Welcome & Information

Welcome to bovidae at play, home of "Strong Heart" and other free web fiction by capriox bovidae!

About "Strong Heart"
"Strong Heart" is a sword & sorcery fantasy about Joana (Jo to anyone who hasn't pissed her off lately).  Jo is female, but her tribe made her officially a man so she could train as a warrior. Now she's a mercenary guard, and thanks to a job with a magician, life is about to get even more interesting than figuring out how to piss standing up without the right plumbing.

Set in a world of river & sea empires surrounded by desert barbarians, where the Classical-era powers are crumbling and new militaristic dynasties are rising, follow Jo as she takes the fight to religious bullies, strange new demons, tribal customs, and gender identity.  Start reading HERE! 

The story updates once a week, during the weekend.  Follow me on twitter to find out exactly when the new chapter goes up.

Site Map & Story Table of Contents

Donation Campaign: A Better Home for "Strong Heart"

Thank you so much to those who daonted to my "moving homes" campaign.  Strong Heart is now hosted at and updates there.  For the time being, I will continue to cross-post the full chapters to this LJ, although eventually I will stop doing the "extras" like hand-coding the prior/next links, ToC, etc.  Any & all bonus material, images, etc. will be over at the DN home as well.  Thank you so much again for helping me make the move!  I'm very happy to be on DN now!

Support the Story!

About capriox bovidae
I'm a twenty-something woman who grew up on 200+ year old family farm and promptly joined in farming full-time after college.  I also grew up on fantasy & scifi novels, and I've been spinning my own fantastic tales since high school.  Inspired by the likes of MeiLin Miranda, I'm now starting to share those stories as online serial fiction.

Contact me by emailing at gmail dot com.
Follow me on twitter @caprioxbovidae

What is web fiction?
Web fiction is simply original fiction written for web-based format.  A more detailed definition is available at Novelr.  You might also see the term "weblit", which includes web fiction as well as other forms of original online literature such as poetry.  You can find more free weblit at sites like TopWebFiction (a ranking site akin to TopWebComics); listing & review sites including Web Fiction Guide (my favorite), EpiGuide (great for video webserials), Web Fic Directory, Muse's Success, and Online Novels; or by searching for the hashtags #weblit, #webfiction, and #WebFicWed on twitter.
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Strong Heart - I.2

Tobias started to open his mouth, but shut it firmly under the weight of Jo's scowl and looked away.

"You'll keep that information to yourself, of course."

The magician's gaze came back up and met her eyes steadily. "Of course."

J'jali Attar, Jo wished. "Good. Until the end of the heat, Honored Magician."

"Yes, until then, Honored Guard."

Jo lingered as Tobias walked away down the nearly deserted avenue, waiting to see which side street he turned down before ducking back into the tavern

"Haik!" She spotted the broken-nosed guard now sitting at one of the long tables. "I appreciate the custom, but next time don't go scaring 'em before I've even heard the job, hey?"

"Sure, sure. Did ya take it?"

"Haven't decided yet, but don't worry, you'll get your finder's fee if I do. Jerom? Make sure the squad gets started drilling after the heat breaks."

"Sure t'ing, boss," the older mercenary answered. "Where're you gonna be?"

"Not sure yet, but for now I need to go talk to Master Azrab."

"Good luck!"

"Thanks." On that wry comment, Jo headed back out into the heat. As she walked down the dusty street of caravansaries and taverns, even the hawkers along the sidelines only called out muted offers beneath the scorching sun.

Two turns later and the dust gave to cobblestones, the squatting vendors to high mud-brick walls wrapped around private villas. Jo stopped at the gates of one residence. It belonged to one of Master Azrab's merchant clan relatives; a third cousin, twice removed by marriage if she remembered correctly.

Thud thud. The flat-handed pounding on the thick wooden doors brought a servant to question her and then let her in.

She trailed the servant across a dusty courtyard and then down a stucco-covered hallway past doors of hanging cloths pulled aside or curtains of beaded strings. This far back from the courtyard, the thick brick walls under the stucco still preserved the morning’s cool much the same as the tavern Jo had left. Even the rustles and pings of the string curtain the servant finally ducked through sounded calm and crisp compared to the muted afternoon streets.

A moment later, the servant returned through the strands of molded clay and semiprecious stone beads and waved the guard into room.

"Honored Master Azrab," Jo greeted the short, wiry man seated inside on a divan behind a low table. Jo knew hawks that had gazes less intense than the caravan master's. She gave a shallow bow to Azrab and then another to the blank-faced man sitting next to him on the divan. "Honored sir."

A third man sat to the side, cross-legged on a rug. He wore the same tunic, trousers, sword-belt and curved desert knife as Jo, and his face was also a deep weathered brown under thick black hair. He sported a short beard in addition.

"Honored captain," Jo acknowledged him.

"One of my caravan guards," Azrab explained to the second man. "Guard Jo, be known to my cousin Amrouk, master of this home. Now, you’ve something to report?”

"I've been offered a few days of freelance guard work while the caravan is in town, and I want to make sure it won't create problems for my honored employer before I accept."

"See, Amrouk?" Azrab leaned closer to his kinsman as he spoke, "Even one of the garrulous desert warriors can give a polite and succinct report. Hold that up as an example for the employee we were discussing earlier." He nodded back to Jo, "Continue."

"Yes, sir. One of the shopkeepers in town apparently needs to travel to Eret and wants a guard for his business while he's away," Jo said. Dry humor colored her voice as she continued, "The complication is his magician kinsman, who mentioned when he described the job to me that the locals don't much like him."

"Gods in the desert," Amrouk muttered. Jo, Azrab, and the captain all looked at him sharply as his neutral expression gave way to annoyance. "Are you talking about Nerses and Tobias?"

"If Nerses is a thread merchant and Tobias the magician, then yes," Jo said warily, "What should I know?"

"Tobias and his cousin, Nerses' wife, are part of that Adorai cult, only after Tobias joined them here two years ago it came out that they're apparently a different sect of Adorai than the rest of the cultists in town," Amrouk explained.

The scars across Jo's cheek thinned as she scowled. "Honored sir, please tell me I did not just put my nose in a demon-blasted religious debate."

"Not quite. Tobias has been helping his cousin make embroidered charms for sale in addition to their regular thread trade. Mostly little good luck stuff," Amrouk added with a dismissive wave, "But apparently some of the spells draw heavily from Adorai symbolism. The other Adorai took offense at the idea of a magician using their god for profit."

"Unhappy little gods." Jo looked over at Azrab. “Honored master, if you want me to stay away from this, just say the word.”

“Amrouk, didn't you say they stopped selling those charms?” Azrab asked his cousin instead.

Amrouk nodded. “Two months ago Nerses told the local assembly he wouldn't sell them any more to keep the peace.”

Oh shit, Azrab's got that scheming glint in his eye. Jo kept her face stone-still. Damn you for bringing me this job, Haik! I'm gonna make you get your finder's fee from the master and good luck with that.

“But obviously there's still some tension.”

“Azrab, you can't be serious,” Amrouk answered. “Nerses' peace gesture shut up the public complaints but I'd be surprised if it did a thing for the private resentments. No one can figure out that damn magician's deal. It makes people nervous.”

“Jo, what did you think of Tobias?” Azrab asked.

“I don't know how to judge a magician's power, sir,” Jo temporized.

“Then I expect you to learn, promptly. Aside from that?”

“Harmless, sir. There's intelligence there, but he seemed...” Jo ran a thumb over her sword calluses as she recalled her conversation with Tobias. “Young. Soft.”

Azrab nodded. “Guard Jo, you will insist on getting paid at least partly in trade with some of those charms. If they are firm in refusing, then I don’t care what you do. But if they agree to the trade, then you will take that job.”

Jo stood silently in the face the caravan master's orders. He wanted her to take a job involving a magician, religion, and feuding neighbors. She wondered which of those was mostly likely to come back to bite her in the ass.

"Is there a problem?" Azrab asked. Amrouk snorted derisively.

Blank as sand after a storm, Jo told herself, just like the Ram and your war uncles taught you. Certainly don't show that you think he's being an idiot, when even his own kin disagrees with him!

"Considering the consequences, sir," she answered instead. "For all the magician seems a fool now, he's young enough that he might yet wisen up."

"I shall see to the consequences of my orders," he assured her.

Well if you're gonna promise me that, and with a blood relative for a witness...

Jo bowed to him. "Thank you, my honored employer. For such consideration, I will ask that only seven-eighths of the room and board costs I save you while on this job be credited to my pay."

"A third."


"Done, so long as you remain unscathed. If I have to pay to heal you, then that's where the money is coming from."

Jo smiled. "Then I shall go negotiate for the terms of the magician's job to include the charms."

"Excellent!" Azrab waved for her to go.

"I still think this is foolishness," Amrouk muttered, but he looked away when Azrab frowned at him.

Jo gave both men another short bow. "Honored masters."

Azrab nodded in acknowledgement and she left, the beaded string curtain jangling in her wake.



