The War begins

The next day, there was faint movement on the horizon, and Alexander looked to Edrea for an explanation. She smiled faintly and replied, “My sister and the rest of her men are here, my Lord. See for yourself”, and she motioned to the horizon. Alexander turned to look, and the armies all saw an odd yet awe inspiring sight. Catharine and the Keleysanel were walking towards the Eleayan camp in an arrow formation; their horses walked calmly beside them. “She always did want to do that,” Edrea muttered, audible enough for Alexander to overhear it. He smiled, and replied, “I don’t blame her at all, Edrea. It’s impressive when she’s doing something like that.” Catharine smiled broadly as her sister stepped forwards from the crowds that had gathered, and walking forwards, she put an arm around Edrea’s neck. The two sisters stood motionless for a moment, and then Catharine, stepping forwards past Alexander, asked Edrea as she stepped into place next to her, “are we good to set up camp next to you?” Edrea replied, “Yes, I set up my tent and several others to the right; right on the outside of the camp. I figured you’d want us all together.” Catharine replied, “It does encourage trust, Edrea. And trust is my top priority before this war begins.” Edrea replied, “Well, you can spend tomorrow getting the remaining 5% of the Keleysanel round to trusting you.” Catharine looked sidelong at Edrea, an eyebrow rose, and then they both laughed. Alexander, who had looked around to watch Catharine go, smirked slightly, and Catharine, reaching out her right hand, dropped Alexis’s reins and said, “Go and find a good place for you and the other Keleysanel horses can spend the night, Alexis. Make it close to us, though, alright, I don’t want to have to spend five hours looking for you.” Alexis replied, “I hear you, Cathy”, and disappeared. “Boy oh boy, that horse really has an attitude problem,” Catharine said; Edrea and Catharine had stopped near Alexander, and looking at each other briefly, they laughed. Catharine said, “We need to talk in private.” Edrea replied, “Your tent is set up next to mine. You always did prefer being close to me.” Catharine replied, “well, we do have a reputation of being inseparable whenever we’re together to maintain, don’t we?” and laughing, they moved away. Alexander smiled briefly, and looked round as his father stepped up beside him as the remainder of the Keleysanel walked past them. “You really mean it, don’t you? About Catharine,” Edward said, and Alexander replied, “I always did, father. I just... I just didn’t know how to tell you.” Edward replied, “Well, just don’t die in this war and I’m sure something can be worked out.” He walked past Alexander after the Keleysanel, and Alexander stared at his back, almost unable to believe his ears. Meanwhile, Catharine and Edrea quickly oversaw the setting up of the remaining tents. As soon as the remaining tents were set up, Catharine and Edrea went into Catharine’s tent to have a quiet and private conversation. “So, what happened in Doleatraya?” Edrea asked. “Torture, more torture and a helluva lot of interrogation,” Catharine replied. Edrea said, laughing slightly, “Sounds like the Doleas way of doing things.” Catharine replied, “You’re telling me.” Edrea asked, “How was mother when you left?” Catharine replied, “anxious, proud – the usual. And by the way – I don’t need you to play Cupid between me and Alexander, alright? Only she said to tell you well done on advising Alexander about me.” Edrea replied, “All I said was that he should try again.” Catharine replied, “Well, it went bad enough the first time, I don’t want it to happen again, Edrea.” Edrea replied, “Have you ever considered that he might not have actually meant it? That his father might have noticed, misunderstood the nature of the relationship between you, and told Alexander to say that?” Catharine froze; she had been moving around the tent, moving things around. “Yes,” she replied in a quiet voice, “yes, I have. Many times... but it’s been more of a hope than a sensible consideration.” Edrea replied, “I’ve spoken with him about you. He seems sincere in his shame. And... I couldn’t help but detect something else. I truly think he loves you, Cathy. I won’t influence your decision as to whether or not you should accept him again. But I honestly think he won’t make the same mistake twice.” Edrea then left, leaving Catharine alone in her tent. She remained motionless; a tear slid down her cheek, but barely reached halfway before she wiped it away. Stepping out of her tent, she looked around, and then headed towards the main part of the camp, intent on finding Alexis. Suddenly, one of the lookouts shouted, “THE ENEMY IS HERE! THE ENEMY IS HERE!” Catharine, looking up to the lookout, instantly ran to the edge of the camp facing