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

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Chapter Six

Once General Raul was alone in the tent, he finally found that he was able to relax. His cold, strong façade went down as he leaned back in his seat and grabbed a wine glass and a bottle of vintage, Vercourian, red wine from the chest that he kept his personal belongings in. It had come from the cellars of the king of Vercouria, given to him after the surrender had been signed the year before. He’d been saving the drink for the proper time, when he’d really needed it. He’d decided that the time had come for him to break it out.

Once he’d poured a small amount of the drink into the glass and had taken a sip of the sweet-tasting drink, he pulled Chaya’s necklace out from under his shirt. It was a simple thing, made mostly of wooden beads with the varnish long peeled off and a few tarnished, metal beads. There was one metal amulet on the necklace, one that was shaped as a hand. The paint had long since come off the center part, but he knew what it was supposed to be: Chaya had told him that the necklace was supposed to represent the hand of the Abunaki god, of whom they believed watched over them and protected them. Many of them owned necklaces like the one in his hand as a reminder that their god would always be there to protect them, but that wasn’t why he wore it; he wasn’t really one for religion, unlike many of his countrymen. No, he wore it to remind himself of her, of what allowing himself to be vulnerable had cost him. He’d never let himself do it again: the costs were much too high.

As he held the necklace in his hand, memories of Chaya began to flood his mind. He remembered her sweet smile, her long, dark hair, her caring eyes and warm, friendly laugh. He often wondered how his life could have turned out differently, if she hadn’t died, if he hadn’t known that she was going to have his second child. Would he have settled down with Chaya somewhere rather than trying to take over the world? Would Blair have been married with kids by now if this war hadn’t happened? Would he have a daughter to worry about rather than his plan of attack to take the next city?

He supposed that it was too late for him to be having second doubts about the invasions; it wasn’t like he could change his mind, pull his troops out of all the places they’d conquered. No, the only way any of this could end, now, was for Mirinia to step into the fight. They’d never do that, not when it was so much more profitable for them to remain neutral.

After a few moments by himself, drinking more wine in an attempt to calm his nerves, Blair walked into the tent. His brows were furrowed and his eyes were narrowed in anger. He saluted him, and General Raul saluted back.

“Sir, what the hell is going on?” he asked in Abunaki, his native language. General Raul looked up at him.

“Excuse me, Lieutenant?” he asked, surprised. He hadn’t been addressed in such a manner in a long time. Blair took a deep breath in order to calm himself down.

“S-sorry, sir,” he said. “I was just in the middle of interrogating the Watchman, when Captain Finn walked in and told me to stop. He said that you’ve ordered us to stop interrogating him, and I want to know why.” General Raul took a sip of wine.

“How were you interrogating him?” he asked.

“Water torture,” Blair said. “He was just about to tell me something, I’m sure of it!” General Raul took another sip of wine. Gods, had the king of Vercouria been right about it; it was the best tasting drink he’d ever had.

“Am I not allowed to interrogate the Watchman anymore, sir?” Blair asked when General Raul didn’t respond.

“Water torture’s fine,” he said. “Anything that puts much stress on his shoulder isn’t.” Blair’s look of anger turned into one of confusion, prompting him to continue.

“Do you remember that girl?” General Raul asked. “The one who was hiding the Watchman?” Blair gave him a look.

“You gave in to her-“

“Let me finish,” he said. For once in his life, Blair managed to hold his tongue. “Nalia ran into her when she came to talk to me about him; she said she’s a mage. A pyromancer, to be exact.” Once again, Blair looked confused, then skeptical.

She’s a mage?” he asked. “Even if she were one, she certainly wouldn’t be strong enough to cause any trouble.”

“I’m not going to take that chance, Lieutenant,” General Raul said, rubbing the bandage that covered what was left of his left eye. “I want someone there at all times to keep an eye on her. There will not be another accident, understand?”

“If you worry so much about her, then why don’t you just kill her?” Blair asked. He made it sound like it was such a simple solution, as only a boy as cocky and headstrong as he was would. “You’d be eliminating your problem and keeping the people from rebelling against us.” General Raul sighed and took another sip of wine.

“You forget the past,” he said. “Remember when we thought that killing General Mitrius and the starving group of bastards he called an army would keep the Kurzhians from rebelling against us?” Blair shook his head, annoyed. Raul knew that he was probably sick of hearing the same lecture over and over, but Raul didn’t see much of a choice in repeating it until he finally learned what he needed to learn to keep his army from making the same mistakes.

“And you forget that we aren’t in Kurzh, anymore,” he said. “These people aren’t like them; we haven’t seen a hint of resistance since we arrived here other than that damned Watchman, for the Gods’ sakes. It’s about time that you left the past where it belongs.”

“You still have much to learn,” he said. “I can’t leave the past behind and pretend that it never happened; that’s a good way to get men killed.” Blair ran a hand through his thick mane of black hair.

