Category Archives: Monthly Riff

Fire-Rider: Jag Bova and Lieze

The latest free story in the Fire-Rider book series continues here.This riff continues the story of Lieze Mayreth of Rozebek and her husband Jag Bova, late dubbed “Snow-Killer” for his heroics after the Battle of Loma Alda.

At last the war bands have returned from their long and heartbreaking summer warfare. Their waiting family and friends greet those who have survived with joy.

Shortly after midday, Jag Bova’s bands of weary, road-worn men crested the pass through the low hills that rose above Rozebek Town. Larks whistled in the hilltop forest, and a squirrel, still busy stashing acorns and pine nuts for winter, chattered as the men hiked past them. A hawk drifted overhead, looking for all the world like idle curiosity brought it to watching the procession pass.

Idyllic village ( Likavka ) in Mountains in beautiful region Liptov. Slovakia - Europe

The autumn afternoon was clear and crisp beneath a sapphire sky, unblemished but for a few distant, fluffy clouds. Below lay farmlands, pasture, and the town of Rozebek, dominated by its mayr’s keep. In the orchards, apple and walnut trees had already dropped their leaves, but here and there a maple or a pear clung to its scarlet and gold.

When he saw the village spread out before them, Bova felt his heart rise. Narrow lanes led out from the town plaza like spokes on a wagon wheel, the spaces between them filled with stone houses built four and six and sometimes even eight to a compound.   Huddled together around common walls, the dwellings gained a little extra shelter from winter’s deepest cold. And there, wrapped within the village, stood his own home, Rozebek Keep. Its high defensive fortifications were built of local gray stone, as was his private family compound’s tower that rose above the stokhed walls.

Alone among the Okan aristocracy’s fortifications, the Mayr of Rozebek’s keep formed a part of its village. The people’s homes came right up to the moat, making the keep an island in a small lake of human activity. Usually a kubnath’s or a mayr’s keep and dwelling stood atop a low rise anywhere from half a mile to two miles from its village. This difference pleased Jag Bova. If anyone disapproved, they hadn’t ventured to complain.

Rozebek keepA fieldstone watch tower stood at the height of the pass. Three villagers came out of the door at ground level to greet the arriving fighters. The first, a wiry youth barely more than a boy and not quite a young man, fairly bounced up the road.

“Mister Mayr! Mr. Samel! God bless you.” He bounded over and shook first Bova’s hand, then Samel’s.

The men at the front of the line pushed forward, pleased to see the first of their kin and friends that they’d laid eyes on in five months.

“Would that be Rand the cooper’s boy?” Someone said. Another laughed in unfeigned delight. “You’ve grown a good three inches!”

Shortly behind the lad came a tall, lank, and wrinkled woman clad in rough-cut homespun pants and shirt, her grey hair straggling out beneath a knitted woolen cap. She advanced to Bova with arms extended and wrapped him in a hearty hug.

“Thank God you’re home,” she exclaimed. “Thank God!”

“Sister Belindeh,” Samel greeted her, accepting the next round of handshakes and crushes. “You’ll be doing guard duty now?”

An even more grizzled man hobbled after her, supported by a walking stick. “Where have you been, boys?” the old fellow exclaimed. “We’ve been waiting dinner for you so long the food’s gone cold!”

A ripple of subdued laughter murmured through the men within earshot.

“Where are my brothers?” Rand asked. “Are they with you, mayr?”

“Sure they are, lad” Bova replied. “They’ll be down the line a ways.” Rand made his way up the trail to find his returning relatives.

“And Willard? Did you bring my grandson back to me, Jag Bova?” Belindeh asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bova said. “And hale and hearty he is. In fact, yonder he comes—in search of you, I reckon.”

Belindeh and Willard spotted each other in the same moment and fell into each others’ arms.

Samel glanced at Bova and said quietly, “Thank God for small favors.”

“Getting all three of them back here alive and in one piece is more than a small favor, Sam.”

His monja nodded and smiled grimly.

“Tough campaign, was it?” the old man asked, overhearing this.

