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At 23 years old, the ideal age for marrying, Genevieve was highly sought after by the men in her town. Her beauty was could have contended with the elves of Trondellore, had they ever been to Asarath, Genevieve's small home town. Although Trondellore was only a short distance away, the harsh feelings between the elves and men prevented most possible interactions. She was coveted not because of her money, for she had none. And it was surely not for her name, since she was orphaned at birth and her parents’ names were a mystery even to her. Instead, they begged for her hand because all knew she would be their prized possession, the most beautiful of women hanging on their arms, encouraging a relentless jealousy amongst the other suitors. With her plump, red, bow-shaped lips and her pale, white complexion that even the moon envied, Genevieve was by far the fairest of all the women in her village. Her face was dotted with the roundest freckles imaginable that drew attention to her high cheekbones that led up to her vibrant emerald eyes, which were so fiercely protected by a thick coat of long eyelashes. She was fit, although not too muscular. Her hips wide and full, slightly exaggerated on one side by the dagger she hid there. Fiery locks of her hair swayed in the wind like one of the many stacks of books she kept in her small room.
Genevieve loved to read, partly because she enjoyed the feeling of a weathered and textured book on her fingertips, but mostly because she had an unexplainable desire to learn. She enjoyed knowing and understanding things most people did not. Just a week ago, she helped an illiterate farmer whose boss was not writing the proper wage amount on his work slip, trying to swindle the honest man out of money. She did things like this often, not because she was friends with these people, instead she believed that everyone should help each other in times of need. She also loved the idea of the alternative universe that books offered her. While engrossed in them, she could be anything, go anywhere. It was a freedom that she did not know, yet desired more than anything else. She also had a rather secret hobby. Often she would go to the abandoned field miles out of town to practice archery and sword fighting. Since it was easiest to practice archery, for it required no partner, she was most comfortable with a bow and arrow. Her passion was secret because had the town officials known, they surely would have stopped her. She tried not to cause too much trouble, since they did not approve that she lived alone. Although in their law books, there was nothing they could do, Genevieve knew they could and would find a loophole if needed. What saved her was the owner of the orphanage she had previously presided in. He was a respected man in the community, mostly because of his wealth, and used his influence to advocate for Genevieve. Two years before she moved out, Genevieve had helped take care of his dying wife, which explained his affectionate responsibility. In fact, he was the one who had gifted her with the dagger she kept at her side.
Despite the endless line of men waiting to propose, Genevieve had, in fact, no friends. However, she did not feel isolated or alone. She reveled in her alone time, using it to float through her endless dreams of adventure and danger.
It was an ordinary day. Children laughed and parents watched fondly from a distance, Genevieve went to the market to buy groceries for the orphanage down the street that was facing hard times. She wanders up and down every aisle, looking for anything that may be of use. She twists and turns to avoid the steady flow to people racing past her. Her eyes darted from one place to another taking in her surroundings. The vibrant colors of watermelons and various fruits mixed with the inticing smell of cumin, saffron, cinnamon and rosemary give the town a lively and upbeat aura that most outsiders would not have noticed. As she hurried through the bustling market, something very important, perhaps even life changing, caught her eye.
She turned around trying to get a better look, bumping into people she couldn’t see, the wind blowing hair in her face. Ever so unladylike, she ripped the paper off of the nail that attached it to the announcement board in the middle of the market. It was an invitation, in her eyes at least, to travel to Trondellore, home of the elves, to take up arms against the growing number of attacks on their lands.
For Genevieve, and most of her town, this document was surprising. The elves rarely associated with the world of men, thinking them to be inferior. The elves were faster and stronger, with a profound sense of grace. Men lacked these qualities, thus causing tension between the two races. Here though, they were asking them to join their army. Few took notice of the significance of this and how desperate the elves were to ask this favor. Thus, few men took interest in making the trip to Trondellore; their egos hurt too badly by the elves attitude to consider helping. Genevieve, however, did not have such a high sense of importance and was more than ready to show her village, and the elves, what she was capable of.
Grinning, Genevieve ran to her room in the town, not stopping to say hello or finish her shopping. Crashing through the door, she stumbled over a spare book that found its way onto the floor. She sat down at her meager kitchen table and tucked her wild hair behind her ear so she could read the announcement more carefully. There’s an increasing number of attacks from a guerrilla attack squad made up of elvish convicts. The elvish king, Soliman, is concerned because they are growing in numbers and he asks for any available assistance. Genevieve smiles from ear to ear already planning her trip.
For the trip, Genevieve knows she will need to prepare many things. Previously, she has not left the small village she presides in, much less leave the world of men. She makes a mental list of all the things she’ll need. First, a stronger horse, since her current horse would not make it across the miles of difficult terrain. The ambitious young girl takes out the clay pot with her life’s savings. She had been smart and put away every extra shilling she had made from sewing, in hopes she would be able to use it to fulfill her dream. Now, with nearly seventy shillings in her change pouch, she ventured to a different side of the market, where women did not tread.
Swaggering into the other entrance to the market, feigning confidence in front of a crowd of men, she walks further forward. She draws stares from everyone around her. These stares make her genuinely uncomfortable, and she walks faster hoping to avoid confrontation. After what seems like forever, but is actually only a short while, she comes across a man selling horses and hurries to get the transaction over with, knowing she can get her other things at some other stall.
Genevieve calmly walks up to the man, gripping her coin pouch and says, “Excuse me, sir. I need to buy a horse.”
Staring at her, partly in awe of her beauty, and partly in silent disgust for her being there, the man says, “I don’t sell horses to women. Have your husband or father come back and buy it for you.”
“I have no husband and my father is dead, but I wish to buy a horse,” she replies, her voice doing little to hide her annoyance.
“Well then, go get a husband, and then have him buy it for you,” the man retorts, while the others laugh in unison, trying to ignore his growing pity for the girl.
Mocking their laughter, she sardonically counters, “There’s no need. I’ll take my shillings elsewhere, to a man who has a lick of sense.”
“Oi! Perhaps you don’t have a husband because of your sharp tongue. I’ll sell you a horse sweetheart, but only under the condition that you watch how you speak to a man next time you see one.”
“I’ll buy your horse, but only on the condition that you watch how you speak to a paying customer next time you have one.”
And with that, he takes out a black mare and tosses her the reins. She picks out the appropriate amount of shillings before grasping onto the horse’s reins for dear life and ushering it out of the market stall as quickly as she could manage.
Her room was not too far from the market, especially if she took a shortcut through the small patch of woods bordering the market and her humble home at a leisurely pace. She wanted to get home as quickly as possible, barely able to contain her excitement. Leading her horse through the twigs and rocks on the forest floor, she heard a growl. She whipped her head around just in time to see a dog that looked more like a wolf charge at her horse. Alarmed she relied on instinct, whipping out her dagger and gashing the animal’s neck until it stopped moving. Panting she sighed and climbed onto her horse, before quickly making her way out of the forest.
She spent the rest of the night packing her things. She was most excited about packing her weapons, which she was extremely proud of. She possessed an elvish bow. The grip made out of ivory, with complicated and complex designs carefully and deliberately etched into the rest of the bow. All of her arrows were hand carved, but of the best possible quality, since she sometimes spent her free time sharpening spare arrows. Her sword was bestowed upon her by the founder of the orphanage she used to preside at when he noticed her skill. In fact, he was the only man she had ever met that hadn’t tried to tell her how unnatural it is for a woman to be carrying a weapon, much less learning to use one. One of her most prized weapons, though, was a small silver dagger. It had a jagged blade that led up to a pristine bronze handle, encrested with one, small emerald at the center. This was always with her, so she knew she was not defenseless even with the gaze of unsavory men. With the last of her things packed, she laid down for a good night's rest before her long journey.
