War and History Fiction posted November 28, 2022 Chapters:  ...29 30 -31- 32 

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
Iona offers the enemy a choice

A chapter in the book Rise from the Fall

What say you

by Rinshikai

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for sexual content.

Colton Arverni is an auxiliary soldier in service to the Empire. When an aspiring new commander jeopardizes the northern frontier, Colton's life is changed forever.


We won, and the Bloody Bear is dead, but the cost was beyond measure. The faces of our fallen are blue and lifeless as the winter winds blow through the valley. The trenches meant to protect us are their final resting place.

Locke, Triana, and I stand with what's left of our men, saying our final farewells. Kissing Hahaku on the forehead, I thank him for always defending me. Torch in hand, all eyes fall on me, and I freeze. Words refuse to form, and panic races through me.

A hand on my shoulder calms me, and Hunter draws everyone's attention to himself. "We are here to honor those who held the line. Though outnumbered and abandoned, each was equal to ten of their enemies. And thanks to their bravery Ironwell took the head of the Bloody Bear himself." He gestures to me.

The men hum a dirge and ready their bows. Arrows dance through the air and set the pyres ablaze. Crackling as they engulf the dead in their warm embrace.

"Goodbye, my friends," I say, igniting Hahaku's pyre. "May you find peace?" My body shakes, and I tell myself it's just the cold, but I'm barely holding it together. I'm alone like I was back then, scared, wounded, and not knowing what to do.

"Iona," Triana says, "We should get you cleaned up."
Following her lead, we enter the City. The district once home to battle and blood is now makeshift homes and barracks for our newly arrived allies. It's lively, almost happy, nothing like when we first came. Everyone greets us and bows politely, and I am not used to it. The Empire always shunned me, often seeing me as a tool. But Hunter's warriors have shown me the respect I've only received from friends.

We enter my tent, only a cot, desk, and chair decorate its otherwise bleak interior. The cool air is refreshing. I take off my armor and shirt. I look at myself and find scrapes and bruises coating me like dirt. These last couple of days took a lot out of me.

Wringing out a rag, Triana works her magic. Her hands glide across my skin like birds on the water, taking away days worth of stress. I feel lighter when she's done.
Triana rips off her wig and strips down to her skivvies. Like Luna, her hair is a pale white but short like a man's. Giving me the rag, Triana offers her back, "My turn?"

I clean her, marveling at her body. A few scars decorate her soft skin, but otherwise, she's flawless. It boggles my mind how she has such a feminine frame despite being a mercenary.

"Do you want to talk? It's been almost a week." At first, I ignore her question and focus on washing her back. But she stops me, and those beautiful blue eyes offer me a chance to grieve.

My defenses start to crumble, and I long for Luna again. In this unforgiving world, she's one of the pillars that kept me sane through it all. With Hahaku dead and Colton missing, hearing her voice would be a comfort.

"Good lord! Will the two of you cover yourselves!" The Commander says, entering my tent unannounced. I punch him, and a thousand needles dance through my arm. My flesh pops open, and a steady stream of red drips to the ground.

"Dammit, Iona." Triana leads me back to my desk, prepping a needle. "Iona is in mourning, Commander. Whatever you have to say can wait." Needle sterilized, she starts to work on my wound.

Spitting out some blood, "No, it can't." The Commander wipes away the trickle of red dripping from his nose. "The Bear may be dead, but these savages must be brought to heel." He pulls out a parchment with the Trajan sigil. "Their crimes would warrant death, but the attack left us with few able bodies and laborers. Mangus wants you to show them that submission is in their best interests, Iona."

"You mean you want to enslave them." I crumple the parchment without reading it. "I want no part of this, Commander."

"This isn't a request."

I wince from Triana, pulling my flesh back together. After leaving us for dead, does Mangus believe that I would ever desire to help him? His as guilty as the Bear is for the attack. "And if I refuse?" I ask.

He closes the distance between us, his musk burning my nose. "You may lose more than your nephew."

Warning or threat, his words cut deep. I bite my lip, fighting the voice telling me to punch him again. He is about to leave, but I grab his collar. "Tell me. You didn't care if we lived. So why did you save us?"

Leaning in, he whispers. "When I saw your allies flank the Bear's army. I knew the choice was either keep you alive or face their wrath. I'd like to see retirement, Iona." He pulls himself from my grip and prepares to leave. "Mangus will expect results, don't keep him waiting."

I slump in my chair, rubbing the migraine threatening my thoughts. I try to calm myself, but I'm dead to rights. The idea of losing Luna and Enid sends my body trembling. Brother, how did you deal with this bullshit? I ask myself.

