Chapter Four

“What’s the news from Natal in the south?

Papers passed, right to left, left to right, stately as a dance, the murmur of multiple conversations all held discreetly below his volume. For not the first time, Anik was struck by the order of it all. Why was this so orderly? His aides wouldn’t call it orderly, though, would they? They would be cataplectic, just imagining trying to sort through all the things generals and majors and corporals and lieutenants bundled and passed, bundled and passed, round and round their little table in no direct discernable order. Let me see, let me see, like children at a wandering tinker’s cart.

“Looks like he’s holding,” an aide with a stack of correspondence said.

Anik nodded, but his mouth was starting to hang open. He straightened, gave a quick glance around; nobody was paying attention. He was tired as the devil on hanging day. Unlike his aides, and unlike most of these officers, he spent the first half of his day at the edges of the city, trying not to get shot while negotiating with a divided city. Half wanted to welcome Baath, half wanted to drive them off – each half was trying to kill the other half and a remarkable number of Baathians seemed to be in the way.

He had to go down personally because some other general, buoyed by a glancing recommendation from Bohdan and political support at the capitol, decided the best approach was to level the city and sort out the surrender with whoever survived. Then the reinforcements for the resistance arrived and flanked their artillery while Anik nearly reduced himself to beating the general with flat of his sword like a sergeant with a chicken-thieving drummer boy. While these other officers had their buttered toast and coffee, Anik led charge against the reinforcements, then counter-charge against the forces sallying out from the city, and the whole week of strategizing and two days of parley went tits up in four hours and now the city was liberated by the free armies of Baath but still subject to sporadic bouts of intense gunfire.

And, somehow, there were still meetings to have.

“How well?” Anik asked, wondering if perhaps he had died during the battle and had, in fact, traveled to Hell.

“Hard to say. Says he’s doing smashingly, ‘the enemies of liberty flee like dogs,’ but makes sure to mention his request for uniform sashes, shoes, and ammunition. Also says they’ve seized a quantity of grain.”

A corporal leaned over the table eagerly. “That will be much needed in Baath…”

“How much?” Anik asked.

“A thousand bushels?”

“Should be a few thousand from that region – it is famed for its fertility,” a staff general said, tone dark and sneering

“When there’s farmers to work it, not soldiers tramping over it,” Anik pointed out, nodding again to the aide.

“He restates his request for saltfish.”

“They used the grain,” the staff general said, disdain clear.

No longer languorous, Anik unwove his fingers and eased his elbows off the table, towards his hips, weighing: sword, or pistol?

“Excuse me, sir,” said a little (or, actually quite tall, but working hard to be little) corporal, voice laden with politesse like a fat bee with pollen. “I don’t mean to be impertinent, nor malign the character of–”

“Say it,” Anik said.

“Sir, we all know they lost their baggage train leagues ago. I would put odds on General Natal ignoring the seizure of the grain because his men were starving.”

“That’s no excuse!” the staff general snarled.

Anik shut his eyes, letting out a slow breath through his nose, as this suspect reason for seizing spoils that should rightfully be sent to the homeland was dubiously batted about the table. When he opened his eyes, the only real information he got was that nobody had noticed his near-drawing-of-weapons either. They were all talking about where Natal would get a mill – no, don’t be a fool, they would trade – trade with the people they’ve just taken it from? – no, there simply wasn’t the grain we thought there was to begin with, our spies in that region have been suspect for a long time – no, it isn’t the amount of grain so much as the principle…

Anik wanted to die. Or, no – taking a survey of the table – he wanted them to die. He rubbed his eyes as someone started equating love of grain to love of country and realized that what he wanted was for it to be two years ago when he and Papa Bel would rout the opposition, and then he got leave while Papa Bel had the strategy meetings.

Only tapping – not drawing – his sword, Anik thought Papa Bel would be proud – or would he? What would he see in this meeting of newly-minted military officers and strange appointees from the capitol who could only describe their function in nebulous terms like ‘oversight.’ Perhaps he would be proud of Anik’s newfound sense of responsibility for and attention to politics; it had certainly curbed his impulsiveness. Then again, thinking on the summons to the capitol he had received and promptly ‘lost’ for several weeks, perhaps not.

