so, i rewrote Promise is a Promise. i've been writing on a lot of projects since my last updation, but i felt i really needed something to post, so i chose something old. this was first choice for modernization, so i turned nine pages into thirteen. :laughs: not entirely happy with it, but like it a lot better than it's original. which i happen to have at the moment, but won't have around forever. do want to note that a flashback occurs just shy of halfway through the fic. don't be confused by sudden shift in location/situation.
not beta'd and barely proofread. i mean, i've read this thing a million times but i kept editing it and i'm sure i fucked up here and there, i'm good at that.
on another note: i recently began a twitter account, link is up on my profile. thinking of starting an account for saul from Stepbrothers, so if that's something you'd be interested in, let me know if it's even worth the effort.
don't give up on me guys, i'm still writing but hardly anything solid because my attention is for shit lately. i'm hoping with the summer and a fixing of health problems, i'll be better able to keep on track. recent reviewers have also kept me going, so i thank you guys here.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
The sun was up less than two hours and already our gear was turned to tar against the skin, but the earth beneath my knees retained its soft and spongy texture, as we were far enough into the shaded trees for the ground to probably never dry. This region always has constant summer rains, and there had been more of the same during the night. Few birds called through the still morning air, and the breezes were few and far between.
In the silence, I heard a faint rustle at my side as Jean sighed. "Me feets 're killin' me."
My own body ached all over from holding the same position for the past few hours, and my patience was somewhat thin as I hissed back, "Shut it, ya fuckin' petticoat!"
A flicker of his scowl appeared at the corner of my vision as he sulked from the reprimand, but he kept his thoughts on the matter to himself--a wise move, on his part, as I've killed people for less.
Turning my sole attention back towards the path we'd staked for ambush in the early hours of the morning, I caught slight movement off through the thick foliage, causing peppery adrenalin to spike through my veins and flood my mouth with acid. If anything, my focus sharpened even further, and I flipped a small signal with my fingers to Jean, knowing he'd pass it along to the rest of the men spaced out alongside the path.
We waited, watching the movement through the trees until I felt confident enough to cock an arrow, my tension a hairsbreadth away from triggering our ambush. Indeed, the singeing pain of the twine from my bow cutting into the flesh of my fingers was soothing, keeping me focused as I waited for the small garrison once rumored to be passing through the area. It was a prime target for our band, small as it was, especially since we'd lost the last few skirmishes and desperately needed some success to upkeep morale.
This fight against the present king began building before I was even born, but ever since my induction into the guerrilla insurrection just over three years ago, we've been gaining more footholds of success. I'm not so arrogant that I feel my part has had some effect, but in some way it has, while more and more, people with honed skills in warfare and espionage have also joined the cause.
The low thud of footfalls announced the garrison's approach, and I hazarded a guess that there couldn't be more than thirty men altogether, probably less. Tiny flashes of their saxe blue tunics flit through the trees before the head of the outfit finally rounded a bend and became more visible as they head our direction.
I quickly counted five men on horseback with just a few shy of twenty foot soldiers--an easy amount for ambush. Often, there have been times I've led an ambush of a good four or five times that number, and I was not then with fifteen of our best archers as I am today.
Jean moved just slightly, his impatience bleeding through his otherwise calm appearance, and I twitched my arm in a 'steady' motion, his breath catching and then stilling as he again waited for my lead. I remained as if carved from stone, my fingertips numb but I barely noticed, my eyes flicking over the five mounted men in further detail, picking out one man in particular--the soon-to-be-late Captain Brunhelm. He was my mission, a personal vendetta beyond the strategy of taking out the leader to further create chaos.
When I'd sighted him out, a pulse of black rage flared up within my chest, my breath seeping into my lungs through a deeply steady pull, but where some allow their hot rage to impair their judgment, mine was sharply cold and only helped to fine-tune my focus.
Five years ago Brunhelm was still just a lieutenant, but he had stood by and did nothing as six men under his command beat and tortured my Luke right there in the street before my tannery, killing him from nothing more than a want to pass the time. By the time I'd made it outside, he was dead and I'd earned myself an incomplete attempt of the same before Brunhelm finally called his men away.
They should have killed me there in that small, cobbled street of Vistern.
I pulled deep into my lungs once more before allowing it to slide free in a steady stream, the point of my arrow languidly following along Brunhelm's trajectory before I loosed my arrow, already in the motion of cocking another in the off-chance that I'd miscalculated in less time that it would take many men to blink.
