This is a long story and should have at least one, but probably two sequels. This story does not contain graphic sex in any quantity - it is about the lives of the characters, not who's bumping uglies with who. That said, there is some adult content to be found herein - but if you're looking for a short read ending in satisfaction, you are advised to find another story.
Captain Annalyse Promus moved through the ranks of her soldiers, tapping some on the shoulder or arm, or giving others a comforting smile. She did this each time they were soon to be joined in battle, and because of it, she commanded more than their loyalty, but also their hearts.
They were on the western flank of the assault, as they had been many times. Her elder sister, Sharlotta, had organized the assault, a counter-strike by the Free Peoples of Nordlamar against the Kingdom of Aradmath. The two nations had been at war for years, ever since Aradmath had discovered that a group of radical dissidents, folk who had secretly fled their borders some sixty years past had not only survived, but were thriving in the harsh northlands.
"We're going to put those bastards to rout, eh Captain?"
Annalyse forced herself to focus on the soldier speaking. She smiled and nodded to him. His name was Valus, a young man filled with enthusiasm and promise. Her other soldiers did their best to protect him, as he was the youngest in her unit. They were all veterans by now, but even still with the average age of a soldier in the People's army being closer to thirty than his tender age of seventeen, the more seasoned warriors did their best to see to it that one day Valus would make it home to sire a family.
Annalyse' own age had once been called into question, for she was only twenty and three herself. She had proven herself many times on the field, however, and few questioned any more. Valus was as she had been once, born for the thrill of battle and freedom of the road. As she had many times before, she vowed to keep an eye on him and take him under her wing.
Before she could give more thought to it, trumpets sang their brassy song to the winds and the armies were moving. Annalyse raced to her chariot and drove forth, shield and reins in hand. Her horses, matched in all but color, pranced and jogged, picking up the intensity in the air. Anna's brave soldiers marched alongside her, shields and spears held at the ready. It was a good day for battle.
The vanguard of the People's army clashed into a wall of Aradmath soldiers, sending a concussive wave of sound up and down the line as metal crashed against metal and flesh was split upon sword. Annalyse howled her battle cry, an inarticulate wail which chilled the blood of her enemy. Her soldiers rallied at her cry and charged forward, catching the footmen of Aradmath completely off their guard and neatly slicing into their ranks.
In close quarters, and with spears already blooded, the Nordlamar men and women drew their swords and pressed the attack. Annalyse drove up and down the line, throwing spears from her cache and urging her soldiers on. A few enemies drew close to her from time to time, but those she cut down with either her long bladed spear or the wicked blades set in the hubs of her chariot's wheels.
Suddenly they broke through the first ranks of the Aradmath flank. The soldiers cheered and turned to Annalyse. She looked about to quickly survey the situation, the colors of the kingdom's armies still featured too prominently on the field. She then urged her company onward, turning toward the van where they had planned to strike next to aid the fighters of Red company.
As she moved her chariot into position, the world fell in on them. Hidden Aradmath archers fired upon them, cutting heavily into Anna's forces. The shaft of a black fletched arrow pinned her forearm to the heavy wooden frame of her chariot. Reinforcements rose up out of hidden dugouts in the ground to surrounded Anna's small group. They fought bravely, but in one fell swoop, victory had been taken from them.
Anna's right hand chariot horse went down and the yoke of her chariot dug a deep furrow into the soft ground. She had long since broken off the arrow in her arm and torn free of it, leaving nothing holding her in the chariot. She flew over the front, landing on her back, dazed, before stumbling to her feet. She drew her sword, and circled warily in the maelstrom of combat. She shook her head in vain to clear it and help her focus. From behind, she was struck a glancing blow to the head from the flat of a heavy Aradmath broadsword. Her vision swam and she dropped to her knees, then the darkness took her and she knew no more.
Having both flanking attempts ambushed and defeated, Sharlotta had no choice but to sound the retreat. Another day of savage fighting with no ground gained or lost, only heavy casualties for both sides. It had already turned into a war of attrition between the two nations. Aradmath refused to let them live in peace, something they had sought to do so many years ago by fleeing the kingdom. Shar cursed and gave the order to retreat, refusing to show worry for her sister, even though she had been informed that Anna's company had fallen behind enemy lines.
