Home » Flash fiction » Short story snippet: “The girls in the wood.”

Short story snippet: “The girls in the wood.”

Slightly lame title, yes. This is a first, careful poke at a fantasy story idea that might turn into a full novel come this November. A kind of introduction piece for the main characters I intend to use; Rowan and Lily.

(Inspirational music: Celtic)

*

Rowan had been taught to fend for herself from a fairly young age. Her mother had died in childbed, while birthing her younger brother and after her little brother had been laid to rest not a fortnight afterwards it had been just her and her da’.

He had not taken well to the loss of Rowan’s mother or the loss of the babe, but he had at least had enough sense in between the times he’d drowned his sorrows in drink to teach her a thing or two.

“You are both son and daughter to me now, Rowan”, he’d said one of those evenings when he came home smelling of ale and sweat. “You will have to make me proud.”

She did her best, not to make him proud exactly, but because she could tell he was rapidly drinking himself into the same grave that had already swallowed her mother and brother and when that happened she wanted to be ready for it. She would be able to take care of herself.

Her father had been a member of the town watch and thus knew a thing or two about fighting. She took more easily to the bow than the sword though, something which seemed to displease her father some. But she had ample reason to stick to her strengths, the sword forced you to get up and close with your foe while the bow allowed you to attack from afar. It was wise to know how to handle a blade as well though, for arrows could run out.

She practiced as much as she could, especially on those morns that her father would spend in a stupor on his bed. Her aim improved and with it her confidence.

Then came that fateful day when her da’ did not come back after his nightly adventures. What came instead was a man demanding money owed to him by her da’, breaking into their house and when he saw Rowan he thought he might see his dept repaid by bedding Rowan.

That was the day when Rowan killed her first man.

After that she fled into the woods, taking only the necessities with her; her bow and quiver, the tools she’d need to make more arrows and other essential items which would keep her alive in the forest.

She made herself an outlaw that day by running away. It was possible they would have spared her and perhaps only imprisoned her, as she was fairly young still, but she was not to take any chances.

She took to her new status with surprising ease. The forest had been close to her home and was the place where she had played as a little girl, so it was no stranger to her. It did have some dangers though, but as long as she kept to the trees and night and kept a sharp eye out for animals large enough to think of her as a meal she made do.

Turned out, that the forest was the Lords property and only for him to hunt in, something she found out when she was caught skinning a deer she’d killed for supper. She had to watch forlornly as the soldiers took her dinner away. Hiding from humans became a survival tactic as well, for as it turned out, they could be just as bad as any wolf or bear. A man is the worst predator, especially when you are a girl, for there are some things that can be done to you that are just as bad as killing.

Rowan was no innocent, she was aware that there were women who made a living out of exploiting this foul hunger of men for the female body, spreading disease as they go. She pitied the women, but could understand why it was not an easy thing to step away from. What else did they have to survive in such a harsh world controlled by men but their own bodies?

Rowan grew older, convinced her outlook of a dog eat dog world being correct. Her survival was the most important, why should she spend energy protecting those who cannot protect themselves, not if that puts her in harm’s way as well?

That is why it was odd, the day she came upon the other girl in the tattered clothes of a brothel girl that she decided to help her.

She could see the two men on horseback chasing the girl down and it was an easy enough thing to send arrows through their throats, though her hand hesitated for a moment.

The girl, her blonde hair all in a mess about her head, gave her a confused look and drew a short dagger out of the bodice of her dress.

“Put that thing away”, Rowan had said. “I do not intend to harm you.”

The girl had relaxed and let her arm fall to her side.

“My name is Lily”, she’d said and from that moment, when the sun filtered through the trees to make a halo of molten gold out of Lily’s hair Rowan was utterly lost.

She helped the girl to her hiding place, up among the old oaks, too far from the sea to be threatened by the Lord’s shipwrights and after a good wash and a trim of Lily’s mess of hair she told her story.

She was the daughter of a brothel woman and when she’d become old enough her mother had begun to teach her the trade. For a time, Lily had been spared the worst of what women are made to do in such a place. She would be made to help other women, to serve wine and bring water. But soon enough her looks attracted attention from men and she was forced to take her first customer. Her mother consoled her afterwards and offered her a potion of herbs which would reduce the likelihood of Lily falling pregnant. She would need to remain pretty and young for as long as possible.

From that moment Lily had hated her mother and began to plan her escape. Last night had been the moment she’d waited for and she’d made it further than she could have hoped really until she was missed and they had men sent after her.

Now they’d surely look for her until she was found.

Lily looked close to tears as she hugged her legs to her chest.

“If you stay with me, they will not find you”, Rowan had surprised herself by saying.

And that’s how it had started.

Lily had remained with her, though it made it harder for Rowan to ply her trade of poaching and occasional thievery from careless travelers who left their things unattended to. She taught Lily how to defend herself with a blade and the girl was surprisingly good at it, for a brothel girl. Lily braided her blonde locks and twisted the braid about her head to keep it out of the way. Rowan found (well, stole) better clothing that would keep her better concealed in the forest greenery.

And Rowan found that there was something quite pleasant about having a warm body curled up next to you when you slept at night. When she deemed it too risky for the both of them to sleep at the same time she would always take the first watch so she would watch Lily sleep, folded up inside the blankets with her braid like a golden snake in the moonlight.

Lily did not mind the attention, the looks when she caught them. There were playful kisses; sisterly at first, but then there was something more in them. That’s when they knew it would always be the two of them, against all the others. Together they were strong and free.

There would be no Lord’s knights, no band of warriors who would be able to sniff them out in the woods. And if they should be caught one day, they would not go down without a fight.

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