She had been unhorsed earlier in the day but now thundered toward the safety of the Eastern Gate. OFG clutched her knight, Shine, in one arm and the reins of the enormous black horse in the other. Low in the saddle she urged the huge horse onward. They were within seeing distance of the walled gate.
“Open the gate!” She bellowed, her commanding voice carried over the distance and the pounding hooves. The giant horse was well lathered but he ran hard, neck outstretched, and flinched not at the barrage of war cries that followed them close behind. Her heart lifted They would make it. OFG could see Lucky just inside the hidden doorway to the left of the huge gate. She dared not look behind her but she could see from Lucky's eyes that the villains were closing in on them. Lucky nodded, silently urging on his liege. OFG heard the hinges of the massive gate start to give way. They would make it. “Hold on, Shine.” She whispered, “Just hold on.”
The day started out as any other. But then word came from a scout that there was trouble beyond the Eastern Gate. The report said the banished rats that once lived in the Turkey House were on the move. OFG and the big man would ride out together to see for themselves. Normally they would be accompanied by her personal guard but she demurred Col Ti's concern.
She told her first in command that they would not be long...and somewhere afield was Shine, their best scout and assassin. He was overdue and OFG was getting worried. If there was danger afoot then best to keep the party small. Besides, she explained, the big man was with her. Col Ti and the big man looked at each other with deep understanding... Col Ti relented with a huff, his well chiseled face still lined with concern.
“At least be well armed.” Col Ti nodded to a page who presented a dazzling bow to the big man. “Your own weapon is still being repaired. I hope you'll find this sufficient. This bow belonged to Henri The Bold. Its name is Harbinger.”
“From your true brother, Henri, who lives in the Land of the Ocean's Tide?” The big man raised an eyebrow and turned to OFG. He knew the bow was most precious to her.
“The same. It brought him many victories. And since Col Ti here worries over me like an old mother hen, I thought it might calm his nerves if you carried it.” OFG gave a wry grin and moved off before the Colonel, her most faithful companion, could protest further.
The big man and OFG made their way to the Eastern Gate and set out as the sun crested the great wall that protected the eastern side of The Land. Despite her apparent ease, she was concerned about Shine. It was not like him to miss reporting to his station. Shine was one of the most valuable members of her fighting forces.
Shine was of good size and his coat shone glistening like pewter in the sunlight. His eyes were deep green and he generally wore a kind of rogue's smirk. Shine was well like by all and it was rumored that he was related by distant birth to Mistress Peep, one of OFG's courtiers.
His name was unpronounceable in the common tongue, but loosely translated it meant “Death Shines in His Eyes.” He came to The Good Land as most had – as a wanderer. Shine's skill in hunting had won him renown and glory. He was knighted for his many victories and given his choice of assignments. He chose the wilds past the Eastern Gate – the very lair of the despised rats.
The dread rats had long been a problem in the Good Land but now that winter had come they were even more brash. The Good Land would be over run with vermin without Shine and her other assassins. However, there had been murmurings by certain scoundrels across the lands that her rodent killers were too cruel, too punishing in their duties. This gave the rats a new confidence. It was clear the rats were making their move to overtake her rule and destroy the peace that OFG had built.
They planned to meet up with Shine at the Scout's Post, patrol the near valley along the Eastern Gate, and return within a few hours. But that was not to be – Shine never came to report for duty. After a short search the big man and OFG found Shine. He was surrounded.
Timidus and his loyal crew of malcontents had disrupted the supply chains and ransacked several food stores earlier in the season. With every victory they were emboldened. They numbered now in the hundreds – these were the rats that cornered Shine. For now the rats were taunting Shine but they would soon make their move.
“The Butcher's Hook?” Asked OFG, it was a strategy that served them well in the past. The big man nodded. They had the element of surprise and there was a clearly a weak point in the rat's line.
OFG and the big man stormed the scene, he with the borrowed bow, Harbinger, and she with her war axe. Deadly arrows flew holding the vandals at bay while OFG made a daring ride into the field. She rode in hard and barely skidded barely to a stop. Shine lept up onto the saddle with her. OFG kicked her mount and they were off before the rats, harried by arrows, understood what happened. As they raced ahead toward the safety of the Eastern Gate the big man rode behind them several paces providing cover for OFG and Shine.
Shine was thusly retrieved but their race to safety was thwarted by a trap laid by the rats. A tangle of bramble ensnared her coursing steed and sent them crashing to the ground. The hard fall left Shine unconscious and OFG without a mount. She had also taken a hard blow to her right leg during the fall but she scrambled to her feet. OFG heard the pounding hooves of the big man's great horse. She took Shine in her arms and readied herself...
The big man was still charging at a good pace when he veered in close, reached down, and pulled OFG up and onto his saddle, Shine still in her arms. The big man gave a hearty laughed in her ear, “Just like the old days, eh?”
When they had distanced themselves from the band of rats the big man pulled his horse to a stop, swung down from the saddle, and positioned himself, bow drawn. OFG took the reins and briefly rearranged Shine, securing the still unconscious knight tightly in her cloak.
“Take no chances.” She said. The big man glanced up and nodded, his eyes meeting hers. He slapped the flank of the great horse and sped them on their way.
