This story is by Paul Nieto and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Seasons come and seasons go; we expect that. When love comes, we hope it stays.
The reds and orange leaves of autumn lit up the valley, in a way like never before. Standing at the northern tower, Tower Fifteen, the archers unpacked the latest shipment of arrows.
“Look! Here’s one from Amy!” The sergeant said.
“What does it say?” Several archers asked.
“We are with you,” he said, “with a red heart.”
Several men asked for it.
Most everyone knew of Amy, who worked as a fletcher behind the Mapleton city walls. The words of encouragement she wrote on the rare arrows inspired the men. The archers at every tower loved them.
Captain Taylor was on leave touring the munition shops inside Mapleton. The cannon foundry and the flintlock rifle factory interested him but he anticipated the arrow shops. At each shop, he asked for Amy hoping to meet her. He approached her workbench.
“Hello, Amy?” He asked. Amy was a plain girl in a long brown working dress with sandy brown hair pulled back in a ponytail working at one of the arrow worktables.”
“Hello,” she said. He noticed her pretty brown eyes. Nervously she looked back down at her work.
“I’m, I’m… Captain Scott Taylor of the Archery Division,” he said.
“Oh!” She looked up smiling and shyly looked down.
“The men love your arrows,” he said. “I wanted to say Thank you.”
She looked up and their eyes locked. Speechless. The seconds passed in complete awkwardness.
“I must go,” Taylor said. He turned returning to his group.
“Damnit!” Amy thought. “I let him go.”
“Taylor you idiot,” the Major said. “Are you dense? Go back and ask that young lady out… Now.”
“Trust me. Do it!”
Taylor took the Major’s advice and Amy accepted.
Nights inside Mapleton were quiet since the war. The city gates locked at dusk. The restaurants and pubs closed early as everyone worked harder and longer supporting the war effort. But to a young couple falling in love, none of those things mattered.
“Are you ever scared?” Amy asked. “When the airships attack?”
“A little,” Taylor said, “but if we tear them up first, they can’t reach the city.”
“Why do you do it? Risk your life?”
“Why do you make arrows? And inspire the men?”
“I Understand.” Amy smiled. “Duty.”
Their first kiss was at the fountain in the center square. The autumn night was chilly, but neither one noticed.
“I wish the war would end… this week.” Amy said two nights later.
“Careful what you wish… It might.” Taylor said.
“Word is that the Vanglens are mounting an offensive, sending everything they’ve got, win or lose. We win, or they destroy us.”
“I wish we could run away,” Amy said. “I know we’re right for each other.” They kissed again.
Taylor proposed to Amy, in the early hours of the morning; the day before the battle. “We could just run off. South, through the mountains to Bellborough,” he said, “Get a house. Start a life.”
Amy beamed as though in a dream. But she knew she couldn’t take him away. He’d never be happy running from the battle.
“No!” She said. “I don’t love you.”
“You wanted to run away.”
“No! I didn’t mean it. No!” She turned and ran. “Leave me alone!” She screamed.
Striped zeppelins crossed the northern mountains before sunrise. Runners relayed the information to Mapleton twelve miles away. The rifleman and cannoneers scrambled into position camouflaging themselves with freshly cut autumn tree limbs of red, yellow, and orange.
The war torn remains of the Vanglen fleet slowly approached Mapleton, confident of victory, flying eleven full sized airships with mounted cannons.
The Mapleton Fourth Infantry took out the first two with flintlock mini-cannons, but on their discovery, the Vanglens blazed them with cannon fire. All twenty-four men lay dead.
The archers strung their bows and crossbows. A hail of arrows flooded the air from all directions. Three more airships were hit and slowly falling, only minutes left to fight.
“Launch the airships,” the General commanded. The fight was on, cannons against cannons, but it did not last long. Both of the Mapleton ships began to descend as only one Vanglen ship fell. Meanwhile, the archers were scoring hits. The remaining ships were slowly losing altitude despite increasing their flames to compensate.
The enemy airships took out Towers Nine, Seven, and Ten. The flagship broke off toward tower fifteen. Tower Fifteen had a surprise. Two catapults hidden beside it launched a hail of rocks crashing it to the ground. The remaining four ships turned for revenge on Tower Fifteen.
“If anyone is in love, or has a family, run now!” Captain Taylor gave the order. “Lower the ropes.” Half the men fled.
As the ships approached the men bravely shot their arrows, now reinforced by rifleman below.
The catapults shot burning oil soaked wood mixed with rocks and the cannons fired back. The deck of two ships started on fire. No one could see what happened through the smoke, but in the end Tower Fifteen was in ruins and the two burning airships destroyed.
A changing wind blew the remaining two ships toward the city. Riflemen and archers ran from the remaining towers to assist.
“NOW!” The general gave the command. The men removed the autumn limbs of red and orange leaves used as camouflage from atop of 12 ballistae by the city walls. A hail of missiles filled the sky as the crew kept reloading. The Vanglens never expected it. Mapleton had never used a ballista. The riflemen fired their flint locks. One airship managed to turn only to get shot down by cannon fire from the city walls.
The final airship fell inside the city and the crew surrendered. The Riflemen scoured the battleground for any survivors of the fallen aircraft while archers transported the injured.
The final assault was over. Mapleton had won with enough remains to make at least five new airships from the wreckage. Surely the Vanglens would sign a peace treaty now.
Amy got the news that Tower Fifteen was destroyed. Tears filled her eyes. She ran to the archery camp. “Has anyone seen Captain Taylor?”
The men nodded, “No,” and looked to the ground.
She found the major, but he knew nothing of Taylor either. She went outside the city and searched the field near Tower Fifteen. The sight of the fallen tower and smoldering ships horrified her. “It’s all my fault!”
She searched the hospital but couldn’t find him. “Why? Why did I let him go?” A great depression came over her.
“The herbalist women might help,” she thought. “I can’t live like this. She has to have something.”
Amy went to the shop of the wise herbalist woman and told her story. “No potion will cure a heartbreak,” the old woman said. “Write your story in twos. Then burn it. When you burn it you release it. But keep the second as it lives in your heart. You’ll never escape it. Take these tablets. Go out back to my orchard and start.”
Amy sat in the orchard; the crisp apples ripe for picking. The remaining reds and oranges of the surrounding trees glowing in the sun around her as she started her story.
“The Seasons come and the seasons go, but we expect that. When love comes we hope it will stay… but sometimes love doesn’t. Amy wrote and cried through the day until dark. She slept outside in the cold frosty night. The second day she did the same, writing every spoken word as the leaves turned brown and began to fall. She woke up the third day hungry and cold, ready to burn her story.
The fallen autumn leaves crunched as someone approached. She turned and saw the sage woman walking alongside a limping figure on a crutch, with his left leg sprained. His right arm hung in a sling and his face partially bandaged. The old woman stopped as the figure limped toward Amy.
“No!” Amy said. “It can’t be!”
The figure limped toward her faster. Amy jumped and ran toward him. It was Taylor. He was alive!
“Where were you? I looked everywhere?”
“Helping with the wounded.” Taylor could see the next question in Amy’s eyes. “They tried to stop me, but I pulled rank,” Taylor smirked.
“I love you!” Amy said with a hug and a kiss. “I’m so sorry. I lied… I had to. You had to fight. If you didn’t, you’d never be the same. It would be my fault.”
“I know,” Taylor said. “I figured out what you did.”
“Really?” Amy asked. “So, can we still get that house? But, maybe here in Mapleton?”
“Maybe. If you don’t run away from me this time.”
Amy smiled. “Me? Run? No way!”