Unknown

An interesting girl is born in a strange land, not knowning what she is, who she is and whether or not she has a life in the village which has shunned her all her life.

One day she makes a terrible mistake...

Then she's taken... and meets the lands king who is very interested in her.

But time is running out, and someone is out to get her.

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1. Chapter One

Chapter one

They had been tracking them for two days.

The hunter looked out of the corner of his eye at the girl who crouched beside him she wore a simple brown leather vest and leggings, her long pointed mobile ears routed as she heard things he could not, nose twitching she raised her head and sniffed the air then turned her feline face upon him

“The wind is about to change, we must go up higher ground or the prey we hunt will catch our scent” she said her voice was raspy but it had a musical quality to it, she trotted passed him keeping low to the ground and placing each pawed-feet on the forest floor with expert grace and care with her tail perfectly balanced as she moved up the forest-mountain terrain, narrow body frame slipping easily through

“Slow down!” he whispered as he hurried after her trying his best to even his footing a twig snapped under his foot and she whipped her head around glaring at him, the hunter cringed inwardly

“Sorry Forteé” he said as she strode away. By taking the detour both Forteé and the hunter spent an hour finding the fresh game trail etched into the landscape by the herd, Forteé knelt in a bed of trampled reed grass and scanned the tracks with a practiced eye. The sun was just peaking over the canopy, glazing the forest in its early morning light giving the air a warmer feel, Fortee suddenly stopped and pulled the man behind a large oak tree.

“Wha…”

“Shh!” she hissed and knocked an arrow the man copied face full of determination he slowly peered around the tree and saw the elk herd they were after perfectly camouflaged and grazing peacefully

“Why did you pull me here?” he asked his deep voice vibrating in his chest she rolled her big eyes and pointed a little way off the herd, the man focused spotting the sentry standing on a moss covered boulder scanning the opening

“Oh!” he said “ I never would have seen him” a musical twang resounded in the air and something darted passed his cheek the shot was true as it embedded itself in the sentry’s chest the beast yelped in pain and toppled head first over the rock landing with a heavy thud. 

The herd panicked, barking and braying and stampeded into the forests green depths, the girl ran forward with inhuman grace and speed to inspect her kill. The hunter followed her at a leisurely pace when he reached her he saw that the buck was a hearty size and would feed them for a month or more.

“That is a good kill” he praised “I wish I could have shot like that” and prodded the dead animal with his foot Forteé smiled up at him

“Thank you Azariel” she said sweetly and tied the legs of the animal together. Azariel watched as she lifted the heavy creature on her shoulder as if it weighed nothing

“You’ll have to carry this too; it’s a bit heavy” she said as she shifted its weight and knocked Azariel out of his thoughts “Of course. I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I let you”

As they walked back home Azariel carried her bow and quivers while Forteé still held the limp elk on her shoulders. They followed a worn out game trail down the sloping side of the mountain being careful not to fall and break their legs on the slipper rocks. An opening in the trees came into view and a little ways from the mountain was the village of Piddle Brook, a cluster of brown buildings. White smoke rose from the chimneys.  At this height, farms were just small square patches no bigger than the end of a person’s fingernail. The land around them was tan or sandy, where dead grass swayed in the wind.

The settlement was secluded and surrounded by unforgiving, beautiful land. Few travelled here except merchants, hunters and trappers. The village was composed of firm log buildings with low roofs–some thatched, others shingled. Smoke billowed from the chimneys, giving the air a woody smell. When they entered the village many people stopped what they were doing to look at the new arrives.

It has been Seventeen years to the day when Azariel found the strange cat-woman who had thrust her baby into his care and died leaving him to raise the strange alien child on his own. When he had first brought her into the village there was such an up roar the villagers threw stones at her, called her “devil child” and completely shunned her, the girl had cried her eyes out and wouldn’t have escaped with her life if it wasn’t for Azariel’s silver-tongue and good use of a sword.

“Azariel, Azariel!” called a female voice, a thin, fiery-haired woman bustled toward them through the stiff crowd she was slim, with slender, long legs, and gangly, thin arms that hang from her narrow shoulders. Her stomach is well muscled under the dress she wore, leading up to a thin neck that supported an oval, smooth face. She had sparkling blue eyes that rest above a petite nose, which is smattered with freckles. She had thin, deep red lips that rest between two slight dimples. She also had a thin, well rounded chin, and rosy cheeks. Her fiery-red hair hung down to her shoulders in small curls. When she reached them she was breathing heavily “Hi Azariel, I saw you come down the mountain and waited to greet you” she looked at Forteé

“Wow! That’s a big elk… how do you carry its weight” she exclaimed her eyes wide

“I am not human’” Forteé replied coldly and glaring at her

“Forteé!” scolded Azariel “don’t speak to her like that she has been good to us” Forteé’s ears flattened against her skull and she looked away sheepishly then suddenly dropped the bull off her shoulder

“Do what you have to do with that Elk” she said grabbed her bow and quiver  and stormed away tail wagging both adults stared at her as she marched away gracefully entering the green leafy mesh of the forest and disappearing like she was part of it,

“I am sorry about her Ismira, s-she…” he began but was cut off when Ismira put one of her fingers to his lips “it’s O.K. I know she feels shunned and isolated”

 “And so she should be!” shouted one of the villagers. Azariel swore softly and advanced toward the man

“Keep your toad infested words in your mouth!” he sneered the man looked like a rat as he smiled a yellow grin at him

“Or what? You goner hurt me” before Azariel could reach for his hunting knife a hulky man with a beard caught him by the shoulder

“Easy there lad, murder won’t fetch too kindly in this ‘ere villager” said the man in a rumble of a voice and gestured to the hunting knife half-drawn out of its sheath “ and besides I don’t want mine daughter seeing you kill a man, eh put away the weapon.” Azariel obeyed but still kept his eyes fixed on the man, the hulky man then grabbed the yellow teethed man and lifted up with both his hand she didn’t say anything just looked into his face until the man nodded understand in meaning and dropped him. When the rat faced man had left, he turned back to Azariel “you have a temper… control it, now let’s see this elk of yours then take it to the butcher” and walked pass him to looked at the dead beast “wow that is big, who shot it?”

