Writings: Sister's Sword (Accidental Hero)

I'd planned another story for January but was touched and surprised by how many of you loved Harken in the Accidental Hero post. I put that story up feeling (at the time) like I was posting something incredibly self-indulgent. A Breath of the Wild fanfic with a trans boy hero who steps into the role of the Chosen One because it's the right thing to do? Who would love this character except me? As comments came in asking for more, I cried; I had not expected anyone to love my little trans boy hero except me! How wrong I was, and I have never been so happy to be wrong!

Taking a short story piece and expanding it into a chapter book is an art I'm not as familiar with as I'd like to be. I sat down to write "what happens next" and ended up with a chapter in which Harken returns home with the spoils of his labor. I wanted to add a source of conflict to the story besides the overarching Cataclysm, something that will be part of what drives Harken and Teagan away from home on their journey. I'd already mentioned the financial woes they experience, and so Lorccán was created as a sort of creditor waiting in the wings to pounce.

There is strongly implied misgendering in this section, as Lorccán does not see Harken as the man that he is, and Harken experiences misogyny as Lorccán uses their debts to sexually pressure Harken. This story was written while a prominent Twitter feminist told me that no one who isn't a woman--no trans man or enby, for example--can experience misogyny. Like Harken, I am not a woman. Like Harken, I experience misogyny. The misogyny in this story is there to be pushed back against, yes, but also to represent my experiences to people who do not understand the life of a transmasculine person and how we are dwelt with by cis people.

Hence a trigger warning for misogyny, sexual pressure, and misgendering here applies.


Sister's Sword (Accidental Hero)

The door was unlatched when Harken returned home, with Teagan nowhere to be found. Her absence did not worry Harken, who let himself in and set his pack on the floor with a heavy thunk. He paused to wash his face from the bucket of water in the kitchen and took a deep drink before sitting down to rest and think. The sun was high overhead and hot despite the early spring season. On a sunny day like today, there were a dozen places throughout the forest and nearby town where Teagan could be at this time of day and year.

While Harken brought in the occasional big haul as a scavenger, Teagan supplemented their modest income in steadier, more reliable ways. She foraged for berries and mushrooms in the forest and sold in town any surplus they couldn't eat themselves. When their handful of traps yielded meat, Teagan skinned and sold the fur. Sometimes she cleaned homes for the wealthier farmers in town or worked at the inn, and of course there was always the chance the town guard called her up for service while Harken was away.

Wherever she was, Teagan would be home by nightfall--unless she was with the town guard, in which case she would be home whenever they finished whatever they were doing. Harken didn't enjoy waiting for her to return from patrol, but he could hardly complain; his sister experienced commensurate anxiety whenever Harken was away on a scavenging trip, after all. At least he had little enough to worry about: Teagan was the best swordswoman the town guard could boast in their ranks and would almost certainly come home safely from whatever they went out to face.

Service in the town guard was mandatory and didn't pay wages, but the guards were well-fed and Teagan always had extra food to bring home with her after a patrol. The other guards were happy to gift her salted meat or dried fruit from their own rations, recognizing the debt owed to a young woman who'd saved more than her fair share of lives. Teagan wasn't good enough with a blade to ply trade on the road as a merchant escort, and her modest skills wouldn't land a cushy city posting, but out here in the sticks she was a shining star. The town guard called her in as often as they could, and Harken had long practice sitting up alone with his fears into the late evenings.

For now there was no sense in brooding; Teagan would come home whenever she could. In the meanwhile, Harken would clean up. He washed his hands again and set about emptying his packs. Rubles were counted and stored in rough cloth sacks of fifty each, to be hidden under mattresses and floorboards. The gems went into an old flour sack and stowed under his pillow; those he would sell or string into jewelry for Teagan. They couldn't afford to be extravagant with their dress, but Harken liked the idea of Teagan wearing money under her clothes in case of emergency.

