War and Women
“Perfect. I shall be along after reading news of the battlefront,” King Edimire said.
An hour later, the three women bowed as the king swept in and up the steps as graceful as a pregnant pig. “Good morning, Your Grace,” they said.
“Ladies are supposed to curtsy, but never mind that. As you know, my army is fighting this so called “Just Empire” in the south. You I can spare. Go to that would-be-usurper’s kingdom and bring him to his knees! End this war.”
“Yes, Your Grace!”
After being supplied in the kitchen, the trio left the capital city of Ashcreek and descended into the wilderness to the south. Lady Eva walked ahead of the others, her suit of mail shining silver as her hair bounced like an auburn cloud. Little Bobanni’s long chainmail skirts clanked and clattered softly as she pounded her wooden staff into the ground. Katja was best dressed for an assassination in a black long-sleeved outfit with a belt littered with knives.
They decided against walking near the beaten path the soldiers’ left in the shrubbery. Eva cut a new one with her longsword heading. “You know I would blast a mile long path through all this, but I should save energy for a demanding situation,” Bobanni said.
Eva rolled her eyes, continuing to swing back and forth. Stubbornly, branches and snagging undergrowth slowed their progress. By early evening a river blocked their way. No bridge had been built to cross it. Gunk grew atop the slow-moving water. The river here was too dark to determine its depth, but relatively flat, worn rocks protruded from it.
“Not even I can jump far enough to land on those,” Katja said.
Farther down, several fallen trees almost spanned the river. Eva stepped onto the thickest one and grabbed the branches of a tree that had not yet decided to fall. Halfway across, there were no more branches for balance. Stupidly, she ran the rest of the tree and jumped the remaining distance to the muddy bank.
“Pick me up, Katja,” Bobanni said. The rogue stooped for the witch to climb onto her back. The witch whispered something under her breath and waved her walking stick. “Walk across the water.”
Katja placed her left boot above the river and slowly put weight on it. It stopped inches above the water. Without further proof, she hiked the witch higher and sprinted across.
“You couldn’t do that for me?” Eva growled.
“You acted before discussing with us.”
“Stuff it, you two,” Katja said.
Three weeks passed this way. Short-tempered Katja scouted ahead to ensure there would be no surprises. Eva continued to chop through nature and bickered with Bobanni. Their different stances on battle strategy were always a sore topic.
“How can you expect your enemy to be dead if you strike him from afar? An archer I can trust, but magic is a fickle wench,” Eva said. “My sword tells me the second his life is lost.”
“Many a man has survived the wound a sword leaves. You don’t stop to check, being on the front line and all. Speaking of men, why would you, a woman, be dressed in mail? Are perhaps a man?” Bobanni countered.
“You shrew! I’ll show you—”
Katja, who returned to report her findings, sprang at her companions. “Shut up! Do you not see the damn castle ahead? Lookouts are about, damn it!” Though she had said it in a heated whisper, the knight and witch bit their lips.
Katja turned and gripped the bark of a listing tree as she reexamined the battlements. The moon glowed, though the sun was still setting. A few soldiers marched slowly across, oblivious of the women standing at the edge of the forest below. A lad bolted from a tower with a torch in hand, lighting the walkway.
Eva drew her longsword as she stepped ahead. “Let’s go!”
“Where to, Lady Eva? Straight into the patrol down below?” Bobanni said.
The forest ended on a high crest. Down the steep slope were two dozen men marching west around the castle’s perimeter. Each was covered in steel and armed with sword and shield. All appeared to be burly men.
“What do you propose then, witch?”
“Magic, of course. Unless you want to fight them on your own.” Hearing no objections, Bobanni gripped her staff in both hands and grumbled beneath her breath. She resembled a petulant child issuing half heard curses to her parents. Suddenly, she rammed Eva’s and Katja’s forehead with butt of her staff as well as her own. The battle witch pivoted back to castle, brought the staff behind her left shoulder, and swung it ahead as if she had thrown something across the stone battlements.
“What the devil!” The knight and rogue moaned.
“We’re invisible for the next ten minutes and the bridge will only last for three. No talking and let’s go.”
“What bridge? I see nothing! And I see you both!” Eva said as Bobanni all but dragged them over the edge.
And then they were standing on air. The bridge arched over the patrol below and a foot over the soldiers on the castle walls. The trio scurried across, an attempt at silencing armor and chainmail. Once over the highest point, the trio slid and landed in a courtyard.
King Just’s tower was easy to spot. It was on the southwestern side of the castle. Blue and white ribbons laced their way down the grey stone. A golden gazebo draped in more ribbons and lit with candles sat atop it all. A lone silhouette with a spiky head walked inside it.
Silently, Bobanni repeated the maneuver to cast an invisible bridge. As the jumped to the stone floor, Eva and Bobanni’s outfits clattered, drawing King Just’s attention. The shock across his young face alerted the trio to the fact that they were no longer invisible.
“Who are you? No one is allowed in my garden!” The young king fell back against the bed surrounded by a manmade field of flowers. His night gown was covered in thick strips of lace and ribbon.
“A personal garden! That’s a bit womanish, don’t you think?” Eva said, slowly lifting her sword.
“Aye, now let’s be about this business,” Katja said stepping closer, fingering the hilt of a dagger.
“No! Guards! Gua—”
Bobanni shoved her left hand towards King Just uttered something sharply. His shivering stopped, but his eyes swiveled from face to face. Eva and Katja moved forward, grinning. The rogue gripped his right shoulder, the knight his left.
“For King Edimire!”
“What’s this?” King Edimire said as he barged into the gaudily decorated throne room. “Are you swifter than word?”
Lady Eva stepped forward and bowed, her armor plates scraping against each other. “Of course, Your Grace. We departed with haste after the deed was done.”
“Well, tell me of it!”
Katja spoke up. “We snuck into his private garden, right before he crawled into bed, in the gazebo, on his tower! His night gown was atrocious, Your Grace. Bobanni froze him while Lady Eva and I forced him to his knees. As instructed.”
King Edimire reclined and propped his head on his fist. The women said nothing, their eyes on the floor, waiting. The guards and servants shifted uncomfortably. Outside, men were yelling back and forth on the battlements, but their words didn’t make it through the open windows.
“I asked for the Just Empire to be kingless!” the king roared. “That’s what ‘bring him to his knees’ means! He is supposed to be headless, disemboweled, unfit to rule, something!”
“Oh, well, we have black news, Your Grace,” Bobanni said sheepishly.
“What is it?”
“King Just’s army chased us to the main gate. And they are certainly not happy.”