[READ THE INTRO]

She came to the village in the morning just when Marcus, as usual, was checking the posts. Small, awkward, in raggy clothes and with a bag full of scrolls over her left shoulder. Just another beggar among tens of those that Marcus saw coming through their village daily. Previous wars with the Romans had a devastating effect on this region. Still, many people were in motion, looking for places to settle and looting whatever they might find in exchange for food. Fortunately, their village was able to sustain the war with minimal losses.

A random catapult had hit the windmill, and the northern gales destroyed the wall, but that was about it. The latter made Marcus – the garrison commander – quite nervous. Pushing his nervousness aside, Marcus quickly noticed something odd about this woman with the scrolls at the gate, prompting him to get a better look at her. The first and most apparent difference was an old sleepy hawk sitting on her right shoulder without any leash or a cap. And second, the look of determination on her face when she came towards him.

“Are you the one in charge here?” The woman asked. She couldn’t be that young, Marcus thought, when he first noticed her at a distance. She looked in her late 20s, brown hair, long nose, and thin lips that made her face look a bit disproportional. Not the prettiest, but then again, neither was Marcus. Still, there was something odd that made her stick in his memory, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“The ruler lives in the town hall,” Marcus said, looking at her with mild interest. “I do not think he has time to talk to every person who passes through our settlement, so you need to have a substantial reason to get his audience.”

“I don’t need the audience.” The woman responded. As she straightened out the shoulder strap of her bag, Marcus briefly saw the many bruises under it. The bag was apparently far too heavy for her and she must have carried it for a very long time. “I noticed that one of the wings on your windmill is missing… This means that, most likely, you do not have a miller. If I fix it, can I settle here?”

The question was so unexpected that the soldier laughed out of sheer surprise. The woman eyed Marcus patiently for his response, waiting for him to stop. He assumed she was too used to getting rejected.

“Lady,” Marcus said, still laughing at the impossible request. “The windmill wing is three times bigger than yourself and four times heavier than you at that. My friend, the architect already looked into it and found it beyond repair.” He thought for a moment. “Listen, I do not make such decisions, but you have my curiosity. If you manage to fix it, be our guest. I will pin a word for you to our ruler.” He laughed to himself again but stopped abruptly when he saw the woman crying. “I’m sorry, lady. It’s been a rough few weeks here. Can I help you with something else?”

“My name is Kora. And you didn’t upset me,” she replied. She smiled and Marcus soon learned those were tears of relief. Kora smiled. “Could you tell me the village name…”

“Marcus,” he responded. “The name’s Marcus, and we call this place the Old Vulture’s Nest.”

“The nest?” Kora laughed and turned to her hawk, who seemed to have been attentively listening to their earlier conversation. ”Did you hear that, Nenet?” She said to the hawk, walking past Marcus. “We’re settling in the nest, isn’t that funny?” Nenet abruptly made a screeching sound, making Marcus jump in surprise. What a strange bird! And its owner!

Three days had passed since that strange interaction. As usual, Marcus was checking the posts as he usually does. People were continuing to make their way into the Old Vulture’s Nest. Shouts of those selling goods at the market could be heard and rebuilding efforts gained momentum. Today was a little different from the normal, however.

The windmill was working again.

[TO BE CONTINUED…]

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