You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2008.

 As the sun rose over the eastern horizon it struck the gold-decorated helm on Neal Osborne’s head, making it shine in the light.  He sat astride his golden stallion in his red and gold armour, cutting a noble figure as he rode towards the front lines.  His troops parted in the ranks to create a path for their leader, and they were applauding and cheering as he paraded through their midst.  Neal waved to either side like a triumphant king, as if he had already won this battle.  In his mind, this was true.  He saw no way for Alex to defeat him.

            It had snowed again overnight, creating a clean field between their camp and the Outlander fortress-city.  All signs of the killings and the mud of the past two days had been covered under a white blanket, as if someone had turned to a fresh blank page in a book.  Well, let them write of today’s brave deeds!  Neal thought to himself, grinning.

            Neal carried a spear with a red banner sailing in the mild wind from just beneath its pointed head.  On his other arm he bore a magnificent shield, as sturdy as it was ornate, decorated with his golden lion.  He reached the front line and rode past it, stopping his horse in view of the broken wall.  Placing the spear in a sheath on his saddle, Neal removed his plumed helm and rested it in the crook of his arm against his hip.

            “I am here, in answer to Alexander’s challenge!  If he is brave enough to do battle, I will face him!”  He called out, and his army cheered behind him.

            He watched in silence as two of the wagons in the gap of the wall were pulled aside.  A figure on horseback emerged, and Neal had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.  Alexander’s horse looked like it had seen better days, and his armour was made of dull, undecorated steel forged by amateurs.  Alex was carrying his helmet as well, to show Neal that no one had taken his place.  He raised his spear and roared a challenge at his cousin, and then put the helm in place.

            Smiling, Neal affixed his own helmet and readied his spear.  Giving spurs to their horses, the two cousins charged towards each other with fury and speed, on a collision course that would decide the outcome of a war.  The Citadel army roared its encouragement, while the Outlander rebels on the walls of the city watched in hopeful, tense silence.  Ethan and Eve stood on one of the carts in the breach, watching the inevitable clash that had been coming since their childhood.

            As they came together, spears struck shields like hammers on anvils.  Both men rocked in their saddles, and as they crashed together there was an explosion of thunder and lightning in the sky.  The heavens opened and hail burst forth, icy pebbles falling on the battlefield.  It seemed as if the conflict on the earth below had brought a violent response from the very clouds.  Soldiers with shields were forced to raise them above their heads like sturdy umbrellas, and those that had no protection either ran for cover or huddled under with their comrades who did have shields. 

            Eve ignored the pellets of ice that occasionally struck her body or bounced off her shoulders.  She intently watched the duel on the field below her, and paid no account to Ethan’s insistence that she find some cover.

            Neal’s spear had broken on Alex’s shield, so he discarded the splintered shaft of wood in his gloved hands to draw his gleaming blade.  Alex rode past him to turn around for another pass with his spear, which was still in one piece.  Instead of charging at his cousin as Alex bore down on him, Neal held his horse steady, waiting.  Alex let loose a battle cry as he approached at full gallop, intent on sending his weapon into Neal’s heart.  Using the reckless speed of Alex’s horse against him, Neal did a swift turn with his stallion, sidestepping the charge to the right.  With impeccable timing he swung his shield with his left arm, clipping Alex and tumbling him from the saddle.

            Genevieve hardly reacted in the eyes of most bystanders, who had expected her to show some concern.  They saw only that she stood like a statue, her eyes concentrating on the fight.  Only Ethan, standing beside her, noticed the tightening of her jaw and the tensing of the muscles in her arms as her fists clenched.

            Alex picked himself up from the ground as quickly as he could, seeing that Neal was headed for him.  He paid no attention to the hail bouncing off his armour, but instead readied his sword, having dropped the spear in his fall.  Alex got his shield up just in time to prevent Neal from cleaving off his head, but the force of the blow caused him to fall backwards in the snow.  He struggled to his feet and waited for Neal’s next pass.