She made it out of the village quickly, since it was not very large. By nightfall she found herself in a much more populated and busy town. There was a lake in the center of town crowded with fishermen’s boat. On the surrounding decks were small children running around waiting for their fathers to finish their business. She walked aimlessly trying to find a room where she could spend the night. Finally though she asked for directions from an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair in front of a modest home.
“Excuse me, Miss,” Genevieve said, trying to gain the woman’s attention. “Do you know of any nearby hotels where I can spend the night?”
`“Oh, hello dear. As it turns out, I do. But what does a pretty, young woman like yourself need a hostel for? Aren’t you visiting relatives if you’re this far away from home?” asked the older lady in a fragile, tired voice.
“I am on way to Trondellore, actually. But I need to rest, for it is a long way from here.”
“Oh my,” the woman replied, slightly shocked, “Trondellore is no place for a young lady, especially now, with all the goblin attacks they’ve been having.”
“I'm joining the army,” retorted Genevieve, hotly. “I want to fight.”
At a loss for words the lady questioned, “What? Women do not fight. Are you mad, girl? They’ll never even let you passed the door!”
“Actually, to keep their army strong, and their selections fair, the elves have a strategic military test, that by their own law, anyone is allowed to take. Once I pass the test, I’ll surely be let in. Now,you have taken up enough of my time.. Would you please point me in the direction of the hostel?”
With a disapproving shake of her head, the old woman finally pointed Genevive in the right direction. After walking a short distance, the hostel finally came into view. She gave her horse to the stable boy,went inside, and noticed the room grow quiet. With an increasing sense of dread she walked up to the counter and asked for a room. She had little trouble, since she had the money to pay, save for the interested looks of other men staying there. She quietly reminded herself to keep her dagger under her pillow in case one of the men decided to bother her. She rented her room and put her things away neatly in a corner before finally laying down to sleep.
The next day. she woke up to disoriented and confused as to where she was. It took her a moment to remember she actually left her small village and was on a journey to join the army in Trondellore.. Instead of the daily cries of roosters waking her up, men yelling and laughing obnoxiously did. She took out her deep green tunic and black leggings to change. After getting dressed, she ripped a brush through her tangled and knotted hair before throwing it behind her shoulders in an attempt to get it out of her face. The aroma of eggs and freshly-brewed coffee enters her room, and a bear growl erupts from Genevieve's stomach. She creeps out of the room in search for food, hoping to remain silent and unseen. When she finally makes it to the kitchen her eyes light up, brighter than normal, at the full meal the servants have prepared. One saw Genevieve and smiled knowingly, understanding why she did not get her breakfast with all the men in the dining room. She fixed her a plate and Genevieve swallowed her food whole, eager to be on her way to Trondellore. She thanks the servant quickly before scooping her belongings into her too-small arms and dashing out the door, hurriedly attaching her things to her horse’s back. It was only a few hours after sunrise so she knew she would be able to reach Trondellore slightly before nightfall.
She rode for hours before stopping at a small stream that flowed between rocks that towered over her small frame. While her horse gulped water greedily, she stopped to look at her surroundings. She was on the brink of a rather gloomy, dense forest behind it. The small stream, seeming so meager in comparison to the vast and plentiful trees, led straight into the heart of the forest, where she could not see anything but the shade casted by the many trees. Breaking her stare, she looked at her map, noticing, that she could cut through the forest and arrive at Trondellore sooner than she had thought. She knew of the rumors that surrounded this forest and how none ventured into it alone, but was confident in her ability to make it through the thinnest section of the forest which only stretched about ten miles. With her horse, it should take her no time at all.
Mounting her horse, she rode into the forest, ignoring the thoughts in her head telling her to turn around. Her horse went dreadfully slow, trying to maneuver amongst the labyrinth of twigs and leaves that cluttered the forest floor. Genevieve tried her best to see as far ahead of her as possible, but the towering trees blocked the sun, leaving it as dark as night. Genevieve held her breath and strained her ears to listen, but was only met with silence. But still, with her sword drawn, Genevieve pressed onward.
She had made it at least halfway through the forest, hearing nothing but the sound of her shallow breaths and her racing heart. A noise rumbled through the forest, so low Genevieve wasn’t sure she heard it. She ushered her horse forward with a nudge and tried to even her breath, making sure to be extra vigilant. Then, something thin and wrinkled, that moved too fast to see threw itself at her. Genevieve screamed, knowing that it wouldn’t help, before scrambling frantically to her feet. She unsheathed her sword and looked at the goblin that had attacked her. By the time she had laid eyes on it again, it was in mid-air, hurling itself at her with it’s ugly claws extended. With wide eyes and tense muscles, she flailed her sword, abandoning all she knew about defense, and hoped she would hit it. The tip of her sword connected with it’s eye and sent the creature running, cradling it’s hurt eye. Standing there feeling triumphant at her small victory, she failed to notice the pack of goblins that had creeped out of the trees and hung on branches, waiting for her to turn around. There were easily twenty, maybe thirty, blood-thirsty creatures that stared at her with large, beady eyes and tan, leathery skin.
“Don’t move,” said a voice.
Stern and too calm, the man continued, this time addressing the goblins, “Leave, before my men and I slaughter you all, leaving you to choke on your own intestines.”
And as if with the flip of a switch, they scattered back into the depths of the forest, leaving behind no trace they were there, except for the strange man who had saved her.
“Hello,” Genevieve stammered, when she looked at the elf who had saved her life. His muscular arms folded over his chest and his face blank. The elf did not respond, and instead barked at his men to let her ride with one of them, so they could take her to the castle. She opened her mouth to protest, but was put on a horse before she could utter a word. Humiliated and afraid, Genevieve crossed her own arms and stayed quiet.
They had been riding for an eternity before any form of civilization started to appear. But slowly, small cottage-like houses popped up with meager civilians standing outside of them. Women with children on their hips peered out of their windows at the officialness of the elves that surrounded her. She started to get light-headed as she realized the elves that had saved her, and then consequently took her prisoner, were not average men from the town. Genevieve didn’t know if this made her feel more or less safe, but alas she had no choice but to await her impending fate.
There was a small stretch of leveled land that separated the town and the enormous castle they were heading to. The vibrant green grass stopped suddenly, being destroyed by the heavy ivory tiles that lead to the stairs of the castle. Everything was blinding white. The marble stairs stretched several feet and beyond them were grandiose doors; much bigger than her or any of the elves. The dark, oak doors were framed by pure ivory; in which complicated designs of various battles were deliberately etched. The castle was not made of stone, but of large, sleek white walls that eluded to cylindrical towers. Her neck craned until it hurt, but the sun blocked a clear image of the top. Genevieve was in complete marvel. The castle of the kings she knew of were nothing in comparison to this. The elves halted in front of the steps and started undoing their supplies. Genevieve was whisked off her horse in a swift, yet graceful motion; one that she would not have been able to duplicate. It was the elf who clearly lead the small group. He stood directly in front of her, effectively trapping her between himself and the horse. Without moving, he tilted his head and said something in a language she didn’t understand.
