Path of Thorns

By: Beth ©

Fantasy/Medieval AU (Seven)

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Chapter 13

Vin stepped onto the porch and watched the rocking chair move back and forth in a steady rhythm. A hand peaked out from under the heavy woolen blanket and reached for him. He grasped the thin, vein lined, and wrinkled palm gently.

“You have a place to call home, Vincent Tanner?” Nettie asked, looking toward the large Mulnar tree.

“Not anymore,” he admitted softly.

Nettie nodded in understanding. “When the battle ends and you need a place to stay…you come here. And when I die, I want you to take this land and do with it as you please.”

“ Nettie,” Vin said softly, shaking his head. “I can’t…”

“Look.” She pointed to where Casey and JD were sitting beneath the woodlands, talking, laughing and sharing themselves with each other. “One day…in the not so distant future…they will be joined. JD’s young, but he’s smart and he’ll work the land that Casey’s father left her.”

Vin squatted and watched them.

“You’re a Lombardian, like your name says you are, and I want you to have this land.”

“I believe you’ll be around a long time yet, Nettie,” Vin said, gently squeezing her hand. “But I’ll do as you ask.”

Nettie turned and smiled at him. She met his piercing eyes: “Good.” She patted the back of his hand, her smile never leaving her face.


“How long will you fight?” Casey asked, tossing a handful of grass into the wind.

“As long as I’m needed…I should think,” JD responded truthfully.

“Will you come back?”

“Do you want me to?” he asked, peaking a look at her with a smile on his face.

“Yes,” Casey answered softly.

“Then I will.”

Casey laughed and pulled another tiny purple flower from the ground. She sighed when she heard her aunt call her name from the porch of the house. “Come,” she said, holding her hand out to help JD to his feet.

JD smiled and grasped the tiny hand offered to him.


Ezra turned suddenly as he slipped his pants up past his hips when the door suddenly opened. Chris shook his head, realizing the Russian was modest. And the general couldn’t blame him with the two ladies running in and out all the time. Nettie pushed her way past the tall form standing in the doorway.

Josiah stepped up to Chris and shook his head. “He’s still weak but he refuses to stay.” He turned and watched as Ezra sat himself down on the edge of the bed, trying to regain his strength.

“What does Nathan think?” Chris asked, closing the door.

“Doesn’t matter because that stubborn fool refuses to comply.” Josiah stepped aside when Casey and JD entered the house.

Chris nodded: “ Vin and Buck are preparing the horses and Nathan is still out gathering herbs. If we ride until dark, we’ll make sure Ezra gets enough sleep tonight for the ride tomorrow.” He watched Ezra’s slow movements as he tried to slip his shirt on. “JD,” Chris ordered, “start packing our supplies.”

“I’ll fix you boys some meat for the path ahead,” Nettie said, unwilling to let them leave her home without ample food for their trip ahead.

“Thank you, Nettie,” Chris said, watching as Josiah moved to Ezra’s side to help him with his shirt.

“Don’t thank me…just come back alive.”


Vin laughed as he watched Buck jump back from Asam’s bared teeth. The horse seemed pleased with himself as he took another bite of grass. The lieutenant was just thankful the bite hadn’t been on his ass.

“Here,” Buck griped, tossing the horse’s bridle to Vin, “You prepare the beast.”

“That horse has got you figured out,” Vin surmised, still sporting a grin.

“That horse has a wicked sense of humor!” Buck replied with a snap, grabbing Josiah’s tack.

The Lombardian shook his head and grabbed the soft woven lead rope. Carefully, he slipped the rope over Asam’s neck and secured it. The horse stood still knowing what was coming, and having learned that Buck was easier to tease. Asam stood perfectly still while Vin saddled him, seeming content with the Lombardian’s hand.

Buck shook his head in disgust. “Wicked sense of humor!” he yelled, pressing his lips together, making his mustache appear to be connected with his soul patch.

“Maybe it’s your way with the gentlewomen that has him jealous,” Vin replied behind a laugh.

“How about I wipe that grin off your face with the…” Buck jumped before he could finish when Asam’s hindquarters came close to his body.

Vin laughed again before wrapping the leather reins over the pommel of the saddle.

“You all about ready?” JD asked, stepping up to the group with several bundles in his arms.

“Yeah, kid,” Vin responded, taking one of the bundles from his arms.

“Nathan says to toss the blanket over the saddle. He wants Ezra to stay warm.”

“Hell, that horse of his might just snuggle with him,” Buck snickered, stepping away as Asam pinned his ears at him.

“Better watch it, Buck,” JD joked, “You might end up on your ass again.”

The lieutenant grabbed his and Chris’ bundle from JD’s grasp and quickly tied them to the saddles.


The sky was blue and looking as friendly as a kitten. There wasn’t any wind, or threat of rain. It was the perfect day to ride out. Ezra stepped out onto the porch with his arm pressed tightly against his side. His worry for his men was more important than his health at the moment, and he’d do whatever it took to get to Brun. The small toy Nettie had given him now rested in his pocket, close to his chest. His son would not be forgotten, nor would his death go unpunished. Bohart would die.