            Neal wheeled his horse about, laughing inwardly.  He had Alexander on the run now.  It was only a matter of time before he handily defeated this upstart.  Neal levelled his blade and pointed at Alex, eliciting a cheer from his men, as they knew he was signalling that he would make the killing blow this pass.  The horse bolted forward and Neal swung for his cousin’s head.

            Instead of using his shield to block the blow, Alexander ducked, powerfully swinging the shield into the legs of Neal’s fine horse.  It screamed, a high pitched sound that grated on the ears, as Alex’s clout hit at the exact right spot with the exact right timing that the shinbone was broken in mid-stride, crumpling as soon as the horse put its hoof down on the snowy ground.  This caused the golden stallion to topple, spilling Neal off his back and onto the ground.

            Alexander was manoeuvring around the fallen horse as quickly as he could in the snow, intent on reaching Neal before he could get to his feet.  He raised his sword for the killing blow, aiming for his cousin’s neck.

<<Previous   Next>>

 Neal stared at the piece of parchment in disbelief.  It lay on his map table beside the arrow that had delivered it.  Neal sat down in the nearest chair, hardly seeing the candlelight flickering in his pavilion.  He was lost in his own thoughts.

            “Well?” Simon Lamb said expectantly.  “What does it say?”

            Neal came back from his reverie and gestured for Lamb to pick it up.  Simon grabbed the paper and read for himself Alexander Rothrock’s challenge.  As he did, he saw that Neal was shaking.

            “Something wrong?”  He asked.

            Neal put his hand to his mouth and then burst out laughing, no longer able to contain his amusement.  He guffawed, his laughter filling the tent.  He laughed so hard his sides hurt.  Simon stood, waiting with feigned patience.  Inwardly he wanted to throttle the younger man.

            “That stupid little shit actually thinks he can beat me!”  Neal said when he finally regained his composure and wiped a tear from his eye.  “He’s dared to challenge me!  As if he thinks he can finally get the better of me and soothe his wounded pride.  I’ve been beating his sorry ass since we were little children, no matter what game we played.”

            “Be that as it may, Neal, this is no game.”  Lamb said insistently.  “There is a lot more at stake.  You aren’t seriously considering this idea?”

            “And why not?”  Neal asked, smiling.  “I’ve never lost to him, and I’m not about to now.  He’s been on the run for seven years.  Seven years of exhaustion, hunger and hard living.  While I’ve been living in optimum conditions and training daily.”

            “We’re going to win this war anyway.”  Simon persisted.  “What will this prove?”

            “It’s good strategy, Simon!  We can win tomorrow morning.  Not next week, not next month, but tomorrow.  And at a minimum loss of life, so we’ll have them working for us instead of buried.  We get more for a minimum of effort.  You were a businessman, isn’t that good economics?  Maximum gain for least effort?”

            Neal was smiling, possessed of a manic energy.  He was absolutely thrilled by this turn of events.

            “But what if he wins?  What if he kills you, even if it’s some lucky fluke?  We lose everything.”  Simon reminded him.  “We will win in a matter of weeks, if not days.  Why take the risk?”

            “To put him in his place.”  Neal said with finality, rising and leaving the tent.

            Donovan Reza stepped out of the shadows in the corner and stood behind Lamb’s chair, silent as the grave.

            “His pride could ruin everything.”  Lamb said.  “Ensure that it doesn’t.”

            Donovan only smiled in response.

<<Previous   Next>>

 We arose before dawn to find that it had snowed again in the night.  Gwen cooked breakfast while Alexander began putting on his armour.  This morning he was not wearing his riding armour from before, but a full set of elaborate design.  In their preparations for war, the Outlanders had toyed with the idea of a fully armoured cavalry like that of the Middle Ages.  They had not the time or resources to fulfill this vision, but a few suits of armour had been made.  Now Alex was strapping on a set so that he could ride out to face his archenemy.

