Amid the Green Corn: Part Ten

by Cooper Young

For a brief moment as the Rilikan swept down from the ridge Saturn High had a hope: the Men of March had the sun at their backs, and within a few minutes there would be too little sun to shoot at all. Then, as the first shots rang out, he heard in their echoes the crack of a banner in the stiff October wind and saw, writhing like a snake over the orange and yellow flag of the Rilikan, a single red ribbon. The standard-bearer–a man in his fifties whose hair was somehow still a definite if pale blond rather than white–locked eyes with him for a moment before urging on his warriors. There was only shame and pity in his eyes.

Chilled, Saturn understood. His father had told him once what a red ribbon would mean: blood runs, or blood spills. While the two branches of the family had a long-standing agreement to protect one another regardless of their clan alliance, Triumph had something planned for today from which her husband couldn’t shield his brother or nephew.

The best he could do was tell them to run.

Saturn turned to his father and found him gone. Mercury hadn’t run, though, not yet; he found him halfway between himself and the line rapidly solidifying on either side of Fire in the Field, his eyes fixed on the ribbon. Saturn waited, his stomach sinking, knowing there was no way of telling him why he couldn’t run. When Mercury turned and opened his mouth to shout over the cries of the descending army, Saturn only shook his head and charged past him.

The danger didn’t matter. He’d spent a very long night sitting awake in thought, and that had been his final conclusion: the danger didn’t matter. If Fire in the Field knew what he’d done, someone had to die before he could go home. He could wait and pray that the Rilikan killed Fire, but he knew the melted shell of a man was too tough and too wily for that. He could go home draped over the saddle of his horse, but that would do no one any good.

He could break the Vondergast truce and do his level best to put his cousin and one-time lover in the ground, and sick though that was it seemed like his best bet. He heard his father call his name twice.

He’d kill and he’d die before he let anyone tell Delia what he’d done

Fire in the Field had turned back to make sure he was following orders and grinned now as he approached. Saturn wouldn’t meet his eyes, instead searching the oncoming line for his quarry. She was as easy to find as he was sure Fire had hoped; three full feet of scarlet curls streaming over the autumn-yellowed grass made Star Between the Peaks a  banner larger and brighter than the one her father carried. A few yards behind the line Saturn leveled his rifle at her, took a deep breath, and watched her ride, ignoring Fire smirking on the edge of his vision.

She moved like  half a centaur, and after a moment Saturn High realized he’d forgotten to let that breath out.

It was he and not Fire, then, who saw the Rilikan stop short. At a whistle from one of the leaders the line came to a sudden halt twenty yards in front of the Men of March, with the exception of a single rider who, saber in one hand, dropped her reins and reached into the satchel at her side. Triumph Justly Warring lobbed what looked like a large stone at the center of the line before her.

The ground erupted. Two men and a horse died instantly; another man went down beneath Triumph’s saber as she hit the remains of the line, leaping the crater without slowing for even a heartbeat and turning ninety degrees to hurl another missile down the length of the group.

The Men of March scattered like leaves in the wind. The Rilikan gave chase, pouncing on them in the pandemonium as a second grenade hit. Saturn turned and followed his father who, half prepared and wholly unashamed, led the retreat.

He looked back as the bombs roared again and again, hoping to count his cousins over his shoulder. At most six would have joined the fight, and if he could find the four oldest he’d know there was no one lurking in the hills in ambush. Behind him, however, the earth had risen to meet the sky in a haze of dust, smoke, and blood vapor that obscured everything but the screams of fear and rage and dying horses.

Where on earth had she gotten grenades? Bullets were hard enough to come by. The pre-Bond cities had begun to run low on old supplies years ago, and there was no way the Rilikan could have made it across the pass to the rotting army base in the mountains without someone noticing. He didn’t want to think about it now–he wanted too badly to survive to think–but it kept urging its way back into his mind.

Boom. Where?

Boom. How?

She could make anything, raise anything, breed anything, find anything…

Boom. How long had she saved them for this moment?

And there she was, ripping through the fog directly behind him, still guiding her horse with only her knees. There was no recognition in his aunt’s steel grey eyes as she came after him, no hint that the word ‘family’ registered anywhere in her consciousness. Her face was wooden, showing neither rage nor hate; her voice was silent. She reached for another grenade.

He rolled forward when the horse hit the ground knees-first, tumbling over its head and into a clump of dying brush at the base of a hill. Silence fell. For what seemed like years he laid there motionless, arms crossed over his head and one hand still miraculously clutching his gun. When he heard nothing disturb the sudden quiet he cautiously raised his head, only to drop flat again in an instant.

The battlefield wasn’t silent. He was deaf, and he was trapped behind the Rilikan line.

 

 A Note: I had intended to post this–well, to write it, actually–last week, but it was my 25th birthday, someone gave me cake, and as I didn’t do much else that day I decided that you all could wait a dang minute while I ate said cake, took a hot bath, and finished up No Country for Old Men. All at once. Don’t judge me.

Two days ago I promised you both explosions and head shots, but this portion of the story has grown too large for me to include the latter. Rest assured, however, that someone will die bloodily next time

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