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

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Chapter Thirty-One

The next week was tense for Elise as she, Silas and Olrick waited for Eza to return from the north. They tried to act normal in front of Polain (who simply thought that the Rook commander was on business at a small fort just outside of Semata) but it was hard to pretend like they weren’t nervous about what was going on with Eza. Without any sort of letter from her, they couldn’t help but wonder if she was safe, or in Gisken hands, awaiting shipment to Kurzh, or, gods forbid, dead. Silas checked the intelligence core headquarters for news from her every day, but day after day, there still wasn’t a single report with her signature on it. He was on the verge of sending Olrick back into Gisken territory, but he never did; he didn’t see the use in losing both of his best officers to Jastan.

Elise also found it hard to go anywhere near Raul’s room without being in a sort of panic. Every time he so much as glanced at her as she performed her duties around the castle, she couldn’t help but think that he knew something about what she was doing; she could see it in the looks he gave her as she made his bed and swept his floors. There was something smug about them, like he knew something that she didn’t. They terrified her, to the point where it took every ounce of strength she had to keep herself from shaking while she was with him. Her fear of him only seemed to make him more intimidating, as if he grew stronger as she grew more frightened of him.

The only amount of pleasure she was able to find in her weekly trips to General Raul’s room were her infrequent encounters with Captain Finn. Every once and awhile, she’d run into him as she carried his linens away from his room, or when she delivered dinner to the general at night. Every time, without fail, he would help her with whatever chore she happened to be doing at the moment and would often ask her about how she was doing. He asked about what she’d been up to as of late, how she was settling into life at the castle, how her ongoing medic training was going; though the conversations were sometimes awkward towards the beginning, but those soon disappeared as they slowly became friends.

And, sadly, her blooming friendship with Finn had come to the attention of Silas.

“Who’s your new boyfriend, Elise?” Silas asked as they sat on the couches in the lord’s alcove, waiting for Eza. After two weeks of silence, Eza had finally sent a messenger bird their way; she’d spent the past few weeks travelling from some fishing town Elise had never heard of to other cities, gathering information, and she was coming back to Semata to share what she’d found.

Elise’s cheeks began to burn red with embarrassment. “B-boyfriend?”

“You know what I mean,” Silas said, folding his arms over his chest. “That blonde Gisken soldier that looks at you like a goddess incarnated?”

She looked down at her feet and she began to wring out her hands. “What about him?”

“You seem to be getting pretty attached to him,” Olrick said. “I’m a little worried that you might say or do something around him that could tip him off to what we’re doing.”

Elise looked up at them and frowned. “Like what?”

“Have you told him anything that might clue him into why you’re really here?” Silas asked. “Something like your relation with me, Olrick, or Eza?”

Elise shook her head. “I-I don’t think so; he’s never asked me about anything like that, and I never thought to tell him.” She could see Olrick relax, relieved, but Silas didn’t seem convinced.

Before he could question her further, Eza walked into the room. She was pretty dirty: the hem of her cloak was caked in mud and her boots were absolutely covered in it, and every inch of her that wasn’t covered in mud was smeared with dirt and what looked to be soot. It almost made Elise cringe to see her walk across the newly cleaned floors; she really didn’t want to clean the room, again.

“I see that you’ve had a lot of fun in the mud,” Silas said as Eza plopped down on the couch. Gods, that would be a pain to clean, later. “What did you find out?”

She ran a hand through her hair. “We do, in fact, have a bit of an intelligence gap; there’s been an invasion in the north for nearly a month, now.”

Silas cursed. “And what about Jastan? Have the Giskens taken it?”

Eza shook her head. “I warned Jastan’s garrison about the attack. They’re ready for them, but there’s no way in hell they can stand up to a newly reinforced army; if we want to keep the city in Caithian hands, we need to get a few of our battalions over there to reinforce them, and maybe get a few of our warships up river to keep the Jotiese navy from bombarding the city.”

