s Aurelius lay dying, it was easy to imagine the enemy would crumple like so often happened in the old storybooks.With the head cut off, the body falls, we are taught as children. But what happens when the body simply sprouts a new head? What happens when the new becomes old and the blood keeps flowing?
Then, some fall and some do not…but in the end, all bare the scars.
The loyalist warrior’s defeat provided a momentary respite. Grunur, sensing an opportunity – and never a dwarf to turn down fine armor – dons the beaten Aurelius’s plate with something akin to reverence. As an armiger, he was dedicated to all things armor…and this was about as good as it got in the world, sans magic. Bran, disapprovingly watching Grunur loot a bloody body like a common street urchin, makes his way up to the top of the wall to join the others, urging the dwarf to join him.
There was still work to do.
From the top of the wall, Caithas peered out at the enemy. Fallen back but not leaving, they maddeningly wait…but for what? That, the ranger mused, was the big ol’ question, wasn’t it?
It didn’t take too terribly long to get the answer, but damned if it was the one the half-elf was hoping for. In the distance, he could see the loyalists unloading more ballistae, ladders and a well-built battering ram.
“Oh, fuck me,” he whispered to himself before sounding the alarm.
And so it began anew. War, for all of its unpredictability, is a terribly predictable practice. First, two sides try to kill each other from afar. Next, they try to kill each other face-to-face. Finally, many, many people die, both near and not. Whether the war is waged with stones or bows or blades or magic, the results are always the same.
To their credit, the rebels fought valiantly and there were moments that simply begged for a bard to scribe the glory in song at once. There was Ark and Subraru working side by side, bow strings twanging in unison, dropping enemy soldiers without ever looking long enough to see who fell to their missiles. There was Elana and Jules, both working crossbows in tandem…and, for the first time, one might have actually mistaken them for a true couple. Grunur and Caithas stood back to back on the wall when the ladders rose and the loyalists rose with them; they were a blurry, bleary, bloody flash of blade and hammer, each guarding the other with practiced ease. Tumult, blessed by the gods themselves, laid his hands on the irreparable wounds of warriors only to see them knit together as if bound by an invisible seamstress.
But of them all, Bran was the one the songs will remember. History tends to forget the contributions of the many; it focuses on the heroics of the few. Bran, if there was truly any justice in this broken world, would forever be known as The Hero of the Wall amongst the rebels after what he did that day…
Before that battle, Bran was an ordinary soldier. He followed orders, he fought with honor and he swung his sword without much thought. During the battle, he became something more.
Maybe it was when, standing proudly in the wind, Bran took a massive ballista bolt to side and, instead of dying like a sensible person, instead pulled the damned thing out with his own hands only to load it and fire it once more.
Maybe it was when that bastard Aurelius had been cleaving his way through the crowd of loyal Svodun and Bran’s blade stopped his seemingly-unstoppable assault.
But if one had to guess, the moment came when few knew of it. The moment came when, in a stroke of miserable luck, the rebel commander, Markus, had been gunned down by a bolt the size of a tree trunk. Seeing their commander fall, so soon after the gory demise of the native leader Erik, the rebels had a choice: Admit the crushing moral blow of Markus’s death or…
The rebellion chose “or”.
The rebellion chose Bran.
Nominated and voted before he could think to speak, Bran was handed Markus’s helm and cloak; charged with keeping the hopes and dreams alive, the soldier played the part with relish and skill.
When the ladders were finally repelled and the top of the wall secured, “Markus” was there.
When the lower portcullis was finally breached and the last stand began on the gore-spattered ground floor, “Markus” was there.
And when the battle was down to a handful of stubborn warriors on either side…when both sides had lost too many good men…when the little rebellion appeared to be doomed, “Markus” was there.
In the end, few still stood, let alone fought. Ark and Subaru, so effective on the wall, were no where to be found. It was likely their broken bodies would be found amongst the rest of the dead, but the companions had seen neither fall, so it was hard to say. Alex, first working as a healer and then as a brave and foolish woman with a dagger and a dream, was scythed down by twin blades and left bleeding profusely on the cold stones below. Tumult had exhausted his healing abilities, as had Grunur. The latter of the two, in fact, had balled himself up in his fancy new armor and simply let the five loyalists surrounding him take turns ineffectively bashing on his plate; perhaps not surprisingly, the dwarf had emerged from the massive fight relatively unscathed in comparison to his allies and foes alike. Caithas was once again brought to the brink of death by countless wounds. Jules was in no better condition than his half-elven friend; the poor nobleman had nearly been killed almost every day since he’d gotten married, it seemed, so why should today be any different? Elana, urged on by her husband, had fled towards the Rebel Estate, hoping to warn the others of the impending fall of the gate and the seemingly-inevitable Imperial victory…
But the gate had not fallen. Why? Because of “Markus”.
Because of Bran.
Because when the end was near and the few living loyalists smelled sweet victory, Bran came crashing through their ranks like a vengeful spirit. His blade was a whirlwind of cleaving death. He spun, twisted and turned through the enemy ranks, laying low any and all that stood before him until finally, incredibly, unthinkably, the last remaining loyalist officer cried out the words every single man and woman on both sides had so long waited to hear:
The cost had been unthinkable, the lives lost irreplaceable and the war far from over, but for the second time in twenty-four hours, those still breathing and calling themselves rebels had cause to celebrate.
Once again, they’d won.