The Plains, and found Edward already there, and Alexander arriving at the same time as her. They glanced at each other once, and Catharine, uncomfortable at being in the presence of the one man she had loved, looked away to the ground quickly, and then looked up to the horizon. They could see nothing at first, as the last of the soldiers arrived behind them, and then, the faintest sign of movement on the horizon. “Here we go,” Catharine muttered, “the war has now officially begun. There will be no turning back.” Edward, slightly dismayed by the numbers of the Doleayan army, replied, “Gods help us all.” Alexander added, “Just what I was thinking.” Catharine replied, “Keeping faith in your men, sirs, is what I find most effective”, before moving away, shouting for her soldiers to meet her at their tents. “Catharine is right,” Edward said, “back to my tent, to think out our battle strategy.” Alexander replied, “Just what I was thinking,” as they simultaneously turned to return to the camp. Throughout the course of the day, the entire Eleayan army was painfully aware that just across The Plains, the enemy was busy planning how to bring about their destruction and that of everything they held dear. Alexander couldn’t help but notice Catharine talking animatedly with various members of the Keleysanel and once with his father. He could only hear the words, “night” and “attempt to destabilise”, and assumed that Catharine was requesting permission to take out a night raid to reduce the Doleayan camp to disarray. His assumption proved to be correct when rumours began flying around the soldiers. He asked his father about it, who only said, “she will be taking a small number of her own men - two or three dozen at the most, she said, including herself.” Alexander couldn’t help but feel a small stab of alarm at this. Edward, noticing the expression on his son’s face, added, “I am sure she knows what she is doing, Alexander. Remember what she said – have a little faith. I am certain she will return unharmed.” That evening, once it was dark, Catharine and two dozen members of the Keleysanel, including Edrea, assembled on the edge of the Eleayan camp. Edward and Alexander were there to meet them. Every member of the Keleysanel that was there had some kind of mud mixture smeared on their faces to prevent attention being drawn to them, and they all wore dark coloured clothing. Alexis, who was apparently also going, had his hooves well muffled by cloth tied over them. They set off quickly and silently, moving like ghosts through the blackness of the no man’s land between the armies. Catharine said to the minds of her soldiers: - Remember – should you find any stores of food, take as much food as you can, and take it back to Alexis. Then torch the tent – leave nothing that they might be able to use. - Aye, leader Once on the edge of the Doleayan camp, Catharine and several others went up behind the guards, and slit their throats easily. The Keleysanel group then moved silently throughout the camp, searching the tents mentally. Catharine, who had been going through the camp with Edrea and one other, called Leucia, soon found a tent that had food supplies in it, and they quickly moved as much of it as they could back to Alexis, who was waiting in the shadows outside the camp. They then torched the tent; similar fires went up all over the camp and before long, shouts in Doleas resounded throughout the camp. By now, it was past midnight, and Catharine gave the signal to Edrea and Leucia to get out of the camp. As she made to follow them, two soldiers leaped out in front of her. She slashed her hand at one of them in a sharp, diagonal movement, leaving an identical rent in his armour. He crumpled to the ground in silence, and was motionless; her sword came out of its sheath as though by magic leaping into her hand, and she quickly parried the remaining soldier’s strike. They fought briefly until Catharine parried past him and the tip of her sword bit deep into his back. He fell to his knees and then fell completely to the ground in silence, and Catharine walked calmly to the edge of the camp; no one else found her, and soon the group of Keleysanel were returning to the Eleayan camp with the supplies that they had taken from the enemy, and a deep sense of satisfaction. It was dawn when they returned, and the Eleayan army, the remainder of the Keleysanel, Edward and Alexander were awake when Catharine, Edrea, Leucia and the members of the Keleysanel with them returned. There was an enormous cheer when Catharine stopped in front of Edward, smiling tiredly. Edward said, “Well done, Catharine. Were there any problems?” Catharine replied, “no, my Lord. All who saw us are dead, and their tents are burning as we speak.” Edward asked, “what about supplies?” Catharine, looking round at