Elise frowned, confused. “How do you get a boat up river? Wouldn’t the current be going against it?”

“That’s exactly why it’s such a pain in the ass to do it,” Silas said. “Knowing Kylar, though, he’ll do it, but he’ll complain about it the entire time. He loves challenges like this, even if he says he doesn’t.”

“Then, that brings us to Polain,” Olrick said. “He isn’t just going to let us take a couple battalions to reinforce a city he doesn’t think is in trouble.”

“So, we need to come up with some evidence that Jastan’s about to fall,” Eza said, folding her arms over her chest. “And forget about using that letter Elise got for us; he’ll skin us alive, then kill us if he finds out we took information from Raul’s room during a peace conference.”

Olrick and Silas nodded in agreement; it seemed that they knew first hand what happened when Polain discovered that they’d gone over his head.

Olrick began to scratch the back of his head in the seconds of silence that followed what Eza said. “How hard would it be to forge a Gisken intelligence report?”

“It wouldn’t be too hard, if stealing one from Raul’s room and making sure that it fits exactly with Gisken protocol is an option,” Eza said. “I somehow doubt that Raul would take having one of his intelligence reports stolen well.”

“What if the letter we forged was an intelligence report from our side?” Elise asked. Silas, Eza and Olrick looked over at her, surprised. It almost seemed that they’d forgotten she was there.

She looked down at her feet and rubbed her forearm, suddenly embarrassed. “S-sorry if that’s a stupid idea.”

Silas began to scratch at his scruffy beard. “No, that’s not stupid; in fact, that might actually work.” Eza and Olrick nodded in agreement.

“Has Polain seen any of your guys’ intelligence reports?” Silas asked. Olrick nodded.

“I give him my reports the second I’m finished reading them, myself,” he said. “He’d almost certainly recognize a forged report from me.”

Silas looked over at Eza. “What about you?”

“I just put everything I get into one report, including my sources,” she said. “Considering all the things I’ve tried to pull on him, though, I doubt that he’ll trust a report from me on something so important as this without my including my source.”

Once again, Silas scratched at his beard; it seemed that it was the only way he could think.

“How likely is it that Polain would trust a report in the hands of a messenger?” Silas asked.

“Likely,” Eza said. “I’ve been there when he’s gotten important messages; he acts on them immediately.”

“So, we need to write a report from some outpost in the north he’s never heard of, then get one of those boys from Asfalis to deliver it to him,” Silas said. “He hasn’t seen any of them, has he?”

Olrick shook his head. “He’s been too occupied with making sure everything is to Raul’s liking to visit them.”

Eza stood up, revealing the stain her dirty pants and cloak had left for one of the servants – likely Elise - to clean up. “I’ll get one of the boys at headquarters to start writing something up. Hopefully, Polain won’t see any of our hands in this.” She nodded her goodbyes and walked out.

Silas looked over at Olrick and Elise. “Now, we need to talk about what to do about Raul. Do you feel comfortable going back in there?”

“You don’t have to if you aren’t ready, yet,” Olrick quickly added. “There really isn’t that much of a rush.”

Elise found herself nodding. She was still a little shaken up about what had happened the last time she’d snooped around his room, and she didn’t want to repeat the incident; what was keeping her from taking a break from it all? She guessed that… well, that after seeing what everyone else was doing to keep the country alive, what she was doing seemed small, almost insignificant. “I-I’m alright, as long as you two can guarantee that he won’t walk in on me, again.”

“There’s a peace meeting in a few days to discuss a possible treaty to end the war,” Olrick said. “He’ll be stuck in there for a few hours; plenty of time for you to sneak in, get some information, and get out without anyone seeing you.”

“Are you sure?” Elise asked.

“As sure as we can be,” Silas said. “Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t be careful; we’ll try and make sure the meeting runs long enough for you to do it, but just in case, hurry your little behind along. As far as we know, everyone’s going to cave in to unconditional surrender the second we start talking about a possible peace treaty.”


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