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Betrayal: War Crimes

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Some people send flowers and cards, others do dinner or tend to a honey-do list. Heck, I’ve even done jewelry in the past. This time around here’s chapter 8 from Betrayal’s Hands as a freebie to all the mom’s out there. Okay, maybe it’s a little gruesome for Mother’s Day, but it’s the though the counts, right? :)

Chapter 8

Anna sat looking out the window of the healer’s hall wondering what the future would hold. A white clad woman came in with a steaming mug. She could only imagine the contents were something noxious. She shot the older woman a dirty look but drank the contents quickly. Her task finished, she returned mug and moved away to find a new spot to seclude herself.

‘The bars on the window ruin the view.’ Anna thought to herself.

A cough sounded behind her, and Anna turned to find the healer-woman standing in the doorway. Anna had made it clearly and violently known that she would accept no male healer, and no male had crossed her threshold again.

“There’s a man to see you, Milady Captain.” The woman stuttered, “He says you’ll see him, says he’s family.” The woman stood nervously with her hands clasped around the mug.

“Show him in.”

Startled, the healer bustled off to let Captain Corillius know that her recalcitrant patient would see him.

“The army is eager to see you again. Word had spread of your defiance of the Baron and what you did to try and protect your warriors,” Cor said to her back after he entered the room.

“They still died and it only served to get me raped and beaten,” Anna said, bitterly. “I learned only the folly of my actions.”

“No, damn it, Anna!” Corillius said, very nearly walking over to her and grabbing her by the shoulders. “It proved that you care! Or that you once cared,” he added angrily. “It showed that you would do anything for your people, for our people! It showed that no price was too great. No burden to heavy to bear!”

“I was wrong! I thought I knew what I was doing but look at me, just look at me!” She shrieked, turning to stare at him. Trails of tears streamed down her face. Her nails were bitten to the quick and her skin was pale and waxy. It had been only a week but she was obviously letting her health suffer.

“Your soldiers tell the tale of the swamp,” Cor said, his tone softening. “Of how you slew a troll with your bare hands. No one has ever done that before, and the tale grows with every telling.”

“Your story, not mine,” Anna said, turning back to the window.

“Your deed, Anna.”

“They should have killed me,” Anna muttered.

Cor threw his hands up in the air unseen behind her. He turned and walked to the door. His hand upon it, he stopped and spoke again. “Against the healers’ advice, your command is ready for you to resume. If you seek death so badly, then you can at least do it on the field of honor.”

Anna’s eyes closed and fresh tears ran from them when the door shut harshly behind her. She hung her head and let her forehead rest against the bars, then proceeded to wrap her skull against them increasingly hard until the pain made her dizzy. She backed away and fell to her bed, holding her head in her hands and sobbing.

“Why can’t I be me again?” She asked the air around her.

* * * *

Three days had passed and Anna had decided to try to rebuild what she could of her life. She walked in her boiled leather cuirass and greaves, her shield on her back and her short sword at her side. She was in charge of her soldiers again, every one that had survived their capture, plus several fresh ones that were eager to join her ranks. She held no words of wisdom for them, nor did she do anything to gain their love or their trust. Her troops had plenty of it spare, and with the stories of her capture, denial of torture, and then her barehanded assault in the swamp upon something that was twice her size, none was needed.

Now she walked to the prisoner camp and ground her teeth in frustration when a guard saluted her at the entrance. His quick movement snapping to attention had startled her and nearly made her cower.

“Captain Promus, I am honored to be at your service,” he said, hand against his breast respectfully.

Anna nodded, “Fetch me a prisoner… please.” She nearly cursed at her subservient tone, but the warrior made no notice of it. He disappeared inside the compound for a moment then returned a few moments later and told her that one would be brought along shortly.

A few minutes later the prisoner was led out, his hands and feet in chains. He studied the ground then saw her standing there and sneered.

“What is it with you barbarians trusting women to bear arms? They’ve no souls, you fools! They’ll gut you in your sleep and take what’s yours!”

The soldier out front punched the prisoner in the stomach, doubling him over. The man that brought him out kicked him in the rear, driving him to his knees.

“You kneel before the likes of Captain Promus, dog!” The guard growled. “She’s better than 10 of your nobles!”

Anna had paled before his cutting remarks, but now that he was on the ground she felt a little better, even if only because he wasn’t staring contemptuously at her.

“Captain, he’s all yours,” the prisoner’s escort said, handing her the rope that was around his neck.

Anna took the rope and studied it, then followed it up to the man’s neck. He caught his breath and stared up at her, looking at her angrily. “Do your worst, bitch!”

Anna took a step back, surprised at his animosity. The soldier raised a hand to backhand the prisoner but Anna stopped him. “Hold, warrior, if he thinks himself so mighty, let him prove it.”

Inside Anna was quaking. Sweat ran down her sides from the challenge she’d issued. The guard laughed at the idea. “Good idea, Captain!” He grabbed the dirty tunic the man wore and hauled him to his feet.

