Richelle Mead owns these characters.
The evening sun blazed this scorching heat that made the sweat on my back stick to the inner lining of my armor. The suns bright rays streamed across the empty field where we had come to a stop. I pull my hair back up and strap the light brown strands in a leather band, cooling the warm moisture running down my neck, I was a mess. The dirt and grime caked on my skin itching and mixed with blood, some of it the blood of my enemies and some of it my own. We had stopped to rest for a bit before riding off in the direction of home for what would be the longest hours of our journey.
It was sad really, having to ride back home in the almost of night in order to stay clear of the attacking Moroi. However, I wouldn't take any chances with my men. I had promised my people that I would bring back our soldiers with a victory to accompany us and they would see it as a sign of hope for the end of this war. As the prince, it was my duty to ride into battle among the men who risk their lives to protect my family and the people of Baia; the Dhampir.
I wasn't one of those royals who sat back and let everyone else do the hard work for me. I wanted in on the action and I wanted the right to deserve my place as their leader. I wasn't like the Moroi royals, Prince Adrian Ivashkov, who was the very reason for this unnecessary war. He was spoiled and ungrateful, too rich and fragile to fight with his men unlike me. He was weak and used the takeover of their kingdom from his father, who was ill and could no longer rule, and ruined the good name of the Moroi people.
It was a shame; King Ivashkov's own son had ruined his once peaceful kingdom and run it right into the ground. The very ground where many of his soldiers bodies lay, still as the lifeless corpses they were. He didn't care, as long as he could stuff himself with liquor and women, why should a slaughter of his own people affect him? There's plenty more where those men came from.
It was odd how his army worked their way through war with no strategy. They were cowards just like the man who lead them. They were working in groups, surprise attacking not only my men and camps but the small villages outside of the Baia boundaries. They left the bodies of small children and women out to lie mercilessly. How much did they have to suffer for only living outside of our lands?
It wasn't fair and as a strong leading male of my family, it angered me beyond repair how they could slaughter innocent people. 'Sir.'
I snap my head in the direction of Ivan, my oldest friend and second in command. He would risk his life for me just as I would for any man in my camp. 'What did you find, Ivan?'
He sighs deeply and wears a sad expression on his rugged aging face. It's laced with bruises and cuts, and gravel as a reminder of how long we have been fighting. 'It doesn't look well, Dimka, it seems the whole village has been slaught-'
'Captain!' We both ride off in the direction of Mikhail's booming voice down the hill leading into the small village we had come across while we rested.
Mikhail stands a few feet from a small house while another two men carefully surround another small house next to it. This one looks older and the only house where the fires didn't destroy it completely. 'What is it, Mikhail?' Ivan asks.
He steps a few inches closer and brings his voice down to a whisper as Ivan and I listen intently. 'The men hear noises coming from that home. Is it wise to enter the house and check, Sir?' After a quick second of thinking it over, I nod and signal for two more men to follow Mikhail to the house.
The soldiers draw their swords and prepare themselves in case of a trap or terrified townspeople who are ready to protect themselves. I watch as the men surround the small fragile looking home and close in on the door. Once they're ready, Mikhail knocks lightly and yells that we are soldiers serving under Queen Belikova and have come to help. Mikhail signals for the men to be ready as he must have heard something in the home. After a minute of complete silence, Mikhail knocks again.
'We bring you no harm! We are here to help! We are soldiers serving under the command of Queen Beliko-'
'I've heard you already!' A light voice sounded from inside the house.
It was the sound of a female's voice and she sounded as tired as I was. 'We need proof! How do I know you're not waiting to kill me once I open the door?' She also sounded smart but not smart enough as she had given away she wasn't the only one in hiding.
'Well?' And she was as impatient as ever.
Mikhail removes his shield from around his back and places it in front of a huge crack in the wall with a hole big enough where she could see it. 'Not good enough! You could've killed a soldier and taken it from the body!'
