Excerpt:

Troublesome Neighbors


The Lady Renna, holder of Ren Creek, gathered oak galls to dye another batch of yarn. The bright fall sun cast deep shadows in the woods surrounding her. Two half-filled baskets swung from her yoke, her uneven gait sending them brushing against the willows growing along the stream. Renna swung her short-handled hoe in time to the bird song soaring from the trees.
 
The woods went silent. The brush under the trees rustled, a slight sound only one with elf powers could have heard. Turning to face the noise, Renna tightened her grip on the hoe. Black Tail, her pet sow, emerged from the trees with her nose coursing the ground. Renna giggled.

“You silly beast, you scared the life half out of me. You had me thinking you were a Feldsman up to no good.” Renna tapped the hoe against her leg. “Why aren’t you grazing with the herd? Where did your piggies go? Ditch them again?”

Black Tail looked up at her, grunted, and went back to her rooting. Renna felt silly for teasing the pig as if the animal understood. She knew she should send a mindspeak to the swineherds, but she didn’t have the heart. Her pet looked so happy rooting through the mast. As if reminded food was waiting, the huge sow disappeared into the woods with her tail wobbling in the air.

Silly pig.

Renna discovered a patch of lichen she could use for violet dye growing on some rocks protruding into the streambed. She laid the yoke on the bank and stepped into the shallow water, soaking the legs of her trews. She scraped the scale off the rocks into her hand and transferred it onto a cloth she laid on another rock. The sun beat down on her. Sweat grew on Renna’s upper lip and temples in spite of her cold feet.

Pig squeals and baying hounds interrupted her work. Frantic dog howls rose above the din. Gripping the hoe, Renna ran through the trees towards the commotion, her soft-soled shoes skimming above the forest litter without a sound.

Renna located Black Tail in a clearing, backed against a huge oak. The sow bared her fangs at the four brindled dogs facing her in a semi-circle. Blood dripped from where a dog had torn into shoulder. A dead hound lay on the ground before her. The hounds howled and snapped at her but moved no closer.  Black Tail’s hooves dug into the earth and her snorts sounded like growls to Renna’s ears.

Before she could scatter the hounds with her hoe, two Feldsmen dropped into the meadow, using elf power. Static from the transfer pulsed and dissipated. Renna froze. Feldsmen weren’t known for their elf magic.

Both men wore their hair peasant short, though one wore the jerkin of a Felds guardsman. Long fighting staves rested on their shoulders. Renna’s eyes narrowed in anger. She had told Gorsfeld to keep his men off her lands. She felt like snarling as loud as her pet but bit her lips closed, suddenly cautious.

Knowing she remained well within her boundaries, Renna used her elf powers to shadow so the invaders wouldn’t notice her. I’ll give them a chance to call the dogs off. If I upset Gorsfeld again, Krisran will lecture me as if I had the brain of a scatter wit.

“Finally, your dogs led us to a sow. I thought we’d never find an unguarded one.”

“Where are the piglets?” asked the short one, dressed in drab peasant’s clothing.  “Lord Gorsfeld told us to only seize unmarked piglets.”

The taller guard, touching the dragon patch on his jerkin, raised his voice. “Don’t think we’ll find any piglets.”

“You think they ran away from the dogs?”

“Don’t be stupider than you are. Pigs stay close to their dam until they’re weaned.”

“Still, could’ve run away from the dogs.”

“Her dugs have shrunk.” The taller, dark-haired guard grinned. “But, this one’s by herself with no swineherd in sight.”

The peasant glanced around the meadow and twitched. “Don’t see no one. You need help doing something?”

“Seems a shame to leave a lone pig to the tender mercies of the forest.” The guardsman wiped his hand over his mouth. “Don’t guess you control an ounce of elf power though?”

The peasant shook his head. “You think we could capture her without no spears to prod her?”

Renna clenched her fists until her nails dug into her palms. The slithering slimes.

“Mayhap, we could drive her across the boundary with our staves?” asked the guard. “Your dogs know how to herd pigs?”

“Can’t you transfer her to the boundary with elf magic? You’re supposed to be ranger trained.” The peasant tugged at his ear. “If we could slaughter her on the sly, our families’d eat mighty fine this winter.”

