Chapter 4: Escape
Stenar heard muffled voices around him, a nervous murmur filled his aching head with concern and confusion. He forced his swollen lids to open, winning a mental battle over his unwilling body. A sudden burst of light filled his vision, but as his eyes adjusted, slowly, an image formed. Stenar could just make out the shapes of three people, brown blurs blocking some of what he now saw was the sky. He tilted his head to the side, his eyes almost managing a clear image of one man's worn, cloth shoes.
A sudden pain in the side of his head caused him to jerk back to face the sky, his muscles tensing with each throb. A firm hand pushed him up to a seated position, he could hear the man speaking to him but not a word was comprehensible. Sharp needles stabbed him all along his back as he straightened up, he felt two more hands under his arm as the nauseating pain caused him to lose all sense of orientation.
They helped him up to his feet, his left leg was agony but he was able to stand without putting too much weight on it. He glanced around at the crowd, their faces painted a strange blend of fear and worry. Every face was dirty and tired, each eye wary and exhausted. Stenar understood their caution, they had rebelled against the Ssrellian states, he was a soldier of the states, although he was injured they still feared him.
His eyes caught those of a small child, glistening with tears. The child's arms were bruised and cut, one hand held limp at their side. Would they fear the child too? If he was a soldier? Why shouldn't they? The child could do as much damage as he could in his current state. Stenar suddenly became aware of the almost deafening sound of crying, everywhere he looked another child stared back, trembling and hurting. His frustration burst out as he shouted to them all:
"Everyone!" All was silent, even the crying stopped at his decree. "You have nothing to be afraid of," he breathed heavily and leant against a man to steady himself. "I am no more powerful than any of you." A faint murmur rose up among the onlookers, confusion spread almost instantly, one woman spoke up amidst the noise.
"How are we expected to believe that?" She spit the words at him, disgusted by him, but as he spoke again she lost her brief sense of power, taken aback by his bluntness.
"You're not," He gestured slowly to the bruised child, who was now sobbing quietly."Your children are hurt, they are crying in front of you and you do nothing, why is that?" He asked, his words steady and considered. The crowd stared at him, unsure if he was playing some kind of joke or if he was genuinely concerned. "Well?" He prompted.
The woman spoke up again, "Because there's no point," A mutter of approval from the crowd encouraged her, "We can't help them, we have nothing, not a rag, no ointments, no spare water, nothing." The words hit him as hard as any sword, he crumpled to his knees, drawing his blade and throwing it to the ground. He knew then, he knew what these people needed, not a fort, not an angry mob. They didn't want revenge, or the collapse of the states, or even control. What these people needed, now, was a voice. But he couldn't provide that. He no longer had any influence or power, all he had was the attention of a crowd of peasants.
"I'm truly sorry," he spoke to the floor, voice barely audible, "And I thank you for helping me, but I cannot return your kindness." He stood and picked up his sword, sheathing it and stepping forward. "I cannot help you, or your children," He found his breastplate and helmet, tightening the leather straps quickly and securing them in place, "But I know what you need." He put on his helmet. "And I intend to get it for you." With that he turned and left, the crowd stood in silence, bewildered by the soldier's words. The crying of a child was the only sound.