The swing was too predictable, the anger behind it too potent. There was no finesse, no possibility for defence or counter should it fail. Keramídi easily parried the blow and sent the pummel of her sword into her attacker's face.
The nine year-old girl went down, her hands holding her face.
“Do not worry about your face, worry about your opponent.” Keramídi shouted at her daughter. “Now, get up.”
Through most of the world, men played the dominant role in society while females were often labelled as second class citizens or livestock. Even when they are born into superior stations, females were rarely seen as anything more than trophies or pawns to be battered for power and land.
To most of the men in the world the prospect of an all woman army would be laughable, or that was until an army of well-armed and trained soldiers showed up on their doorstep and started shoving pointy things in anyone who so much as looked at them wrong.
Born for war, the Orians had built a small kingdom. Fear and mercy were beaten out of them, their lands closed to all outsiders, and their cities built upon the bones of their enemies. Women, not man reigned supreme in Oria and any man who would speak differently was to find his body turned into pig meat.
The young girl attempted a thrust, but her arm strength and her reach were no match for her mother's. Princess Keramídi showed no restraint, she slammed her daughter across the cheek with enough force to knock her offspring off her feet.
“We're done.” Keramídi said in a way that meant that defiance would not be tolerated.
She walked towards her mother's adviser, dropping her sword to the ground. She managed five steps before twirling around and delivering punch into little girl who had been trying to attack her rear. “Good, attack your opponent when they are not concentrating. Just remember, an Orian never leaves herself open.”
Her words might have been great advise but her daughter had already fallen unconscious.
It being a warm summer, Keramídi waved off the servant offering her, her toga. Instead, she walked into the shade, naked except for the belt where she kept her sword. “Exlia, come to offer advise on how to raise my daughter?”
“You were all for asking when you were worried that she wouldn't stop crying.” Exlia said.
“Must you keep throwing that in my face?”
Keramídi glanced to her mother's most trusted advisor. The dreaded Exlia had earned her place through deception, blood, strength, and cunning. The lose of her arm had caused the old general to suffer an honourable discharge, but instead of retiring she had gone into a battlefield of another kind. Politics.
Dressed in a red toga the, with hair the colour of burnt amber, and skin that had been weathered by both age and harsh winters, the Queen’s royal advisor, was as strong and stubborn a person at any court.
“Please, give an old woman some fond memories.” Exlia smiled, “You should have seen your mother, when your sister was born she would actually smile. Alas, she was never good at it. A crocodile looked friendlier.”
Walking side by side, the old woman chose her words carefully, “Princess, I need you to stay calm.”
“Are my mother and sisters well?” While fully confident in her abilities, Oria's second princess felt unready to trade her mother for a better office. She knew that it was a weakness, but she confessed that the mother had done a fine job as ruler and as commander of their forces.
“From our last reports they are still alive, Princess.” Deciding to rip to the heart of the matter, the adviser spoke slowly, “Members of the Red Spears have arrived in the courtyard outside of the palace, your majesty.”
“And why was I not told about their presence earlier? Are the border patrols too busy having too much fun with those stable boys?”
The idea that her mother's finest assault unit secretly crossing the boarders of Oria was both an intriguing and concerning conundrum. Either it meant that the women were that good, or their patrols were lax.
“That is where we get to the complication. You had best see for yourself. You also might wish to put on something. They have a man with them.”
The princess snorted and continued to the courtyard, not bothering to put on anything.
Eba was the capital of Oria, the very centre of the Oria. Every house and stone was calculated, every wall and brick planted to one or another queen's design. While most other cities were an organic creatures that grew and mutated depending on the citizen's needs, Eba was planned centuries ahead of time, and while there were some alterations due to the odd circumstance, every architect knew the exact width of every road and the insides of each house.
On normal summer days the courtyard was filled with mothers and children drinking and playing by the fountain, now it had guards with spears on every key position. Princess Keramídi could smell the sweat of the arches on the rooftops, each one a marksman of the highest account.
The moment that the forty-one surviving members of the Red Spears saw their queen they saluted.