He turned back to her and spoke,“You will come with me,” and then grasped her arm and started dragging her up the steps, faster than she could keep up.
“Woah. Slow down, my legs are not as long as yours.”
Tossing an annoyed look, the elf said nothing, but did slow down. She decided she did not like this elf very much and hoped that not all the elves in Trondellore’s army acted this way. The elf barked an order in the same language, that she now recognized at Latin and the door opened just a sliver. The elf squeezed through and then guided her through. She assumed the doors didn’t open all the way because they were so heavy and wondered why the elves, who were so admired for their craftsmanship, did not just make another set of doors.
Her attention quickly shifted to the huge walls that held portraits of the kings of Trondellore. Painting after painting, showing lifelike detail, Genevieve admired as the elf led her to the doors at the end of the hall. Right before he yanked her through the doors, she could have swore she saw a painting that shared an uncanny resemblance to the elf that was holding her.
When she looked up, she stood in the middle of the room and held the attention of all. She knew she was in the King’s throne room, was her palms started to sweat as she took deep breaths, keeping her face stoic. King Soliman blankly stared at her, trying to decide how to handle the girl who was clearly far away from home and looked horrid, with her face smeared with dirt and her clothes worn and torn. Her hair was at least two inches bigger, giving her an almost crazed look.
Sure he would not enjoy this conversation, King Soliman sighed, “What is your name, child?”
“Genevieve,” the young girl replied cautiously yet simply.
“Genevieve the daughter of who?”
The young woman faltered and said nothing.
“When the King asks you a question, you would do well to answer it,” growled the elf in disgust.
“My parents are dead and I do not know their names,” she retorted defiantly.
Taken aback the elf stayed quiet, while the King, amused with the girl’s pugnacious attitude, spoke.
“I see. Well Genevieve, may I ask why you were traveling through the forest, alone and unprotected?”
“I was coming to Trondellore,” she replied, knowing how foolish they would think she was.
“Why?” the King interrogated.
Taking a deep breath, knowing the backlash she would face, she braced herself.
“I came in response to your announcement. To join your army, your majesty.”
An arrogant bark of laughter sounded from the elf’s mouth, further annoying her.
“A woman? In the army? Girl, you are mad. You--”
“Arathorn, that is enough,” the King boomed, irritated by the interruption.
Shocked at his disapproval, he responded simply, “Yes, Father.”
Genevieve brazenly interrupted, unable to help herself, “According to elvish law, you have to allow me to take the qualification test.” Met with blank stares she continues, “Your qualification test was designed by your forefathers to prevent discrimination. The test does not include a section banning women from qualifying for the military, regardless of expectations.”
Surprised, intrigued and amused at the same time, Soliman said, “Many of the elves have taken the test: rich and poor, young and old, and have failed. Why then, are you more capable?”
“I would like to show you, if you will allow it.”
Smiling, “Very well then. I give my consent. But if you fail,--”
“Then I return home, with nothing less than I came here with and harboring no harsh feelings,” Genevieve interrupted, yet again.
“Very well,” the king replied.
The elves gave her a nightgown that was more delicate than the others she had seen in her hometown. The dark auburn silk slipped through her hands and when wearing it, Genevieve looked much paler than she was. King Soliman had decided that his son, the elf that had found her in the forest, would be her overseer. It seemed the only thing Arathorn and herself could agree on was taking the test as soon as the King allowed. This is how she knew she must rest soon, because tomorrow would be her first, and only chance at achieving all she had hoped for.
Waking up was difficult, since her nerves did not allow her to sleep well the night before. But she was running on adrenaline so her restless night did not matter. She remembered that the elves had taken her luggage, and she assumed they put it in her room , but as she looked around, she realized that was not true. She stepped out of her room, looking for anyone who could give her her clothes back, not caring that she was in a nightgown. As she opened the door, surprisingly very silently, a small yelped passed her lips when she saw a small woman about her age standing right outside of it. The maid stood at her expectantly and Genevieve paused before letting her into the room.
“I was sent by the prince to wake you but I see you did that already. Here are your clothes then ma’am,” stuttered the young maid, talking too fast.
Noticing the extravagant garment laying on her bed she sardonically replied, “Arathorn sent me a dress to take the test? He is aware that it would not be possible to fight in the frivolous thing, right?”
The naive maid opened her mouth before closing it, trying and failing desperately to come up with a response. Annoyed, she sent the maid to fetch her practicing clothes, and, after much persuasion, and some threatening, the maid went to retrieve her clothes. Finally getting dressed, she stalked out of her room in search of the kitchen. After twisting and turning down several overly complex hallways, she finally arrived at the dining room to see King Soliman and Arathorn sitting down for their meal. She tried to step out unnoticed, not one daring to disturb the royal family. Unfortunately, Genevieve’s luck had run out, and on her hasty retreat she tripped over a plant and could hear the shattering sound of the porcelain pot echo in the room. With all eyes on her, the King’s amused and Arathorn piercing into her soul, she stood up and awkwardly smiled.
“Good morning my child,” said the King warmly. “I am glad to see that you could join us. Please sit down,” he continued as he gestured for her to take a seat.
“Father I do not think that she is appropriately dressed for a woman,” Arathorn seethed.
“Perhaps, but she is appropriately dressed for a warrior, is she not?” the king said.
Smirking at the prince, she knew she had angered him, and that he would probably do everything he could to make sure she did not pass, but in that moment she could not conceal her triumph. She quickly ate her breakfast, trying to eat just enough since she would have a physically exhausting day. Arathorn escorted her out of the castle, moodily and silently. They made it to an open field cluttered with various obstacle courses that genevieve did not recognize.
“This test will last three days, each day we will test something different. Today, we test your physical strength. This is often the easiest of the tests,” recited Arathorn.
Without missing a beat he continued, “You will be given your weapon of choice, and will be expected to make it through the obstacle course. Is that clear?”
Cautiously, Genevieve tried to decipher the elf’s hidden meaning. She knew the test would not be a simple obstacle course. She darted her eyes around, appearing to look over the obstacle course, but was in fact looking for tricks. She spotted an archer hidden in one of the trees that bordered the field and knew that was it. She could handle one archer shooting arrows at her.
Turning to Arathorn she said, “I am ready to begin if you are, Prince Arathorn.”
Smirking, knowing she would not make it, he asked, “What will your choice of weapon be then?”
Thinking then opening her mouth, genevieve replied simply, “Bow and arrow.”
“Very well,” grinned the prince, albeit unconvincingly, while he flicked his wrist signaling an elf to get her the weapons. One she had them, she inhaled deeply, trying to appease the burning feeling in her lungs. She surprised herself with how nervous she was, since she had played this scene in her head countless times in the days previous. There was no going back, only proving to herself and everyone else, that she was capable of doing this.