“Forteé” stated Azariel proudly

“Of course” replied the man as he straightened his back “she seems to do all the shooting, you sure you not losing you touch” joked the man, Azariel smiled

“I am not Ulhart, because of what she is; she has better senses than we do”

“And what is she?” asked Ulhart

“I don’t know, her mother moved on before she could tell me, I don’t even think she could speak our language” replied Azariel, Ulhart nodded and tried to lift up the elk but failed Azariel and Ismira laughed together, both men helped each other lug the animal to the butchers. The butcher’s shop, a broad, thick-beamed building. Overhead, the chimney spewed black smoke. Azariel pushed the door open. The spacious room was warm and well lit by a fire snapping in a stone fireplace. A bare counter stretched across the far side of the room. Everything was clean. Behind the counter stood Carn the butcher.

He was a tall man; he wore a wool shirt and a long, bloodstained apron. An imposing collection of knives rested on the wall behind him. He had a pale, oval face, and his black eyes were suspicious. He polished the counter with a white cloth.

“Well what do have here” he said and eyed the elk “that’s a big catch, which of you shot it… the girl obviously” he said before Azariel could comply, the butcher had a nasal voice and thin lips.

“How much for it then?”

“It’s not for sale, I need you to cut it, and I am paying of course” the butcher blinked then nodded and dragged the beast into the back room with no effort at all. He returned a minute later “come back in an hour or two and it shall be ready” Ismira and Azariel left the Butchers to walk around the village whilst Ulhart had business elsewhere. They both stopped at the edge of town and Ismira rest her head on Azariel’s shoulder and asked,

“How was your day?”

“Tiring, we both got up early to hunt, so we wouldn’t have problems during the first month of winter”

  Ismira gazed up at him with intense eyes

“You do look tired” she said and cupped his face kissing him, lips brushing his for a brief moment “You have endured so much, taking care of a child you… we barely understand and a young age too without a wife for guidance.”

Azariel looked at her and kissed back softly saying “but I had you” and she smiled. Azariel never considered a wife after adopting Fortee, the villager’s dislike her with a passion and through her-him. Until Ismira started courting HIM! And her father Ulhart approved of the match after much debating on Ismira’s part

“She’s just like her mother” Ulhart had boomed when she had sternly said she would marry Azariel and no other. Azariel soon left her warm embrace and walked back to the butcher humming.

 

The meat slowed him down, but he was eager to be home, and renewed vigour filled his steps.  Near the end of his journey, he turned off the road, which continued south. A simple path led straight through waist-high grass and up a knoll, almost hidden by the shadows of protective mass of conifer trees and move deeper into them. He crested the hill and saw a gentle light shining from his home.

The house had a thatched roof and a brick chimney. The door was a dark brown wood with a small circular door knocker. Vines reached to the rounded thatched roof and made the cottage all the more beautiful. There were two windows at the front of the house that he could see. And three small windows upstairs equally spaced apart. It also had an enclosed porch. One side of the enclosed porch was filled with split wood, ready for the fire. A jumble of hunting tools cluttered the other side. Azariel saw movement from one of the top windows and then smoke started to rise from the chimney. When approaching the door he heard the lock click.

“Forteé it’s me” he said there was no sound “come on unlock the door, I am hungry” still nothing.

A small shutter slid back for a second then the sound of the lock being unlocked, and then the door swung inward. Forteé stood hand on hip her pupils as round dinner plates with slight smile on her face.

“You’re late” she stated and stepped aside, Azariel entered and she shut the door.

A lantern flickered on a wood table. Near a woodstove were rows of cooking utensils tacked onto the wall with homemade nails. A second door opened to the rest of the house. And a strong ladder led up to the attic, were Forteé slept. He set the pack down on the ground and sighed then started when Fortee’s face was in front of his, she sniffed him

“She kissed you and”-she sniffed him again-“you seem to want to mate with her” Azariel blushed red and stepped away from her

“I don’t and anyway how can you tell?” he protested Forteé gave him an ‘I am not stupid’ look

“I can smell it; I can smell that you like her and her you… I can smell many things and one is that you need a bath” she laughed and Azariel joined in. Forteé threw him fresh clothes and when he entered the wash room hot water was already in the wooden tub and a bar of soap sat on its edge, he looked back at Forteé and she smiled broadly showing her fangs he smiled back and shut the door. When he appeared an hour later a steaming bowl of porridge and bread was waiting for him, yet Forteé was nowhere to be seen. Azariel crept up the ladder leading to her loft and peered over. She was fast asleep. Her hands were tucked in her chest, body curled up in a ball and tail resting peacefully on her hip, Azariel went up the last few steps of the ladder then carefully placed her blanket over her, cupped her sleeping face before leaving taking care not to awake her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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