Emeric would have preferred to be anywhere else but here - on the dirt track, riding a shabby wagon with drizzly rain pissing down on his back. What choice did he have though? M’lord...or was it M’lady now demanded the doubled tax from all homesteads in Emeric’s village, both in crop an’ coin.
So here Emeric was slowly trudgung to the nearby town to sell what little crop he could spare. It wasn’t much, even with him keeping barely enough harvest to feed his children through the coming winter and spring.
At the thought of the failed harvest, Emeric turned sour as an unripe grapes. The witchin’ curse came one and a half moons ago, right in the middle of the harvest. All men, he and his sons included, went to sleep as men, but woke up as wenches. Panicked, they rushed to the temple only to find the priest...eh priestess swinging in the wind. Old Clarenbald couldn’t take it in his old age, so he decided to go ask the goddess to forgive us sinners.
Or so new priestess said. When she arrived an’ explained.
Not all had stomached the news as well as Emeric did. His neighbour - Geoff No-ear drowned himself in cheap like piss ale, and was last seen lying in a mad near the tavern.
But Emeric was simple but hard working man. He slapped the unseemly fright out of his two eldest, and went back to the field. Tits or no tits, harvest had to be taken from the fields. Winter would come, and they needed to prepare for it.
Turned out though, that being womenfolk made work harder. No, they still woke up with the sun and worked till the dusk. But the hefty breasts and weaker muscles were ill help when there was man’s work to be done. That’s not even mentioning the lewd urges he now had.
Emeric shuddered, his mind flashing to the first few days after the curse took ‘em. Of things and feelings that itched and burned between his legs and on his chest. One time he caught his younger son...egh...daughter...whatever, rubbing her cunny cloth-covered most obscenely against the wooden broom handle. After reprimanding his child, he, to his shame, did the same.
Worst of all it felt so good. And when he reached the peak, it felt even better than laying with his wife, as man and woman wedded were meant to do.
All of these distractions made it so, by the end, they collected barely half of what they were supposed to before the heavy rains struck.
No, if Emeric only had his family to worry about, it wouldn’t be that bad. They had enough to feed them through the winter and early spring. There would even be some left to sell and buy some other useful things.
But the tax their now-Lady levied on them was harsh in the best of times, but this year their Lord decided to marry, and thus needed money for presents and courting. So he decided to take even more from them.
And that’s not even counting the royal tax collectors that would come for their cut. It was probably these shitty roads that prevented them from already coming.
Emeric sighed, while using the long twig to hasten the gloomy donkeys that pulled his wagon.
Queen’s tax or no queen’s tax, now more than half of families didn’t have enough to give young lady her due. The punishment for it would be very cruel.
Emeric worked in this world for more than forty summers, and saw plenty how noblemen punished those weaker than them. Depending on their whim the punishment could range from taking all the food saved for the winter or letting the feral moondogs hunt the unfortunate family.
Emeric reached the fork and shuddered.
As cruel as Lady Adhemar was, anything was better than living on Lady Maebaliar’s lands. It was a quiet land, but even quieter whispers kept spreading from the villages on those lands.
Once he passed the spot where two roads crossed, he continued staring at the horizon, praying that this meandering journey would end. His mind was not too stale not to see the cavalcade of riders riding in his direction.
Hastily, Emeric directed his wagon to the roadside. His old and tired eyes still saw that riders were moving with a speed possible only on a horseback. Horses were rich people animal. So whoever they were, they were too important to stand in their path.
Emeric glanced back at the sacks with grain that he and his sons piled on the wagon. He furrowed his brows. Bad feeling nestled in his heart. Who knew those nobles would do to him?
Quickly, before strangers were too close, Emeric was able to throw two hefty sacks of grain into thick walls of bushes that grew on both sides of the wall. Hopefully they wouldn’t get too dirty in the mud.
If the approaching riders were going to rob him, maybe he would be able to save at least that.
It didn’t take much longer for the riders to get to where Emeric was. It took him a few seconds, during which he blinked in confusion, to realise that a beautiful young woman, dressed in a mighty appealing attire, was the Lady Adhemar with her sworn knights flanking her.
The moment he came to this realisation, Emeric dropped into mud, kneeling and hoping against everything his life experience taught him, that he wouldn’t be whipped.
The last couple of weeks were almost perfectly perfectly mundane in the best of ways. There was little in the way of gods and monsters out Issei’s cartoons.I still had trouble accepting with my heart the fact that mysticism and gods, that were so derided by the socialist dogma, were very real and present in this crazy detail. So I welcomed the last 13 days, I had spent polishing my survival skills and familiarising myself with my old...well young body. Yes, there was no voodoo nonsense to fuck shit up.