Arathorn let out a long whistle and nodded to her, meaning to begin. She held a readied bow and arrow in her hands and started to walk to the first wall she would have to climb. Walking slowly, trying to take in all her surroundings, she finally approached the first wall. The heavy, wooden wall towered over her standing at least fifty feet tall. There were no steps or holes for her to grasp onto. She had little time to think though as flaming arrows whirled past her head and burned into the thick wall. As she turned around she saw three archers, and smirked. She had expected a lot more than one simple archer and quickly decided to use her small stature and low weight to her advantage. Running away from the wall and consequently running toward the archers, all three were taken aback. They temporarily stopped shooting and looked to Arathorn for direction in which he responded with a horrified expression. She turned on her heel and in quick succession and inhuman precision shoot several arrows into the wall. She put the bow around her shoulder and ran toward the wall, jumping up and taking hold of some of the arrows, using her upper body strength she managed to make it to the top of the wall, all the while flaming arrows were hurling towards her. As she made it to the top of the wall she balanced herself on top and stood looking over her shoulder at Arathorn. Her auburn hair flying behind her and her toned arms and legs clearly defined at the angle Arathorn was looking from. At that moment, he could not deny that Genevieve was not just a beautiful woman, but an upcoming warrior. Pulling two arrows out, she used them to carve into the wall on the other side, quickly descending. With her confidence newly found, she continues with the rest of the course.
She had made it through half the course with sweat dripping down her hairline into her face. Her cheeks were swollen and angry; her breath ragged and uneven. Arathorn was a distant speck on the other side of the course, and though she could not see his face, she knew he was watching her. She ran desperately, trying to avoid the mad dogs that started to close in on her. Massive beast-like hounds snarled and tore at her and she wondered where in the hell the elves got these creatures and how many men died because of them. She unsheathed her dagger that had been in hidden beneath her leggings, which were battered with tears and sliced at the dog closest to her. With blood sliding down its face, drops of blood landing on the soft earth near its paws, the beast backed away whimpering. The other two dogs, or whatever they were, charged at her more forcefully than ever and she knew she could not outrun them but if they caught up to her they would most likely sink their claws into her flesh and tear it away piece by piece and she was not convinced the prince would help her. She stopped running and thought frantically of what to do. The things that were chasing her were basically large dogs. Large, horrifying, flesh-eating dogs, but dogs none the less. Her old neighbor had a dog that would always come sit right outside her door, so to get rid of it she threw a stick and it would chase the stick however far it went. Maybe that would work with these creatures too. She calmly waved the dagger at the approaching hounds and tossed it in the opposite direction. One dog remained slightly distracted while the other advanced without pausing. With her heart beating out of her chest, she took the opportunity to shoot the distracted mut with an arrow and killing it before making a run for it from the last, but biggest hound. The dog turned and gazed at the creature she had killed and stayed still before leaning back on its hind legs and letting out a high-pitched howl that lasted for seconds. Now angry, the dog raced forward after her, catching up and tackling her ,crushing her with its weight. It extended its razor sharp claws and growled, baring its massive, blood stained teeth in her face before lifting a paw the size of her face onto her stomach and slowly piercing her skin, making her wince in pain. She twisted and struggled to reach an arrow that had broken in half next to her. Stretching her fingers and arm she brushed passed the smooth wood with her fingers before finally bringing it close enough to grab. On instinct, she plunged the arrow into the mut’s neck in one swift motion, watching the red, viscous liquid drip out of its mouth and open wound onto her face. The dog collapsed, finally dead. The dead weight crushed her lungs and she struggled for breath before dragging herself out from underneath it, struggling for several minutes. On her hands and knees she scurried away from it trying to regain her composure. Frightened and dazed she sat that for a long time trying to hold in tears and calm her erratic breath. Finally, on shaky feet she stands, feeling cold and unprotected, but marches forward to the last obstacle. It was a small moat that encircled the course that was too wide to jump. She considered swimming through it but first stuck a stick and felt large animals in it and decided that would not be the best option. She sat on the bank listening to the rushing water trying not to cry over how overwhelming this day was, and that according to Arathorn, was the easiest of the three tests. She dragged her feet to the edge of the forest looking for a large stick that would help her catapult herself onto the other side. Her eyes and shoulders drooped from physical exhaustion and her once lively eyes were dull and depressed. She found a large branch that she thought would work and picked up the very end of it dragging it behind her, leaving a line in the soft grass. She crushed the impressionable dirt with the stick and walked further from the bank before rushing toward the water, stick in hand helping her land on the other side. Landing on her side she cried in pain and frustration. Arathorn appeared by her side not making a sound and looked down at her with genuine pity. He put forth his hand to help her up and she stared at it in disgust before practically pushing him out of the way while trying to get up.
“You have done well. But you are hurt. Please, let me assist you to the castle so a doctor may tend to your wounds.”
Limping and holding in her small intestine with her hand Genevieve replied, “No. I can walk myself. I am fine.”
Snorting he said, “Why are you so stubborn?”
“I am not stubborn,” she huffed irritably.
“Right. All women insist on limping to a doctor while bleeding out,” Arathorn said sarcastically.
“Personally, I think you should stop talking,” Genevieve said with her teeth gritted. “Just because I don’t want your help doesn’t mean this doesn’t bloody hurt, you oaf.”
Ignoring her insults the prince continued, “There is no shame in help. Why are you so cautious? Even a man would accept my help--”
“Help leads to weakness,” Genevieve interrupted hotly, “I would know.”
“What do you mean?”
“None of your business,” she said as she limped onward.
Getting in front of her, he said with a curious tone, “Wait. Tell me.”
Sighing at his persistence she began to speak. “When i first arrived at the orphanage, the woman in charge was kind and well-meaning. She looked after us like we were her own kids. We all relied on the kindness of volunteers to help keep the orphanage running since we had little revenue, of course.”
Pausing to catch her breath, Arathorn nodded for her to continue. “Well, once the ceiling caved in from the weight of the snow, so a group of three men helped fix it. When they were done, they went to the women’s office and asked for payment. Like I said, we had little money and she was unable to afford the price of what she was asking, so they took something else from her instead.
Breathing deeply, refusing to let herself cry, she continued in a racked shaky voice. “They took turns raping her in her office for hours. When it was finally over and the men left, I raced to her office, finding her staring blankly into space with silent tears running down her face. I begged her to tell me what happened, because as a child I had little understanding, but she only told me to help her up so we could start dinner. She went to bed early that day and woke me up in the middle of the night to say goodbye. She told me she loved me and that I needed to learn how to protect myself; to not let men in, because they would take what they wanted from you and leave. Those were the last words she ever said to me. Because by the morning the sheriff had found her body hanging limp from a tree.”
The young girl continue to limp off toward the castle slowly, wincing with every step, leaving the prince behind to marvel at her. Not many could make it passed the regular obstacle course, but this girl somehow succeeded even when he had unleashed two more hellhounds than necessary and had twice as many archers present than a typical man would have had. And all of this on top of her emotional scars that ran deeper than any flesh wound. He admitted to himself that he wanted to see her fail and wanted to prove to his father that women -- especially human women -- had no place in the military. However, he supposed that he was wrong.
He followed Genevieve inside to the spare room the castle’s doctor used for treating serious injuries. Arathorn hoped she was okay, telling himself he feared his father’s wrath rather than the only other option; he found himself taking a liking to her.
Genevieve spent the remaining hours of the day in bed, drained and defeated. She wondered how the other tests could possibly be worse than today. Slowly, the darkness of doubt drifted into her mind from the dark corners of the room. Maybe all the men she had met had been right. Perhaps it was foolish for her to have even tried to join the army. After all, she was not a warrior in name, she was a lousy tailor who was alone in the world. Genevieve felt a gut-wrenching tug on her heart as she became aware that no one was missing her right now. She had no family or friends, and the men that courted her still went home to their wives at night. As the sun sank down outside of her room, her heart fell with it and she cried. Silent tears slipped past her face as she realized that what she doing was impossible. There were no women in the military because they were weak, and Arathorn had been right to mock her foolishness. Tomorrow she would go home, and accept the first man who asked for her hand. She could get used to motherhood, just as every other woman in her town had. With this she sank into a deep, depressed sleep, her unconscious mind not bothering to dream.
