1: SnowfallMature

The Bandit Queen is a fantasy adventure story that focuses on young Oliana, an orphan struggling to find her place in a hectic land of wilderness and bloodshed. And then there's Dechar, the most bad-ass talking wolf in all of Protagonize.
Rated "mature" for violence, gore, adult situations, and language.

Note: You may choose to begin reading on page 11, where you will find the words BEGIN PROLOGUE/FLASHBACK.  It's up to you whether you choose to treat it as a flashback or a prologue depending on what order you choose to read it.  The flashback/prologue ends on page 21.   Link to pg. 11: http://www.protagonize.com/story/the-bandit-queen/249852

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The crescent moon rose high above Ravenquill Moor as snow clouds drifted over the mountain pass.  Oliana was in no hurry to return to the clan.  Stretched out on a fallen tree trunk, she regarded the moon with a longing gaze and let the snowflakes kiss her cheeks.  Her auburn hair shone in the starlight and her olive eyes twinkled with youth.  Though she was only seventeen years old, the lines upon her face revealed that she had seen hard times.

It had been nearly three months since her father, Chief Zolan, passed, but it still pained Oliana to see the disappointment in her fellow clansmen’s faces as she struggled to be the new leader.  She had appointed Jarrah, the old sage in the village, as her counsel, but there was no telling how much longer he would live.  Her whole world was slowly crumbling before her, and she felt powerless to stop it.

The only thing that could comfort her were those frequent outings with her faithful companion Dechar, a giant greywolf her father had raised from infancy.

Dechar had been a pup when Oliana was born, and she had not known life without him.  He was her guardian and dear friend, and both were thankful to have grown up beside the other.  Now fully matured, he stood almost up to Oliana’s shoulders, but on all fours.  “It’s getting late,” said Dechar. “They’ll be expecting you back.”  

Oliana sighed.  “Sometimes I think about never going back.  Sometimes I think they’d all be better off without me.”

“I doubt that,” Dechar bellowed.  At risk of sounding too sentimental, he added, “Your brother would have to take over, and everyone knows he’s a little brat.”

“Hey!” Oliana laughed.

“You know what I mean,” Dechar grinned.  

“He can’t help it, he’s twelve years old!”

“My point precisely!”

Oliana marvelled that a wolf’s smile could be as disarming as his.  Dechar always knew how to make her feel better.  She hopped on his back, her green cloak draping over his snow-dappled hair.  “I’m certain there are some who would much rather see Roth in charge than me,” Oliana said.  “But for now at least, I’ll stay.”

Dechar carried her into the woods skirting the moor toward the mountain pass.  Beyond the Brothers, as the mountains on either side were called, was the valley that housed the Veringrove Clan.  It was this secluded community the pair had called home for as long as either could remember.  By the time they reached the settlement, it was clothed in the white of the snow and the black of the night, making for a beautiful contrast.

Oliana dismounted in the square and gave Dechar a kiss on the forehead, as was her wont each night before bed.  “Goodnight, my Lady Chieftain,” Dechar taunted with affection.  Oliana scoffed and walked toward her house with a smile on her face.  “Goodnight, my feral beast!” she cried, then covered her mouth for fear she had woken someone.

Dechar laughed and shook the snow off his thick coat, pacing toward the stables where he made his bed in the haystacks.  He slept among fellow animals by choice, but he was the only creature he or any Veringrove clansman knew of that could speak as a man.  No one in the village seemed to know his origins exactly.  Dechar told himself that he didn't mind being so unlike any other; it somehow made him feel more important.

Oliana tiptoed into her house and shut the door gingerly.

“Where were you?”

Oliana jumped and turned to see her brother’s face faintly lit by the candle he held.  He gazed at her with fatigue and concern in his large grey eyes.  No one could make Oliana feel guilty for her excursions faster than Roth.  “I’ve not slept at all, awaiting your return.  Were you at Ravenquill Moor again?  You know that place is haunted!”

“Oh please, Roth.  Really, you know that’s just an old story parents tell children to keep them from wandering off.”

“So you were in the moors!”

Oliana sighed.  “Yes, Roth, I was in the moors.  What are you going to do about it, put me in the stockade?”  She expected her brother to sneer at her and become even more cross, but instead, she saw a look of seriousness that rarely graced his youthful visage.  

“Are you really so selfish that you haven’t so much as thought about it?  That I might be missing him, too?  Missing them both.  Mother and Father would have wanted you to step up not only as Veringrove Chief, but as a sister.  You and I should be working together to forget them.  But you go off exploring with your dog and--”

“First off, he is not a dog, he is a greywolf!  Secondly, I would not dare try to forget Mother and Father!  To forget them would be dishonorable.  A disgrace, really!  I only seek to ease the pain of my loss.”

“Our loss.  Do you not see?  Our loss!  We lost them together.  Now all I ask is that you make an effort to work with me to get over it, and the best way you can do that is to be here.  But you’re not.  You’ve avoided me as much as possible since we lost Father.  You're never here."  He looked her sternly in the eye.  "Goodnight, sister.”

Roth marched off, back to his bedchamber.  Oliana stood alone in the darkness, her face red with indignation.  How dare he accuse me of selfishness? she thought.  All I've done since Father's passing is try my best to lead the clan.  The nerve!  Someday, he'll understand.

She rushed off to bed, striking her knee against a table as she groped through the darkness.  She kicked it out of her way.  It was going to be a long winter.

The End

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