Well, save for one little but a very important detail.
With a pained groan, I rose from my makeshift bedding, rubbing sleep out of my wrinkled face with a slightly less shrivelled hand.
Alas, it looked like the ritual Olga created was not perfect. The blowback came after I had spent half a day moving away from the capital. The sudden and very painful transformation had made me stumble to the ground. I had no mirror to examine myself, but a cursory round of touching revealed that I had lost my youth and virility I enjoyed not a minute before.
After a surge of panic subsided, and I was able to collect my thoughts, it became plain to me, that I didn’t revert to my real age. No I was locked in a physical age of around 60, maybe 50.
That...was much worse than being young hale, but still infinitely better than frailty of a ninety year old me.
So, after swallowing something bitter, I trudged forth. This setback was bad, but not disastrous. It changed nothing
It came as a shock when over the course of the next several days, some unseen and vaguely defined “charge” kept building up within me. This charge was nebulous and hard to pin down, whatever it was I couldn’t access.
Three days later, when I somehow knew that whatever “battery” inside me was fully charged, I stumbled into a lair of bandits. Oh how I had cursed my foolishness when I missed the obvious signs a camp hidden in the forest. There I stood, surrounded by half a dozen of raggedly dressed, foul smelling bandits.
My heart beat frantically, I was good, and fighting in desperate situations always came easily. But in this situation I hadn’t liked my chances. My opponents were armed better than me - they had axes, long knives and one of then had a bow and arrow. That little bitch kept away from me and by the look in her eyes I felt that she was ready to pincushion me at a drop of a hat.
So the surge of boiling, furious energy was unexpected, but welcome shock. I could almost taste the iron of the axe flying to part my jaw from the rest of the head. In flash of opaque golden light I returned to my young and hale form.
Attacking bandit flinched from the flash of light, which gave me an opening I needed. Ten minutes later I stood in the middle of a forest clearing amidst the corpses of my would-be robbers. As blood soaked into the damp soil, I pondered the peculiar situation of my organism.
Something kooky was going on. I was stronger and faster than I had any right to be and several times bandits managed to injure me, the wounds that should have debilitated me were inconveniences at best. They quickly scabbed over, and over the next several hours were completely healed with no scars to show.
Over the next several days I realised that the ritual left me in a very unusual position. Not ideal but one I could get a lot of use out of.
My still groggy from the sleep musings were interrupted by a couple of sacks fall through the canopy of branches right in front of me, splashing the dirt on my clothes.
My stomach growled as a smell of wheat, almost forgotten from my peasant childhood, hit my nose.
Last couple of days were scarce on food, drizzly weather ruining any chances to fish or hunt. So after several subsequent dinners of berries and roots, two sacks of wheat appearing out of nowhere was quite suspicious.
I looked up to the clouded sky. Olga did tell me that gods were apparently a thing, but I had my doubts. It would take much more than some magic to convince me that some mighty creatures overseeing people of this land.
Still, it would be foolish to dismiss what I was told. Maybe some deity was looking out for me…
I heard the muffled by the shrubbery voices, and released the breath I was unconsciously holding. No deities for today.
As quietly as I could I crawled up the side of the road. It wasn’t that far into the autumn so the leaves were still able to provide decent coverage. What I saw shocked me, even if it really shouldn’t have after all I learnt about this place.
A raggedly dressed peasant woman was kneeling in the wet mud, silent in a way a beaten dog is silent. Above her were the riders, dressed richly but just practically enough to not be obscene. There were four of them, and the one on the white mare was clearly the leader, judging by the air of command she carried. Right now she was sneering at the prostrated peasant, her face scrunched up as if she smelled the dung, her horse deposited on the road.
“What are you doing here, wretch?” I heard the rider’s haughty voice.
“I am carryin’ mah crops to the Old Lund for sale, to get coin and pay mah taxes.” the snivelling peasant replied in a shaky voice. I could see her swallowing nervously. “M’Lady.” he added after a pause of hesitation.
Even from a distance it was apparent that the peasant should not have said it. The noblewoman’s previously relaxed and confident posture grew rigid, while her face twisted into a furious mask.
Well, fuck that peasant’s life.
“Volgerat! Teach this mongrel a lesson.” noblewoman spat.
A rider to her left obeyed and got off the horse. Volgerat was clad in what anyone would expect a knight to wear - a full plate of shimmering, even in the dim light of a cloudy day, armour that concealed her features. Whoever was in this armour, they were very broad shouldered with a height and arm width to match. And if that wasn’t for one busting detail I would have believed him to be another man.
