10 - Adversary

In ancient times, a pair of prisoners from different cultures codify a system of combat techniques based on animals' movements, accidentally creating the first martial art. But when they use their skills to escape captivity and return to their peoples, they know that their greatest threats are now each other.

Eitan and Farah are both slaves to the warlike Sukhe, kept far from their peoples. Eitan is originally from the nation of Pruta, and Farah from Tael; the two nations share a deep and ancient racial enmity, and the slaves from each country avoid, scorn, and even fight with each other on a regular basis.

Eitan and Farah both want to escape, but are hindered by different things. Eitan is without a doubt the biggest and strongest of the slaves, and so, while his presence is somewhat inspiring, when he encourages his fellows that their Sukhe captors can be beaten, the response is always some variation of, “Easy for you to say.”

Farah, meanwhile, is relatively petite, and so stands no chance in a fight. When she tries to encourage her people to revolt, they laugh and ask if she’ll be leading the charge. When she says yes, they just laugh more.

The only time Prutans and Taelites interact with each other is during hard labor, when the work is too hard to focus on anything else - even hating ancestral nemeses. When Eitan gets paired with Farah for a task, he’s initially pissed, because she clearly can’t pull her own weight. But he stops complaining when she keeps working at her full strength even after he’s feeling fatigue.

Once Farah mentions how everyone is too cowardly to escape, they start discussing their individual difficulties in trying to rally their people. They realize that they could help each other - if Farah was capable of holding her own in a fight, the Prutans would have no excuse. And if Eitan was fighting alongside the Taelites, they wouldn’t be able to complain about lacking a competent leader.

Despite them being the ones who came up with the idea, they both reject it out of hand. Neither of them thinks either of their people would consent to even a temporary alliance - and frankly, neither would they. They wouldn’t have any way of trusting the other. Eitan doesn’t want to train his enemy to fight, and Farah doesn’t trust Eitan to not simply kill her whenever they’re alone somewhere. They acknowledge their mutual struggle, but agree that the only option is for them to escape on their own.

Soon, though, a Sukhe religious ritual is held, one which necessitates dozens of human sacrifices. After watching all of the Prutans and Taelites be slaughtered, both treated as less than animals by their captors, Farah visits Eitan in secret. They agree that they would rather die to each other than to the Sukhe, and that not only should they escape, they should kill as many Sukhe as they can in the process. They establish a time and a place where they can meet to train.

Eitan and Farah start their training sessions. It’s pretty experimental, with Eitan basically just pulling his punches as he and Farah figure out ways she can avoid his attacks and how someone as small as her can hurt him. They even get some inspiration from watching animals fight.

When Eitan’s brother finds out about it, though, he’s pissed. He only sees Eitan training a Taelite to fight, which he knows will be used to kill Prutans. He tells the other Prutans, but they’re more accepting of it, agreeing with Eitan’s assessment that it’s better to die to the Taelites than the Sukhe.

The Taelites are less accepting when they find out. They’re obviously okay in theory with a Prutan teaching Farah to fight, but they fear for her safety, and won’t even consider trying to escape with the Prutans alongside them.

Eitan’s brother picks a fight with Farah one day, and the Sukhe watch for the sport of it. Farah has a tough time of it, but manages to beat him - and that gets her a lot of attention. The Prutans realize that Eitan’s plan could really work, the Taelites and Prutans alike both want to start learning from Eitan, and the Sukhe are now very curious about where Farah learned to kill a man twice her size.

Eitan starts training everyone - Prutan and Taelan alike. There’s a lot of tension, but they keep it together. Meanwhile, Farah gets roped into fighting some Sukhe warriors in an arena-style bout. She and Eitan discuss whether she should feign lack of skill, or take the opportunity to test her abilities and maybe cow the Sukhe a bit. They decide that, after her victory over Eitan’s brother, the Sukhe would know if she was faking. And besides, these are hardened soldiers she’ll be fighting - she’ll probably need to give it her all just to survive.

When the time for the arena fights comes, Farah beats everyone - even when they stop playing fair by the end of it. Even when they declare the fights over, she can see that they have no intention of letting her out alive, and she fights off the guards coming to claim her. It takes four armed guards to finally subdue and restrain her. She’s brought in for interrogation and eventual execution.

Eitan realizes the time to escape is now, given that Farah just injured a lot of the best guards, and definitely scared the Sukhe. If they strike now, their captors will be cowed; if they wait, the Sukhe will probably kill a lot of them to weaken their capacity for revolt.

He organizes his trainees and tells them the time to leave is now. The Prutans are on board, but the Taelites still don’t trust him. He wins their trust by agreeing to go back for Farah first, even when the Prutans tell him not to.

Farah, meanwhile, has no intention of waiting around for death, and manages to kill the guard assigned to watch her, and free herself. Figuring she’s not getting out alive, she’s strategizing and prioritizing who to kill when Eitan busts in to free her.

They finish their escape by capturing dozens of the Sukhe horses, giving them all fast transportation away from there, and back to their ancestral lands. They plan to stick together for safety until they reach the borders of their countries, and then split up there.

