Chapter 1 - The Commander's Daughter
Thesos Illian is the Commander of the greatest army in all of Lordorthil and he is the Lord liege of Ilannda’s stronghold. He was trained from a young age to fight and survive in the gruelling mud of war, he is a warrior and when men see his flaming red hair across the battlefield, they tremble with fear. It is known that Thesos could fight six men at once, he could bring armies to heel with just a glare, his deep brown eyes of the Illian house command respect and fear.
But his deepest shame was that he has yet to father a son.
Thesos’s wife, the Lady Diana, has given him four children, with a fifth on the way; Thesos prays to the gods that it is a boy.
Thesos’s second child, is Thora, a maid of eight, she is stubborn and headstrong, not at all like her other sisters, who all show level heads and a measure of fear and respect for their father. Before Thora learnt how to walk, she learnt how to run, she would stand to her feet and then launch herself across the room, darting away from her mother and nursemaids, squealing with delight as she was inevitably captured.
Thesos’s other children all favour the Illian line, with wild red hair and deep stone eyes.
Thora, however, favours her mother’s look, with smooth, ink black hair and emerald eyes, Thesos knows that she will grow into beauty and will have a line of suitors by the age of ten.
Thora admires her father, she always has, she watches him when he is in the castle and when he is in his camp, she watches him lead his men with vigour and she wishes to be like him someday.
Thora wishes to be the Commander, she wants to fight and to go to war as a warrior by her father’s side.
But what little girl’s want is irrelevant in this world.
So Thora is taught to sew, she is taught to dance and sing and play the part of a pretty thing for some Lord to someday take and own.
Thora loves her mother. The Lady Diana is smart and cunning with a glare that is just as powerful as her husband’s, the people of Ilannda love her, they respect her rule when her husband is away fighting for their King; which is often.
The Lord and Lady of Ilannda raise their eldest daughter, Genorra, in the art of ruling the castle, for one day Genorra will sit on the high chair and take her seat at the king’s table as a liege Lady of Lordorthil.
It is known that the eldest will take the seat of the castle, but only the eldest son may take Command of Lordorthil’s army.
But Thesos has no sons yet, which gives Thora hope, a hope that one day, she will be Commander. In Thora’s mind, the army is rightfully hers, she is the second child of the Lord Commander.
Thesos constantly has to remind Thora that she is just a girl, and she will never lead.
“But what if you have no sons?” Thora asks, her emerald eyes wide.
“If I die without a son, then the army falls to your sister’s husband, until a time that her son, should she birth any, can take command,” her father tells her, not looking up from his desk where he is hunched over, scribbling on parchment something of importance.
“But her husband won’t be an Illian,” Thora pouts, “Only an Illian may lead the army.”
“Her future husband will take the Illian name out of respect for Genorra’s superiority,” Thesos sighs, for what feels like the hundredth time, he turns to his daughter and his eyes soften.
Thora’s bottom lip is pushed out in a pout, Thesos’s can see how his daughter longs to fight and to be the commander.
“Do not worry, my sweet,” Thesos says, he picks his daughter up and sits her on his lap, “One day you will marry a Lord, you will be Lady of his castle and bare sons for him.”
“I don’t want to be a lady,” Thora says, growing tired of her father’s plan, “I don’t want to bare sons, or any children.”
Thora squirms off her father’s lap and runs out of the room, not yet defeated by her father’s claim.
From that day on, she tortures her father with worry.
Little Thora picks fights with squires and stable boys, just so she can train herself, to learn what no one would teach her. Thora would come to dinner, with new scrapes and bruises, but she never told where she got them from.
It seemed like Thora was always covered in mud and her new dresses never lasted more than three days, often torn on branches when she’d climb, or ruined in the mud when she wrestled with the stable boys. One particular stable boy was very fond of her, young Ian, he loved playing with Lady Thora, and he wanted to be a warrior also.
Thora and Ian would hit at each other with broomsticks, they would chase each other around the yard for hours, throwing mud at each other and playing pretend.
“I am Sir Damarion,” Thora declares, lunging at Ian with her broomstick, “I will defeat you!”
“Not if I, Sir Narciss, defeat you first!” Ian laughs, lunging at Thora. They swing their sticks wildly at each other, they run out of the castle walls and fight in the mud ditch near the gates.
