In the weeks since Caitha had fallen, Semata had become a powder keg, ready to explode at any moment. The Gisken soldiers, now under the rule of newly appointed General Blair, raided most every building that was still standing after the siege engines toppled many of them to the ground, taking what little people had left and causing havoc. Men were shipped off to Kurzh for everything from being suspected Caithian soldiers to stealing bread from Gisken food supplies to feed their starving families; any woman that had anything about her that could be considered charming was raped; children left homeless and orphaned by the siege were killed; the Giskens believed that what they were doing was serving to put the citizens of Semata in line, but after many fights with the new born resistance networks on the broken, cobblestone streets, they were quickly learning that their actions only succeeding in making the people rebel, just as they did in Kurzh.
At least, that’s what Elise, Olrick and Kael were told; nobody had been outside the abbey since the city fell, except for Silas.
Though none of them knew exactly what was happening outside the stone walls of the abbey, the three of them counted themselves lucky. They had enough food to keep their hunger at bay, the abbey was intact enough to keep the icy rain and the wind away, and Giskens hadn’t touched the abbey, though whether or not that was because they had orders not to or because of their own religious beliefs, they weren’t sure. Either way, it meant that the Giskens had no idea where they were; according to Silas, they were hunting down every Caithian military leader and having them publicly executed so they couldn’t help in the growing rebellion. Out of all the military heads, Silas and Olrick were the only ones they knew were still alive, while Eza and Kylar were missing; the rest had all been killed during or in the days since the battle. The executions infuriated Silas and worried everyone else, but none of them knew of a way to stop them; by the time they found out about executions, it was too late to do anything about it.
It was with news of the executions of high-ranking members of a resistance network that Elise, Olrick, Kael, and the abbot sat down for dinner that summer night, a few weeks after Semata’s fall. They were down to their last scraps of food, which was all put into a watery, tasteless soup. A light rain tapped on the roof and the glass windows of the abbey’s simple, private dining hall, reserved for high-ranking visitors or – in their case – people seeking asylum. Some small talk was made between everyone, but certainly not enough to keep the hall from feeling empty. Their thoughts drifted to those they’d lost in the battle: Polain, Mathis, Eza (as far as they knew); however, Elise’s mind lingered on what had happened to Finn longer than the others. Where was he now? Had the Giskens already killed him? Was he on his way to Kurzh?
Sometimes, she wish she knew exactly what had happened to him, even if he were dead; not knowing was the worst part of this whole situation.
The door to the hall opened and Silas stormed in, his borrowed, dark brown cloak dripping rainwater on the floorboards. When he sat down at the table, Elise could see that he had a large cut by his hairline, a green bruise forming on his chin and swollen, bloody knuckles, but that wasn’t the main thing that worried Elise: his brows were furrowed in a look of concentration, one more intense than she’d ever seen on his face.
“What happened to you?” the abbot asked as Silas picked up a spoon and began spooning soup into his bowl. His hand was shaking terribly, to the point where he could barely shovel soup into his mouth; if Elise were to inspect the damage done to his hand, she wouldn’t have been too surprised to discover that he’d broken something in it.
“I got into a fight.” For a brief second, everyone paused, terrified. What had Silas been thinking, getting into a fistfight with a Gisken soldier? He could get them all killed doing things like that!
The abbot gulped as Silas began to eat. His face had turned to the color of ash. “With who?”
“Some traitors,” he said. His face had gone from focused to angered. “They said that they couldn’t wait for them to kill Marion, since it’s somehow her fault that everything’s gone to hell.”
“Should we expect a visit from the Giskens?” Olrick asked bitterly as he stirred his brownish-green soup around in his bowl, his eyes narrowed. Silas shook his head.
“They got enough pleasure from beating the shit out of me,” he said. “Lucky for them, I didn’t feel like putting up much of a fight, even when they called me an old man.”
Elise, Kael and the abbot relaxed, but Olrick didn’t. He was frowning as he watched Silas try and eat some soup with his injured hands.
“That’s not all, is it?” he asked. Silas dropped his spoon into his soup with a small splash and ran a shaky hand through his soaked hair.
“They’re going to execute Marion tomorrow.”
Everybody stopped moving when they heard that. Elise could scarcely believe it. Marion wasn’t even twenty, yet; her life had only just begun, and to hear that it would be snuffed out so soon was just… she didn’t know what to think about it.
“Dear gods,” the abbot said, quickly pulling the religious medallion out from under his robes and kissing it as everyone resumed eating. “I pray the gods will find compassion on her in the life to come.”
“They’re not going to need to in a long time, if I have anything to do with it,” Silas muttered. “I’m busting her out.”
The abbot put his spoon down on the table. “Silas, don’t speak that way! This country has already lost enough military leaders; we can’t afford to lose you, too.”
“We can’t exactly afford to lose our crown princess, either,” Silas said. He looked over at the rest of them. “After the Giskens beat me up, they started talking about how they were going to parade her through the streets before they kill her. I’ll take out the convoy before they get to the square and bring her back here.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed, Silas,” the abbot said. “You can’t do something like that alone.”
“That’s why I’ll go with him.” Everyone looked over at Olrick, surprised. Out of all of them, he came out of the battle worse for wear; Elise had to help him walk for days after the battle had ended, for the god’s sakes! If he were to even try and fight the Giskens while he was just barely able to walk normally, he would die.
Silas shook his head. “All of you are staying here.”
“Then we’re going to lose you and Marion in the same day,” Olrick said. “I don’t give a damn what you say about it; I’m going to do my job, and there isn’t a thing you can do to stop me.”
“I’m coming, too.” Silas and Olrick looked over at Kael.
“There isn’t a chance in hell of that, prince,” Silas said. “It’s bad enough that we might lose Marion and the two of us tomorrow; I’m not putting the rest of you at risk, and that’s final.” Kael began eating his dinner, again, disappointed that he was being left out of the escape plan.
“I don’t suppose you have a plan beyond what you just told us, do you?” Olrick asked. Silas reached into his cloak and pulled out a piece of soiled paper.
“I give you the planned parade route.” He set the paper down on the table and laid it out for everyone to see. It was a map of the city, with a line going from the castle, through the streets and to the city center, where the executions were taking place.
The abbot’s face was white as a ghost. “Silas, where on earth did you find this?”
“This, my friends, is why I was a little late to supper, this evening,” he said. “You don’t want to know what I had to go through to get it.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Olrick said as he began to examine the map. “Is it safe to say this is the first time you’ve gotten a chance to really look at it since you stole it?”
“First of all, I didn’t steal it; I permanently borrowed it,” Silas said. “That first assumption you made is accurate, though.” He looked over at the abbot. “I’ll be confessing a few things to you after dinner, just to let you know.” He nodded and continued eating, trying to be oblivious to the plotting that was happening at his table.
“Where were you thinking about striking?” Olrick asked as Silas began to study the map, himself.
He pointed at one of the buildings, close to the castle wall. It was the medical core building, where, according to Silas, the Giskens were holding a few doctors to help their injured soldiers and where they were secretly treating some of their own, too.
Olrick frowned. “Why there? There aren’t exactly any good places to ambush a convoy, there.”
“That’s not why I picked that place,” Silas said. He had a wild look in his eyes, one that made Elise nervous. And, judging by the look on Olrick’s face, he didn’t have a good feeling about it, either.
“Then, what did you have in mind?” he asked.