Duty: a novel of Rhynan
Author: Rachel Rossano
"The red one is mine," he said.
I didn’t raise my head although instinct urged me to. Father had called me Red. He said I was born screaming, skin deep red like the beets in the garden and hair fiery like the setting sun. The man who spoke was not my father.
I glanced at him from beneath my cloak’s hood. Arrogant in his size and superior mass, his eyes picked me out of the writhing mass of captives. Early morning sunlight glinted off plain armor and an unadorned helm, yet the unwashed barbarians treated him with the respect due a commander.
The crowd of women around me parted for the soldier fulfilling his order. Mothers moved back with babes in their arms, toddlers clinging to their skirts. Their fingers clutched older children’s hands or shoulders. A living mass, their voices silenced by the army surrounding them. Their faces spoke eloquently of their fear.
The soldier, smelling of sweat and sour wine, grabbed my left arm and dragged me out from among them. I didn’t want to bring harm to the women around me. The soldier would injure many before subduing me. I allowed him to pull me toward the commander with only minimal resistance.
Once free of the captives, however, I yanked from the man’s grip in an attempt to run. Three pairs of rough hands caught hold of my arms before I managed more than a few steps. The stench of their unclean bodies turned my stomach. I gagged as I fought them. They dragged me through the dust and dumped me at his feet.
I struggled up only to be brought down again. Pressure behind my knees forced me to kneel.
I lifted my face to glare at the commander.
“Remove her hood.”
Someone pulled my cloak half off my shoulders in his enthusiasm. Red curls fell free in a wild mass about my shoulders.
Silently I cursed the color. If only I had been blessed with plain brown or even blond tresses, I could have hidden in plain sight.
“My Lady Brielle Solarius, I presume.”
He had the audacity to meet my glare. His eyes were only glimmers beneath the beaten metal and leather of his helmet. He made no bow or any show of the honor due me. I was a noblewoman. I didn’t claim the right of deference often, but still the fact remained.
“Might I know your name, barbarian?”