“Fuck this shit.”
Tev looked up, startled, looking around. The clangs of sword against armor, the rupturing of skin to metal, and the screams of soldiers in pain surrounded him, and through all this, he still heard it, even though it was impossible. He had heard it through a fog of fear, through a veil of uncertain death.
Yet he had heard it, and the meaning of the sentence was even more impossible than its utterance.
The battle continued around him, but for a moment he couldn’t focus on that, which would be the obvious focus of anyone else. He couldn’t think about the men and women dying around him, how the fate of their lands counted on their victory, how he at that moment was placed at the very eye of the biggest historical moment of their entire existence. For one quiet, simple moment, he couldn’t think about any of those things. He could only think about that thing that couldn’t have happened, but just had.
There was a man standing beside him, a man he had never seen and not seen coming, and this man had been the one who had said this one, impossible sentence.
“Screw this,” the man muttered. It was as if he could hear Tev’s thoughts and wanted to amaze him even further by saying yet another incredulous sentence.
The man looked angry.
Tev didn’t understand.
The man scowled, looking in front of him at three of their soldiers clashing against five, and it was with that same scowl that he sheathed his sword, turned around, and ran.
He ran away from the battle.
Tev followed him.
Fleeing over dead bodies and lines upon lines of archers, the man ran, and as he did, he began to remove his armor. The armors given to them were all of poor quality, and hadn’t even been part of a full set; they had been given only a chest plate, a helmet, a chainmail, and sabatons. Their legs remained unprotected, which their enemies had realized. They had crippled their first troops of men with their own archers, and then sent in the infantry as the downed forces with arrows through their legs received help from the still standing ones. Both the injured and their helpers were struck down helplessly, and their forces were pushed back.
Hundreds had died so far, and more would meet the same end.
Tev would have died with them, had he remained.
Jumping over a dead camel. Tripping and falling over a dead woman. Getting up again by grabbing hold of her dead neighbors' clothes and pulling himself up. Following the man that was for every moment getting further and further away from him.
Until he disappeared into a squad that was mobilizing.
Tev stopped in horror. Both at the disappearance on his only guiding light, and at the realization of what he was doing.
Would he be discovered anywhere else than on the front lines, he would be killed for treason. He looked around and thought he must be somewhere in their left flank, which he knew his commanding officer should be in. If she was to find him… he could scarcely imagine what would transpire.
He could lie. Say he had retreated to mobilize with his squad.
But they were dead, all of them. He had seen them.
A horn blew somewhere in the distance, and his heart started racing even more. The enemy called in reinforcements. They had already been pushed back without them. That horn was called to decimate them.
The battle was lost.
“FORWARD!” he heard a shrill commanding voice bellow, and he recognized Commander Brano’s, the commanding officer of their company’s silhouette in the distance, ordering the squads collected to move.
Tev understood. He grew cold; he hadn’t been able to see it before this moment.
This battle had been lost the moment it started. It was all written in the commanders' voice, in response to the horn of reinforcements.
He and the two thousand other new recruits hadn’t been taken to the front lines because their help was needed.
They were fodder, meant to be slaughtered.
What he didn’t understand was why.
The soldiers around him yelled and screamed, running past him, no one paying attention to him. He stared in disbelief because he saw that they knew too. Their eyes screamed as much as their voices did, and they yelled in fear and horror because they knew they were running towards their deaths.
But worse still, they knew that wouldn’t they run, they would die anyway.
One death, or another?
Dead now, or dead later?
It was with the full knowledge of his true cowardice that he understood that his answer would forever, always be ‘later’.
He ran the opposite way of his fellow soldiers.
Would he be found to not be dead, he would be killed.
Would he follow his orders, he would be killed.
Would he escape and somehow elude discovery, fact was that he did not actually have a reason to live.
So why was he running?
He was running to the point where his lungs wheezed, where his sweat leaked through his clothes in both his dread and physical exertion, and his heart beat just as much from fear as his running.
