The defense of Kel Fimmaril ends in a stalemate, but due to Queen Viarra’s clever theft of the attackers’ warships, the attacking army from Andivel finds themselves besieged outside of Kel Fimmaril’s walls. They’re essentially left with three options: starve, surrender, or launch a suicidal attack on the city’s walls. Captain Bevren, highest-ranking surviving officer, offers the queen a fourth option—one that creates a new future for not only the tiny island nation of Kel Fimmaril, but for all of the northern Tollesian city-states. (See map for additional political breakdown.)
Bevren and a handful of hoplites stood before the main gates of Kel Fimmaril while their army continued to search for food or check the battlefield for wounded. As their group waited, Bevren saw a tall woman wearing bloodied officer’s armor step up onto the parapet over the main gate. The woman sat between two of the crenellations, copper hair glinting in the evening sunlight. She crossed her legs and rested her arms atop the crenellations on either side of her—as if perched upon a throne.
“Greetings, gentlemen, and welcome to Kel Fimmaril,” she greeted the group from her place on the wall. “I notice you seem to have found yourselves in a bit of trouble and was wondering if I could offer my people’s assistance. I am Queen Viarraluca.”
“Your grace,” Bevren greeted her, bowing. “I am Captain Bevren of Chyllar, Hoplite Captain of the army of Andivel.”
“Pleased to meet you, Captain,” she said, leaning forward and steepling her fingers. “I fear you are in a predicament. Your fleet now belongs to me and I gave my people specific instructions to bring anything edible inside the walls. You’ll find no crops in our fields nor fruit on our plantations for your foragers to gather. The woods to the north are home to only so much game—none of it large. You can try the fields to the south, but you’ll accomplish little more than helping our farmers deal with their rabbit infestation. There are plenty of fish, but only makeshift tackle and no boats to go get it with. Among four thousand soldiers, you might get a few days’ worth of food. And we both know that you don’t have enough soldiers to take my city by storm.
“I am willing to be merciful,” the copper-haired queen continued. “I give your army seven days to submit—whereupon you will surrender your arms, piling them by the gates. Surrendering soldiers will be fed and returned to your transport ships with enough supplies to make the journey home. While surrender may seem dishonorable on the surface, this will allow your soldiers to see their homes and families again.
“However, if you choose not to surrender within those seven days, I will simply wait for hunger to do its job. The soldiers who have not starved to death will be rounded up by my soldiers and sold into slavery. I will have them loaded aboard your own transports and sold in the south, never to see their homes again.”
Bevren could hear his guards shifting and muttering behind him. “Very well, your majesty,” the hoplite captain replied, “you have me at a clear disadvantage here. I will confer with my remaining officers and come up with acceptable terms for our surrender.”
“Take whatever time you need, captain,” the queen said reassuringly. “I’m glad you were able to see reason. My greatest fear in all of this was the possibility of dealing with some hotheaded officer who would bring more suffering on my people and yours by refusing to parlay and launching some suicidal attack on my walls.”
It occurred to Bevren that General Willot might have done exactly that. “I have a home and family that I’d like to see again as well,” the hoplite captain assured her majesty.
* * *
The evening sun burned red on the western horizon as Captains Bevren and Onil walked through the captured village. As all of the tents were aboard the merchant vessels with the rest of the supplies, the Andivelian soldiers had made use of the village and warehouses near the docks. In a way it was a blessing in disguise, as the buildings provided better shelter than tents, and they were fairly defensible if Kel Fimmaril’s army sallied out for a night attack. Not that Onil was really expecting one. Normally on the first night of a siege they’d spread their camps out around the perimeter of the city, just out of bow range, but do to so tonight seemed entirely pointless. The queen and officers of Kel Fimmaril had beaten the soldiers of Andivel before they’d even arrived.
“What’s the casualty count?” Bevren asked as they walked by several soldiers building a fire in the village square.
“Seventy-eight dead, over a hundred wounded,” Onil replied. “And almost half of those wounds are foot injuries from the shit they left on the beach.”
Bevren looked relieved. “Not as bad as I’d expected,” the senior captain nodded. That left them with just under four thousand fighting men. “So we’re still basically intact—which leaves us with an interesting dilemma.”
“Like how do we explain to our tetrarchs that we surrendered an intact force to a backward little city-state with a history of cowardice?” Onil asked drily as Bevren opened the door to the carpenter’s shop he’d selected as his quarters.
“How was our information this bad?” Bevren asked as he sat down on a carpentry bench. “Their ruler was supposed to be a spoiled princess who was probably a puppet monarch, and their general was supposed to be decades past his prime and bordering on senility.”
“Right,” Onil agreed, “this was supposed to be an easy conquest. But you have to admit, even if we’d been told that their monarch was a war goddess and their general a master tactician, we’d still have been caught off guard by that bullshit stunt with the warships.”
“I’m not certain she isn’t a war goddess,” was Bevren’s reply. “You said that she’s the one you saw rallying their left flank, right?”
“You described her as tall with hair like copper, right? Unless there’s another tall, copper-haired beauty on this island, she has to be the woman I saw. She was… formidable.”
“Not that this knowledge helps us with our dilemma in any way,” Bevren said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees and folding his hands in front of his chin.
“What if… what if we don’t go back after we surrender?” Onil said, voicing the half-idea he’d been bouncing around his head the past couple hours. Bevren looked up at him. “What if we defect and become mercenaries or some such? It’s been done before, right? Where a defeated army signs on with the highest bidder instead of going home?”
“I like that line of thinking,” Bevren admitted, smiling a bit. “But I’d also like to see my wife and daughters again.”
“We don’t have to defect forever,” Onil suggested. “We both know that the tetrarchs only had us attack Kel Fimmaril to get spoils to pay back Pellestor, right? So what if we negotiate with this queen to get to keep our weapons and leave peaceably. What if we defect, go mercenary, and bring back all of the gold and spoils we earn to give to the tetrarchs to help pay off that debt?”
“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’,” Bevren pointed out. “But we can run it by the men and officers; what if we defect and don’t go home right away?” Both captains were quiet for several minutes. Onil could see his colleague turning the idea over in his head.
“Or,” Bevren said after a long silence, “what if we defect and do go home right away?”
* * *
The siege of Kel Fimmaril came to its official end early the next morning. Hungry, angry, outmaneuvered by their adversaries, and feeling misled by their rulers, the four-thousand soldiers surrendered, piling their weapons before the walls of Kel Fimmaril. Unarmed, they backed off and gathered in a mass outside of bow range.
Captain Bevren strode to the gates, bringing with him only the captured cavalry captain. Leg splinted and leaning on a crutch, the dark-skinned woman grinned smugly the whole time. The sentry atop the wall told him to await her majesty’s arrival. The infantry captain stood at rest, agonizing minutes passing while he waited. Finally the gates opened. Expecting a delegation and honor guard, Bevren was genuinely shocked when a train of ox-drawn wagons rumbled out from the city gate. Bevren stepped out of the way to let them pass. He got another shock realizing that the wagons were full of food. Bread and grain, beef, smoked fish, olives, local fruits and vegetables, one wagon even carried two massive barrels of wine. Though armed hoplites marched as vanguards on either side of the wagon train, it was one of the most welcoming sights he’d ever seen.
For the briefest of moments, the cynic in Bevren worried that the food might be poisoned somehow. But the realist in him knew how unnecessary such a gesture would be. Besides, poisoning a large and lavish meal seemed a stupid waste when they could just as easily poison a couple wagons of bread and dried meat.
“The guards are there just to make sure things get distributed in an orderly fashion, I promise,” he heard to his right. “I also have physicians and surgeons on the way to help see to your wounded.”
Bevren turned to see Queen Viarraluca stride out of the chaos, followed by four handmaidens carrying baskets. For a moment, the dumbstruck infantry captain thought he was seeing a goddess in the flesh. Easily, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. The queen’s shimmering copper hair was curled in elaborate ringlets, some of it framing her face, some draping over her shoulders, some disappearing behind her back. She wore ornate silver earrings and necklace, the silver contrasting with her hair better than gold possibly could have. Her dark-green cloak and wrap-around gown fluttered in the morning breeze.
The hoplite captain suddenly wished he’d cleaned and polished his armor.
The cavalry woman limped forward and embraced her queen before Bevren could reply. “I’ll have the medics look at this leg and then rest up a bit,” the terrifying woman said. “But first I wanted to tell you, you have no idea how fucking proud of you I am right now, girl.”
The queen laughed as she stepped back from the embrace. “General Derron has been telling me the same thing all morning. He’ll be relieved to know you’re safe.”
The cavalry captain nodded and reached over to grab Bevren’s ass as she turned to head toward the gates. She patted one of the queen’s handmaids on the shoulder as she hobbled past.
