Tuesday has arrived and with it another chapter in the epic tale of The Winged Riders as they struggle against a great force, seeking to take back the empire that was stolen.
Last week, morale was low in Captain Renee Mollen’s Winged Riders as they searched the countryside for any signs of life capable of joining her on her insane mission to retake the capital. They came upon a village still standing at long last, Danver’s Table, and got their bearings from the leader of the town, Danver Jr.
They bedded down for the night in the town’s common building, only to be taken prisoner once they were asleep. In the scuffle, Jon turned into a cougar, losing control of himself and killing their scout as he fled, disappearing into the Red Forest.
What will the Winged Riders do?
The Wings Take Shape
Part Six – Traitors
by Rick Cook Jr.
Renee spat blood she wasn’t bleeding. The traitors worked over her Sergeants in the small tent they’d set aside special, just for the commanding officers. Every time Marie took a blow to the stomach, or the face, Renee winced at the phantom pain from their bond. Marie was strong. Of course she was, and they’d all had training in how to take a beating, how to survive torture.
But it was too much. Too much for Renee to bear. She cried out, “Enough! You will stop this instant or I will see you hanged for it.”
The townsfolk – bloody bastards – grinned at her over their shoulders. She didn’t know these two men, but it didn’t matter. Traitors were punished and when she got free, Renee would see them all in stocks.
“Who you talking to, Captain?” one of them said. The tall one beating on Regina. She had already a swollen eye and a split lip, dribbling blood. She was holding back tears and Renee fought back her own.
“Couple a dead men, isn’t it?” Marie said, spitting in the face of the other one. She was scared, terrified, but she was also pissed. Renee let it fuel her own ire.
Renee said, “Now, now, Sergeant. Maybe we go easy on these two.”
“Like hell,” Marie shot back, narrowly missing a slap from the man who had been pummeling her, only to get a second slap that knocked her head so far to the side Renee thought for a moment it might have snapped. Marie’s head twisted back to face her abuser, jaw working out the pain. She spat a single tooth at the man and he grinned.
“I’m not believing this,” he said to his friend. “You’d think we had battle-hardened soldiers, gray in the hair, balls to the floor the way these two talk.”
“You’ve never fought the Winged Riders,” Renee said, giving him her best venomous smile. “We’re not some silly Kingsguard, flinching at shadows.”
The taller man, towering over Regina, scowled. “My brother’s a Kingsguard, don’t go wincing at nothing.” He stepped away from Regina and the woman glanced at Renee through her swollen eye socket; Renee would have sworn she was trying to smile.
“I’m sorry he wasn’t good enough, truly,” Renee continued. The man’s scowl turned fierce and ugly and Renee egged him on. “He could have been a better influence on his brother.”
He swung and she did her best not to flinch, though she failed. The world turned black for just a moment, and when she came around, her Sergeants were screaming. The man above her only grinned.
She spat real blood this time and fought against the rising tide of unconsciousness. He could sure pack a punch.
“Not so chatty once a man’s taken you in hand, eh?” He held his palm up to her chin, wiggling it, and she fought free, tried to bite him, but her teeth snapped on open air. “Just making sure I didn’t break nothing, little Wing.” He patted her cheek and slapped her. “I still can’t believe you’re a Captain. They’re giving the title away these days.”
“I fought for my Captaincy, tooth and nail,” Renee said. “I bled for it.”
“Sure you did. There’s hardly a scratch on you what I haven’t put.”
She panted, twisting her abraded wrists in their bonds but only making things worse. “You’re not looking hard enough.”
“Oh yeah?” He leaned in, foul breath devouring her world. “Where should I start, little Wing?”
She was buying time. For what, she didn’t know. But these two weren’t anybody. Where was Danver Jr.? Where was the leader of the soldiers?
She lifted her neck away from her left shoulder. “Clavicle broke when a bear came at us in the woods.”
“No kidding?” He reached for her vest to pull it away, then hesitated. “You bite, you lose teeth.”
