Fight for a river, fight for a field, make a quiver, break a shield. Fight for glory, fight for your kind, make them sorry, break their mind.
The song in her dream echoed in reality. The roundhouse’s wooden wall was painted with strange wards, glimmering under the sun. She had only seen them as a child, when she’d broken her arm, years ago. Despite the large, open windows, the room felt warm.
“Dad?” she whispered.
His thunderous laughter welcomed her. “She’s awake. Wine. Wine!”
Ohne winced and turned. Sitting across from her father were three men with long faces, the village elders.
She clenched her teeth in apprehension and sat up, but her flank didn’t hurt too much. The three men looked away from her breasts, with near disgust. Her father slapped his hand on her shoulder, disregarding her nudity entirely. She knew these eyes, still and a little out of focus.
“Wine, I say!” he shouted at the door.
Letta, her younger sister, slowly entered the room. She walked with her eyes on the ground, wearing a grey woolen dress, with braided hair. Mom, Ohne immediately thought. Well-behaved, Letta gave a leather canteen to her father. She raised her head only once, by the door, out of the men’s sight, and did a rather ridiculous impersonation of the elders.
Ohne faked a cough to hide her smile as her sister left the roundhouse. Unable to find her clothes, she eventually lifted the blanket to cover her womanly shapes. Her father pressed the canteen against her chest, until she grabbed it.
“Have a drink, Ohne! You deserve it.” He turned to one of the elders. “Two,” he said. “She killed two of them! That’s my blood.” He slapped her on the shoulder, again. “That’s my blood.”
She drank a little and did her best to meet her father’s eyes. I mustn’t be ashamed of him. Not when he’s so proud of me. Ohne had to keep a straight face, though. She was used to the elders’ disapproval, not to their concern. For the first time in her life, she’d done something terrible.
“It is our understanding you protected an Easterner,” the closest of the three said.
“Why did you protect the man?” the furthest one asked.
Man? Ohne kept silent and stared at the elder. There’s only one reason why you’d call him that.
“If you want to put me on trial, wise one, would you prefer we stepped outside for the village to see?”
“There is no need for that,” the third one replied. “One of your kinsmen is present. He’ll bear witness to the council.”
Ohne’s eyes widened. Was she really accused of breaking her vow? She turned to her father but he looked as confused as she did.
“Wise ones,” he said. “Please. She’s barely awake. We…”
“You’d be careful to observe rather than act, Oren,” one of the elders interrupted. “Ohne will speak for herself, as is her right as a sworn virgin.”
“Now, has he touched you?” asked the furthest one.
Ohne slowly put the canteen away and tried to gather her thoughts. I have to look honest. She frowned. That’s what liars think.
“I don’t know him. He did not touch me. In fact, we had no contact at all.”
“How did he know where you live?” the one in the middle followed.
“He didn’t. They came from the woods.” She paused. “Didn’t he tell you this, already?”
“Don’t concern yourself with his testimony,” advised the closest one.
Concern… She looked at her father. He was scratching his wrist, glancing at her at times, when he wasn’t looking down like a sullen puppy. He had no idea what to do and neither did she. Then, Ohne looked at the elders. Rather than the inquisitive look she’d been expecting, she discovered eyes as shifty as her father’s. Why are you concerned?
“He already told you,” she stated. “You want to brand me an outlaw and send me to the eastern village with the boy.”
The elders became eerily silent.
I’m right, she thought. I’m dead. Ohne stared at them. I can’t turn to dad. This is my problem. Don’t even look at him. She let go of the blanket and stood up. She didn’t care if her body made them uncomfortable anymore.
“Letta!” she called.
The door opened slowly, revealing the little blonde.
“I need some clothes.”
“I’ll go get one of mom’s dresses,” Letta replied.
“No,” Ohne stopped her. “I need trousers and a shirt.”
The girl turned to their father, nodded, and went outside.
“Ohne, we’ve given you the right to act and dress as a man, as long as you swore to stay a virgin. An oath that could only be unbound by death,” the closest eldest said in a solemn voice.
“Don’t bother,” she retorted. “I’ve taken the vow and I kept it. The villagers will believe you, but don’t try to convince me.” She sighed.
“Ohne,” one of them said in a pleading voice. “You don’t know what war is.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t.” She looked down at the three men sitting next to her, unable to look back at her because of her nudity. “And you don’t know what justice is.”