They rode all night long.  Alexander led the way, making sure the path was safe.  Zoë came next, fearing the uncertainty of their future.  Genevieve and Gwen rode on the same horse, as the young girl was too tired after weeks on the road to even sit upright.  Her elder sister held her close to keep her from falling out of the saddle while she slept.  Alex directed their steeds down the darkened streets of the city, and out into the countryside.

            They found an abandoned farmhouse near daybreak.  Alex opened the door with his shoulder, and they entered its lonely dim interior cautiously.  They were so tired from their hurried departure that they didn’t even bother to go upstairs and look for beds, but rather fell asleep on dusty, moth-eaten couches, and, in Alex’s case, on the floor.  He slept across the door with his sword in his hands.

            Genevieve woke up first, and stepped quietly over Alex to go out onto the porch of the dilapidated house to get some fresh air and to think.  There were some holes in the floorboards, and several pieces of the wooden railing were broken, and all of them had chipped paint.  She attempted to sit on the porch swing, but its rusted chains creaked under her weight and broke, dumping her unceremoniously onto the wooden floor.  Rubbing her sore tailbone, she settled for sitting on the steps instead, resting her chin in her hand.

            “Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Gwen asked when she found her sister sitting there about a half hour later.  She plunked down beside Evie and tucked a strand of hair back behind her ear.

            “I don’t know what to do next.”  Eve confided.  “I have no idea where to go, or anything.  I’m tired and I’m dirty and I’m hungry.  I just want to sleep for a month.”

            “Speaking of hunger, we don’t have any food.”  Gwendolyn said.  “Somebody’s going to have to go into town and buy some.”

            Eve sighed deeply.  “I can’t even think straight enough to remember necessary details like that.  How am I supposed to lead a war?”

            “You don’t have to do it by yourself.”  Gwen said.  “We’re here too.  And Alex has military experience now.  And I can go get lunch.  I mean, it’s probably best that the three of you not get seen right now, but no one could possibly recognize me.”

            “Oh no, I’m not letting you go anywhere by yourself.”  Genevieve disagreed.  “In case you haven’t noticed, the world’s not a safe place anymore.  If it ever was.”

            “Well, I suppose you look so dirty and run down that no one would know it was you.”  Gwen teased, poking her sister in the ribs.  Eve giggled and tickled her back.

            “I would kill for a hot bath.”  Evie said when they both got their breath back after the laughter subsided.  “I have never felt so dirty in my life.”

            “We could see about finding water, and then starting a fire to heat it.”  Gwen suggested. 

            “That sounds like work.”  Eve complained, pouting like a child.  “I miss the little things, like running water and electricity.  The things you take for granted till they’re gone.  Let’s get some food first, we’ll worry about that afterwards.”

            They walked down the old road to town together.  The sisters walked in near silence, as Gwen could sense that her sister needed time to think about things.  Their life had grown increasingly dangerous of late and there was a lot to plan.  When they entered the town, the younger sister looked around for the obligatory general store.

            “You wait here, and I’ll be back in a moment.”  She said as she and Genevieve reached a fountain in the middle of town.  Gwen figured her sister could use some more time alone to ponder their next course of action, and she could grab them some supplies in the meantime.

            Evie took a seat on a bench by the fountain, and guessed that this had been a park before the turmoil of recent years.  The fountain was dry, and much of it was cracked or chipped.  The grass, once well tended, had given over to weeds.  She looked across the road and saw her sister enter the store with a wave.  She was glad Gwen had kept her smile despite the recent craziness; having her around kept Eve’s spirits up.

            From her position she could see most of the main street of the town, which had some light traffic, pedestrians and a few horses.  Everyone seemed run down, tired, dejected.  She couldn’t blame them.  They lived in rough times.  Only a few yards from where she sat, Genevieve could see a young boy leading an old woman down the street by the arm.  She guessed that the woman was his grandmother, or perhaps a great aunt, from the tenderness and care that he had for his task.  It reminded her of Ethan, who had always been considerate of their Gran, and this memory brought a smile to her lips.

            The old woman seemed addled, rolling her head from side to side.  Her mouth was somewhat slack, giving her the appearance of senility.  Eve felt sorry for her, living to see such times and exist in such a state.  It was entirely a surprise to her when the woman swivelled her head in Genevieve’s direction, and then ran towards her excitedly, breaking free of her young guide’s grasp.

