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

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Chapter Forty-Nine

Marion ran down the hallway, her blood boiling. She could hear the Giskens storming the castle from her position on the third floor, and from the sound of it, things weren’t going very well. She could hear people begging for their lives in Caithian before swords were rammed through them and orders being shouted in Gisken. Both of the sounds really pissed her off; it meant that they were losing this battle, something that Marion didn’t want to accept. She knew what had happened to every other place that had put up much of a fight against the Giskens; she didn’t have to look any further than Eza for a reminder. The thought that the very thing that had happened in Kurzh was about to happen in Caitha didn’t so much frighten her as it angered her. She would rather die than give up the country her father had died for.

As she reached the stairwell and began going down it, she saw a sight she’d waited for ten years to see: General Raul, himself, had arrived in the castle, with his sword in hand, backed by tens of hundreds of Giskens.

Marion stopped going down the stairs, drew her sword, and got into the stance she’d rehearsed for years, ready to fight. It looked like her moment had finally arrived.

The Giskens began to head towards her, swords raised, until Raul held his hand up. His cold, steely glance remained fixed on Marion. “I can handle this one. You make sure that there aren’t any more Caithians running amuck in this castle.” The soldiers nodded, turned around, and ran off to other parts of the castle to obey their general’s orders.

For a few seconds, Marion and Raul just stared at each other in silence as he drew his massive broadsword from his back. She hated him, more than she’d ever hated anything or anyone in her life. Every part of her just wanted to run down the stairs, slit his throat, and watch in satisfaction as he drew his last breaths in a pool of his own blood, but she managed to restrain herself; she had to figure out any weaknesses he had before going full out.

“I hate you,” Marion said bitterly through clenched teeth. Her grip on her father’s sword grew even tighter. “I swear on all that’s holy, I’ll kill you!”

“I know how you feel about me,” Raul said as he slowly drew his sword. “But I’m afraid that I won’t be dying, tonight. No, that will be for you and that pathetic excuse of a man that passes for a general in this country.”

Marion couldn’t restrain herself that time. She ran forward and swung her sword at Raul’s head. He easily parried and swung his sword, a blow that Marion managed to block. It took all of her strength to keep from dropping the sword with how hard they collided.

Raul almost seemed surprised as they went up the stairs, Marion facing him. “I must say, you’re much better at handling a sword than I thought you would be.” They reached the top of the stairs, and the two held their swords up, ready to fight. Marion couldn’t help but be excited; she couldn’t wait to see him dead.

“However, there’s still much for you to learn.” Raul swung his sword at her.

Marion blocked the blow easily, as he did with her own swing. Both soon fell into the rhythm of their fight: parrying blows, swinging their swords at each other, using textbook footwork; with how well she was holding up, Marion couldn’t help but feel pride swelling up in her. If she could hold her own against Raul this well, she had no doubt in her mind that she could kill him and a good number of his men, too. And to think, Olrick had been so worried about how “underprepared” she was.

“They really haven’t put you through very intensive training, have they?” Raul asked as he swung his sword at Marion. Like the others, she parried it. Her arms were beginning to get tired from the repetitive blows; she would have to end him pretty soon.

“Why do you ask?” Marion swung her sword at Raul, but he parried. The two paused for a few moments to catch their breath. They began to circle each other, like boxers looking for an opening in their opponent’s defenses.

Raul answered with a combination of attacks that Marion was barely able to parry. They shook her tired limbs to the point that she dropped her sword.

Terror gripped Marion’s heart with its icy fist as her father’s sword skidded across the floor away from her. She was hopeless without a sword against Raul.

“You’re too much like your father for your own good, girl,” Raul said as he raised his sword to her throat, the metal chilling Marion’s skin. His voice was eerily calm. “Being so stubborn and headstrong is what got him killed, too.” He got ready to chop her head, cocking his arms back. “It seems that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree-“

“General Raul!”

Marion looked past Raul, at the stairway. Standing at the top was Polain, his robes and his sword stained red with blood.

Raul turned his back on Marion to face the aging, Jotiese general. “It’s an honor to see you again, General Polain. I must say, the sword training you’ve given Marion is rather appalling; have the teachers gone easy on her all these years?”

“Leave the princess alone,” Polain said sternly, holding his sword up at Raul.

Raul began to walk towards Polain slowly, leaving Marion behind. She didn’t run; she couldn’t seem to move, she was so scared. “Oh, Polain; always sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.” He swung his sword at Polain. He tried to block it, but his sword was much too small to stand a chance against Raul. Not only did the blade of Polain’s sword snap, but the force of the blow sent it flying down the stairs, too.

The next thing Marion knew, Raul’s sword was impaling Polain through the chest.

For a few seconds, Marion simply stood there, watching as Raul twisted his sword in Polain. How could this have happened? Polain couldn’t be dying, not now!

Marion didn’t feel like she was in her body as she ran and picked up her sword; it was as if she was watching someone else do it.

She ran her sword through Raul’s chest.

Raul made a loud gasping sound as the sword went through. He turned his head slowly to look at her.

That look in his eyes… Marion knew the second she saw it she wouldn’t forget it. They were fiery, like the eyes of a demon straight from hell.

She pulled the sword out of him with a sickening squelch. He collapsed to the ground, dying.

For ten years, Marion had imagined what the moment she killed Raul would be like. She’d always thought that it would be her finest hour, the moment she snatched her place in history as the person who killed the tyrant usurper; it would make her one of the greatest rulers of Caitha, one that the people would be talking about for generations to come. In those seconds when she was staring at Raul and Polain’s corpses, she didn’t feel any of that. She just felt… numb. Numb and sick to her stomach.

Was this how it felt to kill someone? No wonder the Giskens acted like monsters; that was exactly how she felt.

Polain began to moan softly.

Marion dropped the sword and sat at his side. He was still alive.

She picked him up in her arms. Blood was coming out of his fatal wound, making his skin paler and paler. She began to press her hand against the wound to try and stop the bleeding, but the second she did, she knew it wouldn’t help: he would die, and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop it.

“I’m proud of you.” In the few minutes he’d laid there, Polain’s voice had grown weak, with blood dribbling out of his mouth.

Marion looked down as tears began to well up in her eyes and a lump formed in her throat. She just couldn’t look at him, not now; she didn’t want to remember Polain as he was in his final moments, like her mother. She wanted to remember him for how he was when he was alive and well.

“Please don’t go,” Marion whispered. “I can’t do this without you, please!”

Polain took her by the hand to try and comfort her, but all it did was remind her that he didn’t have much longer: his grip had grown weaker.

“It’s like Raul said,” Polain said. He was starting to run out of breath, now. “You’re just like your father. You’ll make a great queen.”

Polain took in one last breath, and his body went limp.

Marion opened her eyes and looked up. His dead eyes stared up at her. He wouldn’t have liked that; it wasn’t very dignified. She reached up and closed her eyes. After that, it almost looked like he was just sleeping.

She grabbed Polain’s sword from where it had landed, positioned his hands over his chest with his sword under them, and stood up. He looked a lot better, now. She knew that he appreciated it, wherever he was.

Someone came running up the stairs. When Marion looked to the side, she saw Blair running up the stairs, a bloodstained sword in hand.

“General Raul, we-“ His sentence was cut short by the gory site at the top of the stairs. He stopped and stared at the fallen general, his face fallen with shock. Then, he looked up at her, his face turned from being shocked to being furious

Marion didn’t wait to see what he was going to do. She turned around and started running for her life.

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