As promised, here’s a moment of Elmiryn’s past…
The Fiamman kingdom covered the entire south-west of the Sibesona continent. Kingdom of metal and glass–they were the sun-lovers, with warm hair and light skin. Halward’s fist. Feared by the heartlands, and resented by the frosty north. It was divided into four provinces. Ebinus, home to the farmers and the largest military forts and training camps; Ethea, where the merchants and artisans outlook the Maelic Bay; Eurevius, the province of the scholars and magic users; and Engus, home to the royal family and the noble community.
It was good to be back, good to find reprieve from war life. Not that she couldn’t handle it. There was something delightful in the mud, the cold, the death–and she meant that entirely without irony. All her life she had trained to be a warrior. Discomfort and stark reality was hers to keep. As was the thrill, the freedom, the wine, the–
–smooth rose lips, balmed so that they caught the candle light. Seated on a plush couch, somewhere in the city of Malvene, Ethea. She was vaguely aware of shouting, but she was in a bar. That was to be expected. She paid it no mind.
“They say you’re a silken warrior. Never touched by a blade,” the youth whispered.
Elmiryn’s fist rested near her temple. She brushed back a honey lock of hair. “Where’d you hear that?”
“Captain, you know that everyone talks!”
“Everyone!” Elmiryn touched a hand to her chest. Her face pulled into a look of shock. “I had no idea!”
A playful shove. The young girl laughed. “Stop teasing!”
“…Then would you like to see?” Elmiryn’s lip curled into a smirk. She pulled at the girl’s wrist, and wide-eyed, the youth did not fight. Her other hand snaked around the girl’s back. Soon she was over Elmiryn’s lap, leaning onto her chest. No name–that was lost already. No conversation, so the woman didn’t bother. Instead, she savored the softness of the girl’s body, the smell of light powder on her baby skin. She took the girl’s hand and pressed it to her breast as she kissed her…
“Captain!” A fly in her ear.
The woman broke the kiss, at the protest of the girl, and leaned in so that their cheeks touched. “…Yes…Lieutenant?” Elmiryn’s head turned to stare over the back of the love couch with enough ire to kill a man.
Saelin, her second-in-command, batted his mint eyes at her in fear through the metal posts. He stood, plumed helmet in one hand, on the stairs leading down to the first level of the bar. “Sir, there’s a situation outside,” he said in a quiet murmur.
The woman scowled. Saelin wasn’t incapable of handling a rowdy soldier. How bad was it that her help was required? She turned to her company. “I’m sorry, little thing. I’ve got to take care of this.” When the girl was off her lap, the woman stood, her eyes as blades. “What the fuck is going on?” She seethed.
“Just loudmouths sir. Only…the villagers are getting really riled, and our men won’t back down. Some feel it’s an issue of pride.”
“My ass it is…” Elmiryn grumbled as she sidled past the maiden to join Saelin at the stairs. “How did this get started?”
Saelin spoke quickly, easily keeping up with her quick steps as they went down. He was used to it. He could keep up with her in the middle of an active battlefield. “Lake had gone out for a breather when a man came up and started harassing him.” He gestured vaguely, his eyes rolling. “First he laid into Lake for his foreign looks and dark hair. Then he started to put down the army in general. Said we didn’t know what we were doing, that the Fleabiters should have been squashed already. He worked up into a rage, and started blaming us for the death of his brother. Said Lake wasn’t half the soldier he was, because of his foreign blood.”
Elmiryn blasted through the entrance door with a bang. Outside, the heat sweltered in the breathless city. The high lanterns, through clear glass, shone brightly down onto the paved streets. Curved mirror bowls with the centers cut out reflected the enchanted candle light. The created effect made the evenings a warm world–a place to blister in. The men in her unit were truly of the solar kingdom, but she wished they had better sense. Their passion was meant to burn others, not themselves.
“You’re cowards! Swine!”
“I’ll have you come here and say that, peasant!”
“Look’it ’em! Lined up like a bunch of prisses! Are you going to dance, ladies?”
