This is #13 of The Autumn Queen. To start at the beginning, go here.
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“Commander,” comes the call, and I know I cannot stay here. “They are making preparations for leaving the field. They are leaving the fight.”
I get up, from where I am holding vigil, and I kiss the cold lips of my fallen brother. He looks alive in the firelight, only sleeping, but he is as lost to me as the blossom is to the rose, come winter.
“Good,” I answer my sergeant. “I am ill suited to waiting.”
“Is it over?” he asks me. “Are we our own? Will she go back to her city, and leave us to ours?”
“It is nearly over,” I promise, and I pick up my helmet.
When I come out of the tent, the whole of the army is still, spread out in waves before me, silent watchful under the torchlight.
I raise my voice to be heard, though I am not certain I would need to, so attentive is my audience.
“This war ends now,” I call, walking to the horse they have readied for me. A brief murmur of confusion and relief swells through the ranks. I climb on the steed, and hold my helmet as I let him walk through camp toward the field. “I will not surrender the prince, and I will not submit. I will crush them, or I will die, trying,” I tell them. “Follow if you will. Ride home, if you must.” I put on my helmet, and I ride for the edge of camp, toward the dim torchlights of the other army. By the time I am at a gallop, the entire vanguard is mounted and is following after me, riding hell for leather. The footmen follow after, as fast as they are able.
I slow enough so that when we crest the low hill and come crashing down into their camp, we are as a great wave, overtaking their banners, drowning them in blood and hate.
I know I am just as much monster as their mother-Queen, their great and terrible leader, as I turn my steed for her tent, calling to my men the one thing my enemy had been certain–in my devotion to justice–I would never steal from her: her battle cry.
“Kill them all!”
* * *
Bring it, Jones. This could be part of something huge, it feels like it already is.
It is, if only in our heads, Lewin.