The children laugh, but then their laughter is cut off by another’s, a warrior from her father’s camp has found Thora and Ian playing together, he stands on the draw bridge, looking down on them.
“You two want to become knights!” the man roars with laughter, Thora looks up to the man and her heart sinks as she looks upon the man’s horrid face, “you two are too short to be knights; your biggest threat would be the underside of a man’s boot!”
Anger surges through Thora, she goes to step forward but Ian steps in front of her and holds up his broom bravely.
The man laughs at Ian, Ian races forward, he swings his broom, but the man bats Ian away as if he were nothing more than a fly.
Thora looks to her friend, knocked down and hurt, he hit his head on a rock and is now bleeding. Thora snaps the broom off its handle and then lets loose a battle cry as she charges the laughing man, she strikes the man’s knee and he groans in pain, once he is kneeling in front of Thora, she strikes him in the nose. Red blood sprays out and he shouts out a foul curse as he clutches his nose.
Thora looks back to Ian as the stable boy stands to his feet, his face pale.
“Watch out!” he warns, but it’s too late, Thora doesn’t see the man stand and she doesn’t see his hand arc towards her face.
The Knight slaps Thora on the cheek and sends her falling off of the bridge and back into the muddy ditch.
“Your father should’ve taught you not to hit bigger people,” the knight says as he stands over Thora who cradles her cheek.
Thora glares up at the man, he is hideous with dark red eyes and dirty white hair. He reaches for her, but Thora rolls away from the man’s hand and then stands up quickly, she brings her fist up between the knight’s legs and the man groans and falls to his knees in the dirt.
“You little cunt!” The man shouts, unsheathing his sword, “Bet you can’t dodge this!”
He stands and swings his sword at Thora, but she is a small girl, a small girl who is very quick on her feet, she is quick like the wind. Thora rolls and grabs a large stick from the ground, she stands how she has seen her father stand when he fights. She holds the stick in one hand and keeps her body sideways, creating a smaller target.
Thora moves quickly, she rolls her wrist as her father does, she hits the knight on the leg, then she spins and hit him on the back of his thigh, he stumbles and then turns to swipe his sword at Thora. She moves quickly, as if she were dancing, she keeps on her toes, changing direction at a moment’s notice. Thora whips the stick across the knight’s hip and he growls and then lunges forward, pointing his sword at Thora’s head.
Thora spins and when the knight passes her she slaps the stick across the man’s back and the knight swears as her stick breaks from the force of the blow. The man grins when he sees Thora’s stick lying in the dirt, he steadies himself and winds up for the killing blow.
“Now what are you going to do?” the man snarls.
Thora stands glued to the spot, her face pale and her heart racing, she closes her eyes and when she hears the whoosh of the knight’s sword cutting through the air she braces for death. But instead of the sword hitting her neck, the sword hits metal and the sound rings through the yard.
When Thora opens her eyes she sees her father standing in front of her with his sword locked with the knights.
“Commander!” the knight gasps, his eyes widen to be bigger than apples.
“You were about to strike my daughter,” Thesos glowers as he pushes the knight back.
“She provoked me, my Lord,” the man explains, dropping his sword.
“So you attacked a little girl?” Thesos questions, keeping his sword aimed at the knight’s chest, “A girl of eight, who was unarmed and untrained.”
“She had a stick!” the man argues pointing to Thora’s stick that lay broken in the dirt.
“And you had a sword; that is not a fair fight soldier!” Thesos shouts, the knight falls to the ground in fear, “You attacked my daughter, the lady of this castle, the daughter of the Lord you are sworn to serve. You, sir, are charged with treason, you intended to strike my daughters head from her shoulders. I will have no mercy on you.”
Thesos takes a step forward, the knight begins to cower, he begs for his life. But Thesos is not listening, instead, he looks back to Thora.
“Look away daughter,” he says and Thora obeys, she shuts her eyes and covers her ears with her hands. She can hear her heart beating loudly in her ears.
When her father touches her shoulder she uncovers her ears and opens her eyes. She sees the man’s body lying in the dirt, and his head is lying a meter away from his neck. Thora looks to the man’s head, his eyes open wide, frozen in horror, Thora finds the man’s face terrifying, not for the fact that he is dead, but it is his deep red eyes that scare her. The eyes stare right at her, as if cursing her.