“Can’t move nothing that big any distance. Why do you think I asked you if you had any elf powers?”

A hound ventured closer to Black Tail. She rushed him, and he twisted away. The pig grabbed his tail and, whirling on her hind legs, whacked him against the tree. Renna clutched the hoe harder. The remaining dogs stayed in position, but growled instead of baying.

“Blast,” said the peasant. “That’s one fighter.”

Renna unshadowed and stepped into the clearing. The hoe, with its metal blade, hung ready at her side. “Mayhap, you might return to where you came from before my pig kills your dogs.”

“What’s a little thing like you going to do against two grown men, girlie?”

With a heft of the hoe, Renna asked, “You want to find out?”

She stared and pulled her single warrior’s braid over her shoulder, wishing she had the habit of wearing the veteran’s belt she’d earned in the Rebellion. In spite of her brave words, her knees quivered.

He’s right. I am alone.

The peasant thumped his stave on the ground. The dogs turned their heads towards their master. Black Tail squealed and rushed them. The hounds scattered before her, and the pig trotted into the forest with her black tail held high.

“Catch her,” shouted the guardsman.

Not waiting to see if he meant the pig or her, Renna shadowed and ran into the woods after her pet. She relaxed when the sow ran deeper into Ren lands. Renna followed to insure her pet didn’t double back. When she leaned against a tree to catch her breath, Renna flushed with embarrassment.

Why do you always run from fights … you ninny. You were within your rights to capture them. Renna shook her head. You had no witnesses. It’d be your word against theirs.

Renna ground her teeth. Out loud, she said, “You could have knocked them on their arses with a snap of your fingers. Why didn’t you?”

Memories of the battles during the Rebellion flooded her mind. Horses squealing in pain. The cleansing charge of elven magic sparking in the air as Mariah threw fire ball after exploding fire ball. The coppery smell of blood rising like steam from man and beast after she stopped. Renna standing behind her friend, channeling energy from the earth so Mariah wouldn’t drain her elf powers. Herself leaning over her knees and gagging on her puke. Mariah puking first was the only thing that had saved her pride.

With a sigh, Renna admitted she’d never initiate an attack on her own. Blood sickened her. Her habit of letting others fight for her held her in too strong a grip.  

#
 
Face as red as sunset, Krisran, her steward, leaned over Renna as she worked at the loom. He had acted as her father’s second during the Rebellion and tended to lord it over her, even though she was now the holder of Ren Creek.

 “You still sitting in front of that blasted loom? I told you to join the wheat harvest.”

“My weaving’s more important. Once this blanket’s off the loom, the bale’s complete.” The accomplishment brought a smile, giving her the courage to ignore his demands. “Then, I’ll start another.”

“Patrols of Feldsmen have been spotted lurking in the woods.” He dug quivering fingers into her shoulder. “Your safety is more important than any blasted blanket, girl. What if they decide to burn the barns? The village?”

“Then I’d be here to protect ours.” Renna shrugged, appearing calm though her own anger pulled at its bit. “Did you alert the other villages?”

“You? Protect the barns? As if you’d notice anything once you lost yourself throwing that blasted shuttle.”

“Should I pull one of the grannies away from her chores to watch the barns?” she asked sweetly, knowing only a couple remained in the village.

“Don’t …”

His words faded under Renna’s scowl. At first, Krisran, who had been her father’s steward and second in the Rebellion, seemed totally human with his rounded ears and flat teeth. Yet, his elf powers ran strong, and he had rescued her father more than once. After Renna’s papa had died in his bed from human wasting, Krisran had developed the habit of pushing his authority onto her as if she were still a child.

Renna took after her mother’s family. No one would ever confuse her with a human. She narrowed her eyes and bared her pointed elven teeth. His hands stopped in mid-gesture. Renna didn’t move, not even to blink.

“I said I’m busy.”

Krisran turned on his heel. “Have it your way, then. On your head be the consequences.”





Renna learned to hate blood and conflict during the Half-Elven Rebellion, but when her greedy neighbor harasses her villages after she refuses his suit, she must find a way to protect her people ... and her pet pig … without fighting.


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Troublesome Neighbors

Black Tail, Lady Renna's Pet Pig

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer