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

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Chapter Thirty-Five

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Olrick, Eza, Silas, and Kylar were, once again, in the lord’s alcove, discussing what to do about the information they’d received about the second invasion force in the east. Silas had just sent some Watchmen to investigate what was happening on the coasts, where, according to the letters Elise had copied from Raul’s room, other invasion forces were making their way inland. Things had become even more critical that afternoon, with news from one of Olrick’s men that the Giskens had just laid siege to Valtruse, a small town a half-day’s ride from Semata. Early reports said that the town’s garrison was holding up, but with the unconventional way the Giskens fought, odds were, the city would fall within a few weeks or less. The Giskens had them in a strangle hold, and if they didn’t act fast, Caitha would fall by the end of the month; they needed more information from Raul’s room, and fast, meaning that they’d have to put Elise in more danger.

“Believe me, Olrick, I wish as much as you do that we didn’t have to do this,” Eza said. “But we need more information, and fast; if we can’t figure out a way to repel them, we’ll be conquered within the month.”

“Sad to say, but the Kurzhian’s right,” Kylar said. “I thought that we were doing a damned good job of keeping that navy of theirs at bay, but after that last little bit of intelligence, I’m starting to wonder if we can last the next few weeks. We’re spread thin, so unless we can make more good out of our boys, we’re done for.”

Olrick found himself biting his lip. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew they were right. The Giskens were doing a horribly fantastic job of crippling their intelligence gathering, the arm of the military Caitha not only was most famous for, but depended on the most; the regular army and even the navy was practically useless without the steady stream of intelligence the Watch and the Rooks were able to provide. They desperately needed the information in Raul’s room, and Elise was the only person that they not only knew they could trust, but wouldn’t attract much attention.

“How are we going to keep Raul away from his room, then?” he asked. “We don’t exactly have another peace negotiation for awhile, now, and I’m not going to send her into a situation that I know doesn’t have a high chance of success.”

“And we wouldn’t ask you to,” Silas said. “Marion’s coronation is in a little less than a month; I’m sure we can get Polain to throw some grand ball that everyone and their dog will be at. That should grant our girl enough time to get into his room and out without him walking in on her.”

Olrick folded his arms. “A ball wasn’t long enough last time.”

Kylar sighed and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Olrick, Olrick, Olrick; when are you going to learn that that pessimistic attitude of yours just isn’t going to help us come up with a solution to our problems?”

“And when are you going to learn that ale isn’t going to give you any brains?” Olrick said, looking away from him and plugging his nose. “Seriously, though, how often do you go to pubs?”

Kylar laughed as he smacked Olrick on the back, hard. “Every damned day, but that’s beside the point. We just need to send our little lady up there the second we see our Gisken friend instead of waiting forever like we did last time.”

“That isn’t very reassuring,” Olrick said. He looked over at Eza and Silas. “Please, tell me you two can do better than that.”

“Well, what he said basically sums up the plan,” Silas said.

“It oversimplifies it, is what it does,” Eza said. “We’ll be stalling him in the ball with toasts, dancing, everything. Silas and Kylar have invited their female friends to the occasion; we’ll make sure we have eyes and ears on everything he does during the night.”

“Female friends?” Olrick asked. Silas smirked.

“I suppose that a virtuous person like yourself wouldn’t know much about this,” he said. “Which is a crying shame; Tai Ming is quite the woman.”

Olrick’s face grew bright red in horror. “You’re going to pay prostitutes to show up at a ball?”

“Heavens, no,” Kylar said. “We’re paying escorts to show up; hell of a difference, kid.”

“Believe me, this wasn’t my idea,” Eza said. She glared at Silas and Kylar, both of whom still had boyish grins on their faces. “Personally, I don’t see much of a difference between an escort and a prostitute; one’s just more expensive and cultured than the other.” She looked back at Olrick. “Either way, we’ll be having them socialize with Raul and signaling to us what he’s planning on doing. They should be able to stall him long enough to keep him from walking in on Elise.

“She’ll still have to be fast, though,” Silas said. “After the ball, we aren’t sure when the next opportunity to get in his room will come, so we’ll need more than one letter.”

“More than one?” Olrick asked, surprised. “I’m not sure that we can get that; it might take too long.”

“It won’t,” Silas said. “Believe me, our girls will be enough to distract our Gisken friend; I’d bet my life on it.”

“But are we going to bet Elise’s life on it?”


