Prompt: Centenarian veteran of a famous battle dies.
“What was it like that day, Geepaw Davit? Really, what happened? We hear about it in school but it’s just a paragraph in a book. Mumma said you were there. Were you really there? Really? Were you at the Flatts?”
My teachers called me precocious, but I think that was just teacher code for “uncontrollable”. But great grandpa Davit always had a soft spot for me and indulged my every childish whim. When I heard that he had been at The Flatts I just had to hear it from the source. I mean, seriously! That was the battle that sparked the Five Powers War. How could our books tell us so little about it? As if the deaths of those first men and women could be reduced to five sentences? I had to know more!
But in this one thing Grampa refused me. He told me he would never speak of that battle again until the day he breathed his last.
He was true to his word.
He told me the story yesterday, and now he’s gone.
Acting Captain Roal Hight mopped the sweat from her brow and glared at the missive in her hand. This was absolute madness. If Ostanes were here where he should be Corin would be back in Caddaway and this ridiculousness would not be happening. She cursed the Council under her breath as she crumpled the note from her superior. After taking several breaths she turned to the messenger awaiting her reply.
“Very well. Inform the Commander that we will proceed Westward to the Cumber Flatts as ordered and set camp to await his force’s arrival three days hence.”
“Yes ser, Captain Roal” the soldier answered. The man paused and seemed to want to speak but was obviously intimidated by her anger.
“Spit it out, soldier” she ordered.
“Yes ser, it’s just that the Commander indicated there might be a missive in return and that I should wait for it” he stammered. Color rose in the man’s cheeks.
Roal scowled mightily and the messenger took an involuntary step backwards in response. She tossed the crumpled parchment to him. “Give him this then. His own words are the only ones he seems to hear.” The soldier nodded and gave a half-hearted salute before turning and fairly running from her presence.
She sighed. That was poorly done. It wasn’t the messenger’s fault that he served a pompous idiot. Whatever had once attracted her to Adz Corin had suffered a coup de grace with these instructions. This patrol was too small and too poorly equipped to take a stand on the Flatts. These orders put her and her troupe in significant jeopardy. They were too light to face a significant Altered incursion and the Flatts would give them nowhere to hide if they met a force larger than themselves. Just approaching a place with so many reports of Altered activity would be dangerous. She cursed whatever weakness had led her into Adz’ bed and prayed this moronic order was not simply some whim of the fool to woo her back into it.
She waved over her adjutant and gave him orders to prepare for travel. There were still several hours left of daylight. If they pushed they could get close to the Flatts and would be able to make cautious progress the next day.
The evening’s march had been non-eventful and her soldiers were busy preparing nightly fortifications for their camp. Not so long ago this would have been as simple as placing entrenching weaves around the perimeter and setting up a falsecaster to obfuscate the camp and deter animal incursions. With no ready weaves available the troupe was digging a defensive trench and stringing trip wires, like some Pellian force might.
She gave orders for additional watch shifts and retired to her tent.
She sat on her cot and made notes of the day’s activities in her log, very specifically noting the substandard methods they were forced to employ for the camp defenses. When she finished she sat tapping her stylus against her teeth in contemplation. She returned to the log and noted her misgivings about taking this force onto the Flatts.
Her secretarial duties complete she lay down on her blankets and tried to sleep. She feared that her anger at Adz and her frustration over the troupe’s insufficient supplies promised to make sleep a long time in coming. She needn’t have worried. Years of experience at sleeping in uncomfortable surroundings served her well and she was quickly asleep.
Screams. Roal woke instantly and jumped to her feet. She grabbed the sword left ready by the tent door and rushed out into the night. Chaos. Fire. Shadowy figures rushed into the camp, human sized and bigger. Trogs. Altered. The west line of the camp was gone, completely overrun. Two or three trogs attacked each posted guard and she saw one after another fall under the weight of their attackers and heard their screams as the trogs began feeding.
She swung wildly at a troglodyte rushing past her and caught it in the shoulder. It screamed and turned on her. The thing was easily twice her mass and had a reach almost as great as her sword’s. She backed out of its initial rush and swung again, striking the same shoulder. The thing’s arm went limp and it screamed in fury, charging directly at her. She sidestepped its wild rush and swung as it passed, taking off the nearer leg at the knee. She immediately abandoned the wounded trog and rushed to assist her adjutant who was barely fending off two trogs himself.
Coming up behind them she swung her Made blade again, its hardened steel neatly slicing through a neck. Her adjutant took advantage of the distraction and speared the second trog through the chest. He nodded to her and ran towards two guards nearby who were fighting not to be surrounded by a small pack of trogs.
