Unconditional Surrender

Submitted into Contest #54 in response to: Write a story about someone looking to make amends for a mistake.... view prompt

26 comments

Adventure Drama Fantasy

When Veritae was just seven years old, her mother placed ten coins in her hand.

“Listen to me very carefully, Veri,” she said. “This is all we have. You need to go to Avanta. Do you remember where she is?”

Veritae nodded. She had accompanied her mother to the home of the local healer before.

A violent spasm of guttural coughing spewed from her mother and Veritae waited, knowing it would take time to pass.

“Tell her I need the special medicine. She will know,” her mother gasped. “Do not tell her how much you have. Offer her five. She will want more. Offer her six and then seven if you have to.” Her mother dropped to the bed of straw and Veritae leaned in to hear her. “Give her all only if you must.”

Veritae hurried down the twisted path, over the hill and along the river, arriving at an earthen hut draped with mysterious leaves and vines. She heard voices from inside and peeked through the doorway.

She saw several women crammed together around a small fire. Another woman, taller than the rest, dark hair falling across her shoulder, hovered over the flames, eyes closed and murmuring. Veritae recognized Avanta and edged into the room, back against the wall.

The healer’s eyes opened and she focused her gaze on Veritae who pressed herself harder against the wall. Avanta’s cold silver eyes had frightened her during previous encounters and she had always clutched her mother’s skirts, hidden behind the folds.

“What brings you here, child? Daughter of Ministrae,” her voice slithered toward Veritae like a hiss. The little girl swallowed and bit her lip, trying to control her trembling legs. She thrust her fistful of coins at Avanta.

“Mama’s medicine,” she managed to whisper, tongue feeling thick and clumsy.

“Yessss,” Avanta plucked the ten coins from Veritae’s grip. That’s when she remembered her mother’s instructions.

“Oh no! No no no no no,” Veritae shouted, fear forgotten. “Five! You’re only supposed to take five.”

Avanta laughed, counting the money. “Now why would I take five when you have already given me ten?”

“Six! Take six,” Veritae pleaded. “Seven!” 

The women surrounding her were cackling and pointing as they watched. “Look at her. Stupid girl!” Veritae heard one say. “Little girl, you are supposed to go the OTHER way,” sniggered another.

Veritae struggled to hold back her tears. She grabbed the bag of herbs Avanta held out to her and ran out the door. The tears burned as she made her way back along the river, over the hill and up the path to their camp, dreading telling her mother. 

After the tears had dried and the medicine had done its work, Veritae’s mother rose and called her. The little girl followed her mother through the forest until they reached a small clearing encircled by hemlock trees. Darkness had fallen and her mother built a small fire.

“Come, child,” said her mother, light flickering on her face. She reached under her skirts and pulled out a broad knife she had secured to her leg. She handed it to Veritae. The girl grasped the leather hilt and felt comforted by its weight.

“This knife is now yours,” her mother said. “You will learn to use it wisely and you will never be frightened again. You will think clearly, you will be strong and you give up nothing - never again. Now, you hold it like this.”

“Mama?”

“Yes, Veri.”

“Why do you carry this knife?”

“Long ago, I had a dangerous job. I had need to protect myself often. I have gone nowhere without this knife. Enough questions, child. It is time to train.”

And that is how Veritae became skilled with the knife and then with a sword. That is how she became famed for defending her people. That is how she became an infantry officer when war came to their land. That is how she became feared by enemies and infamous for demanding unconditional surrender. That is how she came to lead the armies of the western front in battle after battle, victory after victory.

And that is how, twenty years later, Veritae found herself on a windswept mountaintop far from her home, contemplating the soldier before her.

“I do not accept,” she said.  The soldier struck his boot with his riding crop, a sharp crack piercing the wind. This was no ordinary soldier. This was General Kirill Eleysian, the enemy commander. His army had battled Veritae’s forces for years, suffering many defeats, countless losses. He received one communication after another from his dispirited generals reporting that she refused to accept any conditions of surrender – no return of prisoners, nor weapons, nor horses, nor territory. With each loss, each surrender, his exhausted army faded a bit more.

This was the final campaign. Veritae had ordered her forces to descend on his capital from the east and west as she had led her battalion down from the north. They captured the city, but with immeasurable losses on both sides.