“Where is your unit's commander?” the princess called out.
“Dead, Princess Keramídi. We are all that was left.” Stafýli said.
This was troubling news. True, it was bound to happen, the Red Spears were known as an elite unit that chose hard targets. While only numbering two hundred they were the ones who delivered the first and usually last blow to a foreign force.
“How did I not hear you come over the boarder? Why did you not return to the Queen's army?” Keramídi demanded to know. Orians did not go home to sulk and cry about defeats, they survived and joined other units so that the survivors can lend others' their strength.
Stafýli gestured to a wooden frame, which some vandal had left in the middle of the market place. “You will have to speak with the sorcerer, you highness.”
Sorcerer? Keramídi looked to the doorway. Was this a crude joke?
Exlia was the one who moved to look into the doorway, “A sorcerer, princess. An alchemist of some skill if what these women say is true.”
“Hello,” came a disembodied male's voice.
Keramídi moved to try and understand what everyone was going on about. When she saw Frank waving at her from what appeared to be a chamber stuck in that little doorway, the princess’ mouth hung open in shock.
Not believing the phenomena that was right there in front of her, Keramídi circled the pile of wood, trying to figure out the trick to this puzzle. Her mind fracturing under the stress of seeing magic for the first time, the princess reverted to her default authoritative mode. “Who are you? What sorcery is this?”
“My name is Frank and it's more like extra-dimensional folding. Then again, I'm not really an engineer.” Frank gave the princess a quick examination, “Um, did I land in a nudest camp?”
Keramídi stood straight and didn't shy away from the impudent man’s gaze. Sorcerer or not he was merely a man and should be honoured to view her perfection, “Do you have a problem looking at my body?”
The man's eyes drifted downwards, “Well, you might want to get a gardener to trim the hedge maze down there. Also, the legs. You know what? I'm just going to shut up now.”
The princess’ eyes drifted down to her sex, as did the gazes of her soldiers. The Red Spears cringed at the careless man's honesty. Keramídi looked back up, not sure exactly how she would like to stomp on this uncouth wizard.
Exlia intercepted the discussion before Oria's princess decided to storm inside the sorcerer’s domain and add one more enemy to Oria's already impressive list of people to squash. “As advisor to the crown and an Orian, I thank you for saving our sisters.”
“No problem, just settle their bill and we'll be fine.” Frank said.
Keramídi looked down at the Red Spears who at least had the decency to look sheepishly away. “You want us to pay you for rescuing my people?” she asked trying to stay calm.
“Nah, the pick up and transport I can do for free. This is about their tab.”
Stayfi quickly spoke, “Your majesty, I'll take full responsibility.”
The members of the Red Spears voiced their opinions on the debt, some saying that now that they were back home and in their kingdom that they were free of any obligation that they had to the sorcerer. Other women in the unit remarked on the great and horrific tales of idiots who didn't pay witches what they owed.
“Enough!” Keramídi shouted feeling a small headache come over her. “Let it not be known that an Orian does not pay back their debts. Give the sorcerer some gold for their drinks and let him be off.” She pointed her glare on the fractured unit, “Return to the barracks. I want a full explanation of what happened.” The majority of the Red Spears looked uncomfortable but didn't argue with their monarch.
As they left, Exlia approached the doorway, “I am unfamiliar with this magic.”
Keramídi knew that to be an momentous understatement. Magic was respected and outlawed in much of the civilised and uncivilised worlds. People seemed to think that magic would stain your clothes if you got to close to it.
Royal advisors and witches were meant to know at least some magical facts. Why anyone would think that a woman with no money or access to books was anyone's guess. Most witches blamed story tellers and scholars.
Exlia knew what had to be a child's understanding of magic compared to this invader. The old cow knew some healing remedies, some herbalism, and most of Oria's law. The rest of what she knew involved best way to cut a man into sticky pieces, which was always useful in diplomacy.
“While we wait for your gold, may I join you?” Exlia said, entering the hidden world like one might enter a hot bath.
Keramídi gave her old teacher an look that said, Are you completely bonkers you daft bitch?
