The sun lounged lazily in between the passing clouds as its light ventured to play among the ripples in the clear river water. Trees of Rosebell Forest touched only the edge of the shores as if they were afraid to get wet. Like many days when the Winged King was happy, the roses had folded themselves into bells and rang quietly to complement the songs of the birds. In a magical scene such as this, it was easy to forget the troubles of day to day life.

"Lady Delphinium, we really should be going; it's long past time for your afternoon nap," Harrison prompted.

I rolled my eyes at the servant who had been assigned to chaperone my activities since I was a child. The kind man was much too old and damaged for normal work. In his younger years, he was a skilled soldier that was sold into slavery in our country after a lost battle. Harrison had fallen from a horse in his last years of labor and broken several bones that never healed correctly. I had no memory of the man in any other form than his current crumpled one. Nonetheless, he got around as well as any able-bodied person I knew and we often bickered over my duties as a lady.

"You know damn well the only nap I'll be taking is one right here in the sun," I called as I found a nice spot in between the ringing roses to lay beside the water.

"I see nothing wrong with staying a bit longer, if that is the lady's wish," chimed in my fiance with complete disregard for my chaperone. The man took his place at my side and tried to pretend he wasn't only there for me. It was plainly simple to tell that the man with dark purple hair, pale skin, and an unease around nature, belonged in his home in Rosebell Kingdom.

Harrison grumbled a few sassy remarks under his breath, but settled into the shade of the carriage. Two female servants that I had brought along snickered at our disagreement. They were the most faithful friends that I had: a young mother and daughter with matching caramel eyes and long white hair. The mother's belly swelled out like a balloon with her second child nearly ready to be delivered.

The mother brought out small snacks and tea that she had the insight to bring for all of us. All the while, she muttered to herself about her back hurting. Her daughter, Lunaria, was only a few years younger than me. As I often allowed her to do, Lunaria took a seat at my side and began re-braiding the long aqua hair that I had made a mess of since that morning.

My fiance recoiled at the proximity of a servant and turned to stare at Lunaria as if he was disgusted. A sharp glance from me was warning enough that his next words should be carefully put. Reluctantly, he returned to the way he had been facing. I was far from captivated by a man like him, but if it made my father happy, I had no complaints.

I casually wondered where my father was as I daydreamed. My fiance might have tried to start a conversation, but I was quite pleased to visit my own world while I ignored him.

At one time, our land had been dictated by a horrible king that demanded high taxes, encouraged foul treatment of servants, and let a few heads roll each day for no better reason than entertainment. My father often returned from the kingdom depressed, poor, and ashamed. It was a sorry situation when even noble families were suffering so badly.

When I was still a small child, everything changed. The foul ruler was vanquished by a great adventurer who, the tales say, had God as his traveling companion. Just as the new king became comfortable, so did the rest of us. Even the poor suddenly had plenty of money, the servants were treated kindly, taxes all but disappeared, and nobody lived in fear. Each morning thereafter, the roses would fold up and ring until nightfall, when they unfurled into their normal shape to rest. A single man gave the land itself happiness by being a kind leader, as if such a task was so difficult for the rest of us.

Soon, his traveling companion had to return to the road. Our king asked for means to find the god again. For several days nobody saw or heard the king and we all feared the worst. One morning, as the roses began to chime, a large winged shadow passed over the kingdom and the lands all around. From then until now, the king visited the entirety of his subjects each sunrise, even if only a glimpse was shared. In celebration of the king's return, every one of his subjects dyed their hair a bright, childish color to match the excitement. My father, like many of the other adults, suddenly found pride and meaning in his work. Our crops doubled for no better reason than we were all motivated to work harder since we were happy.

However, where there is happiness, there is an envy waiting to destroy it. Since word of Rosebell's winged king had spread to nearby empires, our most powerful neighbor, Alma Triste, had threatened to invade our precious homeland. Although there were constantly soldiers poised at our borders, they had never made a move to attack. Our king wanted to take no risks, so he called upon his subjects to learn to defend their land. As though a war was knocking at our door, nearly every able-bodied man disappeared from their homes at the first opportunity and they were proud to go.