The next day, Genevieve woke up feeling the hot sunshine on her cheek, suddenly too hot to sleep. THe sun’s rays coupled with the incessant tweeting of birds was sickeningly similar to a scene out of a story book and did not at all reflect her demeanor. Her brain pounded against her skull and her eyes dry with crust and drool on the side of her mouth from sleeping. However disgusting she looked on the outside, was nothing compared to her raging feelings inside her. A knock sounded at the door and a maid came in with genevieve’s clothes. It was an older maid this time, her silver hair tied loosely in a neat bun on top of her head. She was probably a grandmother as she had the right aura.
“Oh dear,” the maid grimaced. “Well don’t you look awful,” the maid continued in a thick accent.
Genevieve starred not having a response but it did not seem to matter as the maid chatted away.
“Do not fret, child. We’ll get you cleaned up in no time. My name is Lenora by the way. You have a big day ahead of you. Oh it is all rather exciting is it not? The first woman to defend Trondellore. So many of the young girls are inspired now that they have heard--”
Not being able to bare another word, Genevieve interrupted, “Actually Lenora, I am going home. I decided that maybe the men were right to have shunned me. Many stronger men have attempted and failed. Who am I, a woman, to try to compete with them?”
By the time she finished her voice was not above a whisper, the girl trying to hide her shaky breath and her wet eyes.
“I’ll have none of that.”
“I’m sorry?” Genevieve said bewildered, “None of what?”
“You think because things get hard you can just quit? Have you not worked your heart out to be here? You had the courage to waltz in here and demand to be a part of something that mattered and you are willing to sacrifice everything now, just because it s hard? Life is hard, girl. I suggest you get used to it,” Lenora raged as she paced back and forth. “Go home then. Go home to your life and live the rest of it in regret,” the maid huffed.
“What would you have me do?” Genevieve bellowed, throwing her balled up hands at her sides. “I can’t do it,” she repeated on the verge of tears. “Who the hell are you to judge me?”
Ignoring her question, Lenora answered, “I suppose you’re right. You are just a woman. What place do you have amongst males except to serve them?”
And with that Lenora stalked out of the room, leaving a conflicted, raging Genevieve staring after her.
Who was she to tell Genevieve what to do? She had no room for judgement. She, herself was just a maid, serving the elvish royalty. Although, maybe Lenora had a point. Genevieve had two options, more than all the women she had ever met could even dream of. She could choose to serve males for the rest of her life, or she could choose to fight alongside them. When put in this perspective, her mind was made up, and in a very different direction than last night. Whatever Arathorn could throw at her, she could handle.
A newly motivated Genevieve quickly bathed and dressed in her clothes before making her way down to the dining hall much quicker than the day before.
Barging through the doors, Genevieve halted in the middle of the dining room before staring right at Arathorn.
“I am ready for the next test, if you are done taking your meal, sir.”
“Genevieve, will you not have breakfast first,” the king interjected. “You will surely need your strength.”
“I have no appetite, sir, and I would like to begin as soon as your son is willing.”
“Very well,” Soliman answered, amused by her eagerness. “Arathorn, when you are ready,” the king motioned.
Amused and impressed, the well put together prince said, “I suppose it is time for your final test.”
“My final test? You said I would be here for three days; that there were three tests.”
“Yes. I lied,” the prince smiled, clearly amused. “Your second test was over when you decided to continue, despite yesterday’s difficulties. We had to make certain that you would be able to handle the stresses that come with the occupation, Genevieve. Now, you will have a simple, one question logic test. In combat, you will need more than physical strength, you will often need to outwit and outthink the enemy. Are you ready for the question, Genevieve?”
Still trying to wrap her head around the way the elves thought, she decided to just accept that the prince was a strange male and she would not understand him. Shaking her hair out of her face, she straightened up putting her shoulders back and her head up.
“Let’s hear it, then.”
“There is a land with books, but no libraries. And with mirrors but no reflections. What else is in this land and how do you know?”
Genevieve paused, thinking hard. It certainly did not help that Arathorn and King Soliman stared at her along with several guards. If she failed this test she would be sent home. One question that held her future in the balance. It was a carrot on a stick dangling in front of her face. She started to breathe heavily. Her eyes darting from side to side but not looking at anything. She thought she had an idea, but what if she was wrong. All she had was one chance. One chance to make her one dream come true.
“There are lollipops but no candy.”
“And how do you know?” the king encouraged her.
“Because,” Genevieve started. “Because all the things in the land have double letters.”
No one answered her and Genevieve kept her head down, afraid of rejection. Her heart pounded loudly, her chest barely being able to contain it. She gripped the edge of her seat until her knuckles turned white and held her breath waiting for some kind of answer.
“Yes,” smirked Arathorn, not being able to hide his amusement at her discomfort. “That was not so dreadful was it?”
Genevieve let out a dramatic sigh, trying to contain her overwhelming tears of happiness. Her heart slowed down to a normal rate but the rest of her beamed with happiness.
“Congratulations my dear,” the Soliman said. “But you will not be able to celebrate for long.”
Looking over at King Soliman, Genevieve, bewildered and taken aback, said, "What do you mean?"
"He means that you will be joining myself and a select few other elves to complete a ... mission of sorts," replies Arathorn, for his father. "We leave soon, Genevieve."
The young maiden never stopped to consider what would or could happen if she had passed the test. But the unknown did not scare her and she was ready to show the world exactly what a small town woman could do.
“Very well. What is our task then?” inquired Genevieve, looking unconcerned.
“You know the reason you are here. The reason we placed that announcement across the many kingdoms of man, yes?”
Looking at the king, she replied, “You had increasing attacks on your land. Someone was pillaging the small towns on the outskirts of your kingdom?” Genevieve knowledgeably recited, knowing she would have to fight whatever it was.
“That is correct, my child,” King Solimon answered. “It is a band of convicts, that are raping and murdering my people at the very edges of Trondellore,” the king said is tired, breathless voice. “It is led by an elf named Taron,” he continued. “He and his brother killed their parents and some of their extended family. They were caught and his brother, Lennor hanged. Taron escaped before we could execute him and now he is destroying other elves’ lives. You, Arathorn, and a few other elves will go find him and bring him back with his head on a stick. Have I been clear?” Soliman coldly declared.
Shocked by his sudden violent tone, Genevieve nodded.
Arathorn stepped in trying to dissipate the tension that radiated off of his father. He was a good king, and when something harmed his people, he could be merciless. Arathorn had vowed to his father in private to kill Taron and bring back his head to display in front of the castle, as a warning to those who dared to harm Trondellore.
“Come Genevieve. I will introduce you to the other elves accompanying us before our feast tonight. We leave tomorrow at dawn.”
Wordlessly, Genevieve followed. She wondered how the other elves would react to her joining them. They were probably much like Arathorn when she first met him, arrogant and closed-minded to change. Genevieve had spent her entire life proving herself to men and now to elves. These males would be no different. She tried not to jump to conclusions, as there was every possibility that they were much more willing to accept the idea of a woman than she assumed.