Vin , JD, and Buck led the horses forward. All were ready to go. Chris stepped off the steps and grabbed Viceroy’s reins, the big bay looked like a warhorse ready to fight.

“You boys be careful,” Nettie said, wrapping her arm around Casey’s waist.

Vin nodded to her and smiled. He watched as Josiah moved slowly behind Ezra. The Russian moved slowly but determined, and he refused any help.

“How are you going to mount that steed?” Nathan asked, looking at him in annoyed disbelief. 

“It’s a problem that is quickly resolved,” Ezra reassured, stepping off the porch, taking Asam’s reins from Vin.

“Watch out for that one,” Nettie warned, sending a wink to Chris in regards to the Russian.

Buck and Vin mounted up and waited for the others. Nathan waited, knowing Ezra wasn’t going to get seated on his horse without some help. Josiah slapped the healer’s shoulder and grabbed his own horse’s reins.

Ezra carefully grabbed Asam’s mane and tapped his left front pastern. On command, the lean chestnut went down on his knees and then tucked his back legs beneath him. Asam went down on his side and waited for his command to get back up. Ezra slipped his leg over the saddle without much effort and listed forward when his horse moved to stand.

Josiah laughed at the Bedouin’s facial expression and then mounted his horse. “Sometimes it’s the little things in life that makes it worth while.”

Chapter 14

The path to Brun was filled with all landscapes. Valleys were filled with lush grasses and vegetation. Trees lined the trails and the sound of the distant river never quieted. It wasn’t a wonder as to why so many wanted to claim this land as their own. Farmers, miners, and livestock alike thrived under the conditions.

The mountains were the most splendid as rock faces formed into different shapes as the sun cascaded down onto the hard surfaces. Flowers grew between cracks and narrow streams of water seeped through, around, and over the ground. Pebbles moved after shod hooves struck them unmercifully and the hollow sound of clopping filled the air.

Birds and butterflies moved through the air like dancers on a stage. Hawks dove toward their prey as mice and other rodents tried to flee. Deer stopped their feeding and watched the seven horses and riders move through the land with purpose.

On occasion Vin would spot a farmer out tending his land, caring for each plant as though it were his child. The subtle sound of hammering would sound off letting the riders know someone was working in the mines. Despite their isolation, they were never alone in the vast wilderness.

The two days to Brun had turned into three, after Ezra had suffered a relapse of his fever. However, the time seemed unimportant. Now, it was each other and the battle ahead that had everyone on edge.


Brun wasn’t a large place, but it was perfectly located as far as the eastern countries were concerned. Horses of every color and size filled every available space in the pastures below. JD shook his head; he’d never seen so much of anything before in his life.

“At least nobody is fighting,” Chris said, looking at the town ahead.

“Yet,” the lieutenant chuckled, earning a scowl from the general.

“How should we handle this?” Vin asked, spotting a large group of Lombardian warriors to the north of town. He knew his kind.

“It looks as though the regiments are keeping to themselves,” Chris said, finding his men to the west, and Ezra’s to the east. The general thought a moment, collecting his thoughts. “ Vin, Ezra, bring your officers to the center of town and we’ll meet.” He looked toward the two men. “I want to avoid any fights…at all costs.”

Vin nodded and urged Sulu forward. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Ezra looked at the general and then at his men. A subtle grin came to his face…it had been so long. Without uttering a word, he kicked Asam’s sides and started forward.

Chris watched him go. “Nathan,” he called, “ go with him…we need him alive.”

Nathan smiled and urged Hadib forward.

“Josiah, you and JD get into town and let the civilians know what we’re going to do. Then find a place large enough to hold a hundred men…big ones at that.” Chris looked toward Buck and nodded.

It was time.


Vin dismounted Sulu, dropping his reins to the ground and walking with purpose toward the large group of men. Laughter erupted and then whoops and hollers filled the air.

“You’re still thin and wiry, Tanner,” a large man said, embracing the much younger Lombardian.

“And you’re still overgrown with fat, Niklas,” Vin replied, pushing away from the much larger man.

“Jan…Lukas!” the warrior yelled, “Vincent has finally arrived!” He pushed Vin toward the gathering crowd.

“Are we going to fight, or reminisce?” a deep voice called from the crowd.

“Both!” Vin replied with a laugh.

“We are ready!” another voice yelled from the group.

The sound of weapons being pulled from their shafts and pounding the ground as though they were of one mind and motion. Vin raised his hand into the air and was joined by thousands of others. These men would fight to the end if the Lombardian were to ask…and he was doing just that.


Josiah and JD entered the town only to find it quiet. The buildings had been made from straw, clay, and mud. Thatched roofs, buckskin draperies, and cobblestone painted an intricate depiction of life. The largest structure wasn’t enclosed at all, and it looked more like a barn on stilts. However, it would be perfect for a big group of men.

A small pub stood next to the large structure. A woman stepped out; her black dress indicated that she was in mourning. An apron stained with ale and food decorated her plain attire. Her hair was pulled back away from her face, and she was graying at her temples. She smiled softly and patted the heftiness of her belly.