Defeat pained the great general. But as he sat at his desk reflecting on the conflict, he discovered the thread of a new strategy, a final whisper of hope. He drew up his terms of surrender and vowed to make Veritae accept them.

She refused.

“What are your terms?” he asked.

“There are no terms. Unconditional surrender.”

General Eleysian drew in a deep breath. 

“General,” he said to her. “Your forces are exhausted. Our intelligence tells us they are starving and many are ill. Your rations are low. You have won. Give us this dignity in surrender by accepting my terms.”

“I have no reason to do so. You are in a position of weakness.”

“Are we?”

Those two words stopped the steady pulse of Veritae’s heart. Questions, doubts and fears erupted in her mind as she struggled to analyze the General’s position. Was this a bluff? What if she agreed to his terms? What if she did not? Had he reinforcements? Why would he offer terms of surrender? Should she cede? Should she push? He was out of moves. He had to be. But if he was not?

He was right. Her troops were worn from many years of battle. Supplies were scarce. What was left of their uniforms hung loosely on their bones, faces gaunt and scarred. The battle cry that launched their final siege came from heart alone and the hope of returning home.

Veritae felt the slightest tremble in her legs, a tremor she had not felt since that first mistake with Avanta decades ago. She heard the officers accompanying General Eleysian sniggering just as those awful women had done. But when she glanced at them, their faces were stoic.  Though she had not moved, she feared her eyes revealed her jumbled thoughts. She met Elesysian’s icy stare and saw the triumph, the same satisfied triumph in Avanta’s silver eyes after she had pounced.

Never again.

“My terms are an immediate and unconditional surrender,” she stated.

General Eleysian regarded her in silence. Then he spoke.

“We do not accept. The mistake, General, is yours," he said

He mounted his horse and rode away with his officers.

Veritae watched them until they were gone.  Her own officers were silent, but she could feel anger radiating from them. She laid a hand on the knife that had hung by her side since the day her mother had given it to her.

It did not bring her comfort.  

August 14, 2020 16:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

26 comments

Kristin Neubauer
17:11 Aug 14, 2020

I have been obsessed with the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant lately. Lincoln once joked that his first initials should stand for Unconditional Surrender because of his penchant for demanding unconditional surrenders during the Civil War. I became fascinated with the psychology behind unconditional surrenders and wanted to explore it more. The first scene of the flawed negotiation is also very loosely based on a horse trading incident in Grant's childhood.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Pragya Rathore
05:21 Aug 19, 2020

Awesome story! I loved how beautifully you continuously portray the emotions in the story. "It did not bring her comfort." Very well-written. Great job, keep it up! Please check out my stories sometime :)

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
14:28 Aug 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Pragya! Your kind words and encouragement mean a lot to me! I will follow you now and will read and comment on your stories a bit later today as soon as I’m near a computer and have some quiet time so I can focus. Looking forward to reading yours!

Reply

Pragya Rathore
14:31 Aug 19, 2020

You're most welcome, Kristen! You can read them any time you like, of course. The fact that you're going to read them matters more to me than any likes or comments. :) Stay safe!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Doubra Akika
15:50 Aug 18, 2020

Kristin! Your writing style is amazing! The story was so beautiful. I could feel Veritae grow as I read on. The ending was amazing too. Loved how it was similar to the beginning! Wonderful job!

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
16:17 Aug 18, 2020

Thank you so much, Doubra! This was me trying to stick a toe into creativity a little more. When I write, I find comfort in specifics and details - so writing something without a clear setting or time period or details was a little iffy for me. But I have been inspired by all of you here on Reedsy, so why not give it a shot? I appreciate your kinds words - they mean a lot!

Reply

Doubra Akika
17:02 Aug 18, 2020

It was my pleasure! And you did a great job!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
17:48 Aug 16, 2020

Wow! You did an amazing job with dialogue, description, and showing instead of telling. -Brooke

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
18:07 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you, Brooke! I really appreciate your feedback and encouragement!

Reply

01:49 Aug 17, 2020

It's my pleasure!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Roshna Rusiniya
19:06 Aug 14, 2020

Another great story from you. I love your writing style! It’s always a pleasure to read your stories. Well-done!

