It has been years since your father gave you that sword. I start a new journal to mark this new chapter in your life.
I will write this down in case you ever meet him again: Lord Gormund of the House of Maugrim is the second eldest heir to the now-dead King.
The Great Houses of Orm, Em, Ath, and Maugrim are now in revolt. Maugrim was already on the throne, so their claim is the strongest. But every House with control of the Never has stakes a claim.
The eldest son and daughters, Amr and Clarissant, were ruling at the capital, which left Gormund in charge of the farther reaches of their holdings. Including this town, which you had wandered into after one of your nightly forgettings. You had grown up seventeen years and could be lost like a dog for weeks on end before your mother or father found you.
Of late, you had wandered into Maugrim-controlled village of Mary’s Peak, named for when the Lordess Mary Maugrim took a dive off the cliff outside her holdfast.
You still wished to be a Houseman for the House of Orm.
That same day Lord Gormund was returning from a neighboring castle for talks of an alliance against the House of Orm, where he had been conferring with a fellow Maugrim Houseman. The officials of the province met regularly to tighten their control over the people and to guard against invasion from neighboring Houses: Orm, Em, and Ath. Ath, especially, had been the cause of the disappearance of whole towns. And Lord Ath himself had not been seen in decades.
Lord Gormund rode through the market. He turned in his saddle and called one of his three attendants: “Morwan!”
The man who answered was bearded and carried a long sword at his hip. Ser Morwan ran up to his master’s horse. They were traveling along the road back to their holdfast. Trees belted either side, and there was a pleasant view of fields of grain and wheat.
Lord Gormund pointed at you. “He’s not a farmer, and he doesn’t look like a pilgrim,” he mumbled.
Ser Morwan followed Gormund’s line of sight. He took in the mustard yellow of peasant banners, the green of the barley, but did not anyone special.
“Do you suspect an attack, my Lord?”
“Over there, on the path next to that barley field, there’s a woman. Carries herself like an eagle. What do you suppose he’s up to?”
Morwan took another look and saw that, sure enough, there you were. You were stooped over on the path by the barley field, trying to remember the memories you lost the night before.
“Find out what he’s doing.”
Morwan ran off along a narrow path to meet you.
You pretended you couldn’t see him as he inspected you from a distance, then you heard him speak. “Who are you?”
“Carth,” you said. You knew your name the same way you knew you could read or write. “My name is Carth.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Trying to remember myself.”
He blanched. “I’m sorry?”
“I have difficulty remembering who I am at times. I’m trying to remember which way my home is. Are you one of the King’s collectors? My notes—” you withdrew your index and read from it. “It says that it is an unspoken rule that anything suspicious should be immediately investigated. The King sometimes sent out collectors to vouchsafe the state of each Lord’s holdings. Am I suspicious? I apologize. I don’t mean to be.”
Morwan made his excuses, and came back to Gormund. I suspect he told him that you were insane. You may have told him you were a bastard, too. For they seemed to know that.
“A bastard, eh?” you heard Gormund say.
“And a talkative one, too. Likes to spit out big words. “While I was questioning him, he tried to turn things around. He asked me if I was a collector.”
“What was she doing, stooping over like that?”
“She told me she was trying to remember who he is. She seems insane, my Lord. Driven mad with her moon blood.”
Lord Gormund saw that you had gone up onto the road and was walking on ahead of him and Morwan.
He asked the Ser, “There was nothing suspicious about her, was there?”
“Nothing I could see.”
Lord Gormund took a fresh grip on the reins. “Word of advice, ser: do not blame the smaller folk for their manners. They weren’t raised like us.” With a nod of his head, he motioned Morwan forward. “This one interests me. Follow.”
It did not take them long to catch up with you. Just as they passed you, Gormund looked around casually. You, of course, had moved off the road and protracted yourself in front of the Lord. You peaked up and met your gaze with the Ser.
“Just a minute.” Gormund reined in his horse and, turning to his Housemen, said, “Bring the woman over here.” And, to no one in particular, he added with a note of wonder in his voice, “You’re an unusual fellow… yes, there’s something different about you
Morwan roughly dragged you to your feet. “Girl! Listen to me, girl. Get up! My Lord wishes to speak to you. Rise.” He half dragged you the three steps to Lord Gormund.
Gormund looked down at you. I can’t say what it was about you that intrigued him. Mayhaps your unkempt hair and soiled clothes? Mayhaps it was the fact that you are a bastard. He looked at you longer than you deemed comfortable. He seemed to stare through you. Through your eyes. “You have laughter in those eyes,” he remarked. “A strange laughter. Drive. Charisma.”
Gormund laughed at that. Apparently you amuse him, Carth.
You later overheard someone saying they heard him say you have magnetism. Can you untangle a sentence like that, Carth?, He decided he liked you; this strange-looking girl.
Unable to rid himself of the feeling but without saying a word to you, he turned to Morwan and said, “Bring him along.” He tightened his reins and galloped off.
The front gate to Gorm’s Rock—the House of Maugrim’s northernmost holding, was facing the river and swung wide open, with several Housemen guarding. A tethered horse was grazing near the gate. Apparently, a visitor had arrived during his absence.
