by AJ Marks
Part 16: A Lucky Battle
Gwen stepped out of the castle heading towards the mass of men. She had the Royal Guard heading out with her. They would met up with the rebel army before heading towards the valley pass. They group would split into three groups, the rebel army along with Gwen would head to the rear, around the pass. The Royal Army would move to the sides, and using the advantage of height shoot down upon the army moving through the pass.
She originally had planned the rebel army to attack from the sides, but they were well suited to moving fast and quietly. The upper pass though the valley would work well for them, they had little in supplies unlike any army.
“You really think this will work?” Ottis asked, looking over at her.
“No choice,” Gwen replied. “I’m counting on you to head up the guard here, keep things under control and support Zoe.”
“You don’t need to ask for that,” Ottis replied. “She’s like my sister, reminds me of her a bit too.”
“Didn’t know you had one,” she said, seeing his look change slightly. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
“No, its fine, let’s just say she got caught up in the wrong crowd,” he said. Gwen did not push the subject as they watched Zoe appear from the building and head right towards her.
“Oh boy, looks like I’ve got another battle on my hands, want to swap?” Gwen asked, looking over seeing Ottis walking away. “Coward!” she yelled to him getting a wave and a smile in return as he continued walking away.
Gwen watched as her lover reached her.
“You’re really going without me?” she asked.
“It’s safer,” Gwen replied. “And I can concentrate fully on the battle and getting back here. With you there I’ll be worried that where you are is under attack.”
Zoe fell silent for several seconds. Gwen wondered if she was gathering up for another verbal assault to allow her to come. Instead, Zoe pulled her into a hug. Gwen returned it wrapping her arms around the smaller body as Zoe tucked her head under Gwen’s chin. She rubbed the small of Zoe’s back as the younger girl was reluctant to let go.
“I don’t want to lose someone else I love,” she finally said.
“I’ll do everything I can to return safe,” Gwen stated.
“You better, otherwise I’ll hurt you,” Zoe stated, causing Gwen to laugh. She had no doubt Zoe would definitely try, her young lover was stubborn enough to carry out her threats.
“Empress,” she heard, stiffening at the name. She glanced over seeing Renold standing there, waiting.
“Yes?” she asked, already knowing what was to come.
“Everyone’s ready to move out, we should get going if we want to intercept the First army at the valley,” he said.
“I know,” she said, kissing the top of Zoe’s head before releasing her.
Zoe finally released a bit, allowing Gwen to look down into teary eyes. It almost caused her resolve to fade and bring her along. However, she managed to remain steadfast in her resolve. Giving Zoe a kiss, she then turned as they both walked towards the army.
“Well, let’s move out,” she said, giving the order.
Zoe walked with her to the city walls, where, with some effort she handed her over to Ottis and instruction to watch her. A final parting kiss and Gwen now walked along with the rest of the Royal Guard.
The crunching of feet echoed in her ears. After a bit she almost missed the constant chattering from Zoe.
Gwen looked down at the map, as she, Renold, and Jack were waiting to see what the orders might be. They arrived at the spot where they would have to split up. Scouts were sent ahead making sure the First army had not appeared yet. If they were already in the pass then the plan would have to be changed.
“I’ll send half of the guard along this route,” Renold said, mapping a path with his finger.
“Should work,” Gwen said as a runner came over. She did not recognize him as he approached Renold.
“Yes,” he said.
“Sir, I’m to inform the Empress the Fifth army is in position,” he said.
“Very good, any reports from the First army?” Gwen asked, stepping forward.
“No ma’am,” he replied.
“Tell the general we’re heading into position,” Gwen replied, watching him bow then take off again. The group headed off towards the narrow upper path. Gwen took the lead trusting her skills more than anyone else. And if fighting broke out, she wanted to be there to hopefully end it quickly.
“Not sure this is wise,” Renold said, walking along with her.
“We’re some of the better fighters, if we can’t defend against an attack, then no one can,” Gwen stated. She noticed Renold said nothing in return.
Keeping an eye on the path, and for any oncoming troops she waited patiently. Some two hundred armed men and women were making their way through the upper pass. The trek really was not too long, but rocky in nature. The group moved quickly. It took most of the day put they approached the end of the path.
