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

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Chapter Thirty-Seven

What had she done?

The question had gone through Elise’s head countless times during the past little while as she sat in Raul’s closet with a thin blanket wrapped around her shivering shoulders, waiting for him to show up. As it turns out, Raul had never moved his clothes to the small room, so it was void of anything but herself and the blanket they’d thrown into the room when night began to fall, turning the stone room icy cold.

She had no idea how long she’d spent in the room, so far. It felt like it had been hours, but it probably hadn’t been that long; she would’ve had to use the chamber pot, by then if she had been. She hadn’t been visited by anybody since she’d entered the room, and, other than when they gave her the blanket, the door hadn’t been opened since they’d thrown her in. She didn’t know how long she had to stay in there, if they intended to kill her, or if they were going to ship her off to Kurzh the next day; all she knew was that she was waiting for General Raul to come back from the ball to pass sentence on her.

Finally, after a long wait in the pitch-black room, the door opened, allowing bright light to flood in. Someone walked in, grabbed her by the shoulders, and shoved her out of the closet.

Elise almost ran back into the closet when she saw who was standing outside of it. She was now face to face with a very unhappy General Raul.

“So, this is the one that’s been going through my reports?” he asked. Elise didn’t say anything; what was she supposed to say? “It’s quite a miracle that she was able to stay hidden for as long as she did.”

Elise found herself looking down at her toes; the Giskens had taken her shoes, thinking that there would be something in them that might help her escape, like a knife or something. Of course, they weren’t able to find anything, but they never gave her back her shoes, or the dress she wore over her white shift.

“What do you want us to do with her, sir?” Bram asked. He was standing next to Raul, with his hands behind his back.

“General Polain has been so kind as to allow us to use his dungeons while we’re here,” Raul said. “We’ll take her down there until we’re ready to leave.”

Elise bit her lip in an attempt to keep it from shaking. Dungeons; the word really made what was happening to her sink in. She was a Gisken prisoner, now. They would probably torture her for information, maybe even kill her.

She wrapped her blanket tighter around her shoulders. Gods help her.

“Of course, sir,” Bram said. “When would you like us to take her?”

“Right now,” Raul said. Bram looked surprised, but he didn’t question the general’s orders; nobody ever did. “I would greatly appreciate it if you were to secure those hands of hers, too; I don’t want any more of my men to be burned by them.”

Bram nodded and began saying something to the men. One of them pulled out some rope, which they used to tie her hands behind her back tightly. She couldn’t seem to keep her hands from shaking.

With that, they left Raul’s room and began leading her to the dungeons.

Castle Matisse’s dungeon was the dirtiest place in the castle, by far. Even as they led her down the winding, stone steps, she could smell human excrement. Every surface was slick with water, and was dark enough that she had to squint to see anything beyond the light of the torch they’d brought down with them. It seemed that, despite all the beauty that was in the castle, it still had its dark side, filled with cramped prison cells meant for arrested noblemen. From what she knew, she would be the only person down in that hell while she was there.

Finally, after winding their way through the dungeon, they stopped and took off the blindfold. Elise could see that the Giskens had led her to the very end of the prison block, to the last cell. When the Giskens opened the cell, she could see that it was sparsely decorated with a pile of straw on one side and a bucket on the other. It looked miserable, enough so that Elise couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could survive a full prison sentence in this hell as they untied her wrists and led her into the cell. It smelled even more of urine in the cell than it did in the hall, to the point that the mere scent made her sick to her stomach.

“How long am I going to be here?” Elise asked as one of the Giskens pulled out a set of shackles.

“That all depends on how fast we can pack up,” the Gisken said as he put the shackles on her wrists. They cut into her skin, enough that she found herself trying to keep herself from moving too much. “After that, you’ll come with us back to camp, where you’ll be hanged for espionage.”

Elise felt like she’d been punched in the gut. She’d known that what would happen to her wouldn’t be envious, but to know that she would be dead within a few days… well, that really stung.

“Don’t be so sad,” Raul said as his men began to leave the cell. “We know that you aren’t the mastermind of this plan. If you were to tell us who was the person who got you to do this, your sentence will be commuted to a few years in Kurzh.” The cell door closed behind them, leaving Elise alone with Raul.

“Now, would you be interested in giving up any names?” he asked.

