Hi, everyone! I know this is long in coming, please forgive me! So, I've got this crazy idea, right? I'm thinking of maybe putting this onto .com. In case you don't know, that's the other site that the fiction gods have, but it's for original fiction. Do you think that's a good idea? I've looked through some of the rules, and it seems okay. This story doesn't really fit in "Solitaire," anyway, and I don't think anyone owns a copyright on cards. Tell me what you think, okay?

The Life in a Deck of Cards

Chapter Four

Jack and the King's horse were still bouncing along ahead of the rest of Spades, their many medals and decorations doing nothing for the element of surprise. Ace had organized her soldiers behind him on the walk so far.

Ten stood at the very front, her little legs marching almost in time with the rest of the troops. She held the black cloth with the silver spade in the center--Spades' official flag--on a pole almost as tall as herself, waving it involuntarily.

Nine and Eight, all twenty-one years of them, stood behind her, side by side. They each had a drum strapped around their neck, resting on their midsection. Nine had a bass drum, and he pounded out every other pace. Eight had a snare drum, and he peddled out their march theme, tum-tum-tiddledy…tum-diddledy-doo…tum-tum-tiddledy…

Young Seven strutted while his marching mate, old Six, marched feebly. Seven was quietly chatting with Six, once in awhile pointing to his chest or pantomiming some sort of event. Ace couldn't hear them, but she had a suspicion that he was trying to win her acceptance. Six didn't take too well to young whippersnappers (Ace included), and Seven was the youngest of the adults.

Five carried her rapier-like sword in her hand, its point angled towards the ground, while everyone else kept theirs in its sheath. She was skittish at heart, but had a cool mind when it came to attacking, so Ace let her do so. Besides, she was marching alongside Four, the short man with a strong admiration for tall females. At thirty-six, he was six years older than Five, and thus had her at a disadvantage. But with Five's sword safely unsheathed, she was safe.

Three and Two marched in front of Ace. They talked to each other about the people they had left behind coming to Spades. Two had brought his wife Six with him, but he had left his two daughters and his grandson. Three hadn't a wife, but--as he shamefacedly admitted--he had a son that was still with his mother.

Ace herself walked behind the line. She had two very large cloths stuck in her small shoulder bag. One was black, the other white. If they were winning the battle, she would pull out the black cloth to replace Spades' flag, and march to the other army to negotiate surrender on their side. The white flag was in case they were losing, and wished to offer their own surrender. Jack had told her not to bring it, but she wouldn't let his arrogances let her helpless troops die at Clubs' hands.

The line was approaching the last hill; Ace gently called for Eight to stop the drumming. He did, though Nine kept the beat, only at a much softer volume, as he had been instructed. Jack kept prancing along, not caring about the noise he made. Fine, Ace thought, you can be the one who tests for arrows.

But even he stopped before going over the curve. He halted his horse and jumped off his back, making as much noise as all of Ace's troops together. He turned to look at them, and put his hands on his hips. "We don't know what these barbarians have waiting for us," he declared in a louder voice than Ace would have liked, "The sun is going down, and I think it would be better if we camped here tonight, watching the enemy to better understand their tactics."

Ace admitted to herself that that wasn't the worst idea, but she would have stopped another hill back if she had known about this plan the whole time. She knew this was the last hill, but she couldn't remember from her early Geography lessons how far away the nearest tents of Clubs was from that hill. For all she knew, the village could hear them breathing.

Jack took a bundle that was hitched to his horse's rump. He unrolled it, revealing a sleeping mat. He stretched over it and fell asleep.

Ace took her pocket watch out of her shoulder bag. It was the only portable clock in the kingdom, and she was proud of it. She had brought it from wherever she had come from; she had been left in Spades at the age of three and couldn't remember anything else.

The time was seven o'clock p.m. "Okay, everyone," Ace whispered, so as not to alert Clubs or wake Jack. "You may not be tired yet, but we may as well rest. I'll be putting us on two-hour watches, two at a time. We'll go in order of rank, lowest to highest. Ten, you'll be first. Watch the village to see if anything important happens. Try to find out what kind of weapons they have. If anything urgent happens, wake me. In two hours, wake Eight and Seven. It'll be everyone's own responsibility to know when to switch. Here's my watch." Ace tossed it into Nine's eager hands. "Make sure it gets back to me in the morning."

The soldiers stretched out on the grass, some leaning against the steep hill. Some closed their eyes, others quietly whispered or played with a deck of cards they had brought with. Ace pulled off her helmet and laid her soft bag on top of it. She lay down on the ground and put her head on that. She quickly fell into an exhausted sleep.

Ace was woken up at four a.m. by Two. "It's time to get up, Madam. You have to watch, now."

Ace was glad that she hadn't been woken up for any other reason; it meant both lack of problems and extra sleep. She pulled her head up, which was considerably more sore than it had been when she fell asleep. Her bag had fallen out from under her and she had been sleeping on the metal helmet. She pushed herself up from the damp pasture and walked to the crest of the hill.

Everyone besides Two and herself were fast asleep. Ace clapped Two on the shoulder and whispered a good job. "Try to fall asleep as quickly as possible now. I'll be waking everyone up in an hour." She put the helmet on her head.