“Yessir, Mister Cammish,” Bova agreed. “That it was. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough. And all winter long, I expect.”

“I’m sorry to learn that, Jag Bova,” said Cammish. “How many men did we lose? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“Thirty-eight. That’s the ones who made it into the other world. More are coming home wounded. They’ll take some time to heal. Those that ever do.”

Cammish fell silent briefly, staring toward the town below. Then he said, “The boy has already ridden into town on his mule, a’spreadin’ the word that you men be climbing up the hill. Then he come back to greet you all, looking for his brothers. Listen to that racket down there!”

A distant sound wafted up the hillside: music. Horns and fiddles, drums and tambourines, whistles and ghitters and recorders and pipes rose a merry clamor down in the village.

Semel, Bova’s monja, grinned when he heard the racket. “The party’s started without us,” he said.

One of the other men overheard and added, “Let’s get our asses down there! Don’t want to miss any more than we have to.”

“Little Mama’s a-callin’,” another voice exclaimed. Here and there, men broke out of line and started to jog ahead.

“Get a grip on those clowns,” Bova said to Semel.

“Whoa! Settle down there!” Semel shouted. A few marchers, rowdy and not inclined to settle anywhere just then, gave him puzzled glances.

“Now listen to that, boys!” Bova hollered. His large presence got immediate attention. “The folks have brought out the band for us. What d’you say we return the favor?”

“What’ve you got in mind, Mister Mayr?” a grizzled fellow on the sidelines hollered back.

“Let’s play them a tune or three of our own,” Bova replied. “Let’s us get ourselves lined up here like respectable gents, and Semel, get the pipers and the drummers and let’s pipe the men to town.”

A ripple of laughter washed over the company closest to Bova and Semel. “That’ll give the girls something to remember through the winter nights,” someone remarked.

“That it will,” Bova said. “Into columns! Where are those pipers?”

Piper Depositphotos_78899056_m-2015The bands began to fall into rough columns, and shortly two men with small bagpipes, a couple of drummers, and a fife player gathered at the head of the company. Meanwhile, Bova lifted bags of gear off his charger, loaded them on a pack pony, and climbed into the saddle. Semel scouted up company’s banner, unfurled it from its pole, and handed it up to Bova, who secured it to its saddle. It waved cheerfully in the crystalline air.

The pipers and fifer struck up a bright marching tune, and the men hiked down the hill, more spring in their step than had been seen for some time. The wounded rode in the supply wagons, a few, those who could sit up and speak, chatting with their comrades on foot. The mood overall: celebratory.


As the troops approached Rozebek Town, villagers poured out onto the road, where they danced to the sound of fiddles, drums, and horns. Women, children, and old men streamed into the band of weary, rag-tag men. Shouts of joy and relief rang out when families and loved ones found each other, but a few called out names repeatedly and got no response.

Soon enough, Bova found Lieze, Ada, and his three children proceeding up the road amid a knot of followers and friends. The instant Lieze spotted Bova, she ran through the crowd to meet him.

“Daddy!” Deke shouted. Ada grabbed him and Mandeh, who was about to bound after her brother. “Wait, darlings. Let Mama and Papa say hello to each other.”

Lieze wrapped her arms around her massive husband. He sank his face in her long chestnut hair, which she had allowed to flow loose for the occasion.

“Oh, my God, Lieze,” he whispered into her ear. “I’ve missed you so.”

She hugged him tightly. “We’ve all been worried about you. Thank God you’re home and safe.”

He kissed her face delicately, then planted a passionate kiss on her lips. Nearby several men cheered. Lieze blushed and looked into his blue eyes. Bova took her hands and spun her about in an exuberant circle.

Ada approached with the three children at her side. “Welcome home, son,” she said.

Bova grinned and hugged his children’s grandmother. The three kids could no longer restrain themselves. Deke leapt on his father, who lifted him, laughing, into the air. Then Bova set him on the ground and greeted each child with a hug and a kiss. Mandeh and Deke chattered excitedly while Erysa looked on, dignified.

