Sparks flew up every time the Alpha brought the hammer down on the super heated metal upon the anvil in the work space off the side of the family home, a small hut.
The redhead plunged the metal into a bucket of icy water, before taking it out when it stopped sizzling and tossed it back into the forge to repeat the process and strengthen the blade before the next step.
As Nicole waited for the metal to heat up again, she went to the doorway, wiping the sweat off her brow with her filthy tunic and taking a sip of beer as she looked out at the snow falling over the valley she called home.
“Nic? You want breakfast?” she heard her sister call from the door of the hut.
“No!” she called back, but frowned when Rachel stepped outside, wrapped in a woolen shawl, and made her way to the work shed.
“You didn’t eat dinner last night.” The Alpha sighed and gave her sister a small smile.
“It’s going to be a long, hard winter, Rachel, the easier we go on the food, the better. We don’t want to leave ourselves short if we haven’t enough stored.” The teenager rolled her eyes.
“We have the cow, we have the chickens. You don’t need to starve yourself. Rosie managed to pickle so much food during the summer and Autumn, we will still be eating pickled beets come May. Plus you and Eliza managed to poach a few stags so we have plenty of salted meat.” The Alpha huffed as she pulled the glowing red metal out of the forge with a pair of forceps, bringing it back to the anvil and picking up the hammer.
“Rachel, I’m just not hungry. But if you will go back inside, I promise I will eat tonight.”
“Rosie and I want to take the cart into the village before the way out of the valley becomes impassable. Do you want anything?” The Alpha shook her head and went to a work bench and picked up 5 beautifully crafted Daggers.
“See if Shorty will give you anything for these. Get a couple of extra bags of flour, oats and animal feed. Get cloth, too. We might need you to make us more layers. And some more barrels of beer and mead. I have a feeling this is going to be a longer winter than we are used to. Take Eliza with you.” The younger girl nodded and bid her sister goodbye, leaving the Alpha to get back to work.
She hammered out the metal to the length she wanted before quenching it again before needing to sit. She rubbed her old leg wound and sighed again. She couldn’t help the stress she was feeling because that niggling feeling that something was off, that something was coming. She had good reason to be stressed. She was responsible for her sister and friends survival and they depended on her to keep them fed and warm.
Rachel was the daughter of her fathers 2nd wife Gloria. When Nicole first met her, the younger girl had only been a pup. Her father raised her as his own and Gloria took to Nicole in the same way.
They had been a happy family until the King called for an Alpha from each family to fight in one of his pointless wars. Nicole and her father had argued. She wanted to be the one to go; she was 17 and her father had Gloria and Rachel to care for. He was a blacksmith and had been teaching his Alpha daughter since she was old enough to hold a hammer to take over his Forge some day.
The man had refused and ordered his daughter to stay home, take over the Forge and care for their family. Normally only male Alphas would be smiths, but Nicole had a talent for it and Henry Haught had no sons.
That night, under the cover of night, Nicole wrote her father a note, apologizing and telling him she loved him before she snuck out, grabbed her sword, the first she had ever made, her bow and quiver and her cloak before racing off into the night and making her way to the City. She walked for a week, camping at night, hunting when she could or buying a crust of bread when she couldn’t.
She wasn’t the only female Alpha to show up at the enrollment tent in the City. There were many. However, most were deemed unsuitable. More delicate and highborn or slight and weak, unaccustomed to manual labour and unlikely to survive learning to fight, never mind the actual battles.
Nicole wasn’t turned away. Taller than even most men, shoulders well developed and arms muscular thanks to smithing with her father and fed, thanks to her parents. Plus she knew how to fight with a sword thanks to her father who believed every girl should know how to wield a weapon.
She had been told to report to the military training grounds to the south of the City outside the walls, and that was where she met Eliza.
Training had been short and soon it was on to War. The Legion made up of female Alphas had distinguished themselves well, and Nicole had risen to become a captain of a team of peasant soldiers.
