My teacher was also my father's teacher. She is very old, and remembers many things. She was taught by Henry Firkin, who himself was raised in the home of the Great Jack Parsons, and so she knew many of the old, lost secrets of how things once were and how they worked. She was a very valuable addition to my Grandfathers holding when he brought her here, and was a large part of the reason of his and my father's success. She knows things and has access to even more information through a device that she keeps with her called a computer. It isn't magic, although it may as well be, and we are sometimes sent out to forage for replacement parts for it when something breaks or gets old and wears out, but through it she has access to information that is now lost to most people forever.
Even without her computer, she would have been important to us because of her ability to remember information and then teach that information to us. My father and his siblings learned from her, and my siblings and I learn from her now, and I hope she is around to teach my children. She taught us how to sew by first teaching us how to grow cotton, and then she taught us how to clean it and form it into thread. She then taught us how to make needles from old paperclips, and then she taught us many different kinds of stitches. She taught us how to read by teaching us how to make paper, and then how to form that paper into books, which we then filled with carefully printed letters and eventually words.
Our life is hard in some ways, easy in others, and all in all, our teacher says that our life isn't really much different from the way things have always been. We laugh, we cry, we make babies, we work hard, and we fight hard.
We live in a place between the mountains that was once called Oregon. Far to the north was a place called Washington, and far to the south was a place called California. My father once traveled across the river to the north to a large city called Centralia in Washington, but none of us have ever been to California. Teacher says that the weather is warm there, even in the winter, and when it rains on us here, the sun is shining on the people that live there. I imagine all of the people who live there celebrating midwinter naked because the sun is so hot while we are bundled in our firs and our tarps with rain dripping from our hair onto our noses, and then down onto our feet.
Across the mountains to the east, teacher tells us, there was once a single, large country that stretched for thousands of miles, all the way to the other side of the ocean, and if we could then build a canoe large enough, we could cross the ocean in the east and come to even more countries, and if we managed to get there, nobody would be able to understand us because they would speak a different language.
When teacher told me this, I asked her if they spoke like my cousins who live two days to the south. They garble their words so bad I can barely understand them. No, she said, my cousins from Luther Holding still speak English, although it's been changed a bit.
I was six when she told me this, and I remember asking her, "What's English, then?"
"It's the language we speak," she said, and then she had us take out our current study books and she taught us how to make our own pretend languages in them, and how to write in ciphers and secret codes so that our enemies wouldn't be able to understand our writing. I still use the cipher that she helped me to make way back when I was six, and it was in this cipher that I received a message from her.
I'm having such a wonderful time here in Caradog Holding with your uncle Fred, and although it's been raining here a bit, my bones aren't stiff like they get when the weather is cold. I wish you could see the waves on the beach and the sea birds playing in the sand. I feel you would love the ocean.
My friend Josevf sends his love to you as well, and hopes that he may see you soon.
Jenniver of Henry Firkin, Teacher.
Here's what the letter really meant. She used my full name, Glorian instead of Gloria, and this is a clue to me that the message is encoded rather than just a plain message. "Wonderful time" means she is being held prisoner, "Caradog" means that the place is the size of Caradog holding, which is a medium large holding, and "Fred" means north, so she is being held prisoner in a medium sized holding to the north.
Anyway the long and the short of it is that we need to rescue her, but we need to be extremely careful because the people that have her are armed with guns, and not swords and armor like us, and they also expect us to arrive some time soon looking for her.
I took the letter to my father. He read it, and became more and more angry as I explained the cipher.
"A medium size holding in the north with guns," he fumed. "That's Russ of Davidson Holding that took her. I've been hearing things about him all summer."
I had been hearing the same things, and once my father said the name, I made the same connections. Russ was a new warlord, and had a liking for violence. Teacher said he was the kind of person that built empires in the old days, ruthless, ambitious, angry, and charismatic. If he had Teacher he would also have knowledge if he could get anything out of her. The thought of my dear old white haired teacher resisting and being tortured for her knowledge filled me with dread.
"Father, can I go with you to get her?" I asked.
He looked down at me and paused in his fuming to quirk an eyebrow at me.
"They have guns, Gloria. They won't care how good you are with a sword. They'll shoot you down from 100 feet away."
"I'll duck," I said.
"Ducking is for arrows, not bullets."
"I'm good at sneaking," I said, "and they can't shoot what they can't see."
"No," he said.
"You need someone who can cook to go with you or you'll end up eating boiled grass and dog tails again." I almost had him now. I'm one of the best cooks in our holding.
"No," he said.