Alexis, looked back to Edward and replied, “I don’t think we’ll have much room after this lot is packed in with the rest, my Lord, that’s for sure.” Edward laughed, and said, “Make sure it’s packed away in the right place.” Catharine bowed slightly, saying, “sir”, and motioned those from the Keleysanel that had been with her past him. Edward motioned Alexander to follow him and said, “I told you she would be fine. You didn’t have anything to worry about.” Alexander replied, “I still worry about her.” They passed a food tent which was not nearly full. Catharine stood in front of the entrance; Edrea was standing inside, and there was Alexis standing next to Catharine. Between them, the two sisters skilfully filled the tent up to about half the original capacity. Soon, Catharine said, “that’s it, Edrea”, and Edrea stepped out of the tent. Catharine turned, her left hand reaching out for Alexis’s reins. She saw Alexander and Edward watching the pair of them, and her hand missed. Looking to Alexis, she firmly took his reins. Edrea touched Catharine’s elbow gently as she looked back to give Alexander an unfathomable look, and Catharine, looking to her sister, smiled and looked down before following her sister away, Alexis trotting after her obediently. “I’ll be glad if she does accept you,” Edward said, and Alexander looked around at his father, surprise etched on his face. “She seems to have some influence on you,” Edward said, “and she’s more like you than you notice. Good choice, Alex.” He left Alexander to his thoughts, and so it was Alexander who noticed the three riders approaching from the Doleayan camp carrying olive branches. “Seems they wish to make an offer of truce to us,” Catharine said, stepping up beside him on his left hand side. Alexander replied, “Where’s Thomas? He should be patrolling this part of the camp edge.” Catharine replied, “I found him and told him to go to your father with the news of their approach, Alex.” Alexander nodded, and Edward stepped forwards beside his son. “It’s Desnekos leading them. No doubt he assumes we will admit defeat before we have even had this war,” Catharine said, and Alexander replied, “Well, fat chance of that”, and he stepped forwards, as though to stop the Doleas soldiers and their King from coming any further. Catharine turned, resting her left hand on his shoulder and said, “Alex, no. They’ll only kill you the moment you reach them.” Alexander made forwards again, and Catharine pushed him back with surprising strength; she said, “The men NEED their Prince, Alex. If you go and die out there, one of our few options of winning this war will be gone. Alex, LISTEN to me.” Alexander looked at her, and she said softly, “don’t do this.” They both simultaneously looked down to Catharine’s hand, which was still on Alexander's shoulder; her fingers dug into his shoulder slightly, before sliding off of his shoulder a moment later. Catharine, uncomfortable with the awkwardness of the moment, turned away to face Desnekos and those riding with him. Desnekos halted a few feet from the Eleayan camp, and dismounting from his horse, he walked the rest of the distance. “Edward. My old friend,” he said. “Desnekos”; Edward's reply was frigid, and icy. “I come to offer you one last chance to spare the lives of many, and probably all of your men. A truce, and the promise of your lives,” Desnekos said, as though passing no more than the time of day. “What is included in the truce?” Edward demanded, again frostily. “That you and your men submit to complete disarmament, pay taxes each half year, and that you pay tribute to me. The tribute is yet to be decided,” Desnekos replied. “And should we refuse. What then?” Alexander demanded; his face was set in a cold frown. “You and all your men – and women who fight with you,” Desnekos said, hastily amending himself at the end, nodding frostily at Catharine, “will have resigned yourselves to complete destruction. Your people will be enslaved and their future will be harsh and bleak.” Edward nodded slowly, thinking, and then saying, “Well, I will enjoy seeing you try to destroy me and my men, Desnekos. Because I will not give up my country to a tyrant”, he turned away. “Don’t be a fool, Edward. Even with that stunt last night, my army outnumbers your own. Your men will die in a war that you cannot win,” Desnekos said. “You have had your reply, Desnekos. You can expect nothing more than the taste of cold steel,” Catharine replied. “And you should have stayed in captivity with me when you had the chance, girl,” Desnekos replied. “I’d rather die fighting than become your pet, old man,” Catharine retorted, and turned away. Desnekos smiled a grim smile, and said softly, “your choice is made. So be it, Edward. Face your destruction.” The war commenced that same day, two hours later. By