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

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Chapter Forty-Four

Raul stood on a hill overlooking Semata, staring at his prize with a bottle of wine in his hand. For ten long years, he’d been waiting for this day to come, the day he would finally be ready to take this last city before setting out to conquer Mirinia, something no general in the history of the world had been able to do successfully. This last campaign had shown him that his men and the men Emperor Heida sent him were more than ready for it; the Caithian army had ten years to prepare for the invasion they knew was coming, and yet, their army still fell easily.

The only question was how much longer his men could go without seeing their loved ones. He would have to give the men he wanted on his invasion force the time to see their families before he took them to Mirinia, something that would stretch his troops even thinner than they already were. It seemed that he would either have to start drafting some prisoners of war into the army rather than send them off to Kurzh, or he would have to get Abunaken to officially side with him. Either way, he may just lose the loyalty of some of his men, but he had to get more troops if he wanted to take Mirinia.

He took a swig of wine. It looked like he would have a lot of headaches coming in the next few months.

“General Raul, sir?” Raul turned around to see Captain Finn standing there, saluting.

Raul stood up. The captain had been a little off ever since they left Semata. If he hadn’t known him better, Raul would’ve thought that there was some prostitute there he was sad about leaving; Finn was a little too virtuous for that kind of thing.

“What is it?” Raul asked as Finn put his hand down.

“Captain Bram says that his troops are ready for your inspection, sir,” he said.

Raul nodded as he handed Finn the bottle of wine. “Would you mind running this to my tent, captain?” Finn nodded and began to head over to his tent as Raul walked over to the hundreds of troops standing at the bottom of the hill.

“Captain Finn says that your men are ready for inspection,” Raul said as he approached Bram. Gods, had he changed since he joined the Gisken army; he was starting to resemble a soldier, and a damned good one, at that. It was why he trusted him to command a new unit in his army, one comprised entirely of mages. He knew for a fact that the Caithians didn’t have anything like this, with how superstitious much of the country still was.

“Yes, yes we are,” the oraniomancer said with a smile. “I’ve taken the liberty of dividing all of our men up into squads, based on magical ability, then assigned leaders based on skill. As I was expecting, most of our mages are pyromancers.”

“And how capable are they at fighting?” Raul asked as he walked among the mages’ ranks. Bram followed close behind, looking as if he, too, were inspecting the men.

“They’re quite capable, sir,” Bram said proudly. “I have no doubt they’ll be ready to pull off your mission.” Raul stopped in front of a particular corporal mage, one that looked shorter and a little weaker than the rest. He was sixteen, maybe seventeen; the same age Raul was when he joined up.

“What are you, corporal?” Raul said. The boy stood a little taller when he realized the general of the Gisken army was addressing him.

“Hydromancer, sir,” he said. Raul stepped back, putting his hands behind his back, and looked at the lance corporal that stood next to the corporal.

“And what about you, lance corporal?” Raul asked.

The lance corporal stood a little taller, too. He was about a head taller than the corporal, and more muscular. “Terramancer, sir.”

Raul held his hand out to them. “Would you two mind giving me a demonstration?” the two looked a little confused, but neither of them questioned him; they knew better.

“Yes, sir,” they said. They stood so they faced each other and drew on their respective elements: the corporal drew water right out of thin air and let it cover his hands, while the lance corporal pulled out a few stones from a bag on his waist and levitated them in the air in front of them.


The terramancer was the first one to strike. He sent a few of his stones hurtling at the hydromancer so fast, Raul was barely able to see them. The hydromancer, however, was ready for them. He shot his water from his hands out to meet the stones and caught them, so to speak.

Once the stones were in his control, the hydromancer shot them back at their owner, along with his water.

The terramancer shot the stones out of the water and back towards the hydromancer, but he couldn’t stop the torrent of water that was coming toward him. He took it full in the face, making him stumbled back and fall to the ground, soaked.

The hydromancer took his opponent’s daze to his advantage. He conjured up more water and got ready to spray more at his foe.

The terramancer knew it, too. In one last-ditch effort, he kicked the ground, sending a wall of earth crashing against the hydromancer.

“Stop.” The two men looked up at their general and slowly stood up, obviously hurting from their bout: the terramancer kept rubbing the back of his neck and the hydromancer was moving a lot slower than he had at the beginning of the bout.

