A/N: Welcome to my latest novel, Deulce Bellum Inexpertis. (War is sweet to those who have never fought) I'm still trying to decide on the title, so thoughts on it would be great. (Like it? Hate it? Think it should change?) And, as always, I will return any reviews of a decent length (as in, more than one line.) Enjoy.
Arrow groaned, rolling her eyes as she watched the others fight. "Amateurs," she hissed, before darting forward. It was over in a flash. Her sword swept through the air until only she and her team were standing. She rounded on the others, three young men who had been so desperate to prove themselves. "You could have been killed," she growled, stepping up towards Calyx, the worst offender. "And what good would that have done, eh?" she snapped, watching him cower before her.
"Sorry, Arrow," he stuttered, scratching the back of his neck. "I panicked."
"Well next time, don't." She turned away from them, staring down at the floor. The six bandits lay in more than twelve parts, scattered around them. Blood stained her clothes and the clothes of the men, and as she walked forward, she found herself stepping through guts and flesh. "Disgusting," she muttered. "Clean it up, guys. Meet me back at camp."
With that, she strode away from them, heading out of the pass and towards their camp. Once there, she set up the fire quickly and sat beside it, arms wrapped around herself as she stared into its flames.
Men, she thought, are worth shit when it comes to fighting.
Arrow glanced behind her at the men, letting out a sigh as they joked and chatted to each other. She returned her attention to the road ahead, unable to resist the smile that appeared on her lips as they approached the city. She urged her horse forward, and as they grew closer she heard cheering.
She patted her stallion's neck, as they reached the wall. She glanced upwards at the guards, waiting for them to notice her.
Finally, they did.
"What's going on?" she cried, lifting a hand to shield her eyes against the sun.
"Some soldiers are at the castle," one explained. "It's the Lions, Arrow. They're doing a demonstration."
Arrow groaned. "Don't they ever have any actual fighting to do?"
The guard chuckled, "apparently not" before bringing the gate up. Arrow thanked him before leading the others inside, and they rode through the quiet, empty streets towards the castle. Eventually, she arrived and climbed off the horse, leaving the stallion with the stable boys.
"Stay here," she told Calyx and the others, before she carried on.
She entered the castle from the side, avoiding the grounds in which the Lions would be showing off. It was empty, and she strode through the quiet corridors knowing that in the walls, guards were hidden. They could never take too many risks. Eventually, she reached the balcony and pushed open the door, remaining behind until the woman on the balcony greeted her.
"Afternoon, Arrow," the woman sighed, gesturing for Arrow to approach.
She did so, leaning on the balcony and staring down at the grounds. In the shallows of the lake, the soldiers demonstrated their fighting techniques to the public. Young children were gathered at the water's edge, cheering them on, whilst adults hung back, watching eagerly. Arrow sighed.
"You still detest the Lions then, Arrow?"
"Of course," Arrow spat. "No offence, Your Majesty, but I cannot allow myself to like a group who refuse to allow a woman to join."
The Queen laughed, half-turning to the warrior. "Arrow, we have known each other since children. For the last time, do not call me Your Majesty."
Arrow grinned, before shrugging and casting her gaze down to the lake. "The bandits in the pass are dead."
"Good. Were the boys any help?"
"Quite frankly, Pine, no. They should not be fighters."
"Shame, because Calyx is going to be fighting alongside you, permanently."
"What!" she cried, jaw dropping. "Pine, no! He is the worst. He cannot fight and he makes simple mistakes that could get him and anyone around him killed."
"Then train him," Pine sighed, her attention returning to the soldiers. "Teach him, Arrow. He can learn a lot from you."
"But whether it sticks in his head is another matter."
Pine laughed, leaning across the balcony as her eyes locked on one of the Lions. "The blond, what do you think?"
"He fights clumsily," Arrow snapped.
"That's not what I mean, Arrow."
"He would make a pitiful King, if that's what you mean."
"Perhaps. Are you going to be joining us at the feast, tonight?"
"And celebrate a bunch of boys playing around with swords? I think not."
"Arrow..." Pine mused, her finger trailing along the balcony. "Why don't you go down there, show them your skills?"
"You wish me to, Your Majesty?"
"I would like to see it, yes. We both have enough stick from the men about what we do...perhaps you can get them to shut the hell up, as I believe the saying goes?"
Arrow bowed her head. "Of course." With that, she turned and made her way back through the corridors.
It didn't take her long to get back to the stables. She gave the boys a curt nod and seconds later they were following her, trying to keep up with her long strides. She glanced behind as they approached the lake, and saw Pine still on the balcony, eyes fixed on the Lions. Arrow raised a hand to the Queen, and in return the Queen gave her a curt nod.
She approached the water's edge, gesturing for Calyx and the others to hang back. They stayed at the back of the crowd as she pushed through. The few citizens who recognised her nudged their neighbours, whispering "This is going to be a good show" as she stumbled right up to the edge of the lake.
One of the Lions turned to her, a wicked grin stretching across his face.
"Come to watch us up close, darling?"
"Close enough to hit you, honey," she snapped back, matching his grin. He gazed at her, confused, and reacted just in time as she brought out her sword and swiped it towards him.
In a flash, he brought his own sword up and blocked her blow. The people around them cheered, and the Lions, split off into pairs to demonstrate fighting techniques, stopped, turning to look at the new arrival.
She managed to push the Lion back, causing him to stumble more than once. Water splashed over her legs, as they fought. The Lion grunted and groaned as he tried to push her back, failing.
"Come on, Parker!" one of the Lions cried. "She's just a girl."
Arrow whirled around, slashing the sword towards him. He stepped back, eyebrows shooting up, as she turned again and blocked yet another blow. The Lion growled as he stepped towards her, wading through the shallow water as he went for a stab. She laughed as she blocked.
