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Knights Bleed Red and Blue
by Auron Belmont

The captain of the Red Knights folded his gauntlets in his lap and sat upon a crude chair of canvas stretched on a wooden frame. Above him, a tiny flame encased in a thick glass lantern gave feeble illumination. It was enough light to bathe the hourglass sitting on the wooden plank table and highlight the surgeon's tools adjacent. Tiny grains of sand sished through the bottleneck opening and piled one on top of many, slowly diminishing the top pile and adding to the bottom.

Five times Camus had flipped the hourglass. He hadn't sat here for all five, going on six, hours. There were times when he found it necessary to move about, check his troops, report on casualties and help out whenever possible. He'd successfully managed to stave off his impending dread.

He said he'd be here.

That he wasn't here at nearly midnight said much. His companion of good and bad times had always kept these meetings before. Even if detained by distance, he always always came back, apologizing for his lateness and was swift to begin putting the troops to right. His troops. Their troops. Their team.

Although, to be fair, this time the battlegrounds were beyond expanse and the death toll substantial. It had taken hours to set up the field hospital and to coordinate all the different squads to regroup. Lord Jarreth had gone on with a group of five hand-picked members of his army. No word on his progress, but with most of the Highland army in retreat, there was little doubt their leader would be successful.

What did remain in doubt was the whereabouts of another leader. The Blue Knights had temporarily given their command to Camus until Miklotov could be located. One possibility was Miklotov was one of the five traveling with Lord Jarreth and he simply didn't have the time to send a message because of the need for alacrity. It made sense, for Lord Jarreth had taken Miklotov on a few missions in the ongoing struggle against the Highland empire.

Well, then I shall just have to berate Mik when he returns. He decided then to get up and inform the rest of the knights of the possibilities surrounding the missing commander.

He had gotten as far as the tent entrance when Stallion, the fastest elf alive, skid to a halt in front of him. The elf whipped his blue ponytail over his shoulder and had to lean over, hands braced to his calves, breathing hard. It was little wonder. With a need for rapid messages in a setting this convoluted, an archer was needed less than someone who could run.

"Stallion, what is it?" Camus asked him.

"I'm sorry...would've...told you...earlier...but so many...messages..."

"I realize that. Tell me what it is when you regain your wind."

For a few minutes, Stallion did just that. But soon, the elf stood upright and sighed sadly. "Lord Camus, I...I scarce know how to begin. I wasn't sure when I saw it, but it was confirmed by several others."

"What was confirmed?" Why was his tone so sharp? Stallion was merely going to tell him something important...what was wrong?

"At the front of the army, where Lord Jarreth had his band of followers, he was nearing the castle when in a last desperate attempt, the archers sent their last volley of arrows. The magician, Luc, tried to cast a spell to avert the attack, but it wasn't far enough and the arrows kept coming.

"In the midst of the battle, Lord Miklotov had momentarily gone on ahead to check the progress of the front squadrons when he saw the arrows fall. He...he roared and he charged for Lord Jarreth. I'm not sure how it happened, but the Lord was pushed away to safety. And Miklotov...the arrows cut down his horse and they both went down, he being crushed by the weight of his steed. Because of some of the spells of water, it's turned the outside of the castle into a muddy quagmire. We're still searching but..."

Camus, a knight proud his training, was used to hearing about men dying. And in the back of his mind, he knew it was likely one or the other could die. But not like this. Not when they were so close to the end. "Mik," he whispered. His training seemed to vanish and the devil-may-care attitude was supplanted by an awful tightness in his chest and the burning in his eyes.

"I'm so sorry," Stallion murmured. "I'll let you recover and give the news to the men. The knights will need their orders from you."

"I...I know. Give me but a few minutes and I'll tell them myself."

Camus didn't see the elf runner leave. Nor did he care. Although knights had to put others before themselves, for once Camus was going to be a selfish man and weep for his friend.

The memories, they ran fast and thick. He and Miklotov had started at the academy in Rockaxe at the same time and had become fast friends despite their difference in personalities. Miklotov had been his best friend and was probably the ideal that knights through Rockaxe strove to be. Stoic, brave, not afraid to go against even his lord if it meant that he would be helping the oppressed versus the establishment and unflinchingly did all that was required of him, even if it meant to die...

Clasping a hand to his breast, Camus swallowed a sob and left the tent, trying to form the words he'd need to say to his now two-company squad of knights. But somehow the words eluded his grasp. And his chest hurt so much. And everyone in the camp seemed to slow down all sinking under the weight of war and sloooooowly goooooiiiinnnnng innnnntoooo daaaaaaarrrrrrkkkkknnnnneeeesssss uuuuunnnndeeeer eeeeaaaaaarrrrrtttthhhhhh ...

Miklotov jerked to conscious abruptly as he breathed in wet viscous mud. His scream burbled into bubbles of air caught in the swampy ooze of the battlefield. Unadulterated panic translated into pure adrenaline and he heaved his face free of the mud to cough it out of his lungs and suck in pure night air. One pure breath was all he got before a crushing weight pushed him back into the mud. What horse! The dead equine had his body pinned to the ground and with the field a mess of mud with water spells, eventually the weight had slowly pushed his face from solid ground into the mud. Idon'twannadieIdon'twannadiedon'twannadiehere! Bracing his arms into the murk, he heaved himself up and forward, trying to slop onto more solid ground. It worked for only a moment, but the crushing weight of the horse began pulling him back under.

Miklotov could only laugh in sheer incredulity that he was going to die, not by the enemy, but by his horse. After he had pushed Lord Jarreth to safety, the rain of arrows had cut into his horse. He must have been thrown and the horse vainly tried to protect his master by shielding him with his body.

Then I dreamed all that...Camus...I'm sorry, I was supposed to meet you and I'm so very late... He screamed again as he was taken under.

Not five seconds later, someone lifted his head from death helped him to retch up mud. The dead horse was lifted from his shoulders by the claws of a griffin. A wolf's jaws and an archer's hands pulled his battered body to safety.

Miklotov tried to form the words to name his rescuer, but was caught up in a fit of helpless coughing.

Shiro whined and licked the mud from the knight's face, helping him to breathe. Kinnison pounded on his back. "Thank all the gods you're alive! We've passed over here before, but you must have been hidden by that great lump of horse."


The young archer's eyes shone. "Lord Jarreth has won. We've won. He is well and there have been deaths here and there, but most have survived. Lord Camus has taken temporary control of both squadrons, but has refused to announce you were dead. He said you had until midnight. Something about a meeting?"

"...'s'not midnight?"

"No, you've got about a quarter of an hour."

Miklotov's split and swollen lips pulled together in an approximation of a smile. "Give...Shiro...message...tell Camus...I'm sorry...I'm late."

"Of course. Feather went to get the doctors and the field surgeons will take care of you."

As Miklotov watched the wolf race back to the camp, the adrenaline rush of battle and near death stilled in his body and he wept unashamedly at being alive and being able to fight and stand at his best friend's side once more.

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