A streak of red.
The vivid tone of the tulip field gleamed through the thin arrow slit of the keep’s walls.
She moved on, past the next tower.
And the next.
Yellow, yellow like the glorious sun when it shone in the springtime. When it shone over the colourful paddocks, and there was no…
She paused, exhaling sharply upon seeing them.
The army stretched out to the horizon, covering the fields as they surged forth. Trampled beneath the feet of enemy soldiers, the beautiful flower petals no longer shimmered in the morning light.
Taalin turned at the sound of her younger brother’s urgent voice, hammering in the reality.
No more flowers. No more colours.
Christophe appeared, running around the curved wall with an oversized velvet coat swishing at his heels. But it gave the boy no grand appearance, his blond hair lacklustre against the royal purple fabric. Dwarfing his young body, the battle garb made him look small and weak.
“I know, Chris,” Taalin whispered, lips stretched tight in a grimace. She saw her brother tremble slightly, his hazel eyes darting from side to side, betraying his fear.
Taalin pulled him into her embrace. But clad as they were in their rigid armour, it offered little comfort. No warmth of flesh and blood.
“We’ll defeat them. We’ll fend them off like always. And survive,” she said with all the courage and defiance she could muster.
Christophe pressed his adolescent body closer, nodding his head senselessly. Shaking fingers entwined in hers, but Taalin pulled away.
The touch of her brother’s clammy hands did nothing but sap her spirit. She fought to hold on to the resilient voice inside, and convince herself it was only another siege.
Taalin looked out through the arrow slit, at the shadowy expanse encroaching upon the outer city. Limestone houses huddled together, long-abandoned by residents seeking shelter in the fortress.
Soon it would all turn black, creamy walls and navy slate rooftops alike.
“Taali, Father wants to talk to you.”
Taalin sighed, her eyes darting away from the ominous sight. This was going to be different. The other forts along the river had already fallen, after only several days of assault.
The hope of the nation resided with them.
“Yes,” came the soft reply.
“If they penetrate the walls, go to the temple.”
And if it came to that, she prayed the Gods would protect him.
* * *
Taalin ran up the stone stairs, making for the highest point of the fortress. Screams echoed in her wake; howls uttered by all those witnessing the death of the King of Regofala.
Mighty warrior, reduced to nothing but a moaning heap.
Taalin squinted through her tears, pressing on. One, two, then three at a time, she took the steps of the winding staircase.
No time to think.
No time to feel.
She had to execute her father’s instructions.
“Filpai,” she murmured when she reached the top. At once her dove flew to her outstretched hand.
Taalin paused for a second to stroke his white plumage, but the silky feathers only brought tears to her eyes. Never again would she feel their affectionate embrace. Never.
Swallowing, struggling to suppress emotion, she thrust the roll of parchment into her dove’s clawed foot.
“Fly! Fly southwest to Soonada, where the air is clean. Warn them of our plight. Then go east, to Linuina. You must, Filpai, my hope.”
Taalin sighed as her dove gave a soothing coo and nibbled her finger. She bit her lip viciously, searching for strength. The little self-induced pain helped a touch. She still had some power. Still had some power over her body.
* * *
Voices of chanting priests reverberated up to the arching marble ceiling. Strings of sound bounced back and forth between the walls, entangling Christophe in their web.
He huddled against a nearby column. And the deafening, desperate prayers filled his ears, while the pitifully hopeless image battered his swollen eyes.
For the Gods had abandoned their people.
Christophe cast a despondent glance upward, to the four petals of the cloverleaf carved in the dome.
But there would be no more beauty. No more Justice, Faith or Love. Nothing…
Then different cries pierced the humming, and soldiers appeared at the front entrance to the temple. Christophe gulped and slipped out the side door. He just fled, away from the slaughter and the crying and the screams of the dying civilians.
He ran, down and down, into the bowels of the keep. Light faded to shadow as he made for the underground passageway, the only escape route not blocked by the enemy.
And he knew he would be the last to bear message of their downfall.
* * *
Misty rain dampened Taalin as she turned to meet the soldiers. They tumbled atop the tower in a continuous stream, armour clanking against the stone archway, evil touching the highest point of her fortress.
But though the city was conquered, she would still fight. Doomed to death, at least she would join her people.
Behind her, Filpai stretched his glistening white wings and took off in proud flight. She saw him arch towards a rainbow that had formed from the blurry drizzle, and a faint ray of sunlight illuminated his body.
Then she saw it.
The strange arc of black in the sky; as if the rainbow had a shadow.
It reached up to greet Filpai.
That was the last thing Taalin saw, before the soldiers descended upon her.