Gwen suddenly raised a hand, a signal for quiet. Everyone stopped, as the signal spread to the back of the group. Renold stepped up beside her, both listening and waiting. Gwen felt a few fighting aura approaching. Reducing her aura as much as possible she crouched a bit, looking for a spot to engage the group. The rocky path and steep cliff were daunting.
Up ahead was a curve, and she readied herself, withdrawing her sword. Renold did the same and a few others behind her. The path was barely as wide as her arm width. Pushing Renold back a bit to give herself some room she now approached the bend, waiting for what would happen.
A scout turned the corner and froze at the sight in front of him. Gwen wasted no time and attacked. He met a swift end before even making a sound. Gwen turned to the next man, quickly taking care of him and turning the corner to see the group. A typical scouting party of five men. Two were down and she pushed forward quickly eliminating another man. She engaged the fourth as the fifth turned to run.
She knew with his speed she would not be able to catch him even as she quickly dispatched the fourth man. Cursing herself for such a mistake she barely heard the whistle of a crossbow fly by her ear. Turning around expecting another attack she spotted one of the rebels in the group with a crossbow, aimed at her.
Even as she watched he lowered it, and another man clapped him on the shoulder.
“Good work,” she heard him say. Gwen felt confused, the crossbow came within inches of hitting her, what did he mean.
“Wasn’t sure I could pull it off,” the man with the crossbow said. She looked over at Renold who did not seem alarmed, were they trying to take her out?
“Damn, luckiest shot I’ve seen,” Renold finally said.
“What…” Gwen finally managed to get out, thoroughly confused.
“He managed to avoid hitting you and got the runner,” Renold said, causing Gwen to turn and look. There, some twenty yards away lay the scout who had been running away. She looked back and forth between the two spots before exhaling. Calming down she finally managed to congratulate him on the shot.
“T-Thanks,” he said.
“Though, if you had hit me, well you’d have suffered someone’s wrath,” she said, watching as he paled. “And I’m not even talking about me.”
She watched as he frowned, unsure what she meant. She turned and motioned for the group to continue on as Renold walked up to her.
“So, now I know who frightens you,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, come on,” Gwen said. Several men of the Royal Guard came up and moved the bodies, as they were heading to spots for ambushing the coming army.
The rebel army continued on down to a spot of trees. She realized it was a perfect spot to set up. Slightly out of the way and not able to be seen easily. They also could quickly join the battle once it was engaged. They would be able to watch the First Army pass by before attacking the rear.
Now, all they had to do was wait.
Gwen looked over the troops under her. They were probably outnumbered, she expected to be, a full army against the royal guard and a small rebel army hastily put together. Reports from her field commanders indicated that the bounty hunters were doing their job of making problems for the approaching army.
However, what concerned her more, was the reports from the Empire, they were massing along the border. She had to finish this battle quickly.
“Empress,” Renold said, walking up to her as she looked at the map. She looked over at him, seeing a message in his hands. “General Eric says he’s in position.”
Gwen felt a bit better at that. A two prong attack, from the front and back might unnerve the enemy, and hopefully cause them to surrender. Eric could not bring the entire 5th army, as it had to be able to protect the empire from any advances by another empire.
“You think this will work?” Renold asked.
“No, but it’s all we have,” Gwen said.
“This whole thing is messed up,” Renold finally said after a few moments of silence.
“I know, I’m still confused about it all. I don’t understand half of what they’ve done, let alone killing my aunt,” Gwen said, not adding how they blamed her for that act.
“Ma’am, we just received word, the enemy’s army has entered the valley,” he said.
“Now’s the time,” Gwen said, donning her helmet. “Tell everyone to move out, send word to General Eric to begin.”
She moved out of the tent along with Renold, and looked around at the men and women in the group. She hoped they all survived, but also knew in war, luck had more to do survival than skill.
She wondered about where her uncle and cousin might be. Would they be in front, in the rear? Would they expect an attack in the valley? The one place where his advantage would be lost given the small fighting area.
Walking along with the rest of the rebel army she moved forward as well. She had stayed with this group to give them a moral boost. The Fifth Army and the Royal Guard were professional soldiers, knowing what they were doing. The rebels were made up of volunteers, most of whom had never seen combat.