Much to her shame, Elise actually found herself considering it. She didn’t want to die, and she knew that Olrick, Eza and Silas probably didn’t expect her to stand up to interrogation, but… how could she sell them out like that? Olrick had a mother and younger brothers and sisters who wanted him to come back from war, Silas had a little sister in Mirinia that he wrote to every day who begged him to come back, Eza probably had family in Kurzh she wanted to see again, though she hardly talked about it; what right did she – someone who didn’t have any family left in the world – have to sell out someone who did to people who were going to kill them?

No, she wasn’t going to sacrifice the lives of one of her friends just so she could live a little longer. She came to that decision as she looked down at her toes and didn’t say anything. She prayed to the gods to give her the strength she would need to resist whatever they were going to do to her.

Raul sighed and shook his head, almost as if he were disappointed with her. “I really didn’t want to have to do this, but you leave me without any other option. We need to know who is responsible for this so there can be some justice for the men who were killed because of this.”

He opened the cell door and said something in Gisken. A few seconds later, two soldiers walked into the cell. One of them – a Jotiese man who looked to be a little older than she was - was holding batons similar to Bram’s, but made of wood. The other one looked to be a Gisken, but there wasn’t really a way to tell with him; he could’ve been a Caithian like her, as far as she knew.

“Gentlemen, I would appreciate it if you avoided doing anything that would be too permanent,” Raul said. The soldiers nodded in understanding, and Raul left her cell.

“One last chance to tell us what we want to know before we start,” the Jotiese one said. “Who put you up to this?”

Elise didn’t say anything.

The Gisken got behind her and firmly took her by the forearms, as if to brace her for whatever was coming.

The Jotiese man smacked her in the stomach with his baton, hard.

Elise found herself doubling over after the baton hit her in the stomach. Gods, did it hurt; she couldn’t think of a time in her life where she’d been hit so hard, before.

She shut her eyes tight before she could begin crying. She’d wondered whether or not the Giskens would physically torture her since she was a woman; it seemed that they really were going to beat the information they wanted out of her.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the Jotiese man said. “This is all only happening because you allow it to continue. If you were to give us the information we want, all of this would go away. You wouldn’t have to suffer through interrogations, or die in a few days. You could live a full life, if you would just give us the name of the person who got you wrapped up in spying.”

Once again, Elise found herself debating whether or not she should tell them or not, but she reached the same conclusion as she did before: she couldn’t give them up, not after everything they’d done for her.

She stayed silent.

The rest of the interrogation continued in much the same way as it began: the Jotiese man would hit her hard in various places – her legs, her arms, her stomach – then give her some reason for why she should betray her friends, and give her an opportunity to end the interrogation. Through it all, Elise managed to stay quiet. At least, she didn’t tell them about Olrick, Eza or Silas; as much as he didn’t like to, she found herself crying out in pain as the smacks from the baton got harder and harder as the Jotiese interrogator got more and more frustrated.

She didn’t know how long he’d gone at her, but after what seemed like hours, there was a knock at the door and one of the soldiers came in, holding a tray of food from the kitchens. From where she was standing, it looked to be a dish of rice and meat in a cream, with some bread and a small cup of water.

Elise could feel her mouth beginning to water. She hadn’t realized just how hungry she was until she saw the food.

“General Raul said this is for the girl,” the Gisken said. The Jotiese man’s eyes narrowed even more than they already were.

“Tell him that she doesn’t get any food and that she won’t until she’s cooperative,” he said.

“I don’t give a damn whether or not she was cooperative,” Raul’s voice said from the corridor. “We will not be using starvation tactics in this case.” The Jotiese man sighed as he allowed the Gisken to hand her the food. It seemed that he wasn’t too happy about how Raul wanted her to be treated, but he wasn’t about to argue with him; he wasn’t the sort of man you would want to argue with.

“I guess our time with you is at an end, for now,” the Jotiese soldier said bitterly. The Gisken behind Elise stepped out from her. “Try and get some rest; you’ll need it for tomorrow.” The two of them left and shut and locked the cell door, leaving Elise behind with her foot.

She carefully sat down on her “bed” and allowed a small flame to emerge from one of her hands. As she slowly ate her dinner that night, Elise tried to sort through what was happening. She was a prisoner of war, now, arrested for spying; they were going to have her killed if she didn’t give up Olrick, Eza or Silas, and even if she did, she’d probably spent the rest of her life in Kurzh. Even though she’d been dealing with that reality for the better part of the day, she still found that it was a hard thing to accept.

After she’d finished her dinner, she curled up on the straw and, for the first time in a long time, cried herself to sleep.

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