The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 9

As the Senkin representative to Gallagrin, Captain Suncourt Corine was able to observe that some facets of dealing with royalty were universal. Despite the differences in their culture, their values and their day-to-day lifestyles, Gallagrin evidenced the same trait as Senkin when it came to dealing with messengers; no matter how urgent the message, or how fast its bearer had traveled to deliver it, there would be an interminable delay before the message’s royal recipient would find time to receive it.

“Are they almost ready yet?” Corine asked, certain in the knowledge that if she tried to burn a path into the royal sanctum with holy fire her message would not receive the attention it required. As Corine was not an especially patient person, the temptation to smash down the door to the audience chamber with a Sun Lance was nigh unto overwhelming. She’d been instructed very specifically however that no use of her magics, except a last resort for self-defense, was allowed as part of her mission.

But still, the door looked so tempting to reduce to ash.

It was saved from that fate, when one of the Queen’s Guards, an elf woman a good foot and a half shorter than Corine, beckoned her to step inside the audience chamber.

“Queen Alari is ready to see you,” the elf said, evaluating Corine with a measuring gaze. The size disparity was a trap. Corine’s first impulse was to dismiss the elf as non-threatening but the casual smile on the elf’s face and the fact that she was directly responsible for protecting the Queen suggested that short woman was not just more dangerous than she looked but more dangerous than Corine could guess.

Pact Warriors were said to be able to shrug off holy fire and shatter sun shields with ease. If that was true of the standard troops, Corine was unhappy contemplating what an exceptional one like a Queen’s Guard could do.

She nodded and followed the elf into the audience chamber, expecting to find only the Queen and her guard waiting within. The message was a confidential one between the realms, and Gallagrin had a history of secrets and betrayals. Rather than the tight, easily controlled group Corine had imagined though, she found a veritable horde of people already assembled in the room.

Several were clearly members of the Queen’s Guard, including the infamous Lady Akorli of the Bloody Blade. The rest were of noble stock, judging by their adornments but not of sufficient renown that Corine could identify them on sight.

“Welcome our audience, Captain Suncourt Corine,” the Queen said. “You have brought us tidings from Senkin. Would you please share them with us.”

“Your Majesty Gallagrin,” Corine said, snapping to a formal posture. “I bring confidential words from Her Majesty Senkin. I have been sworn to deliver them to no one else except you.”

“We have been advised of the generalities of your message,” the Queen said. “Those assembled here must be advised of the details as well, so you may speak freely before them.”

“As you wish Your Majesty,” Corine said, not relaxing her posture but sighing inwardly and accepting that she was still following the dictates of her orders, however strange the Gallagrin Queen’s court was. “Senkin has declared war on the Green Council following an invasion by the Green Council’s forces, the destruction of one of our towns and the murder of those sent to reclaim it.”

“We would hear a recounting of these events from a witness if one is available,” the Queen asked. Beside her, Lady Akorli leaned forward, evaluating Corine in much the same manner that the elf guard had moments earlier.

“I can speak to the events of the original invasion,” Corine said. “I am one of the surviving commanders from our border garrison.”

“Please start at the beginning then,” the Queen said. “We would hear as many of the events as you can bear to repeat.”

The Queen of Senkin had dispatched Corine for this exact eventuality. Apparently Gallagrin and Senkin were on familiar enough terms that Corine’s Queen was able to guess how her counterpart would think and what she was likely to require from an ambassador announcing the beginning of a war.

“The attack came swiftly Your Majesty,” Corine said. “I did not see the initial charge, so I can only relay the reports of other survivors.”

“How many survivors were there of the initial assault?” Lady Akorli asked, with a look of concern on her face that Corine couldn’t quite read.

“Most of the garrison survived,” Corine said. “The attack came without warning, but the nature of the Council’s forces prevented a stealthy approach on the town.”

“What did they come at you with?” Jyl, the elf guard, asked.

“Enormous monsters of wood and vine,” Corine said. “Even our strongest attacks couldn’t fell the creatures.”

“Warbringers,” an elven noblewoman said. An elven noblewoman who was a perfect replica of one of the queen’s guards. “The Council uses them for the same things we use Pact Knights for.”

“Not exactly,” Lady Akorli said. “Warbringers are an active defense army but their efforts are directed almost entirely at the monsters which inhabit the Council’s lands. The Green Council hasn’t made peace with the creatures their gods left behind the way we have, so Warbringers see significantly more combat than the average Pact Knight does.”

“They are more than a defensive army,” Corine said. “It only took a small number of them to invade and destroy our defenses.”

“Did you have any casters present, or was it only regular troops who were on hand?” Lady Akorli asked.

“The garrison was not considered a lofty appointment, due to the long peace we have held with the Council, but it was still staffed with a full compliment of officers,” Corine said. Not the best officers Senkin had to offer, though not the absolute dregs either. Her own appointment to the garrison had been a punitive one, brought on by wine soaked actions she dearly wished she had a better recollection of performing.

“Fully staffed but not prepared, given the circumstances?” Lady Akorli asked.

“Yes, that is a fair statement,” Corine said. “Even with more warning though I do not know if we could have been truly prepared for the monsters.”

“The Green Council fields an unstoppable force?” the Queen asked.

