Updated: Nov 2
Beautiful cover art by NguyenKamZ
I was only thirteen when the Blighten stormed my village. We were a peaceful community in the foothills of a mountain; farming folks and hunters, living off the land and trading for everything else. The nearest town was a day’s ride away, and I had only been there once.
The orc hordes, known as the Blighten, had never come to our lands before. We had lived apart from society, only hearing tales of them from bards who, on occasion, passed through.
Orcs, green bastards, Blighten scum: they had many names, but until that day I’d had no cause to use them. As the flames consumed thatched cottages and barns, and as men and women lay slaughtered, I understood the reality of the grim tales that preceded them.
They were monsters—huge, fearsome brutes with green skin and tusks—dressed in leather armor, wielding clubs, axes, and swords to devastating effect.
They didn’t need weapons. We were simple farmers, gentle in nature, and defenseless against them.
My young heart was broken by the events that night. The urgent, whispered words my mama bestowed upon me during the midst of the attack—her last words—would forever haunt me. My family was dead, but I, for reasons unknown to me, was selected to survive; thrust to my knees in the middle of the village, a pitiful, sobbing mess, shaken and terrified for what next.
Every member of our now-decimated community had been well known to me. They had been part of my whole life, as was the way in a village. I had liked some more than others, but I wished none such a brutal death as they’d endured at the hands of the Blighten.
Heartsore for what had come to pass, those few of us who survived the massacre then began a journey. We were taken, in chains, far from our homes and all that we had known. All of us were children between the ages of eight and fifteen. Young enough to be malleable, yet old enough to endure the trek, with the youngest ones being transported in a wagon. We walked for many days through forests until we came upon an outpost surrounded by a sturdy, staked wooden fence topped by crude battlements. We were told that this place—Delwood—was our destination.
The arduous travel had been bad enough, but the arrival was somehow worse because it signified change—it signified a new and terrifying stage of my life.
I didn’t want to accept my fate, but I lacked the necessary skills and knowledge to change it.
Duties were allocated, mostly menial. I was given responsibility for the younger ones, having demonstrated the requisite skills during the trip.
Skills? I had no more skills than any other young woman of my village. It was merely desperation to see them quieted that drove me to soothe them, lest they be beaten and tossed from the wagon by our cruel masters.
It mattered not. I gladly embraced a role that might offer small comfort to the children.
I lived at the outpost, caring for the younger ones—the prisoners of orcs—who were brought there for processing before being taken elsewhere. Some went directly to Krug, the orc capital, but most went south to the slave markets of Bleakness. First, it was the children of my own village, but, too soon, they were gone, and new children arrived. There were so many sweet, terrified youngsters I had so little time with, who I loved and comforted before they were moved on.
My heart broke a thousand times over as I watched them come and go. Yet, having the opportunity to show them a measure of kindness in such a hopeless place gave me the strength to endure.
It wasn’t the life I’d anticipated as a child growing up in my remote village, but it wasn’t all terrible either, and there were pockets of happiness among the pain of loss, when one of the children would remind me how to laugh. I cherished those moments when I could forget that they would leave me and go elsewhere, that none of us had control over our lives, or death.
I fell into a routine of acceptance.
Children came and went.
Seasons came and went.
Years came and went.
And then, after so long being on my own in the role, a young woman was brought in to support me. She was sweet and kind to the children and, for the first time, I had a friend to share the burden with.
Three weeks later, everything changed again.
Excerpt Gentling the Beast Copyright © 2023 L.V. Lane
Coming 3rd November!
Updated series graphic! The Coveted Beta, a very spicy short story, will be coming next!