Beating of a horse's hooves against the dirt road pulled me gently from my daydreaming. The sound became louder as it approached and within a few moments, a rider was yanking urgently yanking his animal to a stop near our carriage. It was easy to tell the man wasn't from our country, inky black hair hung in his eyes as he panted from what had seemed to be a hard ride. He looked to my fiance with a pleading expression before he spoke.

"Sir, I was traveling to Rosebell to find a doctor for my sick wife, but her health has taken a turn for the worst. I fear she won't last the night. Please, take me to the nearest doctor so that I may bring him to her!" he pleaded. My purple-haired fiance was surprised at the request, but completely disinterested.

"I'm quite occupied by my dear fiance. Can't I simply tell you which way to go?" he questioned lazily.

I had never been more disgusted with someone in my life. The stranger could only say that he didn't know the land and beg with tears and sincerity. I got to my feet with the resolve to slap the demon I called my fiance the second I returned. Before I could get a word from my mouth, Harrison spoke up.

"Noble pig is what this 'gentleman' is! I'll take you if there's room on the horse for an old fart like me," Harrison suggested. The man hurriedly agreed as the old man approached the saddle.

"Harry are you sure? You haven't ridden a horse since..." Lunaria trailed off as the elder waved her worries away with a flick of his hand. My chaperone turned to me.

"I trust you if the pig oinks inappropriately," Harrison concluded with a wink.

The old servant pointed the man in the right direction and the stallion carried them away at a pace like lightning. A smile laced my features since I was the only one who knew what Harrison meant. Then I remembered the pig, probably still sitting at my feet, and I turned to punish him for his unkind laziness. To my surprise, the purple-haired man was standing ready to kiss me once I faced him.

I realized this just quick enough to step back and ready my hand to slap him. As he flinched away from the blow that hadn't reached him yet, the world went quiet. Even the birds grew silent like singers whose song stopped playing. For a moment, I stood in shock before I turned to Lunaria. The shocked white-haired girl only pointed to something behind me with a shaking finger. I followed her direction with my eyes and spotted a rose near the edge of the river unfurling under the bright light of the sun. Lunaria's mother immediately began crying.

"Our king is dead," she wailed.

"Nonsense. I've heard that they close early when the king is unhappy," I insisted.

Lunaria and I both went to her side to comfort her. I passed her a handkerchief that I carried for situations like these. The woman dabbed the tears away as her daughter rubbed her back.

"I'm sorry, I can't imagine living with another horrible king," she whined.

"None of us can; that's why our men were so eager to defend him, to defend this place," I added.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of my fiance with crossed arms and an impatient expression on his face. With a sigh, I got to my feet to look around. It hadn't been long since Harrison left, but I wondered if he noticed the sun would soon set for the night. For several more minutes, I allowed the woman to collect herself. When she seemed to be calm, I offered a hand to Lunaria so we could both help her mother to her feet.

"The sun will be gone soon. We should go home and wait for Harrison there," I suggested.

"That sounds like a lovely idea; night in the forest is frightening to even think of," Lunaria agreed.

With that, we helped the pregnant woman to her feet and suddenly found ourselves supporting a groaning woman with her hands clasped frantically against her belly. In between her pain, she warned us that she was going into labor. I ordered Lunaria to get her mother into the carriage and she immediately began the task. In my calm panic, I snatched my fiance, who was much taller than me, by the collar and pulled his face close to mine.

"You're going to drive the horses to someone who knows how to deliver a baby or I'm not going to marry you," I declared fiercely.

The purple-haired man only stood there in utter shock until I had no more patience left for him. With a shove, I released his collar and rushed to the driver's seat of the carriage. The reigns seemed to work like the ones when riding a single horse, but they still felt alien in my hands. There was no time for uncertainty, so I whipped our loyal beasts until they were running at full speed, leaving my fiance standing in the forest with a gaping mouth.

