Joanna woke, and found her gaze resting on the open door across from her. Filled with the green of spring, highlighted by flowering vines and blue sky, the doorway invited her forward.
Closing her eyes, she turned her back on it, letting a sob rise up in her throat before pushing it down again.
Shuffling footsteps warned her of a visitor, and she forced herself to relax.
A soft hand touched her shoulder, followed by Nana Clerina’s rasping old voice, “You have to get up someday, Joanna, and today is as good a day as any.”
Joanna stiffened, feeling the coldness in her heart seep into the outermost layers of her skin, betraying her wakefulness. “No,” she said.
“The pain is only going to lessen with time, and with life. If you lay here like one of the dead, it will only consume you, child,” Nana stated firmly.
Joanna ground her teeth together, and pulled her shoulder away from Nana’s touch. “I should have died,” she said.
Nana sighed long and deep. Her shuffling footsteps carried her away, towards that doorway. Before she left, she said, “Everyone has a purpose, Joanna. You must find yours again.”
Joanna waited until the footsteps died away, then she opened her eyes to stare at the blank wall of her cell. It had been her room once, filled with art, music, and the laughter of friends. She had ripped the artwork from the walls, destroyed her flute, and thrown the bedding outside the first day she had returned home. Now she lay on a hard bed frame, with only her cloak wrapped around her. Suddenly, she realized she was missing something. What could it be?
She sat up, and looked around her, quickly alert, reaching for… nothing. She slumped in her seat, bowing her head over her knees. Her sword had been broken. Her right arm ended in a stump, healed at Nana’s expert touch but not whole. Never whole again. The enemy had left her for dead, and she might as well be with no hand, and no sword. Her country had been defeated by a bandit horde, her friends had been killed or taken away.
Waking on the battlefield, with a crow pecking at her stump, and the bodies of her comrades strewn around her, she had only one thought… to escape the horror that surrounded her. So she had run home, in a blurry haze of pain, and now the terror still lived with her in her head. She couldn’t stop seeing the images of that gore-covered battlefield.
A feeble scream interrupted her thoughts. The sounds of a struggle were unmistakable, and Joanna leaped to her feet, grabbing the water jug from the floor. Stepping close to the wall, she peered out the doorway to see Nana on her knees, grappling with a bandit. Another bandit stood laughing, while he watered their horses in the courtyard fountain. Their high, clicking speech made no sense to Joanna, but she could tell that they were being crude just by their expressions.
What could she do? There were just two of them, it seemed, probably stealing necessities for their forces. She glanced about her. Just outside the door, Nana’s shovel lay in the dirt. Softly, she put down the jug, and stepped into the courtyard. Focused on their sport, the bandits didn’t seem to notice her. She knelt and picked up the shovel, and then sprinted across the courtyard, screaming at the top of her lungs, startling both men and their horses.
Instead of attacking the bandit by the fountain, she brought the shovel down on the reins that he held. The horses panicked, and ran. The bandit stumbled, and she launched herself at him, knocking him into the fountain with the momentum of her body. He floundered, thrashing around, but she held onto him, pushing him under.
Behind her, Nana screamed again, and Joanna turned just in time, moving to the side as the other bandit brought down his sword, narrowly missing her but mortally stabbing his friend.
Joanna backed up, looking around her for an idea, or a weapon. As she looked, Nana ran to the kitchen alcove, and the bandit yanked his sword out of his friend’s body. Bellowing, he threw himself towards her, with his sword high.
Joanna couldn’t believe he was that stupid. It was if time slowed, as she stepped to the side of one of Nana’s planters. He rushed her in the narrow space, she ducked, slid and tripped him, letting his rushing weight carry him into a wheelbarrow. Then Nana was at her side, offering her a kitchen knife. Joanna took it, weighed it in her left hand and threw it, striking the bandit in the chest as he rose to attack again.
He fell backwards, tripping, his sword dropping from his fingers.
Joanna stepped forward, took the sword in her left hand, and with a swiping side cut across his throat, she killed him.
Standing there, over the still body, she knew her purpose. Nana healed. She fought and killed, in defense of her people. She didn’t like the blood. She didn’t like death. But when she fought, everything came into place.
“There may be others,” Nana said quietly.
“They only send out small groups to attack homesteads and villages. There will be more in town,” Joanna said. She looked at Nana, measuring the toughness of her grandmother for the first time. Despite the attack, Nana looked strong. “You can bring your herbs, and I will bring this,” she said, holding the sword up, “and we can help. The bandit leader, Van Dalsing, will have only sent a dozen to our village, because he will think it of no consequence. We will teach him otherwise.”
Joanna took a deep breath. “Then, we will have to plan for tomorrow. But today, we have enough to do.”
Tyrean Martinson lives in the Northwest and enjoys sun breaks and rainbows, neither of which are possible without rain. She has been previously published in Mindflights, Every Day Poets, Haruah:Breath of Heaven, WWU Viking, and in “New Voices IV”, the 2001 UW commercial fiction anthology.