Strong Heart - I.1


The caravan guards lingered over the remains of their midday meal, sheltering from arid afternoon heat in the dark of the tavern. Five of the battered and dusty mercenaries sat together at the end of a long table; one of them leaned back against the cool mud-brick wall while studying a piece of parchment.

...have heard several reports now about new jinn breed, Akmanshe north to Gholadun. Invisible except eyes...

But how did they survive the encounter to tell the tale, Boz? The mercenary suppressed a sigh. Little gods grant that you put that in your next letter, and that it gets to me before these new jinn do. Gholadun, curse it. Right where we're headed.

"Somet'ing unnatural about a soldier reading," muttered one of the other four guards nursing small beers at the table, studying the reader with gray eyes. Those light eyes along with his fine, sandy hair and fairer skin under the permenant sunburn suggested that the commentor was Nitali. The prominently hooked nose confirmed it. Unlike the others, all young men, he had a touch of iron in the stubble on his chin.

"You've been stuck with me for two months now, Jerom," the reader said without looking up from the parchment, "You should know by now I'm no plebe soldier."

"No, he's worse." One of the young guards spoke this time. His wavy black hair, brown complexion, and brown eyes could place him anywhere in the Fers provinces of Tevre or Armyria. He smirked over his clay mug. "Jo's one of those honor-mad desert warriors, little gods help us."

"Damn right," Jo replied, still obstensibly reading the letter, "For all you know, the little gods sent me to watch your honor, Ros."

Rostam laughed and raised his mug. "Good luck with that, boss!"

Big, bald Babak chuckled at the exchange from his seat next to Rostam. Across the table, the youngest guard, Khusru, glanced at Jo first, before cracking a smile. He had joined their caravan only two weeks ago. Aside from the Babak's shaved head and Khusru's brown hair, both of them had the same generic Fersi appearance as Rostam.

"Hey, Jo! You still looking for some extra coin?"

Jo sat up, facing the speaker. It was another guardsman, Haik of twice-broken nose fame, standing in the doorway. Beside him waited a nervous-looking young man with curly black hair and a gently shabby version of the local robes.

"Yeah, but can he pay it?"

Haik barked a laugh. "Now, now, Jo, sword-swingers are like beggars and whores, you can't be too picky." He jabbed a thumb in the young man's direction. "The kid wants a guard for a couple days at his family's shop."

Jo stood up abruptly and walked out of the shadows, over to Haik. Standing, the thin guard towered over the other men in the tavern. Thick black hair was braided in tight rows along the mercenary's scalp, which left nothing to hide the scars slashing at an angle from mid-brow to right jaw and the chunk missing from Jo's lower left ear. A ruby stud winked in the right ear.

"You might fuck around at sword-swinging, but some of us take our jobs seriously," Jo said, standing squarely in front of Haik with a scowl twisting the scars.

Beside Haik, the young man's eyes widened and he glanced up hesitantly at the broken-nose guard. Jo's eyes rolled.

"Tell him I don't bite, Haik."

"Don't worry, kid," Haik said to the young man, grinning and unperturbed by Jo's irritation. The heavy scarring on his own face and the odd missing tooth made his expression less than reassuring. "He looks like a skinny desert devil, alright, but he knows better'n biting the hand that feeds him."

"Never mind, I'll do the talking," Jo sighed and waved the stranger back out the door, following him through. Outside, the mercenary turned to the young man with a more polite expression. "Don't mind Haik, he isn't as mean as he looks. Now, you had a guard job?"

The local straightened slightly at the question. "Yes. Honored Guard, my name is Tobias. I'm staying with my cousin and her family, but her husband needs to go to Eret, that's a town about a day and a half from here. We're worried that some men might cause problems if he's gone, so I'd like someone to help guard the shop then. Guard Haik didn't seem interested in the job, but said you might be?"

Jo smiled crookedly. "Haik doesn't have the patience for that kinda job, but it sounds good to me. When, and what's the pay? We're only staying a week while the caravan master takes care of his business here."

"As soon as my cousin can leave. I can offer two cuprics up front, room and board, and three cuprics when my cousin gets back," Tobias answered. "Or we could trade you in embroidery thread instead."

The crooked smile disappeared. "I don't embroider."

"Oh, no! I meant as trade goods." He blushed faintly. "My cousin's family sells dyed embroidery thread; mostly linen but some nice silk hanks, too. That's why her husband wants to go Eret, to look into a new dye supplier."

"And these men who are gonna cause trouble if he does?"

"My cousin-in-law is a respected merchant in this town, but not everyone approves of him taking me on." Tobias' gaze drifted down the street as he spoke. He glanced back up at the mercenary, his hazel eyes briefly meeting yellow-brown ones before he added in a quieter, steady voice, "I'm a magician."