The party of townspeople drifted toward the town’s central park and cobbled square, where the music and dancing went on. After some time, Lieze began to lobby to return to the keep.

“We have a grand dinner for you, Bova,” she said. “A lovely lamb, and your favorite sweet winter squash, and two grand pecan pies. And we have so much to catch up on. Wait till you hear what the kids have been doing all summer!”

He smiled in frank pleasure. “What’s this son of mine been up to now?”

Ada said, “He’s started to learn his fencing. Lieze decided he’s getting big enough to start some lessons, so old Mister Cal has been coming to the keep every few days to work with him. Cal has been helping Mandeh and Erysa practice with the bow, too.”

“Is that so?” said Bova. “Well, those two could shoot a walnut off a tree. And as for you, Mister Deke, can you hold your own against this Mandeh?”

“O’course I can,” Deke replied. “I’m so good now, I bet I can beat you, Dad!”

Several bystanders laughed. Mandeh rolled her eyes heavenward.

“So!” Bova returned. “We’ll have to see who’s the better man.”

“Erysa brought down her first deer this summer,” Ada continued. “A fine young buck, enough to feed us all for three weeks!”

“You did? All by yourself?”

“Well, I was hunting with Mister Cal and Nida,” she said, referring one of her coach’s grand-daughters. “But yes, I shot it.”

“That’s an accomplishment,” said Bova. “Good work, big sister!”

Erysa smiled and executed an exaggerated but graceful bow.

“Why don’t we take you home now, Jag Bova?” said Lieze. “It’s time for you to sit down and put your feet up on your hearth.”

“I’m afraid we have some work to do first. “

“What can’t wait until tomorrow?” she asked.

“I need to talk with the families of each of the men who died while we were out this summer. There were almost forty.”

“Oh, dear God,” Lieze gasped.

“You all go on home. I’ll be along after I’ve talked to their folks.”

“Bova, you can’t track down forty families and sit down and talk with each one of them, not this afternoon. It’ll take you two or three days to do that.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. But I feel like I should try.”

“Dear,” Ada suggested, “don’t try to talk to them individually now. Most of them must have found out already. So why not gather them all in one place, pay respects to their dead, say a prayer, and then over the next few days you can go around to their homes.”

Bova hesitated. “Well, I…”

“That’s a good idea, Bova,” Lieze said. “It’ll let you show your respect now, and then give you more time to spend with each family. Later.”

Church Depositphotos_4477074_m-2015

More free previews of Fire-Rider coming attractions:

Escape into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North

Kay’s Regrets

Workload here has defied belief. That’s a good thing, I guess, because it’s quickly refilling the corporate coffers, largely emptied in the Amazon venture. But it’s meant no time for dreaming away an afternoon over the next novel or three.

Below, a draft from another subplot of the proposed Fire-Rider sequel. In this vein, Kaybrel struggles with his private demons — possibly echoed by the real-world “demon” Caddy and Seth come up against? — and Jenna and Ani continue their love-bird routine. So many characters developed in the first Fire-Rider story, which ended up as not one but three novels, that I now have way too many ideas for what they might be doing with their lives now that they’re back home in Okan. I suppose I’m going to have to pick three or at most four sub-plotlines to keep the next effort in the corral. Whatever’s left over will have to go into some other, far future novel. 😀

White cows look for food in the snow

Light snow sifted sporadically from a pearl-gray sky over Moor Lek, collecting here and there but not working itself up into any serious drifts. It was the first snowfall of the season to stick on the ground for any length of time. The people of Moor Lek, knowing what was to come, busied themselves at preparing for the deepest part of winter.

Aniel, Kay’s foreman, was working in the barn, adjusting the horses’ shoes for icy conditions. The big gelding draft horse, in particular, needed snowball pads and studs, since he would be pulling a sleigh through snow and also often pulled a wagon or small carriage over the frozen road between Moor Lek Keep and the town. Demon, the great war horse grievously wounded when Kaybrel drove him through the fire to lead the men of Okan and A’o out of harm’s way after the Loma Alda debacle, would go barefoot for the winter, as would the other horses Ani didn’t expect anyone to ride.

