“Scarlet.” A hand rubbed Scarlet’s arm, the voice was low in her ear. She nudged her shoulder in an attempt to ward off the owner, she got a kiss on her ear in return. “You need to return to your bed before the others get up. Come on now, the guards jus passed.” The King wiggled his hands under her armpits, sitting her up. She sighed, knowing the King was right. Running her hands over her face, she leaned onto the King. Looking up he kissed her. “I’ll see you soon,” She smiled as his lips moved away from her. “I love you.” Her smiled faded and she as grateful the tent was pitch black still. The King favored telling her that he loved her whenever they chance came. Scarlet had still yet to tell it to him in return. So she just nodded, and crawled to the entrance of the tent. Like a predator after prey, she moved silently back to her own tent and into her own sleeping mat. As she laid there, her eyes growing heavy once more, there was a strange tingle in her left arm. She rubbed the scar, thinking about how she had gotten it.
The day before, after breakfast but before lunch she and Renee had been summoned by the King. Upon entering the smallest of the largest center tents, Scarlet realized that they had entered into a semi-private sleeping quarters. Waiting for them around a simple cot was the King and General Evans. Scarlet hadn’t seen the King since that morning, when she silently slipped from his tent. She smiled at the thought of sharing a sleeping space with him. “Scarlet, Renee.” They both greeted the King appropriately in their own way. “I’m not quite sure how I should approach this subject, so I shall leave it to General Evans. General.” The red headed woman straightened her back and a gleam shined through her black eyes. “I’m a witch, if you didn’t already know.” The General looked to Renee, silently telling Scarlet that she realized what Claudia had said to her the prior day. “And because I am such, the King has asked me to heal you both. So that you both are in full health in the upcoming battle.” Scarlet nodded, glancing to the King as her hand wrapped around her arm. “So Scarlet, please take a seat.” General Evans motioned towards the cot. She sat towards one end, and the General sat beside her. She gently peeled Scarlet’s hand away. The General’s fingers were surprisingly warm, and they felt almost as if they belonged there. Scarlet’s cloak was removed, as was her jacket. The General removed the bandage, revealing the ugly, pulsing wound. Though it was sewn up, the line was jagged and the stitches weren’t the best ever done. “That looks absolutely awful.” The General glanced to the King, who was hovering. “That’s one of the best stitch jobs I’ve seen to come out of an active battle field. The doctors aren’t concerned with the beauty of their work, they’re concerned with saving lives. So to see as many stitches, though they’re thick, is rare. This doctor did well.” The King nodded, but remained hovering. The General only glanced towards the King as she picked up a bowl from under the cot. She dipped her hand into it, lifting out a pale orange paste. “Each person experiences it differently, so that is the only warning I can give.” The witch then placed the paste over the throbbing wound, and it made Scarlet’s skin feel extremely warm. Wiping the extra back into the bowl, General Evans covered the paste with her clean hand. Closing her eyes, General Evans took a deep breath. As she released it, Scarlet’s wound heated up. At one point she felt like it was one fire, but refused to move from her spot. Soon enough, the feeling cooled to a near chill. General Evans removed her hand from Scarlet’s arm and wiped away the paste from her arm. Setting it to the side, she looked at Scarlet’s arm. “There’s nothing more I can do.” Scarlet looked down to her arm, amazed. Where the once angry, but healing, wound was, now was nothing more than a pink line. Not even the stitches remained. It was jagged, and looked like a freshly peeled fruit. But it no longer hurt, and full mobility had been returned to her arm. Slightly scared, but more so amazed, Scarlet thanked the General.
Since then, Scarlet could swear she felt a tingle run through her arm. But the tingle couldn’t match up to her need to fall back asleep. The feeling was short lived, because just as she felt herself fall back to sleep; the blasting bugle of the morning rang out. Outwardly, Scarlet sighed. Inwardly, she groaned.
