The frozen ground crunched beneath OFG's feet as she paced the courtyard. The accursed winter had lasted longer than anyone expected. A false spring had teased but now the wind whipped and the cold settled across The Good Land.
The sun had set not long ago and purple streaked the skies. She shouldn't worry but she did. The Princess Kai was one of the finest fighters that the Lands had ever seen but it was a mother's prerogative to worry about her young. And so OFG paced and waited for her daughter to return. Kai could be reckless. Impulsive. The Princess left with her men at arms early in the day and still had not returned.
In the coming darkness a small figure hurried across the way, catching OFG's eye.
“Bitty! Is that you? What have you there?” Called OFG. The small figure stopped, clutched something to her chest, paused, and then begrudgingly turned toward OFG.
“Nothing.” Said an unconvincing voice.
“Bitty, come here right now and show me your hands.” Said OFG. At least Bitty was wrapped in one of her new cloaks and was wearing good boots. It was a struggle to keep their wild little one appropriately clothed and shod. Bitty was not used to living with people even after these many months.
“Let me see.” Said OFG. Bitty pulled her hands from under her cloak and some chicken bones clattered to the ground. “Bitty... have you been scavenging again in the trash piles?”
Bitty hurried to answer, “No...but... yes... I mean... look! There is still some good meat on these and we shouldn't be wasteful and we might be able to....” Her voice trailed off under OFG's disapproving glare.
“What does the Old Wisdom say about leaving generously for the gleaners, Bitty?” Asked OFG trying to temper her annoyance. Bitty had not stopped her habit of stealing away food and hiding it. They found unclean and ruined little piles of her scrap stores all over. It was getting to be a problem.
Bitty harrumphed and gave in. “That we should leave extra for the unfortunate and....” She honestly could not remember the rest.
“And those who cannot ask for our help.” Finished OFG. “Bitty, we are about to have Evening Meal – there will be plenty of food and you do not need to take from those who need to glean. Do not be selfish, Bitty.”
When Bitty lived on the middens it never occurred to her that someone with so much wealth would leave generous scraps for someone like her. She drew her eyebrows together thinking about it. Could it be true that someone cared for her then? Someone who didn't even know her? She was used to only looking out for herself. She did not think it was selfish but rather just survival.
OFG watched Bitty try and piece it all together. “Now off with you, Bitty, go and sit at my table. Tell Lucky HouseMaster that I said to bring you an extra portion and then you can think about how you want to use it. You can squirrel it away to be wasted or you can take the best portions and leave the rest for someone else. Now off with you or I shall box your ears.”
Bitty scampered away. She didn't really think that OFG would box her ears.... but she didn't want to take any chances.
“Sir!” Called the century from the watchtower. “They are coming!”
“At last.” Muttered OFG under her breath. As she turned toward the Great Hall she hear Kai's laughter on the wind. It wouldn't do for Kai's men to see OFG out there like an old mother hen, fussing over her daughter's return. By the time OFG reached for the door she could clearly hear their merry banter.
“No!” Protested Kai in an easy tone, “I will! I will honor the wager! You won...you did!” Her men scoffed and joked and then Kai laughed and said, “I will! I will serve you as much bloodwine as I can carry!” More laughter.
“We can drink a lot of wine!” Said someone.
“Then I shall serve you a lot of it!” Laughed Kai.
A clattering of hooves and feet filled courtyard as the tired band of warriors made ready for the night.
OFG was already seated at her table on the dais, with Bitty seated at her left, when Kai and her men entered the hall. Kai had removed her armor, tiara, and weapons and was in just a light shift. Her face was dirty but she was laughing. She was trailing behind her men and being far too over dramatic when she gestured and called to the barman for “The largest tray, filled with the largest cups of bloodwine!”
One of her men, clearly enjoying the jest, called to her, “This way, Wench! When the tray is full, of course!” The company burst into ruckus laughter. Kai half curtsied to them, shouldered the enormous tray, and followed along calling out, “As you wish, Commander!”
All the fighters in The Good Land loved the Princess Kai – especially those in her own ranks. She was brave, fearless, and never asked anyone to do anything she herself would not. The men adored her...and more than that they all respected her. She could best any man in The Great Hall, save her brother of course, and she was utterly devastating in battle. She was fair in her judgment and true to her word. If she had wagered her men and this was her penalty then she would fulfill that obligation gladly... and they would love her more for it.
