Chapter 9

by Ski Hemulen

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It had just turned dark. Otmakla stood behind the ridge that overlooked the Romjid household. Her plan was quite simple – a few men will attack from below, from the Herian valley, shooting burning arrows soaked with oil at the roof. Hopefully a counter attack would be mounted against them. Hopefully something will actually catch fire. Hopefully Romjigan will look at an attack from the valley as a proof of their stupidity, and not as a trick.

She planed to attack with most of her force, 37 men, from the woods on the ridge above the household. It wasn’t a brilliant plan – attack as fast as you can, kill or maim as many men as possible. Loot depending on the situation. She knew the mercenaries will loot for sure. It was the greater compensation for them, besides being fed for a few weeks.

She threatened the men that if anyone would be caught raping a woman she personally will castrate him. She hoped the threat would be good enough, but she wouldn’t hesitate to deal the punishment.

She wasn’t optimistic about the outcome of this night, but the Romjid have left her little choice. Her best weapon was surprise. And she had a few ready. The best of which were the mercenaries. She started hiring every mercenary who entered Stoyanjid territory, offering them food and a right to a share of the loot. It was a dangerous move, and it was hard keeping it as secret as possible even from the family. It took all the maneuvering she, her brothers and Fitore and Gazmend could muster to maintain it, creating a small encampment in the north of their territory, housing 18 men who could fight, bringing them food twice a week.

She needed secrecy because she knew secrets slipped. Too many lives depended on it. She needed at least one big surprise like that.

Presenting the plan to the family today was tense. The men were afraid and suspicious, the involvement of Romial and the mercenaries made them uneasy.

She pressured them. Asked them if they rather wait for the Romjid to come to them. She reminded them how the Romjid killed remorselessly.

She expected to hear discontent from Mikal, and when she didn’t she noticed he wasn’t there. He hadn’t returned until now, and he hadn’t join their attack. That was worrying, but she couldn’t give it any thought now.

She didn’t explain Romial to her people. She didn’t know how. She sidestepped the subject, saying only she trusted him, and that he was on their side. she had to admit it it looked very suspicious.

She returned to the present, signaling the men to start moving toward the woods that were overlooking the Romjid house.

Her cousin Fitore was walking beside her.

‘Who is this Romjid Akrusia you turned over to our side? What will make him betray his house for us, Otmakil? What hold do you have on him?’

She had to postpone these questions. She didn’t know what to say. She was angry with Romial for putting her in this situation. She knew it wasn’t rational, that he did the right thing, but she couldn’t quench the fear that he might cost her her leadership, and maybe more. Romial hadn’t joined them. He lingered behind, not wanting to take part, fearing the outcome to people he loved. She wouldn’t want to switch places with him at the moment.

‘I can’t explain it now’ she told Fitore curtly.

She looked into the dark patch in the night that was the woods. Suddenly she heard a cry of pain from in front of her. Then everything became chaos.

She crouched close to the ground. It took her a second to understand they were ambushed. The Romjid were shooting arrows at them.

‘The Romjid are in the woods!’ she shouted. ‘Run into the woods or they’ll slaughter all of us’. That was their only chance of being on even ground with the Romjid, who could see them easily in the moonlight.

‘Fuck!’ It was Fitore. He took a hit. She couldn’t stop. She ran into the woods as fast as she could while crouching low over the ground.

It was crazy in the woods. It was almost impossible to see, and distinguishing friend from foe was nigh impossible. She saw a man holding a bow and she quickly stabbed him with her long knife, then she moved on to the next bowmen. They started shouting and somebody lit a torch in the woods. It didn’t improve the visibility, only made everything dance with moving shadows of trees.

A batch of mercenaries entered the woods in a formation, holding shields and swords. They started hacking at the bowmen, who were totally unprepared for armored warriors.

They knew we were coming but apparently didn’t know about the mercenaries, she thought. Mikal. It was hard to imagine even he would betray the house so deeply. But it was the only explanation she had.

She walked carefully, but stumbled on a dead body. She looked down. It was Preki.

*****

Romial couldn’t stand the stay at the Stoyanjid house with the women, children and elderly. Everyone looked suspiciously at him, and he could hardly blame them. There was nothing worse than a traitor to his house.

He sat in the hall, talking to no one, thinking of the outcomes of this day. His life here was over. He couldn’t return to his house, whatever remains of it. He couldn’t join this house. What place will he have here? What future could he and Otmakla have?

Most of all, he knew people he cared for where about to die and there was nothing he could do about it.

He ran these thoughts over and over in his head, becoming more desperate by the moment.

After a while he could sit no more. He knew it was stupid but he didn’t care. He rose and left the hall, stepping into the courtyard and out of the gate. No one stopped him. He walked in the moonlit night towards his former home.

When he got close, after an hour or so of slow walking, he started to see bodies. A Stoyanjid, a mercenary, some distant cousin of his. He didn’t want to look too closely. The area stank. on the slope, at a level with the Romjid household, he saw another body. He walked closer to inspect it.

Seeing it closely he cried out in horror. The head of the body was partially caved in and it stank of blood and shit like everything around. But it was obviously Vasil, staring into nowhere with one dark eye.

You brought this on your house. you did this. Why weren’t you smart enough to find a different way out of this?

Someone hit him from the back and he fell straight down, his head slamming into the ground.

‘You useless traitor!’ his attacker roared.

He rolled, to his back only to get kicked in his head. It was Timotei. How did he know?

Timotei jumped on Romial’s stomach, pinned down his hands and started pounding at his face. It hurt to much to be a fist. He was holding a rock.

Romial lost consciousness for a few second, then woke with the continuation of the pounding. He felt teeth filling his mouth. He couldn’t feel his face.

Timotei let him go for a moment and rose to his feet, pacing near Romial’s head.

‘You fucking whore Fatime. What the fuck were you doing with the Stoyanjid? Fucking one of Otmakil’s brothers?’

He kicked Romial’s face with so much force his entire body moved after his head. Romial barely felt anything. The pain became numbness.

‘Fuck you, you Stoyanjid whore. You should never have been allowed to become a man! You’re not a man!’

While saying that Timotei grabbed Romial’s breeches and started cutting them savagely with his knife, wounding Romial. He tried to resist feebly but his head was spinning and he felt as if all his strength has seeped out of him.

‘I’ll give you a fuck, whore!’ Timotei shouted, pulling off the bloody remnants of Romial’s breeches.

He’s going to rape me.

Even that thought was a mix of horror an numbness in Romial’s mind. He felt horror. He felt powerless. He felt humiliated. A part of him felt like he deserved it, that it was his punishment for breaking away from honor.

But another part wanted a way out, needed to leave the pain and humiliation of his body. Suddenly he felt disconnected from it. His body became a throbbing lump of pain in the back of his mind. His mind was rushing towards a beacon of light.

It was Otmakla, surrounded by bodies, inside the broken gates of the Romjid house. Her mercenaries were looting. She looked shocked.

He didn’t think about it. He didn’t know what he was doing. He just connected with her and she turned to his direction, surprised.

///

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