I could feel the carriage jumping at every bump in the road and Lunaria's mother began to have fits of screaming in pain. The way was unkind to an inexperienced driver going too fast. Before I knew what was happening, the entire carriage lost its balance during one of its bounces and ejected me from my seat.

From where I landed quite roughly in the dirt and flat on my back, I knew we were bound for disaster if I continued to drive the carriage. A doctor wasn't far, but we wouldn't reach him at that rate. Lunaria's mother stopped screaming during a break in the pressure. I opened the door and yanked my favorite coat from under one of the seats.

"Get your mother out, Lunaria, we're delivering this baby right here," I directed calmly.

"Delphi are you insane? Neither of us have even seen a child being born!" Lunaria exclaimed in panic.

"And we won't today either with that attitude," I replied as I quickly spread the coat across the grass next to the road. In realization that the woman probably couldn't walk, I turned back to Lunaria.

"We have to carry her," I instructed. The white-haired girl widened her eyes.

"The coat is right there; we can make it just that far," I assured her.

I could tell Lunaria doubted our strength would hold out, but we had no other choice. She knew as well as I did. Lunaria hooked her arms under her mother's and leaned the woman's head onto her shoulder. I put one elbow beneath her back while the other supported her legs. Together, we carefully squeezed through the door and Lunaria's mother tried to focus on her breathing.

My arms began to shake under the weight as we neared our destination. Another wave of pain was evident in the sudden screams that echoed through the darkening woods. Both of us almost dropped the heavy woman as she squirmed in our grasp with each shriek. Somehow we managed to get her onto my coat without harming her.

As soon as she was safely down, I hurried back to the carriage in search of something that would hold water. Harrison's leather coin pouch was the first possibility I snatched. I dumped the coins into the floor of the carriage and took off toward the river. Along the way, my ankle length dress got caught against the thorns of a rose. Without a second thought, I raised my the garment to my thighs to retrieve the knife Harrison had given me several years before. I cut the material off at my knees and continued on my way through the scratching of the branches and thorns.

Once I reached the river, a light from the other side caught my attention, but I took no time to investigate. As long as there was moonlight to see what I was doing, I didn't care about anything else. Instead I washed my hands as well as I could, filled the bag with water, and returned to Lunaria's mother. My younger white-haired friend had the woman's head in her lap. Lunaria stared at me like an alien once she spotted my indecent clothing. I offered the water bag to her while I ripped off one of my sleeves to use as a rag. As I handed the piece of material to Lunaria and settled down to wait for the baby, she started crying softly.

"Your mother is the one giving birth, what are your tears for?" I teased.

"I'm just so happy you're here, Delphinium. If it were anyone else-" Lunaria was abruptly cut off by her mother's cries at the height of a contraction. I was positioned between her legs, staring with slight disgust at the widening place that the baby would make its appearance. Chills went up my spine and I grimaced at the thought of being in the woman's shoes at that moment.

Lunaria dabbed the sweat away from her mother's temples as the time drew on. Soon enough, the baby came close enough to our world that I could see the top of its head. Each sound in the woods startled Lunaria. Not that I blamed her, I was afraid too. Slowly we both became aware of something big coming in our direction. She shot me a darting glance of fear, but I only stared at her in acknowledgment. We couldn't run with a woman in labor nor a newborn baby. Whatever was on its way would just have to come, I realized with mounting fright.

Within a few more pushes, cries of Lunaria's new sister were thrown into the night. Lunaria handed me the bag of water and went to find a blanket at my request. Liquid oozed from the little girl's nose that I carefully washed away. Once Lunaria returned, I wrapped the baby in the warm material and handed the daughter to her exhausted mother. The woman smiled weakly as she took her second child into her arms and cried a bit.

