Having no other content to put up here lately, I thought I’d post a snippet of a story I’m working on and see what you 3 think of it. This is actually quite terrifying, putting it out there like this. I don’t even have a title for it yet. Oh what the hell, here it is.
“Not many women choose this life,” he said, watching her clean the blade of her sword. The steel was smooth as glass, not a ripple in the metal. He’d never seen such a beautifully crafted blade.
She knelt on one knee in the mud by the body of the man she had just cut down in battle. “I’d hardly call it a choice.”
He dismounted from the enormous black horse. “Ah. Like so many of us. Sometimes the gods choose for us.”
“The gods and a bastard of a father who beat his children. He was my first kill.” She stood up, taller than he’d expected, broad-shouldered for a woman.
His mouth curved up on one side in a sardonic smile. “Self-defense is a basic skill for a warrior. The gods started training you early.”
“What is it with you and the gods, old man?”
“They’ve brought me victorious through many a battle.”
“And you don’t think that was any credit to your own skill?”
“Oh assuredly. But they set me on the path to learn what I’d need.”
She snorted. “All right, old man, if it gives you comfort at night.”
It was his turn to smile. “Old man? My hair may show many winters, but my arm will match yours in battle yet.”
She looked him up and down. His arms were as thick as oak branches, taut and strong, hardly flagging into old age. And then she saw the rank insignia riveted to his armor. He was the highest ranking general she’d come across since the war began. “No disrespect intended, General…?”
Her smile faded. He was more than a general, Vercingetor was the legendary commander of all the armies. And here she was sassing him. She laughed self-consciously. How could she not have recognized him? One didn’t expect to see the prime commander wandering around a battlefield unescorted. She saluted, wondering if it was already too late to salvage her career in the army. “My deepest apologies, General. Your presence here is a surprise. How may I serve you?”
“Apology accepted, Captain Lassuni. Since our work here is done,” he said, sweeping his glance over the battlefield where the crows were already arriving to scavenge the dead, “join me for some food, and we can talk.”
“Sir, I need to check on my troops.” Gainsaying the top Commander was probably error number two that day, but her duty to her own troops weighed on her. She couldn’t just go off for food and wine and leave them.
“Of course. I’ll join you,” he said, and mounted his horse once again. He sat and waited for her to retrieve her own mount that had wandered off during the battle. Once in the saddle she kicked the horse’s flanks, urging the animal to a canter.
“This way, General,” she said, and rode up the hill that hid their encampment.
They reached the top side by side, and reined their horses to a stop. Smoke from cooking fires and the smell of blood of the wounded scorched their nostrils. The wind was picking up as dark clouds moved in from the north. Just what they needed, Lassuni thought darkly. The wounded were suffering enough without cold rain and snow coming down on them. She urged her horse down the hill, nearly forgetting the presence of the army chief. She wasn’t too worried about him, though. He could figure out on his own what to do. All she could do now was her duty to her troops.
They rode down the line of tents, many of which had become camp hospitals, stopping now and then to have a word with some of the field doctors. None of the soldiers in the camp seemed to notice Vercingetor any more than she had, which made her smile inwardly. She didn’t know why this pleased her so much, only that it did. She suspected he was as arrogant and full of himself as most high-ranking officers were, probably moreso. Not that he hadn’t earned his fame the hard way, but most of them forgot the hardships suffered by the field troops once they got so high and mighty. And she hated them for it. She watched him out of the corner of her eye to see how he reacted to his anonymity. Annoyingly, he seemed to take no notice and said nothing as she spoke with some of the soldiers, simply observing from his saddle, not even offering an opinion. Finally she gave up worrying about him. Dismounting, she handed her horse off to her aide. She ran a hand absently through her chin-length, rough cut hair. She entered her tent where fatigue stole up and embraced her, and for the first time she felt the strain of the last few weeks. Forgetting the presence of the Supreme Commander, she lowered herself into her chair and called for wine, and two cups.
“My compliments, Captain. You have an excellent unit,” Vercingetor said. He had followed her in, but remained standing as if waiting for an invitation to sit.
Lassuni grinned, just a little, then started to stand again. “Forgive me, General…”
He waved his hand at her. “You’ve earned that seat, Captain,” he said. He turned and looked around the tent, then pulled up a second chair to sit near her. Lassuni shifted ever so slightly.
“Forgive me, General. I’m not accustomed to superior officers doing for themselves,” she said. But even that was half bait to see how he’d take it. What was it about this man that brought out this childish desire to provoke?
Vercingetor gave no indication that he felt in any way slighted or that she was being insubordinate. Peculiar. By now her aides were entering bearing plates of food and flagons of wine. As they refreshed the fire she began to thaw a little from the numbing cold of the gathering night, and started removing her armor. Vercingetor took a mouthful of the roasted meat and a swallow of wine, paying no heed to her. She shrugged and allowed her aide to finish taking the armor off.
“Tomorrow,” Vercingetor started, “we’ll cross the Ringossa Valley, and advance into Segora Province. Your troops will need to rest some before we can finish the push into the capital city.”
“We’ll need reinforcements before we can engage the rebels there. We suffered too many casualties today. I can’t move my forces for at least a week.”
“Precisely. You’ll leave your squadrons here, and take command of the Ninth Division. They’re stationed just beyond that ridge to the north.”
“Sir?” She finished swallowing a mouthful of food. “You want me to lead the Ninth?”
Now Vercingetor smiled. “Did you think I just stumbled on you by accident today, Captain?”
“Surely there are other officers more qualified to command the ninth.”
“More senior, certainly; more qualified – not that I’ve seen.”
For a moment she could hardly speak. The Ninth was a legendary elite unit, undefeated on the battlefield. To be handed command of such a unit was unheard of. Only the most skilled warriors were assigned to serve directly under the military’s highest commander.
“But sir, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to promote one of their own to command?”
He swirled his wine while watching her. “Perhaps. Under normal circumstances. At the moment I need some of them elsewhere, and after what I witnessed on the battlefield today, I believe I can trust you to carry this burden. Your regiment scored a decisive victory, your troops fight fiercely for you. I need officers who can inspire their troops like that.”
“But who will take over my regiment?”
“Captain, are you trying to tell me you’re refusing this promotion?”
She swallowed hard. “No General, not at all.”
He was handing her a position beyond anything she’d hoped for and she was acting like a mother hen. True, she had brought these troops up from nothing, turning them into one of the most feared and best trained units in the empire, but fate it seemed had decided it was time to move on.
“Your devotion to your troops is commendable, Captain, but I need you elsewhere right now. Be ready to leave in the morning, if you please.”
“Now, if you’ll direct me to a tent I can use tonight, I’d be most grateful.”
Once Vercingetor was settled, Adovana Lassuni assembled her officers in a hasty council to pass on the news. Her top lieutenant openly blanched at the news, until she informed him he was receiving a field promotion to captain.
“You’ll assume command immediately,” she told him. “I ride out in the morning with the supreme commander. There’s no time for a formal change of command.”
“It’s been an honor to serve with you, Captain.” Lieutenant Satonos stood at attention as he spoke.
Lassuni nodded. “Thank you. And may I be the first to congratulate you on your promotion, Captain Satonos.” Each placed their left hand on the other’s right shoulder in salute.
More to come…