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
20:32 Aug 14, 2020

Thanks so much, Roshna. Your comment made me feel really good about my writing. I'm sort of feeling my way in the dark, and so it's great to know what works and what doesn't. I appreciate it!

Reply

Roshna Rusiniya
20:41 Aug 14, 2020

Not a problem at all! We all have ‘those’ days and ways. I’m so glad I choose to type instead of the conventional pen and paper writing. To think, I would be the one to clean up the mess afterwards! Hahaha

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Daniel R. Hayes
05:18 Apr 10, 2021

Hi Kristin, This was a wonderfully vivid story packed full of emotion. I think you did a great job writing it :) I liked how her mother gave her the knife and she kept it all those years, but then in the end it didn't bring her any comfort. That line was a great way to end the story. It did leave me wanting to read more. As always your stories are so thoughtfully planned with a ton of research and a very high level of intelligence. Very well done! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jonathan Blaauw
14:22 Aug 24, 2020

For me, as enjoyable as this story are the comments. I know it’s generally said that author's notes aren’t important to the reader, but as a reader/writer I find insights into the creative process endlessly fascinating. I love how you used your interest in Grant to build a fictional story that conveys the principle of unconditional surrender brilliantly! I would encourage everyone to share a little of what led to their stories. I love that kind of thing. I also love that you said you find comfort in specifics and details. Not that you think...

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
19:09 Aug 24, 2020

Thanks so much - again - Jonathan. I am finding so much inspiration (and validation) in the conversation with you. I sort of dabbled in and out of creative writing for weeks here and there in my life, but never actually finished anything. I think I was trying too hard to sound all erudite and deep, but that just isn't me and nothing sounded very good. When I finally got up the courage to try some things on Reedsy (after about a year of seeing emails for prompts in my Inbox!), I figured I'd just try something that I'd like to read myself....

Reply

Jonathan Blaauw
07:19 Aug 25, 2020

Well, don’t rule anything out. You’ve got the writing talent, and you also know all the secrets without knowing you know. For example, I was told – “Write the kind of stories you’d want to read.” See? You’re doing all the pro stuff already! Take it one story at a time, of course, but don’t clip your wings before you’ve given yourself a chance to fly 😊

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
20:13 Aug 25, 2020

Thank you! That is wise advice and I love how you worked the Daedalus/Icarus reference into your comments. My dad thought your story was incredible btw. He's 85 and doesn't read much anymore, but he said yours was a story well worth his time.

Reply

Jonathan Blaauw
15:47 Aug 27, 2020

That means more than you could ever know, thank you so so much. I actually read an interesting civil war story on here the other day and thought it'd be something you'd enjoy, next time you're looking for a Reedsy read. It's called Blood Brothers by Charles Stucker. He's also a very good story consultant, very wise old Charles is. Hope you're planning a new story soon - can't keep your fans waiting too long 😀

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
18:59 Aug 27, 2020

Thanks! I have seen Charles’ comments on some stories - I will check out his. I am working on a story for this week - but it’s being written between convention, hurricane and clashes edits. So it might get in just under the wire tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Maya W.
19:28 Aug 19, 2020

Really nicely written story! As I said, I loved the writing and I especially loved your main character. If you get the chance, could you check out my stories? Thank you!

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
20:01 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks so much, Maya....I really appreciate your feedback. Yes, absolutely I will read your stories. I'm at work until 11 tonight, so I might not be able to read until tomorrow, but you are at the top of my list. I am looking forward to reading yours!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Yolanda Wu
00:59 Aug 16, 2020

I loved this story so much, it was so amazing to read. The language was captivating and you packed so much into a short story. Right from the start, you caught my attention, and watching Veritae's growth, and how the end mirrored the beginning was really well done. Amazing work!

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
15:56 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you, Yolanda! Your kind words and encouragement have made my day!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rhondalise Mitza
02:44 Aug 15, 2020

Wow, Kristin! This was a great story. I loved the first line and how it kind of set up the whole story for the reader. Can't wait for more of your work.

Reply

Kristin Neubauer
15:57 Aug 15, 2020

Thanks so much, Rhondalise - that means a lot, especially coming from a writer as accomplished as you are. I appreciate the encouragement!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply