The General and the Poet by Benjamin Agar
Year: 2484 AHV (After Holy Victory)
Age: Late Industra era
Country: The Kingdom Zathar
Raleas lined up another shot. Her Stegran mark seven rifle's scope cross hairs were perfectly sighted, but that knowledge hadn't stopped her instincts making her check obsessively after firing. It only took her around a second to look but it still felt like a waste of time. She barely had to think before she exhaled and pulled the trigger.
The orc shaped dummy swung on the rope tied to a tree branch as the bullet hit it dead centre and whizzed out its back. She'd hit it there so often there was no explosion of wood, it just passed through a hole about as twice as large as a bullet.
It was fifty metres from where she lay prone in the backyard of her house. Her father had set it up for her when she was twelve.
Her mother hadn't approved, Raleas' mother. She...
Water welled within Raleas vision, but she shook it away. She wouldn't cry, crying was for the weak, the selfish.
Raleas had always thought her mother weak. She had been a famous poet and she hated guns, hated violence. She'd always said there was more to life than fighting, than killing. Raleas' mother was from Halandith. A country in the north west, a country of prissy people. But that was every country on this continent called Angara which wasn't named Zathar. No other country bordered the orc lands. No other country had to stand as a bulwark against the invasions of such savage, mindless beasts.
No other country had to conscript it's young people into the military.
Conscription was at eighteen and lasted two years, Raleas would've lied about her age and joined, already if her father wasn't a famous general which meant she was somewhat famous too, by proxy.
Unlike other countries, like Everdeen, which idolised its aristocracy or Isstarrsia which worshipped its film picture stars, Zathar looked up to its war heroes. The men and women that fought and killed for Zathar, so the entire continent could live their cushy lives safe from the orc hordes.
She had always wanted to be like her father, she had always trained hard. To fight for Zathar. To be a career soldier.
Again, her mother hadn't approved. She'd always go on about how beautiful Raleas was. How Raleas should move to Isstarrsia and become an actress, that she had a talent for it.
Her mother did it so often that the compliments wearied Raleas and she became numbed to them. Many of the boys in scholarium would stare at her with wide eyes and a few had asked her out. But she'd always said no. She heard them whisper that she was, classy or pretty, when they thought she couldn't hear. She didn't make a deal about it, being emotional was not befitting a sniper.
The 'waterworks' as her father contemptuously called them sprang into her gaze again, Raleas cursed and with her sleeve wiped her eyes. but still when she shot, she was right on target.
'I will not cry,' she said. 'Crying is for the weak and helpless.'
'Raleas,' came a deep voice behind her which radiated strength and authority. She flinched in fright and turned to find her father standing over her. He wasn't a tall man, barely about the average height, but he always seemed to tower over everyone. His back was always ram rod straight, his shoulders broad to a ludicrous degree. He was like a wall, the strongest, toughest wall imaginable and he was as emotionless as one too.
For some reason Raleas felt a surge of anger at this thought, though she didn't know why.
'It's 1800 hours, dinner,' he said. He was only forty five but seemed older. His short, close cropped hair was whiter than the harshest Zatharian winter, his face so scarred that it was hard to tell what were scars and what were wrinkles. Without waiting for a reply, he turned and started back toward the house.
Raleas nodded and with weakened weary limbs slowly stood and followed her father.
They sat at opposite ends of the long table, and for what seemed to be hours the only sound was their knives and forks on squeaking on their plates.
Their servant, a dwarf named Colchin had cooked them a special meal, a beautiful roast chicken and Raleas savoured every bite.
'You need a hair cut,' said her father. It was so abrupt, it made Raleas judder. Raleas moved her hand through her messy, long brown hair. It coated the right side of her face and fell far below her shoulders. It wasn't military standard, but she liked it long, although, she wasn't sure why. She supposed it was so she could hide her face from the boys. Her mother had always insisted she should look after it more, that she would 'look even prettier if Raleas put more effort into her appearance.'
'The funeral is tomorrow,' he said. 'I will get you an appointment at my barber early tomorrow.'
'Where?' said Raleas, she didn't want to ask, she already knew the answer and knew she wouldn't like it.
'The church of the Truthful Light. The church we always go to. You know that.'