sunset, countless men had died, and at sunset there was a mutual agreement between both armies to stop the fight. Catharine and the Keleysanel that had survived this first encounter instantly stepped in to heal the wounded and help those who would not survive to pass on to the Eternal Lands with dignity. Three months later, the war showed no signs of stopping or even calming down. After yet another day long battle, and a fourth offer or truce for complete surrender, Catharine found Thomas, with a deep cut running down his forearm. “Thomas. Glad to see you survived,” Catharine said, pouring distilled alcohol out from a bottle into a piece of cloth. “Glad to see you survived too,” Thomas replied, and winced slightly as Catharine began cleaning the wound. “I can take care of myself. The Keleysanel combine both swordsmanship and magic. Therefore, it makes it our duty to use our powers... our abilities for the good of the army,” Catharine replied. “And what about using your powers for yourself, Catharine?” Thomas asked as Catharine reached for a numbing cream. “How do you mean, Thomas?” Catharine asked, frowning slightly, “I’m not really following your train of thought here” Thomas sighed slightly and looking out of the tent opening, he replied, “Some of the men have noticed the prince’s attention towards you – me included, unfortunately. They all think he really does feel for you, and that it could lead to an offer should you both survive this war.” Catharine stared at him for a moment, and looking back at her, Thomas smiled faintly, and added, “He’s a better man than you think, Catharine. And I hope he makes an offer. You two could, possibly would do well together. But it’s not for me to say.” Catharine looked down at Thomas's arm, and said, “You’re all good to go, Thomas. And thank you for your advice – it was welcome, despite it being out of place in Eleayan society. In Serckrea it is commonplace to speak your mind.” Thomas, looking down at his arm, saw that Catharine had healed it completely, and he said, “thank you, Catharine.” Standing, he pulled his sleeve down and left the tent. Catharine sighed, a small frown creasing her brow, and turned away from the tent entrance. Alexander entered, and said, “Catharine” softly. Catharine jumped, and turning she said, “Oh... Alex, it’s you. What c’n I do for you this time?” Alexander replied, “my father’s been injured... his shoulder.” Catharine replied, “Right, I’ll be right there. Try and get him to keep his shoulder still until I get there. I’ll probably need his shirt off as well, though.” Alexander nodded, and left the tent. Catharine sighed, and turning back, she picked up the bottle of distilled alcohol and a clean piece of cloth, and left for the King’s tent. When she got there, Edward was in the process of removing his shirt one handed, which he managed. There was a deep cut in his left shoulder, and Catharine, setting the bottle down on the side, began opening it as she said, “you’re lucky you didn’t die out there today, sire. That would’ve been costly had it been on your sword arm.” Edward replied, “I have your sister to thank, Catharine. She stood over me, making sure no enemy soldier succeeded in killing me.” Catharine smiled, pouring some alcohol onto the cloth and said, “I will pass on your thanks when I see her next, sire. Hold still, this will sting a bit, but it’s for the best.” Resting a hand on Edward’s shoulder, she brushed the cloth across the wound. Edward winced, but did not move his shoulder as Catharine cleaned it quickly, and then brushed her hand over it once. After, a faint scar remained. “It’ll be stiff for a few hours, but you should be fine in the morning, sire,” Catharine said, straightening up. “Thank you Catharine,” Edward said, pulling his shirt on again. Catharine nodded once, and shutting the bottle of alcohol, she left the tent. The sun was setting over the trees, and she paused briefly to watch it. Then she returned to her tent to deposit the bottle and the cloth, and then she joined the Keleysanel. When Alexander and Edward left his tent, they saw that the Keleysanel sat around a medium sized, well built fire, and Catharine was juggling with three apples she had found; a guitar leaned beside her, against the log she sat on. Suddenly, she tossed one across the fire to Edrea, who was sitting opposite her, and then another, and then the third. Edrea caught all of them easily, and began juggling easily. They only stopped juggling and tossing the apples across the fire when Leucia arrived with a small cauldron, which she hung over the fire. Catharine handed the apples to her, saying just loud enough for Alexander and Edward to hear “give these to the horses. They did well today – and tell them to keep it up.” Leucia nodded, and left. Catharine took up the guitar and tuning it