"Marked" Chapter - 3i

Almost an hour had passed before the exhausted and drained pair finally reached the officers’ tents. By now, Ylessa’s legs had started to ache, throbbing uncomfortably from the day’s exertion. From where they stood, the higher ground in the middle of the buzzing camp gifted them with a slight glimpse of what was over the secure palisade. Shimmering with purpose anew, Harren could just make out the top of the bright sun as it pulled its way above the desolate grey canopies. But Harren knew that when the sun soared higher into the air, it would begin to be blocked, its warmth stopped by the surreal, inky blackness. That was more than likely the cause of the uncharacteristic chill, the camp longed for the midday sun: the soldiers were starting to get demoralised. Yet, Harren knew what demoralised them more: talk of wizards – unstoppable forces able to control the very elements. The Captain’s blood boiled just thinking about men harbouring such beliefs, magic was simply a stupid idea; one used in stories to scare little children – not soldiers. Although the cloud formation above was rather strange, there simply had to be a logical explanation…

Harren threw back the thick tent flap, allowing Ylessa to stoop inside their dark home first before closing it behind him. The encasing darkness was fleeting as Ylessa lit the nearest oil lamp, giving the cosy tent a faint yet warm orange glow. Watching the flickering flame dancing across the canvas walls in a random fashion made Harren all the more sleepy as he slowly removed his equipment. Light though it was, the well-crafted oak bow dug into Harren’s tender shoulder muscles as he tried to carefully remove it. He gently placed it upright against a small brown cabinet before slowly removing his quiver of arrows. Wincing in pain, he realised through his fatigue that it was even heavier than the weapon had been. His short sword clattered briefly to the padded ground after being unclipped from the leather belt, which closely followed.

Harren took a moment to drink in his bow. It wasn’t like the standard issue copies; this weapon was a passionate result of love and skill. It shot more precisely; the string was of perfect weight for Harren, giving it a slight edge over other like weapons. The wood was smooth, darker sections spiralling up the limb and making an entrancing pattern. Harren had never spent a day without it since receiving it as a gift from his father, the former Emperor Kara, on his tenth birthday. Even to this day, in spite of all the fighting over the years, the bow bore no scratches; it was exactly as it had been given to him that very day and Harren planned to keep it that way. After his father’s murder, it was the only material memory that remained. Otherwise, there were just stories and tales, fading visions or renowned portraits – nothing compared to the real man; none could portray him for what he really was. Harren only wished Trenos would be accepted by the people, that the Karan Empire would see him as even half of the man that their father was. But he had risen to claim the throne at an awkward time, and this only added to the unrest of war.

Harren slumped back against the uncomfortable, hard wooden chair. The foldable desk before him was merely a reminder of just how little sleep he was going to get.

Harren let out a short sigh before picking up the long writing quill and attempting to write the reports. But the attempt was very short lived as, before the bare tip could even touch the dark ink, Ylessa came up behind him and bound his arms together with a relaxing embrace. She squeezed him tightly to herself. Harren rolled his head back until it touched her silk-covered chest, allowing him to squint up at her in the uneven light. She brought her head down, bending over him until he could feel her warm breath brushing over his ear.

“Come to bed, Harren,” she whispered, almost pleading. Although Harren found it very hard to resist, even if the bedrolls were nothing compared to the comfort of those in the Gardeth Palace – his homeland – he understood the importance of the paperwork above all else. Without it finished, no planned attacks could be formed. Without proper coordination when attacking, the enemy would never be driven back. To win a war, the effort had to start with the smallest thing: fighting was only a small part of war.

“I have to write this report…” Harren whispered back. He deeply missed feeling the warmth of their bodies so close. “I’ll be in bed soon.” It was a lie and they both knew it: the paperwork would take hours.

The Lieutenant groaned at his stubbornness, “You could do it later,” she offered.

“You know I can’t, we’re always busy; there’s never enough time, always another task…” Harren mumbled to himself as his voice trailed off, his concentration shifting to what he was writing.