A few chickens strutted and clucked around the outbuildings, pecking for stray seeds and bugs. The children’s pet goat also idled about, never averse to a handout. The cows were out to pasture (what remained of it in the deepening cold), and the tame geese paddled in the stock pond, innocent of their destiny as centerpieces, some day, for some midwinter holiday feast.

Vintage wooden Huron snowshoes with leather binding

In the workshop that abutted the barn, Kay tossed another stick of wood into the stove he’d fired up. It helped to keep the chill away. Cold air drifted in through the open door that let in most of the light by which Kay worked.

He was building a pair of snowshoes for Tavi, who had begun working in town for Jehm the weaver and his wife, Nina. The walk from the the defensive rise where the keep stood to the village below was a little over a mile, and if the boy was to walk back and forth six days a week, he would need the “big feet” come the first real snow.

These little domestic jobs were the kind of thing Kay liked. He had split ash strips, steamed them, shaped them into curves in a jig he’d made, and left them to dry. The crossbars were attached, the tail ends secured, and now he was ready to weave the rawhide webbing into place.

He could hear Ani, next door in the barn, whistling to himself as he went about his business, occasionally murmuring encouragement or gentle commands to a horse. One of the farmhands sauntered in through the wide barn door and spoke to Ani. Kay heard Ani tell the man to pump some more water into a horse trough and then go down the south pasture and repair a weakened stretch of fencing.

Kay took a great deal of pleasure in Ani’s presence at Moor Lek, as he had always taken pleasure in him, ever since he had acquired him as a young refugee some years before from Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos, Kay’s now deceased cousin. Ani, a farm boy from the outset, had grown into a strapping fellow, a more than competent manager for the keep’s farms and ranchlands.

Lengths of rawhide wrapped and tied in place, Kay began plaiting them across a frame. His thoughts wandered.

Pretty much against his will, they wandered back to the House of Puns and to the scene where he and Fol and the A’oan kubna Eddo of Bose had brought word of Rik of Puns’s death to his widowed kubnath, Larel. To what they had said, and to what they had left unsaid.

This short story is a work in progress from a new novel in the Fire-Rider series. In it, Kaybrel struggles with his private demons and Jenna and Ani continue their love-bird routine.

Larel Kubnath of Puns

“How did this ambush come about?” she had asked. “And who were the raiders? Were they Roksandero troops who came after you? Or just some kind of random bandits?”

“We don’t know,” Kay said. “The town the woman decoy called Loma Alda, the one she claimed had been attacked, was abandoned. Had been for some time. We don’t think they were from Roksan, because none of them were wearing Don Consayo’s colors. But the band we encountered up-country, where Jag Bova brought the snow down, they were well equipped. The cavalrymen were armored and they had good horses. They weren’t a bunch of rabble.”

“I see.” She fell silent for a second, seemed to be thinking. Then: “And did the kubna of Puns die honorably?”

“He died defending his men,” Eddo replied. “He was shot off his horse during the hottest part of the battle.”

This, Kay reflected, had been a fuzzy truth. They had no idea how Rik of Puns had died. If anyone had seen him fall, they hadn’t survived to tell the story. Only after the battle had ended and the remaining men standing gathered the wounded and prepared to flee did they find Rik half-conscious in a ditch, the blood of his life soaking into the dirt.

Kay’s disagreement with Rik went unmentioned, as did his opinion of Rik’s idea of “honor” in battle. Nor did they tell her that Rik had died under Kay’s hands, that Kay’s knife digging for the slug in the man’s side may have dispatched him sooner than he would have died, one way or the other. Surely, he thought, by now that bit of intelligence must have reached her.

