Mud Battle II – Meanwhile…
The Queen had inexplicably gotten well just two days before the battle. The prospect of sitting another battle out drove out the flu, she assumed.
She had regained most of her strength surprisingly quickly. Her Elder – Horton, being Elder Horton, had advised her against going out to battle so soon; and yet there she was. It was where she belonged. It was where she was alive.
For the last few days, she had just been discussing about how best to implement Cricket’s idea with him. Cricket was a charming fellow and all, but the one thing he wasn’t was thrilling. He was sweet, though. He had even let her name the inn. She was really proud with the direction she went in with that one.
Now however, in the middle of her army, the skies seemed clearer, the air – fresher, and the smell – bloodier. She took in the smell with a long sniff. The battle horn had just been blown. The sky was filled with fast straight lines darting past. She added her own arrow to the bunch. It went high up in the air…
An arrow struck the ground by John. He flinched but carried on with his duty – releasing arrow after arrow into the sky; into nowhere. It was what he did best. He counted each one as he let loose. The archers had a wager on who could loose the most number of arrows.
Exactly four-and-two arrows later, a small portion of their swordsmen broke; right in front of John. They came right at him, followed by more Flames.
One of the Frosts was cut in his leg and lagged behind the rest, slightly limping. His face twisted in agony with each step. A Flame was right on his tail, savage, like a hunter.
John dropped his angle, took aim, and shot an arrow straight into the Flame’s neck right as he was catching up to the man. The man reached the archers’ column, thanked John with his scared misty little eyes and joined the retreating women.
John turned back to the battleground. One of the Flames was mourning his fallen soldier, holding him in his arms. His bloodshot eyes looked up at John, with utmost hatred. The other archers had gotten the other Flames and turned their attention back to the sky.
The Flame stood, wiped his tears and ran straight at John. His hands seemed to stop obeying him. He was unable to grab another arrow from his quiver and so shifted his faith onto his legs. He turned and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
“Stop! Stop!” he heard someone shouting faintly from afar. He didn’t stop. He didn’t look back. He ran and hid into the first tent he saw.
It seemed someone else had already found refuge there before him. A pale little girl was curled up in the corner, sobbing into her hands, shivering.
“Um-” he started. The girl, jumped up, grabbed a fruit knife from a nearby table and held it in her hand outstretched, threateningly. Her eyes and her trembling hand weren’t helping.
John put up his arms anyway. The girl seemed to only turn realize he was a Frost and lowered her weapon. She looked embarrassed. Quite… Beautiful.
“My apologies, sir. I didn’t see… I was just so frightened, I must have lost my senses.” she said, softly.
“Oh that’s quite fine. Same here.” he replied.
“Same what? You were scared? But you’re a soldier.” she said, confused.
“Barely, I’m an archer. This one man was coming at me with a sword. I’m not very well trained for that situation.” he said, defensively.
The girl was growing calmer, and with that, her features grew clearer. A bit lean, small pouty lips, red eyes – like himself.
“Oh I am Maiden Beatrice.” she said, holding out her hand.
“John,” he held out his own and shook. “Maiden, really?”
Her eyes dropped to the ground. “Yes. I’ve just grown enough to participate in the Mating day. The last one was my first. The soldier just wanted to sleep, though.” she explained.
“Yeah, I can understand that. Heh, we’d be good friends, that man and I,” he joked.
Loud booming noises filled the tent for awhile. They talked over it. They talked about nothing, and everything.
“So you’ve never even kissed someone,” he asked. That was where the conversation had them now.
“No,” she said, the red in her cheeks increasing.
John kept the fact that he had never indulged in any such activity as a secret, to impress her, he hoped. He wanted to seem manly, that is, very unlike him.
“I can… teach you, I suppose.” he said, feeling a rise in red in his own face too.
“Really? You’d do that for me? Thank you!” she said, enthusiastically, thankfully avoiding the reddening of his face.
He crawled closer to her. His heart racing faster as he got closer. She remained where she was, blushing hard.
He reached her, his heart in his ears. He put his hand around her neck, tilted his head to one side. She tilted the other side, instinctively. He gulped, and pushed his face closer to hers. Their noses touched. His heart burst in his throat.
They were stopped by loud tremendous cheers and applause. She fell back, shook by the noise.
John took it that they’d lost yet again and got out of the tent to find that the cheers were from their side. They’d won!
They’d… Won! Cricket was watching from the porch of the establishment he was given in Mud River’s town. Every sector of land had one or two towns. Some sectors, they were in the east and some others in the west. Some places, both. Mud River had one town and it was right at the center, on the northern side of the river.
The Queen had set him up in one of the biggest buildings in the town to open his inn. She had even provided it with its name – First Inn. She was very amused by the play on words, her own idea. It was quite clever, and it was the Queen, so Cricket had no other choice than to go with it. Also, it made her happy. He had grown quite fond of her smile. The banner was just put up.
The Flames had ran, however. They had left him and his employees all alone. He was going to have to convert again. Just like in his childhood, he found himself wearing the colors of one side, bearing their name and standing in the land that had just been transferred to the other side.
He was a farmer the last time, now an innkeeper. Still an outsider.
“Keeper,” one of his crew called, he was yet to learn their names. “What is going to happen to us now?” he was asked.
He turned to the battleground, looking at the Frosts – infamous for their savagery – celebrating. I didn’t even get to treat the Queen yet.
“I don’t – I don’t know, cook.” he said, sad and frightened. “This is supposed to be a neutral zone, free of the war. If they are reasonable, we may be left unscathed. Maybe even make some gold.” he said hopefully.
“Reasonable. If the Frosts are known for one thing, it’s being reasonable.” the cook mocked. “And what if by some miracle, they turn out to be not so reasonable?”
“Then our heads would make excellent fodder for some lucky ravens and horses!” Cricket said.
He wasn’t kidding. That could very well turn out to be true.