[Mock-Fiction] IV - Alea Iacta Est {Rogue's Story}

Note: Please read the Formal Notice movella. It should be on the list on the right hand side.

Yup. Just the one perspective.

Cover by Secrets Unfold

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22. 19 – Final Touches

Rogue could feel all her weariness fade as she poured water over her head. The droplets ran through her hair – freshly cut to a more manageable bob – and felt as if all that tired her, worried her, and scared her was leeched out. She sighed, letting the water run down her face and neck, soaking into her clothes. She wondered for a moment if this is what it felt like to be baptised.

 

Rogue shrugged, and pulled her hair back – tightly wrapping it in a leather band. She sheathed a small dagger in it, to hold her band in place and to give her an emergency weapon. Out of her heavy case, she pulled out a leather corselet, the coarse fabric pressed against her chest and waist and enveloped her as she fastened the cords at the back and front. Over the corselet, she wore a sleeveless Kevlar polo-neck top.

She donned loose cotton trousers, black, and tied them securely with her red shawl, the excess of which she drew over her shoulder and tucked diagonally against her chest into her trousers. She pulled on heavy leather boots, lacing them up and buckling them quickly.

Two brown-belts she crossed over her torso, forming an X, and sheathed several throwing knives in the several pockets it had. She smiled a little as their polished, sharp blades glinted.

 

Out of her case, she pulled out a white jacket – hooded – and she gazed at it for a while. It was a little worn and the wolf’s-fur sewn into the seams made it stink a little, but she regarded the piece of mastered fabric with some awe. She donned it, pulling her arms though the long sleeves – the cold material settling on her bare skin. She tied her thick brown belt around her hips, and putting a seax [a shortsword, a British make] in each of the two pockets, whilst sticking daggers in the many front pockets. She strapped the fixed Hidden Blade onto her left arm and tested it. The faint snick gave her some satisfaction.

Rogue then set the Damascus in it’s belt over one shoulder. As an afterthought, she pulled a crossbow out of her case, and a quiver filled with arrows and slung them both over the other shoulder. The battlefield was no place for arrogance – any weapon was useful, even though she still looked at her loaded rifle with some distaste.

It’s a coward’s weapon, she told herself, it’s a coward’s weapon.

But she took two loaded pistols anyway and put them in the side straps of her trousers. Finally, she took out a small silver ring and wore it on her left thumb. It was a Celtic design. She admired the Celtic traditions, and it reminded her of their noble ways, even if their military formations could have done with a makeover. It also reminded her, slightly, of her family – the people who’d given the ring to her in the first place.

 

Feeling ready  to make an appearance, she stepped out of her tent, pulling up her hood.

 

An army on the morning of war was a sight to see. Her mercenaries, Rogue mused proudly, were in their livery – a black and silver uniform. They weren’t standing to attention, not just yet, but everything about them this morning was very calculated, disciplined. Even the way they drank their tea.

She crossed the campsite to the Map Pavilion – or as the mercenaries had named it: The Brain, for reasons that they took great humour in. Malik and Leonardo were stationed there – Malik being the Left Hemisphere [and thereby more calculative and business-like] and Leonardo being the Right Hemisphere [as he was far more creative].

 

She nodded to Noel, who was standing guard of the place.

“You’re looking dashin’ly grim today, ma’am,” smiled Noel.

Rogue smiled at him, “I suppose that was the point,” she patted his shoulder, “Same rules as last night. Don’t let anyone in, unless they’re on that list. I’ve sent a courier to fetch Sakura and Enya, no stand-ins, as well as Boudicca and Shire.”

“Aye,” Noel nodded, “Just don’ get too close to our Brain, eh? You might puncture it with some’un. As it is the Hemispheres sound like they’re going to rip each other apart. Or, more the Left is gonna destroy the Right.”
“Noel,” Rogue laughed and shook her head, “pay attention to your task.”

He mock-saluted her, “Whatever ye say, ma’am!”