“You look lost,” the woman said, dumping a pitcher of water out onto the street.

“Ma’am,” Josiah replied with a smile. “The boy and I have come with General Larabee…”

“And you need to use my barn.” She already knew. “I’ll not charge for the use of it…but I will for the ale you drink and the food you eat…. We’ve been expecting you.”

“Have the warriors not been to town?” JD asked, noticing how barren everything looked.

“They will not arrive until their leaders have approved it…and with the different countries represented, it would be best if they didn’t.”

Josiah nodded in agreement: “Thank you, Mrs…”

“Gloria,” she smiled, “Gloria Potter.” She started to turn and paused momentarily. “I’ll start some food.”

JD tipped his head and took a look at the building. “Think it will work?” he asked.

“Kingdoms have been built with less,” Josiah replied, turned his mount around to head toward Chris and his men.


Buck grinned when he saw the English Army waiting with pride for their general. Chris kicked his horse toward his men as the wall of sound drew near. Swords, spears, and shields were pounded on the ground, as Larabee got closer. A force unlike anything ever heard or seen before was undeniably breathtaking. Men of every size, shape, and class stood together as one. Their colors hung bravely over their chests, and chain mail sang with each movement they took. These men represented the King of England…but more so, their general.

Chris pulled his horse to a stop and watched in honor as his men cheered. He knew without asking that they were ready to fight for the cause he believed in. He smiled when one by one his men stepped forward and offered him the color guard he wore, and then the rest followed. They knew they would fight together with Lombardian and Russian soldiers, and these men would not bear their titles for all to see.

Chris and Buck watched in amazement as the pile continued to grow. They couldn’t remember all of their names, but they would remember all of their faces. These were men they were honored to fight beside, defend, and die with. These battle-hardened warriors were brothers in arms. They knew the hardships to follow and still they offered their services.

“Buck,” Chris said, turning toward his lieutenant, “gather the regiment leaders, and tell the men to eat hardily and prepare themselves for the battles ahead.” His voice was controlling, honest, and alert. His men would not suffer needlessly, and he would do everything to make sure they were comfortable.

“Anything else, General?” Buck asked, gathering his reins.

Chris smiled and turned toward his lieutenant: “Find the men and get into town as quickly as you can.”

Buck nodded and urged his mount forward.  

Chris sat back and watched his army. He knew with his heart and soul that they would win…despite the odds against them.


Ezra sat silent on Asam’s back. He watched his men from a distance, wishing he knew how he would be received. They had traveled from their homeland knowing they could never go home. Many had brought their families, and others had left them behind. These men had sacrificed so much to come to Brun…and there was no guarantee that they’d win.  

“Everything all right?” Nathan asked, pulling Hadib to a stop.

“We shall see,” Ezra replied, kicking his horse forward.

Unlike the English and Lombardians, the Russian Army turned toward their commander when he was spotted riding in their direction, and stood silently. Nobody moved, spoke, or did anything to bring attention to themselves.

Ezra rode with his back straight, jaw clenched, and eyes forward. Asam’s strides were strong, determined, and smooth as he walked toward the crowd. Nathan rode behind, unsure of what to expect.

Marco appeared like magic from between two men and he stood proudly among his fellow warriors. He brought his hand up and grasped Ezra’s when he leaned over in his saddle.

“Your men await,” Marco said firmly as he released Ezra’s grip. 

Ezra smiled and kicked his steed into a slow lop, slapping the palms of his men’s hands as he galloped by them. Their silence hadn’t been caused from disappointment or shame, but rather respect. Ezra knew that, and he understood at that moment that he wasn’t fighting alone. When he reached the end of the line he spun Asam around and galloped back. He stopped in front of Marco and looked over the crowd of men.

“Gather seventy-five warriors who are able and respected enough to lead a regiment,” Ezra ordered.

“And?” Marco pushed.

“Find the name of the one who betrayed me.” Ezra locked eyes with his friend and received a nod of understanding.

“Consider it done,” Marco replied, turning and marching to the men he trusted most.

Chapter 15

Chris looked at the gathering group of men. He sat at the long table with the six others. A large map had been thrown out and was now being studied by all who could view it. The smell of ale, meat, and bread filled the air as hungry stomachs consumed their meals.

“If we strike near Prussia’s border we could crush their army before Russia can send reinforcements,” Buck said, tracing the line on the map with his finger.

Vin nodded in agreement: “There are 3000 Lombardian warriors who can hit a sparrow in full flight with their longbows…we could position them high, offer some cover.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

“Do it,” Chris replied, lifting his leg and resting his foot on a stool. “What is our number…total?” he asked, looking around the room.

“77 ,000,” came a soft accented reply. “That is the total number, General.” The boy moved back away from the table, not wanting to get in the way.

“What’s your name?” Chris asked, resting his elbow on his knee.

“Atkins,” the young blonde boy replied.

“You here with your family?”

“No, sir,” he sighed, “I’ve come of my own accord…to fight for the territories.”

Chris grinned and nodded: “Do you see that man?” He pointed toward Josiah.

“Yes, sir.”