The new government had a bad habit of summonsing leading to executing. Thespasian – always so suspicious – was convinced the summons had something to do with his falling out with Bohdan. When Anik pointed out that technically his falling out had been with one of Bohdan’s lickspittle officials, Thespasian pointed out that that fact hadn’t kept Anik from addressing some of his more abusive language to Bohdan directly. Anik countered that he had been lauded even by Bohdan by the time he left Sathia and such unpleasantness was all behind them; Thespasian – after meditating in an ungentlemanly fashion on what he thought of Bohdan’s laudations and moral character in general – pointed out that Bohdan’s lickspittle official now resided at the capitol as an advisor the government. The summons was quite lost, and anyway, Anik was busy.

“We shall send along a reprimand, then, and request his presence before a tribunal when he returns,” the staff general said.

“We shall do no such thing,” Anik said. Now they were all looking. He looked back.

“Why should we not, General Anik? Natal has robbed the People. Did you not hear our debate—”

Anik looked at him; no need for words to stop him cold. The intent and the expression were enough.

“We will do nothing,” Anik said, “because there’s nothing to be done. Even had Natal not needed it, the grain is perishable, the passes are difficult this time of year, and it should be half-spoiled anyway thanks to late rain and lack of hands during the harvest. What’s more, there are no forces to spare to take it back for him, as his baggage train was lost a month ago, and his reinforcements are so far behind they couldn’t, in fact, reinforce him if they wanted to. The route between Sudleisch and Baath is far from secure enough for it to be sent on its own. He is facing at least a month of siege work just to hold what he has gained. We will not add insult to injury by chastising him for logistical failures beyond his control.”

“A good leader,” the staff general said, “would have planned for such failures, or borne them for the sake of the people. Natal has demonstrated a lack of leadership and a lack of sufficient care of his country.”

“Are we conquering nations to free them, or to rob them?” Anik asked.

A distinct drawing back from the table made it seem as if the room had taken a deep breath. The staff general paused only a moment, then returned, “We defend the liberty of others, but it is ridiculous to think we could do so and tolerate putting our own people at risk–”

“So Natal took the grain to protect his people, and continues the course asked of him by the government of the People – your point is doubly satisfied.”

Leaning back in his seat, the staff general glared at Anik through narrowed eyes. One point may have been conceded, but there were others… “Has the government asked anything of you lately, General Anik?”

“Numerous things, General,” Anik replied, “some of which I would like to move on to before the next city liberates itself without us.”

The scattered laughter eased them into the next subject. Anik sank back into his seat, but found he was still angry. Deeply so. Such that, as he reached out, mentally, to evaluate the feeling, it was like touching fresh-fired iron. Of course, once he looked at it a bit, he wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.

Perhaps Papa Bel would not be proud; perhaps he had not come as far from the spoiled and sensitive child Papa Bel had tried so hard to form into a soldier, and officer, a leader of men. Such pride, such domineering disdain was exactly why everything had been so violently overthrown in the first place. Or, as Papa Bel was prone to say on occasions of great disruption, why everything had gone to shit.

That wasn’t how he had started describing the revolution, but such pronouncements had become more and more common before Ibai. Though more fiercely dedicated the ideals of revolution than anyone Anik had ever known, Papa Bel had grown tired. His fatigue explained his disillusionment – and it was disillusionment – which had eaten away at the graceful, tactful, and tactical man Anik had known. Sitting here, listening to this droning, trying to keep himself from killing trucklers and aspirants, Anik felt perhaps he could make him proud by resisting such disillusionment, such fatigue.

Then again, perhaps Thespasian was right, there were reasons for disillusionment, and maybe one reason had put this bloviating staff general in his way—

And maybe thinking so would get him killed faster than fatigue. And maybe that was exactly why the staff general was there. And maybe things had gone much further astray than he ever imagined…

“Sir,” a soldier pushed in the tent. “Sorry to interrupt, sir, but you asked me to inform you the moment we had response from the city.”