I couldn't help but stand to stretch after sitting for so many hours. I jogged around the carriage several times and stopped at the other side to look up. As if its turn to guard was over, the moon had moved to pass over the road and hide behind the treeline above our heads. The noises from the forest regained my attention. Whatever the slow thing was, it was closer than we had ever heard it. Soon it would be close enough to see among the shadows of the night.

Lunaria appeared at my side like a frightened child, staring into the woods with me. We were both hungry, tired, and scared. I pulled my white-haired friend around the corner of the carriage toward the back so we could see what was coming for us. At that moment, Lunaria's mother weakly called her daughter to her side.

As I'm left standing there alone, the shadows in the distant darkness begin to move. I waited there until each shape stepped into the dim light of the moon next to the carriage. There were six soldiers with jet black hair and a giant sad beast. It seemed to be a tree with legs, arms, and a human-like face. They were standing so close, but the scene was entirely silent. I looked over my shoulder at Lunaria sobbing with a hand over her mouth as she held her sleeping sister.

Without a word, I prayed that the quiet would persuade the foreign soldiers that we weren't there. Logic said they were idiots if they didn't check the carriage and we couldn't hide if they did, but my hopeful side pushed the facts away. The last part of me paid no mind to what was going to happen and prepared for anything.

I removed the knife strapped to each of my thighs as quietly as possible. As my chaperon, Harrison would never leave me unarmed; as a retired soldier, he would never let his skills go to waste. When I turned back to the soldiers, the tree creature was staring straight at me, but the others were admiring our horses. A familiar language, Tristeza, from Harrison's country fell from their lips and the tree averted its eyes as it spoke to them in a voice as deep as the ocean.

One of the men began taking the horses from the carriage and two more ventured around the back in my direction. When they turned the corner, I held one of my knives out in front of me while the second was clasped tightly in the hand hidden among the ruffles of my dress. They whistled and spoke to each other in Tristeza about doing obscene things to me. After a moment, one of the men put his hands up, smiled, and took one step more than he should have.

The knife at my side tore his jugulars open and the one in front of me plunged into the other's gut. With shrieks of shock and pain, they fell in the dirt to die. Their friends came after me next. Each man drew a sword as the four of them rushed in my direction. One had gotten a little too cocky running in without the others. He swung at me, but I blocked his attack and I was too fast for him to have a second chance. His belly opened as if there had been a zipper where my knives crossed the skin; everything inside spilled out.

Killing the first three was probably the only thing that kept me alive in the last fight. I was quick enough to defend myself against three swords, but only just. It was easy for all of us to see that we weren't making any headway. It was when they realized this that my advantage came. At some point, one of the men had noticed Lunaria frozen in fear behind me. The same man attempted to sneak away from the fight toward her.

Once he was out of my way, I sank my blade into one of the remaining men and used his screaming form as a shield against his comrade's slash. Suddenly, I found I couldn't get my weapon out of the soldier's back.

"Delphi!" Lunaria shouted frantically.

The one that almost got away was closing in on her, but he caught my second knife with the temple of his head. At a last resort, I snatched the blade from the body of the soldier with mine lodged in his spine. I hadn't used a sword in years, I just needed something to block the blow that was about to come down on my neck. The sword was knocked from my hand before I had any chance to get onto my feet, but all of his speed was used up disarming me. His next slash was slow enough that I easily caught the blade in my hands. Blood oozed down my palms as we exchanged a glance- his of surprise and mine of victory.

In one fluid movement, I got to my feet and planted my knee into his groin. The impact was so harsh that the man was knocked back several feet. Almost instantly, he fell into the dirt with his hands clutching his tender bits muttering about what a dirty trick I played.

For the first time, I got a good look at the dark-haired man with tanned skin and dirt-colored eyes. Everything about his appearance was like a shadow that took a mud bath and my opinion of the way he fought was the same in negativity. I reclaimed my knife from the man that went after Lunaria and started back toward the one I hadn't finished off yet. There was no way I'd let him get away after a bunch of soldiers actually fought to kill someone that could've easily been a civilian girl.

