The Northern Reckoning – Part 2


“General Breren,” said Ulf, Senwick rushing in behind him. “This is Senwick, my assistant commander.”

“Where are the other two?” asked Aru.

“I… I only have one, sir,” said Ulf.

“You are supposed to have three assistant commanders,” said Aru, “What do you expect to do in case our enemies make it through the Needle Ridge?”

His reproach was not particularly unkind, yet it felt like a slap across the faces of Ulf and Senwick, two men who had grown up idolizing the man.

“I am aware, sir,” said Ulf. “It’s just that… we haven’t had the need for even a single assistant commander for decades, sir. There hasn’t any dangerous activity even as far south as Basileus.”

Aru grimaced and said, “I suppose you can’t be blamed for that. It was your predecessor’s predecessor who should have had the good sense to maintain the ranks and keep everyone fit. We have gotten complacent. We have gotten soft.”

Aru descended into a protracted, brooding silence, allowing Senwick to take a good long look at the man he had dreamed of meeting ever since he first became a soldier at the age of thirteen. He was grizzled for sure, but not as tall or as broad of shoulder as Senwick had imagined him to be. His face was deeply lined making him look older than he actually was, and he was not particularly fair of face either. His left arm was missing until just past the elbow which was in line with the stories Senwick had heard, but this did not make him look heroic at all. Instead, it gave him an awkward, imbalanced gait that looked positively ungainly.

Suffice it to say that Aru Breren looked nothing like the heroes Senwick had imagined him to be. He did not look noble or gallant or particularly fierce. If anything he looked… tired. Senwick was a little disappointed, but he quickly cleared his thoughts to focus on the situation at hand.

“General Breren,” said Senwick, uncertain of how to proceed. Aru Breren may not have looked like a hero, but he was still intimidating.

“Yes?” asked Aru.

“I… I have not been informed of the situation, sir,” said Senwick. “I was asleep. I was in charge of the watch last night, you see, and I…”

Senwick trailed off. He had not been sleeping out of incompetence or laziness, and yet he still felt like he had disappointed the great war commander by not being present when he arrived.

Aru sighed, and hung his head. “There is no easy way to say this, son,” said Aru, “so I’m just going to be direct. Basileus is under siege.”

Senwick had realized that the situation was inordinately dire when Aru, a man that any general in the Free Cities would willingly hand over control of their army to, referred to him in such an informal manner. However, when Aru spoke those four terrible words, Senwick felt like the ground had given way beneath his feet.

“Basileus… but… how?” asked Senwick. “Who?”

Senwick desperately looked to Ulf, whose martial posture could not mask the fear in his heart betrayed by his paper white face.

“We have been at peace for over a century,” said Senwick, “There has been no danger from the south at all for decades. There have been no military excursions more than a few miles beyond the Needle Ridge, no communication with any southern nation. And Basileus has good relations with the south, they even trade with them for Rüg’s sake! Who would do this?”

“Bazragah,” said Aru. “Eamus sent word as soon as his scouts saw the approaching army, but their rate of approach was impossibly fast. They are probably at the citadel’s gates by now.”

“What would Bazragah want with the Free Cities?” asked Senwick. “This is… this is impossible. They have nothing to gain from invading us. Their expansion has always been southward, eastward or westward to climates that were similar to their own.”

“I don’t understand this either,” said Ulf. “Maybe a century ago it would have made sense, maybe if we were still under the yoke of Old Empire they might have attacked us to distract the Dianosi forces but now… I can’t think of a single explanation.”

“Enough,” said Aru. “Why they are attacking is irrelevant. All that matters is forming a plan of action. Basileus is under attack, our Free Cities are in danger.”

“What do you need us to do?” asked Ulf, eagerly stepping forward. “Shall we marshal our forces? The letters you sent to the other cities will take a few hours yet to arrive. Each city would need a day to gather their men, and it would take another day for all of the forces to assemble here. In these two days we can-“

“I have not sent any letters to the other cities,” said Aru. “I came straight here when I heard.”
Senwick was shocked. Why would Aru not act? What was he thinking?

“But… we need to assemble-“

“Assemble what?” said Aru, cutting Ulf off. “There are six major Free Cities, each with a force of between four to six hundred men. Koningheim has about eight hundred men. The rest of the cities combined would have about five hundred. That is a little over four thousand men, and none of them have ever fought against an enemy like this before. Do you know what the scouts reported of the Bazragahi force? They estimated at least ten thousand. These are battle hardened soldiers that have seen nothing but war and more will surely follow. We are not prepared for this.”

Senwick was quiet the whole time, but he realized what Aru Breren was getting at. It was the only outcome when a far flung nation that had not seen battle in over two decades faced an enemy that was carving its way through a continent with its military might.

“General Breren…” said Ulf, “What are you saying?”

Senwick put his arm around his friend. Commander of Vangurheim though he was, Ulf could often be naive. He was not going to take this easily.

“What I’m saying,” said Aru, “is that no matter what we do, even if we take every man in the Free Cities and march him out to fight, there can only be one outcome. Basileus will fall.”