No – Thespasian was too suspicious. Anik was just tired. Papa Bel had been sick, at the end, and his death in battle fitting, if nothing else. Anik nodded.

“The patriots have secured the rest of the leaders of the resistance, and have begun the trials. They’re ready for us to move in.”

“Good,” Anik said, but he felt sick. It was as if he could hear the crowds, the jeering, the dull thunk of the axe – if that’s what they were using this time. Other cities did different things. It wasn’t his place to dictate justice. It would be over soon, and the government representatives they brought would help establish a new egalitarian regime. Liberty would come to Al-Ahanna.

The rest of the table cheered and clapped. They stood, shaking hands, grinning broadly. The staff general’s eyes never left Anik, who, though he couldn’t force a smile just yet, could order a general celebration before they went to work.


“I think I’m going to get it framed.”

“Oh, Anik,” said Laferre. “It is a very nice sword.”

“Not the sword,” Anik said, pulling loose the collar on his formal uniform and casting it aside. He leaned around the elaborately carved wings of the chair and kissed Laferre’s temple. “The letter from the patriots of Al-ahanna, declaring themselves free.”

“I very nearly just stabbed you,” Laferre said, brows raised as he lifted the sword illustratively. They were so blonde they were almost hard to see; when he blushed, they stood out like streaks of light. He had come from Tarkesh, of that country’s odd, pale stock, to support the struggle for liberty. Just one of many idealists of all nations that had traveled to Baath at the start of the Revolution. Perhaps he had stayed to travel home on the back of the Baathian army. Perhaps Anik let him ride along just to watch that peach redden.

Cynicism suited him less than such baseness, but Anik dismissed both. “You wouldn’t stab the Hero of Corin-Ai, would you?”

“I might, at that,” Laferre replied, sheathing the sword again. “But only if it meant I could claim this weapon as spoils.” He whistled appreciatively, and turned to set the sword on the equally elaborate oak table beside him.

“Do you think,” Laferre asked, his back to Anik, staring as if the carvings on the table had only now come to attention, “...a victory like this would warrant leave?”

Anik turned from the gilt mirror to glance at Laferre, who sagged back into the chair. It was twice as big as he was. Laferre slumped like a spot of cream in a bowl of berries. He needed to stop thinking of his lover like an exotic dessert. Then again, wasn’t he?

He supposed it had come to the end of the meal, at that. Laferre just noticed first, while he had been too distracted. Anik went back to disrobing.

Laferre kept his voice light. “It wouldn’t break your heart if I asked, would it?”

“No,” Anik said, and smiled reassuringly when Laferre’s face popped into vantage in the mirror (the mirror was really ridiculously large, as well. The people of Erro must be used to entertaining giants). “You deserve it. Had I anything I wanted to go home to, I’d do it myself.”

“Ugh,” Laferre threw himself back in his chair. “You never would, even had you something to go home to. Your home is heart of Liberty, and every night you cuddle up to her cockles.”

“That I do,” Anik said, his smile a touch more genuine.

“It’s good to know I’m just a distraction from the cockles of Liberty,” Laferre said.

The door burst open, in as much as eighty-pound pieces of oak could burst. Really, Erro was too much.

“You!” said Thespasian, in full regalia as Captain of the Honor Guard of Baath’s Honored General of the Army of Erro, the Hero Of Corin-Ai, with much dignity and pomp. “You are coming out for drinks, which I will buy for you to consume.”

“Am I invited?” asked Laferre, though he didn’t move.


“Really, Thes,” Anik said.

“Still no. Drinks!”

“I’m not even out of all this gaudy, monarchical detritus,” Anik said, peeling off another band of gold braid.

“Oh, Lord,” Laferre sighed, “how the regime oppresses you with its multitudinous honors.”

“Nonsense! Drinks!”

“Give me a second, Thes.”

“No. Drinks!”

“Better go, ‘Nik, or he’s going to drag you out of here in those naughty cuffs he carries.”

