Hey all, long time no see I thought I might pop up the first few pages of my newest work, see if anyone was interested... A jagged spike of lightning split the darkening sky, but the promised rain refused to fall. Pushing his tricorner hat back on his head, Gherikh Dechenshaven thanked the Gods for small mercies. Tonight’s work would be hard enough without the complication of adverse weather. He turned over onto his back, racking his brains for a way to avoid this situation, but there wasn’t one. The Decade had been explicit about their instructions – they were to hit the enemy hard, and none were to live. Gherikh drew his pistol, checking it was loaded. He prided himself on being a thinker, on being someone who knew right from wrong, who would question what needed to be questioned, but he’d known to keep his mouth shut this time. His masters were not in the mood for discussions – the border disputes had made the nation appear weak, had made the Army look incompetent, and unless steps were taken, who knew where it would end. He squeezed his green eyes shut, trying to push away the inner voice that was almost always right, but that at the moment was telling him something he didn’t want to hear. This was wrong; his own nation of Eadensax and the southerly kingdom of Grendia had talked through the situation, had agreed compensation and come to terms. It had been a peace hard to win, one Gherikh himself had argued hard to secure… but voices on the Decade had not been impressed with his efforts. Where Gherikh had secured gold, they demanded blood. So Dechenshaven had been forced to engineer a second compromise. He would get them the revenge they wanted, but though they would know, he would arrange it so the Grendians would not. Blame would settle elsewhere, at least he hoped it would He turned onto his front again, ignoring the rain – damp soaking into his clothes from the grass. As he did so he noticed a huddled shape approaching out of the gloom of the night, but ignored it. He knew exactly who it was. Even when the dark shape landed heavily beside him Gherikh made no comment, apart from to tut at the noise the newcomer was making. ‘Sorry Sir,’ the dark shape apologised, then shuffled closer, coalescing into the form of another man in a red coat. ‘Five wagons, arranged by a fire. The boys reckon twenty men altogether, no idea of the cargo.’ ‘And we’ve got them surrounded?’ Gherikh confirmed. ‘Yessir.’ Dechenshaven nodded. ‘Good work De Mharburg.’ ‘Thankyousir,’ De Mharburg hissed. Gherikh clenched his fists before him, willing himself to act. The voice held him back, and he fought with it, yes, it was wrong, but that didn’t make it any less an order. He stamped it down, silencing it for long enough to rise to his feet, draw his sword and bellow one word. ‘Charge!’ Many years later The sun streamed through the lead – lined panes aggressively, uncaring of the fact that its presence was unwanted. The room it invaded was dominated by of a large double bed in some state of untidiness, its metal frame clawing at the wooden boards it sat on. Beneath the covers, something stirred. Caught unawares, the light arrowed towards the one dark blue eye that peered out from beneath the duvet hills. The eye squeezed shut, and with a terrible groan the creature shifted in its lair beneath the blankets. The door slammed open, but still the concealed creature refused to stir. A tall woman entered, her black hair tied in a pony tail, clothed in a red and black uniform. She was hurriedly trying to tuck a black tunic into her trousers. ‘My Gods,’ She exclaimed. ‘You can’t still be in bed!’ ‘Go ‘way,’ the creature groaned. ‘Not coming out. Not decent.’ ‘You were far from decent last night and it didn’t seem to stop us,’ the woman grinned, pulling a tricorner hat on roughly. ‘You’re going to be late.’ She told the creature in a singsong voice. ‘Nothin’ to be late for,’ the creature grunted, still refusing to emerge. ‘Saturday.’ This last was stated in a snorting tone, as if to say that only the woman, or someone completely stupid, could get this wrong. ‘Yes, Saturday,’ The woman said, arranging her hair in the full length mirror that hung from the wall ‘Graduati…’ There was an enormous crash as the creature, who actually appeared to be a tall man in a rather dramatic state of undress, fell out of the bed. The woman continued to straighten her uniform as a flurry of urgent frantic movements took place behind her. ‘Trousers… trousers, Jemina…’ ‘End of the bed,’ said the woman, still not happy with the way her coat hung ‘Boots…’ ‘Behind the door.’ A mere handful of seconds later the man, mostly fully clothed by this time, leant in beside Jemina and made a few adjustments of his own. He paid absolutely no attention to his mess of brown hair, which it appeared would be impossible to tame anyway. He too wore an almost identical uniform. ‘You’re forgetting something,’ she warned him with a smile. He kissed her on the cheek. ‘No I’m not,’ he grinned back. Her smile became all the wider as she kissed him on the cheek in return. ‘ Yes,’ she said, moving behind him, ‘you are.’ And when she was directly behind him she dropped what she’d been holding behind her back lightly onto his head. There was silence in the room for a second, and then he sighed. ‘It makes me look ridi…’ ‘Marius,’ She cut him off. ‘You might think you can make me wear this, but…’ ‘Marius,’ He sighed again, pulling the tricorner down on his head. ‘Fine,’ he said morosely. ‘If you don’t do it for me,’ she told him. ‘you’ll only have to do it for someone else.’ ‘ ‘Spose,’ he muttered. ‘Anyway –this is the last time, so…’ ‘Oh, you think it is…’ she snorted. ‘I’ve got a plan,’ He assured her. ‘Fool proof.’ ‘We’ll see,’ She rested her hands on his shoulders, brushed a piece of lint from his lapel. ‘Come on, we’ll be late.’ ‘No chance,’ He stated. ‘And we’re walking,’ Jemina said steadily as they left the room and Marius closed the door behind them. He raised an eyebrow. ‘And I refer you to my previous statement.’ They hurried down the stairs. The room was still theirs for another night at least, the most they could afford on their pitiful wages. Soon, of course, that would change… although not by very much. ‘I’d rather walk, Mar,’ Jemina said, hanging back by the Inn’s back door as he stepped into the yard. He turned with mock surprise. ‘What,’ he spread his hands, ‘don’t you trust us?’ ‘Of course,’ she rolled her eyes. ‘I’d just rather arrive… clean, that’s all.’ ‘You’ll hurt his feelings,’ Marius warned. ‘The last time he cried all night, it was awful…’ ‘He did not cry…’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘Well, if he could have done, he would,’ Mar declaimed. ‘He looked really sad.’ She raised her eyes to the sky. ‘Alright then,’ she said at length. With a grin Marius disappeared into the low building behind him. A range of sounds came from within, whinnying, snorting, the clopping of hooves, and finally the man emerged back into the light. He held a long set of reins, and after a few seconds a horse trotted by him and headed straight for Jemina. The roan was a beautiful animal, even Jemina had to admit that much, so brown it was almost red. It stopped before her with a snort, lowered its head, and gently nudged her shoulder. She couldn’t help herself, and snorted a laugh. ‘No,’ she said with mock annoyance, crossing her arms and turning her back on the horse. ‘I’m still cross with you,’ The horse seemed to think about this, then walked around her… but she turned away, arms still crossed. The horse stopped again, and then took a step forward and put its head over her shoulder. She laughed again, stroking the horse’s nose. ‘Alright, apology accepted.’ Marius swung up into the horse’s saddle, and then pulled Jemina up behind him. ‘Come on Fuego,’ he clicked his tongue, and the horse nodded his head and set off towards the open yard gate. They passed through, and out into the dusty street. ‘It’s strange,’ Jemina said in Marius’ ear. ‘There’s something about you and this horse, like something that was meant to be.’ ‘It was just luck,’ he shrugged, ‘blind, stupid luck.’ She held him more tightly, kissed his cheek. ‘I’m not sure if I believe in luck anymore.’ She whispered. They had known each other and been friends for seven years, best friends for six and a half, in love for five and a half. There had been arguments, but none which had been serious enough to come close to breaking them apart, and whatever sad times they’d been through were massively overwhelmed by the good ones. Since the first day they’d met, when Mar had sat next to Jemina in the classroom and Jemina had asked to borrow a pencil, something had been there; they had had something, even if neither of them could give it a name. Now, Marius thought for a fleeting, miserable moment, time and distance threatened to break apart what they themselves could never dream of ending. ‘Penny for your thoughts,’ Jemina said as Fuego turned the corner of the street and onto a wider, even more deserted one. ‘I don’t think you’d like them very much,’ Mar made a face. ‘Try me.’ He took a breath. ‘Do we have to,’ he stopped, tried again. ‘couldn’t we just…’ ‘Seven years of our lives, Mar,’ she rested her ear against his back. ‘Everything we believe in. Could we turn our backs on it?’ ‘I could,’ he turned in the saddle. ‘For you. I’d do anything for you.’ She held him tighter. ‘And I you, but I can’t take this from you. The cavalry is your destiny, Mar, you’ll be a hero…’ ‘I want you,’ he told her. ‘I don’t care about anything else.’ ‘It’s only a few short years,’ she said, trying to hide her sadness. ‘Then we can get out and buy something with our demob money – a shop maybe, or an inn.’ She didn’t want to be parted from him for a minute, never mind five years, but the army was what he had been born for, and no matter what he said, she couldn’t take that from him – she would never forgive herself. They rode on in silence for a few streets, Fuego clopping along steadily with his head bowed, as if he’d caught the mood. Jemina watched the shops and houses pass by as they plodded along, letting her thoughts wander. Marius was half Eadensaxer, half Grendian, and the blood of horsemen ran in his veins. Since their first day at the academy that skill had shone through – Marius could coax manoeuvres from the most ill tempered stallions that twenty year cavalry veterans could only dream about. At least once he had proved it, and one of the prizes that had come his way for his skill had been Fuego, the best the Eadensax Second Cavalry had to offer. Along with Fuego, a commission in the regiment was almost a given… and that was where the problems had started. Jemina could sit a horse, but not with any real degree of skill. She was bound for a career in the infantry, a glittering career but the infantry nonetheless. For Marius a heroic career in the borderlands awaited, chasing down bandits and getting his name in the papers. For her, well, the borders didn’t have much call for footsoldiers, she would no doubt end up leading some part of the militia in one of the larger towns like Lowgate or Crownsrest. Still, in the long term this would work out – being famous