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“Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose.” – Tom Krause

08 Dec

Rain fell in heavy drops.  Each sounded very far away, but the youthful new recruit with “A. Sawyer” on his breast felt every one as it first impacted his shattered body, then soaked through his uniform, to soak his muscular body.  The wounds on his legs from a rain of stones that ricocheted off fellow shoulders were likely to last a lifetime– if he survived the battle field this day.  Boots approached, too heavy to be any of his countrymen.  He remained still and watched from under his brimmed helmet.

Three tall, strong men stood near him and looked around.  They wore the colors of Sawyer’s enemy. “Do you think we’re far enough from the men?” one asked.

“We should be.  Even the deaf boy won’t be able to read our lips from here.” The second speaker was more slender, and wore the colors of a noncombatant.

Sawyer paid close attention.  The entire group seemed uneasy– nervous.  He waited in silence, hand resting on a sword nearby.  He felt the solid weight of it as he simply held it.  He felt less weak with the blade at hand.

The third man finally spoke. “Well, if that is the case, we need to call for parley.  If they do not respect the need, we will finally be able to use the crystal.” He sighed. “It’s a gamble, though.  If they don’t, the crystal will petrify our men.  We don’t even know a cure.  If they do, and we send our men away, we will be bees without wings.” He kicked up a clod of dirt. “I don’t like these options.  We can’t hold out against them indefinitely, even if we do have the advantage of war machines and walls.  They have numbers greater than I’ve ever seen, and each of them has a fierceness in their eyes that is truly dreadful.” He turned and looked out at the dead. “And I swear, I killed the same man two days in a row.  I saw his face, and he recognized me.” The man shook his head and snarled. “Their army is unending!”

The second speaker snorted. “We’re all doomed if they get one foot beyond our wall, Captain.”

The man called the captain nodded. “Don’t think I don’t know it.  Their lands are completely barren for as far as we can scry.

The man who spoke first laughed, then smiled broadly. “We can take em.  Let’s call parley, back our men out into the walls. They’re lined with lead, so our men will be safe.  There are enough trap doors that we can get them back onto the wall easily enough.  The men need a break, and we can have one on lookout.  I’ll take the crystal forward, and if anything goes amiss, I’ll take care of it.” His expression was filled with warmth.

The captain’s eyes widened in rage.  Even from his position, Sawyer could see bulging veins. “You’re the last person who is going beyond the wall if that is used, Your Majesty!  You should not even be here on the front lines.” He narrowed his eyes.

The cheerful man rolled his eyes skyward. “While we are here, I am simply Georgie, and you know damn well that the men need someone of cheer out here.”

“Get yourself squirreled away.  Your daughter is too young to be controlled by that witch of a mother the moment she’s put on the throne.”

Georgie sobered quickly. “So be it, but you’ll not be going out either.  At this rate, there is nobody to send out, because those men we fight, they won’t respect parley with anyone who doesn’t have something shiny on his coat, and I’m not going to doom some poor boy that doesn’t even have his whiskers.  After this is over, we will need able men to rebuild.”

Sawyer heard enough.  He closed his eyes.  No, his people would doom themselves by attacking during parley.  He knew it to be true.  His brows furrowed as he thought, and he almost didn’t hear the decision that parley would take place in two hours, after the sun rose, but before battle began.  He almost jerked his head to look at the men, then caught himself and moved more slowly.  The king was just as gaunt as the others, and they all looked worn by battle.  He estimated they had been on the walls for days by now, and had to be dragged to rest each night, with the exception of the noncombatant.

He had to chose, and quickly.  Would he take these bastards down, and destroy their mad plan?  One might survive, and that would be all it took.  He could try to return his people to warn them, but the distance was maddening.

“First, that boy is a problem.  His chest is moving.” the captain said after a moment.

Sawyer’s eyes widened under the shadow of his helmet.  He bit his cheek until it bled, then forced a cough.  Bloody coughing was a sign that a person wasn’t going to survive.  He forced himself to go limp after, as though the cough drained his strength.

“Not for long.” the king murmured with a frown. “He’s drowning in blood.  I feel bad for him.  He looks like any other green soldier.” He shook his head.

“He’s not.” the second speaker muttered, then drew a dagger. “I’ll finish him off, and you two go back.  He’s a monster like the rest, made of dead bodies.”

“That can’t be true.” the king scoffed.

Sawyer kept still, and tried to avoid breathing until they blinked or looked away.  Damn his lungs for betraying him!  He waited, hoping that he would have enough strength to slay any who approached him.  He coughed as blood tickled at his throat.

Finally, the captain walked forward. “Well, regardless, let’s call it a mercy killing.  He’ll suffer less.” The man drew his sword just as Sawyer lifted his own with speed that matched the un-wounded man.  The two blades came together, and a rain of sparks erupted from the meeting of the two flats, before the captain’s own weight drove his blade into the ground just next to Sawyer.

The young soldier brought his other arm up to punch the man just below the ribs.  The air whooshed from the captain’s lungs audibly, and Sawyer shoved him off. “Who’s next?” he asked aloud. “Come on, weaklings.”

The second man snorted. “Damn.” He threw the dagger, faster than Sawyer could dodge.  It landed on target, and not only sliced through the boy’s windpipe, but also his spine.  The scent of newly-released piss and shit filled the area, then dissipated as a wind like icy daggers shoved it away. “Your majesty, please go get some of the men to help haul the captain back!”

Sawyer glared at the man that killed him as he faded quickly.  Nobody would haul him back.  Maybe that was why these people fought with such desperation.  His mind became more and more fogged, and his head ached. Time seemed to move so slowly as he watched the king of his enemies rush away to bring aid to his fallen friend.

The captain coughed as his air began to return to his own lungs. “I’m fine.” he managed hoarsely as he slowly rose to his hands and knees over the boy who almost killed him. “Have his body burnt.  I don’t trust him not to return with vengeance on his mind.”

Those were the last words Sawyer heard, and his black eyes saw the captain’s worn face for a final moment before he felt soft blackness, like a quilt he somehow remembered from a time too long ago.  He felt his eyes close, and soft arms wrapped around his body.  In his mind, he heard a woman’s voice mumbling softly to him.  He couldn’t make it out, but the unintelligible words soothed him as he sank from awareness.

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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Semihistorical Fiction

 

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