Mastery

This is a fantasy story I'm working on. It's a bit hard to explain so just give it a go and see what you make of it.

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8. Chapter Seven

~Those best with the bow line the camp walls, the first defence. Behind the two gates wait other men, swords in hand, ready for the inevitable moment the wood splinters and Aluna’s armies gush in. The gate isn’t wide. If the men don’t push their way in without slowing, they’ll get jammed in and defence will be easy. Even if they think to enter in smaller groups, the gradual trickle would be easy to hold back.
Aluna’s forces came in their thousands, line on line. After all, she had her point to make. This wasn’t simply accomplishing an aim, this was to set the pattern for her dealings with traitors. Their generals rode about in amongst the soldiers chanting and shouting. Reminding them they’d been betrayed by their friends, that their comrades had chosen to fight them, had conspired with fire-breathers. They chanted the anthems of each division, earth water and air. Each section of the formation sung their own element’s song in one spectacular harmony. The rhythm of their marching feet added to the effect. Their voices were strong enough to be heard over their solid feet.
In the camp the atmosphere was different. Waiting in silence the every man was perfectly still. The only rhythm was of the breaths they took in time. Silently they supported each other because none took any pleasure in this situation. In and out they inhaled and exhaled. Poised, ready though all hesitant.

Edging closer each second both armies became increasingly aware of the fact there’d eventually be no more ground to march and taunt across.  Every step brought them nearer but they still struggled to believe they’d meet. Last minutes preparing passed quickly. It couldn’t be put off. The pace steady, Aluna’s forces advanced. One metre. Two metres. There were only about seventy left.
 It was with great agitation the camp guards watched and waited. They felt they ought to be doing something in preparation. There was nothing to do. This situation seemed so bizarre that no line of reasoning could bring them to any satisfying understanding. It was better to stop thinking and fight. Only, the fight had not yet begun.

One man was ready.  Braig waited right behind the gate, ready to die for Morella. Since he could not be of any use to her in his life, he would die happily. Death had kindly granted him one opportunity to express the love he’d carried silently. Obviously, his thoughts were nonsensical, he was hardly aware of the extent to which she’d benefited from his training. He did not see the warrior he’d created in action very often and couldn’t possibly have realised how often he’d saved her life. This, he felt, was all he could ever do for her, though in reality, it was to peak, the perfection of his unlimited selfless love.
 The last few minutes of waiting were hardest to bear. From the moment it became possible to distinguish the individual faces, a new wave of realisation rolled in. With every face they dared to glance down at from the strong towers and walls, there was the chance they might recognise it. Even if they didn’t recognise the face, they recognised the emotions. It was their feelings in the enemies eyes.  
 Braig was one of the soldier’s who’d served for a time in Aluna’s personal guard. He still had the uniform for it was mainly the same as his current one. It had a special design on the breast plate- Aluna’s motto and portrait, and a blue shirt as opposed to the black or brown ones worn by common soldiers. This was the uniform Braig wore now.
 The archers reduced the advancing army line by line. Their hesitation and their deliberately trying to avoid fatal shots made them far less effective than they could have been. They aimed low, hoping to do enough injury to stop the men from being able to march any further without killing. It was a large army that made to the camp. It was still a fit, strong and virtually unscathed army too.  Both gates gave way quickly. Rather than stand and be shot at, some of Aluna’s soldiers not near a gate had used this moment of distraction to sneak around to the sides of the camp. They’d passed out of sight before those on guard stopped looking at the gate and refocused their attention on their real duty. When they reached the back of the camp, they’d find it vulnerable.
 Using the chaos as the enemy rushed into the camp, Braig managed to mix in unnoticed. It was a huge risk, not only would Aluna’s men kill him if they noticed who he was actually fighting for but he became a target to his own side. Basically, at a certain point he’d have everybody trying to kill him. Up until that point, however, he attacked from amongst the invading army. Skilfully subtle slashes of his sword brought the unsuspecting soldiers down silently. He rapidly reduced their numbers since he was effective alone, and the confusion he created and the distrust made it easier for the other guards to divide the enemy and split the army apart.
 He’d taken down thirty men by the time he was found out. One of the soldiers saw him swing at someone close by. Sliding through the clashes of close combat, he reached Braig. Standing back he avoided the soldier’s expert slicing motion. A step back saw him close up, sword drawn back silently. Swinging it forward, propelled with one swift lunge, his attacker dropped. This was more noticeable than anything he’d risked so far. Those closest had seen everything.
 However it was not the enemy who succeeded in killing Braig. One arrow. One bow. One shot. Morella’s trained shot. Indeed, he’d taught her well.
 Morella didn’t know why she couldn’t take her eyes off the man she’d just shot. He wasn’t the first that day. Not by far. Why did she have to see? 
 One second passed. She saw the face. Two seconds passed. It was Braig’s face. Three seconds and their eyes met. There was so much he wanted to tell her. No strength was left to shout. Even his dying thought was for her. He didn’t want her to be guilty. It was her pain he feared the most. Not his own agony. Death did not compare. Not even his last thought did he begrudge giving.  In the truest sense, he’d given her everything.
 That wasn’t the achievement. His true triumph was that she never knew. His sincerity was in his secrecy. The unselfish sacrifice of everything for her and asking for nothing in return. It is easy to maintain a healthy, reciprocated love, but his love was remarkable for its quiet persistence.
 In much the same way as his life and love, his death went almost entirely unnoticed.  The world went on. The battle went on. Amidst the clatter and collisions, underneath the heavy feet and sturdy swords, Braig died quietly.
 Morella wanted to be near him and nearly rushed to his side. There wasn’t anything she could do now, she saw it was too late to reach him in time so thought better of leaving her post.  Whatever she said or did to make it any easier, the fact would remain that he’d be dead. That was the real problem and one she couldn’t change. Better that she prevented any further unnecessary deaths.
 Braig didn’t blame her at all. And he didn’t find any other way give her one last message. It would have been easy for him to ask one of the soldiers nearby to tell her that he loved her. That he’d always loved her. Fear of the end didn’t shake his unselfish sacrifice and make him take this last chance to boast. It was for Morella’s good he never told her in the first place. If he really wanted to die for her happiness and wellbeing then making a seen would only devalue his death.
 She changed her mind. Whatever her better judgement was telling her, she physically couldn’t hold herself back. Bursting out, clawing her way through the crowds and the violence and the noise, crawling over the obstacles blocking her path she desperately found a way to him. It was not enough to win the battle if she did not appreciate the sacrifices of her men. This wasn’t any man. This was Braig- her loyal friend and constant companion. He’d been too easy to put outside. He never asked anything of her, didn’t demand her in all her entirety the way Dathan did. In other words, he didn’t force her to take notice of him. Now he’d made the ultimate sacrifice and it was too late. She wasn’t going to let it be too late. Eventually she reached the limp body of the once strong, powerful warrior. Slumping to her knees she told him the one thing he’d never needed her to say. The thing he didn’t tell her in case it hurt.
 “I love you.”
 By the time those words left her lips, at last, for the first time in her life, the man for whom they were meant was already dead.
 


 

 
 

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