            “You don’t have to do this.”  Genevieve said, standing by a window with her arms around herself, seeking the comfort Alex was not giving.  When he did not answer, she continued.  “There are other warriors.  There’s Ethan, with his sword…  Why does it have to be you?”

            With every point she made, Eve raised her voice a little and received only silence in return.  Alexander was staring into the distance as he sat in a sturdy chair, attaching greaves to his legs and tightening their straps.

            “We need your leadership, win or lose.  We can’t do this without you.  I can’t do this without you.”  Eve continued, getting frustrated with his continued obstinate refusal to acknowledge her.  Alex just picked up the plate for his chest.  He looked at me expectantly.

            “Don’t look at me.  I will not help you kill.”  I said firmly.  “I agree with my sister.”

            Alexander glared at me and walked out to the porch, and through the window Evie and I could see him gesturing for one of the men to come help him.  As the soldier rushed forward to assist, Genevieve ran out to the porch and grabbed Alex’s arm.  I followed slowly, shaking my head.

            “Please don’t do this!”  She said, tears forming in her eyes.  “You’ve got nothing to prove.  Neal isn’t worth this.  I picked you, I love you!  Why do you have to care about childhood rivalries?  Let it go!”

            Alexander glared at her.  “This has nothing to do with you.”  He held out his arms so his assistant could attach the front plate and tighten it.

            “Then why?”  Eve cried.

            “I have to know.  I have to know if I can beat him for once in our lives.  I’ve always been too afraid to try, and so I have lived in his shadow.  If I let someone else fight him and we won, and there was peace, I would always wonder whether I could have bested him.  I can’t live like that.  I have to be free of his shadow or die trying.”  Alex spoke slowly, still staring into the distance.  The weight of decades was in his words, the years where he had been forced to follow Neal’s lead at the cost of his own self-respect.

            “Damn your pride!”  Genevieve shouted at him.  “Damn yours and damn his!  You’re both alike!”  She stormed back into the house, tears streaming down her cheeks.

            Alexander did not even look in her direction.  He kept his eyes forward as he walked through the muddy street towards the stables for his horse, so that he could ride out to meet his fate.

<<Previous   Next>>

 It seemed to happen in slow motion.  We rushed forward in the torrents of rain, muscles springing into action.  Alex called out to nearby soldiers to help defend the breach in the wall, hollering as loud as he could.  Enemy troops began pouring through the gap as we splashed through mud and puddles towards them.  I drew my sword, afire with white light, and plunged into the chaos.

            I blocked spear-thrusts and countered with a holy blow, I dodged the swipe of a sword and then pierced my attacker with God’s love.  Men around me collapsed and then opened their eyes to join our side.  The battle raged on as tears fell from Heaven, soaking us to the skin.  I saw Eve block a man’s attack with her sword, and then stab him in the ribs with her knife in the other hand.   I lost her in the bedlam of struggling bodies, and saw Alexander fighting with poise and skill and fury.  Everywhere lay the dead and dying.

            We fought them back from the wall, at least for the moment.  Our archers had moved into position so that they could fire into the enemy, which forced them to move out of range.  I waved at one archer in thanks, and he lifted his compound bow in salute.  I marvelled at this; sometimes I forgot that these were twenty-first century men.  After all, the battle itself was something out of a medieval siege.

            Alexander put this brief respite to good use, calling for men to block the breach in the wall with sandbags, wooden carts, and anything else they could find to create a makeshift wall.  In the distance we could hear more thunderous explosions, indicating to us that our foes were attempting to create more breaches in the wall with their catapults.

            “This is bad.”  Genevieve said, leaning against Alexander as we rested on their porch.  “They outnumber us, and if they start attacking from multiple sides there’s no way we can keep them out of the city.”

            Gwen and Zoë brought us food and water, doing their part as non-combatants to support the fighters.  My sister sat quietly beside me.  I smiled with thanks as I ate some spiced potatoes and some kind of meat.  I did not bother to ask what it was, afraid that the answer would be dog or horse instead of beef or chicken.  I hated the idea of eating someone’s pet, but knew that it had become necessary since the world had fallen into shadow.