 

She shook her head again, and entered through the flap. Ezio and Darim were standing to a side, with something between annoyance and surprise worn on their faces. Leonardo and Malik seemed to be having some sort of a muttersome disagreement about something.

“Everything alright?” asked Rogue, softly.

The Brain looked up, “No,” they both said.

“Typical,” Rogue muttered, and sat on the floor next to Ezio.

Darim noticed the grim look she had. She didn’t look twenty-one anymore. The shadow that was cast over her face because of her cowl brought out the lines in her skin and deepened the frown on her lips. Her lip-scar looked more threatening. Today she didn’t look merry and sarcastic. Today, Rogue looked her age and – boosted by her staunch determination – all the more formidable. Her clothing didn’t flatter her femininity much either.

 

“You look… different,” he commented.

Rogue scratched idly in the sand, “Well, it is a different situation. Though, this apparel is much more to my liking.”

Signora,” said Ezio, “Have you ever considered wearing a dress?”

“Dresses are for fair dames waiting to be rescued by valiant knights on noble steeds,” said Rogue, “Frankly, I like to fight my own battles. Though…” she tapped a finger to her bottom lip, “I remember a time when I did wear dresses. You men better be grateful, for what you are. You’ve no idea what our kind must go through to impress the likes of you.”

Ezio frowned, “Scuci?”

“Uncomfortable shoes, dresses that make you hold your breath in for a very unhealthy period of time, hair-removal, face-paint or make-up, long hair that needs to be styled every so often to match a particular fashion, and oh – a very chaste mannerism to pretend you aren’t just begging for attention,” Rogue said the last comment in a sarcastic tone, “Over half the girls I knew who adhered to all this, they ended up looking like every celebration donkey they were trying to imitate.”

“There’s nothing wrong with looking nice.”

“Oh, easy for you to say!” said Rogue, “All you have to do is take your top off!”

Ezio snorted, “It takes time to get a physique like mine.”

“Please,” Rogue raised a hand, “I train mercenaries for a living. They all come in like fat policemen and in a month’s time they get in reasonably good shape. A girl’s prepping? Endless.”

“It begs a question,” said Darim, “You never ‘prepped’ up?”

“Me? I was running around like a nun in a habit. I covered my face for good measure too.”

“Covered your face?” said Ezio, “Why?”

Rogue stuck out her tongue at him, “My beauty is mine. Why should I let every other ogler feast on it? No honour or dignity in that,” she waved a hand at his expression, “I have standards. I may not have been queen diva or strait-jacket fanatic at a young age, but I had moral decency. Why go at length to call someone a pervert, when you’re going around shaking your arse like you don’t care?”

 

Someone else entered the tent and handed a bowl of steaming soup to Rogue.

“Thank you, Jeb,” she said, taking the soup. She took a tentative sip, putting the edge of the bowl to her lips and tilting it, “This is good. Keep cooking like this, and you’re going to be a hired cook in the barracks.”

Jeb laughed, “I’m no cook.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” said Rogue, “Cooks get a higher percentage of booty.”

“You’re messing with me.”

Rogue shook her head, “Cooking is a life skill. The better you are at it, the better you live. With that equation – of course they get a better share.”

Jeb stood silenced for a moment, “Makes me wonder what you get. You cook in the kitchens on a bi-monthly basis, and it ain’t no cat food like the rest of us cook.”

“Me?” Rogue snorted, and sipped more soup, “I get a good band of hooligans to protect me, entertain me, and annoy me at all costs. You lot get peanuts in comparison to that.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Good boy,” said Rogue, “Now please get out. You’ve run your errand, get back to focussing on the task ahead.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

He walked out, and Rogue continued sipping her soup. She watched the Brain arguing.

“What’s the problem here?” she asked Ezio.

“Slept on an empty stomach?” he asked, tongue-in-cheek.

“Yes,” said Rogue tersely, “Now answer the question.”

“No idea,” said Ezio, “They’ve been muttering and cursing each other all morning. From before you got down that mountain. They could be arguing about what colour pony they prefer, for all we know.”

