Endings and Beginnings

"No! No, let go of me!" Sierra screamed as she was dragged by the wrist at running pace throught the muddy streets.

"Let me go, Pietre! Let me go back!"

Whatever Pietre said in reply was lost somewhere in the torrent of rain and artillery shells. Sierra dug her feet into the ground as best she could and shouted once more.

"Stop! Let me go!"

Pietre stopped and span around, leaning forward to put the tips of their noses only an inch or so apart. For the first time since they had started running, she had a good look at her fiancé's face. In three places including across his right eye, the skin was cut and dribbling blood; his hair and eyebrows were singed and his left cheek burned. Sierra's once fierce determination melted as she saw the mix of devotion and agony in his remaining eye that gazed deeply into hers, until she looked away from him.

Now that she thought about it, all the time they'd been running and she'd been stubborn and screaming... All that time, every explosion, every piece of flying shrapnel - he'd always stood between it and her; sheltering her, protecting her, being injured time and time again without even making a sound.

Sierra sighed, and looked him in the face again.

"Come on, you fool, run!"

"Right," Pietre replied, and the two of them started running again - side by side, this time, rather than one dragging the other.

Only once they had reached the top of the hill did they finally have the courage to turn and see what had become of the city they'd left behind. The whole district where their inn had been was ablaze. The castle was a pile of smoking rubble, and this pattern of smoke and fire spread across every building in sight; yet still the bombardment did not stop.

Pietre sat down dejectedly against a tree while Sierra lay with her head in his lap. Within a few minutes they were fast asleep, too exhausted to resist.

The morning dawned bright and clear, all signs of the night's rain disappearing quickly in the sunshine. Without looking back, Sierra and Pietre hefted their bags onto their shoulders and headed towards a new life far from that city, with determined looks once more upon their faces.

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