            “If they get in we all die, don’t we?” Gwen asked.

            “Barring a miracle,” Alexander said, somewhat sarcastically.  Then he looked at me, and the sword at my side, “Though perhaps that possibility is not as fantastical a notion as I used to think.”

            “I can’t fight an army single-handed.  I’ve been trying.”  I said, my shoulders still aching from hours of swordplay.  “The best I can manage is one soldier at a time.”

            Alex’s eyes widened as I said this, and he stood up, injected with energy as some idea occurred to him.

            “One at a time!”  He said, almost laughing.  “It’s perfect.”

            “What are you talking about?”  Genevieve asked.

            “Do you remember David and Goliath?  How Goliath challenged the Israelites to a one-on-one duel, winner take all?  Him against their best champion?”  Alexander asked, animated with his insight.

            “Of course I do.  Everyone knows that story.  But there’s no Goliath here, there’s an entire army trying to break in.”  My sister responded.

            “No, but they do have Neal.  And he could never back down from a challenge.”  Alex rushed out into the rain, striding across the muddy street.

            “Where are you going?”  Zoë called out.

            Alexander ran to the breach in the wall, jumping up on top of a wagon and holding onto the wall beside it for balance.  He knew that he was beyond arrow range, but even so he was taking a risk.  We rushed to follow, and as we caught up, Alex began yelling out at the enemy army.  As he began to speak, the rain began to let up, going from pouring torrents to a drizzle and then to nothing during his speech.

            “HEAR ME!  TELL YOUR LEADER THAT I WILL FACE HIM ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE TOMORROW AT DAWN.  MY NAME IS ALEXANDER ROTHROCK AND I CHALLENGE NEAL OSBORNE TO DUEL TO THE DEATH!  IF HE WINS, WE WILL SURRENDER TO HIM.  IF WE WIN, YOU LEAVE!”  Alex hollered into the darkness.

            “Taking quite the risk there, aren’t you?”  Eve asked him sternly, hands on her hips.  I knew that she didn’t want him risking his life.  She loved him, I could understand her concern.

            “It’s a fifty-fifty chance.  That’s better than the certain doom we face when the walls crumble.”  Alex said, walking past her and signalling a guard.  “I’d rather risk my life to save everyone else than do nothing.”

            The guard approached and saluted. 

            “Have pamphlets written with the same message on them that I just shouted.  Fire them on arrows out there, so that we make sure Neal gets them.”  Alex commanded.  The soldier nodded and rushed off.  Alex headed in the opposite direction to check on the stability of the wall in other parts of the city.

            “Is anyone else concerned that he’s the Goliath of this scenario?”  I asked, staring after him.  “Goliath issued the challenge.”

            “Yeah.  And little David kicked his ass.”  Gwen responded.

            Genevieve glared at both of us and headed into the house.

<<Previous   Next>>

 A few hours after what would have been sunset, had we been able to see the sun, we heard new rumblings.  Lower and less intense than the booms of thunder that still echoed through the sky, these sounded too regular.

            “Wheels?”  I asked.  “Big heavy ones?”  I whispered directly into Alex’s ear, not wanting to shout.

            He merely nodded, straining to see through the rain.  Something was going on out there, but we could not see what.  The sound grew louder as the source grew closer, each moment an agony of tense waiting. The men on the wall began to get antsy, shuffling in their spots, gripping their weapons and setting their teeth.  They wanted a fight, and were getting impatient.

            I think, in retrospect, they would have preferred the wait over what happened next.  There was silence, and listening only to the rain was worse than the regular progression of oncoming sound.  It meant that, whatever it was, the source of the sound had arrived at its destination.  On edge, we peered into the darkness.  There was a sudden flurry of motion and a great metal ball collided with the rampart, crushing mortar and men under it.