There happened to be a pair of travelers that night in the Great Hall. From time to time men like them would come to pay their respects to OFG and offer their services as guides, huntsmen, or fighters. OFG kept some of them on but mostly these drifters were just that. They lacked the iron strong discipline of her fighting forces.... and besides who could trust a man who fought for money? They were just passing by. These travelers could exchange work for provisions or trade for goods. All were welcome as long as they kept the law and traditions of The Good Land.
This man, a rogue of no good character, sat at the end of one of the many long tables in the Great Hall. All around were the soldiers and fighters sworn to OFG. The rogue sat muttering and complaining to his companion about the wealth of this liege of theirs... that woman who commanded them all. His companion, a small thin man of no note, just nodded and stared into his cup. They had been there for some time. Drinking. And muttering.
“Now there's a lass.” Said the companion jerking his sharp chin over the rogue shoulder. “Aye...she's a pretty one.”
Behind them Kai's men at arms continued to joke and jibe at the Princess-turned-serving-wench, “Keep up now, Wench! That tray isn't too heavy for you now, is it?” Laughed the leader of them. He was young and handsome. His coat was a dark silver-pewter. His name was Augustus. “And don't spill anything!” The soldiers laughed again.
In truth, the tray of drink was heavy but Kai shouldered it well. They had won the wager and she was a good sport. She walked behind them and good-naturedly took their jibes, laughing them off and playing along. All of them would die in her service and she knew it. This little fiction, her serving them, had been won in the field. She drove her men with determination so it was nothing for her to play along. They deserved it.
From her dais OFG watched the Princess Kai with interest. Kai was always doing something outlandish so this was nothing new. A game perhaps. Normally any of the warriors would be honored to bring her a cup or serve her food. This turn about of roles thrilled the men.
The Princess Kai's build was very powerful. On the battlefield she could be mistaken for a man. But she was quite feminine when she was relaxed as she was now. With her shining eyes and mirthful grin here in the Great Hall she lit up the room. She was the Shining Light of the Realm. Even with her dirty face and without the symbols of her status Kai was quite regal. She was beautiful.
Kai naturally rolled her hips when she walked. Some found it.... alluring but none would cast a wayward glace least Kai's grin turned to snarl and hell befell anyone who thought to put his hands on her. It was known. Except to this rogue.
No one will know if it was the drink or the jealousy of the treasures of the Good Land that caused the rogue to make such a dreadful mistake. But as the Princess Kai walked passed his table he reached out... and grabbed her bottom.
Kai's yelp of surprise filled the Great Hall.
Immediately a deafening silence filled the air. Then the scraping of benches and chairs being pushed back and those who were close scrambled to get out of the way. Some serving ducks raced to take the tray from the Princess. It required four serving ducks to carry and even then they struggled. Fear encouraged them to make haste.
“Colonel Ti,” Said OFG, flatly, from her seat on the dais, “Please take Bitty to get a closer look.”
“Sir.” Her First In Command nodded.
OFG then turned to Bitty, “You will see how Kai handles her honor.”
Bitty got up and followed obediently but muttered, “I don't see what is the big deal, he just patted her on the bottom....”
Col Ti heard all things and so he turned to her and replied sharply, “That man's lack of respect brings dishonor, Bitty. If you want to be taken seriously then you need to BE someone who is taken seriously. She cannot let this go unanswered. What are you if you do not stand up for yourself? Do you think anyone would pat my bottom?” He glowered down at her.
Bitty tried not to shrink back and just shook her head.
“No one would ever want to pat his bottom.” She thought.
“And further,” Col Ti continued, “It is not wise to manhandle the Princess Kai as some have found out. But more importantly we do not allow such indignities in The Good Land. All are safe here. Even the least among all of them.” He said pointing to the crowd.
“Do you think that someone who cannot fight or who has a lower station should be treated so poorly - without respect? Who are we if we allow others to be mistreated? Discipline. Courage. Respect. These are the values of The Good Land and we defend these.” He stared hard at Bitty and then walked on.
Bitty hurried to keep up. She never really liked Col Ti. He was as hard as the angles in his face, gruff, and only ever seemed to like OFG. He also scolded her and made declarations like, “Be on time for morning maneuvers, Bitty.” Or, “Stop fussing and stand at attention, Bitty.” And of course, “Stop playing with that potato, Bitty.” He was much to coarse for her. She wished Zander was there but he was away on patrols.