With the jewels set aside and the rubles hidden, only the sword was left for him to deal with. He lay the weapon on the kitchen counter for Teagan to examine when she got home. Though it was in good condition for its age, the blade would need polishing and sharpening. Harken paused with his hand on the hilt before letting go, still feeling the soft thrum of power in his muscles. The subtle sensation hadn't dissipated on the trip back, though the monk's blessing was now several days old. He wasn't sure he liked the feeling--or rather, he did like the feeling quite a lot, and wasn't sure he should.

Harken had always felt small and puny compared to other boys, at least in part because the other boys often failed to recognize him as one of them. As an adult, his slender build had become a boon; he could slip into tiny crevices that were off-limits to other explorers and haul away untouched treasures no one else had been able to find. While time and use had taught him to appreciate this body, he often resented having to rely on speed and wits where others had raw strength available to them. Now for the first time in his life, his every muscle seemed to sing to him. The feeling was intoxicating, and he found himself wondering if other people felt this way or if the blessing was something uniquely magical. Harken had never been especially religious, but if the Goddess could grant power like this--

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Harken frowned and stowed his pack under the bed; he wasn't expecting trouble, but his philosophy with neighbors was that they couldn't steal what they didn't know you had. He opened the door and was surprised--and not in a good way--to find Lorccán on the other side.

"Harken!" Lorccán seemed equally surprised to see him. He smiled at Harken, but it was his merchant's smile and didn't reach his eyes; Harken answered the smile with one of his own while he mentally reviewed where he set his crowbar, just in case. "You're home? I was expecting to find Teagan here."

Everyone in town called Harken and Teagan by their first names. There was no call to be formal; surnames were for mayors and elders. Still, Harken hated the way Lorccán said Teagan's name just now, the syllables rolling from his tongue with far too much intimacy. Harken stretched his lips into a smile he didn't feel. "You and me both! I just returned to find the house empty. I assumed she was in town."

"No, she's not in town," Lorccán said, effortlessly smug. "I just came from there." Town was a collection of two dozen houses, plus outer farmhouses which dotted the cleared land on the eastern side. Teagan could be at any of these peddling wares or labor without Lorccán's knowledge. Harken kept his smile fixed in place, deeming a nod the safest answer to the ludicrous belief that Lorccán could monitor Teagan's movements.

"Do you know where she is?" Lorccán pressed, his polite expression now faintly unctuous.

Harken shook his head. He wanted to take a step back and place a barrier of empty air between himself and Lorccán, but the movement would give the younger man clear entry into the house and might be construed as an invitation. "If she's not in town, my guess would be the forest," Harken offered as cheerfully as he could. His smile was beginning to strain at the edges. "Berries are in season; maybe she went gathering."

Alarm flickered on Lorccán's face. "I hope not! Perhaps you haven't heard? A warden has been sighted in the woods; a big one. Everyone is staying far away until it leaves."

"A warden!" Harken sucked in a breath of air and almost choked himself for his trouble. "Have they called up the town guard to deal with it? Teagan will be with them."

Lorccán seemed bored with the subject, affecting superiority as he reveled in his knowledge and imagined Harken hanging on his every word. "No. It followed a merchant down the northeastern road, got turned around in the forest, and stayed. The thought is that if we leave it alone, it'll go back to where it came from."

Harken frowned, not liking the sound of this plan; the longer a warden stayed, the more likely it was to be joined by more. They communicated with each other, or at least that was his theory after dodging enough of them on his travels. The townspeople didn't have the same depth of experience he had with the creatures, but there was no way to say that without sounding like an arrogant stuffed shirt. He sighed and decided to let it go for now; it wasn't like Lorccán could change the decision on his own even if Harken convinced him.

"Thank you for letting me know," he said, pushing his polite chirpy voice to the limits of his acting talent. "I'm sure Teagan is keeping safe, and she knows to listen for wardens. I'll tell her you stopped by."

He moved to close the door, but Lorccán stopped the door with the flat of his hand; Harken felt his heart in his throat even as he kept his smile pasted on. Don't hurt him, was his first thought and the one thing he must not forget; he could protect himself if he had to, but hurting Lorccán would incur consequences.

"Actually, I'm more than willing to do business without her," Lorccán said, unctuous smile back in full force. "I do need to talk to one of you, but it doesn't have to be your sister."