That’s how long she was away from home. They eventually won, but the King had bankrupt the country. He claimed to have no money to pay the soldiers, and the poor were dying of famine and plague in droves.
When she returned home two years ago, bringing Eliza with her, she found Rachel alone in the hut, the poor girl alone for a year after plague took their parents.
Nicole had been heart broken but knew she had to care for the 14 year old now their parents were gone. She went back to work in the forge, forgetting nothing her father thought her. Eliza took over the small farm so they could feed themselves and last year Rosita joined them after she was accused of witchcraft and fled her own village. Eliza fell in love with the busty omega and they had been together since, secretly as Female Alphas who take female omegas as mates was looked down on.
All in all, things were as good as a peasant could expect. They had food, Nicole sold many weapons, even getting the occasional commission, and many came to her outside of winter to fix farming equipment, shoe horses, or make or repair blades. During winter she would make weapons and sometimes jewelry if she had any bits of gold or silver left over from commissioned work. When summer came, Eliza and Rosita would travel around to different towns and villages to sell them, coming home when they had no stock left. The money they made was used to buy more metal and fill their food stores.
Over all, they were happy, except for Nicole. The alpha had been injured badly in her last battle, an enemy sword slicing deep into the muscle of her left thigh. She had nearly lost her life, but Eliza had cut down the soldier before he could finish her off. Her leg had never healed and when it was cold or damp it hurt, her limp more pronounced. The scars down her arms and torso from her many battles stood out against her pale skin.
She preferred to sleep in the forge as she suffered from nightmares, and appearing weak in front of her little pack was not something she was willing to do.
She had retreated into herself, no longer the smiling carefree woman Rachel remembered or Eliza had met on that first day of training. The woman had seen so much death, caused so much death. Eliza had escaped most of the fighting. She had been a skilled rider and was chosen to carry messages between their General Nedley and other Generals and so she couldn’t relate to the redheaded Alpha’s experience either.
Nicole stood again and began the long hard task of sharpening and polishing the blade. She worked well into the night until Rosita came out and fetched her, ordering her inside to eat.
“You promised Rachel!” the omega implored when Nicole shook her head.
“I’m just not hungry, Rosita.” The smaller woman frowned.
“Is your leg paining you?” Nicole hesitated before nodding and putting the sword down and going to the water basin to wash her hands and face with a small bar of soap before moving to walk to the hut they called home. “Eat something and I’ll mix you a tincture to help with the pain.”
“Save the herbs until I can’t tolerate the pain, Rosie, but I’ll eat only if it keeps you omegas off my back,” she said with a smirk as the brunette scoffed.
“Someone has to keep at you or you would be gone feral in that forge.”
Rachel grinned when she saw her sister and handed her a wooden bowl of stew and a thick slice of bread. Nicole grunted in thanks and sat on her stool before the fire.
“Did Shorty take the daggers?” she asked, before taking a bite of her bread. The younger latina nodded enthusiastically.
“Yeah, he did! He took all of them and even gave us a barrel of Malt whiskey along with Ale and Mead.” Nicole chuckled at the bright smile on the younger girls face.
“No, Rachel, he gave me, Eliza and Rosita malt whiskey. It’s just Ale for you, girl!” The older women all laughed at the 16 year olds pout.
“Nicole, you need to take a proper bath tonight and change your breeches and tunic. I’ll wash the ones you’re wearing tomorrow.” The Alpha nodded as she finished her food and got up, throwing the bowl and spoon into the wooden tub of water beside the fire.
“I’ll see you all in the morning.” They wished her a goodnight. She went back to her workshop and pulled the large wooden basin out of the corner before filling it with snow and pulling it before her forge. She went back to sharpening the sword while the snow melted and warmed enough for her to bathe.
When it was ready, she stripped and lowered herself into the basin and began to scrub herself clean with a flannel and the soap, washing away a few days worth of soot from her skin before she leaned back and looked out at the snow falling through a gap in the wall.
She hummed to herself as the snow began to fall thicker and faster, a blizzard Nicole had been expecting.
Indeed, this winter would be different.