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

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Chapter Five

“I-I don’t know if I can do this.” Elise and Kael were standing outside of the white tent that served as General Raul’s command center, waiting for whoever was conversing with him to come out. From the inside of the tent, she could hear him and what sounded to be a woman, conversing in a strange language that she recognized as Abunaki; every once and awhile, men from Abunaki would show up to the market to sell trinkets from the desert country, rather than their usual commodity of slaves. The sound of the throaty language didn’t help to calm her nerves.

“It’s alright,” Kael said in an attempt to comfort her. “I’ll be right behind you.”

The sentiment, while sincere, didn’t do much to comfort her. She just couldn’t get her mind off the question that had been running through her mind since Blair had ordered Finn to take her to General Raul: what could she say that would convince him to stop torturing Olrick?

After a few very long minutes, the talking stopped and a woman walked out of the tent. She looked to be about her age, with black hair, dark brown eyes, and tan skin. She was wearing a long, black dress that went down to her ankles, simple sandals, and a teal scarf that covered her hair and her neck, framing her face alongside two chunks of hair. As she walked past them, she stopped, as if she’d just realized something.

“Are you alright, Nalia?” Kael asked her as she pulled one of the chunks away from her eye. She shook her head.

“It’s nothing,” she said, her voice thick with a hard accent. She looked over at them. Elise found herself a little uncomfortable when she realized that Nalia was staring at her, suspicious. “He’s waiting for you.” As she walked off, the two of them walked into the tent.

It didn’t look that big from the outside, but when she walked in, Elise saw that the white, canvas tent was actually quite big. There was a large, wooden table on the inside, covered with maps, letters, and various other papers. A big, burly man was sitting at the table, with gray hair, a blue eye (a bandage was wrapped around his head, covering his other eye) and pale skin. He was wearing a baggy shirt, a dark blue cloak, huge black gauntlets, a pair of boots, and a sword bigger than she was strapped to his back. He looked to be a bit old, but still managed to look strong and intimidating.

“General Raul, sir.” Kael held his arm up at a ninety-degree angle, his fist clenched. General Raul looked up at them and did the same thing. Elise found herself staring at the ground, wringing out her hands; Gods, he was even more intimidating than she’d thought he’d be. They both put their arms down.

“Is this the girl the Watchman was talking about?” General Raul asked as he looked back down at the table and began writing on one of the papers on his table.

A pit began to form in Elise’s stomach. What had Olrick told them?

She looked back at Kael. He looked to be just as confused as she was.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir,” Finn said. General Raul nodded, as if he’d expected that answer.

“I suppose you wouldn’t,” he said. “You were a little preoccupied with fraternizing with the town’s women to know about military affairs.” Finn winced, as if the very words themselves had slapped him. He looked like he wanted to say something to defend himself, but he stayed silent.

“You’re excused, corporal,” General Raul said. “I would like to speak with her in private.”

Terror began to rise in Elise’s chest. Even though she barely knew him, she still found that she was much more comfortable talking to the behemoth of a man known as General Raul while Kael was there. When she looked back at him, she found that he didn’t look very comfortable with his orders, either.

“Sir, I-“ he began, but he stopped when General Raul looked up at him, a look on his face that sent a chill down Elise’s spine.

“That wasn’t a suggestion, captain,” he said, his voice eerily calm. “Leave, now.” For a few seconds, Finn didn’t say anything again. Part of her hoped that he would defy the General’s orders and stay in the tent, but at the same time, she was scared of what they would do to him if he were to disobey an order from the general of the Gisken forces.

Sure enough, after the few seconds of silence, he saluted General Raul. “Y-yes, sir.” He left the tent, leaving Elise alone with a man she only knew through horrifying stories of massacres in Kurzhian villages, and the horrible ways he ordered his men to kill those who resisted the Gisken occupation. She prayed that none of them were true.

“W-why do you want to talk to me, sir?” Elise stuttered. General Raul set down his quill and looked up at her. Even though the look in his eyes had softened since the look he gave Finn, she still found herself avoiding eye contact with him. She stared down at the hard earth beneath her feet.

“The Watchman told us that you’re a doctor,” he said. “Seeing as you’re here, you are.” Elise frowned, confusion and disbelief coursing through her. What had he said about her?

“What do you mean, sir?” she asked.

“We were discussing what we were going to do with you and your father, as the two of you were aiding a fugitive, and he mentioned your valuable skill,” General Raul said. “It seems that he would prefer you to stick around here in a war zone.” Elise tried to hold in her disbelief. Why would he care so much about her? After all, he was in even more trouble than she was; why would he risk antagonizing himself even more just so he could protect her?

“I-I’m sorry if this is rude, but why would you want me?” she asked. “I mean, don’t you have your own doctors?”

“We do have doctors, yes,” General Raul said. “However, I’m afraid that we quite simply don’t have enough for all of my men and all the people in this village. As you’re already known to these people, I believe that they may be more comfortable around you than they would be around a Gisken doctor.” For the first time during the conversation, Elise looked up at him. “Would you be interested?” As if she had much of a choice.

“Yes, sir,” she said quietly. “M-may I ask one thing, though, sir?” He seemed surprised, but nodded. She looked back down at her hands, again.

“Olrick’s shoulder was dislocated today d-during an interrogation, according to what Blair told me,” she said. “I-if it’s alright with you, I would like to postpone his interrogations until his shoulder is well enough that it w-won’t keep popping out of place.” General Raul sighed, rubbing his temples.

“We’re on a bit of a schedule,” he muttered to no one in particular. He looked back up at her. “For how long?”

“Maybe a week or so,” Elise said. He paused, considering her proposition. Then, he sighed.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said. “Anything else.”

