Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller:
The isolated barbarians of Neather have deep ancestry and strict traditions. Four resilient women defy tribal customs as they fight to overcome their own tragedies. Abuse. Addiction. Assault. Grief. What struggles can they endure to defend their hopes and their hearts?
Helena seeks a love as bold as she, yet finds the men of her village lacking.
Jocelyn fears her strange visions and sacrifices a life with the man she loves for the one her destiny demands.
Torn apart by abuse and grief, Ellen is a brilliant woman who must focus her intellect on finding reasons to persevere.
Rachel, a brash girl of noble heritage, dares all men to challenge her and longs for one who will.
In this set of four interwoven novellas, award-winning author Jesse Teller challenges assumptions and showcases the strength of feminine resolve.
Excerpt from Book One: Dreadful Desires
Her head hurt. She kept running. She was hungry and hadn’t eaten in days. She kept running. This was much farther out than her father had ever taken her hunting. But the image of her mother screaming with reddened face, slapping and clawing at the floor as she struggled to get to her, Helena needed to run. She needed away. This time she was not coming back. This time, she would stay in the woods until Father got home. For this time, her mother actually wanted to kill her.
Helena ran for another mile before she collapsed in a heap, gasping for breath. The dry ground beneath her puffed as her lungs worked like Tennen’s bellows. She rolled over and looked at the sunrise coming over the mountain. She stared, her vision pumping and pulsing like her heart, as darkness slipped away and day came, bringing with it sanity and misery.
Helena scowled at the tuber she had grabbed as she ran out the door. Sweat from her palm had scrubbed the root clean. It was twisted and yellow, thin, and she well knew, bitter. She had been running all night with the thing in her hand, and now that she was out of her mother’s reach with no inkling where she was, she realized this potato would have to take her far. She was far from the pastures of the village, far from the sanity of the Flurryfist tribe, and she screwed up her face at the only food she had. If her mother had made bread the last few days, then Helena would have grabbed that before dashing away. Mother had done nothing since Father left but drink and curse. Her mother’s anger, her mother’s rage, her mother’s insanity had chased Helena out here, and now all she had was a dumb tuber.
She stomped her foot and growled as she leaned back and threw the potato as far as she could.
Helena sat. She knew that was a dumb thing. She had just thrown away her breakfast—and perhaps her next meal, too. But tubers were stupid anyway, and ugly, and no one should have to eat them.
Her hands trembled and she curled them into fists. If she was older, she could handle her mother. If she was more than seven, she could stand up when her mother hit and cursed at her. Helena cursed her age, and she cursed every tuber, swearing to the Seven she would never eat another.
Then she heard a snort. She froze. A large, gusting exhale, and she knew the thing that made that sound was huge. Helena’s eyes shot to every corner of the wood, and she quickly found a fallen tree. She crawled there, ducking under it. She peered out at the wilderness around her and fought to slow her heart.
She had just run for the duration of the night. She was in perfect shape, but she could not control her frantic breathing. Her heart hammered, her forehead beading sweat, and she covered her mouth from a scream as she saw the most terrifying thing she had ever seen.
It was a small, red ball of fur, no higher off the ground than two feet. Its tiny paws dug at the ground, and its perfect, cute face peered around it for any sign of a meal. It was a baby bear, and its mother was close. Helena again heard the snort of a massive animal. She slowly panicked. Every nugget of truth her father had told her about bears fired through her head, and she cried as the mother bear looked up at her and roared.
The massive beast burst into a run, bellowing as it came. Helena shoved her feet back, pressing herself deeper under the tree. She screamed, and the bear snapped and pawed at her as it roared.
“I don’t want your baby!” she yelled. “I don’t want your baby!”
The beast could not be reasoned with. Helena shrieked as the thick paw reached her and swiped, clawing at her leg. The bear put its front paws on the top of the tree and shoved with all its weight. The tree bucked and snapped above her. Helena wailed in abject fear.
The bear screamed.
It spun and roared, running away from her. Helena turned to paw at the ground and dig deeper under the tree, deeper into the safety of the ground. Whatever was out there would be dead soon, and that monster would turn its attention back to her. She clawed with both hands as the bear wailed in agony behind her, and she kept digging.
The bear roared. She could hear its terrible jaws snapping wood before it screamed again. Helena wondered what was killing the bear, and what it would do to her. She kept digging. The bear raged one more time before it fell silent.
Helena spun, facing the new threat, reaching around for any weapon to defend herself. She found a small, sharp stone, and held it out before her.