"I'll come, I said, no matter what you say and no matter what you do. If you leave without me, I'll follow you. If you tie me up here, I'll chew through the ropes and run barefoot through blackberry thorns to catch up with you. You might as well let me come, or you'll just have to come back and rescue me from bleeding to death in a puddle of blackberry juice."
I'm not very tall, even for a girl, and he towers over me, but I knew I had him right where I wanted him.
"No," he said.
"Fine," I said and stomped out of his office, out of the holding gates, and started heading north without the bastard. Let him catch up, if he can.
Half an hour later he rode up next to me on his horse. I ignored him and kept up my pace northwards.
"Gloria," he said, trying to sound friendly, but I just ignored him some more.
"Fine," he said. "Come. But don't expect us to be easy on you. And you can only come as long as you stay back and away from the fighting."
I figured that once we were there and the fighting was happening, there wouldn't be much he could do, so I smiled sweetly and let him pull me up behind him onto his horse.
We spent a week preparing for the journey and for whatever fight we might run into. I have two swords, twenty knives of various sizes, leather armor, a chainmaille coat, a solid steel breastplate and a steel bow, and I can make perfect arrows for it without the help of a fletcher. I thought it would be silly to bring all of my armor with me since we would be fighting bullets, so I decided on my saber, five throwing knives, one long dagger, my bow, and my leather armor.
When my father saw my bundle, he just shook his head and muttered something about the waste since I wouldn't be fighting anyway. He added a pot and a tarp full of spices to my bundle and said, "You're the cook."
Fine. I'll be a fighting cook.
When we left, Father and his general rode their horses, and the rest of us walked. There were one hundred of us, a formidable army. We were all armed and armored lightly, and many of us had bows strapped to our backs. We knew that heavy armor would slow us down, give away our position, and wouldn't help us against bullets, so we didn't waste our strength. Seventy of us were men, the remaining thirty were women like me. I marched beside my cousin Brian from Jaffrey Holding. He's taller than me, and three years older, and while he has a body full of nice firm muscles, he's also smart. I like him.
We marched east for most of the day on my father's Holding road, and then once we reached the Old Five Road, we began our jog north to the first overpass where we spent the evening. I've been this far before on trading trips with father and on field trips with Teacher, but this was the first time I'd ever traveled with an army.
When we stopped, we set up our tents in the grassy median and father put me to work making the cooking fire and preparing our evening meal. Brian volunteered to help, for which I was grateful, although he has to be watched or he'll burn everything. After the meal was done, and everything was cleaned up we all hunkered around the hissing and popping fire and told tales of the old times when the street lights were lit and people traveled in flying cars and giant boats bigger than a holding.
Around midnight, the watchman woke my father, and since I slept beside him, I woke up as well. "Something's happening back in the direction of our holding, sir," he said.
I looked towards the west and saw nothing but black trees and a black sky, and then suddenly there was a flash of light, and a far off rumble. It looked like lightening, but without the clouds.
"What is it?" I asked.
My father stared east for a long while. We saw three more flashes and heard three more rumbles, and then the sky started to glow a dull orange color.
"Explosives," he said. "Bombs. They're bombing our holding."
We scrambled to gather up our belongings, packing them away quickly, and then started the long jog back toward our holding. We ran throughout the night, with the orange glow in the sky leading our way, and arrived back home just after sunrise. We were all tired and completely unprepared for what we met there.
The holding was a charred, smoking ruin. The wall that surrounded it was broken down in many places, and every building had been either knocked down or burnt down. Then I started seeing the bodies. The first was one of the guard dogs, which had a the top of its skull broken away, and then I saw a mangled body of a young woman. I couldn't tell who she was although she was probably one of my sisters. Then we found the pile. Everyone that was left behind was there, my mother and her sister wives, my younger brothers, a few of my cousins, all of my fathers farm hands that didn't join up with us in the army, and even the babies.
Our holding was destroyed and our people were dead.
I stood by my father, clutching his arm while I sobbed and screamed. I think I was out of my mind for quite a while, and while I cried, my father just stood there, with sad eyes, looking at the dead, unmoving faces of our family.
It was Brian, my cousin, that was the first to speak.
"Uncle, sir, the people who did this must pay, but our army of one hundred isn't large enough. We also need to warn the other holdings around us about what happened here so they can move their elders and the children to safety."
My father turned his head toward Brian without taking his eyes away from our dead family and said, "Yes, you're right. Yes." He paused again, and finally tore his eyes away from the pile and focused on me. "Brian," he said, "I want you to choose twenty of our fastest runners and divide them up among the five closest holdings and send them with the warning and also the call to join our army at Bingham Hill two weeks from today."
"Yes, sir," Brian said, and then he was gone, giving orders to the runners, and then disappearing down the road.