“Not perhaps unstoppable, but their power was beyond anything I could have estimated they would possess,” Corine said. “So even with time to prepare, I doubt we would have prepared enough.”

“What happened with to the townspeople?” Lady Akorli asked.

“Most of them fled as well, though a few weren’t lucky enough to escape the initial onslaught of devastation,” Corine said. “Those of the garrison who didn’t break and run at the first sight of the Warbringers managed to buy enough time for the people to evacuate.”

“So that’s why most of the garrison survived?” Jaan, the elven noblewoman, said. “Because they ran rather than fought?”

Corine’s blood flamed to a white hot pitch. To disparage the honor her comrades, even the cowards and the sneaks and the lowlifes, was an unforgivable sin. That Jaan was largely correct as to why Senkin hadn’t suffered more losses stoked the flames even high as they burned shame, as well as wounded pride.

“They retreated because the battle was lost before it was begun,” she said, forcing her rage into a box labeled ‘why I hate diplomacy’.

“We’re lucky that they did,” Lady Akorli said. “If Captain Suncourt had fought to the bitter end, her garrison would still be lost and we would have no insight into the troops the Green Council was marshalling, or how they were deployed.”

“The Warbringers were not preceded by a Windstrider?” the Queen asked.

“I am unfamiliar with that term,” Corine said, wondering why both the Gallagrin Queen and her Knight seemed to be well versed in the military apparatus of a realm which Gallagrin had little contact with in terms of trade or travel.

“The Windstriders are the Green Council’s diplomats,” the Queen said. “They can move at remarkable speed and can assume the form of one of the eight winds. The council uses them to communicate with monsters who are destructive by nature rather than volition.”

“We were offered no communication, and no warning, Your Majesty,” Corine said. “One moment it was a peaceful morning like any other and then the tremors began and the Warbringers came crashing out of the treeline on the Council side of the border. We threw fire at them, and we conjured our strongest shields but nothing could hold the giants back.”

“Any answer to this question must be speculation,” the Queen said, “but do you have any sense of what provoked the attack? Or what the Council’s aim might be in beginning this conflict?”

“I must confess I do not, Your Majesty,” Corine said. “Senkin and the Green Council have enjoyed peaceful relations since the creation of the realms.”

“Peaceful but not friendly, is that right?” Lady Akorli asked.

“The Council does keep itself at a distance, but Senkin has always respected that distance,” Corine said. “There is no true border between our two countries, just the Silver Torrent river, and that runs straight into my realm without blocking transit between the two at all.”

“The Green Council owns the headwaters for the Silver Torrent doesn’t it?” Lady Akorli asked.

“Yes, though it has never been a point of contention for the realms,” Corine said. “Our gods crafted the river to bring life to both realms and it’s path has been inviolate since it was made.”

“What response has Senkin made to the invasion?” Lady Akorli asked.

“A squad was dispatched to reclaim one of the old forts which stood on the border,” Corine said. “The attempt met with tragedy though. The Green Council is using cloud weapons from their arsenal, with lethal results.”

“Cloud weapons?” Lady Akorli asked.

“Yes,” Corine said. “Delivered by some form of aerial creature. The clouds are contained in a large shell which bursts on impact which releases a cloud of toxins which slay any who even touch the vapors, unless they are from the Green Council it seems. The Warbringers, at least, are refreshed from what we observed.”

“Interesting,” Lady Akorli said.

“Yes?” the Queen asked.

“Pulling out special armaments this early in the conflict,” Lady Akorli said. “That suggests a number of things, none of them good.”

“Chief among them being the conclusion that the Council will have even deadlier devices held in reserve?” the Queen asked.

“That’s a certainty,” Lady Akorli said. “But there’s also the matter of the intent and the impact. The Council wouldn’t use a weapon like that without being aware of the impact it would have on their enemies. They want Senkin to be cautious about quick strikes behind the lines, and they intend to continue to pursue this campaign.”

“How can you tell?” Jyl asked.

“They’ve moved decisively to create fear about attacking behind their line,” Lady Akorli said. “Senkin can’t launch strikes that targets the Council’s resources without risking exposure to the Death Cloud or other weapons. If they planned to give up land they’d gained, the Council would have retreated and used the Death Cloud on any who tried to pursue.”

“What makes you think the Council will continue to pursue aggressive action?” Jaan asked.

“Because the area they’ve taken is indefensible, as Captain Suncourt said. The gods didn’t plan on the two realms coming into conflict, so only good positions for erecting solid defense works are deep within both realms. The Council will need to push forward at least until they’ve captured those if they intend to have any long term hope of holding the territory they’ve acquired.”

“In light of that, what call does Senkin make to Gallagrin?” the Queen asked.

“My Queen has bid me to solicit from you news of the stand Gallagrin will take on this issue, whether you will stand with us or allow us to prosecute our claim against the Council on our own,” Corine said. “I am to deliver you declaration to her personally by the most expeditious manner I can procure.”

“You will be traveling by Royal Carriage then,” the Queen said. “My Knight, the realm is in your hands. Vice Commander please procure a squad from the Royal Army for our use. Guardian Undine, arrange with our Senseshal for travel necessities to be gathered and forwarded Senkin by fastest air carriage. We shall not wait longer. We travel to Senkin to begin settling this matter now.”

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