In a time and place where men inherited rather than purchased land, the fiefdom was plagued with territorial disputes. Generations of civil war meant that young men were scarce. Thus, although I was a young woman, I served on my father’s guard.
My duty was manning the closest watchtower to the keep. Hair cropped severely short — shorter than some of the men — and leather armor helped me blend. I was trained in all manner of martial weapons, but my talent was archery. I sat atop this tower, crossbow pointed at the tree line, watching, watching, waiting, day or night depending on my shift.
I was off duty when the Vikings came. My ancient father held my arm as I led him through the market. Screams, the smell of burning wood and burning flesh, I put a hand over my father’s. “Hurry back. Bolt the doors.” I shoved him in the direction of the royal house and drew my dagger.
When I turned to head down the path to the watchtower, a fist connected with my face. I staggered back, yelling for my father to run, run. “Save yourself, my lord!” Another blow to the face, a hard kick to the hip sent me to my knees. I heard the blade as it left its sheath.
“No!” my father shouted. I looked up to see him running my way, hands up, long white beard flapping. “Do not kill my daughter!”
“Care not for me.” I coughed and spit blood. “Run, Father.”
My assailant murmured something. I awaited death but instead, received a hard lash across the back. The Viking hit me over and over with the sword sheath. Crack, crack, crack. I fell onto my face and still he struck me. He beat the armor off me, and when my skin was exposed, he kept going.
My father fell to his knees and wept. “I surrender it all. Just don’t kill her.”
The man stopped, pulled me up by my scruff of hair, and looked into my eyes. He laughed and laughed. Then, he shoved my face into the dirt and went after my father.