Anna was young and not yet a mother, something Shar could not understand. She assumed that the girl had followed in her footsteps, hoping to gain glory as her sister had. What Anna could never know was that Shar would trade all her victories for a life of peace and quiet with her husband and their children back in Argondiir, her home, and the capitol city of Nordlamar.
For now she had a stalemate to deal with, and many men and women that would need healing and a chance to recover from this latest stalled offensive.
Annalyse awoke to a bucket of dirty water being dumped on her upturned face. She spit and gasped, coughing it up and tried to wipe it out of her eyes. Her hands were bound, however, and she quickly realized she had no idea what had happened to her since the chariot went down. A throbbing ache at her left temple promised some sort of blunt trauma as well.
"Listen up you scum!" A deep male voice growled from her right side. As Anna began to focus, she could see the owner of the voice standing upon a rough wooden platform before them. He was dressed in the trappings of Aradmath nobility. Anna realized, glancing around her, the number of warriors surrounding them gave further evidence of his rank.
"I am King's Baron Makan dep Nathmar, and all of you northern beasts belong to me!" He raged, spittle flying from narrow, cruel lips, as he shrieked at them. "My soldiers captured you in your pathetic attempt to surround the great armies of Aradmath, and for your treachery to Our Kingdom, I should have you all executed!"
His hard eyes grew more narrow as a thought occurred to him. "As a matter of fact," he rasped, "I believe I'll do just that with a few of you, as an example of just how worthless you are," Makan paced up and down the platform, eyeing up the prisoners. Each and every one of them able to do so glared up at him, the seething hatred in their eyes aimed at him and everything he professed to stand for.
"That one, that and that" Makan said, pointing to the three random prisoners that were unfortunate enough to have caught his eye. He chuckled, an insane little sound and smacked his meaty hands together, "Yes, I do believe I will enjoy this. Squashing bugs." He grinned again, drawing more antagonism from his ranks of captives.
"Leave them be, pig!" Anna shouted, struggling valiantly to rise to her feet.
A hulking guard stepped to her side and casually punched her in the face, growling, "Silence! Hold your tongue bitch, or I'll have it cut out!"
"Wait," Makan said, marching over to get a closer look at her. Anna raised her head and glared at him, blood running freely from her broken nose and split lip.
"Who are you that you think you can speak to a King's Baron that way?" He demanded of her, infuriated that a female would have the nerve to question him.
"Annalyse Promus, Captain of these honorable soldiers!" Anna spat blood in Makan's general direction, hoping to draw his rage against her.
"You have spirit, wench, something that I'll not tolerate in my slaves. Perhaps I should have you killed as well," Makan said, eying her and considering his options.
"No, I have a better idea. Bring her up here, Guard." He grinned again, gesturing to the makeshift stage he had had his men build for the executions.
The guard untied the harsh ropes from about her wrists and ankles and dragged her up some stairs and onto the platform. Although her hands and feet were nearly numb from lack of circulation, she fought to make his job difficult. When he tried to strike her again, prepared she ducked the blow and brought her joined hands into the side of his head. The heavy guard stumbled forward and Anna was on him like a cat, scrambling to pull his heavy sword free from its sheath.
Before she could fully commandeer the weapon, another guard had his hand atop hers. His other arm wrapped around her neck and pulled her to him, choking her. Anna managed to sink her teeth into his forearm, drawing blood and causing him to curse in pain. The first guard had recovered then, and tapped her smartly on the head with the pommel of his dagger. Stunned, Anna went limp and fell to the ground when the second guard released her.
"Yes, you definitely need to be broken," Makan muttered, listening the cheering her soldiers were giving her from their bonds.
"Bind her to that pole," Makan ordered pointing to a thick wooden beam that stood as a support for the hangman's noose that hung over head.
Still stunned and unable to comprehend, Anna was dragged over to the timber and lashed tightly to it. She was given no freedom of movement and scarcely enough slack to breathe. Her head hung low from the concussion but another bucket of scummy water flung upon her head helped rouse her. She lifted her head up, eyes squinting from the pain in her head, and turned her venomous gaze upon Makan.
