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

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Chapter Forty-Seven

Olrick slipped his breastplate on, trying to focus on the task at hand to keep himself from thinking about the imminent fall of Caitha. Unlike Eza, he, Silas and Kael hadn’t taken up posts with the army. It meant that, by the time they were up and ready to fight, they already knew just how dire the situation had become in the short time since the battle had started through what they saw outside the castle’s windows: there were bright fires flaring on the wall, ones where Olrick knew for a fact that there weren’t any braziers, and many of the civilians were flooding the castle gates, praying to the gods that they would be able to find asylum from the coming invaders. The castle’s staff, already made small from people getting on ships on their way to Mirinia, were completely overwhelmed with the flood of civilians, but they still managed to spare one person to tell, Olrick, Silas and Kael what was going on and to help them get their armor on.

“What’s going on out there?” Silas asked the servant that had come to grab them as he slipped on a helmet. “How many troops do they have coming in?”

“I-I’m not sure,” the servant said as he helped Kael into a thick, leather breastplate. His eyes were wide as saucers, and his hands were shaking so badly, he could barely do up the straps on their armor. Olrick couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor man; Caitha hadn’t been involved in a war for so long, most of the citizens had forgotten what it was like. “Th-the messenger said that the Giskens have thousands of mages, though.”

Olrick frowned, confused. Though Gishk wasn’t nearly as superstitious as its neighbors, there were enough that he was positive that a good portion of Raul’s troops thought that mages were the spawn of the devil. The fact that he was still using mages to his advantage despite that said a lot about what he was willing to do to succeed.

“Don’t worry about them,” Silas said as he strapped his sword onto his hip. “If those mages even exist, our men are skilled enough to fight them off.”

Olrick concentrated on getting his own sword onto his hip before he could object. He and Silas knew full well that that was a lie, but it seemed to comfort the servant; he saw no need to correct it if a lie from Silas was actually doing some good for once.

“So, will we be heading for the outer wall, then?” Kael asked as he slipped on his own helmet. It looked a little big for him, but it would have to do: the leather worker only made helmets in one size, since all of his clients were full grown men.

“Of course we are,” Silas said as he pulled on some armguards. “That’s where the Gisken bastards are, isn’t it?”

“Which is why I’m coming with you.” Marion had walked into the room, the Matisse sword in her hands. Olrick found his eyes growing wide when he saw it. He could remember a time when the sword had passed through his father’s smithy for a touch up, when he was still apprenticed to him. Though his father had allowed him to work on swords that would go to nobles who only ranked below the Matisse’s themselves, but he hadn’t been allowed to do much more than look at the sword; seeing it again was an honor he didn’t think he would get to have.

“Just because Polain said you were allowed to fight doesn’t mean you’re coming to the frontline with us,” Silas said as he finished putting on his armor. Marion sighed.

“Now you’re against me?” she asked. “By the gods, why is everyone so against me trying to defend my own country?!”

“We’re not against it,” Silas said. “Raul’s probably going to want to kill you before this business is done, and the first place he’ll come looking for you is here. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste my time going to him when I know that he’s just going to spend a lot of time and energy trying to get to me.”

For a few seconds, Marion gave Silas a look, then sighed. “I guess you’re right.” She began to put her armor on despite that. “Might as well get ready for him if I’m just going to sit around here.”

By that time, Olrick, Kael and Silas had strapped on all their armor. They all took a few seconds to check the straps on their armor to make sure they wouldn’t give under the strain of battle and began to head for the southern wall.

The closer they got to the wall, the more and more they saw just how chaotic things were getting. Everyone was trying to get away from the battle, with the exception of soldiers and a few doctors with supplies in their hands. The two crowds going in opposite directions made for utter chaos, enough that Olrick found himself overwhelmed, despite having lived in the city all of his life. They had to shove through throngs of people hoping for shelter from the battle at the castle just to get anywhere near the wall.

When they got there, they saw that things were taking a turn for the worst. At the top of the wall, Olrick could see pyromancers throwing their fire at soldiers and setting them on fire, glaciomancers blackening their skin with frostbite, oraniomancers striking men with lightning, sending their bodies flying across the wall; it seemed that the servant at the castle was right about the mages.

“Well, that’s new,” Silas said nonchalantly as he drew his massive broadsword. “I thought you Giskens didn’t like mages.”

“Most don’t,” Kael said as he drew his father’s sword. Even though he had a helmet on, Olrick could see that the prince was nervous, to the point where he was starting to look a little green in the face. “Raul doesn’t care about that kind of thing, though; he would kill his own mother if it meant winning a battle.” They began running up the stairs of the wall, heading for the battle above.

“Well, it looks like we just have more dangerous Giskens to kill,” Silas said. “Kael, if you have any sort of reservations about killing your countrymen, it isn’t too late to turn back, and we won’t think you a coward.”

“It’s fine.” They reached the top of the wall-

And entered hell.

The second Olrick stepped onto the wall, a pyromancer threw a ball of fire at him. He just barely managed to duck out of the way so it didn’t slam him in the face, but his helmet was scorched on the top. He drew his sword and began running toward the Gisken mage, who shot more fireballs at him. Luckily, Olrick managed to duck and weave out of the way of the fire, and he cut down the mage; one down, hundreds more to go.