“Indeed! Drinks!”

Struggling with the last button on his coat, Anik freed himself, and confronted the staunch reflections of both of them staring at him. Turning away, he seized his much simpler soldier’s coat from the back of a chair and joined Thes.

“All right! Fine!”

“Drinks!” Thes shouted, one last time (in this room, anyway).

Anik thought about stopping to kiss Laferre, run his hand one last time through his hair, but even he wasn’t so low as that. So they waved, and grinned, and that was it.

The doors swung shut again in as much as eighty-pound pieces of oak could swing.


He pled drunkenness to leave, but he wasn’t that drunk. Thes had tried to stop him, so he pretended to be drunker than he was. Laferre had not stopped by, as he would were he anything but gone, so Anik pled drunkenness to go, but he wasn’t…

wasn’t so…


He tripped on nothing and sagged into the side of a building to rest. Head drooping, he indulged a moment in moroseness, grasping for the feeling as a man would grope for a privy in the dark, but found nothing. Rolling his back up against the rough clay exterior of the building, he rolled his head back until he looked straight up at the roof tiles hanging overhead.

They were red, though they had been hastily painted so. Made of wood, not clay, but familiar enough. Pushing away from the wall, Anik turned to face the building.

An ungentlemanly burp interrupted his stoicism; he strode to the black, wrought iron gates, put hands on them, pushed them open. He had half hoped they would be locked. That, at least, would be something, instead of nothing.

Nothing – nobody here – nothing to find – nobody to ask – nothing but dirt, raw dirt and little rocks, and wildly he thought maybe if he put his hands to the ground, if he closed his eyes and felt, sent himself out of his mind and into the ground, just felt hard enough, there would be something, he could find something, in these grounds all connected as if by a curse…

A feeling – not a burp – interrupted him, and he thought a moment about letting it go right here, but the curse seemed also to connote the sacred, and so he turned and swallowed. His walk back through the gate was somewhat less dignified.

They were here, too – hastily constructed so patriots he helped liberate could turn a profit on their neighbors turned their enemies turned to slaves by sales, it seemed, and nothing more. He hadn’t meant to go there – there was no reason to – but it seemed to be where he always went. Thes had noticed, but Thes knew, and as long as no one else noticed…

He finally thew up at the corner of the house seized for his habitation. A large and regal house, it had a nursery. Though reason told him it was long disused, he pictured little children crying under red roofs, such as Baath’s old laws would never allow (though what did laws mean without ideals to back them? Scandals of the old regime were plenty, but now it seemed like they forgot what made them scandalous and the new regime had no law against such things, yet…), and lost everything he had.

Maybe it had all gone wrong, and he didn’t see it because he didn’t want to see it, or maybe he didn’t see it because he wasn’t looking, or maybe he didn’t see it because he was looking, looking everywhere, just for the wrong thing.

Maybe he was looking far too hard and saw nothing because there was nothing.

God, his stomach hurt…

Once he got inside, he half-crawled up the stairs, and threw himself into the only bed he had ever slept in that was the right size for him. Hands over his eyes, pushing hard enough to drive back his developing headache, his stomach churned, but not with drink.

He was confused, and sick, and disgusted with himself and with everything around him, but mostly, he was alone – and there was nothing for which he was so grateful, and by which he was so tormented, as that.
Chapter Forty-Four  by OllamhRemi
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Artist's comment:
This story eventually includes these elements:
Rape (indirectly described/referenced); Slavery (not the consensual kind); Violence (battles, etc); and explicit sex (but I assume if you're here you expected that one, at least)

Individual chapters will be tagged with the relevant themes and filters, but be forewarned and consume at your own discretion

If you haven't read the Prelude, start here: One
To start at the beginning of this story, go here: Chapter One

Content details:
• Category – Literature
• Critique – Optional
• Filter – N/A
• Series – Original
• Theme – Romance
• Time Taken – Who knows?
• Tools – Literary Work – Prose/Stories
Posted on 2021-03-18 @ 2:35 AM
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