"Watch and learn, you foolish female," Makan said to her, gesturing as three struggling Nordlamar warriors were led onto the deck and secured in various devices.
The first one, a grizzled old woman named Gretta, a pureblood northlander, struggled and spit on the guards who held her. They tied her kneeling and chest down to a stump, with her head laid across it. The second was a man by the name of Marcus, someone Anna had always been able to rely upon for his cool head in battle and keen aim with a spear. His head was placed in the noose and his feet upon another, smaller block of wood. The final prisoner was Valus, the young lad whose eyes were filled with fear.
Upon seeing Valus being tied to another headman's block, Anna's blue eyes grew wide and the blood of fury rushed to her face. "Leave him be, he's just a boy!"
One of the guards standing next to her slapped her, hard. Her ears rung from the blow, but she used to pain to focus herself. Makan stepped over to Valus and looked down at him.
"Old enough to fight for the treacherous barbarians, old enough to die like one." Makan laughed bitterly, "I've a daughter that looks to be his age," he commented casually, "but I know enough to keep her safe from harm and on the winning side. She sides with those that the Gods favor!"
The guards around cheered and saluted Makan as he smiled triumphantly. "Besides," Makan continued. "I hear you treacherous barbarians let your women fight with your men, another sign of your blasphemy and the disfavor of the Gods. The younger we can kill you beasts, the less chance you have to breed more!"
More cheering ensued. Anna struggled at her ropes, tearing at her skin where it rubbed her raw. She refused to relent, despite of the futility of her efforts. Her eyes were locked with those of Valus, who saw her actions and actually smiled.
Anna stopped, shocked by his expression. Valus' smile reached his eyes and the fear left them. He nodded as much as his positioning would allow, letting her know all was well. He would meet his death with honor.
"What, has the fight been taken from you already?" Baron Makan said, looking at her and sneering. "The priests are right, you women truly are without souls to be cowed so easily!"
His insult was answered with appreciative laughter from his underlings. Anna kept her eyes locked on Valus then slowly turned her head to behold her captor.
"No," she said when the laughter had died down. "I was admiring how much of a man that boy is, more than you will ever be."
Makan's cheeks flushed with anger and he clenched his fists. Angrily he held his hand up to stop the guard beside her from punching her again, then turned to the three captives and, one by one, made the gestures that started the execution in motion.
Gretta's head rolled across the deck, severed by an axe, and was joined in bare moments by Valus'. Only valiant Marcus took some time to die, twisting and jerking from the rope that slowly strangled him after the guard had kicked the log out from under his feet.
When Marcus was finally still, Makan turned back to Anna and saw the rage in her expression. "Good, I was hoping you had some fight left in you," he told her.
"Untie her and strip her, then tie her where the boy was," Makan demanded.
Anna's eyes narrowed, but she had no choice, as she was approached by three of the heavyset guards. Her soldiers cried out in despair, but were silenced in as heavy-handed a manner as possible. In a few moments, her clothing torn and shredded and laying on the wooden planks around her, Captain Annalyse Promus was tied to the same battered stump where Valus had lain only moments ago. Her cheek was laying in his blood, the coppery scent of it rising to her nose and nearly causing her, a seasoned veteran, to retch from anger and fear.
"Kill me, you pig," Anna taunted him. "Kill us all, else one of us will return and take the precious daughter you spoke of from you. Then we will torture and kill your wife, and then your other offspring. We'll butcher every member of your honor less murdering family until you alone remain alive, then you'll die too."
"Oh," Makan replied, chuckling. His hands moved to his belt and he unclasped it. "I've no intentions of killing you, yet. First you need to be taught your place."
Anna's soldiers gasped in outrage and shock as Baron Makan moved behind her and proceeded with his intentions. She gritted her teeth and forced the tears from her eyes as he thrust into her brutally. His rape was savage and quick, and then he staggered away from her.
Unable to see him, Anna nevertheless spoke in a ragged voice, "That was pathetic, you pig! I would wager that your children are not even your own if that is the best that you can do."
