Saving Maltira Chapter One
A beautiful young lithe-looking woman seated on the bare ground ducked just in time as something solid whizzed past and over her head landing with a small thud some distance away. Startled, she whirled around to see three little and quite beautiful girls giggling. Her eyes fixated on them, she got up slowly and menacingly. Suddenly she made a short dash at the children who, in alarm, scurry off. With a small, satisfied smile, Zenobe returned to her previous pre-occupation; filing her double-edged sword.
As she worked, she allowed her mind to wander to her home . . . Agharea -a special testament to the ingenuity of her race. It was one of eight cities that made up Maltira, the great continent of the south.
Zenobe pursed her lips as she inspected her work. Rays from the sun bounced off the hard reinforced agharean steel which hadn’t tasted any blood since it was gifted to Zenobe by her brother seven years ago.
Agharea hadn't been to war in five hundred years, nevertheless Zenobe, as a warrior maiden, never let a week go by without caring for her weapons. Being born into a warrior family, her father had started training her to capture and tame wild horses when she was a toddler and her first brother had engaged her in training sessions with non-lethal weapons, where she learned how to wield a sword without cutting herself.
Zenobe chuckled as she recalled stumbling over her dress as a child feebly trying to raise a small wooden sword her brother had made especially for her. However, when he became immersed in the affairs of being the crown prince, he handed her over to Alec, a young, rather favored lieutenant in the king’s army. The relationship between them quickly grew into more than just mentor and student as they soon formed a blossoming friendship while he honed her skills and made her into an excellent swordswoman. The third child and only daughter of the famed but aged King Acha III; Zenobe felt a never-ending strong need to protect her family and people.
Startled out of her thoughts again, Zenobe looked up and around her with growing impatience when she saw a curly redhead. She smiled at the familiar sight and answered, “Behind you!”
The redhead turned her way to reveal piercing green eyes on a ruddy handsome face that brightened in a slow grin when he saw her. “I was thinking of sending out a search party.” His lean torso moved with fluid grace as he walked with long confident strides towards her.
“It’s good to see you too, Alec,” Zenobe said with a cheeky smile.
Alec stood over her for a while, and drank in the sight of her. Her long white hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun held in place by a single long pearl pin. She wore a plain cotton gray tunic over plain black slacks and she sat with her lithe long legs crossed under her.
"How are you?” Alec said as he sat on the bare ground beside her. Reaching over, he took her file from her. "I think that sword is sharp enough." He said with a lope sided grin.
Zenobe gave him a chastising look but chuckled despite her initial displeasure at being interrupted. She dropped her sword briefly and stretched her arms over her head, yawning. "What are you doing out here?” She asked as she picked up and carefully sheathed her sword.
Alec picked up a rock and tossed it absently. “I couldn’t find you in your quarters or anywhere near the palace, so I knew I’d find you here. Meanwhile, the festival of the white waters starts tomorrow." He looked over at her with feigned nonchalance. "Do you have your supplies ready?”
Zenobe blinked and stared at him blankly, looking lost for a moment, and then her eyes widened as the sudden realization hit her. “Oh! How could I forget that?! I love the festival of white waters." She groaned and plastered her palm to her face. “I only have a few hours to pack."
She hurriedly got up and started gathering her weapons while Alec laughed at her.
* * *
"Where have you been, Zen?"
Zenobe halted in her tracks muffling a groan that threatened to escape her clenched teeth, the cross tone of that voice told her that a reprimanding would soon follow. She slowly turned to face her mother.
The queen exuded grace and authority dressed in an embroidered sapphire blue chiffon gown that flowed to her ankles. Her golden tresses were woven around her head and held in place with jeweled pins. Zenobe felt like a peasant standing before her dressed as she was in dull uninteresting clothes.
She raised her chin defiantly and steadied her voice before she spoke –cowering before her mother right now would not help her in any way. “I was out by the medians, mother.”
“The medians?!” Her mother was appalled. "Why do you insist on staying away from society?”
“The medians are a good place to relax, mother, you should check it out sometime."
The queen looked at her only daughter and wondered what she had done to deserve this young woman who had no care for ladylike things. She wondered if she would ever get married. "Okay.” Her mother raised her hands in surrender. "I don't want to go into that now, have you packed for the festival?”
Zenobe winced. "No.”
"Ha!" Queen Lucia threw her hands up in exasperation before turning on her heel and walking away from her daughter with a stiff spine. She turned once to her daughter and said, "Do whatever you want Zen", and she was gone.
* * *
It was almost midday when Zenobe finally started to pack for the festival. She hurriedly stuffed a brown bag made from animal hide. She checked her golden hilt dagger and strapped it to her right booth. Her bow hung on a wall above her large bed and she stumbled as she reached up to grab it. She filled her quiver with arrows that had miraculously appeared at her door an hour ago, not that she didn’t know that a particular ruddy fellow was responsible for the convenient miracle. She made a mental note to thank him later. A pouch tied to her brown leather waist belt contained poisoned darts which she double-checked to ensure they would last her through the potentially dangerous three-day journey through the forest to the shores of the white waters.
Her door gave a barely audible creak and a little golden mane poked through. Her baby brother’s voice came through to her. “Can I come with you?”
Zenobe smiled at the handsome ten-year-old. “The festival of the white waters is for warriors, Ot.”
Otis came in and sat on her bed. He cradled his face. "I don't want to be a warrior; I was born to be an artist. But I love the art portrayed in the festival of the white waters. You know, I can immortalize your names in a poem if you let me come.”
Zenobe gave him a cynical look and picked up a gilded scabbard containing her agharean steel sword. “You’ve never been to one,” she said, “so how can you ‘love the art portrayed’?”
He flopped on the large bed, “the king has told me stories", he flipped over on his stomach, "and I've seen the carvings on the walls of the famed hall.”
Zenobe eyed her beautiful brother as she tied her sack then she leaned over and ruffled his golden hair. “I’ll take you when you learn to hold a dagger properly.”
"Ugh", Otis groaned “what do I need a dagger for when I have you? You're one living weapon. Besides, I despise daggers.”
Zenobe brightened. “A bow then?”
Otis glared at her. "I hate them even more!”
Zenobe sighed and sat beside her brother. "Why won't you look at weaponry as an art? You're an artist; consider it another branch of art to explore.”
Otis sighed and spoke to her with the patronizing patience of a father's reasoning with a slow child. "True art is never used to cause harm.”
Zenobe rolled her eyes, "I think you're wrong, scholar, let me give you a scenario. Imagine I catch”, she tapped her fingers on her chin, “. .Let's say Baumert, the wealthy merchant, in a compromising situation and I quickly capture the situation in a sketch and later use it to collect lots of money from him in exchange for destroying it, " she paused and looked pointedly at her little brother, "what is that called?"
"Blackmail", Otis answered without blinking.
"Good! In that case, have I not used art to cause harm?" Zenobe beamed at him, seemingly impressed with her logic.
Otis’ jaw dropped and he gaped at her, “You know what? Stick to warrior stuff. Analyzing the wisdom of the world is not for you”, he jumped down from the bed, "please bring me back a souvenir. One more thing. . ."
Zenobe looked at him expectantly.
"Your protector will be here for you soon.” He ran past the door just as one of Zenobe's booths hit the spot right beside his right shoulder.
"Are you ready?”
Zenobe smiled up at the handsome redhead. "I was born ready."