He gave the smallest jerk reaction to being hit before sliding down to the side and landing with a sickening thud in the dirt below, my arrow embedded deep in his left eye socket. I'd been aiming for the right.
My low curse was swallowed as I sprang to my feet, the faint hissing of other arrows already speeding from our hidden locations before the thought of an alarm could be raised. Soon though, far more quickly than I would have given them credit for, cries of ambush rang up before a furious bellow drowned it out.
"Catch the infidels!"
I stayed only in time to see a man kick his heels into his mount's flanks, apparently unfazed by the arrow already buried deep below his ribs as he rallied the scattered remains of the group into one cohesive unit once more. Already turning to flee, I heard the unmistakable peppering shots of gunfire, heard ripping vegetation, and put on more speed, knowing the rest of my men were doing the same.
There were cries as men fell to the rifle fire, but it's every man for himself when we're on the run, scattering to better ensure survival of the whole. There have been times when men came between bullets or arrows meant for me alone, and I'd left them behind as they screamed for mercy and their mothers, for their gods, screaming before death took the ability from them. I've done such things without moral conscience, and yet, when I saw a particular young man lag behind due to his oversized cloak, I mindlessly veered in his direction.
He started as I neared, and in so doing so, tripped on the damn silly cloak and almost stumbled down to the damp forest floor before I managed to catch him. His dark green eyes were wide with adrenalin-fueled fear, his hands shaking while he struggled with his cloak as bullets whipped past us. Movements swift and sure, I pulled out my dagger and deftly sliced open the clasp at his throat, his head swiveling for a look backwards even as I impatiently jerked him up.
"Run, you fool!"
My roar jerked him forward, my hands tearing him free of the excessive material as he obeyed my harsh command on blind faith alone.
We both scrambled to our feet, but had only gone a few paces before he abruptly pitched forward, skull shrapnel imbedded in my cheek from the force of the bullet that obliterated the back of his head.
Unthinking, I dropped down beside him and rolled his body over, swearing at the flatness of his stare.
Edward was only seventeen by a few months, still just a boy--he'd joined up with his cousin Marcus a little over a year ago. Soldiers had butchered his entire family when his young sisters were kept from being bedmates to the pigs holed up in their home for the night. Marcus had only been able to save the boy when he'd been forced to flee for their lives, and as the soldiers had burnt the home after killing the family, the two of them had had little choice but to seek out our band in the same quest for revenge that fueled many of us.
We don't delude ourselves into believing we fight because of some higher sense of ideals rather than for revenge, the high percentage of death too steep but for those already having nothing left to lose. We thirst for blood and get nothing out of it but eventual death by the bullet of a marksman or firing squad.
I've always wished more for Edward, that he would have tired of death and bed some wench before deciding that she was worth more to him than his revenge. Edward would have made a good man someday, decent, someone worth knowing.
He would have become the kind of man Luke used to be.
My fingers closed his eyelids against that flat stare, already knowing they'd open later if not weighted down, but I had next to nothing on my person and knew he had even less on his. One doesn't carry coppers into a battle requiring stealth, for they almost always manage to give you away.
Cutting through the flash of my grief was the sudden realization of a thundering approach of a horse, shocking me upright with an arrow already cocked and ready to fire but for the fact that I found myself staring down the dark barrel of a rifle. The soldier approached until metal pressed against my forehead, still slightly warm from a previous discharge.
The acrid smell of gunpowder was the smell of Edward's death.
The horse continued forward at a more sedate pace, reining in within a few feet of us.
"Shall ah fire, suh?"
The gun pressed further against my skin, become fast friends with my skull as the soldier waited further instruction.
The order was sharp and quickly carried out, the gun moving from between my brows to beneath my chin, clicking my jaws together as it roughly tilted upwards enough for my hood to fall back against my shoulders and reveal my face.
The mounted man's eyebrows barely rose in stately recognition, as if he wasn't aware of the open wound pressed beneath the palm of one hand.
"Ah, Leblanc isn't it? Interesting. Rumor has it you're one of the best archers this side of the Largess stronghold."
My teeth bared in a feral grin; "An' all ta' way ta' th' nort'ern shores."
His lips twisted into a colorless smirk. "T'was your arrow felled Arias just now, was it not? …Perhaps event that skirmish last Autumn, over half my men felled by just one man."