Harken bit back the sarcastic response on his tongue, knowing better than to provoke him. "Well, I don't know how much I'll be able to help you," he tried to demure. "I haven't been here to go over the account."

"Yes, I know you've been away. The balance is quite a lot, I'm afraid," Lorccán said, grimacing in a way that failed to appear sympathetic. "You two haven't settled the account in several months."

This much was true and Harken tried not to wince at the reminder. The problem with being a scavenger--one of the many problems--was being forced to gamble on long odds. For every wreckage and ruin that paid off, another dozen had been picked clean and were nothing more than a waste of time and supplies. Harken had privately hoped the shrine of Thom Arden would be his big score, since it remained untouched before the calamity, but the gems and rubles he'd found were just enough to cover their debts with a little left over for the next expedition. Nothing to sneer at, of course, but not a grand sum to set them up for life.

Lorccán reached out to place a gentle hand on Harken's shoulder and Harken froze, fighting the urge to push the younger man away. "I'm not mad at you. I understand, you know. You and Teagan are both doing the best you can. But Garvan gets impatient and I promised I'd come out and see how you were doing."

Garvan was Lorccán's father and the town's head trader. Whenever there were goods to be bought and sold in bulk capacity, Garvan was involved. He was the one who held Harken's debt, and he was the most patient man Harken knew. Garvan recognized that whatever the small family owed to him was not worth destroying a valuable professional relationship to collect, not when Harken brought him scavenged goods which no one else could produce or procure: rare gems coveted by northern merchants, weapons and magics forged from the lost arts of the old world, and warden parts pulled from their wreckages in ruins.

Harken doubted that Lorccán's visit today was prompted by Garvan, or indeed that he even knew about it, and couldn't imagine Garvan feeling temperamental about Harken's line of credit. No, this visit was Lorccán's idea, and Harken was at a loss how to respond. As Garvan's son and heir to the trading business, Lorccán was capable of hurting Teagan and Harken in subtle but very real ways. Harken didn't want to antagonize him more than necessary, which lately meant enduring the occasional overly friendly hand on his arm or shoulder. Thus far Lorccán had not pushed further, but the threat was present.

Be nice, he warned himself, pasting a fresh smile in place. Be kind and let him down easy and get him out of the house before he makes it an issue and you have to go for the crowbar. Don't let it get that far.

Harken shoved as much sorrowful sweetness into his voice as he could manage. "I'm so sorry to hear Garvan is worried. Teagan and I really appreciate all he does for us. Can you let him know I'll be in later this week to go over the account with him?" He would settle up directly with Garvan, unwilling to trust Lorccán with the money he'd brought back. And though it was foolishly emotional, Harken realized he didn't want to part with the sum yet. He would allow himself to indulge a fantasy of being well-off tonight and let the money go tomorrow.

Lorccán moved his hand up and down Harken's shoulder in a conciliatory caress. "I'll let him know," he promised. "I don't want you to worry; I want you and Teagan to know you always have a friend in me. I know how difficult it is for you, living on the outskirts of town and scavenging whatever scraps you can find. When I take over the business from Father, I'd like for us to be on the best of terms."

A bilious lump rose in Harken's throat. Get out of the house, he thought. His chest was too tight and he feared becoming light-headed with Lorccán there; he needed an excuse, any excuse, to leave. Now. Aiming a smile up at Lorccán, he took a step back, and touched the hilt of the sword he'd left on the counter, letting his fingers stroke the leather grip and feeling the strange power thrumming through his veins, steadying him.

His voice surprised him by not wavering; his tone was all honey-sweet but with metal underneath, brooking no refusals. "I'd like that too. I'm so glad you stopped by to catch me up on the news, but I should go find Teagan and give her this sword. It's not like her to leave her weapon behind," Harken lied easily, knowing Lorccán wouldn't recognize the sword as freshly scavenged, "and if there's a warden in the forest, she needs to be armed. I can't thank you enough for coming out to warn me."

"Well, I... I don't mind, you know." This matter-of-fact handling of business wasn't the direction Lorccán wanted the conversation to go, but Harken was determined to wrest control of the situation. He gave Lorccán a fierce grin as he gathered up the sword and walked the younger man to the door.