I was going in for the kill when branches closed around my body and I was scooped up like an angry puppy. For a second, I struggled against the tree's grasp. As soon as I caught sight of my height in the air, I got very still, put my knife in its place at my thigh, and hoped dearly that I hadn't angered the creature.

The man on the ground writhed for a few seconds more before he got back to his feet and turned toward Lunaria. To my relief, he sheathed his sword.

"Get those two girls and the horses," the soldier ordered in Tristeza.

"What about the woman?" the tree inquired.

"She's dead," he answered simply.

For the first time since the little girl was born, I looked toward Lunaria's mother. Her skin was as pale as her white hair. Pools of blood surrounded her lower body and all but drowned the coat we had laid her on. As if peacefully sleeping, the caramel eyes that I'd been looking into less than an hour before were closed.

Lunaria didn't resist when the tree gathered her up to put her on its shoulder with me. My white-haired friend only cried quiet tears and clutched her baby sister against her chest. We watched miserably as the tree unharnessed our horses and carried one panicked animal in each hand.

Just like that our small, forced convoy started back in the direction that the foreigners had come from. With each step, the tree moved like a galloping horse in slow motion. The anxiety built on me as I bobbed back and forth, struggling to balance. Every couple of minutes I found myself shooting a darting glance at the distance between where I sat and the ground. I decided I couldn't watch for more than a few seconds before I started to show my fear. After a few of these minor panic attacks, I decided the fall would definitely be enough to paralyze us, if we didn't die, that is.

Lunaria wasn't particularly bothered by it once she stopped crying. I'm sure she noticed the height, but she only leaned against the tree's neck with a very empty expression on her face. The last man standing bravely walked in front of the tree with his back to us. If I hadn't been so afraid of heights, I might have tackled him. Instead, I sat with my arms crossed as I seethed and continued my panicked routine of looking at the ground.

Eventually, we emerged from Rosebell Forest onto a hill overlooking an entire valley filled with tents, horses, all sorts of beasts, soldiers, and banners from Alma Triste. I was disgusted to see them across our borders and even more so when we neared the camp. The soldiers fought with each other like cagey dogs. There were several female servants treading lightly as they did simple chores with blacked eyes, busted lips, and broken bones. One was snatched up by a man twice her size as we passed. He bent her over and had sex with her in front of us and anybody else who was watching. I don't know what I expected, but I was horrified.

Finally, we reached a tent near the center of the valley where the tree set the horses down and scooped us off its shoulders. The last man standing gestured for us to follow him into the tent. After everything I had seen, I reluctantly stood there and stared at the entrance. I might have lingered there all night if Lunaria hadn't traipsed inside so willingly. Frantically, I dashed in after her. The tent resembled a very classy house on the inside. I was surprised that a soldier like him lived alone in a tidy space.

At the top of a neat stack of papers was a letter addressed "Dear Lea." Somehow in a tense situation like that, there was still time to snicker at a fierce soldier named Lea. Suddenly, as if my mind was being read, a heavy wad of material smacked me squarely in the face.

"That was for earlier," Lea called.

Once I had the cloth in my lap, I made sure to bite my thumb at him. He returned the gesture before shoving a bowl of water on the floor toward me. After an exchange like that, it was fairly clear that Lea himself meant us no real harm, it was everything else in the camp that concerned me.

The stinging of the scabby cuts on my palms warned that I should clean them, so I quickly did just that. There were a few strips of bandages among the material Lea threw at me. Once my palms were wrapped, I turned to see where Lea took Lunaria.

In the corner of the tent next to a bed, Lea seemed to be hanging a hammock from the poles holding up his makeshift house. Lunaria laid quietly under the covers with her sister in her arms, obviously still distraught from the day. Out of curiosity, I unfolded the wad of material to see that they were fresh clothes.

I searched for somewhere to change without leaving the safety of the tent, but the entire place was one large open space. Then I decided that I would have to wear the dress I had-one look at the pitiful shredded garment made a liar out of me. For a moment, I waited until I knew neither of my company were looking and I dashed behind the desk to put on the strange attire.