After breakfast, all the soldiers gathered around Theo’s Metal Bird. The crowd was large, but standing on the upper wings, the King, General Rey and Evans could be heard by all as they gave their morning orders. This was a first that Scarlet had seen all of the soldiers gathered, and she realized how many there truly were at this camp. Scanning the crowd, Scarlet’s eyes passed by Theo. The werewolf was in a balance state where she looked as if she wanted to bawl but at the same time attack the two Generals and the King in a fury-filled rage for standing on her invention. She felt Scarlet’s gaze, and her eyes softened at Scarlet’s small smile. Scarlet also sent a quick message, simple. “Quite, now, quite!” General Rey demanded for the buzzing crowd to calm down but none did nothing of the sort. He demanded quite two more times before General Evans rolled her eyes. Shaking her head, she pushed the werewolf back. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. “SHUT UP!” Flinging her arms out, an invisible shock wave pulsed out from her. The group went silent at once. As her arms fell down, Scarlet could see the whites returning to her eyes. “Soldiers- attention!” The crowd around Scarlet and Renee shifted. “At ease.” At General Evans’ command the group shifted once more. “Presenting his royal highness, King Cainwen. Commander.” General Evans stepped back to stand next to General Rey as the King stepped forward. “Good morning soldiers.” Scarlet’s heart skipped a beat when the King’s roaming eyes met hers. She knew how Theo felt about beings using her inventions wrong, but seeing the King high above her made Scarlet’s heart race. “You all have been brought here today to be given your next assignment. We have gotten more news on Muis’ movement and will be moving out at noon today. With sufficient pacing, we should meet him in two days’ time. Our battle is scheduled to take place in the Deep Valley. We will cut him off there, and end this war before it can come near to the Mountains- let alone cross them into our home. You are all expected to be packed, and ready to march out by high noon. No exceptions, you are dismissed.” The crowd, which each being had become a statue, suddenly returned to living. They all moved against Scarlet, but she found refugee by the Metal Bird. The crowds moved epically wide to avoid coming close with the contraption. As the King hopped from the wing, Theo came rushing up. Ignoring the King, she went straight to her Bird. Running her hands over the bottom wing, she checked for any damages as the two Generals climbed down. She even screamed at them to be careful. “Generals, I’m going to go see to my personal items as well. I shall join you both soon. Scarlet, join me.” It wasn’t a question. To the others it would be a demand. But she could see it in his eyes, it was a request. One she willingly agreed to.
They walked side-by-side, with not physical contact. As the came upon the first tents, Scarlet glanced to the King, wishing she could hold his hand. To feel his skin upon her skin. To kiss him, out in the open. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t do any of that in such a place. There were too many eyes, too many risk that neither were willing to take. Oh how she longed for him though. “I trust your night was well?” Scarlet nodded, telling him that she had gotten some rest after returning to her tent. That was a lie, but she didn’t want to share about the strange feeling in her healed wound. “That’s good, I did too. How is your arm?”
‘Okay. Thank you.’
The King gave a curt nod, and the two fell into silence. There was so much to talk about and yet there was nothing. When hidden away from the world, the two could be open. They could be truthful to their relationship. Everywhere else, they were still a King and slave. A god and the lowest of citizens. They were not meant to know intimate, or great, details about the others’ life. Upon reaching the King’s tent, among the hassle of the packing camp, he opened the flap for her. “Please, we must speak in private.” To the outside world, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Scarlet entered into the tent. Turning, she was met with the King’s lips upon her own. The kiss was a surprise to her and he used that to his advantage. Ending the kiss, Scarlet curled her fingers into the King’s hair. Her head tipped back, her teeth on her bottom lip as the King dug his face into her neck.
“You smell so good. I’ll never tire of it.” Pulling away, Scarlet sighed and opened her eyes. “I truly do need to speak with you, but I had to do that first. Please sit.” Scarlet took a seat on the small stool in the corner of the room, watching as the King begun to pack things away into a small trunk. “A day before we reach the Deep Valley, I am going to have Renee and you break off from us.” Scarlet frowned, confused. “I’m going to give her instructions to take you to a hidden away nook in one of the hills. It’ll take you long enough to get there that no one can launch an attack on the day of the battle. It’s also high enough so that you can see into most of the Valley.”
“Because, I need you hidden away. Somewhere I know you’re safe.”
‘What, why? What was the point of all of my training- all of this- if I was just going to be hidden away?’
“The point was to prepare you!”
‘I am! Let me fight!’