“Worth it,” she said, but the man’s lust pushed him on. She let him pull her vest back, and tear her tunic enough to feel the skin where her clavicle had broken from a silly fall. She fought the urge to cringe away. “You see?”
“Could be from anything,” he said, being a little too free with her shirt loose. “What other pretty lies for puckered scars you got?”
“Captain,” Marie mouthed. The two men had their backs to the Sergeants, which was just what Renee wanted. “Keep ‘em occupied.” That’s what Renee thought her silent words were. She sure hoped that’s what it was, because she was basically telling her captors to do whatever they wanted with her.
“Well?” he prodded.
“There’s a scar in back of my head,” she said, getting them away from her body if she could. “Hair doesn’t grow there anymore.” She tilted her head to the right to give the man access without forcing him to go around and see what the other women were up to. He grabbed her head and tousled it with rough, uncaring fingers before settling on the scar she’d received from the cadshee’s first attack. She scarcely remembered that evening except in fear, in panic.
“And what lie follows this one?” he asked, letting her head go while tearing a few hairs carelessly from her head.
Marie and Regina were doing something behind their backs, but Renee couldn’t tell what it was. Hopefully freeing themselves.
“Knocked in the head by a bootlegger while I was scouting for my old Captain.” She grinned. That had been Marie, and it hadn’t been as bad as her scar from the cadshee. Marie grinned back but Renee avoided looking at her sister.
“Bootlegger sounds likely enough,” the other man said, rubbing at the whiskers on his chin. “There’s more ‘shine in the woods than salt in the sea.”
“Less, now, since we took them out,” Renee said. “Which of you buffoons tied my wrists?”
“Here, now, we’ve been having a pleasant chat, haven’t we?” the tall one said. “No call for insults.”
“I weren’t around for it,” he said, shrugging. “I can always put something in that mouth to shut you up, little Wing.”
She twisted in the chair, hopping it ever so slightly towards her captives. “See the old scars? Taken captive by a mad priest in the bloody wood, worshipping the sun.” That was true enough, if still a bit misleading.
He checked her wrists and whistled. “Maybe you just like them dirty bedroom games.”
She sighed. “There’s one more, but you’ll have a hard time seeing it.” She nodded behind her. “There’s a few slashes down my back. You hear tell of the cadshee and the Winged Riders that took him down?”
“Now I know you’re foolin’,” the man said, but he couldn’t resist the temptation to see it. She glanced at Marie, and her sister’s shoulders relaxed as a wave of determination spiked through both of them.
The man reached across Renee to put his hand down her tunic, along her back. As soon as she felt the sensitive scar tissue tingle, she latched on with teeth into the man’s arm, throwing herself into him as best she could as he screamed bloody murder and fell over with her. Marie and Regina tackled the other man, muffling his cries, while the tall one pummeled on Renee’s head, yelling at her to let go, get off, let go, dumb bitch, and other things she lost in the dimness of trying to stay conscious while fist and elbow hit her over and over until she pulled away, tearing a chunk of the man’s arm with her. She spat it away, along with his blood and the bile rising in her throat.
There was a ruckus going on around them, she realized. Marie and Regina knocked the second man out, reclaimed their weapons from a table nearby, and cut Renee’s bonds, pulling her to her feet.
“No time for a nap, Captain,” Marie said, handing her a sword. Her sword. Renee tried to stand but only slumped over the chair.
“I’m okay,” she slurred. “Just need a minute.”
Regina’s eyes danced as she looked around the tent. “We don’t have it, Captain. People are coming to check on the commotion.”
She was right, but Renee couldn’t do anything about it. To get free only to be cut down by more gutless traitors…
Private Tanner and Private Wander came bursting into the tent, yelling and brandishing blood-soaked swords, only to trip over themselves before they skewered their commanding officers.
