General Helianthus received them with a calm Camellia hadn’t expected. Camellia greeted him, and he smiled jovially at her. The other soldiers greeted General Narsi Quill reverently—he was a figure most only heard of. The trusted general of the king’s army, a fierce warrior, and a master at every weapon he handled. General Helianthus took General Narsi away from the rest of the unit, and they began talking between themselves in private.
Camellia’s eyes razed over her old companions, but there was nothing to fuel the short-tempered anger, the fiery questions burning inside her. When Camellia’s eyes fell on Chrysan, he smiled so sadly it hardly seemed like him. Tarra greeted her with a bounce in her step.
“Did Her Highness tire of you already?” she teased, poking a finger into Camellia’s ribs.
Camellia chuckled. “No. In fact, I insisted on coming,” she answered. “Today’s mission is… personal.”
She couldn’t help her eyes drifting towards the two generals.
Tarra’s eyes followed Camellia’s gaze. She looked back at Camellia, and then started walking her over to where the unit’s horses were.
Behind the two of them, Chrysan nudged Viola with his elbow.
“Been some time, Lady Viola,” he said. “Have you been well at the castle?”
Viola sighed, shaking her dark hair from her face. “Things are good at the castle,” she said. “Do you ever think of returning? We would benefit from soldiers like you.”
The same, sad smile played at his lips. “You need more people you can trust around?” he asked.
She glanced at the man beside her. “Something like that.”
“Yes, well.” Chrysan kicked at the grass. “The castle is a dangerous place, Lady Viola,” he said. “Maybe more dangerous than the field. More direct out here, at least.”
“You are one of the least direct people I’ve ever met in my life, Chrysan,” she scolded.
Cori, the espionage specialist, approached from the spot where she’d been face-deep in the grass with Yarrow, the white-haired medic. Chrysan stopped laughing when he looked at Cori, raising a brow.
“Chrysan,” she greeted. “Lady Viola.”
Chrysan nodded his head. “What’s going on?”
“The talk between the generals is getting… heated,” she said. “Lady Via has joined them.”
He huffed, eyes passing over them as he pretended to look for his old comrade. “Camellia is with the horses…” He pressed his lips together, cocked his head. Considered before he started to make his move over to her. “Predictable.”
“Why did you give me the letters, Chrysan?” Viola asked, quietly, curtly. Directly.
He paused in his stride. “Who did you show them to?” he asked back.
“The second one? Nobody.”
He turned around and smiled. “You know he’s guilty,” he said, like that was any kind of answer. “The second letter indicates his guilt, doesn’t it? Why come all this way, Viola?”
“Chrysan, what are you trying to do?”
He walked back to her. He ran his fingers over her arm, but she couldn’t feel it past the armor. “I think you know that some things are worth protecting,” he explained, “but I worry I don’t know what they are anymore. I have faith that you do.”
She shook her head.
Chrysan gestured for Cori, who cast one last, pitying glance at Viola, as they went to talk to Camellia. The generals on the other side of the field started yelling, drawing the attention of the soldiers and the guests alike. Chrysan reached Camellia just as General Narsi called General Helianthus a traitor.
He tried to grab her arm, but she shook him off.
“Is it true?” she shouted, reaching for her sword. “General Helianthus, you’ve been working with Gladiolus?”
He looked at her with none of the warmth, the friendliness she was accustomed to. His eyes were cold, reflective of the pain of a man who had seen many wars, many lost men. The mouth behind his beard was downturned, a frown that made him look older than he was and tired. But he was as formidable as he always was—tall and wide, with years of experience on the battlefield and an intimidating aura that proved he wasn’t afraid to stand his ground.
He didn’t flinch when Camellia drew her sword and pointed it at him.
“Lady Camellia,” General Narsi warned, lifting an arm to keep her back.
“General Narsi,” she said through gritted teeth. “I witnessed him kill the Nastur rebels and Gladiolus resistance in cold blood. Children. They trusted him.”
“We were never meant to have met them,” General Helianthus explained. “They made it impossible to not catch them, and that was their mistake. Killing them was a mercy. They could have been tortured. Or worse, even.”
“They trusted you. They were kids.” Camellia blinked rapidly to keep from crying, took a deep breath. “I trusted you. Meanwhile, you’ve been abetting the abduction of innocents in your country? You’ve been fighting Gladiolus while being on their side this whole time? I don’t—I don’t understand.”
He shook his head. “We have different goals, Camellia,” he said, in the same soothing voice he’d compliment her with after a successful mission. “The war against your people has always been a sham. I wouldn’t have fought so hard for so long if I’d known—”
A surge of magic knocked him flat onto his back.
Camellia’s head snapped to look behind her.
Lady Via had her hand raised, and it was steaming. She looked calm, as in control as ever. “A soldier’s job isn’t to think, General, but to fight. Your treachery has endangered the people of our country—innocent people. The princess royal, even. Have you no regrets for your actions?”
General Helianthus sat himself up on his arms. “My only regret is not being able to avenge the men lost in this pathetic political distraction,” he spat.
There was the crackle of electricity as Lady Via started summoning magic again, but General Narsi raised his hand, and Lady Via lowered hers hesitantly.
“His Highness, King William Daucus, has sent us orders to execute you if the evidence against you was found to be legitimate,” General Narsi said. “It is with great sadness that I find your actions, your words, to be indicative that you have betrayed the kingdom of Nastur.”
General Helianthus bowed his head.
General Narsi raised his sword, but then he stalled, mid-swing.