“No…” said Rogue, pouting, “The look on their faces… when men argue about ponies it’s different. They’re arguing about upsetting someone.”

Ezio looked flustered, “Why do you know these things?”

Rogue looked up at him just as wearily, “Because my attention-seeking male entourage demands it,” she put down her soup and got up behind the Brain, listening.

 

“Oh, please, Leonardo, don’t be an idiot,” said Malik, scowling.

“What? I’m an idiot for thinking that she’ll be upset for screwing with her formation plans?” said Leonardo, just as angrily.

“We aren’t screwing with them, we’re improving them! She’s a grown woman, for God’s sake, she’ll understand!”

“You’re a grown man and you’ve had a childish attitude to everything I’ve said so far – what makes you think she’d be any different!”

“Now you’re making it personal, Leo.”
“You’ve said that a dozen times already!”

“She won’t be upset!”

Yes, she will!”

 

“Was I wrong in putting the two of you together?”

 

The Brain drew up short, stiffly straightening and turning slowly.

Rogue looking at them calmly, “You two are upset because I may or may not be upset?”

The Brain looked at each other, and then back at Rogue.

She folded her arms, “Do you want me to be upset?”

“No,” said Leonardo.

“Good, because I wasn’t counting on that,” she smiled, “You changed the formation?”

“Yes,” said Leonardo.

Rogue walked around the table and looked at the board, “Let’s see what you have then. Tell me what you’ve changed.”

Malik gave Leonardo a look that said ‘Mm, told you so’, and then said, “We thought that instead of putting the Assassins in the bulk, you can have them fight outside the shield-wall.”

Rogue turned her head to a side, “That sounds… unbecoming.”

“I’m sorry?”

“That’s big risk you want to take. We’re still hugely out-numbered.”

“How much do numbers mean, really?”

 

“A lot, considering they have a bigger army than we do. We might have a plan, and sometimes numbers don’t matter, but this time – they do. I can’t have lone warriors fighting outside a protective defence system. It would be suicide on a mass scale. Though I have a feeling that Boudicca will ask for the same thing…” Rogue looked up and put a finger to her lips [whilst Leonardo blew a raspberry at Malik].

“Too dangerous,” said Leonardo, “Told you she wouldn’t like it.”

“Really, Leo?” said Malik, irritably, “Really, is that childish behaviour necessary?”

“You tell me. You’re the expert.”

“Why you!” Malik made a motion as if to strangle Leonardo.

“Alright, stop it!” Rogue looked at Malik with some confusion, “Malik, you don’t have enough hands to strangle him.”

“Would be enough of a threat for a painter!” Malik spat.

“Do not underestimate me!” said Leonardo in a most winning fashion. Of course, it would have been more convincing if he wasn’t cowering, “I’ve more talents than you know.”

“Oh really?” said Malik, “Do you knit too?”

Rogue slapped her forehead and she shook her head, “One, two, three, four…” she mumbled.

“I do, actually!” said Leonardo indignantly, he glanced at Rogue and murmured, “And I don’t think she’s counting for the fun of it.”

“I’ve a feeling she’s going to knock you both flat, when she gets to ten,” commented Ezio.

 

Rogue finished counting and looked at Darim, “Have I proven my point?”

“What point?” said Darim.

“Men,” she shook her head, walking to the opening of the tent, “They never change.”

“Hey!” said everyone.

“All so adorably immature,” continued Rogue, “And it’s saying something, coming from me,” she laughed, “Shire and Boudicca are coming.”

“Should we brief them?” asked Leonardo.

“No,” said Malik, sarcastically, “Let’s paint them instead.”

“Well, if you insist!”

“Please!” said Rogue, “I understand you’re both geniuses at work, but can we please cut the banter and smart-arse insults to a minimum?” Rogue clamped her mouth shut as if she’d just blasphemed against something, “Boy, I never dreamt of saying that…” she muttered.

 

“I think her blood is up,” muttered Malik.

“Maybe she needs a sedative,” said Leonardo.

“A sedative? Won’t that put her to sleep?”

