Mivera of the Greenwood
Hero of the Downtrodden
Mivera adjusted her gown and tried not to jump at every sharp noise. Which was difficult, because she stood in the midst of the loudest party she’d ever had the misfortune to attend. Harsh peels of laughter and raucous shouts rose above the general chatter of the nobility. Dishes clattered on the tables and the musicians tried to make up for their lack of talent through volume. The place was poorly lit by rush torches instead of proper lanterns, giving everything a reddish cast and throwing grotesque shadows on the walls.
“And they look down on us,” scoffed Tigran at Mivera’s side.
Mivera sighed, blowing out her cheeks in resignation.
“You can do it in an hour?” asked Mivera.
“If you think you can keep him busy longer…” said her second-in-command.
“I’m only putting up with this for one hour,” said Mivera, stiffly. Her sentiment encompassed the nobles, the noise, and her frilly dress.
Impishly, Tigran kissed Mivera’s cheek before saying, “Don’t have too much fun.”
Then Tigran trotted down the stairs, still managing to bound in her skirts. She had a mug of wine in one paw before she reached the dance floor. She wove her way through the stomping, twirling mess — headed, eventually, for the castle dungeons.
A brief smile crossed Mivera’s face as she watched Tigran, but it disappeared quickly. She was on her own now.
Mivera had never been in Castle Joyheld, but she’d known its unsavory reputation for years. Their knights were poorly equipped and unchivalrous in both the joust and the melee. Their farmers were thin and overtaxed. Their courtiers were bullied, afraid of the cruel impulses of their King Acton. She’d hardly believed some of the stories about the king. However, as they’d arrived for this party they’d had to cross under a gate decorated with the tails of so-called traitors. The spikes on the wall were empty of grisly trophies, but Mivera had seen the dried blood on them.
Although there was a great deal of laughter and gaiety, it felt forced: tense and somewhat desperate. The sound of frightened mice clinging to merriment, rather than real enjoyment. It set her teeth on edge. The only mouse who seemed to have having a truly jolly time was King Acton himself.
He sat at a table by one of several large hearths in the room, dicing with a handful of his most trusted knights. The party guests left a little space around them, as though afraid of what would happen if they got too close.
Deliberately, Mivera spilt a little wine on her gown — so that she would smell of drink — and then took one gulp to fortify herself for the ordeal. She made her way towards the king, swaying ostentatiously.
She kept a discreet eye on the king, until it looked like he was about to rise from the table. Then she gave a lopsided twirl, ran into a courtier, and pretended to trip — falling into the king and sending him back into his high-backed chair.
She tittered breathlessly, struggling to get out of the King’s lap. The courtier she’d run into had a fixed, rictus smile on his face — Mivera could not tell if he was terrified or furious. Mivera stood, turning to face the King and giving him a swaying curtsy. She pretended not to notice the king’s outraged face and said, “Your Majesty! Oh, what an honor! It’s so lovely…” she hiccuped, “So lovely! Such a beautiful party.”
The king seemed mollified by the compliments, but his eyes remained narrowed and suspicious. Mivera wanted to leap back and run as far from this mouse as she could. But she needed to keep him here. Him and his honor guard.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, “Are you playing dice? Let’s dice together, Majesty!”
She fumbled for her belt pouch and let a few large gold coins clink onto the table.
The king had been on the point of walking away, but when he saw the gold, his eyes widened. He’d been taxing nobles and peasant mice into poverty in his kingdom for years. Moments ago, they’d been playing with silver. And this lot only had silver because they were his favorites.
For a moment, Mivera thought they’d misjudged him — that he would simply order her arrest right now for having too much gold.
He leaned back in his chair and gestured to the place next to him. The knight there leapt up and took a seat at the end of the table, leaving the place for Mivera. She giggled, hoping she seemed very very drunk, and sat down. Acton was a handsome mouse, when he smiled. That made it rather worse.
“What shall we play, Lady…?”
“Lady Tivera,” said Mivera, mixing her name with Tigran’s. It was a sort of tradition they had, when they needed a pseudonym.
“Tivera,” said King Acton. “A pretty name for a pretty lady. How have I failed to meet you before?”
“But we have met!” said Mivera, opening her eyes wide. “Don’t you remember, Majesty?”