“On your face? Gladly.”
In front of the posh watering hole, a small mob had gathered. From the size, she guessed the number at twenty to thirty men. They faced off with her dragoons, about forty of them, who stood collected in off-set lines, shoulder to shoulder, with rabbles of supporters about them. This formation was done perhaps in instinct or conscious defense. Weapons had not been drawn yet, but the men held their sword hilts. Some, the rowdy ones, Elmiryn could recognize by voice. They argued irascibly with the commoners. Others stood as stoics, but their eyes held a murderous fury, usually only reserved for battle. A push, a pointed insult, a tossed rock–that was all that was needed.
They were the sons of the suns, her dragoons, but Elmiryn could not let this escalate.
“So after that, this happened?” She looked at Saelin, arms crossed over her chest.
“Oh no, sir!” Her Lieutenant shook his head, his eyes clearly saying, “Give us more credit than that!” But then he tugged at his ear and turned his gaze elsewhere. “You see, that just caught our attention. Everyone was fit to drag Lake away when…” Saelin faltered.
She looked at him, a light frown on her face. “Well? What else, Saelin?”
He sighed and pointed at the man with the unshaven face and overgrown brown hair at the front of the mob. He had a near-empty bottle of rum in one hand.
“That drunkard, the one who started this all, started to mock you. After that, people started taking sides.”
Elmiryn bit on her tongue. Looked from Saelin, to the drunk, and back. Some part of her wanted to laugh, but the greater issue still demanded attention. Loudly. “Where the hell are the guards?”
Saelin snorted. “The guards are just commoners with swords. When they saw the moron baiting Lake, they figured it would have been taken care of. They didn’t count on this.”
“In other words, it’s my problem now.”The Lieutenant looked at his boots, hands clasped behind his back. Elmiryn chuckled with a sardonic grin, her head shaking. She looked skyward. “Halward, I give you five acres of Ailuran land, and you give me eighty angry drunks!” She laughed again, and kneaded her brow. “Ugh…Forget it. Let’s just get this over with.”
As she moved forward, her polished leather boots made sharp clicks on the stone paved road. From her gut, the woman let out a loud kai that stopped the shouting matches. Her men snapped straight with their arms at their sides, eyes forward. The commoners sneered, “Mutts scramble at the howl of the queen bitch!”
Elmiryn looked to the mob. They quieted as the leader, the one who had started it all, came forward. He brandished his bottle of rum at her, and the stench that hit her was an offense in of itself.
“You…the…the fuggin’ lapdog of Lord Westley. Daddy Warner’s lil’ girl. Yer…juss…juss a curs-ed gimmick. A sh-show for them nobles…ta…laugh at! Meanwhile, g’men get killed.” He took a quick swig of his drink and spat it in her face. There were cheers.
The drink felt warm, and stung her eye.
Elmiryn, without much thought, snatched the bottle from his hand and smashed it over his head. Then she took him by the front of his clothes, and with the broken end of the glass, stabbed at his face. Once, twice, three times, as hard as she could. There went an eyebrow, the lips were split, a chunk of the chin gone, the nose slashed, the cheek now a tattered hole that wept blood. The man screamed, and the sound squelched into a disturbing wet wail. It was like he was drowning in himself. The brave commoners started forward in outrage, but the unified drawing of swords from her dragoons stopped them. Many of the folk were unarmed. Simultaneously, they all reared back at the sight of possible death, faces drawn and white. The commoners on the side of the dragoons had all fled out of sight.
Elmiryn threw the bottle to the ground, where it shattered in crimson pieces. The drunkard’s body started to go slack, but the woman pulled him close, the strain of her muscles hardly the worst she had felt. The man must’ve weighed less than a hundred pounds. “And what would you know about good men, poison sucker?” she hissed. His face was a mask of red that hardly resembled a human being. She let him drop, and he fell to the ground, still with the shock.