“Obey his every order,” Chris said sternly, knowing Josiah would watch and protect the youth.

Atkins nodded and moved in beside Josiah’s side. He would do what was asked of him.

Chris quickly turned his attention back to the map and the men standing around the table. “With the Russian army divided, it would be best to fight Prussia now…we shouldn’t wait any longer than we have to.”

“Then rush forward…take them by surprise,” JD said.

“ Bohart will know we’re coming,” Ezra said. “I would imagine he already has gathered his army together.” He leaned back against his chair and ran his fingers through his hair.

“By your best guess…how many men do you think he’ll have?” Buck asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Marco?” Ezra asked, turning to his friend.

“It was estimated at last count that Bohart could…if he anticipated the threat of war…call upon 140,000 men. That includes a portion of the Russian Army,” the big man answered, looking earnestly around the table. “We can fight and we can win…if we pull our forces together and take Prussia by surprise.”

“And just how do you anticipate doing that?” Chris asked, looking for answers.

“If Bohart’s palace can be destroyed, his people will fall by the wayside. Without their king they are weak…and most are looking for a reason to abandon his influence.” Marco looked hard at everyone.

“Then we strike hard and fast and only the palace,” Chris surmised, looking around the room.

Ezra nodded and scratched at his wound. He looked at the men around him and saw the significant differences in all of them. Vin’s quiet and subtleness seemed soothing in a place where war was the only topic of conversation. Josiah’s size and strength of character was the comfort they all sought. JD’s youthful enthusiasm and excitement for the upcoming battle helped the others see the possibilities that available to them. Buck and Chris’ authority and knowledge of their men secured the confidence of everyone…despite their histories. And Nathan, though different in culture and land had integrated himself into a group of men who’d demanded that life be led on their own terms.

They were Strength in all its forms.

“Tell your men,” Chris said, looking toward Vin and Ezra. “Make sure everyone is ready to ride at dawn.”

“Pray for strength and guidance, brothers,” Josiah said, wrapping his arm around the shoulder of the boy at his side.

Vin smiled and turned with 30 warriors on his heels. Josiah and JD quickly followed, wanting only to be of some help. Chris and Buck motioned for their own men to leave and gather by the fires in front of the camps. He would speak with them on their own land and make sure everyone knew what was coming. He didn’t have to question anyone’s loyalty…their being there was good enough. Ezra sat at the table, looking blankly at the map. Marco stood beside him. They watched as a young woman entered the building. Her long black curly hair hung around her shoulders, softening her already delicate face. Nathan looked up from the floor and smiled when he saw her. They left together…with plans all their own.

“The men await,” Marco said, folding his arms across the tabletop.

“How many want to go back?” Ezra asked softly, looking concerned at his friend. “Where is your family?”

Marco looked at his fingers and sighed. “My wife and children will arrive in the territories in a week’s time…she comes with many more.”

“Our families understand the consequences of our actions, commander,” a brute of a warrior said, stepping out of the group of men chosen to lead.

“Do they?” Ezra asked. There was no malice in his tone, or his words, just honest concern. “You’ll be executed if you try to return home after the battle. If any man intends to return, he must be notified of this before stepping foot in Prussia.” He looked hard at his men, getting slowly to his feet.

“They know, sir,” came a soft answer from the crowd. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe.”

“For the sake of your families…I hope you are right.” He sighed, before heading for the door. “When this is done…hang your weapons above the mantles of your fireplaces, dirty your nails with the earth…and hold precious the birth of your daughters for they are the keys to this land.” He turned to leave.

“Commander?” Marco called him back.

Ezra turned.

“The one who betrayed you…”

“Go on.”

“ Gabe was awarded 50,000 in Prussian gold for your whereabouts on your return from Bohart’s palace,” Marco answered honestly, and he could feel the anger swell within the men standing behind him.

“Where is he?” Ezra asked harshly.

“We have him detained in camp,” Ladimir added, a slight sadness in his voice.

Gabe was hardly more than a boy. He’d come to Russia’s commander in hopes of gaining position for all to see. Pride was the boy’s weakness, and it was that pride that would take his life.

“What would you like us to do?” Marco pushed.

Ezra sighed and ran a hand wearily over his face. “Kill him…and send his body back to Bohart.” His words were cold, but there was a sadness in his voice. Quickly, Ezra turned and left his men to do his bidding. He no longer had the patience for betrayal…and never again would he be foolish enough to believe in something so strongly.

His country be damned.  


Seven men gathered together in front of 77,000 warriors made up from three rival armies. Together, they made one. Like the cold winter wind, they were a force like none other. Horses stood together creating a wall of color, strength, and size. Armor sung and chimed with each movement. Voices rang out, filling the air with such a force that nature bent to their wishes.

“We will win,” JD said, looking at the sight behind him. His spine was made of steel, and his heart beat wildly in his chest, while pride filled his soul. The heaviness of his chain mail was now gone…replaced with strength.

“Let us win before we celebrate,” Buck said, turning Pogo around to face the border of Prussia.   

Chris turned an unaccustomed smile toward his lieutenant. “Do not deny the young man his freedom to believe what he will…perhaps it will be his ‘positive attitude’ that wins this war.”

