Chapter 229: Field of White
Alduin slammed the door as he stormed off. The room still shuddered slightly from the impact.
“That didn’t go too bad. I didn’t think he’d give in so easily,” Virion breathed, sinking back in his seat. These past months had done worse for the weathered old elf than all the years I’d known him combined.
“Neither did I,” I mused, my eyes still on the door that Alduin had exited through.
The Council meeting had finished more than an hour ago, but Alduin stayed to protest the decision Virion had made. Even General Aya, who never voiced her opinions regarding orders, pleaded with Commander Virion to reconsider earlier.
I didn’t blame them. Virion had ultimately decided to evacuate forces from Elenoir and focus troops on the western border to defend against the Alacryan ships coming from the ocean. For the elves, this meant that they were basically being abandoned.
By the end of their discussion just now, Alduin was still angry, but he relented.
“Seeing that he wants to lead the strategy for evacuating our people, it feels like he’s finally understanding that we’re fighting to protect Dicathen as a whole, not just Elenoir.” He let out a sigh, rubbing his temples. “This will at least give me more time to focus on the fallback scenarios.”
I nodded. Forming strategies for battles was only half the task during times of war. Thinking of various contingencies and getting all of your troops to know what to do when things didn’t work out as planned was just as, if not more, important.
The two of us stood wordlessly in the room for a moment before Virion cleared his throat. I knew the question that was coming. It was the question that Virion had struggled to ask me when I had arrived back at the Castle.
“So, Arthur. Have you thought about my request?” Virion said, cold determination in his eyes.
I met his strong gaze. “I have, and I’m afraid that I’m going to have to respectfully refuse.”
“And what if I change my request to an order?” he challenged.
“Then I’d have no choice but to do it.”
After a beat of silence, Virion let out a deep sigh, shaking his head. “If your father hadn’t died, would you have said yes?”
My jaw tightened and I struggled to keep calm but I managed a response. “Most likely.”
He waved his hand in dismissal before continuing. “Fine. I won’t push anymore on this topic.”
“Thank you,” I said consolingly. “Besides, I’ve heard that General Bairon is fairly knowledgeable in war, anyway.”
“The Wykes’ family tradition is always to teach their younger generation the art of war and battle,” Virion replied. “But his knowledge stems from books of theory and old teachings.”
“Compared to my knowledge… as a teenager?” I rebutted with an amused smile.
Virion chortled. “If I thought you were a normal teenager, I would treat you the same as my granddaughter and put you both, along with the rest of your family, in protective custody.”
“Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer,” I teased.
“There is no offer, brat. Speaking as the commander, I can’t afford to lose you, so toughen up,” he growled. “If you’re not going to lead, then at least get your hands bloody.”
“Aye aye, commander,” I saluted. “Just have that early retirement package waiting for me.”
“Will do,” he chuckled.
The two of us talked a bit more, mostly Virion telling me what to expect once Sylvie and I arrive at Etistin, but also bringing up stories from our past.
After all, this might be the last time we would see each other.
“My mother and sister should be arriving at the castle in the next day or so. Please take care of them in case I don’t make it back,” I said, holding out my hand.
There was a part of me that wanted to personally say goodbye to my mother and sister, to see their faces one last time in case I really didn’t make it out of this battle alive, but a bigger part of me was scared.
I was more comforted by the fact that, even if I died, my remaining family might mourn for me, rather than look at me with faces filled with hatred, disdain or apathy.
If that made me a coward, then I would embrace that title. At this point, I was fighting this war more to escape than I was to save our people from the Alacryans.
Virion clasped my hand and pulled me into a hug. “You know I’ll treat Alice and Eleanor as if they were my own blood. They’ll be given the same priority for retreat as Tessia and the Council.”
“Thank you.” I let go of his hand and walked towards the door. I turned back one last time to see Virion with a clenched jaw and stiffened neck as he did all he could to keep composed. “You’re one of the few people in this world that made this life worth living and this continent worth fighting for.”