            “Trista, Trista!”  The woman babbled enthusiastically.  She flung her arms about Eve in an awkward embrace, as Genevieve tried to extricate herself from the woman’s arms as politely as she could.

            “I’m sorry, miss.”  The boy said, getting his grandmother away with a gentle tug.  She looked at a bird singing on a nearby tree, and Eve realized her vacant mind was easily distracted.  “She mistook you for my sister.  You kind of look like her.”

            “It’s quite alright,” Eve said to him.  “It was startling, but no harm done.  Is she okay?”

            “Well, this is about as okay as she gets.  Her mind broke last year when my sister died.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry.”  Genevieve said apologetically, her hand going to her mouth.  “I didn’t realize…” Her heart went out to the old woman, who had simply hoped to be reunited with a lost loved one.  “What happened?”

            The boy wrinkled his brow with remembered pain.  “She was found murdered in a ditch.  No one knows who did it.  But my dad says it was one of them.”  He pointed, his voice disdainful.

            Eve turned to look, and saw two soldiers in Citadel uniforms exit a nearby tavern, loosening their sword-belts.  They seemed to have ample time to eat and drink in this quiet farming town.  Genevieve could see that the boy and the old woman were stick thin, and felt an angry flutter in her chest.  These men were here to protect the innocent, and instead exploited them for their own benefit.  It disgusted her.

            “Yeah, there was a big party one night at that pub.”  The boy continued.  “Some general or something was riding through, and he called for a feast.  My sister worked as a waitress there, and some say she found favour in his eyes.  She weren’t seen again after that night, so my dad figured either he or one of his men done something.”

            The child’s voice was bitter, and Genevieve’s thoughts matched.  Her fists tightened.  The only general that could have been was Daniel, and suddenly she could understand where these soldiers had learned how to abuse those they “protected.”

            The men were walking on the other side of the street, down the sidewalk.  They reached the general store just as Gwendolyn emerged, carrying a satchel with food.  She bumped into the lead soldier, bouncing off his chest and dropping some apples.  Instead of helping her up, the stout soldier picked up an apple and ate it.  When Gwen complained, he used his chubby fingers to grab her by the chin, squeezing her cheeks inwards.  He shoved her to the ground, and both he and his friend laughed at her.

            The first guard felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to the street.  He saw an enraged Genevieve standing there, her right fist clenched so tautly that her knuckles were white.  Her eyes flamed with anger.

            “I think that you had better apologize.”  Eve said through gritted teeth.

            “Oh yeah?” He laughed.  “Who’s going to make me?”

            Eve didn’t give him a second chance, or any further warning.  She swung her left hand from her side, and struck his face with a rock she had picked up from beneath the fountain.  He crumpled to the ground, and when his compatriot tried to rush forward to engage Genevieve, she kicked out fiercely with her riding boot, hitting him directly in his flabby stomach.  Air wooshed out of him, and the soldier fell to the ground holding his sides.  Eve’s heart was hammering in her breast, her body heaving with deep breaths.  Every detail of the scene stood out with crystal clarity to her:  the blood dripping off her rock, the matching red drops on the face of one fallen guard, the grimaces of pain on the faces of both men. 

            When Genevieve finally looked up, she noticed that quite a crowd had gathered around:  farmers in town to sell crops, young boys, women who had come to buy groceries.  All of them were looking at her.  And they were not staring at her in shock or in anger, but in something like awe.  As if they had all dreamed of doing exactly what she had just done.

            “Listen to me, everyone!”  Eve said to them, her voice clear and loud in the silence.  “These men were empowered to protect you and your families from harm.  Instead, these men have lived off your hard work and grown fat and soft.  These men have been sitting idle while your children were raped and murdered!  I know this, for I lived among their leaders in the Citadel.  I left when I learned that their general was a murderer.  When I learned that our treasurer was embezzling funds and stealing food from your mouths.  When I learned that our music leader and our advisor planned further theft and more murder.  Now I have left them to tell you of their evil.”

            She had everyone’s attention.  “I have left so that I might fight back against it.  Now, who will join me?”

            And that was how it started.  By sundown, they had burned the soldiers’ barracks in town down to ashes and killed every single one, using pitchforks, old baseball bats, firewood axes and bare hands, using kitchen knives and, in one case, a walking cane.  Genevieve’s revolution had started.  War had begun.

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