The Blood-Red River | Teen Ink

The Blood-Red River

May 14, 2021
By yangy, Shenzhen, Other
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yangy, Shenzhen, Other
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Author's note:

This piece was originally a drama script full of conversations that I wrote for fun. I rewrote the script into a short-fiction and added some background stories to it. Hope y'all enjoy it (or maybe not because the story is about something painful after all). I'd welcome any suggestions!

This story happened around two thousand years ago during the war between the Koda Empire and the Herand Empire. The war lasted hundreds of years, with wins and losses, and countless casualties. Soldiers died in battles, and civilians suffered from the chaos and heavy tax burdens. People lost their fathers, sons, and brothers––and thus the hate and resentment never seemed to cease. There is never an end of taking revenge.


The two empires were once at peace. They traded with each other and sent messengers with gifts to show their kindness. Some of their people were mixed in one region, living together peacefully and never thought of the others as foreigners. The lovely scene was dreamlike. But one day, all of a sudden, a horrible incident broke the peaceful dream and triggered a series of malicious actions. 


August 17th, 37 B.C., Village Mont, Koda Empire, half a mile away from a local military camp, a teenage girl was found dead. Her naked body was found wrapped in a sheet near the riverside. Dry tears remained on her face, and her mouth wide opened as if she had seen something awful. People from the village claimed that there was a glee feast happening in the military camp and that the soldiers loved hanging out by the riverside. On the same day, a search notice was posted in the Herand Empire–––the youngest daughter of King Luke, went missing. As the notice claimed, the princess is at her 16, loves painting, and enjoys the sound of water flows...


Paper can’t wrap up a fire. The incident that happened near the riverside was soon reported to King Luke. The old king took a glance at the body. Blood was spat out of his mouth and he fell to the ground, fainted. The clear sky was suddenly clouded–––the lightning flashed and thunder crashed. 


On August 19th, a trumpet blast broke the tranquil night sky. Thousands of Herand elite cavalry attacked Village Mont and the military camp during the night. They left nothing alive, including women and children. The next morning, when the sunlight shone on the land, the place was completely burnt down, leaving a blood-red river behind. The war started…

The flame of war shrouded the land for hundreds of years. People sometimes questioned themselves––Why do we fight? Whom are we fighting for? Some thought that the war should stop, but those who lost their loves didn’t. People decided to continue fighting for the history, being dragged into an endless vicious cycle.


A turning point appeared when an intelligent, military-minded prince of the Herand empire got the throne. The young king’s name was Luis. With the assistance of army advisor Zeke and senior general Fernando, King Luis led the Herand army and forced his enemy to retreat one step after another. They defeated the Koda’s principal force in mid-July, 289 AD.


The King of Koda retrieved all soldiers from the battlefield and gathered them at the City of Raul. The Herand army then sieged the city. Everyone knew that sink or swim depends on this city. If the city is taken down by the Herand army, the Koda empire would come to an end.


The King of Koda himself was wounded in battle and died soon after. He only had a five-year-old son, and so the infantile prince inherited the throne.

General Solomon of the Koda Empire commanded a mighty army. His army was called the Imperial City Guard, whose role was to secure the safety of King of Koda under normal circumstances. General Solomon was a very strategic man, and after the Koda army retreated to the City of Raul he was given the name of “the great general”. He became the chief commander of Koda’s army. Although general Solomon was skillful in battle, he was no war maniac. There was always a kind of depth in his eyes that seemed to see through the world. People said that general Solomon could always foresee how a battle turns out.


On August 15th 289 AD, midnight, General Solomon bypassed the ring of encirclement under the cover of night. His target was General Harrison's troop in the rear. More importantly, Solomon noticed the news that Vito, King Luis’s Son, was also in the rear.


[General Harrison’s camp]


That night the soldiers were having a celebrational feast. No one was doing the protection work––they drank and laughed, and some of them even passed out by the guard tower. Apparently, there was no way for them to realize the potential threat. “Ah, this wine is good stuff,” general Harrison tossed up the cup of wine, stretched, and yawned lazily. “Hey you, go get some more. Just relax––and enjoy.”


The bodyguard standing aside smiled. “Yes, general. Once we smash those enemies and take their city, we’ll get plenty of wine to drink.”


“Ha, ya talking about those cowards? I don’t even give a s*** about them. Now all my men are celebrating the glorious victory. What can those cowards do?” Harrison said in a tone of sarcasm. “Besides praying for the postpone of their time of death?”


“No offense general but that is partly true. I doubt if they actually have the right to choose when to die. We can destroy them anytime we want.”


