Chapter 198: A City Within
I took a seat on the cushioned chair of gnarled wood, casting a weary gaze at the two royal pairs already poised to lash out at each other; the only thing keeping the four of them silent was their respect for me.
In front of me was a transmission scroll that held the contents of today’s meeting sent to me by Arthur. A creeping suspicion that the boy in question had decided not to come straight back in order to avoid this meeting bubbled inside my head, but I let it go with a sigh.
I forgive you, Arthur. I don’t want to be here either, I thought, taking a moment to appreciate the luxuriously decorated room.
With a cozy fire burning in the hearth and several light artifacts set in gold sconces along the walls, the room was cast in a warm, friendly atmosphere—as if to mock the subtle hostility surfacing from those present inside.
The last shred of natural light from the window to my left dimmed as the sun dipped below the clouds. I took that as my cue to start the meeting. “Take a seat. Let’s begin.”
There was a moment of silence while the four in the room with me looked at one another before the head of the Glayder family cleared his throat.
“Well, we’ve all been briefed on General Arthur and General Aya’s report, so I say we get right to it. I believe we should keep our forces as is and send reinforcement to the Elshire Forest on an as-needed basis,” Blaine said. Despite the human king’s sunken cheeks and unshaved state that covered the lower half of his face with the same crimson color as his hair, he spoke resolutely.
I remained silent and neutral, as was my job until all sides—which in this case, two—have explained their arguments.
“Councilman Blaine. Sending reinforcements on an as-needed basis to the border between the Beast Glades and the Elshire Forest suggests you don’t see the elven territory worthy of defending,” Merial intoned coldly.
Years of being part of the Council had shaped my once lively daughter-in-law into a sharp and cold diplomat.
“Oh, don’t twist my words, Councilwoman Merial,” Blaine rebutted. “The report stated two separate attacks, but it was coordinated to happen at the same time. This means that, so far, only one attack has been made into the elven territory. Compare that to the near-daily attacks happening on the Wall, shouldn’t it be obvious that protecting Sapin’s borders takes precedence?”
“No one is saying that the defense of the Elshire Forest should take precedence over Sapin,” Alduin said, composed. “However, much like how there are elven soldiers stationed at the Wall to help protect Sapin, there should be at least some form of defense on the Forest border’s, don’t you think?”
“The Elshire Forest is a form of defense,” Priscilla Glayder added, pointing with her finger to the lower portion of the forest on the map laid out in front of them. “The mana-laden fog itself has been a form of deterrence to everyone but elves since its existence. Even the attacks attempted yesterday would’ve failed eventually if you chose to ignore the intruders. The Alacryans and beasts would’ve gotten lost and starved themselves to death long before they reached any outskirt cities of Elenoir.”
“The forest itself is a part of the kingdom of Elenoir, and there are still tribes of elves housed outside of the cities,” Alduin stated, his voice growing louder. “With that same reasoning just now, Sapin would also be better off abandoning the wall and the small outpost cities near the border so that there’s less land to protect.”
“How can you even call that an adequate comparison!” Blaine roared, slamming his palms down on the roundtable. “The easiest way to the major cities of Elenoir is through the northern range of the Grand Mountains, from Sapin. If Sapin goes down, even the outer cities, the Alacryans will have far easier access to your lands as well!”
“Watch your tone, Councilman,” Merial snapped, her bright blue eyes growing dark. “You act as though the elves are in your debt when we have sent plenty of mages to help your forces fend off the Alacryans from your waters. If even a fourth of those soldiers were stationed to guard the forest borders, we wouldn’t even be needing this meeting.”
The former human queen spoke, her chilling voice soothing the heated argument. “The truth remains as it is. While you can say that the Elshire Forest is part of your kingdom, no cities or even towns have yet to see battle. Until such a need grows, sending troops will only weaken the borders that are continuously facing battles.”
Alduin rubbed the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. When he opened them, his emerald eyes locked into mine. “All we’re requesting is sending some of our men back to Elenoir so that they can defend their home.”
“There is no your men. Did you forget? The Council was formed to unite the three races because we predicted an outside threat. Our job is to stay impartial and lead the entire continent into a victory over the Alacryans, not just Elenoir,” Blaine rebutted before turning to face me. “I implore Commander Virion that he remains impartial for the sake of this war.”
