The wind howled, and a coyote joined it. Linus lay still, flat against the dirt. Though the sun had set hours before, the ground was still warm – even the stone was stubborn, out here. Proud.
He looked to his left, to a man that had once held him at gunpoint. To his right, a young woman bearing the curse of the moon and wolf – a woman he’d once tried to hang. They nodded at him, with the kind of confidence that he’d spent years imitating. He saw in their eyes it was genuine, that they knew what they were doing.
He only wished he could say the same.
He had been stationed here a few years ago, a quiet mining town at the far borders of the Kingdom. There was a sheriff, but when they’d met, Linus had thought him a man with too kind a heart; unable to enforce the law with the firm hand it asked for. He’d brought with him a second – members of His Majesty’s Inquisition always travel in pairs. Edith.
A lot had happened in the years since. They weren’t welcomed out here; a pair of “city folk”, come to ensure the steady flow of silver and gold – one from the mines, the other from their pockets. They should be grateful, he had thought; their tax money would be sent to the capital, where it could be distributed by those with a greater understanding of where it was needed. Drought relief, the construction of new roads, supporting the Royal Army. The same army that marched towards them now.
His sword lay in his hands before him, a leather wrap preventing the moon and stars from betraying their positions. He had always kept it in perfect condition; training every day, remembering stances and tactics and oaths. He wondered if the soldiers on the road were as diligent.
They could hear the footsteps, the laboured breathing of horses, joining the sounds of the wind and cicadas. He had spent his whole life believing that people were made to be ruled, that it fell to the privileged few to choose for the guileless many. Now, though, he had seen what that could do. The lives that can be trampled over, swept away and left behind by those with a “greater understanding”. Edith had held on to her principles until the end, but… he hadn’t.
And now he was flat against the earth, ten feet from the marching boots and banners he’d once been a part of. He’d known what their formation would be, how the horses would scatter at the sound of gunfire, how the green soldiers would behave in their first true battle. He knew the sheriff to his left and the rebel to his right would fight to defend their homes. His training told him how this fight would happen.
He saw glints of swords, guns drawn. Figures slowly standing, silent. He held his sword tight in his hands. He didn’t know what he would do.