Raleas frowned and put down her fork, before taking a serviette and wiping her lips.
'You don't, what?' said her father, his eyes narrowing.
Raleas exhaled, working up the courage to say it. 'I don't think mother wanted that.'
Her father, with fitful, barely controlled movements put down his knife and fork. 'And what makes you think that?' he said through a twitching jaw.
Raleas swallowed. She swallowed a lot of truths. 'She never came with us to church. She...she hated the church of Jaroai, father,' said Raleas.
He raised his hand and clenched it into a fist. 'And tell me, daughter. Why does this matter? You attend church with me, you should know this is the right thing to do.'
Raleas bit her lip and her attention drooped to the stark white clothe, covering the table. She couldn't tell him that the only reason she attended church was to spend time with him. 'I-I just don't think she'd like it.'
His fist smashed against the table, causing Raleas to flinch and freeze in her beautiful Amartisian oak chair.
'That...that doesn't matter,' he said. 'She has faced judgement and is-'
Raleas furrowed her brow so hard. 'Is what, father?'
He straightened it was the first time she'd ever seen him seem taken aback.
The tears eclipsed her sight. 'She's what, general?'
His shock was gone in a second, replaced by a glare so horrific, Raleas feared for her life.
'Get...to your room,' he growled.
Raleas didn't hesitate to slam her hand on the table, get to her feet then storm into her room, smashing the door shut behind her.
On many occasions Raleas had caught her mother crying, curled up on her bed or in a corner somewhere in the mansion. Sometimes after one of their countless fights, but mostly during the long, long months of her father's absence. Each and every time Raleas hadn't hesitated to rip into her mother. Tell her how pathetic and weak she was.
As Raleas lay on her bed her face buried her pillows. A turning, horrific feeling, twisted in her stomach. Raleas hated it, didn't know what it was, but it hurt more than the anger, the sadness.
She had no idea how long she laid like that, but she knew that every second she wished her father would knock on her door, or even kick it open and yell at her. Anything. But nothing. Just silence.
Silence seemed to always accompany her father. Raleas was used to it. But this silence was different, it seemed like powerful, tight hands held her down, with a ten ton weight behind them.
Still, she didn't cry. Despite her body seeming to scream for her to through the pulsing pain in her chest and the swelling and swirling behind her eyelids.
It felt like forever before sleep overtook her and a split second before she dropped into complete dark when she realised the feeling was in her guts.
Raleas didn't dream, though she thought she would. But the black constantly twisted with greens and purples that shone and was edged with gold and silver. Like petrol moving in water.
When Raleas awoke, she found her face buried in a wet pillow.
She sighed and rolled onto her back and gazed at the brown and beige ceiling.
'I'm sorry, mum,' she said. 'I'm so, so sorry.'
Then she rolled on her side and looked at the clock on her bedside table and when she saw the time, it caused a shudder of shocking cold coursed into her and she sat up and leaped off her bed and barged out her door.
'Dad. Dad,' she said, running down the corridor.
He slipped out of the doorway leading into the kitchen. He was dressed in his formal uniform. A brilliant navy blue that was immaculately pressed. His peaked cap was tucked in the crook of his arm. His gaze was made of narrow slits as he looked down at her.
'What are doing?' he said. 'I did not give you permission to leave your room.'
'But it's only an hour until the funeral.'
'You are staying here.'
It took Raleas a few seconds to process his sentence and when she did a sharp sting shot through her chest.
'What?' she said as tears erupted into her eyes, taking over her vision. She could no longer stop them from falling down her face. 'W-why?'
'You know why,' he said. 'And stop the water works, you look pathetic. Go back to your room. You will not leave this house until I return.'
Then he turned to leave.
'Please,' she screamed at his broad back. 'Please don't do this to me!'
He paused, but only for a second before he walked on.
'Dad. Dad,' she said, she wanted to follow him, to grab his tunic, turn him and scream in his face. She wanted to tell him how much of a monster he was. The horrific injustice. The huge disproportion of his retribution.
'She's my mum. I don't deserve this. Don't do this to me.'
Raleas tried to shout those words, but they emerged from her lips as squeaks and crackles. As she hit her back against the wall and slid into fetal ball.
She didn't even know if her sobbing was real or not.
She didn't even blink when he slammed front door shut.