Theo’s Girl

Full marks… a powerful alternate history.
Nick Gevers, Locus
I was quite impressed.
Rich Horton, Locus
Remarkable… In this world of bows, swords, knives, and copper-bottomed airships, suddenly anything is possible.
Sherwood Smith, SF Site
What sets this story apart… is its ultimate questioning of what it means to be a good man and how one’s own self-perception does not always tally with the perception of those around him.
Stephen Silver, Tangent Online

Mies drops his bag in the shade of a crumbling, chest-high brick wall and sits down next to it, out of breath. His cough is better here, above the dust of the trenches. The south end of the Old City ridge slopes down sharply to the plain, and a road more like a staircase zigzags across the face of the hill. Right here the path runs east-west, and the wall runs along beside it so that there is a narrow strip of cool mossy cobbles that never see the sun, even at the height of summer. It’s not really safe here — there are still any number of looters, refugees, and partisans in the abandoned city — but Mies has his bow with him and a good view up and down the steps.

Down slope, in the direction Mies has just come from, the Imperial lines, laid out by the book, a maze of earthworks, bunkers, communication trenches, all meant to protect against long-range, heavy artillery, the kind Taxila’s defenders don’t have. Still the engineers are at it night and day, extending, ramifying, fortifying. Mies looks down at the plume of dust rising from the works by the river and wonders how they can keep it up in this heat.

Upslope, atop the ridge, the Old City, a labyrinth of cobblestones and dead vines and high white plaster walls. Empty now, or nearly so — something to be thankful for. If Taxila’s rulers had trusted their people enough to arm them, they could have made a slaughterhouse of those narrow, twisting, ambush-friendly alleys. But Mies is looking at the hill itself now, and shaking his head.There was a time—when he was Theo’s age, say—he would have run straight up it. That march after they were drafted, through Dakia and Hellas to the camp at Nemea, was nothing but mountains, for days; and at the end of it they got the whole band up before sunrise to run to the top of Mount Apesas, and down again in the dark, carrying torches lit from the sacred fire.

How long ago was that? Mies wonders, eyes on the western horizon. Twenty years? Thirty, more like. How far away? How many cities taken in the name of Alexander the Undying, how many slaves sent to the Red City, how many idols melted down for gold, how many Crescent Sun banners raised over how many looted temples?

If I set out now to walk home, how long would it take?

He takes an orange out of his bag and peels it with his dagger. “And what would you find when you got there?” he says aloud. “Don’t borrow trouble.”

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