“Scarlet, look at me!” The King stopped packing and stopped a seething Scarlet in her pacing. His tight grip on her shoulders held her in place. “You will fight, you have to.” His pale eyes gazed into his and for the first time, Scarlet saw true fear in them. “But I can’t have you rushing in at the start of the battle, using your powers on everyone. The second you use your powers, everyone will know who you are. Then you become a target. Muis will have all his men on you if it means that he gets you. If he can’t, he will kill you. And that’s not something I can allow to happen. You have to live, I need you to live. Your best bet for living is to hold out until you’re really needed. This is your order. This is my command to you as your King. Wait, please.” Scarlet finally casted her eyes away and signed ‘okay’ to him. Pulling her to him, the King held her. Scarlet sighed at the embrace, not missing on how tightly the King actually held her to him.
There was shudder, and Scarlet found her eyes opening as she fell forward. Sitting up, she hadn’t realized her eyes had even closed. Standing up, Scarlet glanced to Renee. Renee was rubbing her healed side, standing. The driver of the truck came around to the two humans, “We’ve rendezvoused with our other groups. We’re setting up camp for the night.” Scarlet nodded and Renee thanked the man. For the first leg of their journey, the two humans had been stuffed into the back of one of the cargo trucks. They were surrounded by fresh ingredients for the camps’ cooks. Climbing from the back of the truck, and glancing at the weary looking troops, Scarlet felt a mixture of emotions. She was grateful that she didn’t have to march the whole day but she felt guilty that every other solider had to. The only exceptions were the King and Generals, along with Theo, Claudia and Klaus. The first three rode high upon horses. Theo saw that her Metal Bird was carefully pulled by near silent steam machine of her own making. Claudia and Klaus each took a spare seat in the cabs of the cargo trucks.
Scarlet hopped from the truck, adjusting her bag’s strap on her shoulder. Renee’s bag dropped beside her, with Renee following it. Slinging it to her back, Renee let out a groan. Without saying anymore, Renee started off through the bustle of the crowd. Scarlet followed after her, ducking and hopping to avoid hitting things. “Scarlet, Renee, over here!” Theo hopped over a rather long bundle of tent fabric, and matched the two humans’ pace. “The King has us set up over there.” Theo pointed to a spot where the Generals’ tents were being set up. “Come on, our tent is up already.” The two followed after Theo. Once in their tent they unpacked their small travel mats and set their sleeping areas up. As Scarlet smoothed her blankets out, their tent flap opened. A cool breeze swirled in, and the King’s head poked in. “Renee, I need to speak with you. Now.” Renee fluffed her pillow once more before dropping it. Standing she brushed her knees off and left the tent.
Scarlet could only assume that she was taken to a nearby tent because after a few minutes, as Scarlet sat around a campfire, Renee’s voice rang through the air. “What?! Are you kidding me?” The talk around the campfire, and nearby ones, died down. “Bullshit!” Suddenly the flaps to the King’s tent opened wide as Renee stormed out of it. “Renee,” Renee paused and turned to the King who stood just outside of the tent. His arms crossed and his voice remained calm. “Remember where you stand. This is not a request, it’s an order.” Renee’s face was a shade Scarlet couldn’t even name. “Of course, I’ll do as command, sire.” Renee’s voice had lowered once more, and the spin she put on sire made it clear that she was less than happy. With a curt bow, Renee stormed off towards a group of fighting soldiers. Scarlet watched her, taking a glance at the King as she returned to her meal. He gave her a look, before going off into one of the General’s tents. Scarlet took one last bite of her soup before setting it down. Brushing her cloak off, Scarlet headed towards the fighters.
The group crowded around two fighter in a wide set circle, cheering them on. Scarlet carefully lifted herself up with her powers just enough to see over a majority of the crowd. Looking into the ring, she could see the fight had just started. Renee was to the right, with a male solider on the left. As Scarlet peeked over, the two charged at the other, their wooden swords making impact. What proceeded next was one of the greatest battles Scarlet had ever seen. Both opponents were an equal match for the other, speed and impacts of each hit making it clear. The crowd cheered, and both fighters were breathing heavy. They were both clearly taking a toll from the battle, and one slip up was all that was needed for the other to get on top. The man’s sword went flying from his hand, and Renee jabbed him in his stomach. He fell back, his chest rising quickly as he laid there on the ground. The crowd cheered, and Renee jabbed the wooden sword into the soft Earth. She stormed through the crowd, pushing people out of her way as she did. Clearly she was not as excited as the crowd about her win.