"Yes madam." Two handed Ace's pocket watch back to its owner.

Ace made sure Two had stretched out and closed his eyes before she crept over to Jack. He was snoring fairly loudly and showed no signs of waking. To be safe, though, Ace pulled out a little vial from her pocket and poured the contents in Jack's open mouth. It was a powder that she had made of a special herb that was said to help sleep. Ace didn't want Jack waking up and ruining the battle.

Ace took position at the crest of the hill. She leaned on her shoulder and kept her face just high enough to see the target kingdom. This was the first time she had seen Clubs up close, and she couldn't deny that she was impressed. She wondered if they had somehow caught wind of Spades' coming attack, or if they were always this ready for battle.

The tents were set up in a wide circle around the castle, with several yards between each other. In every empty space between the tents there was a trench lined with barbed wire; undoubtedly the trenches were well stocked with defensive weapons.

Ace momentarily closed her eyes. This battle would be bitter.

Ace gave her soldiers an extra quarter hour to sleep, and woke them at five fifteen. To keep as quite as possible, she woke them each with a gentle shake of the shoulder instead of calling them awake all at once. The nine soldiers and their leader gathered around a very small fire to talk about the battle plans.

"I think our best bet is to sneak in past their tents and kill the royal family," Seven said.

"That's not very nice," Ten scolded.

"It's not very possible, either," Ace said. "There's no way the ten of us could break down the doors without waking the soldiers."

"But is it possible to get in at all, even if we did wake them?" Two asked.

"I saw a small window that wasn't barred," Eight suggested. "We could probably throw Ten up and she could squeeze through."

"We're not sending that little girl to kill the royal family by herself!" This was Five, who had grabbed Ten's head and hugged it protectively.

"Well, no," Eight corrected himself, "we wouldn't do that. She could unlock the doors for us and let us in."

"That's better than anything I can think of," Ace relented. "Ten, would you be willing to do that?"

"Uh-huh," the young girl said, still smothering from Five's embrace. "It'd be an honor!"

Ace laughed. "Ok, that's settled, then. And hopefully we won't have to kill anyone if we can get a surrender. Let's go quickly. Whoever's in charge of the gardens and animals here will be waking up soon."

"What about Jack, Miss Ace?" Two asked hesitantly.

"Leave him," Ace said quickly. "He'll just bungle things up." Ace stood up and dusted the wet grass off her legs. "OK, soldiers. Put your helmet on and take your sword out of its sheath. We don't want anything rattling around to wake Clubs. I'll lead. Three, Five, I want you close to me. Let's move."

The warriors quietly ran over the crest of the hill and let themselves slide down the dewy slope. At the end of the hill they transitioned smoothly back into a run, heading straight for the castle. They moved into a single-file line to run between a tent and a trench, then moving back into a blob when the passed it.

Their first obstacle was a young woman already out working in her vegetable garden with the aid of a lantern. She wore a blue dress that fit tightly at the waist but was loose at the chest and legs. She had clearly not known there would be a battle.

Before she had a chance to scream at the advancing army, Ace whispered, "Five!" Five headed the command and leapt at the woman, pinning her down to the ground with one hand over the woman's mouth and the other holding her sword against the woman's neck.

The army slowed to a stop. "You're not going to scream to your comrades, right, Club?" Five hissed in her ear. "We wouldn't like that."

The Club shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Good. You have the honor of being our war prisoner." Five ripped a piece of her skirt off her uniform and stuffed it in the woman's mouth. She picked the woman up and tossed her over her shoulder. "OK, Ace. The distraction is voided."

"Thanks, Five. Alright, let's continue."

The army continued their silent sprint to the castle, the Club still held over Five's shoulder. They made the castle wall without any trouble, and positioned themselves under the window. "Three!" Ace ordered, "Ten!"

The man swung the girl into his arms and tossed her at the window, about seven feet off the ground. Ten had been given so much of a boost that she was able to land on the window ledge without needing to pull herself up.

"Be careful, Ten!" Five called up as she lowered her captive to lean against the stone.

Ten nodded solemnly and pulled her little sword closer to her body before dropping down into the castle below.

She had only been in ten seconds when an arrow suddenly whizzed past Ace's ear and stuck in the castle wall. All nine soldiers immediately ducked down and looked for the source of the attack. They saw their attacker just as another arrow nicked Six's arm. It was a young boy who was just starting to put another arrow into his bow, and was walking closer to the group to get a better shot.

Without command from Ace, Seven jumped up and ran at the boy. He knocked the bow away with his sword and kicked the boy's feet out from under him. The boy cried out.

"Seven!" Ace roared, no longer caring to be quiet. "Now the whole kingdom knows we're here!"

Sure enough, there were shouts from the tents as the people started to wake. They all wore thin night shirts, but they all pulled a sword out of their tent with them.

The nine Spades and the eight remaining Clubs wielded their swords for battle.

To be continued…

I'm so sorry I didn't put the battle scene in here like I said I would! And I'm also sorry this took so long.

Good luck!

--L.A.