Nancy Jane Moore
What I Write
A section from my novel For the Good of the Realm, coming in 2021 from Aqueduct Press. In this scene, Anna d’Gart and her friend Asamir, both members of the Queen’s Guard, are traveling to a foreign country to glean information. Asamir is pretending to be an abbess, and the two are assisted by another guardswoman, Nicole, and Cecile, a page to the Queen.
The road through the forest was quite well kept for an area so devoid of people. The horses trotted happily along and they made good time. They might make the market town of Ruisseau by nightfall, if nothing untoward happened.
But, of course, the untoward was a common feature of their lives. They were less than ten miles from Ruisseau when they were attacked. As they traveled through an area where the trees formed a canopy over the road, two people dropped down. One landed astride one of the horses pulling the carriage, facing toward Nicole and Anna on the box. From the expression on his face, he had hit the horse’s backbone with a sensitive part of his anatomy, but he managed to wave a sword at them even though he was too far away to do anything with it. “Halt,” he squeaked.
The other thudded onto the roof of the carriage. Anna took up a staff with greater reach than a blade and knocked the man on the horse to the ground, where he barely managed to avoid cutting himself with his sword. As the one on the roof staggered to his feet, Nicole encouraged the horses to pick up their pace while Anna struck backwards with the end of the staff toward his midsection, collapsing him to his knees. As the carriage gained speed, he was swept off the roof by an overhanging branch.
It would have made a funny story, but for the two people on horseback who blocked their path, and the two archers on the ground, who were pointing arrows at Anna and Nicole. Nicole pulled up on the reins. Anna laid down her staff and kept her hands easy.
“Well met, mesdames,” said one of the riders. Both wore swords, though neither had unsheathed them. She opened her mouth to say more, but was distracted when both archers were hit by knives that flew out from the carriage. The one on the left side was hit on the hand that held his bow, so that he dropped it, sending his arrow wobbling into the ground. The other was struck in the shoulder; her arrow shot into the air. Nicole whipped the horses forward, the two on horseback veered to the side to keep from being run down, and Anna again wielded the staff, knocking the one who had spoken to the ground.
“Stop the carriage,” Anna said. She pulled out Nicole’s sword and handed it to the other woman, then jumped to the ground, drawing her own sword, and pointing it at the throat of the rider she had dehorsed. Cecile and Asamir descended from the carriage, robes thrown aside and swords in their hands. “I got her,” Cecile yelled. She was almost dancing with glee. The remaining rider decided retreat was in order and spurred his horse down the road.
The archers both lay in the road, moaning. The two bandits who had first jumped them were slowly getting to their feet fifty yards to the rear. They stared toward the scene at the carriage and began to limp into the forest. Nicole jumped to the ground, ran around to catch the horse of the leader, mounted quickly, and rode toward the two on foot. Within a minute she had them rounded up.
Asamir walked over to the archer she had hit with her knife and pulled it carelessly out of his hand. The archer howled.
“Get your knife,” Anna told Cecile. She wondered where the girl had learned to throw a knife with such accuracy, given that knife fighting had not been part of her training so far. Perhaps knife throwing had been one of her childhood hobbies, along with sneaking out at night.
Cecile copied Asamir’s moves in retrieving her knife. “What are we going to do with them?” she asked, standing over the archer with her sword at the bandit’s throat in imitation of Anna.
“We could let the young ones practice their sword cuts on them,” Asamir said. “It’s said that the best way to learn the art of the sword is to use it to cut human flesh.”
Cecile smiled at her archer and raised her sword.
“Mercy,” croaked the leader around the sword Anna held at her throat. “You have come to no harm. Let us go and we will trouble you no more.”
“But you will trouble the next person who travels this road,” Anna said.
“We are grievously injured,” the leader said. “We can do no harm to anyone.”
“You will heal,” Anna said. “More’s the pity.”
Nicole joined them with the other two. “We should take them into Ruisseau. Likely they are wanted by the authorities there.”
“No, no, please no,” said one of the two she herded. “We will be hanged.”
“And well you should be,” said Anna.
“It would be a lot of trouble to take them to Ruisseau,” Asamir said. “Why not do justice here?”
“Oh, please mesdames,” one of them cried, while Asamir’s prisoner said, “We should never have chosen you leader, Clotilde. First those two men get away from us and now we find we cannot even succeed against women of the cloth.”
“I doubt it is your leader,” Asamir said. “It appears that you are all incompetent at your trade. If we do not kill you, someone else will soon enough.”
Anna said, sharply, “What two men?” She pressed the point of her sword in the leader’s throat.
“Gentlemen, they looked like. Riding good horses, laughing and joking. Easy prey, they looked like and just the two.”
“Except they threw Albion into the trees and cut Aram so deep that he may not recover. And then rode on as if they had not exerted themselves at all. Clotilde said we should not go after them, that better pickings would come along.”
“How long ago was this?” Anna said.
“Describe these men.”
Their descriptions overlapped and were confused. Dark. No, one was fair. Dark, I say. A bay horse and a sorrel. No, it was black.
“The swords were by Ormont,” said one of the two Nicole held, a person who had not spoken before.
“How do you know of such swords?” Anna asked.
“My father was a swordsmith. He taught me the trade.”
“You should have kept at it. Even if you were a poor swordsmith, ’tis a better occupation than outlaw.”
“I would have, but for the fact that my father was murdered and our smithy taken from us by Greybonne after he became our governor.”
“None of us chose this life out of desire to rob,” said the woman under Anna’s sword. “The people here have been badly wronged by Greybonne, and we have few choices in making our way in the world.”
“Outlaws are a pox on society,” said Asamir.
Anna shook her head. “Some are, but if this one speaks truly, and I believe she does, we may share a common enemy. I have heard of this Greybonne.”
“Who is he then?” asked Asamir.
“Not now. Fine swords, you say.” She indicated Nicole’s prisoner. “You have the best eye. What else did you notice?”
This time the description was precise. Anna exchanged a look with Asamir. Roland and Jean-Paul, no doubt in their minds, though neither said so.
Anna took her sword from Clotilde’s throat. “Let them go.” She watched Clotilde climb to her feet, saw the injured manage to get on theirs. One of the others collected their horse.
“Go quickly, before we change our minds,” Anna said.
The outlaws, too damaged to go very fast, moved slowly but with great purpose back down the road.
“And find another profession,” Asamir shouted. “You are not cut out to be outlaws.”
|What I Write||
I write science fiction and fantasy at every length from flash fiction to novels. My reviews and essays appear regularly in the Cascadia Subduction Zone and I blog weekly with the Treehouse Writers. In addition to stories and essays, I’m working on a book on empowerment self defense.
Some of my short fiction is now being reprinted on Curious Fictions.
For the Good of the Realm (coming in 2021 from Aqueduct Press)
My Write-a-thon Goals
I’m working on a story that I’ve wanted to tell for more than twenty years. It never worked in shorter forms, so it has become a novel. As envisioned right now it has four sections and takes place over hundreds of years. I’ve got a rough draft of most of the first section and pieces of each of the other three, plus I know what each section is supposed to accomplish (which is as close as I get to an outline).
But it’s still a hot mess. My goal for the Write-a-thon is to make it less of a mess. I plan to come out with a functional first section and a better grasp on the next three parts.
Just send money to Clarion West.