Chapter 11-Receding Tide of Battle

The Death Raiders been forced into a corner of the city. They were about fifty in number, but the Travian army outnumbered their forces at least two to one. Many of their surviving forces had fresh wounds or were greatly fatigued. But worst of all, Zale had disappeared. No one knew what had happened to him, where'd he'd gone, or if he was even still alive.

With Zale's disappearance, Bruno had taken charge of their defense plans. Bruno was genuinely worried for the soldier, but pushed it to the back of his mind. The Death Raiders, as well as the Requian soldiers backing them up, needed his full attention and if he let his concentration waver, they were all dead.

Bruno had constructed a last desperate defensive line against their pursuers. Their archers stood atop wagons and crates, arrows with wool drenched in oil wrapped around them notched to bows. Underneath them stood the rest, swords in hand. It was obvious to all of them now that every single one of them would die with their comrades, but they would go down fighting. None of them looked afraid or nervous now. They were resigned to their deaths, and determined that they would not die in vain.

They hefted their weapons as footsteps and shouts came closer. The commander came around the corner, soldiers following close behind. The two armies stopped with about fifty feet separating them.

"You damned rebels made quite an impressive stand. But it was all for nothing. Still, I was surprised at how quickly you prepared. How did you know we were coming?"

Bruno spat on the ground in response.

The commander grinned wickedly. "You don't want to tell me? If you surrender, and tell me what I want to know, some of you may live a while yet."

"We will not go quietly." Bruno answered in a low tone, but his voice rang loud and clear in the tense silence. The force behind him backed up his defense, weapons lifted higher, ready for an attack.

The commander shook his head. "Fools. You are fools and thus deserve to die. I suppose it doesn't really matter how you found out we were coming. Since you all are so willing to give up your lives, you should be content taking your little secret to your graves." He raised his sword to give the order to attack.

"Commander!"

A panic-stricken soldier came running through the crowds, breathing hard. "Commander! A Requian army is headed here right now!"

The commander blinked. "What?"

The trooper gasped for breath before continuing. "They've already crossed no man's land and are inside our borders! At least five fleets!"

The commander swallowed hard. Five fleets…

The news started to send a wave of doubt through the Travian force. Barely amounting to one fleet themselves, they would be overwhelmed within minutes.

To the Death Raiders, the news was like a sign from heaven. Bruno grinned. It must be Garth and the others! They already took out the invading force and now are coming to ensure our victory!

"Archers, fire!" Bruno ordered then. The oil-soaked wool was lit on fire, and streams of flame flew into the Travian force.

The troops retreated a few steps, to avoid the arrows. As much as the commander wanted to chop them down, he knew that if they stayed to defeat the remaining pirate invaders, the Requian army would in turn kill them.

"Alright men, retreat. As for you pirates…" He yelled back. "I wouldn't get up my hopes about the Requian army treating you any better!" With that, he and his army retreated from Arret. Bruno just smiled; he obviously didn't realize that they were in fact part of the Requian forces.

"Alright, everybody. Comb through this city from top to bottom, and collect all the wounded you can!" The group moved out of the crowded corner and started to spread out. Bruno went with five men to open the remaining gate for the Requian army to come through.

Five minutes later the Requian Army entered Arret City, bringing with them medics and doctors for the wounded. Since the fort built by the Empire had been completely destroyed in the explosion, the Requians set up camp outside the city in tents, so as not to disturb the normal order of the city any longer. The citizens were glad to see all the armies clear out, and mostly steered clear of the soldiers, but some of the merchants offered their wares to the battle-worn troops. As Bruno directed some of their rescuers towards their wounded, Caitlyn ran up. He blinked in surprise.

"Caitlyn? I thought you'd be sailing back towards Requia!"

The young girl nodded. "I was. I was on my way back with the three kids when I saw the army marching across no man's land. So we put in the ship on a cove further down the shore and climbed up the cliffs to meet them. I informed them of how serious things were here, and they picked up the pace considerably."

Garth came up behind her, nodding. "The battle at the border was one-sided with the ballista on our side. It wiped out over half their soldiers, giving us the opportunity to push them back. After they were in retreat, we marched on, figuring we'd meet up with you and fortify Arret. Had we known you were in trouble, we could have gotten here much sooner."

Bruno shook his head. "Don't worry about it. At least you got here fast enough to stop a massacre. Those damn Travians were about to slaughter us all!"

Caitlyn looked around in confusion. "Where's Zale?"

Bruno swallowed, looking grim. "We don't know. We lost track of him during the battle, and no one's seen him since."

"Dear lord, no…" She whispered.

Garth's eyes shone with determination. "We'll find him! That's kid's too stubborn to kick the bucket yet! Let's split up and look for him!" The other two nodded and they split up. Caitlyn ran towards a more deserted part of Arret, where she thought their soldiers hadn't checked yet. Please be alright, Zale… …

A groan a short distance away got her attention. She ran down and turned into an alley, and gasped at the sight.