Slowly I began to realize that Lea had given me a man's clothes. I raised my eyes over the top of the desk and glared at my captor. When Lea got the hammock settled the way he wanted it, he turned to see where I went. Upon catching sight of me, he burst into laughter. Grumpily, I threw the pants and button up shirt on before I stood up to assess their fitting.

I couldn't help but feel like there were people hugging my butt and my legs, but after the first couple of seconds, I decided that the feeling wasn't bad. Lea ventured over to tidy up my outfit by rolling my sleeve cuffs and attempting to tuck in the tails. With a glance at my chest, he made a surprised face before yanking the shirt back out of my pants. He disappeared through the back of the tent and returned with an armful of bandages.

"You need to put these around those," Lea explained, pointing from the white gauze to my chest.

Although I knew exactly what he meant, I cocked my head to the side as if I didn't understand. The soldier looked flabbergasted at the thought that he would have to play charades with me about something like this. For a moment Lea stared at me and gathered his chosen words and gestures carefully.

"You"-he pointed to me-"wrap"-he demonstrated around his wrists-"this"-he pointed to the bandages-"around"-he ran around me several times waving the bandages-"those," he finished gesturing toward my breasts.

I was already thoroughly amused by his display, but I wrapped the bandage around the outside of my shirt just for an extra reaction. Once I was finished, Lea shook his head as if he would slam it into something if he had to shake it ever again and began the second round of charades.

"In"-he made a gesture with his fingers, but found it inappropriate and started over-"in"-he pulled his shirt over his head so that only his hair stuck out of the caller-"your"-he pointed to me-"shirt," Lea finished, waving the material of his button up as if it was on fire.

This time, I turned my back to him and did it correctly while I snickered. When Lea inspected me, he still made a dissatisfied face. It was still quite simple to tell I was female from my breasts alone, but I wasn't indecent. He led me to the chair at the desk and reached into the drawer while I sifted through the papers. At first there were letters from his mother that I found hilarious. Then there were a few from clearly upset ex lovers that hated him.

Finally, I came across a letter from someone named Katsu. Throughout the writing, Katsu told about his father being a horrible dictator over what he did with his life, that he had grown to hate everything just like the man he didn't want to shadow, and that he would see Lea soon.

When I finished reading the papers I cared about, I began to wonder why Lea allowed me to go through them all. His hand appeared to place the scissors on top of the pile of letters and he went completely around the desk to stare at me. With a smile, he disappeared to find something else. I couldn't imagine why he was doing all these things.

I turned my head to see where he went. As I did, I realized that a tiny detail was missing. Even with my hair in a braid, I always felt it whip against my shoulders when I quickly flipped my head in a different direction. Silently, I reached up to run my fingers through my hair and found that every strand ended at my shoulders.

When I noticed my entire head felt a few pounds lighter-although I never remembered it getting heavy-I couldn't help but grin. After Lea admired his work for a moment, he returned to his hammock and climbed into it.

It was then that I realized I only wore one piece of clothing from home after Lea had finished with me. The piece of thick black string around my neck held a narrow, perfectly symmetric crystal with symbols carved into each side. Aunt Aleena, a powerful sorceress that nearly never visited, had given it to me on my fourth birthday. She said it would keep me safe as long as I wore it; what crap that turned out to be.

The sounds of the camp became plain once I had nothing better to hold my focus. Swearing, fighting, destruction, and fierce monsters were all around me. Soon enough, I noticed that there was nowhere left to sleep. Exhaustion had crept into my limbs through the excitement of the night. There was still one more thing that needed my attention before I found a place to rest.

Lunaria's sister was sleeping comfortably in her arms, but I knew that wouldn't be the case for very long. When she woke up, we would have nothing to feed her unless I found a source of milk. Reluctantly, I ventured out toward the back of the tent where Lea had gone to get things for me.

