The Last Stand (The Eleven Years War: Book One)

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

Eza sat in her usual corner table of the tavern, a mug of ale in hand. Silas had arranged for them to meet at the tavern later that night, after the ball; there was a certain letter that they needed to discuss. She’d left for the tavern the second the last guest had left for the night, snatching her table before anyone could take it (not that anyone would, unless they wanted their ass kicked) but Olrick and Silas were running fashionably late. It seemed that they hadn’t managed to sneak out of the castle unseen, like she did, or Marion had decided that she wanted to stay up till midnight.

Not that Eza cared; she’d earned nearly five hundred silver drams in fight earnings since she got there, and the worst injury she’d gotten was a throbbing bump on her chin.

Finally, after she’d fought in her fifth bout and won another hundred silver drams, Silas and Olrick showed up. Like her, they’d changed out of their stiff, formal uniforms and into their normal, ratty clothes, with their cloaks tied over their shoulders.

“I see that you two are fashionably late,” Eza said as they sat down in front of her. Gods, did Olrick look tired; he seemed like he was just barely managing to keep his eyes open. “Are you going to fall asleep on us, Olrick? You look like hell frozen over.”

“Thanks for your concern,” he muttered as he scratched the back of his head. He yawned. “I’ll be fine; just exhausted, is all.”

Eza nodded as she pulled out the copied letter from her pocket. “Before Olrick falls asleep on us, we have some things we need to discuss.” She set the letter down for everyone to see. “This is what Elise was able to get us. She found a letter on his desk and copied it down word for word.”

Silas smirked, then elbowed Olrick in the arm. “Your girl seems to know what she’s doing, kid; be sure to give her a kiss next time you see her.”

“For the last time,” Olrick said through clenched teeth. “Elise isn’t my girlfriend!” Silas began to laugh as a barmaid came with a tankard of ale for him and Olrick. Both of them paid her a few copper drams for it.

“What does it say?” Silas asked as the bar maid walked away.

Eza began to quickly skim over the letter. Though Silas and Olrick both had a rudimentary knowledge of Gisken, neither of them were very near fluent; as far as she knew, she was the only commander in the Caithian army who was fluent in the enemy language.

“It says that reinforcements for the northern invasion force have arrived,” Eza said. “They’ll be marching for Jastan in a few days.”

Silas frowned, confused. “Northern invasion force? I haven’t heard a damned thing about that.”

“Me, neither,” Olrick said. He was starting to look sick to his stomach. “The north has been an intelligence dead zone for the past few months. I’m not even sure how many times I’ve tried to talk to them, but nobody’s answered any of my letters.”

“What are the odds that this is why we haven’t heard a thing from them?” Eza asked, holding the letter up in the air. Olrick’s eyes got really wide, while Silas just cursed.

“That would mean that the invasion started a few months ago,” Silas said. “There’s no way in hell that we’re that far behind in our intelligence!”

“An intelligence lag isn’t our main problem, here,” Eza said. “We need to verify this report, but there’s no way Polain will let us if we don’t tell him who our source is.”

Silas leaned back in his chair and took a swig of ale. “We don’t tell him we have this, that’s how. I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is permission with him.”

“And who are we going to send?” Olrick asked. “We’d have to send one of us; I don’t want to have to pull someone else in if we don’t have to.” Silas began to scratch at his newly forming beard.

“Eza, I think you ought to go,” Silas said. “Out of all of us, I think you’re the fastest rider.”

She nodded. “When should I set out?”

“As soon as we’re done here,” Silas said. “Take one of the horses at headquarters, and do your best to not lose it; those horses aren’t the best, but I’d prefer it if we didn’t lose any of them to the Giskens.”

“I’ll do my best,” Eza said. She swigged down the rest of her ale, then grabbed the copied letter. “Make sure you tip the bar maid the next time she comes around.” She set a few bronze pieces down on the table and walked out, making sure the letter ended up as kindling for the fireplace.

Despite how terrifying the ball had been for her, Elise found that she didn’t have much trouble falling to sleep that night after the festivities. It seemed that her head had just touched her pillow when morning sunlight began to drift into her bedroom window; she didn’t even wake up during the night, like she usually did.

After she’d gotten out of bed and had started dressing, she noticed that there was something sticking out from under her door. From where she was, it looked to be a piece of paper.

Curious, she finished getting dressed, picked it up, and unfolded it.

Lord’s alcove after breakfast, the note said in sloppy handwriting. Need to talk about last night – Silas.

Last night. When she woke up that morning, she was really hoping that she would get to pretend that what happened didn’t happen; looked like that hope was going to be dashed.

Elise was nervous the rest of the morning after finding the note. All through breakfast, she couldn’t help but think about what General Raul had mentioned last night, when she gave him his wine. He new something about the servant’s passage, best case scenario; worst case, he knew that she’d come into his room last night through it without so much as making the bed; if the latter were true, he’d probably figured out what she’d done, by then, and it was only a matter of time before the Giskens came to arrest her. Either way, Silas wouldn’t be pleased about it. By the time she’d finished breakfast and had started heading for the lord’s alcove, she had to clench her fists to keep from shaking.

When Elise got to the lord’s alcove, she was surprised to see that Eza wasn’t there; it was just Silas and Olrick in there, waiting for her.

“Where’s Eza?” Elise asked as she shut the door behind her.

Silas stood up from his seat on a plush couch and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. “She’s off to verify what your letter said. Let’s just say that you picked the right letter to copy down.” He leaned against the wall of the alcove.

“Seeing as you haven’t been arrested, I’m going to assume that everything went pretty well,” he said.

Elise began to rub her arm and looked to the side. “Well, not exactly.” Silas folded his arms and raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything, waiting for her to continue.

She looked back up at Silas and Olrick. “I-I think that Raul knows about the servant’s passage.”

Silas cursed as he ran a hand through his hair, while Olrick began to rub the back of his neck.

“Are you sure?” Olrick asked.

Elise nodded. “Polain had me bring him wine last night. He asked if there were any secret passages in the castle.”

“I’m not sure that he knows about the servant’s passage, but he probably suspects that there’s some sort of assassin’s hole in his room,” Olrick said. “It’s probably fine, but take some extra precautions, just in case.”

Elise frowned, confused. “An assassin’s hole?”

Silas nodded. “A lot of castles have secret rooms off the guest rooms, where someone can watch the occupant without being seen, or assassinate them, hence the name. Raul’s probably just paranoid about it, since Castle Lügenburg is filled with them.”

“Is that the only thing that went wrong last night?” Olrick asked. Elise nodded.

“I didn’t even have to hear you speak to know that you’re lying,” Silas said. “What else happened?”

Elise looked down at her feet. “General Raul walked in on me.”

Once again, Silas cursed.

“Did he see you?” Olrick asked. Elise shook her head.

“I-I don’t think so,” she said. “He walked in just as I was closing the door to the servant’s passage.”

Silas began to scratch at the scruffy beard that was starting to form on his chin. “Well, now we know where his paranoia’s coming from; he probably heard the door shutting.”

“What should I do?” Elise asked. “If I go anywhere near him, now, he’ll kill me.”

“You said that Raul didn’t see you,” Olrick said. “If that’s true, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” Silas nodded in agreement.

“Just try to avoid going over there for the next few weeks,” he said. “Especially don’t go in there and spy again, not until Eza gets back; we want to make sure that the intelligence we got last night was worth the risk before we send you back in.”

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