Blood Ink Tattoos by Tony Lane

I saw a competition being run by Dark Fiction Magazine. Writing an epic fantasy in a thousand words sounded quite interesting so I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t get short-listed but I at least got a polite rejection email. I will definitely being checking the site on Wednesday to see what delights the winners produced. Below in my effort.

 

******

 

Being the only daughter of a clan chief is no fun. While my brothers get to mess about and prove themselves in battle I have to sit here and crochet with a bunch of weak-willed soppy idiots.

The seasons change, as do fortunes.

I glance up and see dragoons gallop past our tent towards the rear of our lines. The rest of the girls gasp and watch as the guard by our tent is run through. In an instant I am on my feet, reaching for the horn tied to the bloody belt of the fallen guard and sounding it.

In slow motion I watch my father turn and understand the threat. Swathes of my clan are cut down in a few heart beats. I make my decision, hitch up my skirts and retrieve a sword. I will not be the spoils of war for any man, my life is my own, and I choose revenge. Fear adds clarity of thought to my actions and I turn and face an onrushing outrider. I see his face twitch into a smile of pleasure, he sees some easy sport. I wait with the stillness of a hunter, but he sees only frozen prey.

His mistake.

Sliding past the expected strike allows me to slice open the horse, spilling my attacker. Enraged he charges.

His final mistake.

I stand there, waiting for him to make his move. He comes in hard and high, relying on power and momentum to cleave through my defence. He hasn’t fought a dancer before. I slide in under his guard close enough to breathe in his ear. With a two-handed lunge I drive the blade through him, and flow away. Before he can gather his wits I draw by belt knife and plunge it into his neck. Standing on his corpse I heave the sword free, looking for my next victim. I will not give in easily. I see a squad dismount and fan out, no longer seeing me as easy prey. Knowing that to be taken alive is to be defiled fills me with cold fury.

Suddenly a horse stops in front of the men, causing them to step back.

“I claim the girl, she is mine. Go find your own loot.”

The tall warrior leaps down and removes her cloak. The sight of a female warrior shocks me, especially one who obviously commands.

“So, my pretty, I have a choice for you”. She oozes with a confident ease that scares me to the core.

“I will not be a slave to an old hag like you”. My scorn is real, the words calculated to insult the stunning woman in front of me.

“Here is my offer. Fight me. Cut or knock me down and you go free. If I get you to admit defeat you agree to join me of your own free will.”

I stop, trying to understand. “I can survive?”

Grinning she loosens her neck muscles “I may take your head yet, if you are not worthy.”

I settle into first position as my dance instructor taught me, sword held loosely in my hand and pointing to the ground. As the blood drips into a widening pool I smile at the confused cant of the head my position elicits. Half closing my eyes I listen to the music in my head and wait for the moment. Slowly, almost sensuously we circle, mountain cats staking their territory. Then it is time. We both launch at each other. In a blur of motion I match fluid blows with the warrior in a form borne from years of dancing that comes from deep inside. My life is here and now, nothing else exists. In a dreamlike state I almost become one with my opponent until suddenly my world is flipped and I am on my back with a blade at my throat.

“Do you submit to my will and agree to be my ward and apprentice?”

“Apprentice?” I stammer.

She raises an eyebrow in a manner that suggests she will not ask again.

“I accept and pledge myself to you until my apprenticeship is complete”. Glancing up I can see the stunned crowds of warriors. I didn’t even realise we were being watched, let alone by so many. A cheer erupts and I raise my aching body from the ground.

“I am Queen Claritia, ruler of the Seven Tribes. You will address me as Preceptor. What is your name child?”

“Adela, Preceptor.”

“Good, you can obey. Keep this up and you may survive. Guards! Clear that tent. Captains! Take your tenth and secure the camp, we stay for three days.”

Things are moving so quickly, that numbly I follow Queen Claritia into the tent that used to be my father’s. I stand alone waiting for direction, for the first time taking in her beauty.

“Sit down child. We have many things to discuss. First though it is time for you to receive your first tattoo. Do you know about Living Tattoos?”

A gentle shake of my head is all I can manage as I pay attention to Queen Claritia’s tattoos that gently flex as she moves.

“This will be my first gift to you, a sign of my good intent. More than that, a reward for being the first person to provide me with sport for too long. Part of my being will be infused into my ink.”

“What design are you going to apply, and where Preceptor?”

“I could see the spirit of a Lynx as you fought, even now I can see the shape of it on your back. This will enhance your natural abilities, like the Lynx you will strike from the shadow with infinite patience.”

I didn’t scream, but I cried as I lay on the floor for hours. That was the start of my new life.

That was her mistake.

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