He frowned, and for the second time, Mivera was worried that she’d given the game away.
Mivera kept her arrow trained on King Acton. Of course, it was a king. Just her luck.
“The people’s taxes, please,” said Tigran, merrily. “Thank you, thank you.”
She moved from wagon to wagon, knight to courtier, collecting jewels and coin from them all while Mivera and the rest of the band kept them worried, craning to see how many arrows were pointed at each of them.
“I will have you flayed,” the king had muttered. “Flayed, I say! All of you! And everyone you love!”
“Pardon me?” said Mivera, mildly, from behind the scarf wrapped around her face. “That hardly seems chivalrous, Majesty. Since we are planning to let you go unscathed if you behave yourself. You can behave yourself, can’t you?”
Furious, Acton had gone for his sword. Mivera had put an arrow in his paw before he could draw the weapon. His knights all reached for their swords, but before a single blade was unsheathed, she had another arrow nocked and ready and pointing right between the king’s quivering ears.
“Tut-tut,” said Mivera. “Well, perhaps a sharp lesson will teach you some manners.”
Tigran had finished her collection, and the whole band melted back into the greenwood - their home and refuge - leaving the king to his tantrum.
King Acton’s frown broke back into that charming smile. “I shall remember, I’m sure,” he said. “Your eyes do seem familiar, now you mention it. Shall we play, lady?”
“Oh yes,” she giggled. “Though I’m not very good at it,” she added conspiratorially.
The knights around the table smiled unpleasantly and welcomed her into the game.
The king was cheating, of course. So were a few of the others, but no one dared to win more than the king. At first, Mivera let them — passing out the gold like it was candy. But she needed to keep them at the table. She began to regather her wealth — and to switch several of the different sets of loaded dice at the table. The cries from the table had begun distracting the dancers. Courtiers were watching now, as though seeing a disaster in progress. Mivera continued to giggle and sway, as though she couldn’t see the murderous wrath building in King Acton’s eyes.
“You’re lucky I don’t know who your family is, Lady Tivera,” grumbled the King as Mivera slid another pile of coins in front of her. Forced laughter greeted the remark, and Mivera smiled for all she was worth.
“Oh, Your Majesty,” she said. “They’re far beneath your notice.”
For which I am grateful, she thought.
Mivera had tried to stay clear of King Acton after that ambush in the forest. It had been a mistake to rob him, and a mistake to let him go. She’d targeted the king because he was rich and unchivalrous, but she had not forseen what his enmity would earn her.
He’d sent assassins after her. Some were really no more than knights, but a few were quite dangerous. Rumor was he was trying to hire a whirlwind in Shara’zar too. Mivera ran from the assassins — until they turned up in her home village. Then she’d killed them.
At the same time, the rumors about Acton were getting worse. Now that she’d met the king, she seemed to hear them everywhere. How King Acton had imprisoned one of his brothers for contradicting him at a public audience. How, after a drought, he’d raised the taxes on grain when the farmers petitioned him to lower them. And then he’d done the same to the bakers, who complained of the increased price of grain. And grimmer rumors still: a knight who was hung for failing to win a tournament. A lady imprisoned for laughing at a joke made at Acton’s expense. Tails and paws cut off for petty crimes. And the hostages.
Mivera, avoiding assassins and bounty hunters in the greenwood on the border between two Kingdoms, had begun to wonder why the knights and courtiers continued to follow this king. Why did his neighbors not sweep in and remove him? There had been bad kings in the Walled Kingdoms before -- but they did not last like this. Someone challenged them to a duel and ended their reign.
The answer was hostages. Young noblemice were always sent to a royal castle for training as pages and squires, as lords and ladies-in-waiting. But when they went to King Acton’s Castle Joyheld, they never came out again. Their captivity was said to be uncomfortable at the best of times, and cruel if their family displeased the king. It meant that Acton’s noblemice and many knights were completely loyal -- for fear that they might lose relatives.
Mivera had run for as long as she could -- hiding, laying traps, sneaking. She’d considered moving her entire band of outlaws and all their extended family to another Kingdom. Yet she knew, in her heart, that it would not matter. That she was dealing with a monster in King Acton. He would not let her rest and no one else would stand up to him. And so, she’d made a plan to deal with him.
