The Red Hand Part 24
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Twenty Four Trojan Horse
Over the next two days we planned our attack and rehearsed. During this we hold a little ceremony for our fallen comrades. Far from home and without a way to have a bonfire for them, we bury them at the foot of the tower ruins. Second Gar leads us in a song. I do my best to look like I know what I’m singing, even though I have no idea what the lyrics are. I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate since my conservation with the Troika prisoner. The idea of betraying my friends has stuck in the back of my head. Not that I could do it. No, the idea that I could even consider it. These are my friends and teammates here. If I hadn’t had Maebh and Tenth helping me when I first arrived here I’d be dead. The only way my betrayal of them could end would be with one or all of them dead. Or perhaps me.
On our third day we’re ready to go. Getting underway early in the morning hours. If we delay any further the guards at the mine might start to suspect something is amiss. According to our intel the trip to the mine should roughly take us about a day and a half. So, we’ll be cutting it close.
I’m on the bridge again. The bridge of this thing is partially covered by an overhanging roof. The front and sides are open for viewing purposes. The roof has an open hatch in the ceiling leading up to the main deck. The railing that runs along the sides is made of solid wood and about waist high.
I’m leaning over the forward section of the railing watching the large beasts, called Azibo, pull us along. The Troika walks over to me. His arms tied together in front of him.
“Have you given it any thought? What I said?” He says.
I can’t believe the guts of this guy. If any of my squad heard him, he’d most likely get a sword in the belly. Would they do the same to me for listening to him?
“I have. And the answer is no. You know, you’re pretty brave for a guy we found cowering behind some crates. Asking me shit like this.”
“I do what is necessary for our survival. Perhaps yours as well.”
“If…If you should succeed. Defeat our forces at the mine. Destroy our tower. What then? What is your future? Will your friends have any use for you?”
“Why don’t you find someone else to bug. Oh, that’s right, if you said this to one of them they’d kill your ass.”
“Most certainly. What do you think they’ll do to us after you take the mine? Let us go? No, I think not. We’ll be executed. Left in the desert to rot.”
I don’t have a good answer for him. Instead I go back to watching the azibo. Hoping he’ll wander off and leave me alone. Will they execute these guys? Have they done anything to deserve that?
I have no answer for that either.
The Troika lingers there. Like an obscene joke you can’t get out of your thoughts. His eyes burning holes into my back. I’m tempted to throw him over the side.
“Is this one bothering you sister?” Tenth says. Finally saving me from doing something I might regret.
“No. He’s just enjoying the scenery with me.”
Tenth touches the hilt of her sword. “Go.”
The Troika does a little bow before leaving. He walks over to the blue lizards, who are busy steering this mammoth contraption.
“You seem uneasy.” Tenth says. “Did that one say something to you?”
I feel the words coming, heavy in my throat like a lead weight.
“What’s going to happen to them? The prisoners?” I ask. “When we take the mine.”
“They will be of no further use.” She says. Her voice void of any feeling.
“No further use. You mean you’re going to kill them, right?”
“I did not say that. Besides that is for Second Gar to decide. He is in command here.”
“And I know what his decision will be.”
I turn to walk away from her. Anger and sadness building inside of me. Somewhere deep in my gut. Killing those soldiers is one thing. They’d kill us without a second thought about it. But the crew? They don’t look like warriors. They didn’t even have any weapons on them.
Tenth grabs my arm as I brush by her. “Did he put these thoughts in your head?”
I bite my lip. “What if he did?”
“He’s trying to twist you to save his own skin.”
Why shouldn’t he. I’d do the same to save myself or my friends. I have a bad habit of not being able to keep my mouth shut. How many times did I tell someone off in school? Lie to get a friend out of trouble? I pull away from her. I start towards Second Gar. Might as well go straight to the source to get my answer. After a few steps I stop dead. I see Sixth’s face. That smile of hers. Innocent. Kind. There’s others back at the caves where I’ve been living. Plus countless other caves like it. How many like her live in them? If I screw up this mission would I be condemning them?
Fuck. Fuck! I’ll ride this out. We may all die attacking the mine. But, if we win, if we all make it through, then, then if I have to I’ll step in. Do what I must if need be. Regardless of what it does to my standing with the rest.
I climb up to the deck and find a secluded spot to sit. A few members of our squad are on duty up here. I manage to get past them without them paying me any mind. I just need some time alone. It feels like I’m going to break. Split apart. I lean my head back against the railing. I close my eyes. When I open them again the sky seems a little darker. Is it afternoon now? I must have dosed off. When I stand up my popping joints confirm it.