My father turned to his army and found them broken, kneeling, crying, retching, no longer a fighting force.
"My friends," my father called to them, "my friends, we have work to do. Find what shovels you can and let us bury our dead and then prepare to claim our revenge!"
Hours later, when the work was well under weigh, my father pulled me aside. "Gloria, you are our weapons master now. You know the sword and knife better than anyone left living. I want you to find what arms and armor are left and gather them together here. We will need to be able to give everyone who joins us a weapon to use and armor to protect themselves."
"Yes father," I said.
I spent the rest of the afternoon digging through charred rubble looking for weapons that weren't destroyed, and in the end I found that almost everything was still whole and useful. I even found my own stash of armor and weapons. When I returned to my father, I had my saber at my hip, my long sword at my back, I was wearing my chainmaille coat and my breastplate and I had most of my knives stashed around my body in various places.
When my father saw me, he looked me up and down and said, "You might survive."
We spent a day gathering provisions, and putting together a couple carts that would be pulled by a few stray cows we were able to find, and then we all headed out toward Bingham Hill.
It took us two days to get there since the main road had washed out in last winters rain, and we were moving slower than normal as we forced the cows to learn to pull carts. We arrived in the early afternoon, and by sundown Brian jogged into camp, arriving from warning Colton Holding, his own home.
He grinned at me in my armor and reported to my father.
"I sent my three runners on to Big Cow Holding also since it was only a little farther on than Colton, so we should have people coming from six holdings instead of five. I also told the other runners to send one of their members on to other holdings to warn them of the danger and to ask them to come if they can arrive quickly. That leaves twelve to return in the next day or two with whatever forces are gathered up arriving a few days after that."
My father nodded. "How many can we expect from Colton holding?"
"My father promised fifty warriors. He needs the rest to help move the holding to safety."
Father nodded and then sent Brian off to get some rest. I grabbed his arm and told him that if he wanted, I knew of a nice dry place he could sleep for a while.
He smiled and nodded to me, so I lead him off, away from the hill into the deeper forest where there was an old house that must have been old even before the big dying came. It had trees growing all around it, and even one tree growing from the roof, but it looked solid enough, and maybe even mostly dry inside.
I took Brian inside and sat him down on the floor in front of a fireplace where I had some logs waiting. I lit a fire, and then sat back on my heels and looked at him.
"Gloria," he said, "I don't mean to sound... well, I don't want to seem forward with you, but, well, you do appear to have an awful lot of armor on."
I blinked, surprised, and looked down at myself. Leather armor, chainmaille, knives, swords, breastplate, bow and arrows, and a small shield strapped to my back, didn't seem too terribly excessive considering what we were facing.
I opened my mouth to argue with him, and then looked up and saw his soft brown eyes staring back at me, wide and liquid, and the breath caught in my throat.
He sat up, reached out, and pulled my leather hood away from my face. My hair tumbled out, and he caught one of my curls and twined it around his index finger.
"Here, let me help you," he said.
He moved slowly, keeping eye contact with me except for brief moments when he had to look down for the location of buckles and latches. He pulled my dagger from under my left arm, two throwing knives from each sleeve, two from my waist belt, one from my sword belt, and then unbuckled my saber. This caused another throwing knife to clang to the floor that was attached to the belt at my back. He smiled, then removed my shield, my bow, my arrows, by long sword, and then he moved around to my back and unbuckled my breastplate.
He moved slowly, caressing me, and although I couldn't feel it through my remaining armor, I could see it, and could feel his intention, his caring for me in the softness of his touch. He took my hands in his and removed my gloves, and then unbuckled the five straps that held the chainmaille around me. This brought his hands to my chest, and although I had heavy chain and then leather armor underneath, I was intensely aware of my breasts and how close they were to his hands.
Once the straps were unbuckled, he parted the chainmaille coat and peeled it of my arms. I was expecting him to stop there, and I wanted him to, but I also wanted him to keep going. My heart was pounding in my throat and I couldn't get enough air. The fire beside me crackled and felt suddenly hotter than I could bear.
He kept his eyes on me and moved to unbuckle my leather armor. It was attached with buckles under my arms with each of the arms separate, but buckled to the main body with leather straps. He took off the arms, then raised my arms up as he unbuckled the straps under my arms, then lifted it off over my head.
Underneath I was wearing a sleeveless cotton shirt that did little to hide swell of my breasts as I gulped in air.
He stood and offered me his hand, which I took and stood next to him, but he immediately crouched down again and started working on my leather leggings and my boots. When he was done, I was standing there in nothing but my thin cotton top and a baggy pair of shorts. But he wasn't done.
