Foreward: Thanks to Mizal for forcing me into the furry prison until I wrote some. This is an unfinished work, published now to give a demonstration of my writing.
The sounds of battle ring out from all across the city, and fires rage across numerous old districts of the imperial capital. Theodore rushes into his villa, his armor tattered and his curly black hair drenched in sweat under his thick bronze helmet. He lets his sword slip from his hand onto the marble floor and takes hold of any furniture he can find, using it to block the entryway into his home. His wife, Sophia, runs up to him, their young daughter Phoebe in tow. “What’s going on?” Sophia asks. “Have we won the battle?”
“You know we haven’t won the damn battle!” Theodore rages. “The city is fallen! Quickly, help me seal the entryways!” He tosses his helmet to the floor and heaves a statue onto the haphazard pile forming in the doorway.
“What about Stephen?” Sophia stutters, frightened. Their elder son, Stephen, had taken up arms and rushed to the city’s defense when the call came for volunteers.
“Don’t think about that now, odds are he fell on the walls.”
Sophia fights back tears, lowering herself to Phoebe’s level.
“What’s going on, mommy?” Phoebe asks, wide-eyed.
“Be a good girl now and go to your room. I will come fetch you in just a little while.” Sophia says, running her hand through Phoebe’s curly hair. Phoebe turns and runs, disappearing around a corner. Sophia aids her husband in hastily piling up furniture in the doorways of the villa.
When it is done, Theodore draws in a deep breath and sits down on the floor. Sophia hesitates a moment before laying her hand on his back and rubbing gently. “Theo?” she says. “What happens now?”
“The end of the world,” he responds, defeated. “The walls were supposed to be unbreachable, but they came with cannons larger than any I’ve ever seen. The emperor himself was forced to enter the fray; he put on the garb of a common soldier.”
Theodore became silent, unwilling to say any more. Sophia contented herself to comfort him for a time.
Eventually, the sounds of battle give way to celebration and looting. Twilight comes, and the bright orange of the raging blaze casts long shadows over Theodore’s villa. The city appears to be in a place outside of time, the brightness of the flames creating an artificial daylight in the night. Smoke cast a thick blanket over the stars, dimming them from view. Thick patches of rubble from the crumbling walls cover the roads, creating haphazard cover for the few militiamen still resisting the conquerors.
Theodore stands at the head of his barricade, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone approaching. The looting had not yet reached his part of the city, as the conquerors took their time with the wealthier financial and imperial districts, but he isn’t willing to run the risk of getting taken off guard. He’s been nervously watching for hours, only taking a short break to relieve himself, although even then he couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility that someone was crawling over his barricade while he wasn’t there. It was a great relief when he returned and saw nothing had changed.
Amongst the dancing shadows, Theodore catches a glimpse of movement. He ducks down, hiding as much of himself as he can while keeping his eye squarely on the fallen columns he saw movement behind. A man emerges, tightly gripping his left shoulder and limping heavily. He stumbles toward Theodore’s villa, closing the distance quickly as he can manage.
“Hey,” he whispers. “I saw you back there. I’m a Roman, too. Let me in.”
Theodore whispers back harshly, “No room here, go away!”
The man ignores the command, reaching out and pulling himself up over the barricade with one hand. Theodore flashes his sword, standing up menacingly.
“You wouldn’t stab me, I’m a Roman citizen. Just let me in, I have news.”
Theodore hesitates before grunting in annoyance and grabbing the man’s cloak, pulling him over the top and into the villa. The man sucks in a breath through his teeth, groaning in pain. “Thank you,” he says.
“Yes. A Turk’s spear caught me in the armpit, between the plates of my armor. I’ll survive.”
“We don’t have medicine to spare, nor much food.”
“Shelter will do well enough. Who else is here with you?”
“My wife and daughter. If you weren’t already hurt I’d bound you to keep them safe.”
“Relax, I’m no threat. Just looking for some peace to recover in.”
Theodore gathers together some pillows and lays the man down upon them, tearing a strip of cloth from a tunic in his closet and wrapping it tightly around the man’s wound. As he tended to the man’s wounds, Theo commented, “Plates of armor? They gave me only chain and leather.”
“I was the emperor’s bodyguard, if that matters at all now.”
Theodore paused in surprise, quickly looking into the man’s eyes, and seeing only sincerity. “I was unaware you are of nobility”, he remarks carefully.
“Please, treat me as any other man. My noble line dies with the emperor.”
Finishing his treatment of the man’s wounds, Theodore leads him into the kitchen and prepares everyone seats around the hearth. “We have a guest,” Sophia remarks, eyeing the stranger suspiciously.
“I mean no harm, were I even capable of causing it.”
Sophia notes his freshly bandaged wound and cautiously takes her place around the hearth, passing the food around the group. “I see.” Phoebe sits next to her mother, tapping her foot energetically and staring hungrily at the food.
Theodore clears his throat and makes the sign of the cross, quickly followed by everyone else. They bless the food, and begin to eat. “So, what was the emperor like?” Theodore asks inquisitively.
The stranger leans back against the cool marble wall, taking a deep breath. “He was an exceptional man, of great character and honor. Not boastful, nor proud. He was skilled with sword and horse.”
“Was?” Sophia asks.
“He’s dead now. Led a final charge with the remnants of those mercenaries, I assume he got struck down at the front. It was so chaotic, no one knew quite what was going on. The charge broke apart the moment it hit the enemy and devolved into a slaughter.”
“Seems he should’ve fled then and saved his hide”, Theodore remarks cynically.
“He had nothing to flee to, were he the sort to flee. There are things greater than life, things worth dying for.”
“And that’s why you’re here instead of lying next to him.”
The stranger falls silent, closing his eyes in contemplation. Quiet falls over the room, only the crackling of the hearthfire and the occasional distant laughter from the conquerors bringing them back to reality.