“How unusual,” Ezra spoke up, “the general has a sense of humor.” He grinned, revealing dimpled cheeks and a slight hint of gold on a tooth.

“To prove my humor, Russian,” Chris said, sitting up straighter in his saddle, “I shall dance nude down the street of Brun if we lose less than a thousand men…”

“And if we lose more?” Nathan asked, not finding humor with the loss of life.

“We shall mourn their losses together and drink to the afterlife,” Chris replied, softly. He turned and looked at the army of men behind him and motioned with his arm for them to follow.

Like the sound of stampeding cattle over a rocky hillside, the horses moved forward and their shod hooves struck the ground, filling the air with confidence, honor, and undeniable strength.

They were going to war.

Chapter 16

Maude dismounted her tiny gray mare and tied her to the post in front of the small home. Her long ivory gown hung long and flowed around her body. Her long graying blonde hair had been pulled back and intricately braided into a loose bun. She looked around the town for a brief moment before turning her attention back to the building.

Nettie stepped out and looked at her friend and smiled sadly. “It is time,” she said softly.

“Indeed,” Maude said, grasping her friend’s hand and following her into the building.


The flames of the fire danced inside the fireplace. The sound of cracking wood and sparking flames filled the air reminding everyone of the power it possessed. Tapestries made from the delicate hands of a woman hung from the wall symbolizing the difficulties in life. Shutters covered glassless windows, and a subtle breeze entered the room from the wide crack under the door.

Gloria Potter poured four glasses of water. She passed each of the three women sitting at the round table a glass and then one for herself. “What are we waiting for?” she asked, sitting down beside Nettie.

“There must be seven of us,” Maude answered, “One of us for each of them.”

“How do we know the others will arrive?” Casey asked.

Maude smiled, glancing at her bag filled with rose pedals. “They’re coming,” she reassured.

A soft knock at the door caused everyone to pause for a moment. Gloria stood and opened the door, allowing a cool breeze to enter the small home. A tall blonde woman stood outside. Her hair hung carelessly around her thin shoulders and her simple black dress gave no indication of who she was or where she was from.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” she sighed, pulling nervously at her skirts.

Gloria smiled and gently pulled the woman inside. “You’re here for General Larabee,” she said confidently.

“How did…”

Nettie stood and took the woman’s hand and escorted her to a chair. “The general’s connection to the land is what called you here.”

“I don’t understand,” the woman said. She knew Chris…and had feelings for him, but she didn’t know him intimately. 

“You’re here to represent him, Mary Travis,” Maude said flatly.

The women looked up when another knock sounded at the door and immediately Gloria answered. Nathan’s assistant, the same one who’d helped him earlier stood outside with another woman behind her. Neither one understood what was happening, but the desire to enter the house was overwhelming.

“My name is Rain…and I’m here for Nathan Jackson,” the first woman said, gently taking the hand offered to her.

“Come in, child,” Nettie said, clearing the table.

The young woman entered and looked questionably around. Her long black curly hair had been pulled back away from her face, and her delicate features seemed even softer.

“Were you born here?” Maude asked, feeling a connection with the younger woman.

“Yes, ma’am,” Rain answered.

“Good…you’ll be stronger.” Maude watched as the tall redhead entered the home. Her painted face and bright attire gave notoriety to her employment. “Louisa.”

The woman looked toward the older blonde and placed her hands on her hips. “Yes?” she asked, not understanding what she was doing here.

“You’re here for Bucklin Wilmington,” Maude answered before the question could be asked.

Louisa shook her head and sighed: “I fucked him…that was all,” she said defensively.

Maude laughed: “He thinks of you often…and you wouldn’t be here if he didn’t call upon you.”

“Take a seat ladies,” Gloria ordered, watching as Maude stood and carefully tossed her rose pedals to the floor.

“I don’t know what to do,” Mary whispered. She could feel a power well within her…she’d never felt the like before.

“It will come to you,” Nettie said with a smile.   

“I’m here to represent my son,” Maude said, looking at the six other women in the room. She held her hands away from her body, palms upward as she sat in her chair.

“And I, Vincent Tanner…the young Lombaridan,” Nettie said, grasping one of Maude’s outstretched hands.

“JD Dunne,” Casey said, grabbing her aunt’s free hand.

“The Bedouin…Nathan Jackson,” Rain said, gently taking Casey’s outstretched limb.

“Josiah Sanchez,” Gloria Potter said, feeling relieved to have someone to fight for again…despite only being a friend to him.

“Chris Larabee,” Mary understood, and now she was seeing in her mind’s eye the man she had feelings for.

Louisa sighed and seated herself between Mary and Maude. “And I represent… Bucky…” She grinned and grasped each of the hands that were outstretched to her.

“ Bucky?” Nettie questioned, not losing the amusement in her voice.

Louisa grinned but didn’t say anything.

“What do we do?” Casey asked, looking at the other women that made up the circle.

“Breathe,” Maude answered, allowing her eyelids to fall shut. “The visions will come sooner for those of us born on this land,” she spoke softly. “Women born of this land are connected to it by blood, and others are connected by fate.”

