QSFer K. L. Mitchell has a new lesbian/non-binary humorous fantasy book out: The Road to Kalazad.
Revka and her centaur girlfriend Iyarra are wandering adventurers almost as good at getting out of trouble as they are at getting into it. But when a mysterious duke shanghais them and forces them to go galloping cross-kingdom to steal an ancient artifact, can they deliver the goods before time–and their luck–runs out?
Join the two adventurers as they go from one misadventure to another, encountering dragons, gangsters, highly suspect wizards, and a nonstop parade of monsters and miscreants in a fantasy kingdom that’s unlike any you’ve ever seen.
“Well,” said the mare, “That could have gone better.”
The clearing stood a little way off the main path, a quiet haven of grass and sunlight. The trees were thick around, this being the old style of forest you just don’t get these days, and quite hard to find except by accident. For a long moment, mount and rider held still, ears pricked for sounds of pursuit, but there were only the faint background noises of nature going about its business. After a few tense minutes, it was clear that they were no longer being pursued, and the centaur – for that is what she was – allowed herself a word.
Her rider dismounted and stretched, twisting her back this way and that. “Well, how was I meant to see that coming?” she asked. “You see a screaming lady being chased by a bunch of nasty looking types, you don’t immediately think, ‘Oh, look. A sorceress being chased out of town because she cursed everybody’s pigs.’ I mean, do you? It’s sure not the first thing that comes to my mind.” She flopped down on a nearby fallen tree, wincing at the sudden tenderness.
“You might at least have asked.” The centaur lowered herself to the ground, grabbing a handful of grass and chewing thoughtfully. “Instead of just galloping us in all helter-skelter and attacking everyone. And that ‘Fear not, fair maiden’ stuff, where on earth did you get that?” She scrunched her face up. “Ugh.”
“Hero talk.” The rider was busy unlacing her boots, which was proving to be unusually hard going. Perhaps the best way to describe her is to imagine the sort of barbarian warrior woman you get on the cover of certain fantasy novels, then drop her in the woods for about a week and a half without so much as a wet comb to keep her company. “Anyway, I didn’t hear you making any suggestions.”
The centauress shrugged. She was tall and sturdily built, with the telltale muscular build of a Percheron. Her chestnut pelt blended so smoothly into her dark skin that it was rather difficult to tell where one ended and the other began, if you weren’t looking closely. She watched her companion with the mildly amused indulgence which only comes from having someone ride around on your back all the time. “I thought you were supposed to be the brains of the outfit, Revka, remember?” She looked around the clearing, frowning. “I wish there were apple trees around here. Or some berries, at least.”
Revka snorted. “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, Iyarra. At least you don’t have to go hunt your food.”
Iyarra tugged up another handful of grass. “Sure, but have you tried the grass here? It’s got no flavor.”
“Well, that’s not—” she blinked. “Wait, what do you mean it’s got no flavor? It’s grass. It’s grass flavor. Er, isn’t it?”
Iyarra shook her head. “Not really, no. I mean, there’s grass and there’s grass. Remember when we were going through the Eyre Plains? Now that was some grass. I wish I’d brought some with me. I’d almost kill for a patch of it right now.” She munched another despondent mouthful, looking around.
“Not even any clover or anything,” she muttered.
Revka finished tugging off the other boot and stretched out her legs. “All right,” she said. “I’m going to hunt something up. Should be a fair few rabbits and such around here.” She moved over to Iyarra’s saddlebags and pulled out a small crossbow. “That patch over there would make a good firepit when you’re done eating.” She selected a few bolts and headed for a break in the trees.
“Look, if you find any apples…” Iyarra called out, but Revka was already gone.
Later that evening, Revka slowly turned a rabbit’s carcass on a spit over the fire. She leaned in and inhaled. “Oh, that’s just perfect, right there.” She carved off a hunk with her knife and tasted, eyes closing in bliss.