I didn't reply, too busy mentally cursing that I'd overlooked General Oran amongst the group, eager as I'd been for Brunhelm's earthly departure. There were whispered rumors that Oran preferred to travel with small garrisons to throw rebels off his movements--more of a fact, apparently, than I'd given credit to.
He apparently felt there was little else to say, for he was again brusque as he ordered, "Take him."
The soldier raised the butt of his rifle, and I quickly gave a deliberate flinch before thickly drawling, "I migh' take a m'mint, sir, ter complete a pr'mise I made to th' ken o' the boy?"
I'd thickened my brogue on purpose, and it caused the soldier to pause and look to his superior.
The general appeared amused by the rustic request, and gave a slight nod, eyes coolly amused to see what I might do. As if unaware of the audience, I crouched beside Edward and worked a hand beneath some wet leaves to get at the damp soil. Using it, I drew a faint line down the bridge of his nose, softly intoning a passage of last rites in the fluid language of my native tongue. Then, removing the cloak from around my own shoulders, I covered his face and upper body, knowing it'd give Marcus some peace of mind in some way, although I also had less altruistic reasons for doing so, ridding myself of the excess weight.
Slowly standing, I kept my head bowed in a respectful pose…and then abruptly breaking to the side and into a hard dash for cover.
By all accounts, a bullet at this range should have stopped me easily and I welcomed it, but instead came Oran's order to take me alive, my exhilaration at having heard the cocking rifle cut short by the dread thought of live capture.
I'm fast, but nowhere fast enough to outrun a relatively fresh horse, and thus, I was forced to rely on pure agility as I made sharp lefts and rights before dodging into a particularly heavy clump of undergrowth.
I must have missed a man already standing at ready, for I never even felt myself slump down to the wet undergrowth when a blunt object slammed across the back of my skull.
-- -- -- --
Meat seared on open flame, but I carried just bread in my hand as I walked towards the communal fire, knowing I was allotted early morning watch--meat tends to make me overtired on watch.
Laughter was easy and banter cheap, the men's voices blending into a familiar din as I approached.
I sought and found Marcus' gaze, and he silently indicated a saved space for me on a felled tree, eyes grinning as I settled down and accepted the small cup of mead he handed over. The bread I held was rough but good, and did much to level my mood as I smiled at some of the talk.
"And I'm telling you, it's the best bet a man's got when it's his cock before the firing line!"
An eyebrow rose as I glanced at Marcus, and he grinned while leaning closer to murmur a proposed plan for escaping death from the firing squad, but it all seemed to me it would accomplish little more than for the squad to aim at the man's genitals rather than his heart.
"You save yourself with that cockamamie scheme, Martin, and you let us know. Until then, I'm not taking such chances with my arse!"
Edward's laughing challenge was loud enough to carry, and his cousin shook his head with a spreading grin, taking the proffered cup back from my hand and polishing off the bit of mead still left at the bottom.
Martin opened his mouth to further defend his point, but an acidic voice cut through the laughter; "Such filth t'would never work! Not a man t'would stoop so low for his life, 'ceptin' the sodom'rs. An' ever'one knows most of 'em deserve a bullet to the 'ead anyhow."
The amusement turned grim on my face, and several sets of eyes flickered towards me, gauging the danger.
My posture was loose but my tone subtly threatening as I said, "That so, Paquet? Bullet to the 'ead?"
It had taken me a long time after emigrating to this country that 'living in sin' didn't apply to those couples who weren't married, but also to anyone who viewed the same sex differently than most. Luke had tried to tell me, time and again, but it wasn't until perhaps a year or so after his death that it finally struck home that not only were people suspect of the different, but were more prone to lash out in violence at anything they viewed suspect.
But these men, they knew my reasons, and Paquet was undoubtedly already feeling the mistake of his ill-thought remark.
We stared each other down, Paquet and I, each of us daring the other to make that first move--his pallor was ashy and turned sickly. Paquet is quick, but even as he reached for the dragger strapped to his thigh, I had ample time to load my bow and train it, his fingers just touching the handle of his blade as he froze in terror.
"Now, tsk, I'd have expected a man of your experience to be much, much faster."
My tone adopted a northern flavoring of nobility, mocking him even as beads of sweat cropped up along his temples.
"…Leblanc, we're short on men enough as it is without you killing yet another of us. Paquet never thinks before he talks, you know this."
Martin was nervous in the reproach, his breath shallow as he sought to defuse an unsightly situation.