"That's because you have a good heart, Lorccán. Sometime you must come by for a drink while Teagan is here so we can catch up and talk about old times. Give my regards to your father." He all but pulled Lorccán out of the house, locking up behind them. Harken wouldn't trust the man not to sniff around otherwise.

Lorccán gave him a long look, but he didn't press the issue; Harken had won this round. "I will. I'll see you again soon," he promised, turning back to town. He watched over his shoulder as Harken set a jaunty pace into the forest to demonstrate his full commitment to the stated 'deliver Teagan's sword' plan. Only once he was no longer in view of the house did he sag against a nearby tree and take a deep breath.

The situation with Lorccán was getting worse. For at least four years, maybe five, Harken came away from every encounter with the man with a dizzying sense of how much he'd changed. Lorccán was no longer the innocent boy Harken used to babysit in town when they were children. At some point that child had become a man, and not a good one.

Unlike his father, Lorccán was acutely aware of how much power they had as the town's only merchants and chose to wield that power over others. Garvan was unwilling to rein his son in, considering his son's flirtations harmless. If Harken didn't like the attention, Garvan was of the opinion that he could say so and refused to see how Lorccán retaliated whenever crossed. The few times Harken had shut Lorccán down decisively, the next deliveries of goods had been subtly wrong so Harken was forced to waste valuable time going into town to fix the issue. He had learned the hard way to be polite and give only the softest of no's.

Now Lorccán was coming out to their house. This new development alarmed Harken, not least because he wasn't sure how new it was; Lorccán had seemed entirely at home in their house and had all but implied he'd been there to see Teagan before today. Harken felt his fingers tighten on the sword grip and forced himself to breathe evenly. What was past was done, but now that he was back and aware of the situation changes could be made. Whatever else happened, he wouldn't allow Lorccán to take advantage of his sister.

He needed to find her. Taking another breath, he set out with a quieter step this time, ears peeled for the telltale sound of a warden. If one had taken residence in the forest then trouble was on their doorstep; a full-sized warden could kill a dozen men in a matter of minutes. The town guard could bring one down through concentrated effort and tactics, but serious injuries were always sustained. Móirín, the town blacksmith, had lost a leg to a warden that way.

If Teagen were in the forest, she could be anywhere; strawberries were in season, yes, but there were also the traps to check and various nuts and mushrooms to gather. This was assuming she was in the forest at all. Harken did not share Lorccán's confident belief that he would know if she were in town. Yes, she usually took her goods to Garvan, but it was often worthwhile to deliver directly to the farmhouses and partake in hospitality and gossip. Either way, there was no way to know where she was or how to locate her. Harken decided to try the coppice where trees had been cut back for lumber and left to regrow. Strawberry bushes were thick on the ground there, and it's where he would gather if he'd gone to forage today. If she wasn't there, he'd have to give up and go home.

Harken had been to the coppice hundreds of times before, but on this day the forest seemed different. At a time when the birds should be calling to one another and the squirrels flinging themselves through the trees, his heartbeat was the only sound in his ears. The silence made listening for the sounds of lurking wardens easier but unnerved him; something was very wrong for the forest to be so quiet on such a warm spring day.

Yet as he neared the berry patch, Harken heard rustling and felt a rush of relief. Someone was ahead: either Teagan, or a child venturing into the woods against their parents' rules, or just a squirrel or badger. But it was the rustling sound of life, messy and real; not the metallic clanks and whirs of the mechanical wardens. He crept forward and felt pressure in his chest recede at the welcome sight of his sister. Teagan knelt by the fattest of the berry bushes, rummaging for plump red jewels to toss into her already brimming basket.

Harken exhaled a sigh and opened his mouth to call for her when he heard another sound, one he'd been straining to pick out every step of the way here: the stuttering beep of a targeting laser as it trained on its prey. He whipped around to see the ruby eye of a warden glaring at him and a tiny red dot hover over his chest. At the count of eleven, the warden's lethal ray would fire and Harken would die.


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