Olrick began to look at the carnage that surrounded him. Things were going even worse than he could have imagined. Dead soldiers lay everywhere in heaps, with all sorts of injuries: burns, cuts, crushed and amputated limbs, and most of them were Caithians; the Giskens wore metal breastplates instead of leather ones. The ones that were left fighting were covered in cuts, burns and other injuries, terrified of being the next of their comrades to fall. The Giskens almost seemed to relish it, making faints at the Caithian soldiers, then laughing when they flinched before they decided to finally kill them. It pissed him off to see it, enough that he ran in the opposite direction of Kael and Silas to put a stop to it.

The first Gisken he attacked was a big, burly one, who was torturing a poor soldier by ramming his sword through his body at points that he knew wouldn’t kill him. The soldier begged him to stop, but the Gisken wouldn’t, the damned sadist.

“Leave him alone!” Olrick swung his sword at the Gisken’s back, intending to kill him, but the Gisken was fast. He turned around and parried the blow, a smile on his face as he eyed Olrick’s gray cloak.

“I was wondering if one of you would show up,” he said, his voice thick with a guttural, harsh, Gisken accent. The soldier he’d been torturing slowly began to crawl away as Olrick and the Gisken began to circle each other, examining one another for weak spots. “They say you Watchmen are craven.”

The Gisken made a jab at Olrick, but he ducked out of the way and knocked the blade away from him. He took a step closer and tried to slash at his face, but the Gisken stepped back. Olrick’s blade still managed to touch skin, though, and made a deep, red cut against his cheek.

The Gisken gently touched his cheek, examined the blood on his fingertips, and smiled.

He got back into a fighting stance, one that Olrick found himself cursing. This Gisken was a trained swordsman, and a good one. “You really shouldn’t have done that, Watchman.”

The Gisken lunged.

Olrick blocked the blow, but he knew the second their swords clashed that the attack wasn’t his real one. As his arm was still swinging his sword to keep the Gisken’s blade from cutting into him, the Gisken sent his foot into Olrick’s stomach, hard. He stumbled backward and just barely managed to block the next attack.

The Gisken laughed and turned around to face the soldier he’d been torturing as Olrick recovered from the blow.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he asked as he kicked him onto his back. The soldier yelped.

Olrick managed to resist running at him, again. No, he would need a different solution.

Taking a deep breath, he began to creep up behind him silently. It was the kind of task that he’d been trained to do as a Watchman, one that the people of Caitha didn’t know they did: they were spies, saboteurs and assassins when the job called for it, just like the Rooks were.

“P-please, just let me go-“ the Gisken ended the soldier’s sentence by placing his foot against his throat. The soldier began to squirm underneath it, but he couldn’t get free. It was like watching Milo about to die all over again.

Except this time, Olrick wasn’t going to hide in the shadows and watch it happen.

“And why should-“ the Gisken’s last sentence was punctuated by the point of Olrick’s sword going through his chest.

“Believe me, we Watchmen aren’t craven,” Olrick growled. Damn it, he was sick and tired of hearing that! If people had any idea of the kind of hell that he’d gone through to become a Watchman, they’d have a very different opinion about them. “We’re just like the Rooks, really; we just get to stay in our own country to do our jobs.”

Olrick yanked his sword out of the Gisken’s back. With one final gasp, he fell to the ground, a single Gisken corpse among so many Caithian ones.

He turned his attention to the injured soldier, who was staring up at him with eyes as wide as saucers. Gods, he was young; he couldn’t have been much more than fourteen years old, if he was even that.

“Can you stand?” The Caithian soldier seemed shocked that Olrick was talking to him. He simply stared up at him for a few seconds, then tried to get back up. He lay back down and shook his head, his face twisted in pain.

“N-no.” Olrick bent down and gently picked him up, putting him over his shoulder. The soldier groaned, but he didn’t say anything.

When Olrick turned around to get back off the wall, he saw that there was a second Gisken coming toward him. Even though he didn’t seem like he was very trained (at least, not as much as the last one), he Olrick didn’t think he’d be able to fend him off with an injured boy on his back.

He got ready to fight, praying to the gods that this wasn’t going to be his last fight.

However, just as the Gisken reached Olrick, his legs gave out beneath him and he fell to the ground in a crumpled heap. Behind him, he could see Eza standing there, holding a staff red with blood on both ends in her hands.

Olrick found himself relaxing when he saw her. He’d been wondering where she was.

Eza nodded at the soldier over his shoulder. “Who is that?”

“One of the Giskens was toying with him,” Olrick said. “Where’s the field hospital? That Gisken really roughed him up.” Eza cursed and began to look around the wall.

Before she could respond, they began to hear a call over the sounds of battle: the garrison commander, who was standing just a few feet away from them, was calling for a retreat.

Eza’s face darkened when she heard that. Both she and Olrick knew what would happen if they lost the city wall: the Giskens will have taken the city, even if the battle wouldn’t officially be over, yet.

“We’re not retreating!” she barked. The garrison commander gave her a weird look, but he didn’t say anything. “If we lose this wall, this city is as good as gone!”

“But if we don’t, we’ll lose the army,” he finally said. “We have to save as many of our men as we can.” Before she could tell him anything else, the garrison commander ran down the wall to tell the rest of his men his orders.

Eza cursed, then looked back at Olrick. “It looks like we need to get off this wall; I’d rather not be here when the Giskens take it.”

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