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The stallion reared in front of me, his hooves kicking out. I cried out in pain and found myself, face down, in the muck of blood and earth. I pushed myself up, only to have the hooves pound into my body. I screamed this time. My bones were breaking.

Damn you, Fazalur, I let the thought burn in my mind. With another cry, I forced myself back to my feet, steadying myself with my sword.

Fazalur, the cocky bastard, was preening, his war stallion prancing about menacingly.

"Fight like a man," I said. My ribs burned. Pain streaked through my body. My vision swam.

"Then die with honor, slant-eyes," Fazalur grinned ferociously.

The slur stung. I hadn't heard it used for many years. I hated it. It reminded me how some people loathed Shan Kung and my family.

"Bear it, steel your heart," Grandmother used to tell me, when I would come back home, tear-streaked. The place we lived in then, a town with a mixture of different realm folk, was often unkind. This was before Grandmother decided to move back to Shan Kung, the "Mountain Lord" kingdom. "We are sons and daughters of mountain lords. We are strong inside and out."

Slurs are meant to hurt, she said, holding me close. Because slurs are made by people who are small-minded and should know better. They fear, often, the unknown.

"Do not call me that," I said coldly and swung my sword at the horse's legs. The stallion screamed, stumbling. Fazalur lost his balance from the saddle and fell. He was quick, leaping back to his feet before I could attack him, holding his sword deftly in a protective guard.

"Why, slant-eyes, the kingdom shouldn't be sullied with your blood," Fazalur taunted. "Give up. Shan Kung isn't going to help you. The lizards won't want to dirty their manicured hands." He kept on flinging out the insults, the slurs, the hurtful words.

"I have the blood of mountain lords in me," I said.

"Where are your people now? Are they going to save you?"

My shoulders drooped. It was no use. Instead I begun to limp away, my hand using my sword as a walking stick. I felt Fazalur's confusion and disdain.

I also remembered what Vanyel had said hours before. As expected, he began to follow me. "Stand and fight, you bitch. Fight, you coward!" Closer, closer, I willed him closer.

"Stand and --- " Fazalur's words were cut off when I swung my sword with all my strength. He didn't even scream when his head dropped like one of his round stones. His headless body toppled the other way.

"The strength of my people is in me," I said, sinking to my knees, giving into the pain. Oh the pain. It rushed up like fire and covered me in blissful numb darkness.


When I finally came to, I was in Lisbet's arms. It was so difficult to open my eyes: they were gummed together. My body was a mass of pain. I couldn't move. Warm water washed my eyes and a gentle voice called my name, once, twice. White light burned. A blur moved above me. Finally, I stared into Lisbet's eyes. She was still wearing her armor, her golden hair streaked in rusty red. She smelled of blood.

"Oh," Lisbet whispered, caressing my face. I was not in the battlefield. Instead, I was in a clean bed. Somebody had bound my broken ribs with medicinal cloth and dressed my wounded.

"What ---" I opened my mouth and closed it, unable to speak further. I tasted foul. I probably smelled worse. Looking at my body, I realized I was naked. They had removed my armor.

"Shhh," Lisbet smiled, a sun appearing forth from rainclouds. "You are safe."

"The army?" I had to ask.

"In full rout," Vanyel's voice answered instead. He was hovering behind Lisbet, his face drawn with concern.

"Oh," I could only say.

"You scared them," Lisbeth stroked my face. "You killed Fazalur, their head of the household. Now the Dark Hounds dare not show their faces around the realm anymore."

I shifted uncomfortably. "They might attack again."

"The entire clan is exiled to the tundra lands and will suffer the pain of death if they ever dare return," Lisbeth said cheerfully.

"The border people?"

"Escorted back to their lands. Their lords will meet me later to sign a treaty."

"Lisbeth... You sound so much like your father now."

Lisbeth wiped a tear away, laughing ruefully. "Don't say that." Vanyel cleared his throat then and Lisbeth eased me back to the bed. She left the room tactfully.

Vanyel sat beside me for a long time, his presence comforting. He didn't speak much. 

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