“I told you they was fightin’,” Wander said, nudging Tanner. Tanner went straight to Regina, dabbing at her split lip and holding her face close to his when she fought his ministrations. “We got the advantage now, Captain.” She pulled Renee to her feet once more, and such was her relief that Renee fought through the pain, through the weakness.
“I didn’t want to believe anyone had escaped,” Renee said, patting the larger woman’s shoulder. “But I should have guessed you wouldn’t go down so easily.”
“Damn right. Let’s go break some birdcages,” she declared, slapping Marie on the ass with the flat of her sword as she stalked out of the tent. Marie blushed and Renee fought hard not to give her hell for it.
“You heard the Private,” Renee said. “Sally forth and all that.”
It was a rough fight, five against ten or more of those cloaked soldiers, but they came out on top with the advantage of surprise on their side.
She’d lost more soldiers. Lark was out of it with his leg cut clean through to the bone. Onrey was a corpse. Scout Irons, his body mangled. Jon, what did you do? A couple others.
Marie, Regina, Bail, Wander, Yoris, Tanner, Nightingale, Farsight Poul. All in fighting condition.
Once the foreign soldiers were dispatched and all the Winged Riders freed, Private Tanner came dragging a squealing Danver Jr. through the dirt into the town square.
Renee took a seat at the stone fountain shaped like a table, straightening her torn clothing once she was satisfied the perimeter was secure. Danver dropped to her knees without prompting.
“Please, Captain, please. You must listen. You must understand. They threatened my home, my family, if we resisted. You saw what they did to the surrounding villages. I couldn’t let that happen!”
“You should have told someone,” Renee said. She pushed him away, let him grovel in the dirt.
“I tried, oh, I tried,” he stammered. “The Kingsguard didn’t listen. The Wings were too busy to listen. The merchants only hear the clink of coin.”
All of that rang true, but it wasn’t convincing enough. “You sold out the empire, Danver. There’s nothing else to it. Do you know what that makes you?” She spat blood and stood, doing her best not to waver on her feet.
“Please, Captain. Please, Renee!” Danver clutched at her trousers and she shoved him off.
“You won’t find sympathy from me,” she said. “I lost people tonight. Good men and women. A Scout.”
“We had nothing to do with your scout!” he cried. The others in the center of town shuffled at that. It was true. Jon had lost control.
She ignored it. “You are held responsible for all the lives lost here this night.” She paced in front of him, giving her Winged Riders a little show for their trouble. “I asked you a question, DJ.”
The nickname caught him off-guard. “W-what?”
“Do you know what you are, who sold out the empire, who is responsible for the lives of the entire countryside as far as I am concerned?” She unsheathed her blade and held it at his throat. Torchlight glinted off the metal and his eyes. One begging to meet the other.
“A- a traitor,” he muttered. He dropped to his hands and knees now. “I am a betrayer.”
“As a Captain of the Winged Riders, it is my solemn duty to see you dealt with as every traitor has ever been dealt,” Renee continued. She swallowed hard. To cut down a man in cold blood. She knew it was her responsibility, but that was theory, and this was all too real.
“I beg mercy, Captain. I don’t deserve it, but I beg it all the same,” Danver went on, groveling and sniveling at her feet.
“I wish I could grant you the mercy of a swift death, Danver.” She sheathed her blade, fingers trembling. “Stand up.”
“Mercy?” he asked, getting to his feet and wiping away the dirt and tears. “Truly?”
“You will suffer the slow death of a conscript. You and every able-bodied man, woman, and child in your Hundred-blighted heath.”
“I’m no soldier,” he spluttered, denying the gift of life even as he realized it. “This isn’t the King’s Justice.”
She stepped close, so close no one could hear her next words as she whispered into his ear. “I need bodies more than I need justice. Welcome to the Mad Wings.”
Another chapter down; a new, resolved Captain Mollen. What’s become of Jon? Can they trust their new conscripts? Do they have any hope of taking back the capital at this rate? Come on back next week to find out… some of these answers!