Mikhail sighed tiredly and dropped his shield with a thump on the ground. He then looked to me and waited for my nod of approval before removing a coin from his satchel and sliding it under the door. 'All citizens of Baia use currency without the Moroi royals pictured on it. If I was a Moroi soldier why would I have that coin? It is of no value to them!'
Another long minute of silence and the woman must have finally believed him as the old wooden door slowly creeks open. I never understood it myself, why the Moroi would print money with that face of a spoiled son and ban any other money that didn't. What did the prince do that was so great for their kingdom but start a never-ending war over land that belonged to no one? The Moroi were a greedy kind.
'There's no one else... The whole village was attacked by Moroi soldiers and my sister, she's hurt. She needs help, please!' The small brunette pleaded with Mikhail as the men went into the darkness of the house. She looked tired and her dress, which I could make out used to be the color of white was now covered in mud and spotted with blood. Her long dark brown hair hung messily to the middle of her back, her brown eyes showing relief but fear as the men entered the home and her sister was pulled out of the rubble.
'What will we do with them?' Ivan whispered as we watched Mikhail look over the blonde girl who looked like she had got the worst of the two.
'See if we can help the girl and do what we can to feed them and first aid. After that send them on their way, we don't need to pull unnecessary weight.' Ivan just nods to me and gets off his horse to address Mikhail and the other soldiers.
It wasn't that I was against taking the girls to safety; it was just too risky to bring them along. We had to move quickly if we wanted to get back home safely. The sneak attacks and ambushes were too much of a risk already but with two girls and one injured, it was basically asking the Moroi to attack us. They were better off without us and I was sure of this. Mikhail whispers something to Ivan as another soldier overlooks the brunette and assess her.
The girl keeps her eyes on her sister, flinching at the sounds of pain coming from the young girl's moans. She looked bad, her blond hair smothered in blood at the ends and her dress barely hanging on to her body. 'What happened to you both?' Ivan asks the brunette but all she does clutch her eyes closed tightly and shake her head no. Ivan gets up from kneeling beside Mikhail and steps closer to the brunette.
In a gesture of peace, he raises his hands to let her know he isn't harmful. 'What is your name, miss?'
'Rose' she answers after a few silent minutes.
Ivan points to the blonde girl in an attempt to ask her name as well and Rose answers. 'Lissa. We were attacked in our home, the soldiers they- they forced themselves on her. They nearly beat her to death and held me down-' she couldn't even finish telling the story and tried extremely hard to hold in her tears.
Ivan nodded to the girl and then walked back to where I was with a look of grief on his face. 'The girl is too far gone, she's lost a lot of blood and it hasn't stopped. It could be any time now. The other has just some cuts and bruises, she'll be fine.' I nod and look back to Rose as she kneels on the side of her sister and takes her hand.
I can't hear what's being said but I can tell she's promising something that can never be. Mikhail rises from their side and gestures for the other soldiers to leave them as well. 'What should we do with them, Sir?' This time it's Mikhail that asks me and it makes me a little confused.
After all I've already gave the orders to Ivan who should've repeated them to Mikhail. 'Do what you can with them and then we leave before nightfall. It's too dangerous to wait any longer. 'I leave the men standing there and ride off on my horse, give him water and a much needed break.
A deep sigh releases itself from me as I take a moment to wash myself with the water I travel with. I take a few minutes to think about the unfortunate tragedy this village has gone through and wonder about my family. If Karolina has finally got the royal court to listen and think of another way to peacefully split the land. If Viktoria is keeping our mother at ease about how long I've been away and if Paul is still practicing on his archery skills. To be home again, I wanted nothing more than to ride off and not stop until I got into the safety of the gates.
How the tall yellow grass that was a few acres behind the castle would let me hide in it and take in the quiet of the day. All the chaotic thoughts running through my mind would ease and I would smile at the small moments with my nieces, the way Sonya teased me about finding a wife and my mother beaming at that very thought. All I wanted to do at this moment was get home, replenish the soldiers and let my family know I was still alive. 'Dimka?