As much as it scares Thora, she keeps her face hard as stone as her father steers her away from the body and into the castle. She passes her sister whose face is pale white, making her dark brown eyes stand out like stones on paper.
Thesos takes his daughters inside, Genorra follows closely behind him. He takes Thora up to her room and shuts the door behind them.
“Are you hurt?” he asks kneeling down to his daughter and looking over her face, Thora shakes her head and keeps her emerald eyes glued to the floor, Thesos sighs, “Gods, Thora, what were you thinking?”
“I’m sorry, father,” Thora cries, tears fall down her cheeks as she looks into her father’s eyes, “he was mean to me and it made me angry! He said that I can never be a knight because I am too small, he said that people will stand on me!”
“Thora,” her father sighs, wiping her tears, “Just because someone says mean things to you, doesn’t mean that you should start a fight with them,”
“I know,” she pouts, “but it just made me so mad, I want to be a warrior, father. I want to be a knight, I want to learn how to fight and protect the ones I love, like you and mother and my sisters.”
Thora’s father is speechless, he stares at his daughter in shock.
“What if I dressed like a boy?” she asks and Thesos is taken back, “then we could lie and say that I am your son, would you let me fight?”
Thesos sighs deeply and then stands to his feet.
“You are not a warrior, you are my daughter, a lady and you need to act like it,” Thesos says, tired of repeating himself.
“But I don’t want to be a Lady. I want to be-”
“Enough!” Thesos snaps, cutting Thora’s protest off, his voice is sharp and Thora looks to her feet as her father stands, “There will be no more talk of this, you are not, nor will you ever be a knight. Now you will stay in this room, with no supper to think about what you’ve done.
“Yes, father,” Thora mumbles her eyes still glued to the floor.
Downstairs Thesos greets his wife and children who all wait at the table for dinner. Then Thesos takes his seat at the head of the table servants bring out their meals.
“Where is Thora?” Diana asks her husband when he tells one of the servants to take Thora’s dinner back to the kitchens.
“She is in her room,” Thesos says with his mouth full of meat.
“Dear, I’d prefer it if you didn’t speak with food in your mouth,” Diana says, “Does Thora not want to eat?”
“She is being punished,” Thesos says and Diana rolls her eyes
“...Why?” she asks and Thesos looks to his wife and then to Genorra.
“I thought you would’ve heard what happened by now,” Thesos says looking back to Diana.
“Yes,” she agrees, putting her fork down, “I have already been told that Thora has beaten one of your knights, but I want to know why you have seen it fit to punish her by not allowing her to eat.”
“This is not a conversation to be had at dinner,” Thesos warns, Diana looks at her husband with one delicate eyebrow raised, but she does not pursue the matter.
Later that night when the children are all in bed, Diana confronts her husband again.
“I think you should teach the girls how to fight,” Diana says as she undresses
“Are you insane?” Thesos asks as he watches his wife dress in her nightgown, “They could get hurt, they are also Ladies, they do not fight, their mission is to keep the peace through marriage, as you did. It is their duty.”
“They also need to know how to defend themselves,” Diana argues, she stands at the window in their room, looking out to the woods past their castle, “You have many enemies in this word, what happens when one of them comes after our daughters? They need to know how to defend themselves, they won’t always have us around to protect them.”
Diana looks back to her husband as he lays in their bed, he stands and walks over to his wife as she wraps her arms around herself.
“You need to realise that soon men will be asking for our children’s hands in marriage, to keep the peace. One of them may even have to go as far as Carmanf, or to the island of Lucianti. My father taught me how to wield a sword for that same reason, they will be far away from us, in different kingdoms, in different castles. You won’t always be there to protect them. Teach them how to protect themselves.”
As Diana pleads with her husband a cool wind breezes through the window, making her shiver and step closer to her husband.
“You are right,” Thesos admits, he wraps one arm around his wife’s shoulder’s and one around her pregnant belly, “I wish it weren’t true, but it is. They need to know how to defend themselves.”
The next morning, Thesos wakes his daughters as the sun rises and makes all of them dress in pants and shirts, much to Genorra’s disappointment and Thora’s approval. Thesos leads his daughters through the castle, with a tight jaw and an uneasy mind.