“You talk of impartiality when you’ve been single-mindedly focused on what’s best for your kingdom!” Alduin argued, the tip of his ears turning red. “And if the whole sake of the Council was to unite the three races, yet one of the three races isn’t even present, doesn’t that defeat the whole point?”
Those present in the room felt the palpable pressure that I cast on the place. Even Priscilla, with her core on the verge of turning silver, paled as she struggled.
“I’ve heard both sides, and before you further degrade yourselves by arguing like spoiled children, I’ll inject myself.”
Both Blaine and Alduin flushed with anger and embarrassment but remained silent.
I cast a sharp gaze to everyone inside before speaking again. “Based on the number of attacks, Sapin remains a priority for the Alacryans. As Councilman Blaine mentioned, the easiest way to the major cities of Elenoir is from crossing the northern range of the Grand Mountains from Sapin, and since there have been small strikes near that area, we are to proceed under the assumption that the Alacryans know this as well. We’ll send more troops to solidify that area’s defense.”
“That still doesn’t—”
Another pulse of mana sent Alduin’s jaw to snap shut.
“As for the defense of the southern borders of Elenoir, we’ll have several units of the Trailblazer division stationed to only make expeditions down the dungeons nearby so that they can resurface and act as additional support in case of more attacks in the forest.”
The room remained tense, but everyone seemed satisfied—just barely.
“Good,” I nodded. “Now. As for the biggest issue. Our alliance with the dwarves has remained neutral at best the best of times, and hostile for the remainder. Even with the formation of the Council, the dwarven representatives have always had their own agenda and priorities, but I’m hoping that will soon change.”
I turned my head toward the single door, and everyone followed. After a moment of silence, I cleared my throat. “You can come in now.”
“Oh, damn, I missed my cue!” a gruff voice sounded from the other side of the room.
I could feel a smile forming on my lips.
The ornamented knob shook harshly before a brawny dwarf with a thick white beard and a decorated robe that seemed a few sizes too tight walked inside.
With a childish grin, he took a seat in the empty chair closest to him before introducing himself. “Buhndemog Lonuid. Pleasure to meet y’all.”
Walking down the neverending flights of stone stairs, I remained entranced by the bustle of activity all around us. I couldn’t help but think how misleading the name ‘the Wall’ was—it was so much more.
Each flight of stairs led to a different floor within the Wall. The highest stories remained relatively minimal with reinforced metal and stones continually being maintained by human and dwarven mages. There were also teams of conjurers and archers stationed on these upper floors, responsible for firing down at the enemies below through the numerous embrasures.
Adjacent to the multiple staircases spanning the entire height of the Wall were dozens of pulleys that hauled arrows, provisions and other supplies to the upper levels.
The sound of tools clashing against stone and steel was actually drowned down by the footsteps of soldiers and workers alike, that never remained still for even a moment.
“Please excuse the noise, General. I’ve been told it’s quite overwhelming for those that aren’t used to it,” Albanth shouted, his voice barely audible from the clamor.
“Overwhelming indeed,” I drew in a breath. “I regret taking this long to actually visit the Wall. It’s amazing!”
“While I’d like to take the credit, I’m fairly new here myself. The senior captain that I, along with a few others like myself, report to is the one responsible for the whole system and structure of this place,” he explained, waving at a few workers that saluted to him.
We continued our walk down the stairs until we reached a gate accompanied by two soldiers standing guard.
“The floors from here on out are accessible to civilians as well,” Albanth explained, flashing a badge at the guards.
“Captain!” the two saluted before turning an uncertain gaze toward me.
“Fools!” Albanth barked. “Were you taught to stare in the presence of a lance?”
The armored guards’ eyes widened, their faces paling.
“General!” they immediately bowed in unison.
The captain scratched the back of his neck.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>“My apologies, General. Some of the lower soldiers still can’t recognize the lances on sight.”
“It’s fine,” I smiled looking at the soldiers. “And a salute is enough.”
“Yes sir!” the soldier on the right replied, standing back upright in a salute.
The other one followed his companion. “It’s an honor to meet a famed lance!”
