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Twenty Fourth

Twenty Fourth

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Published by Victoria Chen
I am the captain of the Twenty Fourth Regiment, an elite cavalry squad trained to combat magic and legends. In a land at war with magic, our skills are greatly needed. We all know our places. But did we ask for more than we bargained?
I am the captain of the Twenty Fourth Regiment, an elite cavalry squad trained to combat magic and legends. In a land at war with magic, our skills are greatly needed. We all know our places. But did we ask for more than we bargained?

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Published by: Victoria Chen on Aug 09, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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08/10/2010

 
I settled into the hot spring with a sigh of relief. The fighting in the north had really takenit out of me, and my cavalry. It was fortunate that we stumbled across this hot springs onthe way. “Miss?”I pushed away damp locks of hair just enough to see Lieutenant Reid’s face peeringcuriously at me. “Yes, lieutenant?”“Th’ watch ‘as reported tha’ there’re a group of people, some on foot, some on th’ legs,so ‘e says, comin’,” Reid told me, her grey eyes bored, one hand idly resting on the saber that she kept by her side at all times. She stood with all of her weight supported on oneleg and as I watched, she shifted to her other foot and back and idly adjusted a strap.With a groan, I hauled myself out of the water. Water trickled down from my hair, downmy skin and back into the pool. Shivering in the crisp winter air, I quickly donned myclothes. Pursing my lips, I let loose a whistle that ripped throughout the campsite.Immediately, the men and women of my command poured out from where they had beenresting and stood at attention, their mounts ready beside them, reins in hand.Loping forward, I closed up the distance between me and my people, one hand busilytying my hair up to keep it out of my way. They didn’t shift an inch as I passed them. The boy on watch met me as I reached the end of the line. “Report,” I barked out.“Six horses, one wagon, three men on foot. Five women in the wagon, men on the horses – armed,” he said shortly. “Traveling towards our direction. End report.” After hefinished, he saluted me and found his place in the line. Faithfully, the boy’s stallion methim there.I thought hard about this. The road we were on was seldom used and not well known.Where we had made camp was out of sight of anyone on the road. If someone came upthis road, it could only be that they were military, like us, or – “Mount up,” I ordered. As one, my team swung into the saddle as one. “Watch, keep meinformed,” I instructed the boy and tossed him a crystal. He caught it with a salute.“Surround them, two flanks first, loose circle – leave them no room to turn or escape, butdon’t scare them off. Ride out.”The boy urged his horse into a trot, heels bouncing on the big stallion’s sides, andtogether, they disappeared silently into the thick foliage around us. Lieutenant Reid took the second group automatically and we split to different sides and thundered down theroad. The crystal in my hand grew warm and then hot and I put it to my ear.“They’re slowing down,” the boy’s voice said from the crystal.“That’s fine, keep watching. I need your eyes out there, Stevens,” I replied crisply.
 