“Leave me alone. I will kill you if you come closer!” She hoped she sounded frightening, but she was sure she didn’t. She saw the bear twenty yards downhill, with a small spear driven into its shoulder and another in its throat. It heaved one breath.
Helena stared at the beast, terrified as it shuddered.
A naked boy covered in dung and mud stepped into her view. He was barefoot, his body covered in tiny scrapes and cuts, his chest and right flank coated in blood. He swiped a bloody hand through his sty of blond hair then climbed on the bear as if it were a rock. He gripped his spear with both hands, and with a savage, wet rip, tore the weapon free.
The spear was long for his size, with a head of stone, covered in bear blood and fur. He lifted it once over his head before slamming it deep with all his might into the bear’s back. One great surge, a yelp of pain, and the beast was dead.
The boy turned with a blood-covered, mud-smeared face and looked at her as if she were a great mystery.
Helena had never been afraid of a boy before, and she was not going to let now be any different. She crawled out of her hole. The boy pulled back. She stepped closer, and he turned to run.
“No, you little beast boy, you don’t run! You stay, you stay right now!” She stomped her foot, and the boy crouched. He pulled his spear around and drove the butt into the ground. He cocked his head and stared at her. She stepped forward.
She pointed at the bear. “How did you kill that bear?” She looked around the wood surrounding them, but did not see the child’s father. Nor did she see the rest of his hunting party. She looked at him and pointed at the bear again. “Did you kill that thing by yourself?”
The boy grunted.
She grunted back and shook her head. “What was that? Did you grunt at me? What kind of way is that to talk to a lady?”
He barked out a laugh.
She looked at herself and the torn, muddy dress she wore, her filthy hands and mud-sprayed legs. She reached up to touch sweaty, tangled hair, and she stomped her foot. “Well, I might be a mess, but what are you? Half animal, I say.”
“At least half,” the boy answered.
She smiled. “Got a name, beast boy?”
“My father called me Betten before he died.” The boy picked his nose and rubbed it on his leg.
Helena screwed her face up. “You’re gross,” she said.
“You’re funny.” He walked to a filthy, bloody bag and reached into it. He pulled her little yellow tuber out of his bag and tossed it to her.
“These don’t grow in Bloodblade land,” he said. “You’re far from home.”
Helena started and looked around in fear. “Is that where I am? Are we in Bloodblade lands? Bloodblades are bad people. They started a war with my king chief.” She gasped in horror. “Are you a Bloodblade?” She decided if he was, she was going to try to kill him with her tuber.
“Bloodblades aren’t bad people. Just bad hunters.” He chuckled as if he had made the funniest joke ever, and she rolled her eyes. “We are in Bloodblade lands. You left the Ragoth nation. You didn’t seem to know where you were going so—”
“So, you followed me?” Outrage swelled within her, and she stomped her foot.
“I did. Didn’t want you to get lost.”
“I can take care of myself,” she said. She fought real hard not to look at the bear.
“I know you can. You’re Helena Dreadheart. You’re Bestic’s daughter.”
“Well, you’re naked and dirty.” She walked over to the bear and held her hand out to Betten.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Betten, I am hungry and am making myself some breakfast. Give me your knife so I can butcher this foul thing and get us some meat.”
He laughed and handed her his blade. She looked at it for a while, puzzled. It was perfectly clean.
He wore a loincloth just for her, though he scratched often, and she knew it was uncomfortable for him. He seemed only able to talk about two things: hunting and Flak Redfist. Flak was a boy Betten had met when he had run through Fendis land, looking for the out-world. Betten had, of course, wanted to know if there was good hunting out there, and he had run into the boy. Betten swore the boy was a Redfist.
“How are you supposed to know if that is true? Any boy can say he is a Redfist. The boys in my village say it all the time. Their dad’s dad was a quarter Redfist, or their grandmother’s father once rubbed a stone a Redfist man had sat on, or some such nonsense. Everyone says the name Redfist. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. They are just men.”
“You will know one when you see them. I did. When he looked at me and told me his name, I believed him,” Betten said. “I’m gonna go serve him when I get older. For now, though, he wants me to learn the mountain as well as I can.”
“Why?” Helena asked. They were an hour from her house, and she knew Betten would be running off soon. The brief time she had spent with him told her he was not going to enter the village with her.
Betten looked as if he were smiling at a god when he said, “He told me to learn the mountain good so one day I could lead him back here.”
A chill ran up her spine. Helena decided she wanted to meet this Flak Redfist. She wanted to stand before him and see if he was enough of a man that she could bow to.
Helena had never bowed to a man in her life. She was sure no Redfist would change that.
About Jesse Teller:
Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.