            The ball crashed directly beside us, forcing me to leap and grab hold of Genevieve as I spilled off the side of the ledge.  We tumbled onto the wooden shed protecting the gear mechanism for the gate, and slid down its surface in the rain.  Alex came rolling after us, and I was forced to reach out quickly and snag his arm before he fell off the rooftop.  My own position was rather precarious, holding on to a crack in between two planks, and the rain was making it decidedly slippery. 

            Eve found a handhold of her own and let go of me, and then helped me pull Alex back up onto the roof, gasping for air.

            “CATAPULT!”  She said, giving the name to the weapon arrayed against us.  I nodded and so did Alex as water streamed down his face.  I looked back at the rampart over my shoulder, and saw another dark mass arching to collide with the wall coming swiftly through the rainy darkness.

            This second ball collided near the first, indicating that they had not yet changed their trajectory.  In fact, it struck the first ball as it descended, and what followed seemed like another bolt of lightning and thunder.  When the explosion blew us off the roof and obliterated a section of the wall, I realized that something flammable had been in the two missiles.

            We found ourselves buried under burning lumber as the shed had collapsed over us, and we struggled to get out before smoke or flames could overwhelm us.  Bruised and singed around the edges, Alex and Genevieve helped me to my feet and together we limped through the rain to a safer vantage point.  We looked back, and even through the downpour we could see a massive gap in the top of the wall, as if some giant had walked along and bit through it from above. 

            “I wonder how they did that.”  I asked aloud.  “Nitro in one or both?  Maybe the first one was filled with gasoline, and the other ignited it…”

            “We’re lucky the first one didn’t ignite until the second one hit it, whatever they used.”  Alex said, brushing dirt and soot off his legs.  “We shouldn’t even be alive.”

            More collisions occurred in the same spot, causing the wall to crumble down to the ground at that location, spilling soldiers and weaponry like dropped toys.  Now the gates were unnecessary.

            “It looks like we won’t be alive much longer.”  Eve said, drawing her sword.  “They’re coming.”

<<Previous   Next>>

 They fell back for the day, staying outside arrow range.  We watched from the ramparts as they camped out in clear view, just waiting.  I guessed that they would attack at dark once again, but wondered what their plan was.  So far as I could tell they had no means of breaching the walls.

            We prepared all day, filling barrels and pots and cauldrons with water, and building unlit fires around them.  When the time was right, we would light the fires to boil the water, and drop it on the enemy if they stormed the walls.  Archers took their positions, while cavalry and infantry tried to get plenty of sleep.  I watched it all from the house they had given to my sister.

            “I never thought we’d end up in a place like this.”  She said, hugging me as I stared out the window.

            “I’m afraid I did.”  I said quietly, staring intently as troops ran by the house carrying supplies or weapons, a flurry of activity moving throughout the fortress-city.  Evie looked up at me expectantly.

            “I just mean that I often dreamed of heroic deeds.”  I said.  “Far-off quests, mighty battles, damsels in distress…”

            “Well, you showed up at the right time to save your sisters.”  She said with a tired grin.  “Come on, hero, you need your sleep.”

            “I’m waiting for Gwen.  I haven’t seen her yet.”  I explained.

            “She’s been in the infirmary all day, helping Zoë with the wounded soldiers.  I don’t think they know that you’re even here.”

            “You didn’t tell them?”

            “I thought maybe you’d like for it to be a surprise.”  Evie said with a smile.

            “Well, now’s our chance to find out.  They’re coming up the street.”  I indicated with a nod of my head.

            “Sit there, in that corner with the rocking chair.  I’ll pretend like it’s an ordinary day, we’ll see if they notice.”  Genevieve said playfully, her eyes lighting up as they did during our childhood games.  She sat down at the table, pretending to peruse maps that she and Alex had left there, while I took my assigned position in a comfortable rocker.

            “Evie, I’m home!”  Gwen called as she came through the door, looking like a younger version of Eve.  Even in these dismal times and this dreary place, her eyes held the sparkle of her childhood and her smile still curved to one side like mine.  She embraced her sister about the shoulders from behind, and I knew she mustered all the enthusiasm she had in order to keep Evie’s spirits up, and that she did it every day.  I marvelled at my baby sister’s bravery.

