Author's Note: Deciding I should become better acquainted with my own characters, I wrote this little short the other day. A look into the mind of Urban, the General of Third Company in my novel-in-the-making, Gods of Stone. It does make sense as a stand alone, I think, and does not fit into the plot of the novel -- which I had posted parts of, but am reworking. Creative criticism always welcome!
Disclaimer: All characters, situations and characters are off my own creation. Any similarity to existing characters and plots are purely coincidental... although I would like to know about it!
"Please, let me go! Mommy!"
Urban was shaking. He tensed his shoulders and tried vainly to block out the wailing of the child he had left in the arms of Third Company's healer. His heavy boots crunched down on broken shards of pottery, grinding them into dust as he walked through the kitchen of the house. Urban thought he felt a lot like the pottery himself, slowly being crushed under a great weight pressing down on him from every direction. Hand on the hilt of his broadsword, Urban took deep breaths and tried to calm himself, tried to behave bravely, as was expected of a General; but Urban was still shaking.
Death had visited upon the house. Urban was sure of it as he travelled through the kitchen and into the dimly lit hallway, sidestepping furniture which had been toppled in the struggle which had evidently taken place. His sharp honey-gold eyes could just make out a figure sprawled at the end of the hallway, near the back of the small cottage. Steeling himself, he advanced slowly, until a beam of light from a small, dirty window fell at just the right angle to illuminate the floor at his feet.
The man had died while running from his attacker, knocked down from behind as he tried to flee to safety. In his thirties, the victim lay on his stomach, arms outstretched and blue eyes open and staring, unseeing, at Urban. The gory wound on the back of his skull bled sluggishly, staining the man's curly blonde hair and pooling on the dark wood floor. Pressing his back to the wall, Urban sidled past the body, trying to ignore the stench produced as a result of the young man's bowels having failed him in death and the coppery tang of blood. He gagged and fought not to vomit what little remained in his stomach after having surveyed other parts of the besieged town.
Urban's hand slid into something wet and he thrust himself away from the wall in horror as he gaped at the smear of crimson on the white wash. His stomach rebelled fitfully and he retched, leaning away from blood and body. The acrid taste of bile filled his mouth and he spat it out, gasping for air as his shoulders shook with his stomach's great heaves. Calming himself, Urban wiped the blood from his hand on his dark breeches and scrubbed at his face with the sleeve of his cotton shirt.
He continued forward despite the setback, though more cautiously, his eyes alert to every shadow or mark on the walls and floor. Urban lay a large hand flat against the rough wooden door before him and pushed slowly. The door swung open with an agonizingly slow creak that made Urban shiver despite the heat in the stuffy house. He stepped through the threshold and into the bedroom, his nerves buzzing as he half-expected a corpse to jump out at him. Don't be so stupid, he scolded himself silently. Get a grip, Urban. Dead is dead, he won't be getting up any time soon. This failed to reassure him, and a small, cold voice in the back of his mind nagged, you know better though, don't you? You know the dead can-
Something fell to the floor with an echoing bang, interrupting the cruel voice and causing Urban to draw his sword defensively. He shook his head, as if to free himself of his treacherous thinking, and advanced toward the rustic wooden wardrobe. Years of training as a soldier took over and he opened one of the wardrobe's doors quickly, rolling to the side to avoid any attack from its continents. No attack came. "Please!" a terrified voice sobbed. "Please, don't hurt me!"
Urban peered into the wardrobe at the young woman who had squeezed herself inside unceremoniously in an effort to hide from her would-be attacker. She was younger than the man in the hallway by at least ten years, with long sable hair and large, terrified doe-brown eyes. The young General sheathed his sword slowly, taking in the state of the woman's tattered skirts and torn blouse. A bruise had begun to swell along her jaw line in the distinctive pattern of a hand which had gripped much too tightly. She sat with her knees pulled tightly to her chest, one hand holding her skirts firmly between her legs as she shook with fear. "Please," she begged again, tears spilling down her pale, bruised cheeks. Urban went cold as he noticed the finger-tip bruises trailing up the pale skin of her legs and disappearing beneath the hem of her skirts; the young woman had been raped.
"It's ok," Urban said, as softly as he could. "My name is Urban." The woman looked at him in a combination of fear and suspicion. He motioned to the royal insignia on his leather jerkin and tried his best to smile. The result of the effort was a feeble, shaky grin, but it seemed to comfort the girl in some small way. "I'm the General of Third Company."
"Are… Are they gone?" she stammered, voice low and husky, her voice raw from screaming. Urban nodded silently; the raiders had fled the town nearly as quickly as they had attacked, leaving only a half-day-old trail for his men to follow into the foothills. He reached his own shaking hand towards the wardrobe, offering it to the girl, who, after only a moment's hesitation, flung herself forward into Urban's arms. She sobbed wildly as he did his best to comfort her, feeling clumsy and useless as she clung to his thin shoulders.
"My h-husband," the girl sniffled, her cheek pressed against Urban's chest, "and my little one, Mirabelle?" Urban winced as the momentarily forgotten cadaver in the hallway came rushing back to his memory. Tear-filled eyes searched his pale face as his mind tumbled frantically over countless possible answers for her question; none of them were tactful.
"I'm going to carry you outside," Urban told the girl, supporting her back with one arm, and looping his other beneath her knees. He lifted her gently, still avoiding her gaze as he suggested it might be best for her to close her eyes. She obeyed, gasping as a new fit of tears overcame her, and pressed her face to his chest once more.
Wishing he cold close his own eyes, Urban carried the girl carefully through the doorway into the hall. The hair on his arms stood on end as the dim light of the hallway played tricks with his eyes. The man had moved, his eyes had been closed, there were footprints in the blood; Urban forced the panicked notions from his mind, assuring himself that the scene was very much the same as it had been when he had come across it. Five steps… four… three… Two more and he would be free of the hallway and the fear and sickness it invoked.
The child tore from the healer's arms with a shriek as Urban emerged from the house with a battered woman in his arm. "Mama!" the child screamed as Urban set the woman to her feet. She knelt and swept her child into her arms, sobbing with relief as she tried to soothe the dark-haired child.
Strong, calloused hands roused Urban from his trance as the soldiers of Third Company Black Talon patted his shoulders and back in congratulations. So brave! So noble! He was a thing of legends, pressing on fearlessly in the face of peril to rescue the damsel in distress! Urban knew better, knew about the gripping fear which threatened to paralyze his body, the nasty memories that haunted not only his sleep, but his every waking moment as well. If only they knew the secrets he kept, if only they knew that their stoic General fell to pieces in the presence of death, if only they knew… But they did not know, so Urban breathed deeply and behaved bravely. As was expected of a General.