“Yes, Miss,” was his reply and the crystal grew cold again. I stood up in the stirrups aswe topped the ridge and descended down the short distance into the shallow valley wherethe road cut through.I saw the group up ahead. They had stopped to fix a split brace on the wagon. “They’renot going anywhere,” I observed as the women in the wagon spilled out to help ease theweight on the wagon. Several young men lifted an edge of it high enough for an older man to crawl underneath to see the damage.They didn’t get any farther than that. Thundering down from the gentle slope, wesurrounded them, forming first a half circle and once we completed the circle, wethundered around them in a circle, kicking up snow and mud and ice. I raised a hand andour circling stopped. As each horse slowed, its rider skillfully turned the horse’s headaround so that they were facing into the circle.Several children cautiously came out the back of the wagon at the noise, staring wide-eyed at our regiment, finely dressed in our uniforms. Jacqueline gave them a smile andthe children retreated, too shaken by the change in events to return a friendly gesture.They disappeared back into the wagon. The men were turning their horses in frantic littlecircles, brandishing sabers and rapiers in the attempt to protect their group. But seeing nodanger, they slightly relaxed. I couldn’t help but notice that their hands lingered on thehilts of their swords.All except for one – a young man in the back leaned against the wagon, his arms crossedacross his chest. His jerkin fit snugly across his shoulders and chest. Judging by the waythe muscles of his chest and arms pressed against his well-fitting clothes, he wasmuscular in build. A fine hooded cloak dangled from his shoulders, the hood pulled up tocover the upper half of his face. I eyed him for a moment and I could feel the starereturned by unseen eyes.I cleared my throat and dismounted. “We are the Twenty-Fourth Regiment of the King’sCavalry,” I explained with what I hoped was a not-so-menacing smile. We saw you fromour camp and wondered if you needed any help.”“Stay away from us, blast yer hide!” the older man who had wiggled out from underneaththe wagon snarled, shaking a fist at me. “Take yer regiment and shove it up yer –”“Please, sir! Language!” I warned him, fingering my rapier at my hip. His eyes wildlydarted about and he realized I was the only one who hadn’t drawn a blade yet.“We don’t need help from th’ likes of ye,” an old woman said softly, a stormy look onher face. She pointed at me. “Especially you – th’ king’s whore.”My men growled and a few horses jumped forward. I didn’t let her words bother me.Instead, I waved at my people to stand down and returned the woman’s glare with aneasy smile. “It is apparent that these kind folk don’t need our help, my friends. Let’s be
 
on our way,” I murmured. I swung easily into the saddle. Shaking the reins, I backed upJester, my steady, easy-going mare. She went without protest and turned to leave.Suddenly the crystal in my hand flared hot. “Miss! Enemy riders! Coming from thesouth! They’ve spotted us!” Jake’s voice cried from the crystal. I didn’t need to bring it tomy ear to hear him. Apparently everyone else heard too. I weighed the situation. Runninginto the enemy out here in the open was a bad idea as they knew the ground better thanwe did. The only thing left to us as an option was a orderly retreat.“You’ve done good, Jacob, pull back to the camp,” I told him and tucked the crystalaway. “Everyone, pull back.”“But, Miss, these people –”“Don’t need our help, so pull back, I say, or else you’ll be the one to face the Night Patrolon your own,” I warned the man on my left as he tried to protest. Jenkins was a goodman, but it was clear these people didn’t need our help and I didn’t want to spare the livesof my people helping people who didn’t need our help.You could say I was cold-hearted, but this was war. And from experience, people whodid not want our help tended to not comply with us as easily, which would cost us time toretreat, and lives. We had few enough members already. The Twenty-Fourth broke thecircle as elegantly as we had made it and we streamed up the hill again and disappearedinto it. Jake met me halfway, sliding down a tall aspen he had climbed. I spotted hisstallion a few yards off, grazing on the sparse winter grass poking out from under thesnow. I dismounted.“Jester, Storm, kölknat,” I ordered. The black stallion’s head came up and he whickeredat me. I gave Jester a pat on the rump and pointed at our hidden camp. Together, the twohorses trotted off.“This way, Miss,” Jake murmured and with a leap, he disappeared into the thick greenness of the tree, barely shaking any snow from the branches as he climbed. I quicklyfollowed him, careful to not touch any unstable branches with snow piled on them. Jakewas perched on a thick branch as I arrived and he cleared a spot next to him. “There.”Taking the glass, I looked towards where the boy was pointing.I recognized the wedge formation and knew I had been right about the type of riders thathad been coming. Matching black warhorses galloped down the road towards the groupwe had just abandoned in a perfect wedge formation. Their riders, dressed in all black,down to the last strap, leaned over the necks of their mounts. Once they rounded the bend, they would see the group who was still trapped in the road by their broken wagon.A small sun exploded in my palm. “Orders, Miss?” Reid’s voice asked from the crystal.

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