She eyed the crowd before her, her lips a displeased line. “My men and I fought, and will continue to fight, for the benefit of bottom feeders like you. We’ve seen friends torn apart, had family die while we were struggling to make them proud, had our limbs snapped, skin torn, hearts made black.” She marched before the crowd. Some tried to flee the other way, but more soldiers blocked them. The group was surrounded now.
Elmiryn resumed speaking. The snare of her pacing boots was louder than everything now. “The punishment for disrespect toward a soldier of any rank is typically death, but I find that’s far too kind. Not when the insult is this great. You wish to lay shame on us, today? Our first day of rest? Fine. I’ll make your life a living shame. I’ll forever mark you, as I did this man…assuming he lives to see tomorrow.” She gestured at her dragoons. “Grovel before these soldiers, and you fuckin’ hope to all of heaven that they leave you unscathed!”
Some were quick to oblige. The older men, the infirm, the drunk, and persuadable. They kissed the boots of the front line dragoons and wept, shaking. The younger ones, the prideful ones, stood, hackles raised, at the back. The soldiers that blocked their escape, closed in, swords up. This last intimidation worked. The youngsters scurried to make amends.
Elmiryn looked to her dragoons. “Satisfied, men? Have they earned your mercy?” The dragoons looked at each other, smirking. Mischief danced in their eyes. When they looked back at Elmiryn, however, they saw her face dark and humorless. The smiles fell away. As one, they answered. “Yes, sir!”
The woman waved the commoners away, not even looking at them. “Fuck off.” Before the last could sprint away, she shouted and pointed at the man at her feet. “And take this shit eater with you!” Two teenagers came running, and with one frightened look at Elmiryn, lifted the drunkard by the arms and dragged him away.
Saelin handed her a handkerchief, which she used to wipe away the blood and rum. She licked at the drops on her lips. It made her thirsty.
None moved. The soldiers knew better than to leave formation when no had excused them. She waited for the commoners to be out of sight before she turned to regard her men. Her hands clenched to fists. Her cheeks were a bright pink. “You idiots!”
Elmiryn paced before them, rubbing her face. Then she gave an impatient wave. “Demerits. ALL of you!”
Lake, the dark-haired youth who was in the center of the front line, gave a start. He was younger than she and Saelin, but had a profound chin and cheek bones that made him seem much older. “Sir–!”
The warrior fixed him with a look of pure murder. “Answer me just one thing, Lake. What the fuck were you thinking, getting into an argument with that man?”
“He was disrespecting me, sir.”
“So correct him. FAST. In the only way these people understand! They’re gods damned Fiammans, same as you. If you argue with them, they’ll argue back! But are they in the position to argue with you about fuck all?”
“Exactly. But you’ve disgraced yourself. ‘A wise man who argues with a fool, is a fool himself.’” She looked at the others. “And this applies to all of you. This shouldn’t have gotten to the point it did.”
Elmiryn took a deep breath. She looked at Saelin who gazed back at her with a thin mouth. The woman rubbed the back of her neck and placed a fist hand on her hip. “You’re dragoons. Act like it. If a peasant wrongs you, give him your sword or your fist, but never spare time for words. Leave that nonsense to the politicians.”
“We couldn’t abide their slanderous talk, sir…” someone muttered.
The woman’s shoulders bunched and the scowl returned to her face. “I don’t need anyone to fight for my honor.” She glared into as many faces as she could. “If anything, fight for your own.” She turned and began to walk back toward the bar. Onlookers gasped and hurried out of the doorway, retreating back inside.
Elmiryn turned to look at Saelin.
He shuffled and glanced back at the men, still at attention. “Are we to return to the barracks?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Elmiryn gestured toward the bar. “This is our first night back in over a year. If all of you go back, I have to go back…but I’m not going anywhere until my rubyfruit’s been taken care of.”
Saelin smiled, clearing his throat. “Ah…Y-Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”
Elmiryn re-entered the bar, finally letting out the laugh she had been fighting down that entire speech. All hell nearly broke loose over something as abstract as her ‘honor’. Before she was up the stairs, she heard her Lieutenant bark at her men.
“You heard the Captain. Dismissed!”