'Ivan?' his footsteps were heavy but so was his voice.
Our talks were always helpful and assuring but this one felt different, and it unsettled me. I wait until he's closer to turn around and face him. Once I do I regret it, he sighs deeply and looks off into the field of nothing, as if staring into some invisible abyss. 'Mikhail says the girl could go at any time now... We can't just leave them wounded out in the open, what if the Moroi come back?'
I sigh deeply, knowing full well of what he's asking but it's too risky. There's too much at stake for a life already fading and another that's only going to become a liability. 'All they'll do is slow us down. I won't risk the men, I can't.'
Ivan then looked to me and shared a look of pity for those women but also a look of confusion. 'And what if the Moroi catch up and kill them? Will we just leave them to die?'
I shake my head no and look to the ground already ashamed of what I'm going to say. 'If we travel with them we will never get home safely.' Ivan stepped a foot closer to me and beckoned me to look in his eyes. They were full of sincerity and even a little shame but I stood my ground.
'We have been friends for so long, at times as close as brothers and I would risk my life for you or anyone else who shares the Belikov name. You're my family... but what if it were Viktoria?'
My gaze hardens and I glare at the mere thought of this becoming true and the fact that Ivan spoke those words made the feeling of anger even more present. 'Or Sonya? Or even my wife-'
'Karolina can protect herself just as Sonya and Viktoria! How dare you talk of them in this situation?' I grunt.
'That's it though, Dimitri, we could help them and get them to safety. If not it's innocent blood on our hands.' Our faces only inches apart as our tempers flare with anger and frustration. The stress of getting back home, the point Ivan made about innocent lives; it was beginning to weigh in on me. I was only one man.
A quiet calm takes over our proximity and like the wind the tension is gone. It leaves me to think things over. This is too much of a risk and not a careful move, which I designed my men to be; careful. And so I sigh, knowing he was right. 'Just halfway… to the small town outside the gates and then we ride the rest of the way home, Dimka?'
I shake my head as I step away from Ivan and think over the endless possibilities that can go wrong. The slow pace we would have to keep for the girls to keep up, the moments of rest they'll need and the time when the blonde girl finally passes. All I wanted was to get home, see my family and give the men a break until it was time to ride out again. But I couldn't leave them and Ivan was right, what if it was one of my sisters?
'To Omsk. They ride to Omsk and then we move forward on our own.' Ivan nods silently knowing not to push me at this moment and heads off to repeat orders.
The fire crackles and sends small flares of ashes into the night sky. I watch as the soldier who tried to help Lissa returns from the tent they set us up in and keep my face hidden of emotion. He looked grim and tired like most of the men in this camp did. I knew without a doubt he had terrible news to give me and I also knew it was only a matter of time before I would lose Lissa. She wasn't going to get any better, even if we did somehow get to Baia in time.
The thought saddens me it makes me close my eyes in attempt to keep the tears from escaping. Back home, I had told her I would get her help and that we would be okay. I had made a promise I knew I shouldn't have made but I couldn't stand the look of defeat and pain crossing her face. It angered me, Lissa and the Dragomir's were my family, all I had left, and now they were fading; fast. I couldn't help but wonder why things of this sort kept happening to me.
First I lose my family, then the Dragomir's and now Lissa is fighting a losing battle for her life. Speaking of battles, I wonder how long these men have been in war and how long until they can go home. There were only about a hundred or so soldiers here and they were covered in what could only be the debris of war. They had dirty faces and clothes under their armor, there was blood and bruises stuck on many of their faces and they all looked tired; exhausted. They had probably been giving the fight of their lives day in and day out.
'Are you hungry, Miss Rose?' I look up into the kind eyes of the soldier who has been helping me, Mikhail, I think his name was. I shake my head no and go back to gazing at the fire before me; hearing the wood crackle and watching it burn with a dark orange glow.
