“Mind your grip now, lad,” said Enoch, casually knocking the sword out of his young student’s hands. “I understand the need to strike hard, but always remember that a good fighter starts with the basics.”
The student, Julius was his name, grimaced but nodded. Enoch could tell that his words were like bitter medicine to his students, tough to swallow no matter how necessary they might be. “Again,” said Enoch, “mind your grip this time.”
Julius took a deep breath, then haphazardly launched himself at Enoch. It was an attack that Enoch dodged with ease, after which he, yet again, knocked the boy’s practice sword out of his hands. Enoch sighed and said, “I know you don’t want to be here. I dislike this just as much as you do, but there is an army approaching that wants to kill us all. Don’t you want to learn how to defend yourselves? Don’t you want to protect your mothers and sisters?”
“I already know how to defend myself,” said Julius. “It’s not difficult. You just hold a sword in your hands and swing it at whoever you want to kill.”
“That would work if you were facing someone who knew nothing of combat,” said Enoch, “but the army that’s approaching is well trained and well-armed. If you fight like that, your opponent will cut you to pieces before you get a chance to raise your sword.”
“Well then what’s the point?” said Julius. “What good will it do? Just leave us be, let us spend our last days with our families. We are all going to die anyway.”
Enoch felt a surge of remorse for these boys. They were being thrust into a world they did not understand. The age of war had been thought to be over. The empires of the south had burnt their bridges to the north when they torched the fertile land between the Needle Ridge and Obrunda. The Hinterlands they had created had become a boundary between the Free Cities and the south, and people had started to become complacent. Now, all of a sudden, these boys were being forced to pick up arms and learn in a few days skills the soldiers they would be up against had spent their entire lives honing.
Enoch was about to say something to raise his students’ morale when he heard someone call out his name. He turned
to see Eamus, his older brother, the man that truly ruled Basileus. The man that Enoch hated.
“Brother,” said Enoch, curtly. “What brings you here?”
“These are dark days, brother,” said Eamus. “At such times, a man yearns for the company of those he loves.”
Enoch felt a muscle twitch in the corner of his mouth. He did not want to argue with his own brother in front of his students so he dismissed them.
“Why do you do this?” asked Eamus. “You are the Master of the Knights Basileus, you have men that can teach these boys for you.”
“Spending an hour a day with them helps me calm my nerves,” said Enoch. “It helps remind me what I will be fighting for.”
“But why do it at all?” said Eamus. “They are not going to be of much help in the siege, in fact they are probably going to get in the way of the real soldiers.”
Enoch gave his brother a look that made him quail. He was perhaps the only man in the world that could do that to Eamus. “That does not mean that they don’t need to know how to defend themselves,” said Enoch. “They are probably going to end up fighting for their lives. They deserve to have at least some skills that would help them do this.”
“I understand,” said Eamus. “How are your men faring?”
“As well as one could hope,” said Enoch. “I expect that the Bazragahi are going to set up camp and send an emissary to parley with you, correct?”
“That would be the logical thing for them to do,” said Eamus. “They obviously want something, and they are going to demand that we give it before actually attacking.”
“And are you going to give it to them?” asked Enoch.
“Give what to them?” asked Eamus, looking away pointedly.
“You know what I am talking about, Eamus,” said Enoch. “Will you give them the armor or not?”
“We don’t even know if that’s what they are after,” said Eamus.
Enoch grabbed his brother’s shirt by the shoulder and turned him back around. “Two months after we find a mysterious breastplate we have an army at our gates. Does that sound like a Rüg damned coincidence to you? You play a lot of games, Eamus, but this game holds people’s lives in the balance. It holds the fate of an entire citadel, and the fate of the Free Cities this citadel is sworn to protect.”
Eamus shoved Enoch away and said, “If they want the armor they are going to have to give us something in return. It is clear that they are desperate for it, else they would not have sent such a force. I am not giving away something of value for free. Our citadel will never be taken seriously if we bow down at the first show of strength.”
“You act like you are doing this for the good of Basileus,” said Enoch, “but the only interests you serve are your own. Give the armor up, Eamus. I mean it.”
“I am no longer going to discuss this,” said Eamus, turning away. “I am chief advisor to the Lord Tiberius himself. I bloody own the boy, he obeys my every command. I don’t need to explain myself to a soldier, no matter how high his rank is.”
Before walking away, Eamus turned back slightly, saying, “And the next time you lay hands on me I will have you stripped of all titles and exiled. You are my brother and I loved you, but don’t force me to make an example out of you.”
And with that Eamus left, leaving Enoch to wallow in the immense hatred that was burgeoning in his heart.