Five Imperial lay scattered on the ground, dead with heavy wounds. A few Requian soldiers also lay among them dead. Only three bodies were still living in that alley. One Requian lay against a wall, not moving but his chest moving up and down, breathing hard. Another was being supported on the shoulder of Zale, who was wounded himself. The young man's tunic was soaked with blood, his head hung low, and he dragged the body he was carrying with heavy steps. As he continued towards the end of the alley he stumbled, and Caitlyn ran forward to support Zale before they both fell. He looked up at her and smiled weakly. "You're a sight for sore eyes…"

"Zale… …you're hurt bad." She said, eyes and voice full of concern.

"I'll live. I took out those five Travian soldiers trying to save these guys, but I was only able to help two of them."

Caitlyn took the wounded man from Zale and helped them both to a sitting position, with their backs against the wall. She cupped his face in her hands.

"I'm relieved…I was so scared you were dead."

He grinned again. "I told you…I wouldn't die as long as you were safe… …" He grit his teeth as a wave of pain shot through him.

"Just stay still…I'll go get help!" Caitlyn ran off to tell the others she'd found him.

"Well doc, how is he?"

Bruno stood outside a tent with Garth, Kidd, and Caitlyn as a doctor stood outside the tent in which Zale was resting.

"I'm sure he'll pull through. He's fit and young, though he over-exerted himself. With those wounds, I'm surprised he could stand, let alone carry another person. He must have a high tolerance to pain, but I gave him a mild sedative anyway."

"Can we see him?" Garth asked.

"Sure, but you'd best go one at a time. He needs to remain calm and rest for a while. He won't be able to do anymore fighting for at least a couple months."

"You go first, Caitlyn." Garth prompted her.

"Yeah, we've got some more stuff to take care of. We'll see you later."

"Sure." Nodding, they went off to check on the rest of the wounded.

Caitlyn gently pushed back the fold to Zale's tent and walked in. It had grown dark outside, so the only light available came from the torches outside the tents and a few candles that burned in bowls of wax. She gently walked over to the bed where he lay. As she approached, he opened his eyes and smiled. "Hi."

"Hi." She returned. She sat down on the side of the bed, silent for a moment, staring into the flame of a candle. "How are you feeling?" She finally asked.

"Sore." He said with a smirk. "It's not that bad. The doc said a few gashes are deep, but no vital organs damaged, and the bleeding's slowing down. I should be up and walking again in a couple weeks."

"But not fighting?" She asked uncertainly, recalling the doctor's words.

The golden-haired man grimaced. "Unfortunately no. As soon as I'm able to walk on my own strength again, he said he's putting me on medical leave, which is a waste of time. If I can stand, I can fight. I killed five Travian soldiers myself, even though I was wounded at the time."

"You've got to take it easy. You don't want those wounds to rip open again, and besides, you've done so much already. Rest for now and let Garth and the others handle the rest."

He sighed, staring up at the ceiling. "I just hate the thought of sitting around in Requia while my comrades fight the war. What good can I do in Requia?"

"You can RELAX." Caitlyn emphasized the last word. "And you can work on that victory poem you promised. Didn't you say you'd settle down and write poetry after the war?"

"Write poetry, yes. Settle down, maybe…with the right girl." He added quietly.

It was quiet again for a minute as the two were lost in their own thoughts. Caitlyn then lay down on the bed and snuggled up to him, careful not to touch his wounds.

"I was so scared that you had died. I thought you might have left me." She whispered, tears starting to run down her cheeks.

"What's this, all the sudden? I told you I'd live. Truthfully, there were a few moments I was unsure, but I fought my hardest." He asked her.

She was silent for a while, just holding on to him, one arm around his muscled stomach. "I lost…a close friend once…he was a lot like you. I know you're not him and could never replace him…and I don't want you to be. I like you just the way you are. But if you were to leave me too, then I…" Her voice trailed off, and she make a choked sound, fighting back tears. "I'd feel so alone…"

His good arm wrapped around her waist, holding her close to him. She accepted the touch, nuzzling her head in the crook of his neck. "I won't leave you, Caitlyn. I'm still here, and I'll always be right next to you."

She lifted her head to look in his eyes. "Zale... …"

"Yes?"

She said nothing in response, only kept looking in his eyes. Then, she slowly leaned down on top of him to kiss him on the lips. She felt him open his mouth in response, his arm pulling her closer. Encouraged, her arms went around his neck, kissing him with stronger passion. He returned the kiss with equal fervor, loving the taste of her lips. They left all doubt and worry behind, giving in to what their hearts felt for each other. At least, they broke apart, and she placed her head back against his neck.

"I love you Zale…I really do love you, so much."

"And I love you too, Catilyn. More than life itself."

She closed her eyes in contentment, relishing in the warmth and love of the man beside her.

"I'm falling asleep here." He mumbled, groggily.

She rose to a sitting position, grinning. "I'm sorry to hear my kissing is so boring." She teased.

He grinned, hearing the joke, but getting more sleepy each second. "Not you…the sedative…"

She nodded, and gently ran a hand through his hair. "Rest now, love. I'll be back to check on you in a little while." He fell asleep, his breathing slow and even. His face looked so peaceful while sleeping. She gave him one more quick kiss, then left the tent to see what she could do to help the other injured.