They don’t even get a week’s journey away, though, before the tribes are at each other’s throats. Both groups want to kill the other before the other kills them; they’re all convinced everyone else is waiting to slit their throats, and so they’re waiting to slit the other guys’ throats first.

When a small tussle between Eitan’s brother and a Taelite quickly escalates into both sides ready for battle, with weapons drawn, Eitan and Farah realize they can’t travel together any longer.

Eitan mentions the frequent raiding of both people on the other, to steal animals, wealth, and women. He doesn’t so much suggest the idea as just mention the possibility of him stealing her for a wife. After all, the Sukhe killed his first wife - who was also a stolen Taelite. Farah warns him that she would fight - she has a husband, and even if she didn’t, he’s still a Prutan. His last wife might not have been able to resist, but she’s capable of it. Eitan also raises the point that their peoples have enough to fight about without the two of them giving them more reasons.

They go their separate ways.

Farah returns home to find that her husband has taken a new wife, having assumed she was dead, or at least gone forever. They had no surviving children together, so rather than return to his household, she returns to his father’s household, and is immediately designated as the leader of her father’s fighting men. After training them into an elite guard, she’s hand-picked by the king to lead a battalion in the army.

Eitan establishes her own household. He quickly becomes a respected warrior, leading first his village’s militia, and soon joining his nation’s army as a lieutenant.

Given that the Taelites’ and Prutans’ greatest enemies are each other, it’s natural that that’s who Farah and Eitan spend their time fighting, raiding, and generally warring against. They mostly manage to avoid each other in combat, though there is a time when Farah leads her men toward a village that Eitan is defending. Upon learning who’s leading the defense, she turns away, knowing that the fighting would be too costly for such a low-value target. Eitan doesn’t pursue the retreating enemies.

Farah and the Taelite king frequently have discussions about war fatigue, and wanting the conflict between them and the Taelites to end. But whereas Farah assumed they were talking about peace, the king wants to end things decisively.

The Prutans hold a yearly religious festival in an open, indefensible plain. In the past, the two nations avoided attacking each other during religious festivals, the king is desperate to end things quickly, and orders Farah to attack the festival. Farah counsels against it, warning that if they fail, the retribution will be swift and powerful, but the king insists.

After defending numerous villages from Taelite attacks, Eitan is to be honored at the Taelite religious festival, and is chosen to lead the guard during the festivities. It’s mostly a ceremonial role; the Prutans leave themselves rather defenseless, this being the only time they trust in Taelite goodwill.

Farah leads a large army to attack the festival. The Prutans panic, and quickly prepare for battle, but are outnumbered too thoroughly to have much hope. Eitan gathers the men he has and sallies forth to cover the retreat; though the fields are wide and open, he planned for this, and diverts a nearby river into the plain, flooding it on two sides, giving Farah only one angle of attack.

He and Farah share a brief meeting before the battle commences; Eitan pleads desperately for peace, and Farah warns that there will be no quarter, so he should not surrender.

The fighting is fierce. The Prutans believe they have the support of the gods; that, combined with the knowledge that they will be given no mercy, leads them to fight with a desperate strength that allows them to hold the line, if only until nightfall, when Farah pulls her men back to rest.

Eitan sneaks into the Taelite camp in the middle of the night, in a manner reminiscent of him and Farah sneaking away to train in the Sukhe prison camps. He visits Farah, and they discuss the battle and the reasoning behind it. They both agree that, horrific as this is, it’s the inevitable conclusion of their hostilities, and even if doesn’t end here, it’ll still come back to something like this.

Farah asks what the odds are they could both just slip away in the night. Eitan warns that nothing would change if they left. Farah agrees, and says they should do it; nobody will miss them. Life will go on. But Eitan refuses. He tells her he wants to do it, but if they leave, the Taelites will crush his men, and then all of the Prutans; if he stays, he can probably hold them off long enough for his people to escape. Farah agrees.

They share a tearful goodbye.

The next day, as both sides come out for battle, Farah’s men hold off attacking. Eitan’s men are nervous, and question whether they should attack first; Eitan says no, let them delay. The longer they wait, the more time the Prutans have to escape. Farah’s men question what’s taking things so long, and Farah tells them to be patient.

Hours later, a battalion of exhausted, soggy warriors appears from behind the Prutan lines; Eitan realizes they circled around and forded the river. Now that he’s surrounded, Farah approaches. She points out that Taelite losses were more than expected, and her ambush took so much time that it’s unlikely they’d be able to catch up to the fleeing Prutans. Thus, she sees no benefit in continuing the attack, and asks for his surrender.

He asks what assurance they would have that they wouldn’t be executed; she acknowledges his concern, and agrees that all the prisoners they take would be executed. Given that he’s the real prize of the Prutan army, she agrees to let his men go if he alone will surrender. He does.

As she leads him away, he thanks her for sparing his men, and assures her that he doesn’t hold anything against her; she’s only doing what she has to do. She says it’s good that he doesn’t hold it against her, because otherwise that could be the cause of many disagreements down the road. He’s confused; isn’t he going to be executed? She clarifies that yes, the king ordered her to take no prisoners. However, it is her right as a warrior to claim a spouse from anyone they defeat.

She muses as to the possibility of retiring from the military and leaving to go to some foreign country as they ride away.