“Please tell me that that isn’t your only reason for this?” he asked.

“It isn’t,” General Raul said. “Have you noticed how much the Watchman seems to care a little too much about the girl, considering that he only met her a few days ago?” Blair nodded.

“As you already know, we need a bargaining chip with him in interrogations,” he continued. “It seems that she’s the only person we know of that he might care enough about to, perhaps, give up information about the Caithian army in order to keep her safe.” Blair’s face began to contort in that stupid grin of his.

“I understand, sir,” he said.

“Good,” General Raul said. “Now, go make sure that girl isn’t stirring up trouble.” Blair saluted, then walked out of the tent.

Once his son was gone, he sighed and took another sip of wine. Sometimes, that boy tried his patience.

“You have a few minutes,” the Gisken told Elise as they walked into the stables by the town’s inn. Just as usual, the stalls were void of horses; they were a luxury item in that area of Caitha, and the last time anyone rich enough to afford one passed through Thaos was twelve years ago, when she was rich. “If I hear you two making plans to break him out or something, I’ll throw you in one of these stalls; is that clear?” They stopped in front of one of the stall doors.

“Yes, sir,” she said. The Gisken opened the stall door and shut the door behind her.

She’d known that they’d probably tortured Olrick since she saw him last, but she wasn’t quite expecting what she saw. His shirt was gone, revealing even more bruises and injuries than he’d had before, his hair was sopping wet, though the rest of his body was dry, he had a black eye; if it was possible, he looked even worse for wear than he had when he first arrived in Thaos.

He looked up at them when he heard the cell door opening. Judging by the hard look that was on his face for a few seconds, he was expecting to see another interrogator.

“Elise?” he asked in disbelief as his face softened. “What are you doing here?” Elise sat down in front of him.

“General Raul gave me permission to check on your shoulder,” she said. “I guess he cares enough about you to keep you healthy so he can send you to Kurzh.” At first, Olrick seemed confused, then his eyes narrowed. It seemed that he was suspicious of General Raul’s motives, as well. “So, how’s your shoulder doing?”

Olrick adjusted himself, wincing as he put pressure on the shoulder Blair dislocated.

“It doesn’t hurt as much as it did, before,” he said. For a few seconds, neither of them spoke. She found herself staring at him, taking in the scars, the cuts, the burns, the pain and sorrow in his eyes. As she did, the same questions that ran through her head the night the blacksmith brought him in from the rain came back: who was he, and what had he done to deserve any of this?

And, more importantly, what had her brother done to deserve death?

“Why didn’t you tell us about Milo?” she asked. To her surprise, she almost felt angry with him. Why hadn’t he said anything about her brother? Did he not have the common decency to tell them something as important as that before it slapped them in the face like this?

Olrick sighed and looked down at his hands. He didn’t want to talk about it, that much was obvious to Elise. The only question was why he was so reluctant.

“I was afraid you were going to ask that,” he finally said. He looked back up at her. “I-I guess I just didn’t know how to tell you. I just felt so guilty…” he sighed and looked back down at his hands again.

“Guilty about what?” she asked. For a few seconds, Olrick didn’t respond; he just bit his lip, apparently trying to decide what to say.

“It’s my fault that your brother’s dead,” he said quietly. “If I hadn’t been such a damned coward, he might still be alive.” Elise’s heart sank as Olrick tried to blink back the tears that were starting to well up in his eyes. That couldn’t have been true, could it? She hadn’t known Olrick for very long, but based on the events of the past few days, she knew that he wasn’t the kind of person to stand by and watch while something bad happened to someone else, not if he could do something about it. He couldn’t have really let the Giskens kill her brother, could he have?

“Olrick…” Elise began, but stopped. What was she supposed to say, that it wasn’t his fault? She wasn’t even sure what she thought about it, herself. She didn’t think that Olrick had anything to do with what happened to her brother, but… what if he really did have something to do with it? She wanted to forgive and forget all of this, but if what he was saying were true, she just didn’t think she could forgive him, not for a long time.

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for it,” she finally said. “The Giskens killed my brother, not you.” Elise could hear the door to the stall open behind her. When Olrick saw who was on the other side, he frowned in anger.

“What do you want?” he growled. She turned around to see Blair standing there, a smug look on his face.

“Try not to be so uncivil, boy,” he snapped. He looked over at Elise. “C’mon; it’s time to go.” She tried to swallow down her fear.

“G-go where?” she asked as she stood up, brushing the dirt off of her skirt.

“Back home, where you belong,” Blair said. Elise walked out of the stall and looked back at Olrick. His eyes were narrowed and his fists were clenched in anger.

“Don’t worry, Watchman,” Blair mocked. “I know how much you care about her; I’ll be sure to take extra good care of her.” Olrick’s fists nearly became white with anger.

“If you touch her, I’ll kill you!” he yelled. Blair laughed coldly.

“I’d like to see you try.”

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