Disclaimers: See Chapter I
Storm Moon, Early 469 ACE
The war had been over for three years now, but bitter resentment stirred the souls of the folk of the Rycroft Valley. In late 466 the rebel line had shattered three fourths of the way north and the Black Guard quickly subdued them, leaving a large trail of destruction behind. Grain bins had been set afire, leaving the rebels no seed to grow food the next year. It meant they were heavily dependant on the Thermodon Valley farmers to sell them seed, and the farmers were quick to inflate the prices to ridiculous levels to make a quick buck.
Poverty ran rampant in the once prosperous region. Their worst fears had been confirmed. The Central Powers truly didn't care about them.
Terra Lindley took her ax and wedged it in the wood, lifting it up and smashing the wood grain apart from itself into fine kindling. She took the next log and did the same, then carried the kindling into the shack her mother and her sister lived in.
Her mother, Elaine Webb, had inherited a bitter dose in life. She was pregnant with twin daughters when her partner, a dashingly handsome Black Guard, left her in the middle of the night a month before her due date. She taught her two daughters, Terra and Celine, that love was a fool's game and the only way to true happiness was to keep the hell away from the dashingly handsome womyn who knew they were cute and could get whoever they wanted to in bed. For once they took your heart, Elaine told them, there was no going back.
Mother took the kindling to start the cook fire. Terra proceeded to take a basket and went to the hen house to collect eggs for breakfast.
Part of her early morning ritual involved stopping by the ruins of their old house before gathering the eggs. She had come from a wealthy family of farmers and ranchers who had lived in a magnificent mansion, the egg shell colored Lindley mansion, a sight to behold, even in its final hours as a Black Guard bonfire.
The old shack was a terrible disgrace to the family memory, Elaine said. This would probably be their last year on the homestead, she further announced, there was not enough money to buy more grain after this year to grow crops and feed the chickens. Terra bent down and touched the concrete foundation, the only thing that didn't smolder in the fire, and bowed her head for a few moments. After the silence, she got back up and went to the henhouse to collect eggs.
She returned to the house to watch her sister whittle away on her yew bow. "What are you making that for?"
"It's for Mom. I already made mine."
"What for?" Terra asked. "There's no hunting nearby."
"It's not for hunting, stupid."
"Don't call me stupid, Celine," Terra growled, flicked the annoying wayward blonde strand out of her face.
Her sister rolled her eyes. "The Underground Resistance."
"Our economy would be doing better if we swallowed our pride and acted civil towards them," Terra suggested.
"They wouldn't care. Remember, they're the Central Powers. No one means anything to them, unless it serves their elitist agenda. And sticking their big dick in us serves them just fine! Which is why we're fighting back!"
Terra let the steam blow right on by. Although they were twins, they were as different as day and night. Terra was the optimist, Celine was the angry, untrusting pessimist who saw every little thing as a conspiracy. Terra got upset rarely, Celine blew her top at the slightest provocation, but when Terra was angered, it was a smoldering, intense anger that not even Celine's outbursts could start to compare to. To the average observer, they didn't appear to be twins. Terra had long, wispy blonde hair, with gentle green eyes that were willing to listen to whatever one had to say. Celine resembled her birth mother more, with light brown hair and cold grey eyes that glistened like ice. Terra was shorter and more muscular, while Celine was a few inches taller and chubby like her mother.
They'd never understand each other, Terra had deduced and let her sister's frustrations fly by like a gentle breeze on a lazy summer afternoon.
Mother took the eggs and scrambled them in the pan, setting the coarse textured slices of rye bread in the spider and setting it above the fire. Terra came in the kitchen and poured herself a glass of mead.
"So, what are you going to do about your conscription notice?" Elaine asked, attending the food attentively.
"I'm not ignoring it, if that's what you're asking."
"My child, the spineless," Elaine sighed. "I'm glad someone grew up to stand up for herself she said, jerking her head towards Celine in the other direction. "You are so much like your gene donor."
The dashing Black Guard who left her eight months later, she meant. There were two ways to have children--the profane way or the sacred way. The profane way was to couple like the animals, while the sacred way was to go before Aphrodite in Sinope and have her priestesses join the couple together. Via the profane way, only women could have children. In the hands of the Goddess, men could too. It was a beautiful gift.
"Who was she, Mother? You always throw hints here and there about what a bitch she was, but you never explained who she was. After all, both Celine and I have her genes, we at least should get an explaination."
Elaine sighed. She dreaded telling the news to her children, she hoped the question would never come up but she promised to answer truthfully if it arose.
"I was nineteen and she was twenty four," Elaine began. "Casey Maxwell. Tall, handsome, and blonde, just like you. She had the most stunning blue eyes that took my breath away when I had first seen her. I loved sitting there for hours on end, running my hands through her short hair--"
"Yes, dear, Black Guards have very short hair. Those pretty locks have to go when you get conscripted, dear. Right to the skull."
