Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare
by Alex Shvartsman
Teo followed one of his men through the vast halls of the palace, past the defaced portraits of royals and the vacant pedestals from which vases and small trinkets had already been looted. Laughter and muffled screams could be heard from some of the rooms they passed; the fighting was over, and the soldiers were helping themselves to spoils of war.
"She's in there." The man pointed at the wide doorway. He shifted from foot to foot impatiently, no doubt eager to join his comrades.
Teo dismissed him with a nod and pushed the gilded double doors open.
A teenage girl dressed in fine silks stood within, blade in hand. Half a dozen solders circled wearily beyond her reach, their own weapons drawn. Teo approached and the men parted to let him pass. He and the girl studied one another.
"Take another step and die," the girl warned, her voice cracking.
Teo chuckled. "Your stance and grip are all wrong. The toy you're clutching is good only for ceremonies; it would break the first time you parried. Any one of them"--he pointed at the soldiers--"could disarm you in seconds. The only thing keeping you alive is that circlet."
The girl blanched, likely unused to being spoken to in such a frank manner. Precious stones set in the silver band atop her head glinted. She regained her courage. "Keep away! I'm Princess Elena. No commoner may spill the noble blood!"