“This is it,” Renold said. “I’ll be taking your leave then.”
“Of course,” Gwen replied, watching as he left to join up with the Royal Guard. A runner had already headed off towards General Eric. Things were now in motion for what she hoped would be the only battle of this fight. She had no idea what might happen next, only it had to end here.
She still had questions and had no idea if they would ever be answered. The group of rebels formed up very efficiently thanks to the work of several captains over the past couple of days.
More than a few looked her way. She checked her armor making sure it was on tight, and loose enough for her to move in. Unlike many in the army she did not wear the heavy armor of others. It restricted her movement, which for her meant everything. Her movement and speed was one of her best advantages in a fight.
“You feeling all right Jack?” Gwen asked, looking over at one of the captains of the rebel army.
“Yeah, nervous about everything,” he finally said. “My first real battle.”
“Expect chaos,” Gwen replied. “Don’t hesitate, or second guess yourself. The goal is to stay alive.”
“Thought it was to win?” Jack said.
Gwen gave a slight, sad smile. “That’s what they say, but it boils down to who is alive at the end, you or them.”
Gwen heard the sounds of battle even before they reached the entrance to the valley. The rebel army crept thought he forest approaching the narrow valley pass. She felt glad the town was on the other side of the valley. The Fifth army had taken station there, blocking the First army’s path.
“What do you think?” Jack asked her, as he and a few other captains were not close to her.
Gwen looked out seeing the rear of the First army in chaos as people tried to figure out what had happened. Reports from the front were probably only starting to filter back to the rear.
“Jack, you take your men, go around to that boulder, for my signal then charge,” Gwen said to him, watching as he took off to carry out her orders. “Archers?” she said, looking as a man nodded. “Set up along here.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, moving quietly o set up his own men.
The one thing the rebels did have, was stealth. They were used to hiding in the shadows and hidden in the trees they moved along with little noise.
“The rest of you, gather your men and follow me,” Gwen said as she looked on again. She thought she saw a glimpse of her cousin. She did not see her uncle though.
“What about us?” one person said. She recognized the captain of the mages.
“Support with the archers, use your judgment on who and where to attack,” she told him.
“Um, okay,” he replied, then went off to carry out his own orders.
After several minutes of moving the rebels were in position. The First army appeared in chaos still, as people were shouting orders and groups were trying to move forward despite the fact it was already too crowded to do so.
“Fire,” Gwen ordered to the archers, who sent up a volley of arrows followed by several spells by the mages. She raised her sword, yelled out to charge. The mass of the rebel army moved forward in the confused army.
Gwen made her way right towards the spot where she thought her cousin had been. Several fighters started towards her, with high energy. She allowed her full potential to rise up, knowing it made her a target, but she also did not wish to play around. The two men swung, she already moved to dodge and counter.
She continued to move forward cutting a swath of destruction. She kept an eye out as others joined her in her path. An arrow piercing the heart of a beast, they moved into the mass of unorganized fighting that now reigned on the battlefield.
Feeling the movement of air, she ducked, barely avoiding a sword strike.
“Lucky aren’tcha?” she heard her cousin say.
“Derek, finally came out of hiding,” Gwen said, as the two faced off against each other. The rest of the battlefield faded away as she looked on. He appeared a bit wild compared to the last time she saw him. “No one to hide behind now?”
“Me hide, no merely reaching my greatness,” Derek said. “You know nothing of my goal. I am to be king of all.”
“And killing the queen was part of that how?” Gwen asked, the question which nagged her the most.
“I didn’t do that either, as I said, you were supposed to do that,” Derek said, as they exchanged blows. “Don’t understand, your mind never could understand that.”
“I might surprise you,” Gwen replied.
“I doubt that Ruth,” Derek replied, using a complex attack. Gwen managed to avoid the attack and struck back countering his strength with her speed looking for weaknesses in his defenses. He never studied defense that much, and had always been a weak spot.
Derek fought with his full power, creating an area of destruction all around them. Two level ones fighting and few people wanted to get in their way. The rebels with her had backed away, now taking care of others in the army, as archers continued to throw their support into the fight. Mage spells flew back and forth as the fighting seemed to only intensify.