Despite himself, Raul found himself grinning from ear to ear. If the men fought well enough to injure each other, only the gods knew how effective they would be against regular trips. It looked like Raul had found his secret weapon.

Now, he just needed to wait for his force to come through the Rayal Mountains.

Olrick stood in front of Marion, sword raised. Both of them were wearing leather breastplates and helmets, among other pieces of armor, and they both had wooden training swords in their hands. When Silas left for the medical core building to see the latest casualties of war, Marion had insisted that they continue training. At first, he had Marion and Kael train together, but after awhile, he went back to his room to sharpen his real sword and to polish the armor Polain had loaned him while his own set was being made by Olrick’s father, the castle’s blacksmith, and Eza had gone with him. Marion still wanted to train, so that left Olrick to be the one to spar with her, and one of the servants to officiate.

“Begin!” The servant called.

Just like she usually did, Marion attacked first, swinging her practice sword right for his head. Olrick side stepped it easily and smacked it away, but he didn’t attack her right after, like he would’ve in an actual battle; he preferred to give Marion a chance to learn from mistakes before he beat her.

However, as usual, she didn’t learn. She tried the same blow to his head, but came from the other side.

Once again, Olrick blocked it, but this time, he smacked her on the side with his sword.

Marion cursed when she realized she’d lost, again. She hated losing bouts, which was why the servants often went easy on her when they sparred with her. Of course, that meant that she wasn’t getting any better after years of training.

“Why can’t I beat you?!” she yelled, frustrated, as she began pacing back and forth.

“You just need more practice,” Olrick said, praying to the gods that she would calm down. When she was angry, there could be no reasoning with her; all one could do was wait out the storm. “I’ve been training with swords for most of my life, while you’ve only been doing it for five years. Be a little more patient with yourself, and it’ll click, someday.”

“I can’t just have it click someday,” Marion said. “I need it to click, now! Raul is going to be here with his armies any day, now, and if I’m not ready, I won’t be able to kill him!”

Olrick sighed; it looked like they were back to that. Ever since she turned fifteen, she’d been hell bent on killing the man that killed her father and, indirectly, her mother. As much as he hated to think it, he missed the days before King Thias had been killed, back when Marion would force him to have tea parties with her, her dolls, and the children of the other craftsmen who worked at Castle Matisse. Things had been so simple back then, without this whole business of war. He wished it could be simple again, but he knew that would never happen. After this war, he would be one of the world leaders who had to pick up the pieces Raul left behind him.

Before Olrick could try and reason with her, a servant came out of the castle. “Commander Olrick, Polain wishes to speak with you immediately.”

Olrick nodded as he walked towards the armor racks. “I’ll be right there.” He looked over at the servant that had been officiating their bouts as he took off his helmet. “Would you mind sparring with the princess until I get back?” the servant nodded and rushed to the armor racks as Olrick hung his sword up.

Without taking off any of his other pieces of armor, Olrick entered the castle, towel in hand.

“Where’s the general?” he asked as he wiped the sweat from his face. If he walked in on the general completely drenched in sweat, he would throw a royal fit.

“He’s in his office, sir,” the servant said as Olrick wiped down his arms and his neck. He guessed that she was a refugee; she had a pretty thick Kurzhian accent. “Would you like a drink, sir? You look a little parched.”

He almost said yes, but stopped himself. Over the past few weeks of living in the castle, he’d noticed himself acting more and more like the noble he wasn’t. Even though a cup of water was such a simple thing for a servant to get, he didn’t want to be any more of a bother to them than he needed to be.

“No, thank you; I’m just fine,” he said. He balled up the towel he’d been using. “I hate to ask this, but would you mind taking this to the laundry? I don’t think Polain would appreciate me bringing a sweaty towel with me, and I’m not totally sure where it is.” The servant nodded and took the towel.

“Of course, sir,” the servant said as she took the towel. “Is there anything else you need?”

“That’s it,” Olrick said as he stopped and pulled out his coin pouch. He took out a few silvers and handed them to her. The servant’s eyes grew really wide.

“I-I can’t accept that, sir,” she said. “That’s way too much money!”

“Take it,” he insisted. “It’s the least I can do for making you go anywhere near my sweaty towel.” The servant stared at the money for a few more seconds, then accepted it, staring at the money in her hands in amazement.

“Th-thank you, sir,” she said with a bow. “You’re a saint!” She scurried away with the money and the towel, heading for the laundry.