            “Good to see you, too.”  Eve laughed, hugging back.  “Gwen, we have a visitor.”

            “Oh my God!” Zoë said, coming in behind my baby sister, her eyes wide with happy shock.  “Ethan!”

            Gwen turned in my direction and stopped short, her eyes, identical to mine, going wide.  There was a moment of stunned silence, and then she rushed forward with enthusiastic speed to embrace me wordlessly.  After a long moment of holding my baby sister in my arms for the first time in fourteen years, I pulled back and took a good look at her.

            “How did you know it was me and not the other one?” I asked her with a smile.

            “Because you’re you.”  She shrugged.  “No one could fake your kind eyes.  From what Evie told me, the impostor could only mimic your solitary nature.”

            “Sounds like you’ve given it some thought.” Genevieve suggested from her seat.  Gwendolyn turned towards her.

            “Well, I did spend some time thinking about it once, how I could know who I was dealing with.  But it’s him.”  She grinned, tugging on my beard.  “Though I don’t think I like this.”

            “Maybe I’ll consider a shave…” I began.  At that moment there was a tremendous flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, and in an instant there were sheets of pouring rain filling the world outside our window.

            “What the…?”  Zoë said.  “The sky was clear a moment ago…”

            Soldiers scurried every which way, searching for cover, throwing tarps over carts of weapons, leading in horses from the street towards stables, and generally just getting out of the damp.  I saw little from this vantage point, as the rain was coming down in such a torrent as to block out the view on the other side of the street.

            “I’m going up on the wall, to see if Alex needs any help.”  I said, grabbing my well-worn cloak.  “I’m guessing our friends outside the walls might see this as an opportunity.”

            “I’m coming with you.”  Genevieve said, grabbing a cloak of her own.

            “How strange.”  Gwen said quietly.  “A thunderstorm in the winter.”

            We headed out the door, barely registering her words, and rushed across the already muddy street towards the wall.  Genevieve clambered up the wooden steps leading to the rampart with me close behind.  We reached the top and carefully negotiated along the high ledge, moving past soldiers with ginger steps so as not to knock someone over.  We found Alex by the front gate.

            “ANY NEWS?”  Evie hollered to be heard over the rain and thunder.

            “NOT SO FAR!”  Alexander answered.  “THEY’RE JUST STANDING THERE.”  He gestured, and I could see even in the hammering rainfall that there was a huge mass of manpower below us on the field waiting to end all our lives in one fell swoop.

<<Previous   Next>>

 They ran forward with weapons bared, and we wearily readied ourselves for the attack.  Men who could barely walk hefted heavy shields, drew their blades and stood ready to face the charge.  I raised my blade to offer one last cheering cry to rouse them to battle, and my voice was joined by the groaning of the gates behind us.

            From within the city came our cavalry, as Alexander led a galloping charge out headlong into the midst of the enemy.  His horsemen had the advantage of surprise and of height, as they fought on horseback.  The ring of steel on steel rose over the battlefield as they engaged their foes and dealt death upon them with mighty fury.  I felt tears on my cheeks as I witnessed men from both sides cut down.

            “To the other horses!” I directed those around me.  “Head into the city, and safety, quick as you can!”

            The fatigued men around me mounted up on the horses of the cavalry we had just converted, heading back towards the Outlander city.  Some horses carried two riders, or even a third slumped across the laps of his friends.  I grabbed a horse of my own, but headed in the opposite direction.  Exhausted as I was, I had to go back out there.  I had to save as many lives as possible.

            I went from side to side with my flashing sword, cutting a swath through the men around me, leaving them standing in a daze, and then befriending men that, moments before, they had been trying to kill.  I thanked God for this miraculous weapon that healed instead of hurt, and showed men the error of their ways.  I fought till my arm went numb, and then I changed hands to fight some more.