“Mm, you’re right. Maybe an anti-depressant.”

“Or a massage.”

“Or both.”

“Maybe,” said Rogue tersely, “I just need to kill something.”

The Brain looked deep in thought, as if only marginally hearing her.

“Horse tranquilizer,” said Malik.

“Might kill her,” said Leonardo, “Cupping. Cupping might calm her.”

“Perfect. I’ll get the scalpel, you get a cup and a pump.”

“I don’t need to be cupped! Hey, where are you going?” Rogue protested as she watched the Brain leave the tent.

 

Ezio and Darim burst out laughing.

“You seem to be the glue that holds the two together, signora,” said Ezio.

Rogue sighed, “Oh, they’re going to need glue,” she muttered, “when I smash their faces with that pump.”

“Oh, come on, Rogue,” said Darim, “You’re not scared of a little blood, are you?”

“When it’s my own? Can’t say I’m not. Frankly, I would’ve settle with that horse tranquilizer better,” she shook her head as Boudicca and Shire entered, “Welcome, both of you.”

 

Boudicca looked at her queerly, “Where did your Brain go?” she asked, in her Scottish accent.

“It’s gone to go and destroy itself,” Rogue muttered, “Come, come. I have some plans to share with you, now that my ‘Brain’ has gone off.”

She explained the strategy as quickly as she could. It seemed to sit well with Shire, but Boudicca looked disappointed.

“A shield-wall is no place for beserkers!” she said, “And no horses? What’s gonna pull me chariot?”

“Beserkers…” Rogue looked at the board. Malik also wanted a out-of-shield-wall battle policy. Beserkers wouldn’t be able to hold a shield-wall to save their lives… They were meant to let all their furious fighting in a none-structural battlefield.

“No horses,” said Rogue, “I’m sticking to that decision. If you like you can stay behind with the Brain, or fight with us on foot. Joan is coming with us. But as for beserkers… perhaps a compromise can be made. I’ll have to discuss it with the Left Hemisphere first, though.”

“Aye, no war for me today then,” said Boudicca, “I might be many thin’s but I ain’t no foot soldier.”

“Are you sure you can’t do anything about the horses?” said Shire, “I mean, a cavalry is a powerful asset.”

“Mm…” Rogue looked at them both, “That’s true… I can keep them in the reserves, but they won’t be doing much fighting. Not until the whole infantry is destroyed. And, honestly, which soldier likes playing bench-boy?”

 

“Not a soldier, perhaps,” said a deeper voice. Leonidas walked in, holding his spear and shield in his hands, a plumed helmet on his head and a curved sword in his belt. His body was oiled and bronzed.

Rogue looked at Ezio, “What did I tell you, hmm?”

“Oh, come on, that’s not looking nice, that’s looking…” Ezio looked for the right word, “lewd.”

“It’s looking good, and you know it!”

“Hey, any woman would look just as good, half-naked.”

Rogue pointed at Leonidas, “That guy still has hair on his body. And he didn’t need to get his stomach stapled, or parts enlarged.”

Ezio looked uneasy, “Mm…”

“I win.”

“It wasn’t a competition.”

“I know. But I win.”

“If we’re talking about winning,” said Leonidas, “I think I’ve clearly done it.”

“Fair point,” said Ezio quickly.

“Aye, Spartans like to look good for the most beautiful Spartan death.”

“Positive thinking,” commented Rogue.

“We fought immortals,” said Leonidas, “We put their names to the test.”

“I know. I’ve seen the movie. More than a hundred times.”

Leonidas wasn’t listening, “Tonight we dine–”

 

“In hell,” Rogue finished, and stuck her head out of the tent “Marvellous. Sensational. Can someone please go and look for my Brain? More specifically, my Left Hemisphere?”

The mercenaries snickered. “They’re a’comin’. And with Altair,” said Noel, “They got some torture instruments in their hands. I thought that was against your policy, ma’am?”

“It’s not for prisoners,” Rogue muttered, getting back inside.

The Brain and Altair entered, “Somebody called for hijama?” said Altair.