Gwen fought with the same intensity, blocking his sword strikes and going on the offensive as they exchanged blows.
“You’ve slacked off Ruth, living in the Shadowlands has made you weak,” Derek said.
“You’d be surprised what you learn out there,” Gwen replied back to him. “They are very nice out there, and knowledgeable.”
“Ha, backwater hicks who know nothing about warfare,” Derek said, swinging his sword. “Even now you can’t grasp the grand scale of my vision.”
“All I see is destruction for everyone,” Gwen said.
“Yes, and isn’t that grand, me, standing alone at the top of the world,” Derek said, laughing at the thought.
Gwen blinked wondering when her cousin had gone mad. Her momentary shock gave him an opening slicking though her defenses. She managed to avoid a death blow, but was wounded.
“See, I’ll always win,” he said, his eyes wide open, a large smile on his face as he looked at her. “I am the god of destruction, this is my realm. I allowed you to live because I deemed it necessary until now.”
Gwen tested her shoulder, which had taken the strike. Not life threatening, but would hinder her attacks. The armor prevented serious damage as she held her sword with one arm.
“Now, I get to finally kill you, like you should have died that day!” he screamed at her.
Dodging the attack she spun around to face him. “Why is that?” she asked, waiting, taking her time to think.
“You would have been forced to kill her, that simple,” he replied. “You see, she was under a spell, she would have attacked you the moment you entered. But no, that bitch figured it out and killed herself first.”
Gwen backed up at the news, giving herself some distance as she heard the words. However Derek had paused, laughing again.
“What about the king?” Gwen asked, wondering how much he was involved in all of this.
“That old fool, I’ve already taken care of him,” Derek said, smiling. Gwen wondered how the general of the First army, and his men, could follow such a demented monster.
“You’re insane,” Gwen said to him, using her speed to avoid another attack and using his momentum to counter. He managed to block it.
“You’re strikes have no power,” he said. “The victory is mine!”
Gwen watched him attack again, using the same pattern once more. This time she prepared for the strike which had cut her last time. Instead of even trying to block it she move aside. Derek’s strike met only air causing him to stumble giving Gwen an opening. She thrust forward striking deep.
Derek looked down at the sword impaling him, unable to comprehend the action. Gwen wrenched the sword out as he fell to the ground, clutching the wound.
“I was to be great, a god,” he stammered, collapsing to the ground. His chest stilled giving Gwen the victory once more over her cousin. This time, she felt no thrill, or elation, only weary exhaustion.
Cries of ‘the prince has fallen’ echoed around the battle. Gwen took a moment to look around at the soldiers, now looking around unsure if they should continue fighting. Chaos reigning on the battlefield. She had to find the leader of the First army to end this. Hopefully he was a man with some intelligence and not a mad man like Derek had been.
“Yield,” she said, to the first person she came across. “Lay down your weapons and surrender, and you’ll be treated fairly.”
He hesitated for a second, before dropping his sword. A few beside him followed suit, raising their hands in surrender.
“You okay?’ Jack asked, walking over to her.
“Yeah,” Gwen said, looking down at the wound in her left shoulder, the blood made it look worse than anything else. She flexed it a few times, painful, but probably not serious.
Looking around she saw members of the First army surrender, as they realized the prince had been defeated. They were probably only obeying orders, never understanding exactly who they were following. Good soldiers who obey and never think laying down their lives for rulers they thought they could trust. She walked forward even as cries for medic mages carried across the battlefield.
Gwen had a medic looking over her shoulder, after much badgering from several others. The medic muttered something about hard headed soldiers as he examined the wound before finally declaring it non-life threatening. Gwen rolled her eyes at that.
“I’ll bandage it up and by tomorrow morning it should be healed,” he declared to her, working some magic into the bandage which would speed healing.
She had heard about losses, and out of two hundred rebel troops, fifty had been killed, and another sixty wounded, most not seriously. Among the dead had been Kerros, Jack’s friend and right hand man.
Reports of fighting from the others areas tricked in from runners. Things were slow to stop, and she figured that had to do with the confusion of the battle.
