Looking for a hero? Gordath Wood has got a few heroes right here. When I set out to write Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge, I was not interested in either a Buffy or a Xena style heroine. As much fun as both of those characters are, things came too easy for them. They were supernaturally endowed with superior strength and speed, and they could kick ass and be sarcastic at the same time.

Neither was I interested in that other paranormal heroine, which we’ve been talking about on JK Cheney’s blog. The all-powerful witch wouldn’t work for this series. In fact, the only characters who really have magical powers in Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge are the guardians, and they happen to be men (although it just worked out that way, and I’m sure we’ll see a change, when it comes to the third book).

So I wanted realistic heroines, rather like everyday young women. These are the women we see going off to war, either as enlisted troops or as officers. They are strong and brave and smart and — real. Not a Xena or a Buffy in the bunch. (Though maybe they still kick ass with a sarcastic bon mot at the same time.)

If you are looking for a hero, for yourself or for a Christmas gift for someone else, may I present Lynn:

Lynn woke with a start. Her eyes snapped open and she stared straight up at the sky. The night had wheeled and the stars had changed. She turned her head. Against the sky, the horses were a darker presence. Briar had his head straight up, his ears pricked forward, the reins making a line from his mouth to the ground.
What’s. Out. There.

She heard rustling, something soft and furtive. Crae! Slowly she turned her head the other way. As hard as she strained, she could not see the shape of him in his bedroll. Blood pounded in her ears. Breathe, she told herself. Breathe. One of the horses snorted. Lynn held her breath again. She slid off the heavy blanket, trying to get free. Had he taken both his crossbow and sword? She damned her modesty that made her spread her bedroll a distance away from him and the weapons. The rustling sounded again, and she whispered his name, barely letting it between her lips.

The rustling erupted into charging footsteps. The horses screamed and reared, their forelegs hobbled together, and bumped into each other trying to escape. Lynn rolled over and kicked at her blanket. A silhouetted attacker stumbled over the heavy wet material and fell, and she used the time to get to her feet.

“CRAE!” she shouted.

He rose up on the other side of the campsite sword in hand. “Run!”

Someone swung at her. Lynn instinctively raised her arm to ward off the blow. Pain exploded across her forearm and she cried out and fell. Keep moving, dammit. She rolled again, sinking into the wet ground, sick with pain. Her attacker rose, a thin dark figure briefly silhouetted against the sky. Then another shadow merged with him and he cried out and fell. She could see little more than that. Lynn squirmed back a bit more and bumped something wet. Crae’s blanket. She fumbled around one-handed, scrabbling desperately, until her fingers snagged on the crossbow.

She had to brace the crossbow awkwardly but she was able to cock the bolt. Only one shot, she thought, straining to see. With a keening cry someone rose up in front of her, arm over head, a weapon in hand. Lynn’s hand jerked reflexively. The crossbow thunked into flesh. The man’s war cry turned into a grunt, and he fell. Lynn stared, her breathing suddenly raspy, and then unfroze. Move move, she told herself. They’ll know where that one came from. She grabbed as many of the bolts as she could pick up and scrambled. She set up again, this time quicker, and scanned the men fighting Crae. Dawn had come – overhead the indifferent sky had lightened and she could see more clearly. Crae fought two men, and they were so closely entwined she knew she couldn’t get a clear shot. Nor was there time to wait for one — Crae stumbled, almost dropping to his knee.

Lynn stood up. “Hey!” she shouted. In their surprise, she got their attention, and in the cold clear dawn, she could see them fully, skinny scrawny men carrying mauls. “Leave him alone,” she said, and released the trigger.

The shot sang wide, but it didn’t matter. Crae recovered first, and spitted his nearest man. The other didn’t wait — he took two steps back and then ran off. Cursing, Lynn hurried to reload, but Crae, panting, held up his hand. “I’ll take him,” he said. He laid down his sword, took the crossbow, loaded it efficiently, and aimed. He expertly led the distant running man and released the trigger. A second later, the man stumbled and fell.

Somewhere a bird began to sing. The air was cold and the wind rustled across the wet grass. Lynn’s arm sang with pain, and she swayed, dizzy with it. The devastation of the camp came into focus. Here was the first man Crae had killed, blood pooling around his back. There was the man Lynn had shot. Their bedrolls were trampled with mud and blood. The horses had not managed to run far, but Lynn’s heart hammered when she saw them twisted in their hobbles and reins. Crae turned to look at them and said a short, quiet word.

Both horses were unhurt. Lynn kept them quiet, holding their heads with her good hand while Crae unbound their hobbles and set their saddles to rights. He poured out some grain for them and they dropped their heads and began to eat.

Good. Things are getting back to normal. No, not normal. I killed a man. Immediately, she began to shake and had to sink down, weak with pain. “What. Why.” She couldn’t control her voice.

Crae picked up his sword, made a disgruntled face at it. Lynn made the mistake of looking at it. Blood, sure, but there was also cloth and skin. She made a noise, trying to keep from throwing up.

“Crows,” he said. “They’re crows.”

She stared at him blankly. He went on, his forehead wrinkled with concern. “Lordless men…mercenaries. I had heard the council has engaged them for this battle, but I don’t understand what they are doing here.” He took a breath. “Where are you hurt?”

She shook her head. “My arm. I think it’s broken. You?”

He shook his head. “Bruises only, thanks to you. Let me see.”

He laid his sword on one of the blankets and helped her ease off her vest. She cried out when he touched her arm. Before she could protest he took his knife from his belt and slit the sleeve up the seam, and she bit back a scream. Her forearm was blue and purple around a long scrape.

“No bone coming through the skin,” he said.

“That’s good,” she said.

He gave her a quick grin. His face was spattered with blood. “Yes. But though I can bind it it needs proper care. It will not be easy to ride with this.”

Lynn had once broken her collarbone on a cross-country course and had gone back to riding the next day, with a sling and a load of prescription painkillers. Stupidest thing I’ve ever done, she thought. Except for this.

She had to lie down for the bandaging process. This time the damp grass felt soothing against her back. Lynn put her good arm across her eyes and tried to will herself away. Close your eyes and think of Joe, she told herself, but she couldn’t find him — the pain was a wall between herself and his memory. She had to breathe hard through her nose to keep from crying. When it was done, Crae helped her to her feet. Her arm was bulky and still throbbed with every movement, but it felt a little better than before.

“When we get to Trieve, a physician will bind it better,” he promised. Lynn nodded, not sure if she could talk. He gathered up the horses and their gear, cleaned his sword and resheathed it, foraged for the remaining bolts, and when they were ready, helped her into the saddle. Lynn swayed and held on. “We’ll be there by nightfall,” he said. She nodded.

“I’ll be all right,” she said. “Sorry about this.” She meant about slowing him down.

He looked startled. “You saved my life.”

She looked around at the remains of the awful attack. The bodies lay where they had crumbled. The grasses were torn and flattened, mud-soaked as their own clothing. She held onto the saddle horn and the reins with her good hand and faced forward again. They had saved each other.