He stood and used his hands on me, rubbing my arms and kneading my shoulders and my neck. He had me sit, and he took my feet in his big, strong hands and massaged them, kneading the stress from them, and then working up to my calves and then my thighs. I couldn't help it when I let a small moan escape. He heard, and looked up, smiling at me.
I confess, at that point, I threw myself at him. I sat up, wrapped my arms around his neck and smashed my lips against his, while the rest of my body writhed around between his hands. He rubbed my back and then moved down to my ass and squeezed me, then pulled me tight against him.
"Yes!" I hissed.
He pulled my shirt up over my head and clamped his lips on a nipple, sucking hard and licking, flicking me with his tongue. It sent a bolt down between my legs, and I quivered, my pussy aching and wanting attention. I ground myself against his body, his hard leather armor sliding away from my shorts.
"Your turn." I said, and madly began removing his armor and clothes. He helped and then he pulled my shorts down, pushed me back with a hand between my breasts, and moved his face between my legs. I whimpered as I felt his tongue begin moving over my softness, then I gasped when he found my clitoris. I felt the blood pounding in my ears and felt the tension building higher and higher. He worked on me slowly and steadily with the flat of his tongue till I was gasping and crying and saying please and thank you. Then I reached the top of the mountain and exploded. I felt my muscles tense and waves of orgasm spread out from my vagina to the rest of my body.
"Hmmmmmm, nice," I sighed, and stretched my body out under his caressing hands and closed my eyes.
I felt him move over me and his mouth was on mine, kissing and nibbling, and then his body pressed against me, skin to skin, with his hardness prodding against my belly. I reached down and guided him to my opening, felt him push and then slide into me, deep.
I was pinned to him, stabbed to the heart. My body responded to his immediately, starting the climb again up toward the top of the mountain. He pulled back and thrust into me again. I gasped and clawed his back with my hands, pulling him closer to me, father up into me, pounding me, fucking me, loving me.
I orgasmed again, and he continued to thrust and withdraw while he kissed me and whispered into my ear, "I love you, Gloria."
I felt him heave his body into me and then his cock was throbbing, jerking inside me, covering my insides with his juice.
I wept then for my mother, my family, and for everything while he caressed me and held me, and told me he understood.
The Holdings Gather
None of my father's brothers came to help although they all sent at least fifty men, and with the sixth holding sending their fifty, we ended up with just under 500 men in our army. This was the largest force that anyone could remember being gathered.
Since my father was the only Warlord, he was set at the head of the army, and he put his general over each of the commanders that lead the men from each holding. So we had six commanders that reported to the general, and I was put in command of our original hundred warriors, reporting to the general as well. Our one hundred were all expert with bows and would be the light artillery of the force, to defend against the guns while the other four hundred odd swordsmen did their thing.
I wanted Brian to stay beside me always, but he was set as commander over his fathers fifty, and so I didn't see him as much as I would have liked. He was busy training and outfitting his troops, and I was busy with mine.
And then finally we were moving. We headed north on the Old Five road traveling slowly because of our size. Every evening we stopped well before sundown and dug ourselves a fort to protect ourselves from attack during the night and as a place to fall back on if we were attacked during the day. We didn't know the extent of technology our enemy had to fight us with, but we knew they at least had guns and explosives. I could imagine all sorts of horrible weapons from the old days that could be used on us, and all of them made me shiver.
On the fourth day we left the road and traveled west into an area with many hills. It was hard going since we worked hard to stay away from roads and to travel secretly. That night we dug our fort deep in a valley covered in fir trees, and lit no fires. We were near our destination, and would probably be fighting soon.
My father sent out spies and had a large number of guards posted to protect us from ambush, but when it came, it came without warning, suddenly. I awoke to a large explosion, and opened my eyes quickly enough to see people and pieces of people flying through the air. I started shouting orders to my troops even before I was standing.
"Awake! Warriors of Salomen! Awake."
I heard a whooshing in the air, and then another explosion rocked the ground and sent me to my knees.
I looked around myself and saw that I had twenty men ready to follow me, and the rest were madly running around, frightened and screaming. I looked up at the hills around us and saw a brief flash among the trees. Seconds later another whoosh sounded and then more of our warriors died in an explosion.
"Follow me!" I shouted, and charged into the trees toward the flash.
The trees were black around me, and the voices of frightened and dying men and women in our fort were loud in my ears. I looked back once to make sure that I had my twenty with me. They returned my gaze, their faces white in the moonlight. Then we ran on up the hill, gasping under the weight of our armor. As I ran, I unslung my bow and fastened its bowstring, then signaled my followers to do the same.