Olrick couldn’t help but smile. It always made him feel good to help out the serving staff.

When he got to Polain’s room, he knew that something was really bothering him: he had a bottle of Jotiese liquor on his desk. What was it called, sake? Whatever it was, Polain hardly even acknowledged the fact that he had a stash of it, let alone, drank it out in the open.

Polain looked up at him. Gods, how could someone age so much in such little time?

“Please, shut the door.” Olrick did as the general asked.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” he asked. Polain motioned at one of the chairs in front of his desk.

“Will you sit down, commander?” he asked. Olrick nodded and sat down as Polain poured himself another glass of sake. “Would you like some?”

“No thank you, sir.” Polain took a quick swig of the liquor.

“Why did you want to see me, sir?” Olrick asked. It was very rare that Polain asked people into his office just for social visits, especially his military officers; getting drunk with people under one’s command was something Jotiese culture frowned upon.

“I’m getting worried about Princess Marion,” Polain said. “Ever since I gave Prince Kael permission to fight when the Giskens come to take the city, she’s been very insistent that I let her do the same.” Olrick frowned, confused.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked as Polain took another swig of sake.

“I want you to talk to her about it,” he said as he poured himself another cup of sake. How many had the general had? It was a good thing that they didn’t have a war meeting in the next few days, or the general might embarrass himself, something that was worse than death to a Jotiese man like him. “She won’t listen to me about the issue, and I know how much she respects you; perhaps she’ll heed you.”

Olrick bit his lip. The truth was, he thought that Marion should be allowed to defend her country. Every other ruler of Caitha, including the Matisse queens, had followed their men into battle; why shouldn’t she? There was probably some sort of Jotiese cultural quirk about it being shameful for a woman to have to fight.

“In all honesty, I think that you should allow Marion to fight,” Olrick said. Polain seemed to perk up a little when he heard that.

“Why is that?” he asked.

Olrick began to rub the back of his neck. “Well, next month, she’ll be ruling this country on her own, and it could be a good learning experience.” Learning experience? Gods, that didn’t come out at all like he’d intended it to. “You know how quick she is to choose violence. Maybe experiencing battle first hand will curb that enthusiasm a little.”

Polain took another swig of sake, then stared distantly at something behind Olrick as he thought about it. It took all of his self-control to not look behind him to see what the general was looking at.

“That isn’t your only reason to think that way, is it?” he asked. Olrick shook his head.

“I’m not sure how it is in Jotai, but in Caitha, our rulers have always followed their troops into battle, no matter their sex,” he said. “I don’t see why Marion should be any different.” Polain sighed, running a hand through his hair, then sat back in his chair.

“She’s just so young,” he said quietly. “It seems like just yesterday that she was playing with dolls and begging for frilly dresses. How am I supposed to send a mere child into battle?”

And, there was the very reason why Polain and Marion never saw eye to eye: Polain still viewed her as the little ten-year-old he’d been put in charge of after her parents died. As much as Polain hated to see it, Marion was nearly an adult; she’d be in charge of an entire country by the end of the month, if the Giskens hadn’t taken it over by then. He had to let her get out on her own.

“I know that it’s hard, Polain, but you’ve got to let her grow up,” Olrick said. “She’s almost twenty, now, and that isn’t as young as you think it is. I joined up when I was ten, and Eza was a prisoner of war by the time she was seven.” Polain finished off his cup of sake, but he didn’t pour himself another. Instead, he looked up at Olrick, a sad look in his eyes.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about,” Polain said. “And here I was, hoping you’d be able to strengthen my resolve.”

“Sorry, sir,” Olrick said. “I was just trying to help.”

Somebody knocked gently on Polain’s door.

“Enter.” The door cracked open and a servant, the same one Olrick had just given money to, peeked her head in.

“I’m sorry for interrupting, sir, but Commander Orellus requests your presence,” she said. “He wants to know how you want our troops positioned on the wall.”

Polain nodded, and he and Olrick stood up from their seats. “And there’s one more thing I must worry about. I apologize for leaving so abruptly; I’m sure you understand.”

“I do,” Olrick said. “Do you want me to keep training Marion?” Polain paused as he thought about it, then sighed.

“I guess so,” Polain said. “Marion will probably end up fighting the Giskens no matter what I say; she might as well be ready for them.”

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