“Absolutely not. The idea is absurd!” exclaimed Aeron, an elf she would travel with, in response to hearing he would be traveling with a woman. Aron was of nobility but did not seem stuck up with the other elves that came from less fortunate backgrounds. He was tall, much like every other eld she had seen, and had dark brown hair that left loose curls down to his shoulders. He had a scruffy beard that surprised her since many elves shaved daily, but the look suited him.
“Aye. Women have no place on the battlefield, your highness. I ain’t traveling’ anywhere wit her,” agreed another elf named Iannor, who looked more similar to Arathorn than Aeron. His hair was blonde and he had high cheek bones, but his demeanor was not as educated, since he came from a farming family. She had been told that Iannor was very protective of his younger sisters, so he would most likely object to the idea of her, which she saw to be true.
The last elf, who had yet to say anything was named Rawon. He was the son of a well-respected blacksmith in Trondellore. With black hair and eyes so dark they almost matched, Rawon was an eerie mystery. He stood motionless and stoic in the corner of the room while Arathorn argued with Aeron and Iannor. Genevieve could not help but notice his simple black clothing, free of the embellishments that usually adorned elvish clothes. She watched his eyes take in the room and everyone in it and knew she was not hiding her stare, but she could not curb her curi His eyes suddenly darted up to meet her stare, which he held for a second but to Genevieve it felt much longer. He then pushed himself off of the all he was leaning against using his foot and opened his mouth to speak.
“Gentlemen,” Rawon began. “Who are we to question the King’s word? She passed the test the same way we all did and the king has commanded she come with us. Therefore, we have no choice but to obey.”
Aeron and Iannor grumbled their discontent but otherwise stayed quiet. Genevieve and Arathorn were quite surprised at Rawon’s ability to pacify the angry elves so quickly but both wanted to move on.
“Thank you Rawon. As for you all, we will feast tonight and then I suggest we all retire shortly thereafter, since we will depart at dawn,” stated Arathorn.
All of them sat for a while longer getting to know each other’s strengths and weakness but a majority of the time was spent listening to Iannor and Aeron talk of their feats. All the while, Genevieve tried to cast her eyes anywhere but at Rawon, but her brain was not cooperating and she found her gaze on Rawon’s pale face more than once. Little did she know, the Prince Arathorn noticed her behavior and found himself taking a dislike to Rawon for no explainable reason. Arathorn’s thoughts were interrupted by a servant ringing the dinner bell. With a heavy sigh he set off to the dining hall, ahead of the others without a glance back.
Genevieve and the elves ate quickly and heartedly before being urged to bed by King Soliman. However, she suspected that the elves were more interested in ...extracurricular activities, since it was their last night in Trondellore and none of them were married. With an amused shake of her head, she casually walked to her room, looking forward to the bed that was softer than clouds that awaited her. Already half asleep, she passed the door to her room and had to double back. Genevieve hurriedly changed into her nightgown before laying her head down to sleep. She was told she need not worry about packing, since the king had arranged clothes to be tailored and packed for her by the morning.
Genevieve woke to a dark room; the sun not yet ready to rise from mits comfortable slumber. She was exhausted and did not care for the new schedule the elves had her on. She stumbled out of her bed, shivering, missing the warmth of her blankets. Her head spun from drowsiness as she started to get dressed into a different variation of the same outfit she wore everyday-- a tunic and leggings. After lacing up her shoes she made her way to the dining hall. It looked exactly the same as it always had, not even a spoon out of place. Except this time the king was not there, and instead all four elves she would be travelling with were. She bid them a good morning but only Rawon had the decency to look up from his plate and reply. Genevieve had noticed the Arathorn was acting strangely. He had not said a word to her since introducing her to the other three and she was baffled. She thought he had finally started to warm up to her, but evidently she was incorrect. Taking a seat next to Rawon, she meagerly filled her plate with small scraps of food, mostly fruit, for she found herself not hungry and more preoccupied with her thoughts. After waiting for Aeron to ravage his ninth plate, Arathorn finally dragged him out of his seat. He showed them all the way to the stable barn where their horses awaited them. Genevieve spotted her black mare and smiled. She had almost forgotten that she had forfeited her horse to the elves when they first rescued and imprisoned her. Heavy satchels full of clothes and food hung from the horse’s back,weighing it down. SHe watched as everyone mounted their respective horses and quickly mounted hers. They followed Arathorn and were amazed as a crowd of people came into view, to see them off. A chorus of thank yous erupted when the elves of Trondellore saw their league of heroes. Some fanned over the prince and others booed Genevieve but she ignored them with ease.
Arathorn stopped and began to speak, hushing the crowd instantaneously, “My noble people, today my colleagues join together to fight against Taron and any others who dare to harm our land or its people. We depart from this land to defend it and its people. For Trondellore!” the elvish prince finished.
“For Trondellore!” the crowd bursted, screaming and laughing merrily. Arathorn motioned his horse to go forward and Genevieve and the others followed suit, in an orderly line. This was it; there was certainly no turning back now as she watched Trondellore fade into the distance.
Genevieve rode in silence listening, and occasionally laughing at Aeron’s vulgar and often obscene jokes, for over an hour. He and Iannor seemed to get along very well, laughing like best friends. Rawon rode slightly ahead of her in a strict posture and a unmoving face. Arathorn finally decided to slow down when they reached the forest Genevieve had crossed to get here.
The prince turned his horse to face them and said,” Alright. Taron is supposedly in the Dark Mountains. The only way to get there from Trondellore is through the forest.
“Supposedly?” Aeron asked bewildered. I would like a little more confidence than supposedly if we plan to kill the most wanted man in all of our land.
“My father got a tip from what he believes to be a reliable source. It is his instruction that we go there to find Taron.”
“And who was this reliable source?” questioned Rawon suspiciously.
Sighing loudly Arathorn answered hotly, “My father did not feel inclined to share.” Pulling out a map, the prince pointed, “Here is where we are now, we will cross the forest here and then make camp on the other side,” he declared, before rolling up the map and putting it away.
“You want us to go through the whole forest in a day? Arathorn that’s miles. You’ll kill us! We got to stop before then,” pouted Iannor.
“The forest is dangerous, Iannor. We can not stop until we are safely out of it. Goblins roam freely throughout it,” interjected Rawon sympathetically, before Arathorn could begin to talk.
Throwing Rawon a nasty look, Arathorn continued, “He is right. We must go through it quickly before attracting too many of them. Let us ride now and stop wasting the daylight we have.”
Genevieve knew how intense a goblin attack could be. Each one was stronger than it looked, and if many of them were to attack at once,well, that was a thought Genevieve did not want to entertain. They all rode in trepidation up to the forest,hesitating only slightly before cautiously riding into it. They could not urge their horses to go faster, for the knots of tree roots made it impossible for a straight path. The inside was just as dark as Genevieve remembered, especially since they could not see their entrance any longer. They had been riding for a small amount of minutes, each passing second the fear in each of them growing.
“Did you hear that?” Aeron whispered very seriously.
“Hear what?” Iannor cried softly.
Not bothering to be quiet Arathorn said, very alarmed, “They are here.”