Scarlet lowered herself, grabbing a nearby lantern, and followed after Renee once more. This time she made her way to Theo’s Metal Bird. Renee left the Bird alone, but kicked the dirt around it. Picking up a few rocks she tossed them into the distance. As Scarlet came closer she could hear Renee grumbling under her breath as another rock went flying. Scarlet stopped a few from her, snapping her fingers. Renee turned, and upon seeing Scarlet her face turned sour. “What do you want?”
‘I wanted to know if you’re okay. I know what you two talked about.’
Renee scoffed, and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Like you care. I bet you’re happy about it all. You got your way.” Renee tossed another rock.
‘I’m just as unhappy as you.’
“Yeah right, that’s a lie Scar and you know it!”
‘No. I didn’t spend all that time training and learning just to sit on the sideline. I can fight, but instead I’m going to be sitting on the sideline. Watching as innocent people lose their life!’
“Well what about me? You can think of anyone but your friend? What about how I finally find something in life I feel can be mine and you…” Renee looked like she had just finished a puzzle, dropping the rocks from her hand. “You had to go and screw it up! Just like you always have! It can’t ever be about anyone else- what anyone else wants.” Renee stalked closer to Scarlet. “It’s always about you, I was just too stupid and blind to see it! But you know what I’m not blind to? I’m not blind to how you’ve been sneaking out these last few nights. You don’t return until the morning bugle, so where have you been going? Surly you couldn’t have found a lover. Who would want an ugly, broken, death row girl like you?” The snarl on Renee’s lip was short lived, but the sound of Scarlet’s slap rang through the low hills. Renee lifted a hand to her face, shocked.
‘I know you’re mad, but I had nothing to do with the King’s decision. I’m also sorry about how you feel, I never knew. I never meant for it. I never wanted any of this, but I can’t forget what you said. I don’t think we can be friends anymore.’ Scarlet bent down, picking up her lantern. “Scarlet, wait, I’m sorry. You’re right, please, please.” Renee reached out but Scarlet leapt back from her touch. “Scarlet.” Scarlet turned, walking away as Renee called out for her. “Please, Scar. Scarlet!” Renee’s voice echoed as Scarlet moved back into their camp, taking the only light with her. Left alone in the dark, the reality of what had just happened was weighing down on Renee. “Oh no.” Her face twisted and she spoke to no one but herself. “What have I done?” Renee fell to her knees, as the tears begun to fall. “What have I done?!”
Scarlet was woken up early the next morning by Theo’s gentle shaking. Silently she packed up her things once more. With Renee, she moved to an area just clear of the camp’s edge where the King was waiting for them. The sun would not be up for another few hours, but he was visible thanks to a lantern at his feet. In one of his hands was a motorized tandem bike cycle. The other held a map. He handed both to Renee, who stashed the map in her back and took the front seat on the bike. “Be safe.” Renee nodded. The King looked to Scarlet, reaching a hand out to her. She took it, gripping it tighter than she ever had before. In a move that wasn’t expect, he pulled her to him and kissed her. Scarlet leaned into the kiss, as if it was their last. She had the briefest thought of Renee, watching them. But Scarlet didn’t care. She loved the King and she wanted everyone to know. Pulling away, his hand cupped her face. She fell into it, not wanting to ever feel his skin leave hers again. “Remember wait.” Pulling her forward he kissed her forehead. “I love you.” Scarlet smiled, ready to respond to him when a clash echoed in the morning air. They tensed at the noise. “Go, I’ll check it out. Go, go.” The King broke their embrace and moved back to the camp. Scarlet picked up the lantern, dimming it before placing it on the front holder. She ignored Renee’s questioned, stunned face. Climbing onto the back seat, the gentle motor gave a soft buzz as it came to life.