Attack. Block. Attack. Block.
She slid to the left, further into the water and away from the crowd. That was when she spotted it. In the deeper waters, swimming just under the surface, was a long, dark shape. She gulped, bringing the sword up and stopping the Lion's weapon. He cried out in frustration, and with his cry, the creature broke the surface and reared up.
"Out of the water!" Arrow yelled. "Get away!" she snapped, turning to face the serpent. A few of the Lions ran towards her, standing in formation around her as the snake lunged towards her. She stabbed in the air, but it dodged, turning its body and going for one of the men. Parker, the one she had been fighting, jumped, falling in the water and turning his body over just in time to see the snake going for him, mouth wide open.
Arrow ran towards him, leaping into the air and landing on the neck of the creature. She stabbed downwards, slipping and throwing her arms around it as it flew backwards, rearing up.
It twisted its head, trying to snap at her.
Her sword fell.
"Calyx!" she shouted, seeing the young man standing near the water's edge, staring in shock at the snake and the Lions now trying to hit it. "I need a sword!"
He nodded, withdrew his sword from its sheath and threw it up.
She caught it, catching Parker's eye and nodding towards the serpent's tail. Parker leapt to his feet, skidding through the water as mud rose up around him. Arrow clung on tighter, holding the sword carefully, as the snake dived forward.
Arrow squeezed her eyes shut as the jaw clamped around one of the Lions. His dying screams echoed around the grounds, as those still left in the area turned away. The rest of the Lions suddenly snapped into action. Parker skid through the mud, digging his sword into the snake's tail. Arrow raised her own sword, gripping onto the creature's neck with her legs. She brought the sword down.
The snake reared back, letting out a cry as Arrow leapt off. It crashed down, water flying everywhere, as Arrow rolled over and pulled herself up. Both she, Parker and the majority of Lions were covered in blood.
She retrieved her sword, pulling Caylx's out of the snake and handing it to him. He held it at arm's length as Arrow half-turned to look at the Lions. "Pathetic," she hissed, before storming up to the castle.
Ten years before, in the Southern lands, the tribe of Ares were moving north. Not too far north, but just far enough that they could have a plentiful supply of food and water. There were seven families in all in the tribe; all were related in some way or another. It was another reason for the migration; the young girls were growing up, and they needed to meet with another tribe for these girls to marry.
The Chief raised his hand, stopping the group. Near the back, a young girl leant her head out of the wagon they'd been travelling in, fixing her eyes on the strong figure of her father. "Da?" she asked, leaning further. "What's going on?"
"Get back inside, Rayne," he replied, hands shaking as he tightly held the reigns of the horse. "Get back inside," he repeated, but Rayne never was one to listen to the words of her father.
She glanced towards her young brother, asleep now, his snores filling the wagon. The twelve year old bit her lip, as she inched back in and planned how to find out what was happening.
Her brother slept on soundly, and she wondered if she would be sent off to marry someone in another tribe. For some reason, there had been few males born around the same time as Rayne and, as a result, there was a high number of girls in the tribe. Agreements had been drawn between the Ares tribe and the Athena tribe in the north, that some of the girls who married Athena men would stay north. The others, with their new husbands, would return to the Ares tribe.
Now, the idea suddenly hit Rayne that she might be one of the ones destined to stay north.
She scrambled out of the wagon, moving around the back. She crouched low, keeping out of sight of her father, and inched forward. His attention was elsewhere, and he didn't see her sneak towards the front of the travelling line. She glanced up towards the Chief, who was staring off towards the hills.
"Chief?" she whispered. The man's head snapped around to stare at her.
"Rayne, get back to your fa..."
Before he could finish his sentence, an arrow had pierced his back. Rayne screamed as blood fell from his mouth, and suddenly everyone else was scrambling around her. Strong arms yanked her upwards as she screamed and cried. Arrows flew everywhere, some catching members of the Ares tribe in the chest, others implanting themselves in heads.
Rayne saw her father fall; she saw her brother leave the wagon and then he was nothing more than a dead body in the desert.
She screamed and cried and fought against whoever was holding her, but the man fled, running quickly away from the scene with the young girl in his arms.
Rayne screamed as her body hit the floor. She scrambled up, wiping sweat from her forehead as she glanced around. A figure appeared in the doorway – tall, large and protective. He stared at Rayne, a candle in his hand.
"Rayne," he gasped. "You screamed – what happened?"
"I fell out of bed," she mumbled, sitting on the bed and putting her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, Uncle. I had the dream again."
Her uncle sighed and crossed the room towards her, putting a hand on her back and rubbing softly. "Your family are at peace, Rayne. They have been for years."
"I know. But...for some reason the gods like to play to me over and over again, every other night if not everyone."
He kissed the top of her forehead, before smiling gently at her. "My brother – your father – used to be very patient with me, when I had nightmares as a child. He used to sit with me all night, making sure I remained asleep. Would you like me to do the same?"
"No. I screamed because I fell out of bed, Uncle. I am fine."
"If you are sure. Well, we are near the Hades tribe. They will be able to give us any food and provisions we need."
She scoffed, standing up and crossing the room. "And a young man, too, if we require it. A young man to help me bring back the great tribe of Ares. Am I right, Uncle?"
"I have never forced you into anything."
"But it is what you want, is it not?"
She sighed, bowing her head. "I do not mean to take it out on you, Uncle. I know you, too, seek a bride but..." She paused, shaking her head. "We have tried for ten years, Uncle."
He nodded, before approaching her and putting a hand on her shoulder. "We find them, we will find those who are willing to help us. I promise."
She nodded, biting her bottom lip as she tilted her head forward, trying to push the images of her dead family away from her mind.