I emerge from my hiding spot and instantly get caught by Third.
“There you are!” She says. Almost squealing. “I’ve been searching everywhere. Second Gar wants to do one last mission briefing.”
I shrug. “Just wanted some air.”
I follow her down to the small living quarters below deck. In the crew’s mess Second Gar has the two squads crammed into the small room. Standing around the table. He shoots me a look as I enter. Did Tenth tell him what I said? Or is he just pissed because he had to send Third to track me down?
I find a spot at the back of the room. Squeezing behind a couple of my squad mates. Third takes a spot next to me. I share a quick glance with Tenth, who’s standing next to Second Gar. I can’t read her expression. Does she suspect me of being up to something? Am I up to something? I’m not even sure.
The attack plan. It’s a classic Trojan horse attack. Not that these guys know what a fucking Trojan horse is. We’ll ride up to the guard tower. Our prisoners will get us through the gate. Our combined squads in the cargo hold. More than likely after we pass through the gate, they’ll close it behind us. At this moment we’ll spring our attack. The two squads dropping from the cargo hold. A few of us will go and secure the gate. Because following behind us since we left the ruins are the beast riders. They’ll hang back to be just out of sight of the tower. But they’ll move up when we get in. We’ll have to open the gate back up to let them in. With our combined forces we’ll take the mine. That’s the plan anyway. If it goes like that or not, that’s another story.
After he’s finished going over the plan, everybody files out of the mess. I hang back. Waiting for the others to clear out. After everyone has gone I move to leave and Tenth is standing there in the hall, arms folded across her chest. A stern look on her face.
“What?” I ask. Annoyance crackling in my voice.
“You’ve been acting strangely Serena. I don’t think you’ve fully recovered from--”
“Don’t say it. Just don’t. Okay.”
“I worry. Her death was a heavy blow to you, no doubt of that.”
I feel anger gnaw at my insides. Words slip off my tongue before I know what they even are. “What the hell would you know about it huh?”
“I’ve lost plenty. Seventh and I, we had a brother. He was cut down by a band of scavengers. I watched him die. Unable to act in time. I too know what it’s like to feel that someone was died because of you couldn’t save them.”
“I’m sorry.” Is all I manage to say.
Tenth lets me pass as I exit the room. My face feels red with embarrassment. She’s just trying to help me. But telling me that, just made me feel worse. She lost a brother. Can’t she see what I’m trying to do? Trying to make sure those others don’t die for nothing. If it comes down to letting the prisoners be killed or standing up for them, I’m still going to get involved. I can’t let them die.
By late afternoon the mine looms ahead of us on the horizon. A huge mountain in the distance. By this time tomorrow we’ll be at the mine gates. Ready for battle. I practice on the deck for a while with my ax. It’s the best way I can think of to work out the frustration I’m feeling. I can see her sitting on the ledge with me that day. Handing me a piece of fruit.
I swing the ax and it falls, clattering to the deck.
My hands are covered in sweat. I wipe them off on my shirt and bend to pick up the fallen weapon.
I feel a lightning bolt go through me. I look up to see Tenth standing there. The afternoon light giving her face a shadowed look. Her eyes hidden in darkness.
“What do you want?” I ask. “Gonna give me a lecture?”
I make it sound angrier then it should.
“Maybe you should be resting.” She says.
“Too worked up to sleep.”
“Our healer could give you something.” She says.
She steps forward and I can see a hint of pain in her eyes. A weakness she rarely displays. Did that story about her brother open old wounds? Or is she actually worried about me?
I feel like a king-sized asshole. But my pride makes apologizing almost impossible.
“Serena. When I first met you, you had so much life, so much will…and now all I see is sadness. I want my friend back. The one I met in that cave.”
I hug her. I don’t remember thinking about it, I just do it. Burying my head against her shoulder. I feel tears sting my eyes, yet I can’t bring myself to cry. I haven't cried since she died.
“I have all this sadness inside, but it won’t come out.” I say. “Am I broken?”
I feel Tenth’s fingers brush my hair. “No. Of course not. You just have to let go. Stop blaming yourself.”
I pull away from her shoulder. I feel a single tear on my left cheek. Tenth wipes it away. Smiling. Before I know what I’m doing, I feel my lips press against hers as I kiss her. She makes a weird noise, before pushing away from me.
“What? What are you doing?”
“Oh god.” I say. My face warms as I blush from embarrassment. “Sorry. So very sorry.”
I pick up my ax and rush off. Thinking for a moment that maybe I should fling myself over the side of the wagon. Better to be crushed under one of the wheels, then face Tenth again.
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