Not only did Zander never scold her – The Commander Zander always laughed at her jokes, loved to watch her dance, and always let her ride on his shoulder. As it was Bitty had to run to keep up with Col Ti's swift steps.
Col Ti abruptly stopped and cleared his throat. Immediately those in front of him cleared a path to the scene. He took up a wide stance and crossed his arms over his massive chest. Bitty scowled.
“Col Ti? I.... I can't see.” Said Bitty. If Zander were here he would put her on his shoulder but Bitty doubted Col Ti would do that. Instead Col Ti reached down, picked her up, and placed her on the nearest table. She could see now. Not that it mattered. The Princess was just standing there. The man and his companion were looking around trying to gauge what was happening.
Suddenly Princess Kai turned to him, a laughing grin and a glint her her eye. She stood, coyly, on one hip and blinked at the rogue.
“What is she doing?” Asked Bitty.
“Playing with her food.” Replied Col Ti without looking at her. Bitty shivered.
The man looked around nervously. “What's this?” He said, “What is this?”
The serving ducks had all but disappeared and the nearby fighting men had backed away. The rogue noticed that some, who all seemed to be wearing the same insignia, had formed a perimeter. One though, a younger fighter, in a silver coat was standing nearby.
The young fighter had unsheathed his sword and was holding it loosely in his hand. He then spun it by it's tip on the floor, chuckling, and grinning as if he knew some secret joke. The sound filled the hall, metal on stone.
“You there!” Said the rogue angrily, “You! Tell me the meaning of this! What is so funny?”
At that Augustus threw back his head and laughed out loud. The Princess Kai continued to stand, grinning at the man. Intentionally she slowly shifted her weight to her other hip and then narrowed her eyes at him. The man started to panic now and looked around for help. He was getting none.
“What? What! What... is this wench something to you? Is she under your protection?” Demanded the rogue who's companion had disappeared into the crowd.
Augustus just shook his head, started to turn away from the rogue, and took some steps toward the perimeter. He swung his sword so it laid casually over his shoulders. He held the grip in one hand the blade in the other.
The rogue was astounded. This young soldier was completely open to attack! His back turned, holding his sword like a walking stick..... and worse, the young soldier continued to laugh.
“If it wasn't for the band of men around him,” the rogue thought, “I could surely take this young dandy and teach him some manners.” He wondered how he could get the young fighter alone. The young fighter was now shaking his head, his back still turned.
“No,” Said Augustus casually, “She is not under my protection...” Augustus turned toward the man and looked him directly in the eyes, “I am under hers.”
The rogue whipped his head back and stared in terror at Kai. It all seemed to come together for him. It could not be - this must be some terrible mistake. Could this really be the most deadly she-fighter in The Lands? The one who commanded legions of fighters and destroyed her enemies? The BearKiller herself?
He looked closely at the wench now and could see beyond her dirty face and unkempt appearance... he had heard the Princess was beautiful but he would have never guessed she would dress as a servant. It didn't make sense, his world spun under his feet.
“You... you can't mean..” He was stammering now and trying to back away but could not get his feet under him. “You are... you are the VengeanceBringer?”
His last words were barely a whisper.
When it was over Col Ti walked Bitty back to her place at OFG's side. The brutality of the thing left Bitty stunned. She sat quietly not knowing what to think. The night's activity returned to the Great Hall, the Princess Kai had gone off with her men, and the serving ducks were cleaning up a terrible stain on the floor. No one would mourn that rogue. The story would be told... and no one would dare such a thing again.
“Life is hard, Bitty.” Said OFG, “It is harder if you are a fool. You are not a fool but you must understand the Way of Things. If you continue to sit at my table, to be at the Commander Zander's right hand, then you must learn these thing. Hard things. All of your actions must be to defend The Good Land. Always.”
Bitty sat thinking of these things. She did not know if she ever wanted to be among the rulers. She was just Bitty - and only just recently named at that. She was no one. She never thought of being “at Zander's right hand.” But … maybe that is exactly what she was now. Bitty sat thinking of these things for a long time.
The dark night gathered around the Great Hall.
Editor's note: You may find more Adventures in the Good Land here under the Not Entirely Fiction page. Find out when Bitty first arrived and all her adventures since then.
I agree with Liz! You definitely have a book in you that's trying to get OFG!
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