And then, almost on cue, several goblins leaped from trees onto the backs of the league of heroes. A string of curse words were let out, that in any other situation, might have been comical. Genevieve blindly felt for her dagger while trying to keep the goblin on her from scratching her eyes. She felt the cool metal of the dagger and grasped it tightly before hurling it into the stomach of the goblin, being careful not to let go. The creature sputtered and died and Genevieve tossed its’ dead body onto the forest floor. Iannor was next to her and was being mauled by at least ten goblins. Genevieve, on instinct, started slashing throats and tossing them into a growing pile, where she had thrown the first. Somehow, through the chaos of the fight and the scratches and growling of the goblins, she heard Arathorn tell them to keep going. She signaled her horse and it blindly fought through the incoming goblins, and all the while Genevieve was still slaughtering goblins, now by twos. She ripped through their leathery flesh like paper. Rawon was expertly fighting off goblins with his sword which reminded Genevieve of her sword laying attached to her horse's back. Pausing to unsheath it, she looked around and noticed the goblins were retreating. Panting and covered in blood that was not hers, Genevieve looked back and gazed upon the trail of dead goblins she and the others have left. she turned to face the others and caught Arathorn’s eyes. He simply nodded but Genevieve could tell he was impressed with her skill.
No one said a word, still tense from the battle, and they all trekked on through the forest. Lost in her thoughts and not paying attention, the exit of the forest came into view much faster than she realized. Her body was heavy with fatigue and her eyes drooped with exhaustion, similar to the elves around her. Running on autopilot they all quickly set up camp while Arathron started a fire. They ate elvish bread for dinner, which was very filling before laying down on their bed rolls and staring at the stars. It was said that one bite could fill an entire stomach. Genevieve wasn’t convinced since Aeron and Iannor each ate six. The league of heroes all laid down and looked up at the endless stars.
“I’m impressed, Genevieve,” Rawon said, disrupting the heavy veil of silence that had cloaked them.
“Aye, as am I. You practically saved my life,” exclaimed Iannor, gratefulness spilling into his tone.
Aeron joked, “You almost killed as many as I did.”
Still smiling, Rawon said, someone should stay up to keep watch. We can alternate throughout the night. I have no objections having the first watch.”
“I will go second,” Genevieve volunteered.
And with that, all but Rawon laid down to sleep.
Genevieve woke to someone lightly shaking her and whispering her name. She was reluctant to open her eyes, but once she did, she saw Rawon. She supposed it was her turn for watch. Sitting up, she saw everyone else asleep and drowsily grabbed her sword that lay next to her and stand up.
Rawon also stood and whispered, “I don’t mind keeping you company, if you would like.”
“No, no. You should sleep. I will be fine. Honest.”
Ignoring her request he sat down on a log and faced toward the fire. Genevieve went to sit next to him, being careful to leave the appropriate amount of space between them, not wanting him to think they were more than friends.
“What is it you’re hiding?” he asked skeptically.
“Hiding? I don’t know what--”
“You’re a horrible liar.”
She sighed loudly, easily irritated by the elves seemingly unanimous trait of stubbornness. “I killed someone.”
Barking out a laugh he could not keep in, he smiled and looked in her direction. Once Rawon noticed she was not smiling back, his grin slipped into a look of astonishment. “What do you mean you’ve killed someone!” Rawon whispered loudly.
Rolling her eyes she said, “Well, they were alive, and because of my actions, they are no longer breathing.”
“They? They, as in, more than one. As in you killed more than one person.”
“Six?” He gaped. “Six!”
“Three hurt the woman I once considered a mother. The other three were their fathers.”
Stunned he said, “Why their fathers if it was their son's actions?” “Not that I'm justifying any of these murders,” he added.
“They raised them,” she replied simply.
Not giving him a chance to reply she said,“Rowan, you must be exhausted. You should sleep--”
Still trying to digest this new information, he replied, “Perhaps you're right. The prince would have my head if he knew I had given you my company.”
“What are you talking about?” scoffed Genevieve.
“I have seen his eyes linger on you for a second too long. Surely you have noticed his gaze upon your back?”
“I do not know what you’re insinuating, Rawon. But I can assure you --”
“Of course, Genevieve. I hate to be rude, but I think it would be best if I retired now. Goodnight.”
And with that he walked away leaving Genevieve flabbergasted. It certainly could not be true. The prince of Trondellore, looking at her? It was not but a week ago when he ridiculed her for trying to join their military. He probably stared at her with disgust, or a sense of responsibility to make sure she remained unharmed. She spent the rest of her time on watch second guessing her feelings and thoughts. She could feel a growing affection for the way he carried himself. His courage and honor were his best features, but she could not compete with the princesses that could offer him riches and prestige. Tired, she woke up Iannor, not wanting to be questioned about her strange demeanor. She laid down and went to sleep, subconsciously dreaming about her prince charming. However, none of them knew of the danger and heartbreak that laid ahead.
Rising up in the morning was not ideal. She could not bathe or have an elaborate breakfast. She settled for changing out of her dirty clothes and having more elvish bread. Her muscles ached from sleeping on the floor and she had dirt all over her. She knew she couldn’t complain though. This is what she signed up for when she tried to join the military. So far, her wishes came true. The few elves around her seemed to respect her and treat her as a n equal already. Hopefully, when she returned home after this, everyone would see her that way.
Rawon made small conversation with her, not mentioning the topic they had discussed last night, which she was grateful for. She had stolen looks at Arathorn every chance she had to see if he was looking at her like Rawon had said. Each time she felt her heart drop a little as she realized he wasn't. Packing her things up quickly to keep up with the others, she tried to keep her mind off of Arathorn and the way he seemed to float through the air so effortlessly compared to her awkward, jumbled movements.
His strong and deliberate voice broke her concentration. We are a little more than day away from the Dark Mountains. If we make good time today, we should be able to catch up with Taron sometime tomorrow.”
Everyone nodded their heads in acknowledgement and mounted their horses. The riding they did that day was mostly across a straight plain free of any obstacles. Aeron told more jokes and then all the males exchanged stories of their feats. Even Arathorn joined in, boasting of his accomplishments. Even though she did not know it, they were for Genevieve’s benefit. The prince had grown a fondness for her that he could not explain. But as they drew near to the base of the Dark Mountains, where Taron and his men were, he decided now was not the time to be having such frivolous thoughts. He pushed them aside and started to speak; his voice giving out strong commands.
“We have the element of surprise here, which is good since Taron’s men slightly outnumber us. I will go in first. Rawon and Iannor, you will cover me and when the coast is clear, Aeron and Genevieve will join us. Our objective is to kill as many of them as possible, but our priority is Taron. Is that understood?”
A chorus of yeses sounded before the prince continued. “Good. Now, these men are excellent marks, and many have made a career out of killing, so you all need to be careful. Are there any concerns?”
“Besides running into a cave with people trying to kill us? Nothing I can think of,” Genevieve replied sarcastically.
“Wait until they see us. A league or elves! And a woman, of course.” They’ll surely never know what hit them,” bragged Aeron.
“Alright, men. There is no time to waste. Quickly, let us get into our positions.”
And with that, Arathorn, Iannor and Rawon drew their weapons and ambushed the cave. There was spontaneous yelling and screams, but shortly thereafter was silence. Genevieve and Aeron looked at each other simultaneously, knowing something was wrong. Without a moment’s hesitation, the two ran into the cave, Aeron shooting arrows and Genevieve wielding her sword. The two took down three men each, before being ransacked from behind. The elves tied the two up and threw them in the corner with the other three. The heroes were certainly surprised, for this is not the way they imagined this fight going. These elves were not at all like any other elves Genevieve had seen. They lacked the grace and wisdom all the others seemed to posses.
A voice, cold yet charismatic interrupted her assessment.