“Beats me how you can eat that stuff.” Iyarra was munching some wild strawberries that Revka had brought back with her. Around their makeshift camp, the woods were busy with the chirrups and hoots of the night creatures.
“Aw, what do you know? You got a horse stomach. You can’t appreciate the finer things in life.” Revka sliced another chunk of meat away. “Anyway, admit it. We’ve never had it so good.”
Iyarra shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far. At least back on the farm I knew where my next meal was coming from.” She looked down at the bounty in front of her. “Mind you, these are good strawberries. We should grab some before we leave tomorrow.”
Revka grinned. “See? I never said it would be more comfortable, but you have to admit life is a lot more interesting these days. I’m sure it beats hauling a plow all day, right?”
“Oh, yes. Hardly anyone tried to kill me back then.” Iyarra ducked as a rabbit bone went by at speed. “Okay, okay. Yes, it’s nice. Not quite what I expected, but it’s definitely been an experience.”
“You, uhm… you glad you came?”
Iyarra moved behind Revka and gave her a firm hug from behind. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Revka laid an uncertain hand over Iyarra’s. “Even when things are…not so good?”
Iyarra took Revka’s knife and set it aside. She tilted the woman’s head back toward her and touched soft lips with her own for just a moment. “Even then.”
Revka sagged a little, leaning back against the horsewoman. “I’m glad,” she whispered. “I worry about it, you know. Taking you away from your home and your job, off to make our living on the road and all that… I wouldn’t blame you if you were upset, you know. Wanted to go back, and…”
“Hey. Hey.” Iyarra cupped Revka’s face in her hands and smiled down at her. “I wouldn’t have come with you if I didn’t think it was worth it. Every little bit of discomfort is still better than spending my days sitting on a farm and being worried sick about you out here in the middle of nowhere.”
Revka leaned her cheek against Iyarra’s. “You’re too good for me.”
They held each other a quiet moment, then…
“Is that your hand?”
There was the muffled thump of Revka’s leather breastplate slipping to the ground.
Afterward, Revka nestled against Iyarra, resting her head on her withers and staring up at the sky. The stars were just visible through the gap in the trees. If she concentrated, she could hear the centauress’s heartbeat. She stretched like a cat, took a deep whiff of the musky scent, and watched the fire until she drifted off to sleep.
It was a little after dawn when Revka—in response to Iyarra’s persistent nudging—stirred. She grunted, rolled onto her back, and batted away the business end of a spear that was brushing against her face. There was a moment of stillness, and Revka woke up really, really quickly
There were about nine of them, all told, centaurs and men on horseback. They were dressed in uniform leather and mail, and each held a very nasty looking spear. Revka noted at least three spears were hovering about an inch from various parts of her body, so she kept absolutely still. Beside her, Iyarra, arms bound behind her, glowered at their captors.
One of the men on horseback slid to the ground. He peered at the two for a long, almost calculating moment, then he nodded. “Right, this is them. Let’s go.”
The senior officer turned and brought his gaze down on Revka. “You had something to say?”
“Well, yes.” She managed to sit up. The spears moved just enough to let her do so. “Just who are you, anyway? What is this about?”
“We serve our employer, who has requested your presence. That is all you need to know right now. We have been advised to bring you in, whole if possible, but you would be amazed what can heal with time. Now, was there anything else?”
Revka looked at Iyarra, then down at herself, then back up to the commander. “Actually…do you think we could be allowed to put our clothes back on, first?”
K. L. Mitchell was raised all over the south in a series of increasingly tiny towns until she finally joined the Air Force out of a desire for some Culture. She’s spent most of her professional life working on computers in one capacity or another, and occasionally manages to get them to actually work.
She’s been writing for fun most of her life, and for publication since about 2011. She’s written for multiple websites and local publications, and in 2013 was a recurring columnist for the Kansas City Star. She lives with a gray cat named Molly, and would like to be an astronaut when she grows up.