'Your sister is finally sleeping, she should sleep through the night but she is also going to need medical attention as soon as possible. Her pain won't subside forever.' I nod and as he sits down across from me with the fire between us. I know what he's saying without him having to say it, Lissa's time is coming to an end and soon. 'It was just you two staying in the house?'
I shake my head no and keep my eyes away from his face. I had to if I was going to be around these soldiers, they didn't need some damsel in distress crying every second we were here. 'You lived there with your family?'
I nod and finally find the will to speak. 'Those Moroi pigs attacked us for no reason, we're not even part the boundaries outlining Baia. We were no part of this war.' He shook his head in sadness as the other soldiers around us sat and ate or downed water like they have been deprived of it for so long.
'The Moroi will attack anything in their way. They have no strategy for this war only to kill as many of us as they can. You're not the only village they've went through.' A quiet moment passed as we sat on each side of the fire. Until Mikhail asked another question bringing me out of the silence. 'Did they kill everyone in your home?'
'Yes, except me and Lissa but they got what they wanted from her.' I could feel his eyes on me, waiting for something to happen; maybe he thought I was going to break down. However, I knew better, I wasn't one to cry about my problems. I figured out long ago that anger was my release and I would use it to my best ability.
'Do either of you have any family that live somewhere else?' I shake my head no.
'I don't have any family.' I say trying not to let the sadness seep through my voice.
'No one at all?' he questions.
'No, my father was imprisoned for selling medicines to a few people in the town I was born in. My mother was murdered when she tried to protect him from King Ivashkov's soldiers. So I have no one and neither does she.' He nodded and swallowed deeply, letting his eyes wonder about the camp.
'Why was your father breaking the law?' I sighed heavily, picking up a stick from the floor and drawing mindless swirls in the dirt. I hated telling this story, it brought memories that I'd rather forget.
'I had gotten sick when I was a child. I almost died but my father had sold all our animal stock in order to make the medicine I needed to heal. We couldn't afford to travel to the Moroi court to buy it.' Mikhail watched as I purposely avoided his eyes and continued telling my story. 'A friend of his needed it also, for his new born son; he was worse off than me. After that someone else needed it and then someone else, until one day a group of royal guards came into town and raided my home.'
'Another man had asked my father for help but my father had run out of the medicine and the man became bitter as his daughter didn't last very long.' The blur of my eyes caused by the unshed tears brought a huge lump to my throat but I swallowed it down and continued on. 'So he told a royal guard who came into town often. The guards killed my mother for trying to block the doorway and then arrested my father in front of me. I never saw him again.'
Mikhail swallowed and as I looked around, I noticed a few other soldiers were listening to us as well. 'How old were you?' One soldier asked and I shrugged before answering.
'I was only five, five years old and my whole family taken from me. A neighbor who had waited for the guards to leave went into my home and got me. They brought me to the town where you found us. They gave me to a friend of my father's that we visited often. The Dragomir's took me in and raised me as their own, until two days ago, when soldiers attacked our town and destroyed everything in their path.' I could see the looks of pity and sympathy without even having to move my eyes around the camp.
'They didn't destroy you, the other girl maybe but you didn't get the worst of it.' I didn't know this soldiers name but by his tone of voice and the glare of his squinting blue eyes; I didn't like him. He gave off the impression that I was lucky it hadn't happen to me, but I didn't consider that notion lucky. 'I fought them off.'
A snide smirk graced his rugged unshaven face and his eyes squinted at me in amusement. 'Excuse me, you what?'
Anger, it was slowly rising within my chest and it was only a matter of time before I snapped. 'I said I fought them off. I'm well aware of how to defend myself.' His smirk flew into a wide smug smile and I wanted nothing more to smack it right off of him.
'You don't say, miss.' A few of the soldiers let out quiet chuckles at the man's sarcastic words. I faced him and stared with a glare of determination.