These kubnaths, the ones born to the rank, were powerful and often daunting women. A kubnath or a mayreth grew up in the same training as a kubna or a mayre, although the emphasis for a girl child would be more on administration, politics, estate management, and justice than on warfare. Still, they did learn to ride and to wield a sword and bow, to build a battle strategy, to take orders and give them, just as their brothers did. Maire, for example, could shoot an arrow as straight as he himself could. And a rifle, too.

The storytellers spoke of a kubnath who would lead her men into battle, way back in the mists of time. Could Maire do that? Would she? He wondered. Probably not. But that Larel…he wouldn’t put it past her. Not only did she run the large and prosperous cowndee of Puns, she also was a religious leader – not a dreamy votary but a pricha, overseer of the cowndee’s several churches and spiritual counselor to her people. That added to her power. Considerably.

In due course, Larel summoned her sister wives, Treese and Dodi, and in the men’s presence she passed their news to the two women. Kay caught a fleeting look pass from Treese to Larel. He wondered then and still wondered what that was about. Instantly, though, Dodi began to weep and sob, distracting attention from whatever was going on between the two older women. Treese wept, too. But Larel did not.

Weeping was not what a kubnath did. Not in front of anyone, at least.

He glanced up from his crafting and saw Jenna approaching the barn. She bore a tray with two pieces of pie and a big teapot from whose spout a delicate wisp of steam rose into the crisp fall air.

“Time for a break, gentlemen,” she called.


As Jenna entered the barn, Ani came forward to greet her, his face lit up with a smile. Married over three years, Kay reflected, and still in love with his wife.

Jenna and Ani

…and still in love with his wife…

Well, he was still in love with Maire, and they’d been together longer than that. Maybe it wasn’t so remarkable. Still, he found it good. It was one of the many things, sweet as honey, that made him want to retire from the field. He wanted to stay home with his family at Moor Lek for the rest of his life.

Kay set the snowshoe frame down and followed Jenna into the barn, where the two men sat down at a small, rough-hewn work table. Jenna set the plates of pie in front of them and poured hot herbal tea into a pair of tin cups. Then she pulled up a milking stool and kept them company while they ate.

“Are we going to the autumn rodeo at Silba Lek?” she asked.

“Well, sure,” said Kay.

“Fal is going to take those nags he picked up at Lek Doe,” said Ani. “I don’t want to miss seeing them in action.”

“No, indeed,” Jenna agreed. “Speaking of horses,” she added, “do you think you’ll be done with your chores while it’s still light out?”

“Could be,” Ani said. At this time of year, with the crops in, splits collected from and redistributed to the cowndee’s townspeople and farmsteads, and most of the winter’s wood chopped and split, the workload slacked off. Sometimes he could quit working early, though usually he would find enough to do to keep himself busy until sundown.

“How about we go for a ride this afternoon, then?”

“Today?” Ani mocked surprise.

“Today,” she said.

“We could probably do that,” he said as he finished up his pie and stacked Kay’s empty plate atop his own.

Kay noticed a little twinkle in Ani’s eye and remembered long, lazy rides through the countryside with Sellie,* so long ago, in a different lifetime. She rode a pretty paint with a smooth, easy gait, an animal she handled well and that, he thought, was almost as pretty as she was. In its way.

“If we’re going out this afternoon, then I’d better get back to work now,” Ani said. He stood, wiped his hands on his work pants, and gave Jenna a peck on the cheek.

“Good!” she said. “I’ll let Maire know.”

That meant, Kay thought as he ambled back to the workshop, he and Maire would have the kids this afternoon. But they might be napping, if Ani and Jenna got an early enough start. That could be interesting.


This distraction over and possibly a better distraction in the offing, Kay returned to his work. He had about completed one snowshoe—just a little more remained to fill in the webbing. He set it aside to attend to a still that gently percolated atop the wood-burning stove. The fire’s temperature needed to be watched and kept fairly steady. Too much heat could ruin the distillation; too little would cause it to fail.

Kaybrel the Healer (from the Fire-Rider series)

Kaybrel the Healer

The medicament this would make, when infused with three of the curative herbs that grew in his garden, could soothe rashes ranging from poison oak to impetigo and even, he’d discovered by accident, eliminate dandruff in one’s beard. He liked to have plenty of this dandy snake oil on hand.