"Ah." Jo's gaze gaze roamed for a moment as well. That complicated things quickly. Not only a magician, but the first one I've heard of that isn't in a nobleman's retinue. But if he was a local village witch, why bring a stranger into a dispute with the neighbors? "Can't defend yourself?"

"I don't know how familiar with magicians you are, Honored Guard, but defending ourselves without patronage or local popularity often leads to nefarious accusations."

Jo suppressed the instinctive desire to make the hand sign warding off demonic magic in front of this potential employer. There must've been some motion, though, because Tobias smiled ruefully.

"Fine," Jo said, "But I also want another pair of cuprics for every broken bone or stab wound I get, unless you're paying to fix me up. Sound fair, hey?"

Tobias hesitated, but then nodded. Jo smiled broadly.

"My name's Joa Na v'Fasainjd, by the way, although Jo is fine if you haven't pissed me off. I need to go talk to the caravan master to make sure this won't interfere with his business. Why don't you report back to your kin meanwhile, and then meet me again here? Say, mid-afternoon?"

"Yes, and thank you, Guard, ah, Jo. I hope we can finalize the arrangements then. I just..." The magician hesitated, glancing down at the guard's clothes.

Jo looked down. Tunic, belt with a sword in a plain scabbard and curved desert warrior's knife in its colorfully woven sheath, Armyrian-style trousers, sandals, all the same as the other guards except for the desert knife.

"The knife-sheath looks like it has the Fasaid pattern, but I've never seen it with those three white bars before."

"That's the mark of a dagha pavadkar."

"Oh!" Tobias blushed. "You're, um, you were, ah... Yeah."

With a sinking feeling, Jo realized that not only was Tobias one of the few people outside the desert who recognized the term, but also knew what it meant - what it really meant.

She scowled. "Yeah. Once I was a girl."



Apology & Explanation

To the friends & strangers who've been reading "Strong Heart":

I owe you all a profound apology for my recent absence & lack of updates without warning. 

Most of the absence has been due to multiple internet service failures on my end (why, yes I'm researching alternate service providers right now...).  Unfortunately, some of the absence has been because of the revising I'm doing to the story.  I've been working on improving the story/my writing with the help of several of you (bless you, Gudy, James, Shirley, & Karen!).  I thought I could do some tweaking to the earlier chapters and then continue on with improving story from there, but that isn't working for me.  The indecision between "work on revising the old" and "write some more new (but how if the old might be changed?)" also jarred me out of the habit of weekly writing, and that's what I'm most embarassed by.  So.

I need to take off the rest of July - this is a way too busy time of year for me to start/re-start a project (I'm a farmer in the northern hemisphere, after all).  I'm going to work on just the revising, because at this point, I want to re-write the story starting from the very first scene.  It'll still be the same characters and plot, but hopefully more focused and with the secondary relationships (Jo & Haik, etc.) developed and used with more precision.  For one thing, you'll get to learn about Jo's father right from the get-go, and that's a good thing ;-)

If you follow me on twitter @caprioxbovidae or see me around in the comments on some other story sites, feel free to bug me about the story.  I always welcome a friendly nudge or two.  Otherwise, I'll see you back here in August.

Strong Heart - 15


After leaving Nerses to his family, Jo made her way through the dusty afternoon crowds back to the caravansary.  In the broad central yard, she found the rest of the guards in her company practicing group drills.

"Hey, Jo!"  Captain Sanidann waved her over when he spotted her.  "You done with that job?" 

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Strong Heart swept away by high winds!

Due to a windstorm this weekend, I've only had a few minutes of (very spotty, VERY SLOW) internet connection since Saturday.  I even lost the prior version of this post that I just tried to send!  Needless to say, I haven't been able to post the next chapter of "Strong Heart" yet, for which I am very sorry!  As soon as I have a real internet connection again (and not this "1994 AOL dial-up" version), I'll have it up.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience and understanding!

Strong Heart - 14


The next morning found Tobias and Jo standing outside the apartment, studying the exterior of the door with red-rimmed eyes while Chana and the children finished setting out the day's wares.

"There's a mark here," Jo said, running a rough finger over faint scratches in the hardened brick of the door jamb, and then over the unscathed wood next to it, "But none on the door."

"Would a shield be marked if it took a hit like that?"