            Ahead of me I could see Alex in mismatched armour that fit oddly, as it had been scavenged from countless other skirmishes.  He still cut a noble figure however, fighting like a legend against all challengers.  I marvelled at his energy and skill, as he out-duelled everyone around him.  He carved his way through the infantry, which bought my companions time to get to the city, and then he ordered his men to fall back.

            We rushed back the way we had come, leaving hundreds of dead in our wake.  I had tried my best, but I had saved very few from a bloody and useless death.  I caught up a wounded man from my horse at a gallop, and carried him inside with me.  I had to save everyone I could, no matter the risk.  As I handed him down to waiting soldiers, I turned my horse to go back only to see men closing the great gates.

            “NO!”  I bellowed as they clanged shut.  “There are still more out there!”

            “And we have to leave them.”  I heard a voice, familiar and dear to me despite its tired timbre.  I looked down to see my sister Genevieve, and I leapt from my horse to embrace her.

            “Evie!”  I said delightedly.  Her arms closed about me tightly, as if she could hardly believe I was real and wanted to be sure I did not leave her again.

            “Oh, Ethan!”  She said simply, and then she was crying.  I held her as she sobbed, trying to comfort her.

            “You’ve grown a beard.” She smiled once she recovered herself.  Eve touched it tentatively.  “And your hair is so long.”

            “It’s been awhile since I met a barber.”  I shrugged, which brought a quiet laugh out of her.  “How long has it been?”

            “Seven years since you saw Gwen.  Fourteen since the last time I saw you, I think.”  Her eyes were filled with great sadness at the memory of those years.  “I missed you so much!”

            I clutched her tightly, silently returning the same sentiment.  There was no way to express the relief both of us felt, reunited after so many years and so much hardship.  I don’t know if anyone could find the right words to say in a moment so profound.  My little sister had changed so much, and I had missed all of that.  There had been so many struggles for her, and I was not there to protect her.

            When we broke from our embrace I had the chance to get a good look at her.  Genevieve had lines around her eyes, as if she had not slept well in ages, and she was far too thin.  Years of living on the run had made her gaunt, and her hands bore calluses from hard work and battle.  She looked so tired.

            “What took you so long to send aid?” I asked Alex as he approached us, having dismounted from his horse and given orders to his men before walking over to join our little reunion. 

            “We knew that the cavalry was just a minor sortie.  A feint.  We suspected they had even more in reserve.  I had to wait until the infantry was in play to show our hand, once I saw that our men outside the walls were being slaughtered.  I was not about to give up the advantage of surprise.”

            “Surprise?  Those men were mighty surprised to be murdered as they slept!”  I said.  “And the rest, to be abandoned on the field!”

            “What would you have me do, Ethan?”  Alex shouted back.  “Sacrifice the few cavalry men we have in a vain attempt to save the handful who didn’t die in the first few minutes?”

            “There should have been guards on the wall, warning, something!”  I said in response.  “Why wasn’t anyone watching?”

            “We had guards.  They were killed in the night.”  Genevieve said quietly.  “Someone found a way to scale the wall and killed them in silence.”

            “I didn’t know.  I’m sorry.”  I said, rebuked, my righteous anger deflating.  “I saw men dying and thought someone should help.  I didn’t realize you had troubles of your own in here, Alex.  I apologize.”  I held out my hand to him, offering to make peace.

            He shook it with a grin.  “It’s okay.  I’m just glad you’re back.”

            “Me too.”  I smiled, clapping him on the shoulder.  “So how do you plan to win this war?”

            “I think we can just wait them out.  We have supplies, while they were foolish enough to besiege us in winter.  They cannot live off the land.  We can let the weather kill them, and help out with arrows from the walls,” Eve said.

            “I have to question Neal’s tactics.”  Alex said.  “Fighting in the snow, besieging a city without a means of getting in, he’s not planning this well.”

            “Isn’t that a good thing?” Eve asked.

            “No.  It means I wonder what he has up his sleeve.”

<<Previous   Next>>