Too bad, he thought, too bad he didn’t have some potion that would stanch bleeding. If the Bishop, his mentor during his too-short time within the walled stae’ of Uda, knew of any such thing, he hadn’t taught it to Kay. Maybe he could have saved Rik’s life if he’d had something that would work that way.

Not that Rik of Puns was one of God’s finest gifts to this world. Still…

Did Rik die, he wondered, because of what I did? Did he die because of what I didn’t do? Because of what I didn’t say? Like a dog worrying an old bone, he couldn’t let it go. Try as he might to bury it, the thing wouldn’t stay buried.

That old man who had come out of the bush to beg the Hengliss bands to spare his family’s farmstead…what had Kay been thinking to tell him to take his people into the hills after Lhored had ordered him to tell the man, in Espanyo, to send his young men down—to be killed, obviously—and then maybe the place would not be leveled?

Into the hills? For God’s sake. From the hills they would have been able to observe which way the bands went. They would have seen where the Okan and A’oan warriors were headed and by which route.

The horse tracks in the barn that Kay and Fal rousted…at least two, maybe three animals had been taken out of there very recently, probably as the Hengliss bore down on the place. The old man had come back on foot. So who rode those horses?

Did Fal realize that someone must have headed out from the farm on horseback shortly before the war party arrived? Did he sense that Kay had told the old man something different from what Lhored asked him to say?

Did Fal, even though he couldn’t understand enough Espanyo to ask politely for a roll in the hay, guess that Kay had lied about what he’d said, and about the old man’s response?

He had lied to another kubna. Worse, to his own brez.

Did that lie bring the disaster of Loma Alda down on their heads?
*One of Kay’s first wives, long deceased.

This is a work in progress from a new novel in the Fire-Rider series. To get the back-story, grab one, two, or (preferably!) all three of the stories in print now: The Saga Begins, Fire and Ice, and Homeward Bound. You can get all three at Amazon (live links in the right-hand sidebar →), or, if you’d like a print copy, get in touch through our Contact page. A tale of the Tale can be found here, and to see all the Plain & Simple Press offerings, fiction and nonfiction, visit our Books page.

Homeward Bound Fire-Rider collected storiesOther Fire-Rider riffs available here at the P&S News blog:

The Battle of Loma Alda
Retreat into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North

From DepositPhotos:

Snowshoes, PixelsAway
Cows in snow, Clearview Stock
Larel Kubnath of Puns, Logvinyukyulla
Jenna and Ani, SolominVictor
From Shutterstock:
Kaybrel the Healer, CaptBlack76

Women Warriors of the North

A free Fire-Rider short story: Women Warriors of the NorthLike their brothers, fathers, and husbands, the women of the Great Lacuna‘s warrior class — the kubnaths and mayreths, depending on their inherited rank — were trained in the arts of war. A few, such as Bett Kubnath of Huam Prinz and Cham Fos, were renowned for a certain ferocity of character. But, Hapa Cottrite tells us in his journals, “rare it was for a woman warrior to lead a band into the field.” Rather, they served as administrators, judges, and (at least in some cases) absolute monarchs. The women decided who got what portions of the shared crops and war booty (“splits”). The women heard the people’s cases in law and decided whose plea held the most weight. The women assessed claims of evil-doing and passed judgment on those found to have erred.

In a distinctive vignette from the Cottrite Chronicles, Lieze Mayreth of Rozebek awaits the return of her spouse, Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek, delayed by the troubles of Loma Alda and Lek Doe. This passage is especially significant for the insight it gives to the marital customs of the Great Lacuna, a time when women far outnumbered the men, who had been picked off by disease, war, and the harsh conditions of the Ice Age.

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Broad, spreading fields...

Broad, spreading fields…

Lieze stood at an upper window of Rozebek Keep and gazed out over the broad, spreading fields toward the distant blue mountains. As the days grew shorter, she reflected, the problem grew larger.