It was known in the Lands that the huge unnamed horse could only be ridden by its master. Descended from a line of noble Thracian fighting stallions this enormous black horse struck terror in many hearts. The stable hands avoided him and the grooms begged to be relieved from tending to the great beast. They had all heard how the giant horse had guarded its master from the enraged hog. Not only did this ancient line of horses carry their riders into battle – they fought alongside them as well.
This particular horse had many kills attributed to his renown. All – save the big man – gave the horse a wide berth. OFG herself wasn't sure if the great horse would bear her safely, but she had no choice. She must get to the Eastern Gate. She knew the horse would obey the big man. While they were riding together she heard the big man command the horse to take her home. The horse ran with a fierce determination but he was steady and sure.
Branches and brambles whipped by them, Shine still tucked in her cloak, the wind pulling at OFG's hair. She could hear the sounds of death behind her as the big man struck down the rats one by one. The vengeance unleashed from the bow Harbinger slowed her pursuers and would give her a chance to get Shine to the Gate.
Suddenly the massive Eastern Gate was before them and she was yelling for entry. The enormous horse streaked toward the slowly opening gate, the rats still in pursuit. The big man's arrows had stopped but OFG could not allow herself to wonder what may have happened to him. They were so close to the gate now and Shine would be safe. Lucky was nodding at her urging her to hurry. They would make it. OFG glanced down at Shine's closed eyes and she held him closer, and leaned lower in the saddle. They were just heart beats away.
The Gate was open wide enough to let one rider through. Just before they entered she violently halted the horse. “Lucky!” She cried and her second in command moved quickly to avoid the sharply dancing hooves of the great horse. OFG passed the unconscious Shine to the awaiting Lucky then flung herself from the saddle. While yet turning to face the oncoming rats she pulled her war axe from over her shoulder with her left hand and released her sword from its scabbard with her right. She heard the horse's hooves clattering away as he made his way thru the gate and toward the stables.
“Be gone you vile villains lest I kill you until you are dead!” OFG bellowed and brandished her war implements at the line of raiders. They were great in number and horrible to behold. She could smell their stinking fur and see their terrible teeth gnashing at her. The distance between them was not far and their battle line was strong. Three large rats stood in front of the line and cajoled their underlings to order.
OFG stood strong even though she felt the wound pounding in her right leg. The rats sneered and cackled. Timidus, the worst of the lot, yelled “You alone, OFG? You must be mad. Look at this great host! Prepare yourself for death!” The other joined in with their mocking laughs. Timidus's henchmen, the odorous Incertitudinem and the well scarred Dubitare, laughed with their leader.
“Go back to your rotten holes, you thrice cursed curs! This Good Land is no place for the likes of you. Go back or face my full wrath!” OFG's eyes blazed with anger.
“You know our terms, OFG, we will smite you where you stand unless you meet them!” Timidus yelled while the others chortled with glee. Seeing her alone outside the wall gave the villains false courage.
“Yes, OFG, recall your assassins and keep them muzzled and away from our people!” Now called Dubitare, his paunch and pinched face screwed into a sneer. “Your assassins, these cats of yours, hound us night and day! We demand you keep them behind your walls! They are murders creeping and crawling thru our lands, killing our own. Look! Look at what they do! What do you call this?” Dubitare held forth the savaged, limp body of a small field mouse.
Just then an arrow flew, snatched the small mouse out of Dubitare's grip, and pierced it onto a nearby tree. The rats gasped and huddled together.
“Some would call that a snack.” Mocked OFG raising an eyebrow.
“Hand over your assassin-cats and we will deal with them on our own!” Incertitudinem called out, somewhat unsure.
“Die of your own pestilence, Rat Fiend!” Shouted OFG. She had no fear - just disdain - for these malcontents.
Timidus started to move forward. There was a hesitation but the rat battle line followed. “Give us those killing cats!”
“Molon labe!” Roared OFG invoking those ancient words as she stood taller and squared her shoulders.
Out of nowhere the Princess Kai appeared on OFG's right and Commander Zander on her left. Col Ti was just behind OFG and he shouted to the wall “Archers!” Hundreds of war hens appeared at their battle stations high upon the wall, nocked their arrows, and pulled hard their bows.
OFG took a bold step forward framed by her famed warriors. The Princess Kai, arrayed for battle with her fiery war tiara and the number of her war kills written in blood down her leg. Commander Zander's gleaming black war helm caught the late afternoon sun, its glorious emerald eyes danced, the horsetail plume fell like a cape over his broad shoulders.
“You want these cats, Vermin?” OFG clashed her war axe and her sword together over her head, and snarled, “Come and get them.”
The sound of a thousand arrows filled the air and signaled the war charge. Before Princess Kai and Commander Zander could even close the distance to the battle line the mighty bow, Harbinger, wielded by the big man brought death to Timidus, Incertitudinem, and Dubitare.
The battle was joined. Our heroes utterly defeated the rats and smited them all.
Editor's Note: New readers my find the entire backstory here on this page. It's now easier than ever to find our hero's adventures in one place - the Not Entirely Fiction link on the top of this page. You may also find The Battle Season Begins series as well as The Mark of the Warrior series. And a few other things that may or may not have happened exactly as told.