didn’t pay the bills too well, and advancement was easier in something as day – to – day as police work. Of course, the long term was all very well, unless you wanted something now. They turned the corner into a street they both knew well, too well it now seemed. Their time together was dwindling down to yards and minutes now, at least it felt that way. Fuego reluctantly turned, passing between two large houses and through the massive wooden gates that guarded the Sheylinn Academy. Jemina remembered the day, years ago now, when she had first seen these gates, had walked through them at her father’s side, the nervousness she’d felt about the future. Now she was eighteen, a woman and, in a few brief moments, an officer of the Eadensax Army. Nerves, though, were something you never grew out of, it seemed. The beaten earth of the outer yard was empty, and they crossed it in silence. She clung to him now, not out of fear, she knew and trusted Mar and Fuego too much to even consider being afraid, but as if, if she held him tight he wouldn’t be taken away, because she knew there was another side to being a hero – the part that the old stories called ‘glorious’ or ‘honourable’, but was still death no matter how you spun it. Strangely, she had no such concern for herself, the thought that she might be killed in the line of duty wasn’t one that stayed long in her head. He would be the one taking the risks, she would worry and fret for him and try to hide it. Sometimes loving him seemed like a curse, and she wondered at that thought for a long second as they passed through the inner gate, and then shoved it away like some horrid, cold blooded reptile that had come too close. She wouldn’t go down that road, the one that turned love into hatred and bitterness… at least she hoped not. She knew then what she had to do – she had to tell him, to take him up on his offer, to let him take her away from this place, to turn Fuego around and ride for… well, anywhere, where they would forget the Army, forget the Revolution and do… something else. But what? She scrabbled for the thought that would make the vision complete, that would allow her to go through with the plan. The clashing of cymbals and banging of drums crowded her thoughts into a corner of her mind, and then the brassy notes of trumpets shattered them all to pieces. Momentarily disorientated, she blinked, realising they’d stopped. Mar was looking down at somebody, someone who had grasped his hand, and she knew then, knew that hand belonged to the life she’d nearly managed to get them away from, and for a long, long moment she stared at the man smiling up at Marius with something like venom. They couldn’t have him, they belonged to each other, and no – one and nothing was going to- ‘And how are you, Jemina?’ the man turned to her and asked ‘you’ll be joining us as well, I expect, you’ve never said no to a good time yet.’ The man’s smile faltered as she failed to wake from her dark thoughts… she blinked again. ‘Sorry, Edwin,’ she apologised. ‘I was thinking about something else.’ ‘Something damned unpleasant by the looks of it,’ Edwin pushed his hat up a little and scratched at his forelock, something he did a lot when he was worried. ‘You alright?’ ‘I will be,’ she nodded. ‘Once we get this over with.’ ‘Ah, so we have to swap a few words with the Tsar General,’ Edwin snorted, not entirely convincingly. ‘I got taught the Tenets by the founder of the Revolution himself, that’s nothing, that.’ ‘You didn’t know that’s who he was while he was doing it,’ Mar pointed out, his smile a brisk thing that disappeared as he turned to Jemina, his look questioning. ‘Really, I’m fine, it’s nothing,’ she assured him. A bright, hopeful realisation dawned in his eyes. ‘Do you want to…’ ‘Never mind, Mar,’ she said, releasing him and swinging down from Fuego’s back. She glanced up at him, and when Edwin looked away she shook her head, ever so slightly. ‘We’d better get a move on,’ she pointed out. ‘We’ll be late.’ ‘Right,’ he said suddenly. ‘I’ll catch you up.’ And without another word he nudged Fuego’s flanks and urged the horse into a trot, headed in the direction of the stables. ‘What’s the matter with him?’ Edwin frowned a little. ‘He overslept,’ Jemina had always been good at making excuses for other people, often had to do it for her father, although usually that was only to herself. It isn’t that father doesn’t care about me, it’s just that he’s very busy. It’s not that father doesn’t want to come and see me, it’s just that they keep him posted so far away. It’s not that father doesn’t like me, it’s just that I remind him too much of mother. That last one had been the last of a catalogue of excuses she’d made for her father in her own mind, and it had been the last because it had seemed so much like the actual truth. Mar had helped her through that, listened to her, comforted her… and now, when he had tried to keep them together it was as if she had torn them apart. Part of her wanted to be angry at him for leaving like that, but the rest of her couldn’t. She felt as if it was too late, as if Edwin’s greeting had snatched away the last chance, but she knew, if the Tsar General himself was halfway though administering the oath and she turned to Mar and told him she couldn’t go though with it then he would leave with her then and there. It would always be her who’d been the sensible one, who’d taken away that chance for immediate happiness. She hoped that in five years they would both look back on this day and be glad they hadn’t done it. She hoped they would both be alive to look back together.