He could for the life of him not understand why he put himself through it.
The battle was over, and everyone he had gotten to know these last few days were now dead. His commander was dead. His commanders' commander was dead.
And here he was, fleeing from his crime of not dying with them.
When he heard the unmistakable thudding sounds of hooves approaching, he at first increased his panicked run, but after merely two seconds his legs gave way. He tumbled to the dry ground and there he remained, face down into the dirt, breathing choppily and damning his situation.
Why did he have to die? Why?
“What the f… get up,” a voice whispered somewhere above him, and even through his state of horror and dread he recognized the voice.
A hand grabbed a hold of his chainmail from behind and pulled him up from the ground, forcefully and with no trouble whatsoever, and Tev was faced with a live person. It was the man he had followed away from the frontline.
“Get these off,” the man whispered, glancing over Tev’s shoulder as he grabbed a hold of Tev’s oversized chest plate and released the clasps holding it in place, “Hurry up, shit, you stupid fuck-”
Tev did as the man said, with shivering hands, he started pulling the chainmail off after the man removed the chest plate from him, who then bent down to get the sabatons off Tev’s boots. The thudding sounds of a running camel and human shouts got closer, and the man crouching in front of Tev swore stressfully as he threw the sabatons over his shoulder. Once the feat was done, the man got up, grabbed a hold of Tev’s wrist, and without a word set off into a run, pulling Tev with him as he ran off.
It was the most horrible moment of Tev’s life. Running when he had no power left, dragged along by a stranger, chased by enemy forces. He would never get out of this alive. He couldn’t.
“HALT!” A shout came, and to Tev’s surprise, the man pulling him along actually stopped and turned. His face was stiff, but affirming as he faced the oncoming troop. Tev bent over from exhaustion, pulling his head down and breathing heavily, seeing black flashes across his vision, wondering if he was about to faint or puke. Fortunately, he did neither.
“Not soldiers!” Tev heard the man shout, out of breath but still with strength in his voice, “we’re farmers! Farmers, you understand?! We were…!”
Tev looked up and watched as two camels side by side slowed their pace and trotted around the man and then went past Tev, encircling them both, while two more walked up behind Tev. Tev didn’t look at the people riding the camels. Never look a Visanian in the eye. He locked his gaze on the ground and concentrated on calming his heart and breathe properly, something he simply couldn’t accomplish. The starch smell of camels soon filled his nostrils. He had never had reason to be close to a camel; they weren’t used much around his home because of this exact stench.
“Farmers, this close to battle?” a voice behind Tev asked skeptically, with a heavy accent Tev had never heard the nature of. Afraid that hearing a Visanian had the same results as directly looking upon one struck Tev, and he almost raised his hands to cover his ears, but he was also afraid of making sudden movements or offending them. He tried to simply not listen, but that proved fruitless enough.
“Aye,” the mysterious man said, and he seemed to have caught his breath already because he spoke more clearly now, “we are. Our farm was burnt as the Tevernian troops arrived.”
“You’re saying you’re Visanian?” the same Visanian soldier snorted, and their three companions chuckled. “You think I’m an idiot?”
“… Well, obviously,” the man said, and Tev’s heart actually stopped for a beat. He forgot his fear of accidentally seeing a Visanian and he looked up in shock at the man, thinking him crazy. The man seemed completely unfazed over what he had just said. “Of course we’re not Visanian,” The man calmly continued. “We’re Fairyborn.”
The man was out of his mind.
A solemn silence fell upon the Visanian soldiers.
“Fairyborn, this close to Visa’s borders and far away from the forest?” the Visanian soldier asked, but this time not as skeptically as the first time. “What a coincidence.”
“And true, on top of it,” The man added with a cross smile.