“As long as you pay I don't mind,” Frank said as he went back to the counter.
With two guard at her flanks, the royal advisor entered the Abstract. The mature Orian scanned the room with the eye of soldier, expecting at any minute to face an obstacle. She took in the finely crafted tables, the polished floorboard, and at the door to the side. Her gaze rested on the many bottles on the shelf.
Not wanting to look like a cowered, the princess joined her. The first thing that she noticed were the bottles sitting on the shelves.
“Glass?” She said, impressed. This sorcerer must have been extremely wealthy and powerful to have glass so openly displayed. Going from left to right, Keramídi counted that there were at ninety bottles up there on full display.
“I find it odd that a sorcerer chose to become a bartender,” Exlia said.
“That is what you find odd about this?” Keramídi said.
“Oh, I'm not a magic user. I'm just a soldier who decided to retire and travel the multiverse.” Frank said.
“Multiverse? I am unfamiliar with the term.” the older Orian said trying to act like a better diplomat than her younger superior.
Frank nodded, “Your world is one of an infinity of other worlds. Worlds were this planet could not sustain life. A world were people are made out of bread, their blood jam, their teeth crystallised sugar. You get it. Entire universes so small you could fit them on a needle, while other know no end. Everything and anything exists or existed somewhere.”
“The underworld?” Exlia said.
Frank nodded, “There are dark places. Worlds were torture is the local currency. Places filled with ancient beings who don't understand the concept of death. Entities so large that they could eat this entire planet for a light snack and think nothing of the billions of lives that they just murdered. Empires whose citizens are made out of nightmares, gods, and demons.”
“Sounds pleasant.” Keramídi called out as she looked under a table, not sure what she would find.
From outside two dozen soldiers entered the mystical bar, one of them was carrying a small purse that clinked.
Taking a look inside the bag, the princess withdrew two gold coins and put them on the counter in front of the bartender. “For the bill of my men's drinks. Be grateful that I don't give you my sword as well.” her tone suggested that if the man attempted to extort more from her treasury than he would discover what hard bronze felt like between his ribs.
The sorcerer took the coins and let out a sigh, “They ate me out of house and home you know. Teleporting all over the world, rescuing damsels in distress. Not cheap, you know.”
When he said that Keramídi did ponder giving the whole purse. The lives of some of her mothers best commando unit were worth far more than a few useless coins. But her mother had taught her that merchants lied worse than demons. “Take your pay and leave. Or I shall make you leave.”
The sorcerer let out a grunt and pocket the coins. “While you gouging and robbing me in broad daylight, can I get any of you anything before I get out of here and try to recoup my losses?”
Exlia ran her eyes along the bottles, the old woman was thinking about something. “What do you recommend?”
Frank examined the older Oria woman. “Would this be an normal drink or do you want something a bit more...” he hesitated to say it, “Magical?”
“Magical.” Exlia said.
“You're in luck. Grand opening today. The drinks are dirt cheap, apparently.” Frank moved to the self and began to take out four bottles. Keramídi watched him carefully as did all of the Orians.
After a minute of pouring and stirring, the owner of the magical portal placed a tiny glass on the table and filled it halfway with a clear substance. “The lucky Luke.” Frank declared.
“Is that all?” Keramídi laughed. All that preparation to fill a teeny tiny glass.
Exlia examined the contents with scepticism, “What does it do?”
“It has many names but a luck potion is the dumbed down version. For twelve hours the laws of probability rearrange themselves for your benefit. Reality itself will bend to your desires.”
He could not believe that anyone would believe such hogswash. Keramídi thought. She looked down at the contents of the glass, suspecting that it's properties were more sinister in nature. She moved to the exit with her guard close behind her.
“If you drink that, you will get what you deserve.” she said.
Born in Australia I am a late bloomer when it came to books. I started writing when my grandfather died and it just sort of turned into a hobby.
I like science fiction, but not space opera. I like fantasy but I am picky when it comes to epic and urban types. I try to stay away from vampires, zombies and romance novels when I can.