“Oh, what a surprise,” the voice said cynically and dripping with sarcasm. “I’m honored. The prince and his minions came to pay me a visit. And of course we can’t forget about his whore,” Taron said, caressing the side of Genevieve's cheek.
“Go to hell,” replied Genevieve hotly, pausing between every word. Her heart was beating out of her chest and she prayed he voice did not come out shaky. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing she was afraid.
“Feisty. I can see why Arathorn adores you.”
Genevieve did not respond verbally, instead she spit in his direction. Taron stood and laughed and faced his men before turning around and sharply smacking her in the face, leaving behind a string and a red handprint.
“Don’t touch her, Taron,” warned Arathorn, even though he was not in a position to do anything.
“Or what?” Taron tested. “You’re trapped. And better yet, you’re all going to die. Isn’t that fun? Well probably not for you --”
Genevieve cut him off with her sarcastic tone, “You must love the sound of your own voice, you son of a whore.”
“You would do well to watch your tongue, girl. I’m sure there are things my men would love to do with you before we murder you,” he whispered threateningly in her ear.
She gave him a dirty look but said nothing.
“I think we should have a little fun, boys. I’m rather in the mood for a bonfire.,” Taron said. “Seeing as though they have killed some of our men, I suppose we’ll all have to go out to gather wood.” Turning to Genevieve and the other elves he smiled. “Don’t go anywhere while we’re gone.” Then his men gathered their weapons and followed Taron outside.
As soon as he and his men were out of distance, Iannor wailed, “We’re all going to die.”
“Shut up, you blubbering oaf,” said Arathorn.
“My dagger. It’s in my boot. I can’t reach it though, my hands are tied,” whispered Genevieve loudly.
Rawon told her to come over near him, since he was the closest. “I can wiggle it out of your boot, and then cut us all free.”
Genevieve scooted as awkwardly and quickly as she could, all the while listening to the others tell them to hurry up. Rawon expertly untied her shoe before picking up her dagger and began sawing away at the rope. Genevieve was impressed. She hadn’t been able to tie her shoe that fast looking at it, and Rawon could do it with his hands tied behind his back. Rawon cut the rope binding his feet and sprung to his feet before quickly untying all of them.
Footsteps approached quickly and they all knew they had to improvise with no weapons. Rawon tossed Genevieve her knife before lunging at the first elf that came through the entrance. The others followed suit, struggling against armed elves. One had Arathorn pinned on the floor and raised his sword above his head, ready to plunge it deep into Arathorn’s heart. Genevieve reacted swiftly, stabbing the elf in the back, effectively killing him. Arathorn picked up the man’s sword and began fighting another elf that had attached Rawon, but not before giving her a nod of thanks. She felt air whip past her head and whirled around seeing Taron holding a large stick, his head bleeding. She figured one of the others had attacked him when he walked through the entrance and stolen his sword. She still did not underestimate him though. He was the deadliest elf in all of Trondellore, and to think he would be harmless without his sword would be foolish. He bared his teeth at her, leaving no trace of his previously charismatic and confident attitude. All of that had been replaced with rage. He swung again, this time hitting her head and watching as she stumbled to the uneven cave floor. She got up, but not quickly enough to evade another blow to the head. She used her dagger to stab him in the lag and watched him cripple in pain. He stood shakily and charged towards her, tackling her to the ground. He felt her head bounce of the stone and her tunic tear in the back from being dragged. He punched her once, and then twice, leaving her with a broken nose. She swung with her dagger and left a deep cut above his eye before kneeing him in the stomach. He rolled over in pain but quickly recovered and got up. He charged at her again, this time pinning her to the wall before wrestling her for the dagger. Around this time the others had finished killing his men and Arathorn turned just in time to see Taron threateningly put her dagger to Genevieve’s throat.
Panting, and hurting from his wounds, taron started to speak. “You let me go, or I kill her.”
“How about I put this arrow through your skull?” Aeron questioned protectively.
“If you do, I fall onto her and stab her through the heart.”
Genevieve looked at the elves she had travelled with and wondered what in the hell they were hesitating for. “Aeron, do it. You cannot let him live! What are you doing? Stop hesitating.”
“Genevieve, he’ll kill you,” Iannor pouted confused and afraid.
Huffing her breath she responded, “And if you let him go, how many will die? More than just one.”
Laughing, Taron interjected, “Arathorn. Your whore has more courage than all of you put together. Would you risk the lives of several for one woman? A woman from the world of men, no less?”
All eyes were on Arathorn, waiting for his call. He was no sure he could do it. Logic told him that he should tell Aeron to take the shot but his heart told him something much different. Could he give the order that killed the woman he had grown so fond of? He already knew the answer.
“Let him go,” the prince replied defeated.
Taken aback, Genevieve cried, “No. Arathorn what are you doing?”
Taron started to bark with laughter. “You’re pathetic. All of you.”
Not satisfied to let it end this way, Genevieve grabbed the hand that was around her neck and took hold of the dagger, too quick for Taron to react to, and shoved it deep into his chest after standing up. She yanked it out, feeling the blood suction the weapon before stabbing him again. She pulled it out one last time, Taron’;s blood dripping from the metallic blade, and they all watched Taron clutch his chest and choke on his own blood. genevieve let the dagger clank to the floor.
“That was certainly interesting,” Rawon said shattering the tension.
“Damn right it was interesting,” shouted Aeron. “That was incredible.”
Genevieve left the cave, tired from her fight. The elves caught on and quickly wrapped Taron’s dead body and threw him onto Arathorn’s horse to take back to Trondellore. The league of heroes did not stop to rest this time, instead choosing to return home as soon as possible. They had no trouble in the forest, as if the creatures that dwelled there knew better than to disturb them. Finally, around sunset two days later, they returned to the castle of Trondellore. They almost fell off of their horses from exhaustion and were quickly taken to their rooms to rest. The next day they all slept much past their morning meals and Genevieve slept through her afternoon one as well. It did not bother her though, even though she had not eaten in days, she had still not found her appetite.
She stood on the balcony of the castle reveling in the clean clothes she wore, feeling the air dry her now washed hair. She had her eyes clothes but could still feel a presence behind her even though the person hadn’t made a sound. She opened her eyes and lazily turned to Arathorn. He smiled at her and brought out her dagger, that was now free of Taron’s blood.
“Here, Genevieve. I did not think you should part with it just yet. This weapon has served you well.”
Taking the weapon she responded with nothing but a genuine smile.
“Genevieve. I know that we have not known each other long. And I know that I have not been the kindest t you throughout the time that we have known each other. But the truth is,” Arathorn paused to get down on one knee, “I have grown to love you. And there would be no greater honor than if you were to be my queen, and someday, everyone else’s queen too.”
With tears in her eyes, Genevieve took hold of his outstretched hand. “Oh, Arathorn. I have grown to love you as well. And you will always hold a special place in my heart. But. But I can’t marry you. The entire reason I came to join your army was to escape marriage. I just feel like I finally have some of the freedoms that I’ve always wanted, and I can’t sacrifice them now, not when I’ve just tasted them. You are a prince. You need a wife that will make a queen someday, and I am not her. I want to fight, not host balls and parties. I am so sorry.”
Standing up, feeling foolish, but not letting go of her hand he replied heartbroken, “I understand Genevieve. I respect your decision and your reasoning, but I hope you do not think that I will give up hope. There is no other for me, there is only you, my love.”
And with that, he kissed her hand and let go, watching her go to her horse and ride off to her home through blurry eyes.