From where I stood, I could easily see a thin path in between the tents that went on for miles. There was at least a minute amount of order to the chaos. I wasn't about to enter an unfamiliar soldier's living space uninvited to ask for help, so I squeezed in between two small tents and emerged on the path at the other side. At first, my vibrant hair color only turned a few of the strangers' heads, but soon an unsettling silence surrounded me as I walked.

Before I noticed, several men stopped what they were doing to follow me. Still, I made my way through the crowds, refusing to acknowledge any of the pigs. The task to search for female slaves or even a milk-able animal became increasingly difficult as I became surrounded. At the sight of the warrior horde, women ducked into hiding places and the livestock was frightened away.

Defiantly, I continued my quest until a mountain of a man-at least ten feet tall-stepped in my path. His arms were the only body part not covered in armor. The only exposed flesh was heavily scarred, but part of me wasn't sure that the rest of him was the same. Unlike the unprepared idiots I slaughtered earlier in the night, the thing in front of me wore his armor like a second skin.

To confirm my suspicions, whispers surfaced and floated among the gathering crowd about his lack of defense for what was exposed while he focused on murdering his opponent. A few spoke of the monster winning against a giant with only one hand.

Finally the beast of a man spoke for himself. Although, it was far from the polite fighting banter I was accustomed to. In more civilized terms, he was going to make love to me with his sword as opposed to anything else. Since I had no intention of revealing that I understood Tristeza, I hocked back all the spit in my mouth before firing it onto his breast plate. I would have spit in his eyes if he had been any shorter, but at my height, I couldn't pull off that level of disrespect. Laughs circulated through our onlookers.

A feral rage appeared in the man's eyes as he drew a massive sword from the sheath at his back. Within seconds, a blade had cratered the ground where I had been standing. From the spot I landed, I placed a hand on my hip and sarcastically bit my thumb.

For a mountain, he was more nimble than I expected, but still much slower than a normal man with an average sized weapon. Slow blows had double the power behind them-maybe triple or more in that situation. Simply put, I couldn't let him touch me if I was going to come out of the fight in one piece.

With a readied sword, he charged like a rampaging bull. Just before I was slashed in half, I dove forward and put every pound in my body into sweeping his legs from under him touching him with nothing but my ankles. Again he rose to find me harassing him with a tongue pointing at him.

Between panting gasps, he called me a coward and pointed out that I hadn't drawn my knife from the strap at my thigh. I almost pitied his pathetic energy conservation, but then again, most men planned on finishing quickly. Silently, I removed my blade from its sheath and prepared to end the fight before I got tired too.

A masculine battle cry tore across the camp as we dashed toward each other. A slash was meant for my gut, but I used the sword as a stepping stone to get to his shoulder. At that key moment, my foot slipped. The crowd gasped, assuming it was a misstep and the monster I fought smiled cruelly. To their surprise, I sunk my blade up to the hilt into his exposed armpit. As a precaution from any final attacks, I planted my feet (which were several feet off the ground) against his stomach and nimbly sprung away with my knife.

Casually, I began putting my weapon back into its home while my enemy fell to his knees to bleed out. The crowd was in utter disbelief. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a silver object coming toward me. There was just enough time to take several steps out of the way to dodge the monster's sword thrown at my head.

Judging from the panicked sounds of the crowd, it mowed a few onlookers down before it found the ground. I took no notice of the bodies in my path or the crimson leaking off the massive weapon; there was no mercy for the kind of people I had seen in the camp. With another soldier's shirt I wiped the blade clean and leaned the sword against my shoulder to continue my search for milk undisturbed and whistling.

From the fires sprinkled throughout the way, my sweat finally broke. I unbuttoned my shirt so that my bare stomach and the bandages covering my breasts were exposed. It was too hot to remain fully clothed. Along the path, I spotted a goat wondering into a giant tent and I followed it inside where a boy sat holding two of her children. As I gave the mother's head a pat, her kids raced for their late night snack at her udders. When they were finished, I found a vacant bucket and began filling it with fresh milk.