“No,” muttered Rogue, glaring at Leonardo, “Somebody mentioned it and assumed I’d accept it.”

“It might calm your nerves,” said Malik.

“It might also get you killed, Malik.”

“Oh, come on, Mariqah,” said Altair, “Cupping is good for you. Everyone will have a go.”

They all looked at him , “What?”

“Ah,” said Altair, “Look at all you sour kittens! And here I was thinking it was just you, Rogue. You get it, everyone gets it.”

“You are such a grandfather,” said Rogue.

“And it’s fixed your small problem.”
 

Rogue smiled at him gratefully, “Shukran,” she said, “Now to more important business. I think I can have those pockets of out-of-shield-wall warriors you wanted, Malik,” she gestured to Boudicca, “The Celts and Picts were known for a form of warrior known as ‘berserkers’ – they’re ruthless and put up quite the fight. I also understand that Assassins are good with a fight in close-quarters. I’ll allow that change to the plan. However, I have conditions – four soldiers to a single out-of-shield-wall unit; two Assassins, two berserkers. They’re to watch each others backs, understood? This is how it is going to work,” she pointed at the shield wall, “We wait until we’ve encircled the enemy. I’ll give the signal, and then we release the units,” she nodded at Darim and Ezio, “Darim, Ezio – you’ll lead these units. Go and meet them, and try to be nice. They have similar apparel to Leonidas over there–” Rogue indicated the king with her chin, “But they have blue tattoos and no clothes at all. You can’t miss them.”

She turned to Altair, “You aren’t going to like what I’m going to instruct for you – Jaddee, I want you to stay with the Brain and Boudicca.”

Altair’s brows rose in surprise, “Stay? Li maadhaa? Why?”

“You… You are old, Jaddee.”

“I just saved your hide from a cupping!”
“I know, I know,” Rogue sighed, “But you aren’t what you were. You must stay here with Malik. You must…”

“Play the bench-boy.”
Rogue stared at the ground, “Yes,” she mumbled.

The old Assassin was silent for a long moment, before he said in a hollow voice, “You are the general here. I will stay.”

Rogue looked up at him, shame etched on her face and didn’t respond.

 

“We have to let Barto know of these changes,” said Leonardo, breaking the awkward silence, “And you have to be able to give him a signal.”
“I had something in mind. My courier is bringing the tools I’ll need,” said Rogue quietly.

“Shouldn’t he have arrived by now?” asked Ezio, “With Enya and Sakura.”

“Mmm,” something between a soft growl and a lower mutter was all Ezio heard from Rogue.

Just then, the afore-mentioned stepped through the flap of the tent.

Speak of the Devil, thought Rogue.

Enya furrowed her brows, “Are we… Are we late?”

“Where’s my courier?” Rogue whispered.

“He’s… occupied, I think,” was Sakura’s hesitant reply.

“Where’s Marcus?” said Rogue, without listening. She pushed passed them, “Leo, Malik – brief them. No more changes to the plan. It’s final,” she stepped out of the tent, “Marcus?”

 

The bruised and beaten mercenary sitting slumped on the ground regarded her, but he didn’t say anything.

She grasped his shoulders, “What happened? Was it…?” she looked back in the tent.

Marcus shook his head, “There was some… resistance. To let me into the Fortress.”

“Why the hell didn’t you just come back?”

“No such orders, ma’am.”
“Duck orders! Haven’t you got a ducking brain in your head!” she shook him, “You could have been killed, soldier!”

Marcus stared at her, “I ain’t never heard you talk like that before…”

Rogue shook her head, “Did you get what I told you to get?” she asked in a more levelled voice.

Marcus nodded, “Three cell phones and three Bluetooth headsets. As you ordered,” he handed her the items

“Thank you. You’re in bad shape. No more fighting for you today,” she turned to another mercenary standing guard of the tent, “Anton, get him to a tent. And find someone to fix him up.”

 

Anton half-carried Marcus away, and Rogue heard the sound of more scuffle and argument.

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