Terra took a sip of mead. "Why did she leave us?"
"I don't know, dear. She said her unit was moving out, and I never heard from her again."
"You think she's still alive?"
"That lecherous dog? I'm sure she has nine lives." Elaine took the finished eggs off the fire and set it on a cold spider to cool. "Why, are you thinking of tracking her down?"
Terra's eyes gave it away.
"Well, don't say I haven't warned you, Terra. She's a heartbreaker."
"She's twenty years my senior. I'm sure she's grown gray and ugly by now."
"I suppose." She took the toast off the spider. "Celine! Breakfast is ready!"
They silently ate their scrambled eggs and toast, the most substantial meal they were going to get that day.
"I'm sorry you're going to join the military," Elaine cried, as her daughter packed her belongings. She had to report to Fort Langley by tomorrow and half the day was already gone.
"Celine can chose to deal with the notice as she pleases," Terra replied. "And she can deal with whatever consequences come with it. Just as I will mine."
"I still think you're making a grievious mistake."
"Mother," she told her.
"Don't you see?"
"This is our chance to save the homestead."
"It's too late, dear."
"With the salary I'll be earning, it'll be enough to keep you guys through," Terra told her.
Elaine shook her head. "Even the military calling you inherited from your gene donor. Very well, I am not about to keep you home." She reached over and hugged her daughter tightly. "I am going to miss you."
"You too, Mom."
She turned around. "Bye, Celine."
"Bye," she grumped at her sister.
The lieutenant on call was very surprised to see a recruit land on her doorstep. "Terra Lindley reporting for duty," she told her.
Lieutenant Sutcliffe quirked a brow. "Most conscription notices go unheeded around here," she mentioned. "Have a seat, the Captain will see you shortly."
She sat down, and looked around the office. A case nearby held the military decorations and an Amazon flag. Intrigued, Terra got up and examined it.
"Captain Amara Fletcher, 426-465, age 39." She admired the various awards, from colorful ribbons to the obvious emblems like the Red Heart, the Golden Labrys, The Bow of Artemis, the Shield and Spear of Athena, and the Silver Moon of Aphrodite. "Whoa."
"Yes, she was a remarkable legend," the captain told her.
"How sad she didn't have any children to take these as heirlooms."
"She has a daughter."
"She couldn't show up to the service."
"We know where she is but someone up high has stalled the paperwork to get it to her."
"They say she doesn't deserve it."
The captain shrugged. "They say she's about to flunk out of the Cadets."
"What a shame." Fletcher. Remember that. I might run across her...yeah right.
Captain Tomlin fished out the paperwork. "Fill this out." She then handed her a quill and inkwell.
Terra couldn't recall feeling more exhausted in her life. After the paperwork was the physical, which consisted of a timed run, timed how many situps, push ups, and pull ups she could do in a minute, and her initial marksmanship, giving her fifty arrows to shoot. She got most them within the circles. Captain Tomlin made note that she was a candidate for being an archer in the ranks.
"Here's the skinny. A convoy goes out tomorrow towards Fort Hartford tomorrow. You will join them. Since the convoy is stopping long before Hartford, you will have to transfer to other convoys. The captain at that fort will have the details of the next outgoing convoy east. But first we'll have to shave your head."
Terra grimaced. She wasn't too keen on loosing her wispy, beautiful hair. She gritted her teeth and cringed to herself as she felt the safety razor strip her head of her femininity.
"Congratulations, you are a woman now, Cadet Lindley," she said as she turned Terra around to face the mirror.
She couldn't help but cry when she saw her bald head.
She joined the military convoy to Fort Hanbury. For half the day they descended down the gentle Lindberg mountains, and then were faced with the treacherous Stanwood Mountains.
"What a bitch of a climb," she remarked offhandedly to a private in Provisions.
"Oh yes," she nodded. "Fort Hanbury has the highest elevation of all the forts."
"Ugh, my legs are killing me."
"You'll get used to it."
To make things worse, it was a dark wood with many boulders and stones that made the footing treacherous. Calvary was reluctant to ride their horses through her, walking them through instead if forced to take the rocky road.
The next day she joined another convoy headed to Fort Atwood. Like the Stanwood Mountains, the Stanbury mountains had equally trecherous footing but the forest was not nearly as dense, clearing up into meadow land at various places.
She arrived at Fort Harwood the next night. The stones petered out and all that was left was a cozy birch forest that was easy to navigate. At first she thought she reached her destination but the captain said Fort Hartford was another two days away.
The next morning she left for Fort Lawbury. The trail was a mix of meadowland and small clumps of forest that the convoy said were full of mountain tiger that had a tendency to attack people.
The final leg of the journey to Fort Hartford was the longest. They had to leave before dawn and didn't get there until after sunset. Along the way the convoy stopped.