However, I almost lost my cool and broke down laughing seeing the great swell in the armour’s chest area.
I really felt bad for whomever had to ride around wearing this. I’ve seen humiliations before, heck I went through a gorbachev-load myself. But in all 89 years of my existence have I seen something so utterly ridiculous. Stifling chuckles was growing harder and harder.
The crack of a riding crop made the laughter bubbling in my throat turn jagged in a way laughter was not really supposed to.
Dinky clothing that peasant wore split under a force of a strike. I imagined a pink line crossing the peasant’s back.
“Again.” noblewoman’s shrill command pierced the air.
And now I didn’t have to imagine. Bright red line was stark even on peasant’s tanned skin.
Again and again, noblewoman ordered and the so called knight followed. More and more droplets of blood flew through the air, mingling with tiny droplets of slowly starting rain, only to drop into mud.
The woman in the sludge was whimpering in pain, no different from a dog taking a beating from its owner. And just like a dog that had been well bred and trained to offer no resistance, peasant didn’t lash out, didn’t try to fight or to run…. to do anything!
It was deeply disgusting, making my stomach twist like nothing else after the War.
Undoubtedly, it was behaviour like this that prompted Marx to deny peasant class any ability to govern themselves as well as stand for their own interests.
And yet, some small part of me, as miniscule as it was, was able to scrounge up some respect for the poor peasant. Despite the lashings and the mind-erasing pain she must have felt, the peasant woman didn’t break into tears. It was remarkable, I had to admit.
And yet with every strike and every little whimper the rage inside me grew.
I glanced at other supposed knights. Some looked like there was shade of remorse over their faces, but from this angle I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just my imagination giving what I secretly hoped to see.
It didn’t matter. What difference did their minute guilt make? None if they just watched, doing nothing to help.
A flash of realisation froze my guts harder than Father Winter ever could. I was being stewing in outrage and my own self-righteousness. Yet not moving an inch to help a fellow member of proletariat.
Had I really grown so soft over the years of stewing in impotence, real or imagined?
I shoved down the currently unnecessary thoughts as I rose from my crouch and started emerging from the thick shrubbery.
“Hey, sir. Why don’t we dress this bitch up in male clothes and tie her up to a tree.” a diminutive rider, dressed into leather clothing that managed to cover a lot and yet to be incredibly whorish, snickered. “I bet in half a day, she will be so desperate she’d rut with any passing beast.”
I didn’t think I had ever been so disgusted by another human being. Well, okay. It was a close second.
I almost backed down from emerging. Wouldn’t it be convenient if they just left the peasant for me to free?
Too late, the sound of branches being parted by my passage made their heads turn. Here I was on the side of the road with the peasant’s carriage between me and the rest. I could clearly see the shock, confusion and slowly mounting anger on the face of the noblewoman.
“Who are you? Reveal your name!” Noblewoman exclaimed, then gave her henchwomen a nod. They started to cautiously move in different directions.
I resisted the urge to smirk. Did those lumberheads really thought that they had any chance to beat him down? I sighed. Still, as much as it twisted my guts, I just might have to actually surrender.
“I thought my terribly masculine features were a dead give away. Haven’t you heard?” seeing her confused features I clarified. “I just assumed someone as obviously noble was privy to the comings and goings of the capital.” I made my vocie just the tiniest bit condescending. “I am a prophesized hero of course. The one who was summoned to this world and undo the curse.”
Her eyes widened in shock and even her the slowly approaching thugs froze in shock.
For a bit I was able to enjoy the sight of anger, greed and disbelief war in her features.Finally, it seemed the greed won over. Or maybe it was anger? Honestly, the face she settled on was rather hard to read.
“Tie him up. Volgerat, you’ll carry him on your horse.” noblewoman’s voice snapped her retinue out of stupor and spurred them into action. In a heartbeat I had hands pulling me down and twisting my arms. I gave token I resistance. I did need to make it convincing or else they might get back to torturing the poor peasant.
Alas everything went smoothly so soon enough I was bound and saddled on a horse with Volgehalt sitting behind me.And boy did she need bath, she reeked of things better left unseen in sewages.
Luckily, Noblewoman contained herself to just spitting on a peasant’s bloody back.
So mission accomplished - peasant is spared. Well now I needed to figure out how to get out of this predicament. The idiots didn’t search me and so my trusty dirk was safely tucked away. It would be easy to get it out to cut the rope. So I didn’t worry being helpless in a company of these scumbags.
No, something else was going to kill me much sooner...
Bloody horseback riding!