War Front

Location: eastern banks of River Ferix, Garizal/Alzair border.

Commander Lekh grimaced as his squire, a young boy named Kalan, began to stitch a wound he’d taken defending the River Ferix. The damned Alzairan troops were giving him a bad name, and there was nothing to be done. The late Queen Dyandara had sworn troops would join him swiftly, but the next thing he knew, the second-eldest princess, Lia, had just succeeded her mother, House Asthelt’s troops had disbanded before they could come, and Alzair’s own troops had suddenly swelled, pushing Lekh’s command further and further into Garizal’s land. Another hard fight like the one that had sent them on this side of the Ferix, and he’d be forced to retreat to Fort Maori.

Suddenly, the tent flap drew back, revealing Captain Mahir. Kalan leapt nearly out of his skin, and Lekh hissed as the boy’s needle tore into his bare skin. “Careful, boy!”

Kalan murmured his apologies, and Captain Mahir had the decency to look ashamed. “Lady Gaura of House Erilyz has ridden into camp and demands to speak with you, sir.”

Lekh straightened in his chair. “Hurry, Squire. I don’t want to keep the Lady waiting.”

Kalan renewed his stitching with fervor, though taking care with the needlepoint this time.

“Did she say anything to indicate why she’s here?” Lekh asked while Captain Mahir waited.

The captain shook his head. “She just rode in like the devil himself was on her heels, demanding to speak with you. I was sent for, but I had a soldier offer her refreshments to buy you time.”

“Thank you.”

Kalan tied off the last stitch, then bound clean cloth around Lekh’s waist. “All done, sir.”

“Very well.” He waved the squire back, and Kalan retreated to the corner of the tent to await further command. To Captain Mahir, Lekh said, “Bring Lady Gaura in.”

Mahir saluted before retreating from the tent. Commander Lekh pulled a shirt back over his head, wincing at the pain that lanced out from the gash in his side. He cursed the Alzairan troops under his breath.

When Lady Gaura entered his tent, Commander Lekh was struck by her poise. Lady Gaura was the third in line for House Erilyz, one of the more prominent Garizal Houses. She had a toothpick sword at her waist, but by all accounts, the Lady knew how to use it, if it came to that. Lekh bowed to the best of his abilities.

“I saw the state of your troops upon arrival, Commander,” she sniffed. Lekh rose, knowing she must’ve considered his campaign a failure. “I can’t blame you, with so few troops to defend this crucial chunk of Garizaleze land. But it is a crucial point, and if they’ve taken half of it, they may as well have taken it all.”

“The Alzairan scum hit my forces hard way back near the Ryln, my Lady, and though I have called for reinforcements, none were given.”

“Today the tide of war changes, Commander,” she said as she rested her arm against the pommel of her sword. “I have brought Erilyz troops to the front, as requested by Queen Lia, may her reign be long and bountiful. She has named me general of the collective forces.”

Lekh scowled, then remembered who stood before him, and he carefully tucked his anger away. “All due respect, my Lady, but surely you would be better positioned at Fort Maori, where you can command troops behind thick walls. All I need are more troops, and I can send the Alzairan camp home with their tails tucked between their legs.”

“I am best positioned here, Commander.” Her tone brooked no openings for argument. “Call together your battle councilors, Commander Lekh. We will speak long into the night. In the morning, my troops will join yours, and we will attack before the Alzairan forces realize your numbers have grown.”

“As you command, General,” Lekh replied with a bitter salute. He snapped his fingers, and Squire Kalan leapt forward. “You heard the lady, Squire. Bring General Gaura her captains.”

Lady Gaura must have known he mocked her, but her cool expression never wavered.

***

The next morning, before the sun itself had woken, Commander Lekh forded the river with his troops, the soldiers invigorated with the knowledge that their numbers had swelled. The Alzairan forces realized conflict was upon them and their women rallied under lion banners. Yet, although Lekh suffered heavy losses, he kept them occupied so that they never noticed the trap that they had become ensnared in.

Lady Gaura’s own forces had forded the river upstream, and Alzair’s lions did not realize they should have watched their backs until Gaura’s commander led the charge against them. Alzair retreated, those that could, and suffered heavy losses.

The fighting ended before the day was over. His troops cheered and sang on the battlefield, now empty save for the dead. Yet Commander Lekh himself walked the field, wishing he had more Alzairan women to kill. Why women allowed themselves to be degraded by violence on the battlefield, he never knew. Lekh stood over an Alzair woman now, her hair streaked with gray, covered in scars, and missing a finger on one hand. She was covered in blood, but then, the entire battlefield had become something of a marshland by the blood of the fallen.

The battlefield is a dirty place, Lekh thought sourly. Lady Gaura is just as crazy as these Alzairans for wanting to be in a place like this. And she insults me by claiming my victory. I am capable of leading troops and attaining glory. It is the one thing I’m good at.

He came upon a group of soldiers. Their songs were somber, but still they sang. Upon seeing the commander, however, the soldiers’ voices stumbled.

“Don’t you have work to do?” He asked them crossly.

They mumbled their apologies and hurried off. Yes, Commander Lekh wished the battle was not over.


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