[Mock-Fiction] V - Fures Misericordiam

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

Aye. Tis me again.

Cover by Secrets Unfold

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34. 32 – Mastering an Autocracy

As Mariqah walked out of her quarters, the mercenaries she passed greeted her reservedly. They’d troubled her slumber enough, she reckoned, so the novelty of her return must have somewhat worn off. Or perhaps they were reminded that she had abandoned them. She carried damp clothing on her arm, clothes that she’d washed, and climbed a ladder to hang them up on a wire that stretched from one post to the next. As she climbed higher, Mariqah noticed that the ladder began to wobble. Immediately, she heard a clash of dropped things and the ladder became rigid as she continued to climb it. Having done her job, Mariqah descended and greeted the mercenary who was holding the bottom of the ladder.

 

“Thank you, lad,” she said.

He nodded his head, “Madam,” he mumbled.

“You alright, man?” she asked, cocking her head to a side.

“Yes, happy for your return and all.”
“Are you?” she paused, “Look at me.”

He looked up, and she recognised the light brown eyes and the blonde hair – his Irish accent tuning to a similar, more familiar voice.

 

“Matthew?” she gasped, saying it with an Irish pronunciation.

“You remember me?”

“Of course. Matthew, son of Caroline O’Donald and allegedly of Pastor Tringham. Bastard born in Cork, later moved to Dublin. Step-father, Callum O’Brian, took care of you and sent you to me, Masyaf – with your step-brother…” she paused and looked away, “your step-brother, Noel, for crimes including pickpocketing, truancy and boisterous behaviour in general.”

“You…” Matthew took a step back, “you remember all of that?”

“Pray, tell me how I can possibly live aside you if I didn’t!” said Mariqah, “In all honesty, though, I think a lot on your brother. He… he’s made an impression on me that I can’t quite shake.”

 

“Yes, you seemed quite… shook by his passin’.”

“I’m… I’m sorry for his departure and for your loss. Aye, he wasn’t the most well-behaved of us, but he certainly was amongst the merriest. Precious little of that, these days,” she sighed and looked at the ground, “I miss him so – poor, young, jolly lad.”

“He’s under God’s watch now,” said Matthew, “sure nothin’ll go wrong there.”
“Aye, I hope it so,” said Mariqah, “Have you seen Khadir, Matthew?”

“Nay, madam,” he said, “but I’m sure you’ll get a good view from the walls.”

“Aye, as it ever was, eh?” she smiled, “It was nice seeing you, Matthew. I’m… I’m sorry I offered no consolation, when the moment was ripe. It’s all but rotten now.”

“Better late than ne’er, madam,” he replied, “Your song on the day of his buryin’ was plenty consolation. Made a great many men with strong bodies, cry with soft hearts.”

“Bless you, lad,” she said, as they parted company.

 

Mariqah made her way to the gates of the fortress, avoiding the traffic and the many well-wishers and passers-by, and climbed a staircase to the turrets. She leaned against the dark, cold stone and looked out at the stretch of land.

Ah, Normandy.

She was never a fan of the French, but if she could credit them with anything – it was this piece of land. So much history – of war, rebellion and discipline. Of all her many fortresses, Normandy was one of the better ones – perhaps her best – mainly because of her love for the unpredictable weather. Whereas many would be enjoying a merry spring, Normandy was still very much in a dreary autumn.

 

“Mariqah! Sabahun khayr!” she heard Khadir call.

“Good morning to you to, brother,” she said, turning.

“The skinny Irish boy said you were looking for me.”
“Still no good with the names, eh?”

“I grew up in the desert, ukhti, please – how you say? – cut me some slack.”
Mariqah blinked, bearing a quizzical expression, “Khadir, that’s your excuse for everything!”

“Yes, but a fitting one, no?”

“Why’re you so happy anyway? Usually, you walk around like you’ve never seen a happy day in your life.”
“Well, I’m happy that I’m no longer responsible for this den of wild madmen–”

“Understanding, that you are one of them?”

“–and,” his expression became grim as he passed her a folded sheet of paper, “this has come for you. I’d sent word to the informants at the ports on your arrival concerning the Emperor’s movements. Mostly, it’s calm, but this comes from Port St Gabriel. I… wouldn’t call it good news – but I’ll have you decide that.”
 

Mariqah took the sheet and read it over a few times.

“It’s not too bad…” she muttered, “the Emperor’s army is on Norman soil. No. Not bad at all.”

“Myra!” she called, her voice echoing through the fortress, “Irwin! Zhou! Kurt!”

“Mariqah, do not panic,” said Khadir.

“Not panicking,” she replied, “Just… just need to set all the tasks for a preparation. There will be a siege. And if Simeon’s not a complete idiot, it could last for a while.”

The four lieutenants climbed up the steps to Mariqah.

“Alright, listen,” she said hurriedly, “We’ve had word from Port St Gabriel that the Emperor’s army has landed. They’re roughly a three-days march from here, maybe less. Supplies need to be gathered and precautions need to be taken. So, first–”

 

Mariqah’s face whipped to a side as a hard object struck her on the cheek. She landed on her front, both her hands grasping the floor and preventing her face from hitting it.

“No!” said Myra, angrily – her fists clenched and her breathing heavy, “No. Why should we listen to you, hmm? After you left without a notice? Without a good-bye? We’re doing fine without you! Khadir and the rest of us ran this place fine with out you! They might have all accepted you back like the cute little lapdogs that they are, but I’m not going to! Get out of here and stay out! You never should have come back!”

The fortress went silent. A slow, worried whispering began amid the people.

Mariqah sat up slowing, touching her jaw and her lips. Her fingers came away bloody. She spat the blood out of her mouth.

 

“Aye,” she said, looking away, “Aye, I left you. And you can hit me for it. You can tie me to a post and beat me like an animal. For an hour. A day. A week. A month. For the rest of my living days. You can give me scraps to eat. Or starve me completely and leave me as a sign for the leaders that follow. You can torture me. Water-board me. Drown me in a bucket – that you’ve all individually pissed in,” she swallowed and continued hoarsely, “I’d deserve no less,” she raised her head a little, still not meeting anyone’s gaze, “I did you all an injustice, but to you, Myra,” she looked at her, “I did the greatest wrong. A small, bashful sorry would never be enough, I know,” she grabbed Myra’s feet, “I know, Myra. And I’ll have chastisement at your hand, however you might please it. But not now. Please, not now. Now an army is coming for us all, and I need you to do as I bid. Not for me or my approval. But for your brothers. Serve them, if not me.”

 

Myra paused her mouth parted, “Devil curse me,” she mumbled, “Devil curse me, were every witch like you – they’d never need magic.”

“Myra?”
“We’re besieged,” she said stiffly, regaining her composure, “so I’ll do what must be done.”

“Good,” Mariqah sat up, and looked from side to side at the people standing around her, “Myra, I need you to gather all the villagers and bring them inside the fortress. Escort them to the bunkers and try to maintain calm. Irwin, uproot all the crop and herd all the livestock into our stables. If we run out of space, slaughter the remainder and salt the meat. Zhou, poison all the surrounding wells and mark our shooting range – should the enemy have siege weapons and the like. Kurt, prepare all forms of defensive weaponry – oil, pitch, hooks, catapults. Khadir, send for as much medicine as you can from all our local areas. If you can, send for a few doctors too,” she looked at all of them, “Take as many mercenaries as you need to help you in your tasks. Try to get all this done by tomorrow afternoon. I don’t know exactly when the enemy will come and I don’t know how long this will last. Any questions? No? Good. To work, then.”

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