“May I visit him?” she asked. General Raul almost seemed surprised by her request; however, he kept it to himself as he considered her second request. Then, he sighed.

“I suppose that would be alright,” he said, much to her surprise. “However, I will ask that you be accompanied by one of my men while you do so.” She nodded.

“If that is all, you may be excused.” With a quick curtsy, she turned around and left.

As Elise walked back to her home, her confusion on General Raul’s compliance with all of her requests grew. Why was he all right with not only holding off on his interrogations, but with her visiting him, as well? Was he, in reality, a kind person, nothing like the monster he was portrayed as in all the stories she’d heard about him? No, that couldn’t be; a kind person wouldn’t subject a man to interrogations so violent, his shoulder popped out of its socket. Whatever his reason was, she had a feeling that he had an alternative motive to it rather than the kindness of his heart.

Kael didn’t know how much more he could take.

Granted, he’d lasted longer in the Gisken army than he ever thought he would. He’d spent the better part of three years in Kurzh, where, for the first time in years, he had a warm bed and a house that didn’t let in the snow or the wind. However, he still hated every second of it. When General Raul had ordered the deaths of him and his family eleven years before (his father, King Alberich Althaus, had opposed the war and threaten to strip General Raul of his title and lands if he went through with it,) he’d escaped to Kurzh to preserve his own life. They’d welcomed him, and he’d come to love his adopted country, to admire their strength and courage. It hurt him to join the Gisken army, to stand by and watch as they broke the people he’d called brother.

He didn’t have much of a choice, though; he had to get out of the country, to raise an army to defeat the Giskens, and after the Giskens invaded Kurzh, there were only two ways of doing that: getting arrested and praying to the Gods that there was an Abunaki trader in the city at the time, or join the Gisken army. There were times where he wondered if the price he had to pay to regain control of his country was too high, but he quickly dismissed such thoughts; if he really were to succeed in his plans, then all the people around him – the entire world – would be free.

When he came to Caitha, hoping to be able to escape to the country’s capital of Semata, he’d thought that he would be able to ignore everything that was going on around him just long enough for him to desert the army. The longer he stayed there, though, he found that that was not the case. Even though he hadn’t been in the country for very long, he found that he hated serving there just as much as he had in Kurzh. He hated to watch as the Watchman was being tortured for information as they prepared to send him off to Kurzh to die, as they turned the lives of the people who’d sheltered him by, likely, sending the man off to Kurzh right alongside with the Watchman, and only the Gods knew what they would do to the girl; she was likely destined for a life of enslavement in Abunaken. He just couldn’t stand by and watch all of it unfold before his eyes, not anymore.

It was time for the crown prince of Gishk to make a stand against General Raul.

However, there was one slight problem: he was just one man; it would be quite hard for him to take down an entire army on his own, even if he was on the inside. He needed some help, and he was fairly sure on where to get it.

And so, once he made sure that Blair was nowhere near the stables (of all the men in the Gisken army, he was the one Kael was the most worried about him selling him out,) he walked in and walked into one of the stables. The Watchman was sitting there, with his hands tied to one of the posts. When he heard the door creak open, he looked up at him, a grim look on his face.

“What do you want?” he asked as Kael shut the door behind him. For a few seconds, he didn’t say anything as he tried to think of what to say; a golden tongue wasn’t among his assets.

“I need your help,” he finally said. At first, the Watchman seemed confused; however, it soon turned to suspicion, though that didn’t come as a surprise to Kael. He’d been amongst the Giskens long enough for him to realize that they tended to be unconventional as far as war was concerned; he probably thought that this was some sort of an attempt to squeeze information out of him without him even realizing it. He stayed silent, waiting for him to continue.

“Do you want to watch the Giskens burn?” Kael asked. The Watchman’s eyes narrowed, even more suspicious than he had been before. Inside, Kael began to berate himself for his poor choice of words; his mother was likely rolling in her grave, now, realizing that she’d spent all that money on tutors to help with his speech for nothing.

“Why do you care?” the Watchman asked. Kael took a deep breath; he was blowing it!

“General Raul took something from me,” he said. “And I want it back.” The Watchman looked away from him, disgusted.

“And why should I care?” he asked. “Only the Gods know all the things you’ve taken away from everyone who has to live like cattle under you.” Kael began to rub the back of his neck, one of the nervous habits he hadn’t been able to break, even after living so near to people who would slit his throat without a second thought if they ever found out who he was. He hadn’t been so nervous in a long time, not since he first enlisted; what if this Watchman thought that he was just trying to get information out of him and mentioned this to the wrong person? However, it was a little late to be having second thoughts about attempting to recruit him.

“I’ve never killed an entire family out of spite, before,” Kael said quietly. That seemed to grab the Watchman’s attention. He looked up at him, as if he were trying to decide whether or not he was telling the truth.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked.

“Because I need a favor from you,” Kael said. “And, as a show of trust, I’ll do something for you.” Once again, the Watchman frowned.

“Like what?” he asked.

“How much do you care about that girl that was hiding you?” Kael asked. The Watchman tensed up, angered. “Don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt her or something if you don’t help me.”

“Then what are you going to do to her?” he asked.

“If you help me, I’m going to get the two of you out of here,” he said. “I’m afraid that there isn’t anything I can do for her father, though.” The Watchman, once again, gave him a weird look, trying to decide if he was lying. Even though he didn’t say anything, Kael had decided that he was still successful; he’d simply wanted this encounter to get the idea that he could help him planted in the mind, not necessarily have him be ready to help him, though that would be nice.

“So, what do you think?” Kael asked, hoping that this would’ve been at least enough to get him to think about what he’d said. “Are you ready to get out of here?”

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