-This is not by any means a finished product, it is an idea for a story
She sits in her solitude, contemplating life and death, wondering which is closer at the moment. The blood of her lover is still wet on her tunic…Red was always his color.
They were warriors, they had gone through the horrors of initiation together, and vowed never to tell how the other had shed tears. At the age of 8, they had stolen apples from the neighbor’s tree at midnight, giggling and shushing each other as the moon watched them silently. They had shared the tragedies of youth, first love gone sour, and the harsh reality of broken dreams. Finding mutual respect and admiration through the hardships of war, they discovered a bond deeper then ties of blood. Forged in the fires of their first battle, a joining of souls, baptised in their victory.
He was an expert bowmen, she a swordsmen, and both taught the other secrets of their art, until they exceeded where once they had failed. Slowly gaining a reputation for a variety of skills, they were soon sought in cases of specialized robbery, border harassment, assassinations, subterfuge, and the gathering of information. A popular diety in the city bore the two faces of death, and they were soon named “the hand of Dualiss” in reflection of this ideal. Anyone with their ear to the ground was sure to hear their names whispered on the airways of the black market, and it wasn’t long before their newfound celebrity invited violence to those in competition.
The first ambush was not very well planned, and they were able to leave quite an impression with the bloody mess left in a back alley. It was several more weeks before the next one, but by then they had prepared themselves, and managed to beat some impossible odds by a careful selection of battlegrounds, having scouted the options beforehand.
The constant attention quickly lost it’s appeal, and they faked their own deaths to enjoy retirement. A quiet piece of land on the beach with fresh oysters every day, and eggs from the chickens out back, got them through several frugal winters- until the day the King’s messenger came to the door.
He was ragged from a hard ride, and his mount was bloody and foaming at the mouth when he reined in sharply in the courtyard. They offered him a roof and hospitality, feeding him well, but making it clear they wanted nothing to do with the summons they knew he carried. Several bottles of good mead latter however, and a meal of grilled lamb, and their minds were swayed. He had coin, enough to see them comfortably through their twilight years, and only one small request: A mission of secrecy, reconisence and the gathering of intel in foreign lands. Simple. They agreed.
A few hundred miles later on a freighter ship, hidden in a barrel reeking of fish, they arrived at their destination: Kora. A harbor town famous for it’s export of fine silk, and the quality of it’s whores. Ten days, eleven nights later, and they had gathered all the requested information. Proud of themselves for their prompt delivery, they spent their last few nights in an ecstasy of bought company, and the joys of cheap grog.
With the morning tide, a boat arrived on schedule to ferry them back home, and they mutually enjoyed the assets of the captain’s daughter on the return voyage. Of course this angered him, but there was nothing at all he could do about it, so the little red headed beauty shared their bed each night. She wept when she watched them go. She would likely be sold, having no worth as a virgin. The two were not particularly worried about it, they had encountered many happy whores in their line of work.
The King accepted them into his personal hall to receive their report, and that is when they truly understood the importance of their observations. They rattled off a list from memory full of troop movements, the amount of available sea power, and the state of repair on the local battlements. He listened carefully, an aging man too frail for the throne he sat, with a scribe furiously scribbling behind him. his hands shook with age as he signed the certificate of their release.
Shortly thereafter, war broke out, and they were not at all surprised to watch their information being utilized in the applied strategies. the King’s troops sought all weakness, and exacerbated each one until he held the upper hand. poisoning water supplies, ambushing the enemy in plain sight of the palace, then disappearing into the night, and sending the severed heads of spies back over the walls of barricaded cities. They worried not at all about the vacillations of power, content to live a peasant’s life of hard labor, with a stash of coin in reserve. until once again, their plan was changed.
The King was assassinated while he slept, poisoned by a rare plant extract found only on the isle of Kora. The two of them knew their one protection had vanished, and so fled into the mountains, loosing themselves in the flood of refugees. The reputation of several years did not leave them however, and it wasn’t long before the secret of their identity was known by all. coerced into service by those who held their names, they were forced to guard huts, milk cows, and hunt for meat in the wilderness.
These were hard people, who had learned that the art of survival lay in making themselves indispensible, and were soon considered the best kept secret of the “revolution”. They brought in more fresh kill, slit more throats in the night, and generally ran easy circles around the sons of farmers left to protect the village. Knowing very well that they lived on borrowed time, they were once again unsurprised to see themselves sold for a weightless promise.
A fisherman bartered the information for the life of his daughter and the hope of freedom. Neither one was granted him. His body was found burned in the remnants of his hut, with the body of his desecrated child nearby. It wasn’t long before the enemy came for the “hand of Dualiss”.
It was a full troop that arrived at their hut in the slight hour before dawn, and they slaughtered half of them before being tied, blindfolded, and thrown into the back of a wagon. They murmured encouragement to each other as they were jarred on every bump in the road, until a soldier heard and drugged them, fearing a plot. They fully expected to be executed publically in the occupied town square, and so were quite surprised when the rags were removed from their eyes amidst a dark forest, in the black of night.
Before them raged a fire of pine boughs, spitting and sputtering in the dampness of early spring, with the ruler of the invading army staring at them over the flames. He offered them clemency if they would work for him, betraying those who had sheltered them through the snows, giving up the lives of those they had fed and grown to love. They refused. The King ordered their death, and thought no more of it.
They were taken away from camp toward a natural dip in the earth, where their bodies would be easier to dispose of, and prepared themselves to die with honor. Luck was with them on that night however, and they were spared by a wayward troop of freedom fighters, lost on the way home, and eager for any form of confrontation with the enemy.
Saved once again by a slight turn of fate, they decided the life of death and intrigue was quickly loosing it’s appeal. Hiking overland they left the well beaten trails behind, striking out for a border on the opposite shore, for a barely understood realm of fantasy and peace, from which rumors of fertile fields and jousting trickled daily. Speaking as they walked of all the things they could do in a world where they were nameless, and the family they would start there.
This too, was a fruitless dream, for the man met his death high on a mountain pass, defending his woman from a bear driven to madness by hunger.
Now here she sat, with the blood of her lover on her clothes, and the body of the beast who had taken his life laid at his feet. She pondered all of the life they had lived together, all the times they had loved, and wondered what the meaning of it all was. Had they led a good life? Was it worth it? Was it honorable to die at the hands of a mad beast, when all the armies of hell could not concure him? Should she respect his memory by living the remainder of her life, or should she follow him into the darkness? What did she have to live for, if she was to live alone? What would he have done?
All these questions and more did she ask herself, before deciding that it mattered not at all. They had lived, and that is all that truly mattered. She burned his body when the first star appeared that evening, and she did not cry, even as her soul was ripped from her body and flew upward in a hail of sparks.
We all burn in one way or another, and all of us die. In the end, a life can be measured by the amount of truth, honor, love and understanding encountered along the way. It doesn’t matter if you die choking on vomit in a ditch, or peacefully in your sleep, you will meet your maker with nothing to hide and no secrets left. As long as every day is lived true to your own beliefs, you can face God with a clear conscience, and a smile on your lips.
This is what she came to understand, as she walked away down the face of the mountain, and she never once looked back.
-Started and Finished on February 19