Harrison refilled the glass with wine and sneered, “And you know that Solomon guy? Their coward general. People keep saying that he is intelligent, and that he is…an ever-victorious general or whatever. That is the most hilarious joke I have ever heard. Bull****! If I ever catch him on the battlefield, I’ll chop off his head like this.


Harrison drew his sword and swung it as if Solomon were standing in front of him. There was a clear “whoosh” sound made by the sword. But then they realized that it wasn’t the only “whoosh” sound being made.


Solomon’s face turned pale abruptly with fright because no one would know that sound better than a military man––it was definitely an arrow’s sound. The bodyguard pushed aside the tent flap and checked. He turned back with his eyes widened in shock and yelled, “Enemy soldiers coming! They are attacking us.”


“What? How could it be? How come no one sounded the damn alarm?!”


“The guards were drunk or whatever. General, there is no time for this. We must go now. I’ll cover you,” The bodyguard said in a hurry.


Harrison and his bodyguard fled away. They saw general Solomon’s army flag on their way of escaping.


“Screw you, Solomon! You crafty old devil.”


 [Two hours later, Solomon on the horseback, watching his men clean up the battlefield]


“I told you guys, right? That stupid Harrison would be carried away by his small victory,” Solomon said in an indifferent voice, wiping his sword with a cotton cloth. Defeating Harrison wasn’t something that would surprise him. Anyone could have done it because an army puffed up with pride is bound to lose. Yet there was a more important task that Solomon planned on doing.


“General, your anticipations are always correct. And, we have good news.” a soldier aside said delightedly.


“What? We captured someone?”


“Vito, the son of King Luis.”


“Good, it’s really good news,” Solomon said in a tone of satisfaction with a rare smile on his face. “And what’s your opinion on how to deal with Vito? What do you say?”


The soldier almost answered without any hesitation. “We should kill him,” said the soldier quite seriously, full of indignation. “In that way we can boost our morale. Even if they break and capture the city one day, they would suffer from losses and––that Luis must live in grief for the rest of his life!”


Solomon chuckled and shook his head. “Calm down kid, there is always a better way,” he tapped the soldier on his shoulder. “We’ll keep him. Send a messenger and tell Luis to come in person if he wants his son back. Tell him it’s a “prisoner exchange issue”.


“General, is this going to be a trap? But it is so obvious. He will figure it out.”


“You will see. That’s our only way out.” Solomon said slowly, “Luis is a smart guy, and he will realize what I mean by this.”


The young soldier tried to ask again, but Solomon left after saying that sentence.

[King Luis’s Camp]


The dim candlelight gleamed in the tent. Luis stood beside the desk, staring at the map. Army advisor Zeke was sitting on the step with a thoughtful look on his face. The tent was silent that a pin drop could be heard. They pondered long and deeply.


A long pause.


“So, we continue sieging the city and wait till they run out of food supplies.” Zeke broke the silence with his opinion. “There is nothing much we can do.”


“We do not have enough men to take it over.” Luis sighed. “The only way is to let it collapses of itself.” To an outsider, the Herand army could easily take over the city by its irresistible strength. However, for Luis and Zeke, no one knew the situation better than they do. Their army suffered from the long battle; their battle line was overextended, which made it hard for army provisions to transport.


“This should be fine, but…” Zeke said in an anxious tone. “In fact, my King, I am concerned about our disposition in the rear. Sometimes I doubt if General Harrison is competent in the defensive work. What if the enemy…


Just before Zeke finished his speaking, General Fernando rushed into the tent and interrupted the conversation. “Fernando! Your timing is perfect!” Luis walked toward him and said. “I just sent my man to get you here to discuss our new plan. Anyway, why are you in such a hurry?”


“Something serious went wrong, my King. I just got the battlefield report and it said…it said…” Fernando hesitated. His voice was slightly trembling, and his fists were clenched tightly. As a senior general who led the army from victory to victory, such kind of stress rarely appeared on his face.

“What? Just say it. You need me to cure your stammer?” Zeke asked with haughty disdain. The wise army advisor quarreled with the general a lot due to their difference in personality.


“The enemies sneak attacked from our back. General Harrison got defeated. They captured your son.” Fernando finally confessed.


A Frown suddenly appeared on king Luis’s face. “Did I hear you right?”


“They defeated Harrison and captured Vito. And they asked you, my King, to their military camp, in person, to discuss…prisoner exchange issues.”


“That’s not possible! Why would this happen?” Luis smashed the wine glass to pieces and yelled. “Where the heck is Harrison?”


