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Of all the damn fool things you've done...

From an rpg.net bootcamp:

"Of all the damn fool things you've done... I think you've outdone yourself this time, Miriam."

When that swine charged me, the last thing I expected was the exiled sister of my enemy stepping between us… but then, she always was first to raise her sword in challenge … or in protection of those close to her.

I should have stopped her.

Sounds jumble from her broken throat, but her lips seem set on making them unintelligible. I can see the iron in her eyes, though, feel the thundering heart flutter as she tries to turn her head to look out over the field. "Hush," I murmur soothingly. "Don't speak. I've sent someone for my personal physician. You'll pull through in time for our victory feast."

She tries to smile at that but the blood and grime of battle can't hide the pain that makes her wince. She knows better. We both do.

“We won, then?” she asks faintly. I nod, pride in our soldiers warring with the loss that begins to steal into my heart as I watch her life silently falling away. “My Lord,” she manages finally, her eyes reflecting a triumph I wish I shared. “You have carried the day!”

Have I? What did I have to do with protecting the keep looming behind me from falling to her brother’s armies? I would die before I let his tyranny fall on our people, but what blood of my own have I spilled that can bring back the burned fields and decimated villages? No, this accomplishment belongs to our people.

She tries to shake her head at me, her laugh lost behind the wave of pain the movement causes. “You can’t see it, can you? You never do.” Determination gives her a voice that her fractured jaw would deny. “Their blood is your own.”

Did I speak my thoughts? I thought… no, she always knew my -- always knows my thoughts, as though they were her own.

“Their blood,” she says again, with a force her crushed body shouldn’t allow, “Is. Your. Own. You try to be… you are one of them. These people fight for you, my Lord. The stones of that castle may crumble with age; our bodies wither with time. But these people spill their blood because… they love you.”

I hear the voice of my physician. I shout to him, and as I look back down at the woman in my arms, I am struck by the way the sun turns her hair to spun gold. Her face is shattered and bruised, but her eyes, the passion and the devotion and the unconquerable fervor in them, will stay with me forever. “Why are you sitting here with me? You should be chasing down the stragglers.”

“Troops have already been dispatched, milady.”

She sighs, a silent approval. “If you grieve for me, I swear I will come back and haunt you to the end of your days, Marcus. Your men need a celebration to keep their spirits up. Go out among them.” Her voice grows fainter even as it becomes more distinct. “It won’t be long before they come at you again. But today…” Her voice trails into silence, her breath following it.

The physician scrambles toward us through the mingled bodies of defender and invader. Her skin is already cold as my lips brush her forehead; standing, I commit her face to my memory and her body to my physician.

Wading out into the field, I know our people need a ready smile and confidence. Right now, they need a king, not a man.

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