An hour had passed and Mivera was beginning to be even more jumpy than usual. Dice cups slamming on the table had her twitching in her chair. She grimaced -- having more and more trouble keeping up her guileless smile. She tried. She really did. But they were odious bores, the lot of them.
“You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself, Lady Tivera,” said King Acton, eyes focused on the pile of gold she’d won back.
She faked a yawn. “You know, Your Majesty, I’m getting rather tired. Perhaps I will retire and…” she started to scrape the coins back into her pouch.
“You do not have my leave to go!” he said, spittle flying from his lips.
The musicians stopped playing and the dancers stopped dancing. They all turned to look at Mivera and the King.
Still pretending not to see the danger, Mivera tried twitching an indignant whisker at him and said, plaintively, “I’m tired, Majesty. So sleepy.” She yawned and stood up, stretching. “I’ll wish you all a very good--”
“No!” he shouted again. And now his knights were standing -- the least drunk ones anyway. “I said, you do not have leave. Where did we meet before?”
Mivera reached for a simpering smile. Then she saw Tigran standing in one of the doorways out of the hall. She’d tied a red silk scarf around her forehead. It looked ridiculous with her fancy clothing. Tigran saluted her, and then disappeared into the doorway.
Mivera let the simper go, trading it for a wolfish grin. Her green eyes sparkled.
“You still haven’t learned any manners, Majesty,” she said, standing up.
His paw shot out, grabbing her wrist. Without hesitation, Mivera stabbed him -- right into the scar her arrow had left. He gasped and drew back, sucking on the wound. Everyone was staring at her, horrified and shocked into stillness. The king glared at her -- and then recognition came to his eyes.
“Seize her!” he cried and the knights leapt to obey -- but Mivera was much, much faster.
She sprinted for the doorway, following Tigran.
Behind her came the king’s most loyal knights and the king himself. He was shrieking at his knights, promising them wealth if they killed her and death if they let her escape. His mad voice echoed in the stone corridors.
Mivera didn’t look back.
She ran down a flight of stairs, the knights clattering after her. She passed a number of doorwards headed for…
… a dark, horrible chamber below the castle. A low fire was banked in one corner, but she could see the outlines of various implements of torture around the room. On a table was her bow and a quiver of arrows.
Mivera turned without picking up her weapons. The others would need a moment to get into position.
The knights, having cornered her, fanned out — all their swords pointed at her. King Acton caught up with them, and his smile wasn’t handsome any more. He took one of his knight’s swords — menacing Mivera with it.
“You have terrible luck, thief,” he said. “Coming to this room. But you’ve saved me some trouble.”
“I wouldn’t put it quite like that,” said Mivera.
Over the king’s shoulder, she could see Tigran, along with her band of outlaws and a large number of dirty, underfed mice — all clutching a variety of weapons. They were the hostages — lately prisoners in Acton’s extensive dungeons.
The king saw her glance and turned to look over his shoulder. He squealed in outrage at the sight.
“What treachery is this?!” he said. “No! Defend me, knights! Kill them! Kill them all!” They leapt to obey and steel rang against steel in the dungeon.
The king turned viciously back to Mivera — but she’d picked up her bow, and had an arrow ready.
Acton sneered at her.
“You wouldn’t dare,” he said, of the arrow trained on him. Behind him, his knights were fighting for their lives, overwhelmed by the vengeful prisoners. Acton began to draw back his sword for a swing, and Mivera loosed her arrow. She shot the king cleanly, through the heart.
Acton seemed more confused than in pain.
“I’m the king,” he said, plaintively, as though that made a difference to an arrow in the chest. Then he fell over, quite dead.
Mivera and her band left Joyheld as heroes. They were even invited to stay at the castle as guests by the late-Acton’s brother, the new King. Mivera had demurred, choosing instead to return to the forest.
To her great surprise, it was not the last such invitation she received. Ever after she was a much sought after guest in many of the Walled Kingdoms. Kings and Queens wished to show her that they were just and well-appointed rulers, and to use her to show their citizens what excellent sovereigns they were.
Nor were they the only ones that sought her out.
All around the Walled Kingdoms, word spread that if a villainous lord had come to power or an evil Queen came to rule a Kingdom, there was one mouse who could be relied upon to stand up for the bullied and the downtrodden. Go to Mivera of the greenwood, whispered the common mice, and she’ll take care of them.