What to do? she wondered. And where was Jag Bova? When would he be home? The men should at least have reached Krens by now, and really they ought to be at Oane Lek. But surely, if the bands of Oane Lek and Puns had arrived at Oane Lek Town, some word of it would have reached Rozebek.

Lieze’s mother, Ada, came into the hall and found her daughter staring pensively into the distance.

“I can’t remember the men ever being this late before,” Ada said, reading her thought.

“’Tis passing strange,” Lieze replied. “I hope they’re all right.”

“I’m sure they are.”

The two women descended the curving stairway, its heavy oaken banister tracing an elegant arc from the second story to the ground floor. There they found Lieze and Jag Bova’s two daughters and young son tossing a ball around the great hall.

“Take it outside, please,” Lieze exclaimed. “You know better than that!”

“But Mother, it’s cold outdoors,” Mandeh protested. At twelve the younger of the two girls, Mandeh was always full of ginger—and backtalk.

“Well, put on your jacket then, dear,” said Lieze. “It’s a lovely fall day. And it won’t hurt any of you to get some fresh air.”

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Erysa's favorite pony.

Erysa’s favorite pony

Erysa, the older sister, began to shepherd the other two outside, handing her little brother Deke a coat and knitted wool scarf, passing another jacket to Mandeh, and wrapping herself in a warm fleece sweater and matching hat.

Lieze poured a couple of mugs of hot minted apple cider, and the women sat down at the kitchen table. They watched the children through one of the tall, narrow windows that looked out onto the keep’s courtyard.

“You know,” Ada observed, “it’s about time to think about choosing a husband for Erysa.”

“Oh, my, I don’t think so, Mother,” Lieze replied. “She’s only sixteen.”

“She’ll be seventeen next spring, by wedding season.”

Lieze gazed at the lithe girl beneath the window. If “girl” the child was, she thought, she wouldn’t be for much longer. Erysa already looked like a young woman. Albeit a very young one.

“I was nineteen when I married Jag Bova,” she said.

“Yes,” Ada allowed. “But Erysa is quite pretty. She’s already started to attract the boys’ attention.” Erysa had her father’s honey-blonde hair and blue eyes. Though she was a sturdy, healthy girl, she hadn’t inherited Bova’s massive build. Her budding femininity lent grace and sweetness to her slender frame.

“Oh, so I wasn’t pretty enough to need to be married off early?” Lieze said in a mock tiff.

“That’s not what I meant!” said Ada. Lieze tried to suppress a smile at her mother’s defensive response. “Erysa’s a beautiful girl because you were a beautiful young woman. And I wasn’t half-bad, either, when I was that age.”

“Well, when Bova gets back, maybe we should start to talk about it.” She had no intention of bringing the subject up, and she hoped Ada would forget it before long.

“Meanwhile,” Lieze continued, “we need a plan for bringing in the harvest. Here’s what I have in mind.”

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Harvest time.

Harvest time

She outlined a strategy that had come to her while she lay awake at night: They would recruit every able-bodied elderman, woman, and half-grown child on the nearby farms and from the town and divide them into teams. Each group would be assigned to visit a number of farms, over a couple of weeks, and help the residents reap the harvest and pick the fruit. Many hands, she observed, make short work—and despite the absence of the men of fighting age, enough town and farm dwellers remained to make up at least three or four teams.

“It’s a good idea, in theory,” Ada said, after hearing her daughter out. “But most of these people have shops to run, wood to chop for winter, kitchen gardens to bring in and preserve, and families to tend to. How are you going to persuade them to go out into the fields for days on end?”

“Give them extra splits,” said Lieze. Splits were the shared goods owed from every individual to the mayr or kubna. These were organized and redistributed back to the community, the recipient returning half of the take to his or her followers in a way that the leader deemed fair.

“Ho!” Ada laughed. “Bova will love that!”

Lieze, too, had considered the reaction her husband might have. “But Bova’s not here,” she said. “And wherever he is, he doesn’t have to deal with a fall harvest that’s about to rot or freeze on the vine.