"This is Mount Sedgewick. Four months ago a squadron of cadets were attacked by mountain tigers. The infamous Cadet Fletcher led them. Three got killed, two seriously injured, and the rest of the squadron flogged her for it."
Military justice is harsh.
"Yah," the wagon driver demanded, and the convoy was on the road again.
"Is she still at Fort Hartford?"
The private shook her head. "Nope. Some horse's arse passed her. Said she had potential, it would just need more work."
Paint her that bad and I'm wondering too.
"Hey," Corporal Casey Maxwell greeted her lover.
"Good evening," Elaine Lindley greeted her back, laying on the bed beside her. Casey scooted over, laying her head on her breast. She took her hand and patted Elaine's abdomen lightly.
"You're coming along wonderfully."
Elaine knew it was a compliment, but she couldn't help but want to cry. She felt fat, she felt unattractive, they had stopped having sex during the second trimester, and she knew Casey got really antsy if she went a night without sex...
She wrapped her arm around Casey and lightly stroked her fuzzy hair, the stubbly texture a constant source of amusement. Her tall lover breathed a deep sigh of contentment, closed her eyes, and smiled.
"I love you, Elaine.
"My unit's moving, Elaine."
She felt her heart ache at the thought of being separated for a military tour of six months. "I know sweety. I'll be waiting here for you, and our children will be too."
"I'm not coming back."
"I'm not coming back."
"Give me one good reason why."
"I'm seeing someone else."
"You selfish bitch!" Elaine snarled. "At least she's getting left behind too."
"No she isn't."
"She's in the division too."
Elaine swallowed her tongue. "Who?" she asked, dreaming of gouging the eyes of the woman who took her wife away...
Amara was too beautiful to do such a hideous thing to--dark, rich tresses of hair that would look divine if she simply grew it out. If she had the slightest idea that Amara wasn't the Ice Queen she portrayed herself to be she would have thrown herself at her feet in a heartbeat. But she wish she could do such a thing!
"What about the children, Casey?"
Casey shrugged and said nothing.
"You are a cruel, self centered bitch. Maybe it's a good thing you aren't coming back."
Casey whirled about and walked out, forever.
Elaine looked at her only daughter at home, Celine. It had to be the Goddess's cruel joke. Except for the fact that she was tall and had blue eyes of her gene donor, Celine was otherwise her mother's daughter. And Terra was her gene donor's daughter save the short height and green eyes. You would have loved to see them grow up, Casey. I wonder where you are. Oh, I wish Terra didn't bring that up, you don't deserve to see them! And I wonder where you and Amara are. That is, if you didn't dump her for some gutter slut. I know you.
Storm Moon, 470 ACE. 1 year later.
She held her first year certification in her hand. The graduation ceremony was coming to a close, and her and her friends were going to one of the pubs afterwards to get drunk.
She was disappointed her mother wasn't there, but Cadet Linley knew it was a bit much to ask her mother to travel five days on foot to see her progress to the next level of training. She wore her new insignia, two dots, with pride on her shoulders.
After the ceremony they reported back to the barracks.
"You will have a month of leave," Sergeant Jules told them. "You must report back by the Growing Moon to start your second phase of training or you will be considered going AWOL. Do I make myself clear?!"
"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!"
"Good. You are officially on leave."
Two days of muddy sleet had extended her trip back home to seven days instead of five, much to her consternment. She walked down the rutted wagon road she remembered playing on many times in her childhood, except she now wore the proud black of a Black Guard.
She knocked on the door, and was greeted by her mother, who slammed the door in her face.
"Mom?" she cried.
"Mom, I came to see you."
"I've travelled the past seven days to see you."
"I can't look at you. You're the spitting image of your gene donor."
She turned around when she heard rustling in the bushes. She saw a arrow being notched, and she spun on her heels, running for cover. The arrow hit the side of the house.
Terra gathered her wits as fast as she could. She was in enemy territory. Black Guards were not welcome here. How could she be so stupid?
She ran into the woods, and kept running as fast as she could along the mountain trail, long into the night, when she found Fort Langway.
"Didn't expect to see you so soon," Captain Tomlin said, noticing the young cadet hiding in the barracks.
"Nor did I." She bit her lip to keep a cowardly sob out of her voice.
Captain Tomlin dropped to a crouch, sitting on her heels. "You don't look too good."
"Nothing's wrong, ma'am."
"You're off duty. Every cadet's off duty in the Growing Moon. So you can just call me Nicki."
"So what has you rattled? Most cadets don't spend their month off sitting in some military stable."
"My mom disowned me."
"She didn't approve of me joining the Black Guard." A rebelious tear defied its owner and dropped down her cheek. "And I can't believe I was so stupid as to think I was welcome home in the Rycroft Valley with a Black Guard uniform on!"
"Those folks still resent the government."
"And then some. I didn't realize it was my mother who killed Captain Amara Fletcher with her bow and arrow until I researched the archives...."