“Where are we going?” Thora asks, walking in front of the others. Thesos stays silent and leads his daughters into the courtyard, where three of his soldiers are waiting.
“Father, what is going on?” Genorra asks.
“Your mother and I were talking last night,” Thesos explains, “And we have decided to train you all so that you can defend yourselves.”
Thora’s eyes light up with excitement.
“Seeing how I won’t always be here all the time to protect you, and soon some of you will be getting marriage proposals. Your mother and I have realised that you all will need to protect yourselves from future enemies.”
“So you are teaching us to fight?” Thora asks excitedly
“I am teaching you how to defend yourselves,” he corrects with a hard glare aimed at Thora, “Today I will be teaching you archery, I have enlisted the help of my best archers to help. Genorra, I will train you personally.”
Thora’s heart shatters, she wants her father’s attention; she wants to be like him, to know everything he knows.
Instead, she is stuck with a young man, a man of eighteen, he smiles too much.
The young man’s name is Fredrick from house Touls, Thora knows some names of the men in her father’s army, and Thesos speaks of Fredrick often. Thora’s father found Fredrick while on a mission to Sunu for the King, to strike down a rebel group, traitors to the crown. Fredrick showed Thesos how great of an archer he was and begged to join the army. He was fifteen when he joined.
And now, three years later, he stands in front of Thora, smiling like a fool.
“I don’t want you,” Thora grumbles.
“Thora,” Thesos calls, “Either you learn from Fredrick or you don’t learn at all.”
“Trust me, little lady,” Fredrick says kneeling down to Thora’s level, “I am a great archer, by the time I’m done, you’ll be able to shoot an arrow from three hundred yards away.”
Fredrick hands Thora a small bow. Thora takes the bow and then lines up with her target, a round bale of hay.
“Good stance,” Fredrick comments as he hands Thora an arrow, she takes the arrow and nocks it, she holds the bow and arrow how she has seen her father hold them. She looks at her target and takes a deep breath. She pulls the string back and points the arrow at the target.
She lets her arrow fly.
And it misses, it lands in front of the target in the dirt. Thora scrunches up her face and throws her bow to the ground.
“I can’t do it,” she says, turning to Fredrick, “I can’t.”
“Yes you can,” Fredrick says, “You are not going to be perfect on the first try.”
“But I have to be,” Thora says as tears spring to her eyes, “I have to be perfect, like father.”
“No one starts out perfect, Little Lady,” Fredrick says as he wipes Thora’s tears, “Let me help you.”
“Okay,” Thora says after a deep breath, Fredrick smiles as Thora picks up her bow.
“Now,” Fredrick starts, “When you let the arrow loose, did the string slap your arm?”
Thora nods her head and Fredrick pulls out an arm guard.
“This is to protect you from string burn,” he says slipping the proctor onto Thora’s right arm, he then puts a piece of leather on her left fingers, “This will help you protect your string fingers.”
“Alright, nock the arrow,” Fredrick says and Thora obeys, “Aim, look at your target Thora, see when your arrow has to go. Draw… and loose when you are ready.”
Thora takes a deep breath and then lets her arrow fly. Time seems to slow down as the arrow sails towards its target, Thora can hear her heart beat in her ears as the arrows cuts through the air and then into the target. It misses the center by a few inches. A smile spreads across Thora’s face as she looks to Fredrick who is also smiling.
“I did it!” Thora smiles and Fredrick laughs.
“You did brilliant, I’ll make an archer of you yet!” Fredrick praises, Thora looks for her father, but he is not looking at her. He is looking at Genorra’s target, which has three arrows near the center. Thora scowls as her father praises Genorra.
“Don’t think about her, Little Lady,” Fredrick whispers, “It doesn’t matter how good he thinks you are. Keep training, you are going to be a great archer.”
“Not as good as her,” Thora scowls as Genorra puts her fourth arrow into the target.
“Let’s keep going,” Fredrick says and Thora agrees, for the next hour Thora tries to hit the target, but she always misses, some land in the dirt, others fly over the target.
“Try this,” Fredrick says kneeling down to Thora, “Imagine that the target is someone that you need to kill, someone that you need to stop, imagine that they want to hurt you or your family.”