Makan's cheeks flushed again at her crude insult. He considered beheading her himself for her impudence, but a better idea came to him instead. "Have your way with her, men, and keep her alive, but waste no energy being gentle with this heathen bitch!"
He watched for a short while as the guards took advantage of his generosity, one after another thrusting themselves into her broken body in every perverse way possible. He watched her until her pain and hatred began to fade from her face, being replaced by a blank stare. Laughing aloud, he turned to his other prisoners, who had long since been beaten into being quiet.
"Learn your lessons well, and perhaps you'll live long enough to redeem yourselves in the eyes of King Doremath," he told them. Then he laughed cruelly at the absurdity of his suggestion. He turned and left the field then, heading to his tent.
"My Lord, a carriage arrives from the south bearing your flag."
Baron Makan looked at the messenger, a squire barely in his 14th summer. He squinted, annoyed at the interruption, but rose from his chair and followed the boy from the tent he used as his field office. Sure enough, in the distance he could make out his standard flying from a carriage that approached the camp. He saw a full squad of knights riding with it as well.
"Damnation," he muttered, turning and heading back into his tent. "That fool woman has no business being out here."
"My Lord?" The squire stammered, concerned.
Baron Makan looked at him, surprised to see him still there. "Nothing lad. Go about your duties, I'll tend to my wife when she gets here."
"No, wait," he said, stopping the boy in mid salute. "Take this wretched wench of a slave and put her in a cage outside, just as she is."
"Yes Sire," the boy said, not daring to doubt his leaders wisdom. He expected the slave to freeze, if she were imprisoned naked for very long. They were far to the north from their own warmer lands in the south, so far north that many of them remained chilled around the clock. He did not know how anyone could live in such cold weather.
He went to the woman and grabbed her about the arm. She rose woodenly and followed him as he took her out of the tent. Makan watched her go, his thoughts distant. What would his wife possibly be doing visiting them out here? His mind also went to the vow spoken by the slave girl that he had just banished from his tent; she had said that his family would be killed one by one with himself saved for last. He shook his head. A slave's empty threats, made by one both a savage and a liar and female at that!
Makan chuckled and finished writing the report on his victory over the savages. He put his mark upon it and gestured for one of his servants to fetch him more wine. He pulled out a fresh piece of parchment and sighed, then begin putting quill and ink to it, writing another report. Makan longed for the days of glory, when his father, King's Baron Nathmar, had been in charge and he had simply led his father's men at arms into battle.
Baroness N'meria ap Makan held out a white gloved hand to the young squire who opened the carriage door for her. With his assistance, she stepped carefully down from the conveyance, mindful not to set a dainty booted foot into a puddle just outside the carriage door. Once both feet were solidly upon the ground, she gestured imperiously that her daughter, Lady T'leren be helped also to step down. Once both ladies were out of the carriage, the squire motioned for the driver to remove it from the center of the camp. Shooting him a disdainful look, the baroness took her daughter by the hand and, dragging her in her wake, moved gracefully to the tent flap. She stood impatiently, waiting for the squire to catch up and open the door, when her eye was drawn to movement just outside the field of her vision. Turning, she gasped in shock to see the heathen woman suspended in the cage. Her gloved hands moved quickly to cover her impressionable young daughter's eyes, but not quickly enough. T'leren had had a good look at the naked, disheveled and bruised woman. The thing that had really struck her, however was the eyes. They had changed from a look of blankness, of uncaring, in a split second to a look of absolute hatred. The girl shivered, and it had nothing to do with the cold.
Their arrival at his tent flap having been anticipated, Makan sighed, and after he made sure they had experienced the cold for a short time, finally bid them enter. His wife brushed in, pushing past the servants and stood glaring at him somewhat impatiently. Makan found himself preferring the sullen brooding of the slave girl, she had at last finally been beaten and abused into her rightful place as his property. His wife, seemingly, would never accept such a role.
"What brings you to such a savage place, lovely N'meria?" Makan said diplomatically, rising to his feet. He paused when he saw his daughter enter the tent behind her, his face flushing in anger, and again his mind flashed back to the vow made by the woman in the cage outside.