“Just open the gates,” Albanth sighed, shaking his head.
The two scrambled to unclasp the metal hinges, and we continued our descent. By the next floor, I found myself sweating and my eyes stinging slightly. “Is there a fire somewhere?”
“In a way, yes,” the sweating captain said, tugging at the neckline of his gorget to cool himself off. “We’re arriving at the level that contains our main forge.”
Another flight of stairs and I was able to see the full glory of the forge. Smoke was ventilated through the narrow slits near the ceiling, but the floor was still covered in a dense dark cloud.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>A thick layer of heat constantly radiated from the multiple forges spaced out evenly amongst teams of blacksmiths. Tools hung in racks as dozens of brawny men hammered down on their anvils.
A few dwarven metal mages I spotted actually molded ingots like they were made of putty. Apprentices ran around busily, some holding buckets of water while others carried crates of finished weapons to deliver to other floors, while workers continued to maintain the back wall that protected them from the enemies on the other side.
“Please bear with the heat for just a bit longer,” Albanth chimed in. “We’re almost there, General!”
The further we traveled down the more people there actually were. Aside from the soldiers and different types of workers were a fair amount of merchants and rogue adventurers present as well.
“There’s an entirely separate economy here,” I mused.
“Absolutely, Albanth agreed, wiping his sweat away with his gloves. “Because there is no law mandating service for the war, we’ve set out rewards for adventurers who clock in time out on the field or on the upper levels. It’s easy money for them, and we get an almost never-ending supply of able-bodied mages and fighters. The only drawback is that there are sometimes quarrels between the soldiers and the adventurers, but it’s fairly rare since any problems get the adventurers banned from taking jobs here.”
“And the merchants are here because of the adventurers?” I guessed surveying the lines of stalls and tents set up on the ground floor.
“Yes sir. They’re restricted from the main route where our soldier’s supplies come in from, and they’re also taxed quite heavily for doing business here, but they still come in droves,”<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>Albanth chuckled. “A rather brilliant idea by the senior captain, if I do say so myself. Because of that, most of the adventurers that take on jobs here are actually paid for by the money that the merchants pay to do business here for the adventurers!”
“Brilliant,” I echoed, nodding to the guards that bowed deeply upon recognition. It was a resourceful idea that spoke volumes about the senior captain in charge of this entire city-like structure.
Albanth led the way, parting the crowds on the ground floor for me. “I’m sure flying down would’ve been much faster, but I hope this little tour helped you become familiar with the Wall.”
“I appreciate it, Captain Albanth.”
The captain smiled, his crow’s feet deepening.
We walked for several more minutes until we reached a more quiet area. An unusually large canvas pavilion stood out against the mountainside, several mages standing guard. Albanth gestured toward the lavish white tent. “This is the room that the captains and heads use to hold meetings. You came at a good time since there’s a meeting going on right now. I was actually about to head down just before you arrived.”
“I’m glad everything worked out,” I replied.
“Funny how things work that way,” he chuckled, flashing his badge once again at the guards. “Senior Captain Trodius, along with the other captains and several heads are inside.”
Trodius? I thought, vaguely recognizing the name from somewhere.
The guards opened to flap, and I walked inside behind Albanth. Inside was a large round table with a detailed map of what looked like the Beast Glades. On the map were several wooden figures shaped differently to indicate various positions of the dungeons and troops.
There were seven people seated around the table, all in battered armor and disheveled robes and currently in discussion.
At the far end of the circular table sat a man that I could only describe as the perfect image of a traditional gentleman. Handsome, with shiny black hair meticulously cropped, dressed in a flawless military-style suit that looked like it had been made just this morning. His eyes were sharp and deep-set his irises glowing with a slight tint of red.
The man stopped mid-sentence upon noticing our arrival and stood up. He dipped his head after looking directly at me. “General Arthur Leywin.”
The rest stood up and bowed as well upon hearing my title. Captain Albanth saluted at the man who had just greeted me. “My apologies for being late.”
“Given the nature of the task, it’s of no consequence,” the man said, showing no emotion. “Please, have a seat and allow me to introduce myself. I am Trodius Flamesworth, senior captain in charge of the Wall.”