“So what are we doing?” Louisa asked, raising her eyebrows in question.

“Protecting our loved ones,” Nettie answered, concentrating on Vin and the invisible armor she could offer him.

“The battle is bloody,” Rain said, holding onto her neighbors’ hands tightly.

“I can see him,” Mary said, not quite believing what she was seeing. “He’s been injured.”

“Protect him, child,” Maude said.

The energy in the room increased and the women’s hair moved, flowing gently around their heads and shoulders. The shutters on the windows opened and closed and the flames of the fire grew with size and strength.

“Come home,” Casey said in a soft whisper. “Please come home…” she continued to repeat the words, not noticing the women around her.

Fists tightened around hands and knuckles turned white with the force. Veins pulsated with power and energy on foreheads and necks. Lips moved past words that were softly spoken and eyelids squeezed shut. The ground beneath them shook gently, letting them know it understood their concern and worries. It breathed in their power and strength and offered it to the men that were sacrificing their lives for it.

The room went still and a bright light filled the room for a brief moment before disappearing. The shutters on the windows closed of their own accord. The fire resumed its soft glow and the distant sound of animals could once again be heard inside the log home.

“It is done,” Maude said soothingly.

“What is?” Mary asked, not understanding what was happening.

“When I came to this land, I didn’t understand the power it possessed,” Nettie said, leaning back in her chair. “Not until I saw my husband’s reflection in the creek water next to our home…”

“I don’t understand…?”

“Visions,” Nettie answered. “I see visions of my family…my loved ones in water. I found I could send him messages just by thinking about him…” she smiled, “and he understood them.”

“I saw Nathan three days before I met him,” Rain said, “In the muslin sheets I was cutting for bandages.” She looked around the room. “He knew who I was.”

“I saw JD as well…before he arrived,” Casey spoke up softly. “His name was written in the clouds.”

“Why?” Mary asked, still confused about what was happening.

“Women of this land who are connected by blood or love to a boy or man are given a gift. We’re given the ability to call to them, protect them, and most of all see them…”

“The visions don’t always work though,” Nettie said, having lost her husband.

“No,” Maude agreed, “they don’t.” She looked sadly around the room at the faces of the women who had also lost someone close to them. “My son was born here and he’s been given the gift of sight but he chooses not to utilize it…”

“What about the others…?” Mary questioned.

“They’re the chosen, and because of it the land will protect them,” Maude responded.

“That is why we’re needed,” Mary said with a smile, “because the men cannot call upon the land…it is only women who can.”

Nettie smiled: “Yes, child.”


The land absorbed the blood of fallen warriors without prejudice. Swords cut through the air and struck heavily the armor-covered chests of foes and friends. Horses screamed in pain as their mouths were pulled on violently. Men fell to the ground in unmoving heaps as their blood sprayed in all directions.

The war was in full stride.

Chris pulled Viceroy to a stop and then cut his enemy down before the big bay reared up on his hind feet. His mouth opened and his metal bit scraped against his teeth. Chris’ eyes scanned the horizon as he turned his mount toward his men. The cut on his scalp bled freely down his face. His hair continued to matt, standing up on end. Dirt and mud collected on his armor, face, and neck. He could see his men fighting like champions.

Buck and JD pulled their horses back when the ground started shaking beneath their feet. A force like nothing they’d ever experienced before, moved across the ground like a serpent. Rocks moved of their own free will, the thick trunks of trees bent like red-hot iron, and dirt flew up from the ground like lava from the mouth of a volcano.

Nathan yanked Hadib back and watched as Josiah dug his heels into Nubada’s sides and the big gray sped forward to avoid the falling debris. The earth opened up and started swallowing warriors from Prussia and Russia. Horses struggled to keep their feet beneath them as the ground gave way. Their screams went unanswered.

Vin released Sulu’s reins as the big horse reared up and pawed the air with his front hooves. White foam dripped from his mouth and landed sporadically on his chest. He heaved with exhaustion and sweat dripped from his flanks and shoulders. Vin released his last arrow and watched as it flew through the air and struck its intended victim. He continued to watch in amazement as the ground took on new life. Without concern for his own well-being, Vin urged Sulu forward with the intention of finding his friends.

“GET TO THE MOUNTAINS!” Chris yelled to his men, spinning his horse around.

“WHAT’S HAPPENING?” Buck asked, yelling over the sounds of war.

“LATER!” Chris yelled back, motioning with his sword for his men to pull back.

“JD!” Buck yelled toward the younger man, “STAY CLOSE!” It was an order that would be obeyed.

Josiah and Nathan followed Chris and the others up the mountain. Vin was right behind them. Their horses’ feet impaled the ground and sprayed dirt and rock in all directions. Lungs burned for air as sweat continued to gather and white foam dripped from necks, flanks, and chests.

Chris pulled his mount to a sudden stop when they reached the top of the mountain line. Thousands of men…many wounded, stood patiently with their horses breathing heavily beneath them. Their faces yearned for answers…nobody knew what was happening.