My mouth tightened; "Martin, the day your stunt actually works is the day I allow an insult to my Luke live beyond another breath."
"Leblanc, you know he didn't mean to-"
Paquet's throwing hand barely had time to twitch before my arrow flew home and killed him, his body jerked backwards from the force of the shot. Grim silence remained in its wake, even as I walked around the fire to the man I'd just slain.
I crouched and performed brief rites on his body before yanking my arrow free of his chest. Without even having to ask, Marcus was at my side and helping me gather up the body to carry out into the woods for makeshift burial.
"Now there's true men o' honor, our Leblanc and the Deuce, burying his tragic victims."
Edward's quip shook some but was still mostly teasing, and I tipped him a wink of small amusement.
"And I'll do t'same ta' you, sir, tempting as may be to simply let the buzz'rds have at your decomposin' corpse."
Drained laughter followed me away from the fire, but it wasn't long before it regained some the color it'd had before the grisly interruption.
Marcus and I walked in relative silence for some time before he finally spoke, "If Edward ever were to fall, you would see after his spirit, wouldn't you, Reb?"
I chose our location as being 'good enough' and let Pequet slide unceremoniously from my grip before I turned towards my friend.
"Swear it on Luke's name, I will."
He sucked in a breath of small comfort and nodded, the two of us beginning the tedious work of digging a hole deep enough for the body.
-- -- -- --
The tremors running through my body were the first thing I noticed as I drifted back into consciousness, the fierce ache in my head quickly following. Frigidly cold and damp stone lay beneath me, chilling me from my bones on out, but I feigned further unconsciousness in order to gain some bearings amd gauge whether I was alone.
After some five or ten minutes of hearing nothing beyond my own ragged breathing, I opened my eyes to take in my surroundings.
There was very little to see but stone walls and a door, the cell measuring a little less than what appeared to be ten paces long and seven wide. I wasn't bound but burns about my wrists and ankles alerted me to the fact that I'd been tied during transport--I couldn't even begin to hazard a guess as to how long I may have been out.
The door was made of a thick metal and the only window was high above my reach, the source of light just a slot a foot or so in width. After crawling into a slump against the wall, I wallowed in my dark thoughts for a while, worsened by the throbbing knot at the back of my head.
If the news of my capture spread to the common people, it wouldn't take long before working its way into the rebel ranks. I was good, a respected leader, but there were still many who had wished me dead--the news was sure to be met with mixed response. One thing I could count on, however, was the nil chance of a rescue.
There was nothing between me and death while blindfolded before five sharpshooters, absolutely nothing at all.
I was given only a few hours to mull this over before the monotony of my own thoughts was broken by a guard bringing me a meal of dashen, one of the local military food staples. It was the rough equivalent of a biscuit with powdered meat mixed into the batter, and while it had a metallic, leaden taste, it was meant to deliver compact protein to keep up a man's strength.
It was standard protocol for men who face execution do so in relatively good health, so I knew that even should I refuse to eat, I'd be forced into doing so in some form or another, and there'd be nothing to gain in earning ill will from the guards.
After I'd eaten, several men were sent in to begin just one of many attempts of interrogation, precise pain put forth in hopes I'd give out any vital information against my comrades. Their efforts were well wasted, for when the pain soared my mind drew inward, memories of Luke keeping me sane in between the moments of unconsciousness.
When not completely alone, I was sometimes overcome with quiet sobs, unable to stop the overwhelming sense of failure at having been caught so very close to my goal--there'd been only two men left, one of them the man who had shoved the barrel of his rifle down my lover's throat, choking the life from him while I'd been unable to do anything but watch.
Most tanners are large and bulky, built like butchers or blacksmiths, but I'm naturally small and compact in stature, and when they left me lying there in the street, they'd assumed I was too weak to survive, too weak for revenge.
Oh yes, as a group they'd bested me, but I've long since wreaked vengeance by picking them off one-by-one.
There were points where my rage and deep depression drove me to self injury, and no matter how often I scratched and bit my skin, I was patched and guarded until I'd calmed, more interrogations carried out during those moments between madness and sanity.
Eventually, the madness faded and shrewd planning crept back in, that plan of Martin's returning again and again to my thoughts. Could it be done? Could I do it? There weren't any other options left, and I had nothing left to lose--my life already forfeit, it was either try the only hand I had left, or to give up entirely.
Unacceptable--a promise is a promise, and I've never broken one yet.
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
A/N: end part one.