She rushed to assist another guard but was too late. His head bounced at her feet as she reached the melee. She screamed in fury as she laid into the trog, cutting it nearly in half but catching the blade in its spine. She struggled to release her sword as the dying beast tried to bite her bare legs. She kicked it in the face, slicing a furrow in her foot as she connected with its impossibly sharp teeth. The beast stopped moving and she was able to release her sword from its corpse.
A stinking mountain of flesh smashed into her back and sent her sprawling. She rolled and twisted as she fell, landing heavily on her back but facing her opponent. She grabbed its matted hair with her free hand and used it as leverage to smash her sword’s hilt into its face. The trog screamed and clawed at her side as she continued pummeling it. She felt its face collapse with her fifth blow and the monster stopped moving, unconscious or dead.
She pushed him off of herself with a heave and stood up. She fell, her injured foot collapsing. She struggled up again and bore the pain screaming up her leg. She felt wetness all down her left side where the trog’s claws had laid her open. She looked about the ruined camp, tents afire, bodies of men and trogs lay everywhere.
She began stumbling towards the nearest combat but was too slow in her hobbled state. The guard she sought to assist was taken down screaming just before she reached him. She dispatched the two trogs that had already taken chunks of his face and abdomen. In their frenzy they didn’t even see death standing above them. She pulled the corpses off her man and saw the dying agony in his eyes reflected by the fires burning around them.
“Peace” she said, and pierced his heart with her blade.
She looked about for the next melee and found the camp suddenly quieting. The trogs abandoned the few active combats and their remnants began fleeing the decimated camp. They had beaten the creatures off, but her troupe was destroyed. She saw less than a dozen standing and the night was filled with the cries and moans of the wounded.
“Quickly!” she yelled to the stunned guardsmen. “Tend the wounded. Whoever cannot walk must be left behind. We flee in ten minutes.”
She started to walk towards her tent. The log must be preserved. She made a half dozen steps before her foot betrayed her again and sent her to the ground. She tried to stand again but it was useless. The foot would no longer hold weight.
“Davit! Davit, do you live?” she yelled out. “Yes, ser!” cried her adjutant from across the camp. She saw him tending to a wounded guard. “My log book. Get it from my tent. And my stylus.” He looked to the soldier he was tending and back to her. “Now, damn you!” she screamed. “We have little time before they amass and strike again!” He jumped up and ran into her tent, emerging a moment later with the requested items.
Roal opened the log and quickly wrote an account of the attack and a copy of the instructions she would momentarily be giving Davit.
“Give me your sword, Davit.” He did so without question. She took his blade and sighted down its lines. It wasn’t a Made blade and had taken damage in the fight but it was still serviceable. She handed him the log book and her own blade.
“Ser?” he queried.
“I cannot walk, Davit. And the Guard cannot lose a Made sword. You are hereby promoted to acting lieutenant. You are instructed to return the ambulatory remnant of the troupe to the Berman muster point. That log and information on this attack must get there. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ser” he responded. “And of yourself? The others who cannot travel?”
“We will do what we can to provide you separation from your pursuers. You will be pursued, Davit. Make all haste. Take only water and weaponry. You will not pause for anything or anybody. If a man falls behind you will leave him. You must get to Berman, even if you have to leave every other guard behind you, do you understand?”
Roal saw tears brimming in the young officer’s eyes but his voice was clear as he responded “Yes, ser. I will follow your orders.”
“Good man. Davit, you are a fine adjutant and it has been a great pleasure to have you in my service. Now get me some bindings so I can stop bleeding. And my boots. If I lace them tight enough I may be able to stand and make a credible show here.”
As Davit raced off to do her bidding Roal took stock of the camp. All told it looked like ten would be able to attempt escape and eight would remain, including herself. Out of a troupe of thirty. Her own eyes began filling with tears but they were not of sadness. They were of fury. She would live the last minutes of her life soon and she would spend them cursing Adz Corin and the deaths his idiocy had caused.
I tried to tell my teachers the real story, the one Geepaw Davit had told me with his last breaths. They wouldn’t listen. The Battle of the Flatts was a great victory, they said. We had prevailed and rallied, taking battle to the trogs and fighting to victory through years of battle and adversity.
I tried to tell my friends. They either didn’t care or told me to stop making up stories.
My family was the same. They didn’t want to hear such things. Geepaw was senile and made things up in his head. The elderly are prone to misremembering things, they said.
And then I understood why Geepaw had kept his story to himself for so many long, lonely years.
There is no place for truth in a legend.