"Done." Triana wraps my arm with a clean cloth. "Don't ruin my work, ok." Standing, she dresses, putting her wig back on. I grab my shirt, and she helps me back into my armor. We leave the tent, bombarded by the winter air. Our cloaks provide some warmth, but the icy winds are brutal.

A heavy cloak drapes over our shoulders, and a man's shadow towers over us. Finding the source, Hunter makes himself known. How does a man like him make so little noise? "Tell me you're not considering it," he asks.

Crossing my arms, I leave the warmth of his cloak. "They have Luna and Enid as leverage. I don't have a choice." The thought of them tortured or killed is something I can't face.

He signals us to follow him. "You have a legions worth of warriors, Iona. March on the City if they try."

"You want me to take this City?"

"No, I'm suggesting that you hold this City hostage. Under siege, it wouldn't last the winter. However, you could be persuaded against it if Tatanya were to join us."

Using their tactic against them, it's a sound plan. The question is can we pull it off? Triana throws Hunter's cloak over my shoulders. "You know, I just remembered. I need to check on my girls, you know, to ensure they're protecting Tatanya. There could still be conspirators plotting against Mangus." She disappears into the sea of people, and I run after Hunter.

Leaving the safety of the city walls, I'm taken aback by what's in front of me. Instead of a horse, a stag-like creature is nestled in the stables. "What in the gods' name is that?" I hesitate to get any closer to it. "I barely know how to ride a horse. I'm not getting on that thing."

Ignoring me, Hunter leads the beast toward me. Panic kicking in, I back up until I'm against a wall. Its nose is against my face, and a tongue glides across my cheek, nearly ripping my iron earring from my ear.

The beast kneels, and Hunter mounts it, offering me a hand. Reluctantly I accept. Standing, we ride down the main road, the pyres now embers in the wind.

Past the trenches, what's left of the Bear's army is corralled into a fortified encampment. Hunter's men confiscate every weapon they can find, burning the few remaining poison vials in a blue bonfire. But something is off. Everywhere I look, women, children, and the elderly mingle with the men we had fought mere days ago. "What is this, Hunter?"

He wraps his arm around my waist, making me uncomfortable. "That great army you saw wasn't as large as you thought." Pointing to small campfires, "One man lights three, then one becomes many."

"That doesn't explain why they're here." I gesture to the women and children.

"There's a rising power in the North, subjugating tribes to unite them against the Empire." We arrive at a tent. "It's not something every tribe welcomes." Dismounting the beast, he holds the tent flaps open for me. "I imagine this lot is like you, just looking for a home to call their own."

Entering the tent, what I see nearly sends me into a blind rage. Tied to a post like a beaten dog, the target of my anger welcomes me. Alex, the heir to the Habi family, once dawning scale armor is now draped in bloody merchants' silk.

On his flanks, Tristan and Becka get ready for another round of beatings but stop once they see me. Alex spits at me, anger pouring off him like steam.

"I'm surprised you didn't just kill him," I say, trying to keep my composure. "Where did you find him?"

"He was trying to flee through the mountains to the east. When we caught him, I was going to feed him to our hounds," Tristan says. "But, out of all of us, Lady Iona, you're the one he slighted the most."

My soul is screaming for justice. Gripping him by the beard, I put my knife to his throat. I could end his life right here with one flick of the wrist. But I want answers. "Why did you do it?"

"He defiled my sister. What other reason do I need?"

Rage blinding me, I cut off his beard. He took Colton away from me, but I won't do the same to Melissa. Of all people, she's one of the few I have no desire to hunt. Throwing his beard to the ground, I walk to the edge of the tent, embracing the cool air creeping through the flaps. Trying to gather my thoughts, I can only think about Colton and if he's still alive. Helplessness weighs on me, and I debate traveling north to find him.

"Lady, Iona?" Becka joins me. "Send me north. I know those lands better than any of you. I can find him."

"I can't ask you to bear such a burden alone, Becka."

"She won't." Tristan joins us. "Colton is like a brother to me. If there's a chance to bring him home, I want to be a part of that."

"Tristan, I..." I look between them, wiping tears from my eyes. "Thank you."

"Just make sure we have a home to return to."

I'm speechless. I've grown so accustomed to doing things alone. Yet these children are willing to risk their lives to help me. Hunter clears his throat and gestures to Alex, reminding me that our prisoner's fate is undecided. I won't kill him, but there are fates worse than death.

