Deline considered their prisoners, the wounded, the dead, and those in between. “Who of you who’ve surrender have medical training?”
One person cautiously raised their hand.
“Just basic field stuff.”
“Okay. So. If you have surrendered, you are now under the care and aegis of the crown of the Bear. You belong to the Bear until your trial. I am going to put you to work seeing how many people we can save, do you understand?”
Two of them nodded, including the one with medical training.
“Why-why?” asked one in what Deline thought was Deklegion Ranger uniform.
“Because,” she answered shortly.
“The Bear Empire,” Carrone explained, in a tone that was far more formal than anything she’d ever heard from him, “doesn’t waste resources. Will you help, or will we bind you and carrying you back to the capital on a wagon?”
He was good. Deline didn’t risk peeking at him, but she was impressed.
The ranger cleared her throat. “I’ll help.”
“Good. The Empire thanks you.”
The next two hours were gruesome and exhausting. They sorted out the bodies and the wounded, buried the dead, and did as much good as they could for those who had survived.
Half of the fifty who’d attacked them were dead – burns, explosions, head wounds, and spikes. A good portion were too wounded to be moved without further care. Some were fine when they’d been bandaged; of those, five waited until Deline’s back was turned and jumped her.
Carrone got in the way; so did the Ranger and one of her other prisoners. The five went down, two dead, the other three injured.
“Die with honor or live with honor,” the Ranger snarled. It sounded more like a threat than a promise.
One of the injured murmured “die;” before Deline could stop her, the Ranger had ended that prisoner with a quick snap of the neck.
“Live,” the other two offered. The Ranger gave them a look.
“See that you live spotlessly to clean this stain from you.” The Ranger nodded sharply; the surviving two bowed back deeply from a sitting position.
The Ranger turned to Deline, who’d had just enough time to wipe the sickened expression from her face. “We do things with honor in Dekleg,” she informed Deline. “We will always do things with honor in Dekleg. If the nation has failed to be honorable, then I must be twice as honorable in return.”
“Know that the Empire is honorable as well,” Deline informed her, “and there were no priests killed by my hands.”
While they talked about honor, Carrone was supervising grave-building and the medics were trying to heal those who could be saved. Deline tried to ignore the grunts and the whimpers. She had politics to conduct.
“I believe you.” The Ranger’s face was twisted with distress. “This means that there is a great problem at home.”
I could have told you that. But she was coming to it on her own; that was good.
“When we have reached the capital, I’ll make sure that you’re free to return and correct that problem,” Deline assured the Ranger. “But for now, we need to get moving.”
“Not everyone here can be moved.” The Ranger indicated a badly-burned soldier.
“Then I need you to choose someone who I can leave here to watch over those who can’t be moved until I can send an Imperial agent.”
Deline glanced at the woman’s face. “You know the answer to that, Ranger.”
A shout from down-mountain made both women tense. Deline turned slowly; someone was coming towards them, looking uninjured and un-surrendered.
The Ranger shifted as if to guard Deline, hand on her weapon. Deline pulled her own knife and tensed. If they were attacked again — if they were attacked again, they were going to die. She was out of everything, and she had a feeling Carrone was running short on tricks.
“Ranger Learone! What passes here?”
The shout had several traits that set Deline on edge: it was in a lowcountry Deklegion accent, it was officious, and it was shouting in the middle of an obvious war zone.
“With your permission, Claw of the Bear?” Ranger Learone’s tone was respectful and quiet and she spoke in Bear.
“Of course.” Deline watched the woman as she stepped forward, staying between the person closing and Deline.
“Lord Eigeran. We have surrendered to the Imperial Force and they have taken our parole.” Learone’s bow was precise and shallow.
“Surrendered! How can you surrender? I sent fifty soldiers to take in one woman!” The man pressed forward until everything about him was visible to Deline.
She looked at the soldiers they had taken prisoner and those receiving medical treatment. They were tense, staring at Lord Eigeran, or resigned, their shoulders down, as if ready to move or to die.
Ranger Learone was neither of those. Her voice was crisp, clear: a reporting tone. Just the facts.
“Two Imperial citizens, sir, and they have won the battle.” She gestured, but not specifically at either Deline or Carrone. Just at the area around all of them.
“Against the Elite of Dekleg?” Lore Eigeran scoffed. Deline wanted to shove him into one of her traps. The soldiers had died doing what they were told.
“There are no Elite of Dekleg in the Empire.” The Ranger lifted her chin. “Because that, Lord Eigeran, would be an act of war.”
“And perhaps it ought to be.”
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