“You know, we’re all going to die,” Minoru said, as he carved his name into the mud with tip of his spear.
Matashichi banged his friend’s shoulder with the shaft of his own. “Now why would you say a stupid thing like that?”
Minoru peered glumly at Matashichi from under his oversized helm. The rust that covered his makeshift armor made him look like a beached crab and his sullen eyes were black against his tawny soot-covered skin.
“Of course, we’re going to die,” Matashichi continued. “Look at us. We’ve be conscripted into an army led by that Bastard Dauphin of D’Orloins. The same bastard who allowed his industrial base to come under siege by an overwhelming enemy force. Now we’re the only ones standing in the way of said enemy force from being resupplied by 3000 wagons and utterly destroying the remaining city held by the Dauphin. In a few minutes, we’ll be dead and our families will be speaking Fiorese as they mop their masters’ floors and clean their toilets. That’s our plight. Why do you think I stopped off at the whorehouse in Muckville right after we got our orders? I don’t expect we’ll see another morning.”
“But the Dauphin’s won before, right?”
Matashichi grunted and adjusted his own pie plate helm and scratched the scraggly beard that grew in patches. “You should have come with me to the whorehouse.”
Before them, the Fiorian generals had already spotted the Orloinian forces approaching and had ample time to turn their wagon train into fortifications. The opportunity for surprise had been lost by the sluggishness of their leaders. The Dauphin could not be bothered to get up before noon. Now the empty plain before them would become a killing ground. “Lord knows how he’s done it. But dumb luck eventually runs out.”
Just then, a horn sounded and the ragged bunch of peasant conscripts hastily tried to form a line. Minoru heard the thumping of hooves from behind him and was about to complain about another pompous nobleman awarded a field promotion when he caught sight of the rider. A small woman with flowing red hair galloped atop a black horse. She bore the banner not of the Dauphin but a strange exotically marked flag. Even beneath the chain mail and thick leather, Minoru could tell she was a woman of extraordinary beauty. She held her chin high and defiantly but her soft eyes darted uncertainly about her, from the row of motley men to the wall of wagons across the field of battle.
“Who’s that?” Minoru said. “A woman on the battlefield? Am I hallucinating?”
“If you’re hallucinating, then so am I, or we’re both already dead and being led to the fields of Elysia with the other dead men walking.”
The woman turned her horse abruptly towards the bedraggled rows of Dauphin’s men and raised her banner high above her head to gain their attention. But she needn’t have done that. The rabble was awed into silence.
“Should we salute her?” Minoru muttered.
“You already are,” Matashichi spat back. “With your manhood.”
Minoru ignored his friend’s coarse jest, and staring up at the wondrous maiden stretching her arms forth atop her glistening black steed, the other man quickly regretted his words.
The first dream Necron had of his daughter was of her as a maiden, riding a black horse. She was traveling with an army: a camp follower. When he awoke, bathed in sweat, he ran straight from the bed to his brother Jon’s house. There he found Jon and his other brother Michel and told them the dream and that if it ever happened, he would ask them to drown his daughter. If they refused, he would do it himself. Afterwards, he left his dumbfounded brothers in silence and went back home.
He said nothing to his 8-year-old daughter directly, but told her mother later that evening and she relayed it to her. A father fears for his daughter’s virtue, her mother told her when she asked what would cause her father to act so violently. It is more precious than her life in this world. Her mother lamented that she could not have brought her daughter into a better world, where the life of every young child mattered most. But her daughter comforted her mother and said: “Life is just a breath. What we do with that breath is the greatest value.”
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