Just because he was some high and mighty soldier didn't give him a right to patronize me. 'Yes. I would watch the boys in the town who would train. I can pick up things rather quickly by watching.' He let another smug smile move across his face and winked at me suggestively. 'I bet you could.'
The men this time let their laughs take over the once silent forest and it only angered me even more. 'That's enough, Comrades, let the lady rest.' Ivan, the one who followed the prince dutifully had spoken and gave me a look of understanding. He nodded to me subtly and I returned it before standing and walking to the tent.
Her face was pale, her skin a lighter shade than before and the sweat from her fever drenching the hair at the roots. I sigh, deeply in thought of how I'm going to fulfill my promise to her and help her when I can't. There was too much blood, too much suffering and the images of those monstrous men laughing as they penetrated her frail body one by one... I couldn't stand the sight they made me watch, the two men holding me down as I struggled and struggled to get up. To get to Andre's sword and chop off all five of those men's most valued body parts.
The images then changed into the one of them dragging Rhea outside and throwing her to the ground as she was still pregnant with Jillian, who we would have welcomed in only one more month. Andre and I were running up to the house to try and stop them, dropping all of the supplies we collected from the market but we were too late. The soldier had Rhea on the ground and another had ridden his horse over her body. We watched as the speeding horse trampled over her, killing her and the unborn baby instantly. Then we fought them off with Eric trying to pry a man off Lissa and trying to get to his murdered wife.
Andre had taken two out, me one with the cooking pan that was still a little hot. Inside that house was chaos until the captain of those men entered and drove his sword into Andre's back as if he were cutting nothing but air. More men entering the house, fighting to get the pan away from me and beating the life out of Eric. Then the beating they gave me as I was held down and forced to watch my best friend violated. It wasn't until their leader had come and had his turn that I snapped.
The men thinking I gave up struggling letting me go and once I had the chance, I drove Andre's abandoned sword through his thigh. I knew it didn't kill him but it got them to leave us alone as someone had called them to leave before the Dhampir soldiers would arrive. The memories overwhelm me and this time I can't stop the tears as they fall. I grip Lissa's hand in mine, squeezing for any sign of hope that she would be okay in the morning. 'I'm sorry, Lissa. I'm sorry I couldn't get us out before they got to you.'
I licked my lips as the salty tears streamed down my face and closed my eyes tightly. 'I'm so sorry but don't give up. Please, not yet.' It was irrelevant this small sad atom of hope I had in my mind. But I had to try; I had to hope for the both of us even if it was a long shot. 'I'll try-I'll try to get us somewhere safe, okay.' The last words were whispers as I lie beside her and fade off into sleep, letting the sobs pull me into unconsciousness.
A bright light of sun shines through the small peek of the tent opening. My eyes, stinging with burn and redness from all the crying blink rapidly to focus. I inhale the fresh air of the forest and release my breath sitting up. I turn to look at Lissa. In that moment, a number of things swirled within me and I was overwhelmed.
My eyes took in the color of her skin, once naturally pale with life and now an almost still blue. My hand reaches out for her's and immediately feels the cold lifeless fingers in my warm palm. 'Liss?'
My throat contracts with my barely there voice leaving me as I become taken over with emotion. My chest heaves in and out, my hand grips her cold one and my mind spinning with anger. I was angry, frustrated and pained. Another person lost to me and there was nothing I could do. 'Miss Rose, the captain needs us to pack up camp and get ready to le-'
Mikhail's voice stops at the sight in front of him and his eyes drop from steady to sad. I reach over and kiss her forehead lightly, silently telling my sister goodbye. 'She's gone.'
Mikhail swallows heavily and nods in okay slowly. 'We'll give her a proper burial and give you the appropriate time to mourn her-'
'No need. Where is Ivan?' The look of surprise on Mikhail's face quickly fades as he points behind outside gesturing where Ivan is. 'I need to speak with him.' I leave the tent with those last words and set on my way to find Ivan. I'm not going to cry and weep for my losses anymore, no; I'm just going to get even.