Buck looked at his friend and general. His heart muscle pumped ferociously inside his chest and everyone watched as the ground swallowed men and horses whole.

“By gods, what is happening?” Vin asked nobody in particular. His hands shook with uncertainty.

“Prussia has fallen,” Josiah said, pointing in the direction of the palace. Civilians fled the town as the stone walls crumbled to the ground.

“We’ve won?” JD asked, dismounting Bandit. The big red horse lowered his head and let his ears fall flat. He continued to breathe heavily, but stood next to his master willing to continue on.

“Where’s Ezra?” Chris asked, noticing for the first time that the Russian was gone.


“ANORA?” Ezra continued to call as he rushed through the palace. Soldiers and guards continued to flee past him as the walls around them fell to the ground. He held his arms above his head as ceiling pieces crashed around him. “ANORA?” he called again, hoping…wishing for some kind of an answer.

He stopped at the top of the staircase and opened the first door he came to. He had to push with all his strength as furniture and debris had blocked the path. He stood stunned, staring at the forms lying lifelessly across the large bed. A dagger had been imbedded into the chest of King Bohart. Dried blood lined his lips and chin and covered his hands. His wife lay beside him…still alive but unwilling to move. She held her husband’s hand and looked hard into the eyes of his killer. She screamed when Ezra moved forward.

“You took him from me,” the queen snapped, pushing herself up further against the headboard. She blamed him for the fall of her husband and her kingdom.

“Where’s Anora?!” Ezra demanded.

“Dead…as you will be,” she snapped, jumping when the glass from the window blew inwards.

Ezra ducked, shielding his eyes and feeling shards cut his neck, jaw, and forehead. He looked up only to find the queen gasping for air while clutching her neck. Blood pulsated through her veins, spraying outward in short bursts past clenched fingers. She stared at Ezra with hate and anger before succumbing to the call of Death.


Maude inhaled deeply as she knelt down on the floor to pick up her rose petals. “She’s dead,” Maude said softly, watching as the castle walls continued to crumble. The petals moved slightly as a soft breeze caught them. “Leave,” she said softly…praying her son heard.


Ezra turned and rushed from the room as the building fell around him. No matter how fast he rushed through the halls, he couldn’t keep up. He spotted Asam still waiting for him when he rushed down the cracking steps of the palace. The big chestnut stood still while his master mounted and then urged him through the gates.

Dust billowed up and around the crumbling buildings. Ezra covered his nose and mouth with a handkerchief. Asam’s hooves flew beneath him as the team glided across the grounds. His head moved up and down in a steady rhythm. The thin leather reins continued to work up foam lather on his neck as the friction increased with his speed. Muscles on his shoulders flexed and relaxed with each stride.

Ezra passed enemy warriors as they fled the battle scene. The ground seemed to follow each one of them, taking their lives by choice rather than randomly. Asam jumped forward avoiding a downed log as he continued to race toward the mountain line. Ezra entwined his fingers in the chestnut’s mane as the big horse continued to jump over anything that stood in his path. The ground continued to shake beneath them, only now its mouth was closing…taking with it King Bohart’s palace…and his army.


“There!” Vin called, pointing toward the Russian.

“Buck,” Chris said, looking toward his lieutenant, “designate someone to count the number of soldiers lost. Send as many who are able to hunt down stragglers…” He looked toward his men…his army.

Marco stepped forward, his face bloodied but a strong look of determination was etched in his eyes. “There are men who need attention,” he said, looking toward the men still mounted.

“I’ll see to them,” Nathan started.

“You can’t do it alone,” Marco said, sighing in relief when Ezra pulled his mount to a stop.

“Josiah…you and JD help,” Chris ordered. “Vin, take some men and search for food.” He watched as his men moved away and toward the army standing behind them. “What did you see?” he asked, looking toward the Russian.

“ Bohart is dead,” Ezra answered, looking toward Marco.

“What happened here today, Ezra?” Chris asked harshly, moving up beside the big chestnut.

“This land, General, isn’t wanted because of its agricultural value,” the Russian answered, looking hard at Chris.

“Marco,” Ezra called to his friend, “take 10,000 of our men and ride toward the river’s edge and bring the families of our men across.”

Marco smiled and nodded…he would do what was asked of him.

Chris watched as his, Vin, and Ezra’s men worked side-by-side…protecting what was now theirs. “We should set up a border patrol.”

“That won’t stop these countries from trying to take this land, Larabee,” Ezra said, wiping away a trail of blood from his eye.

“Then what?” Chris snapped, feeling the heaviness of the day resting on his shoulders.

“I do not know,” Ezra replied, “But it will only be a matter of time before Russia regains her army…and,” he paused, “if they somehow come to reasonable relations with the Mongols then we’ll be fighting for more than just our freedom.”

“Then we’ll work together to find a solution.”

Chapter 17

Chris had ordered several of his regiments to patrol the border between Russia and Prussia. He knew the possibilities were strong that the armies would rebuild and he wanted his men to stand guard. Ezra had sent many of his men…only those without family, to aid the southern border. Threats would come from all over, not just the east. Several of Vin’s men had decided to return home. They had families to care for and many wanted to rejoin in the battles near the southern regions. Rome was still a primary goal for Lombardia. Those that didn’t return stayed behind and willingly combined their strength with Army of England and the now homeless Russian soldiers.

