Kasmira and Amberline turned around. The old man asked them, “We are the catalysts? Are you comparing us to the Blood Warriors? The people who are after our people? Inhuman monsters who are torturing and murdering innocent lives?”
Kasmira countered with, “You feel this strongly about it, and yet you don’t want to fight against them?” The old couple said nothing, so she continued, “You’re behaving the way he wants you to behave. He wants you to hide away like animals so you can fear him. You’ll be in that basement cringing every time you hear a footstep in the street or a crack in the floor board. Then when he inevitably catches you-yes, I know it’s likely to be soon since he wants this land for his own immoral purposes, you’ll be tortured as long as you live, which won’t be long. Do you ever walk by the I.W.T.S? Even five kilometers away you can hear the prisoners begging for death. No one really knows where the Rebellion’s headquarters lay, and there is enough protection to defend oursevles should a Blood Warrior come by. No one really knows will force you to draw your sword because even the simplest things can make a difference. So, you have a choice-give in to your fear or your guts!”
The old man bravely said, “I want to join you, and I want to fight!”
“Ivan!” his wife inquired, “Are you really prepared to lose your life over this?”
Ivan turned to his wife and said, “How do you want to die? In the basement huddled in fear? Or at the I.W.T.S, which is as close as you’ll get to Hell on Earth? That’s pretty much our only option if we stay in hiding. I doubt very much that this war will be over in our lifetime. If we all have to die, and dying of natural causes isn’t an option, I’ll leave my body behind with a sword sticking out of my heart to let the world know I died like a hero. Are you with me, Svetlana my love?”
“Until death.” She grabbed his hand smiled weakly.
The merchant interjected, “Will they even let an elderly couple onto the battlefield?”
Amberline told him, “We give everyone an equal chance. That’s kind of the point of the resistance, isn’t it?”
Svetlana added, “Ivan may have aged, but he’s stronger than most young people are. If everyone gets an equal chance, can I be the blacksmith?” The merchant and Ivan looked uncomfortable, as if they prepare for her idea to be rejected. “My father was a really good one, and I used to help him. I had a lot of good ideas, but everyone turned me down, telling me to stikc to women’s work. But if you have no one else, I can make your armor. What say you?”
“You want to be our blacksmith?” At first, everyone jumped out of their skins seeing two seeming Blood Warriors, but Amberline and Kasmira recognized Mac and Anthony. Mac told them, “We took the uniforms off of our ‘visitors’ from yesterday. Anyways, my lady, if you believe you can do it, we would be proud to have your as our blacksmith!”
Svetlana looked gleeful. Ivan chuckled, “I haven’t seen her look that excited since our youth!”
Svetlana and Ivan joined Kasmira, Amberline, Mac and Anthony, ready to leave. The merchant stayed but assured them, “If you need tools or construction supplies, come find me.” He went on his way, and the rebels headed out of town.
Before the group could leave town, they found Orlando talking to the fat and thin Blood Warriors. The girls stopped to kneel at the Prince’s feet, and the boys stood rigidly. The large Blood Warrior looked at Anthony’s mail and exclaimed, “My god! What happened to you?”
“Nothing. Why?” Anthony looked down and saw the blood from when Kasmira shot the Blood Warrior. “Oh that. That’s not what you think. I was down at the pub talking to a couple of wenches, one of them was a little clumsy and spilled her drink. I didn’t have time to wash it before work because I was too busy enjoying the fact she was falling on her back a lot, if you catch my drift!” He elbowed the large Blood Warrior playfully, and all of the boys laughed. Amberline made a sound of disgust.
The thin Blood Warrior reprimanded her, “How dare you judge us, hen!”
Orlando intervened, “There’s no need to raise your temper.” He kneeled down by Kasmira and looked at the three womens’ faces. “Just a couple of old hags; what harm could they do?” He winked at Kasmira and sat back up.
Mac fibbed, “I heard they were from the peasant village. Since they’re causing trouble here, we’re sending them back to their homes.”
“Good idea,” the large Blood Warrior complimented.
They stood up to leave. Amberline saw the thin Blood Warrior and hissed at him. The thin Blood Warrior stated, “That hen just-”
“Hissed at you?” Orlando said very officially. “I didn’t come down here to hear you complain about old women. We have a trial to prepare!” Mac and Anthony led the group away from the village, and Orlando led the Blood Warriors in the opposite direction. Kasmira looked back at Prince Orlando, and at the same time, he looked back too. For a fraction of a second, they simply looked at each other. No one smiled or communicated silently. It was almost as if, for whatever reason, they established a deep connection that no one could see or hear on a human level. It was just a small moment, but when they turned back to their respective groups, they felt a wave of spiritual fulfillment they couldn’t fully explain.
Back at their cottage, Ivan and Svetlana settled in their new home. Ivan sat with Mac and Anthony, who gave him a small portion of mead they stashed. Svetlana sat with Holly, Amberline, and Preston. Kasmira sat by the window, staring at the light snow that had just begun to fall. The boys were jubilantly discussing their favorite fighting techniques while the women listened to Svetlana’s story about how their only son had gone away to sea as a merchant sailor. Kasmira could barely tune into their conversation. She kept picturing Orlando’s eyes. She was entranced by the kindness and strength they seemed to exude. She thought about his cushy lips and how they spoke such wise words. She thought about the risk he was taking being a mole for them and was touched by his bravery. She wondered what he had to do for the other side to convince them he was loyal only to the Blood Warriors. She imagined he must train with the knights, so she concluded he must have a nice physique. That’s when she realized she had more than a passing fancy for Orlando!
The thought of secretly falling for Orlando sucked all of the happiness out of her. It seemed silly that a prince would ever be wooed by a girl that was lower than a peasant. If he did feel the same way, the curse would make it impossible for them to ever be happy together. the realization that she may have these feelings made her admonish herself for allowing this to happen. She tried to tell herself that those feelings must be pushed aside for the greater good.
She didn’t notice that Holly had sat next to her. She was giving Kasmira a kind yet understanding smile. Kasmira inquired, “Are you here to tell me that everything will be okay, trying to convince me that life is beautiful and that I should be thankful to even be alive right now? I guess I am kind of ungrateful and I feel bad that all these people are trying to make me feel better but all I can do is feel sorry for myself>”
“No,” Holly told her, “I was going to tell you not to be so hard on yourself. You’re doing your best, and that’s all anyone could ask of themselves. Everyone feels sorry for themselves sometimes, and there are some problems that pretty words won’t take away, but I can tell you the best defense against them is don’t think about them too much. Focus on the positive, even if the positive is outnumbered. And try to have fun when you can.”
“How?” Kasmira argued. “I mean, I don’t think about it as much when we’re recruiting or training, but when we’re not busy, how can I help thinking of my fears and woes?”
“All you have to do is wait for a small window of opportunity and never hesitate to take that chance when you get it. Look, there’s one now.” Holly pointed to the table. Ivan and Anthony were arm wrestling. They appeared to be pretty easily matched and tried to jockfully insult each other. The others were watching and pretending to root for Ivan. Kasmira laughed, and she and Holly joined them.
Just as it looked like Ivan was about to win, the door flew open. Everyone stood at alert, feeling the cold chill that had just breezed in. After a moment, a figure walked in…