Thora’s stare hardens as she aims her arrow again, she fires quickly and the arrow sinks into the center, Thora grabs another arrow and fires immediately. The arrows speeds into the target and splits the other arrow in the center, Thora’s eyes widen and she looks to Fredrick whose mouth hangs open in silent awe.
“Was that good?” she asks and Fredrick looks to her in surprise.
“That was amazing!” Fredrick praises, Thora smiles widely as Fredrick look at the target and then back to Thora, “I’ve been trying to make a shot like that for years!”
Thora looks to her father, but again, he is not looking. Thora takes several steps back, hoping that the movement will catch her father’s eyes, she fires another arrow and the arrows split again. Fredrick is amazed, her father still doesn’t notice.
Fredrick clears Thora’s target as Thora takes fifteen paces back. She imagines the target as a wild deer grazing in the field, her stomach rumbles, she has to make this shot. She aims her bow and fires the arrow, it lands in the center, right where the deer’s heart would have been.
“You are amazing!” Fredrick says and Thora smiles, she has impressed him, he is one of her father’s most skilful archers and Thora has impressed him.
“That’s enough for today!” Thesos calls, Thora looks to him, expecting him to be pleased like Fredrick is. Thesos walks over to Thora’s other sisters and praises them for their hard work and for not giving up, but they never even hit their targets. Thora’s father compliments Genorra with a kiss on the forehead and tells her that she is a natural born archer, but he doesn’t even look at Thora’s target or her split arrows.
“Let’s go inside to breakfast,” Thesos says and Thora’s heart shatters.
‘Perhaps he did not see it,’ Thora thinks. She calls out to her father and then points to her target.
“A real knight does not seek approval, Thora,” Thesos scowls as he walks into the castle with her sisters.
“I’m not good enough,” Thora sighs, looking to her feet as her father leaves her behind.
“You are plenty good,” Fredrick says quietly as he puts his hand on Thora’s shoulder.
“Then how come he didn’t notice?” she asks as tears form in her eyes, “He didn’t say anything about it.”
She runs away from Fredrick, throwing her bow to the ground as she goes, she takes off her leather protectors and then wipes her tears hastily as she walks into the dining hall and takes a seat next to her mother.
“Thora,” Diana says noticing her daughter’s tears, “Is everything alright?”
Thora nods her head and begins to slowly pick at her food. Diana looks to her husband for an explanation, but Thesos does not look at his wife, instead, he looks to his plate as she shovels food into his mouth. Diana scowls, she knows her husband is up to something and Thora is paying for it.
“So how were the lessons?” Diana asks and Thesos finally looks up.
“The girls show potential,” he says and Diana notices Thora stop eating and sink in her chair, “Genorra is doing well, like she was born to be an archer. Imogen and Tasha have yet to hit the target, but I believe that they will get it soon.”
“And Thora?” Diana prompts.
“She is learning,” Thesos says, not look at his wife or his daughter.
“May I be excused?” Thora asks as she stands to her feet.
“But you’ve hardly touched your food,” Diana says, concerned for her daughter.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” she says as she walks out of the hall. Thora goes up to her room and then falls onto her bed. Why isn’t she good enough? She knows that she is better than Genorra, she could hit the center and split arrows.
“Maybe he wants more from me,” she mumbles to herself, she sits up in her bed and then takes a deep breath before going to her window.
Thora looks out to her father’s camp, just beyond the wall of their castle, it’s where her father’s soldiers stay. Their tents are set up in one big camp, it would look very intimidating to anyone hoping to break into the castle. Thora takes a deep breath and watches as the soldiers in her father’s army begin to practice and work.
“Thora?” her mother says knocking on the door.
“Come in,” Thora says and Diane opens the door and steps in.
“What happened?” Diana asks and Thora sighs and leans on her window, “Thora, talk to me.”
“He didn’t even notice,” Thora says, “He didn’t even look at my target. I thought he would be proud. Fredrick was.”
“Who is Fredrick?” Diane asks sitting down on Thora’s bed.
“My trainer,” Thora says turning to face her mother, “he is one of father’s best archers.”
“Thora, your father is a very peculiar man,” Diana says.
“I just don’t understand,” Thora says, sitting next to her mother, “I thought he would be proud, I just want this so bad.”
“The army,” Her mother states and Thora nods her head once.