“Although our farm wasn’t here,” the man now said, explaining- no, rather ‘making stuff up’ on the spot. “It’s about fifty miles inwards Teverna, just about a few miles from Mermaid’s Bay. We had a trade route set up to ship things from the Bay into Dunstan. Teverna’s troops passed by Mermaid’s Bay and took the opportunity of raiding it.”
It was true, their forces HAD passed through Mermaid’s Bay. They had also participated in a cleanout of the illegal smuggling happening there. Tev had been there to see the bloodbath they had left behind.
A necessary precaution.
“And you then ended up here, how?” The Visanian soldier asked.
“We knew of the battle and we traveled in the Tevernian company’s wake,” the man now calmly continued to explain, “knowing that the border is locked and that our only chance of leaving the country was to do so at their failure.”
“You planned to take advantage of your own country’s defeat?”
The man laughed one, short time. “Teverna’s not our country.”
A dull silence fell over the men surrounding them, and Tev felt a sudden urge to look up and see what was happening over his head. His head actually jerked up for a bit before he hindered himself and bowed down low again. Never look a Visanian in the eye.
“Who’s the other one?” The same soldier now asked, and Tev didn’t need to be watching them to know they had meant himself.
“My brother,” The strange man said, and Tev froze up.
One of the soldiers laughed heartily at that. “He’s full of shit!” She exclaimed in her laughter.
One of the other soldiers spoke up at that, his voice deep and dark. “My grandfather had a child with a Fairyborn, his second wife. The child, my mothers' brother, didn’t look like his mother at all, he looked exactly like my grandfather. Her skin was dark and his pale, it was incredible. Fairyborn works differentl-”
“We don’t have time for this,” The same soldier who had said the mysterious man was full of shit suddenly said. “We need to decide whether to take them or kill them.”
“We’ll go with you with no struggle,” The man said now, not pleadingly, more as if he suggested it, “Or we’ll leave and never show our faces in public again, we’ll go back to Dunstan if that’s what you want. We simply want to live.”
Tev swallowed. This was the first time the man had said something he could truly stand behind.
“… Go,” The first soldier said.
“Darán?” The fourth soldier who hadn’t said a word spoke up, and other strange words followed from the two remaining soldiers.
“Go. Don’t look behind,” the first soldier said, her voice stale. “Go until you are spotted by the border troops. They’ll know what to do with you.”
“Thank you. Come on, brother.”
The bizarre man grabbed Tev again and pulled him up, and Tev’s gaze briefly flew over one of the Visanian soldiers before he could stop himself. The soldier was wearing a full body armor, a sight that amazed him after having seen half dressed soldiers getting slaughtered. The soldier on the camel didn’t have a drop of blood on him, and the armor shone in the setting sun.
Tev looked away, disgusted.
The four Visanian soldiers spurred their camels away, and they trotted off in the direction of the battlefield. The man pushed Tev the opposite way, east, and took off himself, walking quickly and more or less shoving and dragging Tev with him, who was still in a complete daze.
“Damn, they were stupid,” the man mumbled, glancing over his shoulder to look after the soldiers, “Can’t believe they bought that. Or maybe they just feigned ignorance. Didn’t wanna bother taking us in, more trouble for them. Didn’t wanna kill when it could be avoided. Visa really is a weird country. Not everyone wants to shed devastation. Weird concept, aye?”
Tev didn’t answer. He was breathing quickly.
The man stopped, and he turned, staring after the soldiers. Then, he grabbed Tev yet again and pulled, but this time not to get him to walk faster, but to make him change his course.
He pulled Tev backwards, pulling him in the same direction as the soldiers were going. West.
“Oh, why is everyone so fucking stupid?” The man complained at Tev’s confusion. “We’re obviously not going to Visa. We’ll be cut down. We’re Tevernian, and no border in wartime would in their right mind let people escape into their country. We could be arsonists, assassins, spies, who knows. No, brother, we’re fleeing inland, back to our true, fine home.”
Tev didn’t get to think about any of that before the man answered a question he had never asked. “We’re going to Dunstan forest.”