No Man’s Land
“Here you are, dearie; Angel Roots, Queen’s Lace, and Liferoot. What do these things treat?” Mrs. Pitz handed over the wrapped herbs and fixed her customer with a quizzical look.
Danica smiled and leaned towards older woman.
“They’re good for . . . ah . . . . ‘women’s troubles’,” she said in a low tone.
“No wonder you go through so much of it in this town,” the merchant sighed.
Danica nodded reluctant agreement.
The city of Forsythia was an oddity. As the Ten Years War started on its second decade, young men in their prime were becoming a rarity. There were plenty of old men and some young boys, but between the ages of fifteen and forty, the only men to be had were maimed or otherwise enfeebled. The Duchess of Forsythia sought to plug this gaping hole in the population by giving jobs and rights to women that were unheard of anywhere else.
Women were allowed to inherit property, own businesses, apply for loans, run for office – hells, positions in the city guard had even been opened up for females. As a result, every woman of sound body and sharp mind flocked to Forsythia. The city was thriving as the rest of the kingdom struggled. Danica herself was an herbalist, making a tidy living in a field that may very well have gotten her burned at the stake back home.
“You know, it’s a shame,” the merchant sighed, shaking her head. “You’re such a beautiful girl; you could land a nobleman no problem – if there were any left.”
“O-oh no, I’m happy as I am,” Danica protested.
Part of her was very pleased to hear that she was considered beautiful; she had always been proud of her fair skin and jet black curls. Now that she was making good money, she could splurge on fine dresses, makeup and powders. She was – well, she was simply too tall for a woman. She hunched over to try to hide her six measure plus stature, as tall women often did. And her lean frame was in drastic need of some curve. She ate as much as she could bear, but her bosom was still pitiful and she needed a bum roll not to look ridiculous in skirts.
“I mean, if I had a husband, he might not like how much I spend on clothes,” she offered.
“One that could win such a beautiful lass might not care,” Mrs. Pitz countered.
Danica floundered for another excuse. She was saved from having to think of one by being bowled over by a boy just into puberty, three members of the City Guard hot on his trail. The tall beauty went down into the street, her thick skirts doing a semi-competent job of cushioning her fall. Two of the guardsmen rushed past, grabbing the boy before he got too far. The third followed more slowly, watching the spectacle.
“Ya got him?” he called, chuckling.
Danica sat up and looked into the face of the sun.
That was literally the first thing she thought of. The third guard’s wavy blond hair escaped from his braid, framing his face in gold. The black hat with sky blue plume made his blue eyes pop and he looked down at Danica and smiled with all the warmth of the sun breaking through the clouds.
“Are you all right?” He asked, extending his hand.
Danica might have muttered something nonsensical. She placed her hand into the handsome guard’s and allowed herself to be tugged upright. The black haired beauty stood. And stood. And stood up some more. The handsome guard was very short! Maybe that was what had kept him home from the war; he barely came up to Danica’s collarbone. That was all right! Nothing wrong with being a little short.
In fact, he . . . he . . . he . . .
. . . he was a she.
From her new perspective, Danica could see the manly ‘braid’ was actually a braided knot at the nape of the neck. There was a healthy bosom straining the uniform doublet. The hand still warmly holding her own was very small. What the herbalist has mistaken for a handsome, dashing man was actually . . . . . a handsome, dashing woman. ‘Dashing’ that was just the perfect word to describe her and Danica refused to let go of it.
“Are you all right?” she repeated.
Her voice was low for a woman, sort of husky and pleasant.
“Yes – I – yes, I’m all right,” Danica stammered.
“You didn’t break any of your shopping, did you?”
The herbalist stared at the basket hanging on her elbow as if she’d never seen it before, but quickly checked the jars and bottles she’d accumulated.
“N-no, it’s all all right.”
“Good,” the sunny guard said with another smile. She gave Danica’s hand one last squeeze before releasing it.
“DeLyon!” one of other guards howled.
“Keep your jerkin on!” DeLyon spat. “Good fortune, Miss.”
The short blonde whistled sharply between her teeth. A golden pony trotted around the corner, barely pausing as DeLyon vaulted into the saddle. The sunny steed kept on towards the other two guards, who flung the young teen across the saddle.
“It’s the nick for you, me lad,” she said with a grin. “Cheer up! With the war still going on, they’re not likely to take your hand for stealing.”
The other two guards whistled up their own horses and mounted. Within moments, the trio were heading towards the nearest guardhouse, their captive crying openly. Danica watched them go, staring after the sunny guard on the sunny steed.
“Oh,” water would have frozen from the tone of Mrs. Pitz.
Danica turned towards the older woman like she had forgotten the merchant even existed.
“You’re one of those,” Mrs. Pitz growled.
“ . . . one of those?” Danica asked.
“One of those . . . . females,” the merchant spat. “Who fancy other . . . females.”
Danica did a quick mental review of her encounter with the dashing, sunny guard, her sudden flustered manner, and exactly how little her feelings had changed when she realized DeLyon was a woman.