“Are you sure you don’t need any armor?” I asked my bond, concerned to see her just wearing a long black cloak over a pair of pants and a long-sleeved tunic all fashioned out of her own scales. Her long wheat-colored hair was pulled back and tied into a braid, accentuating her large horns.
“My scales are strong enough. Besides, conventional armor would be useless when I shift between forms,” she answered as we continued our way towards the teleportation room.
The doors were already open with only one guard stationed in front. Because many of the soldiers in the Castle were sent off to Etistin, the lack of personnel was definitely noticeable.
I could see a few a familiar faces, waiting to send us off amidst the workers bustling about, making sure the teleportation gate was functional and set to the right location. Aside from Tess and Elder Buhnd, Kathyln and Elder Hester were here as well.
“Looking quite dashing there, young hero,” Elder Hester smiled. “Clothes really do make the man.”
“It’s good to see you again, Elder Hester,” I greeted, holding out a hand. “I hope you don’t take what I did personally.”
Hester Flamesworth accepted my gesture with a wry smile. “I heard about your father and what Trodius was planning. The Flamesworth prestige isn’t nearly as important for me and I hope this will serve to humble my… brother. At this point, all I can say is thank you for allowing him to live.”
I nodded, letting go of her hand before turning to Elder Buhnd. I gave the old dwarf a pat on the shoulder. “I could tell from the meeting we had earlier that you’re just itching to go out into the field. What do you say, wanna just book it out of here with me?”
“Bah, and get my arse dragged back by Virion? I’ll pass. Besides, it seems like he needs a hand with everything going on these days,” he replied, looking up at me. “Be careful over there. I know it may not feel like it right now, but there are people that care about you and are waiting for you to come back.”
Again, I just nodded. The promise I had made to my mother—that I would make sure my father was okay, turned out to be empty. I didn’t want to say or promise anything I couldn’t keep.
My gaze eventually fell on Kathyln, who had been silent.
“Thank you for seeing me off,” I told her, holding out my hand.
Kathyln hesitated before grabbing my hand. She looked up, concern knitted in her brows. “I wish I could fight alongside you and my brother.”
“Your mission is just as important, if not more, for the future of Dicathen. Don’t worry,” I comforted with a smile. I could feel her anxiousness and frustration at being unable to fight in the main battle.
Councilman Blaine and Councilwoman Merial had ‘ordered’ her to be sent to the Wall to help the remaining soldiers there scout the area and make sure there weren’t any stray beasts heading towards the fortress. After Trodius had been taken away and many of the soldiers were sent to Blackbend City in order to be transported to Etistin, the Wall was severely lacking in capable fighters.
Kathyln’s parents probably thought being at the Wall was much safer and at least gave their restless daughter something to do.
Finally, I turned to Tess, who was already hugging and saying goodbyes with Sylvie. The two had always been close and the scene in front of me felt more like sisters saying goodbye.
When it was my turn, I gave Tess a long hug as well. “I heard you’re going to be with my sister and mother. I’ll leave them to you.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to them,” she muttered, before pulling out the leaf pendant she had under her shirt. “Just remember to keep your promise.”
“I’ll do my best,” I answered, pulling out my own pendant. We stared at each other silently for a moment before I pulled my gaze away. I couldn’t keep the image of my father’s corpse out of my head while looking at Tess.
I was the one going into battle, but somehow I was still afraid for Tess. I knew it was childish and irresponsible to think this, but the thought of her being carried over to me in the same state as my father and being unable to do anything despite all of the power I had made me want to run away—not just with her but with Ellie and my mother.
A firm squeeze on my arms pulled me out of my thoughts. In front of me was Tess with the same smile she had last night, long after I had broken down in the kitchen. It was a smile that carried both loss and hope and it was just enough to give me the strength to step through the teleportation gate.
“I’ll see you soon. All of you,” I declared before stepping through with Sylvie by my side.
After the unsettling sensation of teleportation wore off, the two of us stepped down the raised podium that held the gate. Heavily armored soldiers stood on either side of us, heads inclined in a bow.