Across the field, Chrysan was drawing his bow.
“What are you—” General Narsi started to say, his eyes already following a predicted trajectory. Not quick enough.
Chrysan released the arrow and it flew past General Helianthus, past General Narsi. Past Camellia and Lady Via.
Straight into the throat of a soldier behind them.
The soldier fell backwards, gurgling as he tried to speak.
Camellia looked back to Chrysan, but he was running towards Viola, shouting something that Camellia couldn’t hear. She looked to General Narsi as he assessed the situation unfolding in front of them.
The entire camp was readying their weapons.
Lady Via scowled. “Ah, they were all in on it,” she said.
“Lady Via,” General Narsi began, his voice urgent. “A few are on our side, it seems. Partner with Viola and assess the situation. Camellia—”
He turned his head to look for her, but she was gone.
General Helianthus had seen an opportunity to get away. He ran while General Narsi had been preoccupied with Chrysan’s interruption. And Camellia had chased after him. They were engaged in their own battle, a few meters away.
“Lady Camellia!” General Narsi shouted after her.
When a halberd came swinging at him, he caught it with his sword. General Narsi would have to hope that Camellia would be able to hold out against her former advisor until they were able to aid her, hope that this wasn’t some elaborate set up.
Tarra bashed the halberd soldier over the head with her shield. “General,” she greeted quickly. “The archer—Chrysan—I promise he means well and I beg your pardon on his behalf!”
He nodded at the girl, dazed.
“We stand on the side of Nastur,” she said. “But right now, we need you on our side.”
General Narsi nodded again, definitively this time. “You have my trust, Lady…”
“Tarra Dracul,” she filled in for him. And then she turned, running back into the fray of the middle of the camp. General Narsi followed.
Lady Via’s hands were steaming with the offensive magic she was casting. Bodies littered around her were blue and shriveled without air or moaning in pain from broken bones. Viola finished them off mercifully with a swift strike from her sword and killed anyone who got too close to the royal magician.
Chrysan was nearby, shooting at people he used to trust with pinpoint accuracy. He stopped, hesitating, when his aim landed on Cori—the small girl with light eyes and a boy-ish haircut. The unit’s espionage specialist. He felt his resolve waver, and then spring back.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” he shouted.
“Chrysan!” Tarra scolded. She cut down someone approaching him from behind as he stared down Cori. Chrysan didn’t move, didn’t take his eyes off the girl in front of him.
She was ducked down, a knife in her hand. She cocked her head at him.
“You—” Chrysan began, his voice throaty. He swallowed. “I thought you understood.”
Cori stood up slowly. Their eyes tracked each other, both hunters watching their prey. “And I thought you could be convinced that you were making the wrong choice,” she said. “I told you we should kill her. I told you we would all be killed for choosing what is right.”
“None of this is right, Cori.” Chrysan’s hands shook with the tension in the bow. He exhaled, trying to calm himself.
“And invading Gladiolus is?” She scoffed. “We were there, Chrysan. It was beautiful and we were going to destroy that place. Kill those people. For what? To cover up the death of a queen who did nothing for—”
Chrysan released his arrow.
General Narsi arrived just in time to see Chrysan’s attack strike Cori, landing directly into her right shoulder. He looked between the two of them.
Cori broke the arrow, gritting her teeth. “After the princess…” she explained. “You didn’t die. If you’d died, then it would have been so much easier.”
“He sent us into that cave on purpose?” Chrysan asked. “You could have killed us yourself. Why didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t fight all of you,” she said. Her eyes were soft, drifting over Chrysan and Tarra and Yarrow, somewhere behind the other two. “If you’d just… If you knew that we were aiming for peace. For liberation. For knowledge. Wouldn’t you join us?”
“If you think that Queen Anemone wasn’t killed by Gladiolus, then the knowledge you have is nothing I want,” Chrysan declared.
He reached for an arrow, but Cori was a second faster. She threw her dagger.
General Narsi hit it away with his sword, blocking the attack before Chrysan could. She’d used the attack to make her escape, already fleeing the camps and the battlefield. General Narsi started after her, but Chrysan caught him by the wrist.
“You won’t find her until she wants to be found,” he advised. “Thank you for your help.”
Then Chrysan took a large step back, that fire from the fight back in his eyes.
General Narsi stared at him for a second, saw Chrysan’s hand twitch towards his quiver. General Narsi threw down his sword, dropping it between them. He saw Chrysan relax.
“I know you, Chrys,” General Narsi said. “I remember when you were a part of my unit.”
Chrysan nodded hesitantly. Tarra sighed, somewhere to their left.
“You and the rest of your unit—whoever lives—I want them to come back to the castle with us.”
Chrysan started to raise his bow, but General Narsi met him halfway, stopping him.
“Not as prisoners,” he clarified. “Viola has vouched for you, as well. But that conversation with your comrade… we’re talking about that.” He waited until Chrysan gave him an affirmative answer. “Do you have a medic?”
Tarra called Yarrow over.
“General Narsi,” he greeted, eyes passing over the tense look on Chrysan’s face.
“Get me a count of who’s alive and treat them. Please look over Viola as well.”
Yarrow bowed his head in a singular nod.
“Thank you,” he said. Then General Narsi turned to the other fight.
Lady Via was standing back. They were too far for him to see her expression but… she was stiff. Surprised, maybe. Camellia stood victorious, from how it looked. Covered in blood and dirt. Breathing hard. He heard her yell. Lady Via approached Camellia, put a hand on her shoulder. Then hugged her.