She rolled her eyes at her father’s angry voice saturating the once quiet atmosphere. She looked over her shoulder at her white wolf.
“Winter, run ahead of me to the house so that he knows I will soon follow.”
Winter bounded through the woods for home. Alina took a deep breath. She already knew that a terrible fight was on the horizon.
When she emerged from the protection of the thick trees, her father was already stepping toward her. His scowl and angry oceanic eyes made her freeze in place.
“Viggo!” called her mother. “Remember that she is your daughter.”
Alina’s mother placed a hand over her heart and, with a fishing spear in her other hand, she strode away in the direction of the river.
Alina met her father’s eyes.
“Your refusal to wed the earl is not only a stab in my heart, but it is also a detriment to you.”
“Father, forgive me, but I will never marry the earl.”
“You disrespect me!”
“Why must you link respect for you with marrying that terrible character of a man? If he can call himself that.”
“Men often listen to their wives. You can influence him. Think of your future children and the life you will be providing for them as the wife of an earl.”
“The wife of an earl? Have you not listened to me and my friends speak of our plans to take part in your voyage? I am a shield maiden! Why can’t that exclude me from the barriers set for the regular women?”
He threw his hands up in the air. “Just like your mother.”
“Apparently not,” she muttered.
Both of them glared at one another with crossed arms. Winter sat close by, observing them as she often did.
“I am going to kill your wolf if you refuse to cooperate.”
Alina slammed both of her fists into his chest. “You are not going to lay a hand on her! If you do, you will have to kill me first!”
“What is wrong with you?” he shouted.
She took a deep breath to help calm her raging emotions.
“I have a better proposal for you. Since you and the earl obviously share a love for needless bloodshed, I wish to challenge him to a fight. If I win, I will go free. If he wins, he will kill me. I am never going to marry him.”
“This is my offer.”
Her father’s blue eyes misted over.
“Father, you would fight to the death for your freedom, wouldn’t you? No one has ever challenged your desire to plan voyages, to wander the lands at will, and to challenge other men to duels.”
He shook his head. “You know that the earl would never accept your challenge.”
“Then I will leave this place. Father, you told me that I have a right to the life that I want. Remember this?”
“I want to carve my own destiny. Like you.”
He touched her cheek with his hand. “You have eight brothers, yet none of them have shown as much determination as you have today. I am proud of you, Alina, but I can’t have my daughter exiled because of her defiance. I love my sons, but you are my light. Please, don’t leave your mother and I.”
Alina swallowed hard. She wrapped her arms around him. Though she was tall and strong now, he still dwarfed her.
“If I fight the earl, I can win. You and mother taught me well,” she smiled.
“He is an old man now, but do not underestimate his strength and skill. If he fights you, he will win.”
“Then I would die with honour! I will be a warrior maiden for all eternity.”
“Child of madness, why have the gods not blessed me with a daughter that will heed my word?”
“Perhaps they thought that it was fair to give you a daughter who matches your own resolve.”
His gaze darkened. “You should leave now. Take your wolf and stay with Lya’s family. I will meet you tomorrow and tell you the earl’s answer.”
Her heart raced. “You mean, you will request the challenge for me?”
“Yes. But I do not want you to be here, in case the early sends someone to capture you. Can you obey me in this?”
“Of course. Thank you, father. Tell mother that I…”
“I will,” he smiled sadly. “Now, go.”
She returned to the woods where she felt the most at home, but the thought that she would likely never live with her parents again sent a painful dose of reality that she did not expect.
Winter walked just ahead of her, always keeping watch of potential dangers. Alina thought of her courageous wolf as a soul mate. One day when she would join her father in the invasion of the west, Winter would fight at her side. They would always protect one another.
Alina reached Lya’s home and continued to walk. She would sleep by the river and go to Lya in the morning. The earl and his men would likely go searching for her in the night.
How she hoped that he would fight her. Nothing would make her life more meaningful than seeing the unjust tyrant’s blood soak the drought-ridden earth.