“What do you mean we surrendered?” a loud voice said, causing Gwen to look over. A man with red hair, strode his way into the camp. His armor indicated a man of importance, especially with the gold chest plate. She knew he had to be the general of the First army.
“Derek was defeated,” Gwen said, from her seated position as the healer continued to bandage the shoulder.
He stared at her for several seconds before saying anything. “Then we’re all dead.” The statement caught her by surprise. It had not been what she expected to hear.
“Why do you say that?” she asked, wanting to know the truth.
“Derek had back-up plans in case he was defeated,” the general said.
“Really, and what might that be?” Gwen asked. She wished her battles had ended. There had been enough death lately.
“I don’t know, he never told me, only that we had to succeed or else,” the general replied back to her.
Gwen sighed, things had gotten complicated. She only wished to get back to the capital and Zoe and head off again.
“Then we’ll deal with it when it happens,” Gwen said, looking at the general more closely. He had taken off his helmet, revealing short red hair, to go with his tall frame. Like General Eric, it seemed most generals were tall, and probably had a decent amount of magic.
“You’re a fool,” the general replied back to her. “We have no leader, and a group of rebels vying for power.”
“I am the king’s niece,” Gwen said, hating to say it. It had the effect she wished for though, he stared at her in amazement.
“B-But you’re dead,” he stammered. “I saw the report, even led the pursuit.”
He paused, now looking at her closer.
“Yes, you are her, shorter hair, but the eyes are the same,” he finally said after a few seconds. “But that’s impossible!”
“No, I had fled the building out the back before you set it on fire,” Gwen said.
“Then the body?” he asked, unsure about the situation. “I saw it myself.”
“That I don’t know, I didn’t look to see who was inside the building when I left,” Gwen said, recalling those frightening days. She had nothing, no friends, no allies, no money or even a place to settle down. The only thing she had was her skills. The silence stretched out for several minutes until another person approached.
“Empress,” the voice said, causing her to look up. She saw Renold approaching her. “News of the fighting, it’s died down, General Eric will have casualties reported to you shortly.” He looked over at the general. “General Richard.”
“Commander Renold,” the general said, looking at him, then at Gwen. “So you believe this?”
“That she is John’s daughter,” Richard said.
“Yes,” Renold stated.
“Reports are she killed Derek, only she had ever beaten him,” Richard stated, thinking about this a bit. “What about the Queen?”
“Derek all but admitted Ruth didn’t do it, there was a lot that went on that night when the queen was killed,” Renold said. “I doubt we’ll ever fully know.”
“Then, what happens next?” Richard finally asked, as they both looked over at Gwen, who had hoped they had forgotten about her.
“Get things settled down, we have other countries to worry about,” Gwen said.
“Imperial empire, they were always looking for a weakness,” Richard said.
“Yes, take the first army to back up the third, that should cause them to hesitate,” Gwen said.
“But the army is in tatters,” Richard said, looking around at his army.
“You know that, I know that, but they don’t,” Gwen said. “I think the mere thought that another army is reinforcing the third will cause them to back down”
“And what will you be doing?” Richard said.
“Trying to get a government working,” Gwen stated, not saying anything else. The more she seemed to get away, the more they looked upon her for leadership. “Take some of the fifth army as well, we’ll reinforce that with the rebels here.”
“Will they do that?” Renold asked, looking around at the rebel soldiers who were celebrating their victory.
“Yeah, they were rebelling against the king, I think they understand they might make a difference. And in the army, they could rise up in rank, maybe, or become someone besides a rebel,” Gwen said. They were the reason for the victory, and she would include them.
“All right,” Richard said.
“Is all that wise?” Jack said, looking on.
“Yeah, you’re in charge of this army, we’ll call it the Eleventh for now,” Gwen said. She saw a few others look on. “For now we’ll get things organized, tell the rest that the first is to reorganize to move out. Also what remains of the rebel army is to be converted to the eleventh army under your command.”
“But we defeated them,” one of the men said.
“Yes, and now we need their help to prevent an invasion,” Gwen said, standing up. “Unless you want to go and back up the third army?”
She watched him pause, to think about that for a few seconds before making up his mind.
“Jack, get things cleared up, have our group help out, and if any of the fifth wants to join the first, let them,” Gwen said, turning to the general. “Get your men ready to move again.”