“Who is it?” he asked as he dismounted.
“A Houseman from the House of Em.”
Gormund acknowledged the information and went in. The House of Em always wanted to limit access to the Never, and may have pledged their support to the House of Maugrim if they would absolve themselves of their heathen magics. Housemen visitors were not uncommon, but Gormund was preoccupied with you, it would seem. “This one is with me,” he told the gatekeepers.
“A Houseman, possibly.”
The gatekeeper and the other servants burst out laughing. “What is she, anyway? A scrawny little girl with a sword at her hip. Can she even use it? You’ll cut yourself on that, dear.”
You checked the scars on your fingers. Dozens and dozens of lessons.
The boisterous voices rang in your ears, but during your seventeen years of your life you have had ample opportunity to hear the taunts of others. Even with your memory being stolen away every night, you seem to be doing quite well for yourself. It doesn’t seem to bother you. You remember them the same way you remember your name. You hear it so often it becomes a part of you. Perhaps too much so. You were too calm. You walked past as if you hadn’t understood them. As if the gatekeepers had insulted a horse.
“Girl, there’s an empty stable over there. You can wait there, where the sight of you won’t offend anyone,” said Morwan, who then went about his business.
When evening came, the smell of cooking drifted from the kitchen window. The moon rose over the peach trees. The formal interview with the messenger from the House of Em being finished, more lamps were lit, and a banquet was prepared to send him on his way the following day. The sound of the hand drum and a flute drifted over from the mansion, where a play was being performed.
You watched the play about some knight out to slay some treacherous beast upon icy slopes. You lay stretched out on a bed of straw you had spread on the floor in the back of the hall. You like music, believe it or not. It lets you forget everything. Or rather, forget your forgetting. But you were distracted by your empty stomach. You wondered if you could borrow a pot and a fire.
So you bunched up your dirty straw bundle and made your way to the kitchens. You found a scullery maid with a knife and asked her, “Excuse me, but I wonder if you couldn’t lend me a pot and a small cooking stove. I was thinking of eating my meal.”
The kitchen helpers stared blankly back at you. “Where in the world did you come from?”
“Lord Gormund brought me back with him today!” you said with a smile. “I’d like to boil some salted chicken I gamed a few days ago.”
“Salted chicken, eh?”
“I’ve been told they’re good for the stomach, so I eat some as often as I can.”
“You eat them with potatoes. Do you have any?”
“I have bread, thank you.”
“Well, there’s a pot and a fire in the stove in the servants’ quarters. Do it over there.”
Just as you did every night in cheap lodging houses, you cooked up a small portion of bread, boiled your chicken, and ate your evening meal. You were about to go to sleep—servants quarters being preferable to a stable, but soon enough someone came by to check on things.
“You—bitch! Who told you that you could sleep here?”
They kicked you, and you curled up. They took you by the scruff of the neck and hauled you outside.
“I’m going to have fun with you, bitch—”
“Uthrik,” it was Lord Gormund’s voice. “That’s enough.”
Ser Uthrik dropped his grip on his sword and stormed off, muttering curses under his breath.
“Oh, it’s you, my Lord.” You said.
Lord Gormund seemed only slightly tipsy. Almost sober. But not quite. “Has the dawn risen?” he asked. “Are we close?”
“It will be some time before dawn, my Lord. I apologize.”
“What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”
“You told me to wait.”
“You should sleep.”
“I tried.” You thumbed back to the Ser. “He doesn’t seem fond of the idea. With all respect, my Lord. But now I’m fresh, my heart beating fast. I cannot be so still.”
“Such drive,” he said. “And to think—I forgot all about you during the play. And you’ll serve me now, yes?”
You laughed but made no move to reply. So when Lord Gormund asked how long you had been wandering, you told him it had been years of wandering with your grandfather’s sword allegedly forged from the Never before he took you in.
“You’ve been walking about for years waiting to serve a Lord?”
“Looking two years—either you’re the dumbest woman I’ve ever met, or the smartest. I can’t quite decide what’s wrong with you.”
“I’ve many wrongs, the same as anyone else. I wanted at first to serve the House of Orm—” you caught his glare and knew you had said too much. “—but I soon discovered that I could not settle for just any House. I needed yours.”
“And why is that?”
“There are good generals and bad ones. Good Lords and bad Lords. I think the most important thing I can do is choose the right mentor—the right master. I decided I would go on wandering, selling what I could, when I could. And then I guess two years passed.” You shrugged.
Lord Gormund must have thought you were clever. I happen to think you’re more than a little foolish, personally. And that’s not even touching how pretentious you sounded. But I can’t deny you’re not ordinary woman.
“Serve me,” he said. It did not sound like a request.
You fell to one knee. “Thank you, my Lord. I will do everything in my power for you, my Lord.”
It did not seem to occur to him that hiring a girl in rags and a traveler’s cloak who had been wandering for two years and could never quite remember who she was might have meant that he was lacking in some form of thinking. That’s the only reason I can see why somebody would hire you.