“My King, he knew you’ll condemn him. He drowned himself in a river, and I couldn’t stop him.” Fernando kept his head down and told the truth.


[Brief silence for 5 seconds]


“My King, I will lead my men to do a counterattack and rescue your son.” Fernando said suddenly, “I only need three days to wipe them out from the map.” The valiant general Fernando wanted to solve the problem in the most direct way, but clearly, this wasn’t a proper decision. Zeke quickly opposed it. “No, you reckless maniac. All you gonna see is Vito’s dead body if you do that.”


“Then what shall we do? Stay calm and do nothing like you? Coward.”


“Dare you say that again?” Zeke stood up and walked toward Fernando, furiously. He hated being called a coward more than anything. Fernando knew it, but he said so.


Just as the conflict seemed inevitable, Luis shouted. “Enough! We’ve had enough trouble. Vito is my son, and I should be the one who saves him and takes the risk. Not you two, nor my brave soldiers! Tell Solomon to wait for me.


“No, my King! Even I can tell that this is obviously a trap.” Fernando tried to convince them even though he knew his intelligence is nowhere near those two men standing in front of him.


“Listen. It’s not that I simply trust them, but this decision is crucial. Our primary target is the city.” Luis recovered his peace of mind and said. He drew his sword from the sheath and pointed to the city of Raul, which is not far away from them. The moonlight shone on his sword. The silver sheen on the sword was cool and refreshing. At that moment, an idea flashed through Luis’s mind–––turning that beautiful city into a sea of flame and a corpse pile seemed to be the last thing he wanted to do.


“If we divide our force now, the enemy in the city will seize this opportunity. If they spare no effort to attack us while we are concentrating on defeating the enemy behind us, the consequence would be… disastrous.” Zeke added on when Luis stopped talking.


“Then do we not save…?” Asked Fernando anxiously.


Zeke interrupted Fernando’s sentence. “We must save Vito. That’s without a doubt.”


[Outside the tent, near the brook at the foot of the hill]


Luis stood in the moonlight, pondering. He bent down and scooped up some water with his hands. The water was clear and cold. The murmur of a stream is always soothing. Luis closed his eyes, then one piece of memory came into his mind. He remembered that once he stole a book from his father’s nightstand. The book contained the story of the starting point of this war. He could still remember every detail of that story since reading it. Sometimes when he fell asleep, he would dream of that blood-red river. When he was still an innocent child, he woke up cold and shaking from that nightmare every single time. Although the nightmare no longer bothered him since he turned eighteen and stepped on to the battlefield for the first time, witnessed massacres and families being broken up, that river always reminded him of the last conscience that he shall still hold as a soldier––not to kill the innocents.


Luis knew that it would be hypocritical if he says that he never thought about leading his army to wipe out every single enemy that participated in capturing his son. But meanwhile, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to save his son by doing so, and that his action would have caused thousands of deaths and deeper resentment between the people of the two empires.


“Maybe that Solomon is thinking about the same thing as you are.” Zeke walked slowly toward the brook and said. Zeke was not only the army advisor of King Luis but also his childhood friend. As friends, they kept no secrets from each other, and thus it was almost certain that they have shared their own thoughts about wars.  


“Probably,” Luis turned back. “Solomon knew that us breaking through the city is just a matter of time. There must be a reason for him to keep my son alive. Maybe I should go and negotiate with him.”


“If that’s your choice,” Zeke said. “I’ll go with you, my King.”


“Are you sure about this?”


“Yes, my King.”


“Write back and tell Solomon that we’ll be there.”


[General Solomon’s camp]


Solomon held the letter in his hand. He breathed a sigh of relief.

[King Luis’s Camp]


It’s always hot as hell in the middle of August. Lying under the tree shade must have been the most comfortable thing to do. But king Luis and army advisor Zeke knew the significance of that day. As they walked through the barrack yard, the soldiers in drill looked at them with admiration. These two men were at the heart of all their victories.


“How old are you, kid?” Luis stopped and asked a soldier with a young face.


“I’m…I am fifteen, my King.” The young soldier responded. Talking directly to the king for the first time, the soldier seemed a bit nervous.


“Why joining the army?” Luis asked as he patted the dust off the young soldier’s armor.


“My king, I have nowhere else to go. My father and my two brothers were killed in a battle five years ago. I don’t want to see my mother struggling for our lives all alone. Factories wouldn’t accept uneducated rural children like me, and that’s why I am here.”


King Luis was about to say something, but suddenly found himself speechless. He tapped the soldier on the shoulder and said, “You’re a good son, everything is going to be okay.”