“General Arthur, and Lady Sylvie. General Bairon is waiting for you in the castle,” the soldier to my left announced.
“Will you be guiding us?” I asked.
“Actually, that’ll be me,” a familiar deep voice resounded from below.
It was Curtis Glayder. Despite all of the events that had transpired, the years had treated him well. His clean shaven face and sharp military crew cut made Curtis the dashing white knight he always aspired to be, with polished armor and swords strapped on both sides of his hips.
Behind him was Grawder, his world lion bond.
“Curtis,” I greeted.
“I thought you’d prefer a familiar face since you’ve never really been around these parts,” he said with a picturesque smile. “And even if you have been here, so much has changed that I doubt you’d even recognize it.”
“I’ve never actually been here, but you’re right in that this place doesn’t really seem like a city,” I noted, taking in the strange sights.
Aside from the shops that had been converted into workstations for professional blacksmiths and atillators, the city plaza before us was also filled with tents. Inside were women, the elderly and even children helping out by either washing and folding cloth, tying arrowheads to wooden shafts, or packaging rations. No one was idle, with everyone either making something or transporting it.
Soldiers practiced marching in their platoons with their respective officers barking commands. Off to the side were two archery ranges that spanned over thirty yards each. There, archers stood positioned almost shoulder to shoulder, launching volleys of arrows at the wall fashioned out of haystacks.
“A lot to take in, right?” Curtis asked as he guided us towards the large brick tower that stood in the distance. “The entire city has been sort of rearranged to be the stronghold and production center for the battle that’s going to happen on the coast.
We followed behind the prince, not staying in one place for too long since we’d just draw attention.
I appreciated the brief tour though, and Curtis’ lively commentary helped both Sylvie and I relax. Aside from the soldiers doing physical training and combat drills, the mood was light and overall happy.
“I was expecting a very serious and intense atmosphere,” my bond chimed, her head always turning and taking in the new sights.
“Well, we’re still a few miles away from the coast where the actual battle will be happening,” Curtis answered, pointing to the thick walls that seemed newly made. “We’re mainly fortifying the western edge of the city with the help of carpenters and earth mages and digging up some tunnels for the civilians that are left here to escape.”
As we got closer to the edge of the city, the more soldiers we would see. Carriages would be pulled towards the gated entrance facing the coast, carrying weapons and other supplies.
“Come on, up this way.” Curtis pointed at the imposing castle that had been stripped down and refortified into its own fortress. Some parts were still being constructed as slabs of earth were being floated up by mages. The castle was situated on a small hill that overlooked the rest of the city, with only one tower that peaked above the large walls that easily towered over fifty feet.
“You said General Bairon was waiting for me, right? Any idea where General Varay might be?” I asked, looking up at the tower.
“She’s still helping out with the construction off the coast,” Curtis explained briefly, greeting the soldiers guarding the tower entrance.
Sylvie and I looked at each other, confused. “Construction?”
Curtis shot me a grin. “You’ll see when you get up there. Come on.”
Thankfully, there was a mana-powered crate and pulley system that was able to hoist us up to the top in just a few minutes.
“Courtesy of Artificer Gideon, who should be somewhere in this city, working the other artificers and carpenters to their bones,” Curtis explained. “The main room is just up those stairs but there’s a window on this floor as well. You should take a look.”
Curious, Sylvie and I walked towards the far end of the circular room that only had a lounge-like area with another soldier guarding the base of the stairs.
The two of us peered out, and at first we didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to be looking at. My eyes scanned the small mountains that made up most of the area north of Etistin and went further south until my gaze landed on the Etistin bay shore.
Without a doubt, that was what Curtis wanted us to see.
Sylvie let out a small gasp as my jaw dropped.
Filling up over half of the entire Etistin bay that stretched out longer than a mile was nothing but a field of white.
An expanse of ice and snow had been created to meet the approaching ships.
“Amazing, isn’t it? This is what General Varay has been working on.” Curtis leaned forward next to us. “The largest battle of Dicathen will be held on this glacial field.”