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Strong Heart - 13

Author's Note: There will be NO new chapter on the weekend of April 24th-25th.  I will also be moving this story to a different, better website in May - more details on that later.
The sounds of scraping furniture woke Jo in the morning.  In the late hours of the night, she'd sheathed her sword and tilted her head back against the wall, dozing on the steps.  Now the mercenary stood, grimacing against the pins and needles.  She worked out the tingling with pacing as Tobias and Chana finished unblocking the stairwell above.

Tobias knelt at the edge, looking down at Jo, who blinked up into the soft light that brightened the closed-up ground room.

"Is that dawn light?  A fair morning to you and Chana."

"Fair morning to you, too, Jo.  Were you alright down there last night?"

"Nothing a nap won't fix," Jo assured him.  "I'll get that table back down here for your stand."

In short order, she Collapse )
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Strong Heart - 12

Author's Note: There will be NO new chapter on the weekend of April 24th-25th.  I will also be moving this story to a different, better website in May - more details on that later.

Jo stood immobile as Tobias' voice rose and fell behind her, resolutely ignoring the hair standing on the nape of her neck, and the sunburn-itch on her ears as she caught a familiar word here and there in foreign murmuring at her back. 

Damn, no wonder magicians are always standing by themselves, especially in the hero tale battles.  Jo scowled at the deepening shadows, clenching her hand more tightly on the hilt of her sword.  If spell-casting feels like this to magiciansCollapse )

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Upgrading from LiveJournal

Author's Note: Y'all are AMAZING.  I just launched this campaign, thinking it would take awhile for sufficient funds to trickle in.  Instead, you have already paid for Strong Heart's move to Digital Novelists!  THANK YOU!!!  I'll leave this post up for reference.  Any additional funds received will go towards advertising the story and saving up for commissioned, official portraits of the characters.  Again, thank you so much for your generosity!


The Prologue: When I first decided to stick my toe in the web fiction writing water, I had only ever used LiveJournal in my limited prior experience with blog-type activities.  It was free, so I went with it.  Then I started working on the layout, and trying to adopt the useful/aesthetic features I saw other web fiction writers using and quickly realized that staying on LJ was going to be a huge headache.  I do the prior/next chapter links, the table of contents, the addition of site stat html, and more all by hand for each post.  There's no convenient way to organize the site into story posts and blog entries like this one.  Commenting requires clicking to a new (and much uglier) version of the same page.  And so on.  I've also read multiple instances of readers complaining about stories being on LJ in general, and had one person outright say to me, "If you ever move off LJ, I'll read you then."

Okay, then.  Fine.  I'll move the story.

Where am I moving?  I'm moving to Digital Novelists, a hosting service specifically for writers of web fiction/weblit.  Among other advantages, I'm attracted to the fact that I'll be joining a very focused community with lots of cross-promotion, rather than being yet another .weebly or .blogspot site.  I know some of the authors in group and the administrator, MeiLin Miranda, is one of my weblit inspirations, so I'm looking forward to this.  I don't know much about the Drupal used to customize the site, but then, I don't know anything about Wordpress either, so as long as I can get it to auto-create a table of contents for me, I'll be happy! 

Benefits to you, dear reader: Better site navigation.  Unhidden commenting directly under each post, with no recourse to ugly pages.  The ability to easily find blog posts with news like this, separate from chapter updates.  RSS feeds!  I might even go crazy and create a user points system, with points awarded for things like commenting & voting for Strong Heart on TopWebFiction

But what if you like the story being on LJ?  For you, LJ fans, I'm going to keep cross-posting new chapters to this LJ after they go up on the DN site.  I'll continue this for the next 3 months, at which point I might have a poll or otherwise evaluate whether I should keep updating the LJ.

What I need from you: There is a $20 setup fee for DN.  This isn't huge, but I'm trying to break even on this project, cash-wise, since it's already costing me a lot in terms of *time* I could be spending on other things.  I can keep writing on semi-regular basis, posting to LJ, as a hobby for myself.  Or with a little help from you, I can keep writing on a weekly basis and share my story with others like yourself on much more reader-friendly site.  Please, consider contributing towards the $20 Site Fund by clicking on the paypal button below.  The sooner the fund reaches $20, the sooner I can move Strong Heart to DN.  Anything over $20 would go to story advertising, getting a one-word domain name, and, if I really get a lot of contributions, pretty official portraits of story characters.

If you can't contribute to the Site Fund but still want to help (I went straight from college student to farmer; I understand 'short on cash'!), I always always always appreciate anyone promoting Strong Heart and sharing the story with new readers.  If you do tweet, Facebook comment, or blog about it; or if you review the story on WebFictionGuide or Muse's Success, I would love to know about it so I can give you the thanks you deserve!  And there's always voting on TopWebFiction ;-)

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for reading Strong Heart!