Luis and Zeke stepped out of the camp gate. After explaining some necessary things to general Fernando, they set off at a gallop. The horses splashed up the dust as they galloped. Behind them were only two attendants, with no sign of army. In fact, what they have decided to do was far braver and greater than leading an army to battle.


[General Solomon’s camp]


After several hours of riding, an army camp emerged before their eyes. Koda flags were flying on top of the camp. It was their destination.


A group of Koda soldiers marched toward them. The tall soldier at the front pointed king Luis’s team at their waists as he approached, “Swords. No weapon allowed!”.  After the frisking process, the tall soldier finally said, “General Solomon has been waiting for you. This way.” Everyone seemed calm, but they knew that at this point being alive or dead is out of their control. They entered general Solomon’s tent. 


There, general Solomon sat in a cane chair, reading the battlefield report. The person standing aside was none other but Prince Vito. He had clean clothes on with no sign of being harmed. “Father!” Vito was so glad to see his father again. King Luis and Prince Vito embraced each other. After all, blood is thicker than water.


“You never suspected this being a set-up?” Solomon said as he placed the battlefield report on the desk. “How could a cautious man like you walk into uncertainty defenseless?”

“It’s not an uncertainty anymore when you decided not to kill my son,” Luis replied as he leaned against the post. The fact that he didn’t see Vito with scars and wounds in the deepest dungeon removed most of his doubts about this negotiation. Luis breathed a sigh of relief and started to look around. His eyes finally settled on a calendar hanging near the post. The calendar seemed nothing special, but there was a little mark on a date. Luis looked closer to the calendar as he approached. He saw that the mark was on a special date––August 17th. The sad history recurred to his mind, that unfortunate girl, and that river…He suddenly remembered that today is also August 17th.


Just as Luis traveled back from his memory and back to reality, he realized that both Zeke and Solomon were staring at the calendar. Everyone seemed to be lost in thought–– except Vito, who was still in his teenage age and had no sign of aging on his face.


“Three hundred and twenty-six years ago, those brutal soldiers didn’t show mercy on that innocent girl. In retaliation, the pitiless cavalry showed no mercy on the innocent village people.” General Solomon sat up and said slowly. “And now, three hundred and twenty-six years passed. This time, I made a difference.”


“We all know the situation. There is no opportunity for the Koda empire to recover. It’s only a matter of time till the end.” Solomon continued. “You are a wise king. And I only wish that this time, you show mercy on the innocent residents.”


Soon after this speech, general Solomon suddenly looked much older. That kind of heroic spirit and depth in his eyes started fading away gradually. It’s hard to believe that a general who has never been afraid of anything says what he just said.


“General, your army is not yet defeated,” Zeke stared into Solomon’s eyes. “If you are suing peace at this moment, what will they think of you, and how will futurity regard you? You will lose your fame overnight.”


“Fame?” There was a sudden sarcastic smile on the general’s face, but seriousness returned with a wink. “Fame can be a two-edged sword. Some fame is brought at the expense of conscience. If that fame could change into peace and lives, why not?”


King Luis, who remained silent for the last few minutes, turned to his right and faced toward general Solomon. “A hero goes beyond mere fame,” Luis said in a respectful tone as he bowed low. “I will keep my promise, not to harm the civilians in the city.”

Two days later King Luis led the Herand army into the City of Raul. The war that has continued for eternity was over. He kept his promise and harmed no civilians. He knew that it wasn’t only a promise for general Solomon, but also a promise for himself and his conscience.


For many years after that, the Herand empire remained in peace. People lived and worked in contentment. The fifteen-year-old boy no longer needed to serve in the military. General Solomon took off his armor and became a respected teacher. Vito inherited the throne and devoted major efforts to developing the economy.


It was just another mid-summer night. The old king Luis lied in bed after a day of hard work. It was raining outside. The voices of rain resound in his room. Gradually, he fell asleep. He came by the riverside, closer and closer. He soon realized that the blood-red river no longer existed. All that he could see was a crystal-clear river. He looked up and saw a dim shape on the grassland, clearer and clearer. There, a young girl dressed in white, holding her drawing board. On her drawing, there was a thriving village, and a river. Luis waved his hand for greeting. The young girl waved back with a bright smile…

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This book has 1 comment.

yangy said...
on May. 20 2021 at 8:12 am
yangy, Shenzhen, Other
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
To my surprise, when I revisited my work one week later I kept asking myself "Did I really write this?" Sometimes it's just a matter of unique writing inspiration––something that you can't regain after it has slipped through your mind. It's almost impossible for me to come up with the same piece at this point.