and back, and the shouts from the window above.
Running under the shade of trees, skipping over jutting roots and rocks, he came to a small clearing, and the faint sweet scent flitted into his nose again. Something white and gold sat in the middle of the clearing, a soft melody met his ears, and somehow it made the scent even more desirable to him.
Pricking an ear to the tune being sung, he jogged up to the one making the song and sat on a nearby rock. It was a man, clad in a white tunic, long black pants and leather boots that laced up to his knees. His skin was startlingly pale, and his waist-long hair fell in blonde waves, and Morwendor found himself transfixed by it, the way the sun shone on it. The man watched him with pale blue eyes as he moved closer, until they were just inches from each other, but didn't pause his song, and Morwendor waited, captured by the entrancing melody.
As soon as the singing died, the golden-haired man offered him a warm, if tentative smile, and Morwendor sat back, thinking he'd perhaps approached the man too close. The singer exhaled, relaxing and leaned back with his hands on the grass behind him, but Morwendor caught the exhalation, and caught the addictive scent that came with it.
Before either could react, Morwendor was on the man, kissing him, hungrily prodding his lips apart, and licking into his mouth, drinking in the intoxicating sweetness. Satisfied he could find no more there, he released the man from his kiss, and turned his attention to his hands, picking one up and then the other, bringing his fingers to his lips, sucking each one in turn.
Chirping happily, Morwendor took the last of the sweet nectar from the man's fingers, and opened his eyes. Goosebumps ran down his arms and back, as he realised with horror what he'd just done. He'd pushed the blonde man flat on his back, and held him pinned down with his own body. They were both panting, and knowing exactly what the blunt object pointing into his groin from the one underneath him was, Morwendor scuttled back off him, his eyes wide with shock. Just as the man opened his mouth, he leapt to his feet, and ran as fast as he could, as far as he could.
"Master Bard, have you seen a girl around here?"
Deln sat up and regarded the two sentries, and wondered if he hadn't been dreaming, after all.
"Perhaps. A dark-haired beauty came to this part of the forest not too long ago. She perched herself atop that rock, but didn't stay to exchange words, and went on her way quickly thereafter."
The guards gave each other meaningful looks; as head of the minstrels, Deln was known for his vague interpretations and strange mannerisms, and thanking him quickly, they left in the direction he pointed.
His secret love was wrapped around him, dark blonde hair tickling his nose, and strong, warrior's hands caressing his bare chest. But when hard, steely blue eyes staring at him with demanding lust written in their pupils turned to fiery copper, he sat up, shocked. Irritated to see the image of his secret crush fade from his mind, he shook his head and turned his attention to the tree line instead. Where the two soldiers had disappeared into the foliage, a rustling came forth, and loud yelling, and after the clanging of metal on wood resounded through the trees, the soldiers burst out again, both cursing at each other.
"Ah, so she is real," he mused aloud, watching their return, one carrying the brunette's still form, the other cradling his arm to his chest.
"Aye," the one carrying her growled and Deln saw with concern that blood covered her arm and ran down from her shoulder to his hand. "And a miracle to still be alive. Got into a fight with a forest cat by the looks. All bloodied up, we thought she was done for, but when Jove tried to grab her, she snapped his arm like a twig," he huffed. "Climbed a tree and jumped out with her arms spread, like she could fly or summat."