Elise walked down the servant’s passage, the sounds of the coronation ball getting quieter and quieter by the second. The ball that night, thrown in Marion’s honor, was even bigger than the one that had been thrown when she’d first gotten there. The dresses were more beautiful, the suits more expensive, the food more exquisite; even Marion, who normally showed up to balls looking more like a warrior than a princess, was dressed like a lady. She had a long, flowing, red dress with delicate, gold embroidery along the hems and the bodice, a ruby necklace, and a gold band with more rubies on it to accent her pale hair, which cascaded down her back in waves. She hadn’t acted very happy about the dress, but Polain had, at least, allowed her to wear her sword on her hip, something he normally wouldn’t allow. Everything was done to perfection, the smallest details carefully refined; all the servants were running around, attending to everyone’s smallest needs so much, none of them noticed when she slipped out from the party to go to Raul’s room once she saw him there.

Even though these visits had become routine for her, Elise was feeling nervous about that particular visit. She knew that he would be quite occupied with Lira and Tai Ming, the two escorts Silas and Kylar had paid to come to the ball, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that this would be the last time she did this. Whether it would be because it wouldn’t be necessary after this time or because someone was going to catch her, though she wasn’t sure. She found herself praying to the gods that, if her feelings were correct, it would be because the war would be over by the time they needed her to do this, again.

After around ten minutes of walking through the narrow passages, Elise eventually made it to Raul’s room. She quietly opened the door-

And found herself facing five armed Gisken soldiers.

For a second, Elise found herself confused, wondering if she’d managed to stumble into one of the rooms that Raul’s soldiers were staying in. The second she thought it, though, she knew that was wrong: the soldiers were quartered on the opposite side of the castle, a floor above the servants.

Elise’s blood ran cold. They were there for her.

“Well, fancy seeing you, here.” The soldier the voice belonged to was around her height, with brown hair cropped close to his head, brown eyes, and tanned skin. He wore a black coat that went down to his knees with a gray armband on both forearms, brown trousers tucked into knee-high riding boots and a belt with two metal batons on it. She probably wouldn’t have recognized him, if it hadn’t been for that demonic look on his face.

Fear rooted her to the spot as Bram walked toward her. Gods, why was this happening to her?

Finally, she managed to hold her hands out in front of her, palms facing Bram, and allowed flames to burst from them. Many of the soldiers grabbed the hilts of their swords, but none of them drew; it seemed that they were waiting for her to make the first move.

“Stay away from me!” Elise’s voice didn’t waver too much, thank the gods.

Of course, it didn’t do much to help her, either. For a few seconds, Bram simply stared at the flames in her hands, looking at them with a look of curiosity, then laughed. The mere sound of it was enough to send a chill down Elise’s spine.

“Why, I never knew you were a pyromancer, Elise,” he said as he pulled the batons from his belt. Almost immediately, sparks began to fly along the batons, like little bolts of lightning. “I’ve been learning all sorts of things about you as of late; who would’ve guessed that the little girl who had to have her little brother come to her rescue would end up snooping around for the country that had gotten him killed-”

Elise pushed the fire in her hands towards him.

Bram ducked, covering his head and his face with his coat as she ran past him and into the open room. By that time, the other soldiers in the room had drawn their swords and their points aimed at her, ready to kill.

By that point, though, Elise didn’t seemed to care about their swords; her mind was much to occupied with trying to get away from them. She began to launch a barrage of fire, frantically trying to get the Giskens away from her. Almost all of them backed away from her, thanks to the fire, but Bram didn’t; he didn’t even seem phased by it as he ducked out of the fire’s way. In fact, he almost seemed to be enjoying himself, as if it were some sort of game.

“I never thought you’d put up this much of a fight,” he said, a big smile on his face. “It’s a shame that Raul wants this to be over as quick as possible; I’d much rather play a little while longer.”

With that, he held one of the batons out to her and launched a bolt of lightning from it.

Elise didn’t have time to react. The bolt struck her in the stomach and launched her across the room like a rag doll. She hit the wall behind her, hard, and slid to the floor, unable to move. The world around her was spinning as one of the soldiers sheathed his sword, grabbed her by the forearms, and pulled her up to her feet; she couldn’t even stand up on her own, now.

“What should we do with the spy, sir?” the Gisken asked as the other soldiers sheathed their own swords. Bram began to look around the room, then pointed to the door that led to Raul’s closet.

“Put her in there,” he said. “I’ll go tell General Raul.” With that, Bram walked out, and the soldiers dragged her to the closet to await her fate.


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