“Come with me, dog, and learn the strength of our women,” he said. “You’ll be sorry for your impudence. You face Captain Anna Promus, and she killed a troll with her bare hands!”

The man glanced back disbelievingly at Anna. She looked calm, if a bit pale. He looked away as the guard hauled him off to a nearby ring that was designed for stabling horses or livestock. Now it would serve as an arena for the two of them. The prisoner, like the others, had heard tales of Anna, but they all disbelieved that a women could be so brave, so strong, or so capable.

Anna’s stomach was churning. She felt her gorge rise at the prospect of fighting, and not just fighting, but fighting a man. She stopped outside the ring, her gorge rising too with too much force to be controlled any longer. The Captain turned and retched into the cold mud, doubling over as the spasms shook her body. The prisoner laughed mockingly at her.

“Captain Promus, are you alright?” The guard said, hurrying over to her.

Anna straightened slowly, deeply ashamed of herself. How was she to ever attempt to regain her sense of self if she got sick at the thought of combat? It wasn’t combat that frightened her; it was the fear of fighting a man.

“I took ill from the swamp water I drowned the troll in,” Anna lied. Her voice was rough. She wiped the back or her mouth off on the back of her hand then turned to face the prisoner.

“Do this another day, Captain. If you are ill there is no dishonor…”

“No,” Anna snapped. She must do it now. Either she would kill him or he would kill her. If the latter happened, her fight would be over and she would have what she deserved. If she were to win, then she would maybe win a little piece of herself back.

Anna left her sword with the guard, then handed him her shield as well. She stepped into the pen and let them shut the gate behind her. It was a simple fence of wood meant to hold in livestock. I wouldn’t stop a man bent on escape, but it would at slow them enough to allow the archers time to finish him.

“Come, pretty lady, and let me show you what a real man is like,” the prisoner said, gesturing to her.

Anna held her ground, eyeing him warily. Nervously. He shrugged when she made no move to attack and charged at her, surprising her with his speed and bearing her to the ground with his hands around her throat, clutching and squeezing.

Anna gasped, both in surprise and then for breath. He was heavy and his fetid breath gagged her as much as his grip did. She struggled under him, thinking that she deserved what was happening. The difference was that his attack was not sexual. Without that weapon to use against her, Anna overcame her paralyzing fear and to react.

She wiggled under him, suddenly furious for  his arrogance and his assault upon her. Her vision darkened and a red film seemed to cover her eyes. She writhed under him and lashed out, driving her fingers into pressure points in his armpits. He grunted and felt his arms stop responding.

Anna flipped him over then rotated upon him rapidly, showing more than a hint of her legendary speed and flexibility. One leg wrapped behind his head and the other provided a scissor against his neck. She flexed her legs and watched gleefully as his eyes bulged and his tongue stuck out. She flexed once again, twisting this time, and felt his neck snap. His body twitched beneath her, his legs and arms flailing, and she rose.

A small group of cheering warriors had gathered to watch. She rose, looking down at the dead Kingdom warrior and feeling her rage drain and leave her empty. She smelled his urine his body had voided from it at the moment of death and the strong scent of it in her nostrils nearly caused her to be sick again. She spat on him and turned away, heading out the open gate and taking her sword and shield.

She walked away in a hurry, wanting no one to see her if she needed to be sick again.

* * * *

Corillius heard of the incident with the prisoner. He was tempted to seek Anna out. He wasn’t proud of her, as the others were. He knew too well what had happened. She’d lashed out in anger, wanting to kill a Kingdom man. Perhaps in the hopes of venting some rage at what had happened to her. He wondered if Makan’s leering face had been what she had seen when she snapped the prisoner’s neck. Cor hoped so, if only so that Anna could become herself again.

He had more important matters to attend to, however. Cor finished throwing the last of his equipment into his pack and lashed it tight. He looked at his tent a final time, then slung the pack over his shoulders and slipped a shield over it. He grabbed up his spear and emerged from the flap of the tent, stopping to let his eyes adjust to the receding sunlight. He wore the clothing and leather harness of a mercenary. It was studded with bits of metall. He wore a cured fur cape from a Kodiak, dented metal grieves, and bracers of Kingdom design.

He looked about, nodding to a few nearby warriors, then set off, walking to the edge of the Nordlamar camp and then beyond. He spoke with the sentries when he reached them, warning them of his presence, then moved on into the disputed lands between the Kingdom and Nordlamar.

Cor’s mission was simple. He was to avenge Anna and teach the Aradmathians that such inhumane treatment of prisoners was unacceptable. He refused to consider Anna’s own treatment of a prisoner, for it would only make him grind his teeth in frustration. Cor was a soldier, first and foremost, and he had made a vow on top of that. His mission was merciless and he would have the blood of innocents upon his hands when he was done, but the fate of his soul was not as important as the fate of his nation.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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