She spoke, and she died.
I saw her standing at the back of a skirmish line, dressed in a man’s clothes and speaking sharply in Russian.
It was when I heard her voice, carried on a fetid wind, that I knew her for who she was.
Another incarnation of my mother.
Regardless of form or age, there is a tone to her voice that is unmistakable.
I slipped Amir’s rifle from my shoulder and took my time loading it. My mother wandered up and down the skirmish line, ordering her men to keep an eye out for me. Word had reached her of the butchering of some Cossacks and the subsequent feast of the trees I’d met the day before.
When the rifle was loaded, I loosened the Colts in their holsters, braced Amir’s rifle in the crook of a tree, and took aim upon my mother’s head.
I pulled the trigger, and the top of her skull vanished in a spray of bone and blood, hair and brains. The nearest soldier was bathed in them, and to his credit, the man didn’t panic.
None of them did.
That was fine.
I was in the mood for a fight.
As they located by position, I reloaded the rifle and killed the man who had taken charge. The round took him in the throat, and he staggered around bleeding for a moment.
The soldiers around him wavered, unsure of how to proceed.
My third shot killed a man who bent down beside the corpse of his comrade, and it was then the soldiers saw where I was.
They aimed their rifles and let off a volley that amounted to sound and fury and little else.
Slinging Amir’s rifle, I drew the Colts and waded into the fight.
I didn’t bother shooting at those who ran or those who stood and stared.
No, I focused my attention on those men busy reloading.
They could think, and so they had to die.
A pair of heavy slugs nipped the side of my head, tearing away part of my ear while a third shot punched through my left cheek, shattering teeth as it passed through.
I’ll admit, it hurt like hell.
When I spat out the shards and killed the men who’d shot me, the others realized who I was.
They wavered, cast down their weapons, and tried to surrender.
Rarely am I interested in prisoners.
Today was not one of those days.