One of the several soldiers in the shelter stood up. He was almost as huge as the man I had fought earlier and had twice the scars. His head had been split open on one side and his dirty blonde hair had never regrown over the markings left behind. A sword was strapped to one of his hips while a dagger occupied the other side. I took no notice of the man until he began to speak.

"What business does a Rosebell woman have in my home touching my son's goats?" the man growled fluently in my native tongue.

Instead of giving the man an answer, I tossed the monster's sword to his feet. The soldier picked it up for inspection and his son rushed over to get a peek. Almost in disgust, he flung the weapon into the dirt.

"So you aren't only a milk thief, you steal blades too," he hissed.

"It isn't stealing if he won't use it again," I retorted venomously.

The man laughed hysterically,"You mean to tell me that a toothpick like you killed the Bull? Now that, I'd like to see. Get the hell away from my goat."

"I saw her kill the Bull with my own eyes and I heard she killed five others before Lea brought her here. You might be next if you don't watch your mouth," warned another soldier coming in from outside.

This soldier was much younger than the father, more muscular, less scarred, but still speaking my language fluently. I couldn't help but wonder where they had learned to speak it so well. At the sight of the newcomer, the older man seemed to relax despite what the soldier had come to say.

"Threatened by my own son? Defending someone from Rosebell? What a failure of a father I must be," the older man quipped sarcastically.

"You're threatening yourself harassing a young woman that killed six men in one day, I thought it might be kinder to point that out before you pissed her off," the oldest son replied. On the floor with the goats, the youngest son supervised the milking of his pet with a thumb poking into his mouth. Father of the two eyeballed me before stomping away with one final remark.

"She may be a formidable opponent, but that doesn't make her any less Rosebell!" the older man grumbled.

Since his father had returned to his comrades somewhere else in the tent, the oldest son plopped down next to me with the monster's sword. His brown hair hung in his emerald eyes, but he left it that way while he looked down. After briefly inspecting it, he turned the hilt until it faced my direction and slid the weapon over as if he was returning it to me.

"I have no use for a sword. Besides, I may have to come for more milk. Keep it," I muttered. A lengthy pause followed my offer as the young man watched me finish filling the bucket. With nothing left to say, I stood ready to make the return journey to Lunaria and Lea. One of my feet was already venturing onto the path outside when the soldier stopped me dead in my tracks.

"You're Delphinium, aren't you?" he questioned in a mystified tone of voice.

"How do you know my name?" I demanded as I turned on my heel to face him.

"My mother is a powerful sorceress named Aleena, your aunt. Father had taken Varus and me to Alma Triste to visit our grandparents a year before the winged king came, but we were thrown into the army because we were able-bodied males. If we left and they caught us, we would've been killed. Mother wrote to us until a month ago. The last thing she said was that when I found you, I would see her again soon," he clarified with an excited smile as he rushed to sweep me into a hug. I only stood there with the bucket of milk in my hand as he embraced me.

"I suppose I'm happy to be a sign that you'll see your mother again, but I don't know what she means. It was only bad luck that those soldiers came when we couldn't get away and I never would have walked into your tent if that goat hadn't been out in the open. How could Aunt Aleena know that those things would happen?" I asked in confusion.

"Well, she does have magic on her side. I don't doubt my mother's words; if she said we'll see her again, I'm sure we will. My name is Felix!" he exclaimed. An outstretched hand reached out to politely ask for mine. Awkwardly, I placed my fingers against his in expectancy of a kiss on the knuckles. To my surprise, Felix shook my entire palm. Hand shakes weren't common in Rosebell, especially when speaking to a lady.

I reminded myself, as I waved my goodbyes to the two brothers, that I wasn't in Rosebell anymore. There wasn't a single idea in my head of where I fit into the camp, but I wasn't going to be treated like a lady. As I returned to Lunaria and Lea, I played with the crystal pendant my aunt had given me so many years ago. Although exhaustion was once again trying to dominate my idle mind, I still scrounged up enough brainpower to miss my home in Rosebell.