“Very well, blasted politics.”
Gwen understood what he meant, and watched him walk off to carry out the order.
Gwen felt glad to have finally returned back to the capital. The first army had left heading to the border with the Imperials. The fifth army had remained, waiting for any trouble. She returned with the Royal Guard and the newly formed Eleventh army, which would train up and head out if needed as well.
She looked around the city, things were quiet, people moving about, and for every indication the atmosphere appeared as if nothing had ever happened. Renold and Jack walked beside her, and they felt it as well as people paused to look at the army returning.
“Not quite the reception I was expecting,” Renold whispered.
“No, a couple of days ago this city was about to fall apart,” Jack said.
Glancing around she noticed people busy repairing the damage done only a few days ago.
“Ah, empress, so glad you’ve returned,” an older man said, bowing to her then continued on. “You have a wonderful future queen.”
Gwen forced a smile, then quickened her pace despite others now expressing their thanks towards her.
‘What did you do Zoe?’ Gwen whispered to herself, seeing the palace appear. Guards respectfully bowed as she passed, she waved a hand at them but never broke stride and walked inside the palace looking around for a few seconds until a slave walked by. “Where is Zoe?”
The slave paused, looking at Gwen for a few seconds before answering. “She’s in the meeting room along with the advisors.”
Gwen watched her walk away before continuing off down the corridor before heading towards the meeting room herself. Finding the room she paused at the door seeing Zoe surrounded by several men as they spoke before walking into the room enough to gain their attention. Zoe noticed first, hopping up ran over wrapping her arms around Gwen. She gladly returned the greeting happy that Zoe seemed to be doing better.
“We weren’t expecting you back until tomorrow,” Zoe said, smiling. She had not relinquished her hug yet.
“Made good time, and I wanted to see my girl,” Gwen replied. “So, what have you been up to?”
“Nothing,” Zoe said quietly, and Gwen knew something happened. Green eyes looked up at her, blinking innocently.
“Then the people saying you’d make a wonderful future queen, came from where?” Gwen asked, seeing Zoe blush slightly at the question. “At a loss for words?”
“Have I told you how beautiful you are?” Zoe asked, catching Gwen off guard by the question.
“No sidetracking,” Gwen said, refocusing her thoughts back on the situation at hand. A slight noise caused her to look over at the group of men still in the room. “Yes?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at them watching as Tinis stepped forward.
“Perhaps I should explain,” he said, running a hand over his bald head. “The royal family is gone, I take it by your return that King Rick and his son are dead?”
“Derek killed the king, I killed Derek in combat,” Gwen said.
“Ah, I see, well,” Tinis said fidgeting slightly. “You are the last surviving member of the royal family. As such, it is only natural that we ask you to assume the position of ruler.”
Gwen groaned at the suggestion. “I’m not ruler material.”
“Why not?” Zoe asked. “I think you’d make a great leader.”
“I don’t,” Gwen said out of reflex, watching as the green eyes never wavered. Maybe, one of these times Gwen might be able to convince Zoe but at the moment the young woman seemed undaunted by her faith.
“Sure you are,” Zoe whispered, giving a quick kiss to Gwen. “Come on, I’m starving,” she said, then turned to the listening advisors. “We’re done for now, right?”
“Yes,” one said, giving a slight bow and walked out of the room, along with the others. Gwen watched slightly amused before Zoe tugged her out and towards the kitchens. The young woman seemed to be fine, even after everything which happened. Gwen looked at the people, as they watched surprised as Zoe dragged Gwen down the hallway. Most were probably shocked at the fact Zoe was so forthcoming with the person many considered the Queen.
Gwen shook that thought from her mind as they entered the kitchen. Several cooks were about preparing meals, cleaning dishes and putting stuff up.
“Ah, Zoe, how are you doing today,” one of the older cooks said, her hair up in a bun. She stopped when her eyes fell upon Gwen. “You’ve grown up a bit child.”
“Yeah, I guess I have,” Gwen replied, unsure what else to say as Zoe took over.
“Is there anything ready to eat?” Zoe asked, looking around.
“Of course there is,” the cook replied.
They helped themselves to some food and retired back to one of the bedrooms to eat.
End part 16