“Captain Vola didn’t rattle your soldiers too much, I hope?” Queen Viarraluca asked Bevren.
“Pretty much all night long,” Bevren laughed, finally finding his voice. The unusualness of the situation had him completely off guard. “I’m pretty sure she was snoring on purpose just to annoy her guards. At any rate, thank you for your peace offering, your majesty. I’m certain my men appreciate your generosity,” he bowed.
The queen nodded politely. “Have you breakfasted, captain?”
He grimaced. “Two cooked mice and an undercooked hare’s leg,” he admitted.
“I suspect I can provide better fare,” the queen said, smiling invitingly. “Ladies,” she said to her handmaids, “please make the captain and me a place over by those willows.” She pointed to the spot.
Bevren found it difficult not to stare at the queen as the two of them made their way to where the handmaids were setting up breakfast. The hoplite captain was above medium height, but the elegant queen stood at least a half-head taller than he was. Her gown was not particularly revealing, but the way she wore it suggested a statuesque figure underneath. She managed to convey charm, grace, power, authority, and allure in every aspect of her speech, stride, expression, and body language. Part of the hoplite captain wanted desperately to sleep with her. But the larger, wiser part knew that she was far out of his league in more ways than he could begin to count.
Breakfast was delicious, consisting of bread, grapes, lobster, and wine. The queen was pleasant and charming the entire meal, asking him about both Andivel and his home city. It took Bevren a while, but he eventually realized that her majesty was learning a great deal about him, his home city, and about his culture, people, and rulers. Simply by being friendly and disarming, she’d charmed information from him in a matter of minutes that would have taken the best interrogators days to torture out. The hoplite captain decided he liked her method better.
“…and in all honestly, we owe your soldiers a certain amount of gratitude for every rabbit they rounded up south of the city,” the queen was saying as they finished their meal.
Bevren laughed and sipped wine from a blue-glassed goblet. “I must ask, your majesty, how was it you were able to commandeer our ships out from behind us?”
“It wasn’t difficult,” her majesty shrugged as if it were a little task. “Sailors and merchants can be so predictably mercenary. I needed only offer them a venture with a higher monetary return than their current job.”
Somehow, Bevren had no difficulty believing it had been her idea. “So, I’ve considered the offer you made yesterday, your majesty” he told her. “While I am willing to surrender my forces, I hoped I might suggest another option that you might find satisfactory.”
“Oh, indeed?” Her majesty raised an eyebrow. “You have my attention, Captain.”
“I had an extended conversation with my soldiers last night, and rather than surrender, I was hoping we might instead defect to your army—with conditions, of course.”
Bevren was surprised to note that the queen didn’t look surprised. “I certainly appreciate your candor on the matter, Captain,” she assured him, “but I should like to hear your reasons and conditions before I agree to your proposal.” The captain straightened as he realized that the whole feast and show of mercy had probably been intended to woo surrendering soldiers over to her army.
“We wish to defect because there is more going on than you are aware of, your majesty,” he told the queen. “The decision of the Tetrarchy of Andivel to extort and then assault Kel Fimmaril was driven by desperation, rather than malice or greed. You see, our tetrarchs owe a great deal of money to the city of Pellastor—money borrowed to fund a pair of campaigns that resulted in stalemates.”
The queen swirled the wine in her goblet as she listened, studying him. “So you’re defecting in order to give me a means to retaliate for Andivel’s attack,” she said, smiling a bit and nodding. Bevren felt his eyes widen at her insight. “You’re hoping I’ll take the city and unseat your tetrarchs, whereby that debt to Pellastor is dissolved with your previous government. A military coup where my troops merely assist won’t accomplish this because the change is still internal. The government changes, but the terms of the debt do not—much like a son inheriting his father’s debts. An outside aggressor, ironically enough, functions as a neutral third party in this case. I become ruler of Andivel’s hegemony, and Pellastor has no grounds to collect on this debt—in the same way that a creditor can’t force payment from the man who murdered his debtor. I like the way you think, Captain Bevren.”
Bevren could only gape.
“This works conveniently for you on a personal and professional level as well,” the queen went on. “Instead of returning home a failure—a fool who was duped by subterfuge and a coward who surrendered his nearly intact army to a smaller force—you return as part of a liberating army. You free your people from their debt and from their incompetent rulers at the same time.” Her jade eyes seemed to sparkle. “Am I correct?”
The infantry captain just sat feeling stupefied. Behind the queen, a skinny handmaiden covered her mouth and trembled as if trying not to burst out laughing.