briefly, she then began strumming a few chords. As Leucia returned, Catharine began picking a simple tune on the strings of the guitar, and then she began to sing: “There is no cause, for despair As drummers beat on the snare To war you must go, my man And take up the stand Here shall I remain, To sow the grain Until you return to me There is no cause, for happiness At the sound of soldier’s steps To war you must go, my man, Your sword in your hand Here shall I remain, To sow the grain Until you return to me. The eagle he does fly, High in his blue sky, And the fleety deer Do bound far and near. But here shall I remain Ever remaining the same Until you return to me” Catharine sang this twice alone, and then as she went to strumming full chords, the other members of the Keleysanel began singing as well. They finished the song and began talking fluidly in their own language. Leucia said “ehrdresu heritje alexsiyeu, catherswe.” Catharine laughed, as did several other members of the Keleysanel, and she replied, “wretu, hasientra demiluyesia, Leucia!” Leucia grinned, and focussed her attention back on the stew Alexander and Edward, though barely, could see steaming in the pot. Catharine leaned forwards to look at it, and said, “What do I keep telling you, Leucia?” Leucia looked up at her leader, and then they simultaneously said, “More basil!” Leucia went off to find some basil to scattered laughter, and returned blushing slightly. Catharine laughed again, and looking round, her eyes met Alexander's eyes. Her smile shrank slightly, and then she looked away again as Leucia said something quietly. Taking a small spoon that Leucia held out, Catharine tasted a small piece of the stew, and said, “I know what it needs,” and standing, she went past Alexander and Edward to her tent. Leucia buried her face in her hands as various members of the Keleysanel, including Edrea, said things like, “she’s gonna treat you now, Leucia” and said, “swig it right back, don’t blink or anything”. Edward left to make sure the Eleayan men were alright, and Catharine returned with a small gourd. She tripped over a tent rope, and recovered enough to cartwheel back to her feet, though the gourd slipped from her hand. Catharine returned to her feet, and looking at first one hand, and then the other, she looked round and saw the gourd on the ground. She and Alexander simultaneously reached for it; their hands brushed, and both jerked their hands back slightly. They reached for it again; both picked it up, Alexander's hand on Catharine’s. There was a brief, awkward moment; Catharine turned away. Alexander's hand fell to his side, and it was a few moments before he turned as his father called to him. Catharine returned to the Keleysanel and pouring a small amount of liqueur into the stew, she handed the gourd to Leucia. “I still think I should have done this earlier, so you should thank Edrea for getting me to do this later than I would have,” Catharine told her as Leucia took the gourd from her. Leucia nodded, and hesitating only briefly, she brought the gourd to her mouth and took a quick swig. Pausing briefly, she took another swig, and brief “Oh”s came from members of the Keleysanel. Catharine grinned, and Leucia set the gourd down, screwed the lid and handed it back to Catharine before hiccupping quietly. Catharine and the other Keleysanel laughed, and Catharine looked briefly to where Alexander had been standing a few moments before. Her smile faded, and then she looked quickly down at her hands, and then back to the Keleysanel, quietly hoping that nobody had noticed. But Edrea had. When the meal was over, Catharine returned to her tent to set the gourd down amongst the possessions she had brought with her for the war. Edrea entered behind her and said, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with falling in love, Catharine.” Catharine did not reply for a moment; she then looked up slightly and replied, “Yes there is. When your heart gets broken is when falling in love is wrong, Edrea. You hopefully will never know this pain.” Edrea replied, “But I do know it, when I see it eating away at you every day.” Catharine said nothing and Edrea, stepping forwards, continued, “besides, how can you be sure that what he told you back home is what he meant as truth?” Catharine, moving away from her sister, replied, “I know, I can’t, but I can’t even be sure of my own heart now. How do I know? When do I know? When will the gods stop playing these games with me?” Edrea, turning and stepping towards her younger sister replied, “Your heart will let you know whether you and Alexander are meant to be. As for the gods – they enjoy their games every now and again. Just remember: it is NEVER wrong to fall in love. Even on a battlefield.”

The End

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