Regaining my composure, "We will leave for Bloodcreast as soon as possible." I look to Alex. "Once there, the three of you will depart for the North." Tristan and Becka are unhappy about the idea but hold their tongues.

"You can't be serious, Iona. Just kill me and be done with." Alex protests, a twinge of fear in his voice. He sticks out his tongue, but I shove three fingers down his throat. He knows he's cornered, and death is the only way out.

"No. You don't get to take the easy way out." I pin him to the post. "You took Colton away from me, and until you bring him back to me, your life is mine, Alex." Pushing myself away, it gets harder to breathe, and I need air.

Leaving the tent, I'm light-headed, and it's hard to focus. The world becomes a blur, and my knees buckle. Through the haze, I find crates piled next to the tent. With a little effort, I sit down and clear my head. It's all going so fast, and I can't wrap my head around it.

Some camp occupants spot me, gathering at a safe distance. A little boy braves a few steps from the herd. He is ratty and sick, his clothes little more than rags hanging from his tiny frame.

I kneel, trying to look as unthreatening as possible. Reaching into my pack, I offer the boy a piece of dried meat. Before he can take it, a woman pulls him back, glaring at me. Taking a bite, I show them I mean no harm and offer it again. Though hesitant, they take it.

"Are you going to kill us?" The woman asks.

"Of course not."

"So, are we your slaves?"

"No." I stand, drawing the attention of the crowd. "The Empire. They want to offer sanctuary within their borders and have you replace the people you killed." The idea resonates with some of them. "But they made similar promises to my people." I walk into the crowd, and they give me a wide berth. "We, Arverni, were promised land if we fought for them. They didn't honor their word, and when we protested. They slaughtered us." I clench my fist, fighting back the memories of that day. "People like us are tools to them. Step out of line, and they'll make an example of you."

What happened to my people could happen to them. I spot that little boy among the crowd and imagine him crying in a sea of fire and death. I won't let it happen again.

"To fight the Bloody Bear, my nephew married the daughter of this land's lord." Drawing my sword, the berth between us grows wider. "In exchange for my mercenaries' protection and the Bear's head, the Empire would give one-third of the region as payment." Sheathing my blade. "But men at arms are not enough. We need farmers, smiths, and builders." Hoping my words reach them. "I will not force you to follow me, but I ask whether you would collar yourselves to the Empire, accepting their scaps, or do you want the chance to build a home for yourselves?"

Uneasiness flows through the area, dividing the camp. The woman and the boy step out of the crowd. Despite my warning, they look at Tito's with awe, and sparks of hope begin to shine in her eyes. " If the Empire will show us mercy? Why shouldn't we accept their offer."

"You'll never be seen as one of them." I turn to the crowd. "They left us to die, even when we were begging for help." Hunter steps out of the tent. "It was only because of Hunter's arrival that our lives were worth saving."

"She speaks the truth." He stands next to me, and like moths, to flame, the crowd gathers in reverence. "I was in the Imperial Captial when they purged Iona's people, and no mercy was shown, not even to the children." Hushed whispers dance through the crowd, Hunter's words cutting deeper than mine. "A little boy and baby girl were all I could save that day. And now that boy is in the Bear's maw, betrayed by his own side." Fear grips the camp, bringing worry with it.

"I know stories of the Old Bear and the bloody path to unite the tribes, but I can assure you. All promises from the Empire are fleeting. A friend becomes an enemy like the flip of a coin. But Iona is different." He gestures to me, "The North is in her blood, and she understands the importance of a promise."

Confidence fills me with strength, and I stand a little taller. "The Empire will demand submission, and it sounds like this Old Bear is the same. All I can offer is a choice." I offer my hand to one of them. "Join the Empire or return to the Bear, and hope they will be merciful. Or stand will me, and together we can build a new home we can call our own." A mixture of hope and dread winding its way through them. "What say you?"

Iona: Main POV character
Hahaku: Mercenary captain and friends of Iona
Locke: Another mercenary captain
Triana: Mercenary and friend of Iona
Tristan: Son of Hahaku
Becka: Young warrior of northerner roots fighting for Iona
The Commander: Leader of what remains of the Tenth Legion
The Bloody Bear: Leader of the invading force
Alex: An member of the Habi family from the Eastern Plains

I ask reviewers to provide a minimum of one thing they liked and disliked. If you see errors or something that should be fixed, please don't hesitate to point them out. I can't improve otherwise.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by cleo85 at FanArtReview.com

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2024. Rinshikai All rights reserved.
Rinshikai has granted FanStory.com, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.