Very Few are Left

Very Few are Left

He’d never been one for shadowy organizations, backroom meetings or hiding beneath the cowl of a cloak. Yet he seemed to live his life by it these days. Granted, showing his face near a patch of civilization was a veritable death sentence, but all the slinking still felt strange. He was no strange to stealth, nor infiltration, but he had done those things for queen and country, not for a cause he built from the ground up.

There were no butterflies in his stomach while he waited beside the trail, just off the main crossing. His chestnut mare bobbed her head while she crunched the crisp grass, as if agreeing with his silent thoughts. People considered him genius for all of this, but he wasn’t convinced he hadn’t gone mad.

“Have you seen the bluebells swaying?”

The passphrase he’d devised to ensure his people were speaking to their own. Not that he needed one for this meeting; he recognized the other party’s voice the moment he started speaking.

“In the wind beside the stream,” he said anyway, grinning. “How are you, my friend?”

“As well as can be expected,” General Abolan replied as he swung down from his horse, allowing her to join his chestnut mare at her meal. “But I’ll be happier when this is done. Things have gone bad in Darkhaven.”

“I can imagine. My agent indicates the General’s getting antsy. Eager to conquer, it seems.”

Seibel Abolan’s single grey eye widened and his thin lips pressed into a tight line. “You have people inside the capitol?”

“I have to,” Domerin shrugged. “I can’t keep ahead of the General if I don’t know what he’s up to.”

“I should have put a dagger in that upstart’s back years ago,” Seibel grumbled, brushing sweat matted curls away from his face.

“Then there’d be some other mad dictator in his place. Maybe even you.” He grinned when the older elf shot him a narrow-eyed glare. “To affect real change, you would have needed the people behind you.” It seemed no one had been willing to appeal to the commoners until he started slinking through the shadows, speaking of freedom and a chance to choose who governed. “Just don’t get too twitchy now the uprising’s in full swing. I’m going to need you in position when the time is right.”

“About that…”

This was hardly their first whispered meeting beneath the concealing canopy of the forest, but each one seemed to go on that much longer, the topics becoming ever more urgent. From Seibel’s descriptions, things weren’t just bad in Darkhaven, they were dire. He couldn’t leave Sesha there much longer, but didn’t know how to extract him without making the General aware of his true allegiance. He wasn’t naive enough to believe he could assassinate the tyrant, but he needed men of power in prominent positions when the time came to make their strike.

“I’ll make sure they see my face during the next raid,” Domerin promised. “The next few, in fact. If anything’s going to draw him out of that citadel, it will be a chance to strike at me.”

He was about to say more, but a stray whisper caught his ear. He held up one hand to silence his companion and crouched, edging into the bushes. The older elf followed suit.

He heard the hoofbeats now, the clip-clops so in unison it was hard to identify the number. He cursed silently; that meant a guard patrol. He caught his companion’s gaze and mouthed, how many?

Seibel made a series of quick gestures. A dozen, or two. Domerin bit the inside of his lip. He shifted as quietly as he could, slinking to the other edge of the clearing. His straining ears caught a second set of footsteps accompanied by a sharp command.

Damn it! They were searching for him, no doubt. He thought they had been quiet enough in this area that it would be safe for a couple of days. They must have caught wind of a meeting.

He returned to General Abolan, careful not to let his feet contact a stray twig. One snap and it would all be over. “We can’t let them see you with me, it will ruin everything.”

“Why not use the amulet?” Seibel hissed, his voice barely more than a whisper.

It would have been useful, indeed. Why hadn’t he thought to bring it? He lifted his deep hood and shrouded his face in as much shadow as he could manage without obscuring his vision. “My operative in the citadel needs it more at the moment. Don’t worry about me. If we split up, we can lead them on a merry chase. Then you can come riding down the path and demand to know why they’re spinning in circles chasing bears, or something.”

Seibel frowned, but nodded. “I will think of something. Just you take care of yourself. I won’t be able to help you if they catch you.”

“They won’t,” Domerin replied grimly. Any skilled enough to track him would meet with steel.

It wasn’t how he planned to spend his afternoon; crawling through bushes, rolling in mud, galloping down the riverbed to hide his footprints and his scent. Twice he sent his horse ahead without him, trusting she would return if he called properly. She was well-trained, but if the soldiers took him he would lose all of his provisions.

By the time the moon rose he was filthy, sweaty and exhausted. He could only hope Seibel had managed to escape without revealing his identity too soon. He wouldn’t receive a message of confirmation for several days. They would have to be more careful the next time they met in person. Or consider that we’re beyond the ability to do so. Damn, this war is escalating faster than I ever dreamed.

Perhaps he underestimated what it would mean to lead a rebellion against the General. His only thought at the time had been reparation, righting the wrongs committed by the other man who wore his face. Some days he still wondered if it had been the right course of action.

Reaching deep into his pockets he pulled free a tightly wrapped bundle, half-crushed by the day’s activities. Unwinding the tightly knit waterproof fabric, he cradled the precious package in one palm.

No one had invented cigarettes in this world yet. They had tobacco leaf, of course, and someone had already gifted him with a pipe to smoke it. But it wasn’t the same. He thought it had less to do with the taste and more to do with his nostalgia for the home he left behind. But the fact remained, nothing calmed him quite as much as a good old cigarette.

He flipped open the battered package’s lid to take inventory. Very few were left. Today would have to be the last ’emergency’ smoke. The rest would be for special occasions. And the very last he would save for the day the tyrant died.

Please take a look at my writing partner’s version of this prompt as well!

If you’d like to participate, share a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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