flASH fiction: Volume 5: Sole Survivor (9)

Sole Survivor
By
Jason Pere

Blood, there was so much blood. Aaron Luckworth could feel the red stains upon his skin like they were a heavy layer of guilt made manifest. He had been part of more than one military action that ended in a slaughter but this was the first time that he had been in command of such an offensive initiative. As the Lance Commander surveyed the scene of dead dragoon soldiers he started to sense a sinking sensation in his belly. It was as if his spirit had been mired in muck and filth of the foulest bog imaginable and was slowly being pulled down into the murky waters of regret. Telling himself that the dragoon his cavalry had ridden down were all honorable casualties of a war that was greater than he or any one generation of mankind did little to assuage his troubled mind. The warriors laying cold and soaked in scarlet on the travelers path may as well have been innocent children for how heavy Aaron’s heart grew in that moment.

“A fine victory today, strong plan on your part, Lance Commander sir. General Braveway will be certain to give you some high commendation,” came a voice from over Aaron Luckworth’s shoulder.

The Lance Commander shifted in his saddle to look at the speaker. As sour as the adulation of carnage made Aaron feel, he was grateful for something to pull his focused form the vast field of maimed and mangled bodies. “We were only doing the duty that the General bade us. This is hardly laudable,” Aaron said to the knight wearing the markings of a Sergeant’s rank.

“The enemy outnumbered us nearly three to one and we took them with minimal losses. Many Lance Commanders have never done such a feat. This is a justly earned measure of glory and you are due the respect that comes with such, sir,” responded the Sergeant. The tall Rawyard knight leaned forward in his saddle and cast his eyes down in a deferential motion as he spoke. He held his bow for several beats.

Aaron looked at the man and noted that the Sergeant’s cloak was still mostly stark white, the garment had some dirt and mud speckling the its hem. A few errant droplets of dragoon blood dotted the white cloak but for the most part the fabric was unsoiled. The relative cleanliness of the Sergeant’s cloak spurred Aaron’s mind to consider the woeful sate of his own dress. The Lance Commander’s cloak had not been properly cleaned since the battle with Stef’han of Black, an offence that would not stand with most of the traditionalist Rayward officers but Aaron Luckworh cared little for cosmetic regulations. Coupled with the fresh soaking of crimson, the previous stains of red had nearly transformed the lance commander’s cloak into bonds of solid bloody history. The man was consumed by the vermillion defeat of Rayward’s enemies upon his skin and garb. While others might view his bath of red as a fine mark of battlefield pride, Aaron only felt the red deluge washing him in shame.

“The General may dispense his praises as he sees fit. I will not be expecting any sort of recognition for what we did here today,” Aaron said with a weighted sigh and lamentation subtlety creeping into his voice.

“Your humility does you much honor, sir.” said the Sergeant. He continued to hold his bow and keep his eyes averted as he spoke.

Aaron silently screamed to himself as his pathos was mistaken for virtue. “Very well, Sergeant. Fall out and see to our purpose. The regiment needs to be able to move as soon as possible,” he said with a controlled cadence that refused to give away any hint of his inner tribulation.

Arron observed as his troops went about the aftermath of the battle and carried out the various post combat formalities. He watched in sorrow as his men mercifully dissipated the fatally wounded knights who still clung to the waking world. Aaron reverently cast his eyes downward as he noted the dead being sorted and stacked into piles of friend and foe. He spared a few moments to offer thanks for the men and women who had perished under his command as well as respect for the dragoon warriors that had been slain in the combat. Aaron looked on with ever hopeful eyes as he saw Rayward knights pull their battered brethren in arms from the ground and start tending to the numerous cuts and broken bones that needed a healer’s touch. He hoped and even prayed that the wounded under his command would live to fight another day or at the very least be spared from any crippling injuries.

The familiar sounds and sights that followed in the footfalls of battle were pushed aside by a commotion to Aaron’s shield side. He turned his focus just as he heard several of his knights calling his name. His vison came into focus just in time to see a yellow scaled dragoon with several marks of rank up and down her arms, essentially explode from a pile of trampled enemy dead. The dragoon spat a jumble of gibberish in the primal tongue of her kind as she waived the broken half of a spear at the collection of Rayward knights who had surrounded her. He heeled his mount to head for the mess of curses, threats and profanity before the spectacle spiraled out of control.

“The coward mongrel hid amount the dead and slew Sir Bannon in dishonor,” snarled the largest of the knights that had encircled the wounded dragoon.

“I did not hide. My brothers and sisters shielded me with their flesh. They died in honor that I might live,” growled the yellow scaled dragoon.

“We shall happily reunite you with your beloved family then,” said one of the Rayward knights as she drew her broad sword and boldly took a step forward.

“Hold fast,” Aaron said with authority as he dismounted from the back of his white stallion. His words were obeyed with silent loyalty as each knight put their weapon to a resting position.

“Lance Commander sir, she is one of the enemy. We should end her now,” said the large knight as he angled to speak with Aaron.

“She is defeated. There is no honor in executing her here and now. She will be taken prisoner,” Aaron said. His command was greeted with a chorus of irritated groans from the men and women that were so primed for bloody satisfaction.

“I will die before I surrender to you,” said the dragoon with a martial light beaming in her eyes.

“See, the wretch wants to die, we should give it what it wants,” said the large knight with an exacerbated persistence.

“No harm is to come to her. This is not a discussion, it is my will and anyone who does not obey will be hanged for insubordination. Am I understood?” huffed Aaron.

“Yes, Lance Commander, sir,” shouted all the gathered knights in militant unison.

Aaron turned his focus to the fearsome dragoon and removed his helm. He softened his eyes as he looked at her. “I believe that you are willing to die but what does that serve? How does that honor your fallen brothers and sisters? If you lay down your arms you will not be harmed. I will also not have my people refer to you as a wretch or mongrel. May I know your name?” he said with piercing empathy.

“I am Donakis. All your kind want the dragoon wiped from the face of Argaia,” said the yellow scaled warrior as she leveled her broken spear at the commanding Rayward officer.

“I am Aaron Luckworth. I can not speak for the rest of Argaia but I do not want that kind of destruction. I would not see the end of the dragoon or dragons,” said the Lance Commander. His free hand left the white feathered plums of his helm and went to his head as he spoke. He looked at Donakis and was surprised to see the murderously defiant glint in her eyes subside for a moment. It was less than a heartbeat but the dragoon warrior looked as though she had been understood for the first time in her life after years of speaking words that nobody else could hear. It seemed as though the moment might have had the chance to evolve into something resembling shades of peaceful diplomacy but such a thing was pushed beyond reach as terrified shouts and screams rose up from the Rayward cavalry regiment.

Aaron let his ears guide his eyes. He turned to face the alarmed calls of his soldiers. He saw men and women scrabbling and pointing up at the sky. His gaze darted up to the horizon where all other eyes were affixed. His heart became stone and his blood turned to molten metal as he saw the vast wingspan of Sia of Red blocking out a massive portion of the second sun’s rays. He only had enough time to breathe out a lungful of fear before the great red scaled wyrm began to rain down a tempest of flame and rage upon the Rayward soldiers. Everything turned into terrible scarlet wonder.