“I know how to drive, just try to not fall off.” Renee knew how to ride and drive bikes? The thought hit Scarlet in the face. She hadn’t thought about it before, hadn’t even questioned Renee when she took the lead seat. Clearly Renee had found ways to busy herself during the many times Scarlet spent separate from her. Tucking her feet into the back locked pedals, Scarlet gripped the side bars. Done just in time, the bike then begun to speed away from the camp and into a shallow valley.
The sun rose and they continued to ride throughout the day. They did not speak to each other, nature’s voice rang out around them. They only took small break for water and for Renee to check the map. Some points they would unlatch the pedals, and used their legs to move their bike through the hills. It would not have been so horrible to Scarlet if the hills hadn’t gotten larger as their journey went on. She was grateful to the motor of the bike, but they still used a great deal of their own power. By the time they came slowing to their final stop, the sun had begun to sink. The colors danced across the sky and the air grew cooler.
The two girls hopped from the bike, Scarlet’s behind feeling extra sore, and moved into a shallow cavern. It was shaped into the hill, and a fire could easily be hidden from any look outs. Around one far end the hill, was a nice flatten spot. Clearly meant to be a look-out spot from the hill into the valley below. “At least we have a nice view.” Renee spoke softly, though there was a bitter note in her voice. Scarlet waited for her to say something else, something about what had happened that morning. Renee remained silent. Scarlet stood from where she had been kneeling, and head back to their cavern. Renee watched her, sighing. Taking one glance back to the valley, Renee followed Scarlet.
The two settled into the cavern, making a fire and rolling their sleeping mats out around it. Their dinner consisted of bland, dried meat; bitter fruit; bread and water from a nearby stream. The evening was silent between the two, though the fire and the world around them spoke loudly. The two laid on their mats; Renee to the wall, Scarlet looking to the ceiling. “You know you could have told me.” Renee broke the on-going silence between them. “You could have trusted me. That’s what best friends are supposed to be. Trusted. Even with the affair of their best friend and a married King… Guess we stopped being friends a while ago.” Scarlet glanced to Renee’s back, before turning on her own side away from her.
There was a steady beating of drums, the beat matching Scarlet’s heart. Falling to her back, Scarlet was stuck in the strange area of being awake and yet asleep all at once. Adjusting her head, she was slipping back into her dreamless sleep when it hit her. Those were drums she heard, real drums. She thought they were only a dream, but they weren’t. Sitting up, she glanced over to Renee’s sleeping mat. It was empty. Tossing her blanket aside, Scarlet carefully moved towards the lookout point. Though the sun had barely begun to come up, Scarlet laid on her stomach, crawling up next to Renee. She was laying low as well, peaking over the edge. Scarlet copied her, and lost her breath as her eyes peered over the edge. On the edge of the far end of the valley was a large marching army. Even from their distance spot, Scarlet could see a figure sitting high upon a horse leading them. Scarlet knew who it was, and she knew what was to come. Muis was marching towards her people, and the battle had officially begun.
Returning to their cavern, both girls set out to dress. The soft faint of drums filled their ears. Opening the small trunk that was hooked on the bike, Renee begun to sort out amour. She made two piles, pushing one towards Scarlet. “Here, these are ours.” Scarlet looked to the pile of leather and metal. “I know, but when the time comes we need to be ready.” Scarlet nodded, and took the pile.
She started with the second-skin suit; just like what she had trained in. Next came the leather guards; legs, arms, shoulder and chest. Then the metal plates were layered over it, two extra pieces were for her boots. The knee high boots went on easily. Scarlet used a leather tie to hold the braid in her short hair. There was a special metal band for her head, thin on her forehead but thick at the temples to cover them.
After they were both fully dressed, they had another dry, tasteless meal together. The drums sounding through the air the whole time, slowly getting louder. Another pair joined in at some point and that’s when they knew that the King and his men had finally reached the valley. The two sets of drums created tension in the air, neither one matching the other. The two girls remained in the cavern until the off sounding drums ceased. There was silence, and the two rushed to their look out point. Their hearts were both pounding as they fell to their knees and crawled towards the edge. Peaking over, the two armies stood at a stance. Staring the other down, but neither one moving first.
It felt like an entity, watching the two armies do nothing. Scarlet thought that perhaps that they wouldn’t fight, that they would come to peace in another means than fighting. But then, both leaders stepped forward.