Thora looks at her hands and she sighs.
“You are going to tell me that I can’t,” Thora says.
Diana runs a hand over her swelled belly as the child within stirs.
“You are a lady,” Diana says with a sigh, even though she wishes to comfort her daughter with false promises, “you cannot lead, your job is to secure our position, you will be married to a lord, to keep the peace between the kingdoms, just like I did. I married your father, even when I didn’t want to. I pleaded with my father, begged him to let me stay, but I was not the oldest, my brother got to stay in Tricca and rule there, and I had to come here and marry your father, I didn’t find it fair, but I am happy that I did. I realised what my purpose was and I followed my destiny.”
“My destiny is to lead,” Thora pleads, “It is my destiny to lead the army.”
“No,” Diana says, “Thora listen to me, it is not your destiny; you cannot get the army.”
“Then why are we doing this?!” Thora shouts, “Why is father making me know the weapons, why did you insist we do?!”
“Because when you go away, I cannot be with you, your father cannot be with you,” Diana explains, “You need to know how to protect yourself.”
Thora huffs and then walks out of her room, leaving her mother behind. She walks out into the courtyard where her father is teaching his other daughters how to shoot their arrows from several paces away.
“Where is Fredrick?” Thora asks after looking around.
“I told him to leave, once you didn’t show up,” Thesos says and Thora scowls and then walks out of the courtyard and then pass the walls of the castle, into her father’s camp.
Thora walks around the camp, weaving through the maze of tents and people. As she turns the corner she comes toe to toe with a giant, hulking man. Her heart leaps into her throat as the man crosses his arms over his bronze, bare chest, he takes a deep breath, sucking air into his lungs and at the same time scaring Thora pale.
“Um… do you know where Fredrick is?” she asks the towering man, who looks down at Thora like she is a piece of meat.
“Thora!” Fredrick says running up to Thora, “What are you doing out here?”
“Looking for you,” Thora says as she moves away from the scary man.
“Your father said that you weren’t coming back to training,” Fredrick says kneeling down to Thora, “You shouldn’t be out here.”
“It’s my father’s army,” Thora says, rolling her eyes, “I think I am pretty safe.”
“Not all men are as nice as me,” Fredrick says and Thora’s face goes pale, “some are here because they like to kill and they can’t do anything else. You need to be careful here.”
Thora looks around and sees several eyes on her.
“They wouldn’t hurt me, would they?” she asks, “I am their commander’s daughter.”
Fredrick stands and then leads Thora away from the campsite and towards the Werewood.
“I don’t want to go in there,” Thora says, stopping dead in her tracks as the woods loom over her.
“There is nothing to be afraid of in here,” Fredrick says with a warm smile that does not make her feel better.
“There are monsters in there,” Thora shivers, thinking of the dark stories her handmaiden would tell her, “Quillia says that there’s a monster in there, one that looks like a man but can change his form, the Rotsep.”
“The Rotsep is just a story,” Fredrick laughs, “A story to get young children to behave.”
The Rotsep is said to possess an innocent man, giving an outward appearance that is friendly and calm, but if the Rotsep is angered it will lash out. No one knows where the myth came from, it is said the first Lord of Ilannda rambled about it in fear.
The Rotsep hides in woods as a man, but as a beast, it tears through whole towns taking people and eating them.
No one knows what the monster looks like, it is said to have deep black eyes and rotting flesh. It is said that the monster comes out at night to hunt in the woods for fun, catching and eating little animals to satisfy its hunger.
Thora has been deathly afraid of the woods ever since hearing the story of the Rotsep.
“Would you like to practice more?” he asks as they walk into the courtyard, now deserted by Thora’s father and her sisters. Thora nods her head and Fredrick picks out a bow for her. For an hour and a half, Thora practices firing arrows into the center of the target, hitting the middle point every time. She splits a few arrows as well which always seems to make Fredrick smile and beam with pride.
“Let’s try something different,” Fredrick smiles, taking the bow from Thora and then handing her a knife from his side. Thora smiles up to Fredrick, not even her father can throw a knife into a target with exact precision.
Thora believes that if she can do this then maybe her father will be proud. She holds the knife loosely by the blade and aims for the target, but before Thora can throw the knife a cry echoes through the castle.
Her mother’s cry