Ylessa sighed heavily at the truth of his words – war was hard on everyone. Even those not directly involved in the fighting felt the strain. Ylessa resigned from her failed attempts to seduce her busy husband and started to wearily retreat back across the tent to where their bedrolls lay. Reaching past the inviting bundles of stuffed material, Ylessa scooped up the burning oil lamp and carried it across to Harren who was already buried in his writing. Placing the small light down, she softly kissed his cheek, causing him to break concentration. Shifting round in the chair, the Captain sat looking up at his wife. She was beautiful, even after such a tiring night’s work. She was perfect. Ylessa stooped down towards Harren and tenderly kissed him.

“I love you, Harren.”

“I love you too, Ylessa.”

She turned and started walking back to the bedrolls. But something stopped her. Harren was still staring at her when she turned suddenly, her hair being tossed out as she did. Her worried eyes met his.

Harren simply waited.

“One day…” Ylessa began slowly; the tears started building up in her eyes as they glistened in the lamplight, never leaving his. “One day, when the war is over, we will have nothing to stop us. I don’t think I can wait until that day, Harren.” Still, Harren just watched. His eyes bore deep into her soul as he waited for her to continue. A sparkling tear ran down her smooth skin. This was something she had kept bottled up for a long time; Harren thought it best to just let her get it all out and say what she needed to say.

“Yet,” she continued, unsure of how to phrase the issue tearing at her mind “I know that that day shall come, and all these years of hardship and death will be finally washed away. The death of good men will be justified and the freedom presented by the Karan Empire will once again be given back to the people. It is not what they need, but it is what they deserve…” She was speaking more to herself now, almost trying to convince herself of her own worthiness to the cause.

“That’s why we fight, Ylessa. Not just for ourselves, not just for our own freedom but for everyone else living every new day in fear. We, as soldiers, have the power to grant freedom to the enslaved and peace to the terrified. We fight for the whole of Irn, so that they may also see, one day, that there is point to their lives.

“Death is just another part of live, and it is the ephemerality of life that gives it its beauty. I am not afraid to die, Ylessa, because I know that I have lived my life as though each breath will be my last. Like flickering candles before the relentless winds of time, we can sense our immanent doom… and it is that which is blissful. It is that which gives us a reason to live. We will be together, in peace forever, when this is over. We will be together in a world so different to this one – that… that, I promise you, my love.”

Ylessa nodded slowly and the pair exchanged a loving smile before she lay down, pulled the covers over her and rolled away from the light. Harren would do anything to just have her carried away, far away from this world of chaos. He would rather never see her again than live everyday with another fear burning in his heart. A fear that Ylessa could be hurt at any moment, with him powerless to stop her pain; there was nothing that Harren feared more. No blade could bear the sting of loneliness, nor any arrow pierce his heart in such as despairing fashion. In the end, it did not matter to Harren if he lived or died tomorrow on the battle field – so long as Ylessa lived a long and healthy live, he would be complete in his mind.  

But Harren tried, struggling, to banish the dreadful thoughts from his mind. Finally, he cast his eyes back down to his report. It was brief but to the point. Detailed enough, but finished quickly so that Harren may move on. If every form and request piled in front of him were finished in such a manner then there was a small chance that he might get some sleep before tonight. His report read:

 

Another ambush today. The Zarians are getting closer but the 2nd Company have reason to suspect that this is due to a forward base discovered by scouts. It has been set up deep in our own territory, yet still a couple of hours march south of the main camp. Tonight we shall target the forward base, the attack will be under the cover of darkness and the use of fire arrows will be initiated. The mission will be useful for both installing fear and retrieving information. Today, the 2nd Company sustained no casualties; all Zarian bodies have been hidden. But the unnatural cloud formation still concerns me.

 

Harren signed his name at the bottom after having finished the rest of the report and, pushing the roll of parchment aside, brought forth the next bunch of paperwork: letters for superiors; questions to answer about provisions and plans; orders to sign for… he was going to be here all day. Eyes sagging under the weight of his tiredness bearing down on him, Harren struggled profusely to stay awake and had to fight harder and harder to maintain consciousness as he pushed more and more of the paperwork aside.

There was a slight tap as the quill fell from his shaking hand. Then, a loud thump followed as Harren’s head hit the desk. His breathing evened out and, soon, he was fast asleep.

The End

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