“Besides, we have more than enough to get through the winter. We’re not going hungry. And this is exactly the kind of situation that splits are supposed to help with. We’ll give each family an extra share or two, depending on how many people they can muster.”

“And do you have in mind that we’ll join one of these ‘teams,’ too?”

“Sure enough,” said Lieze.

“If you’re going to have Erysa out there picking apples or some such, then someone—either you or I—will have to keep an eye on her. It sounds like a fair way to bring home a haystack baby.”

“I have a little more faith in her than that,” Lieze replied. But she knew the older woman was right. Erysa surely would have to be in good company at all times. “Here’s what,” she proposed: “Erysa and Deke will come with me, and Mandeh will stay here with you to help pick and put up the kitchen garden vegetables and berries.”

“That’s quite a job,” said Ada.

“Yes. But it’ll get done. Mandeh’s plenty big enough now to help with both the harvesting and the canning. You can teach her whatever she doesn’t remember from last fall.

“And with her little brother underfoot, Erysa’s not likely to get into much mischief, even if she does manage to slip out of my sight.”

Pleased with the ingenuity of this scheme, the two women lingered over their warm cider.

“It’ll be lovely to spend a whole day with just one of the grand-daughters,” Ada said.

“Yes. I know she’ll enjoy it,” Lieze replied. “I appreciate your being here to do it.”

“That reminds me,” Ada returned. “There’s something else I’ve been wanting to talk with you about.”

Uh oh, Lieze thought. Now what?

“I’ve been thinking, dear. You know, I’m not going to be here forever. It won’t be long before the time will come for me to move on to the next world.”

“Mother! What a thing to say…are you feeling ill? Is something the matter?”

“No, dear. I’m fine. It’s just that…well, nothing lasts forever. All things come to an end. We need to be realistic about that.”

“It’s not what I’d like to dwell on,” Lieze said. “Certainly not now, with so much to have to do.”

“And there’s the point: when I’m gone, you’re still going to have all these things to cope with. Don’t you think it’s getting to be time to think about choosing a second wife for Jag Bova?”

Lieze looked at her mother with something like shock in her face.

“A junior wife?”

“I can’t think of a better time,” Ada said. “Better now than after I’m dead and gone and you have no one to help you.”

“Well, no,” Lieze admitted. “I hadn’t thought about it. We’re doing fine right now. And I’d just as soon not share my husband, if I don’t have to.”

“Right now we’re handling the work, that’s so,” Ada agreed. “But in a few years, as I get older or pass, that will change. Besides, a younger wife helps to keep a man at home. She gives you some relief—in more ways than one.”

Lieze blushed. “I don’t feel any need to be relieved,” she said.

“Not yet. But when the change comes, then you may change your opinion.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Lieze rolled her eyes and laughed. “Who do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I suggested you might want to start thinking about it.”

Truth to tell, Lieze thought, her mother had something there: now that Erysa was almost grown, she could take on a fair amount of the work, and she had become a big help. Whether or not they put any thought into the matter now, in just two or three years, the girl would be a woman and a wife—in her own or another woman’s household. Maybe Ada was right. Maybe they needed a junior wife at Rozebek Keep.

Maybe not, too.

On the other hand, if Ada took on the project of finding Jag Bova a second wife, it would distract her from trying to marry off Erysa.

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Fall in Okan.

Fall in Okan

This tale is a riff on the Fire-Rider saga, an all NEW, unpublished, an original bit of insight into the people, the times, and the story of the Great Lacuna. For more, check out the Fire-Rider saga described on our Books page, or buy the Kindle books at Amazon:

The Saga Begins
Fire and Ice
Homeward Bound

Images, Shutterstock:

Woman of Okan: © 2016 Jozef Klopacka
Broad, spreading fields: © 2016 Nikiforov Alexander
Erysa’s pony: © 2016 AnnaElizabeth photography
Harvest: © 2016 Serhii Krot
Fall in Okan: © 2016 Standret