The seven men who had managed to build an unstoppable army had decided to make the town of Four Corners their headquarters. The town was centrally located, and quicker to arrive to from each foreign sovereignty. Warriors from all ranks would ride in and inform their leaders with news regarding the patrols. If threats were plausible the armies would once again come together to defend the borders. Brun had served its purpose and many warriors and their families decided to stay and make their home there.

All these decisions were made on the backs of horses as the armies rode back to Brun. Chris knew without a doubt that this war was far from over. But he wouldn’t leave. He knew the moment he stepped foot on the land that he’d never leave again. He saw those same emotions and connection in Buck. This was their home now. He hoped that passion was the same with all of them…. Josiah, Nathan, JD…and Vin. He knew Ezra would never leave. The man had been born here and was a part of the land, despite his unwillingness to admit it.


Buck rode up beside his friend and slowed his horse to a steady walk. “We’ve been able to estimate the loss of enemy warriors…”

“And?” Chris asked, looking toward his lieutenant.

Buck paused a moment: “Over 50,000 were killed or swallowed into the earth.”

Chris nodded in acceptance.

“How many did we lose?” JD asked, looking toward his friend.

“Seven hundred and fifty one,” Buck answered, looking hard at Chris.

Vin smiled, please that they had done so well.

“Is that for everyone?” Chris asked, wanting to make sure.

“Yes,” Buck replied, looking toward the town of Brun.

“The mighty hand of God has blessed this land and all who walk it,” Josiah said softly, sitting proudly in his saddle.

Nathan nodded, holding Hadib’s reins tight as the horse pranced nervously beneath him.

“How is that possible?” JD asked, not believing what he was hearing.

“However it is don’t question it,” Nathan said. “Thousands were injured and still seek medical attention.”

“They’ll receive it in Brun,” Chris said, looking forward. A smile crept to his face…they were all alive, and more determined than ever to protect this land of theirs. “We’ll leave for Four Corners once everyone has arrived and readied themselves for the jobs ahead.”

“General?” Ezra asked, speaking up for the first time since leaving that morning. “Do you consider yourself a man of your word?” 

Chris looked at the Russian, slightly surprised that a question like that would be asked. “Of course.”

Ezra grinned and kept his eyes on the town ahead. “And just how good of a dancer are you?”

A barrage of laughter erupted as the men remember what Chris had said days earlier.

“Indeed, Brother,” Josiah said with humor in his voice. “The gentlewomen of Brun will surely enjoy watching you in your…native form.”

Chris stared ahead: “I am a man of my word.”


Casey rushed from the porch when she saw the seven riders come slowly into town. The army behind them wasn’t far off. Her skirts billowed out around her legs and a smile adorned her face. JD dismounted Bandit and wrapped his arms around her thin frame. It felt good to feel her again.

The rest of the seven dismounted their horses and looked toward the porch where the women stood.

Mary moved forward and wrapped her arms around Chris’ neck. “I knew you’d come back,” she whispered in his ear, knowing he was uncomfortable with her embrace.

Chris only nodded and gently took her hand. He had feelings for her…but it was still too soon.

Louisa leaned against the porch rail and smiled. “ Bucky,” she said seductively, laughing when Buck grabbed her around her waist and pulled her into him. “Now?” she questioned, squealing in delight.

Buck nuzzled the redhead’s neck before resting his head against her chest. The battle was over, but the war had just begun.

Rain stepped down and gently took Nathan’s hand. “There are bandages and tinctures ready for you,” she said softly. He squeezed her hand in response.

“There is hot stew for you boys,” Gloria yelled, patting her belly softly. “Come…get your fill and rest.” She turned and headed back into the building.

Vin stepped up to the porch and embraced Nettie. She gently reached up and patted his cheek like she would a child of her own. They didn’t speak, but instead turned and watched the town before them.

Ezra released Asam’s reins and looked at the people who had gathered around. Many looked relieved to have them back and others expressed the worry and concern they’d felt for the past few days. He ran his hand over his face; careful of the wounds he received earlier.

Maude stepped down and grasped her son’s arm. She looked up at him and smiled. “You did well,” she said softly.

“They’re gone,” Ezra replied, turning expressive eyes toward his mother.

“They were never meant to be,” she responded, reaching up and kissing her son on the cheek. “Your duty is here and now.” She brushed the sleeves of her dress and looked around the town. “But don’t forget your place…or where you came from.”

The warning was heeded.

Ezra and the others turned suddenly when Chris started to pull his boots off.

“What are you doing?” Mary asked, watching as the general began to disrobe. Mary’s cheeks turned red and she stepped back.

“I’m keeping my word,” Chris replied, reaching for his belt.

Buck whistled and joined in the laughter and cheers that could be heard around the town. Nobody, including the lieutenant, expected Chris to dance through town in the nude.

“Please do cover your eyes,” Ezra gasped, trying to suppress his laughter.

The End!