Chapter 12

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A few days had passed since the two vanghouls arrived at the Stormhold camp. The palisades around the base had been upgraded with a wooden wall on the backside, allowing archers to have the high ground. However, morale was dropping rapidly as the source of nourishment had come to an end. General Galeran and Admiral Fowler stood inside the commanders’ tent, debating the plans ahead.

Walking back and forth with his hands resting on his back, Galeran spoke as he saw the blank look on the Admiral’s face. “Terrence are you still with me?” he asked.

“Aye, sir. I’m just wondering if we made the right decision to send half of our men back to the coast.”

“We’re not getting off this island anytime soon, we need food. If we send more people out on hunts in these lands, chances are we’ll pay dearly. We have no idea what awaits in these woods.”

“Aye, but even though this place offers the best protection, there is no clean fresh water either. The waterfall by the coast and the fish in the ocean supply our needs, but the journey back and forth is a considerable risk. Have you learned anything from those beasts yet?”

Taking a deep breath, Nathan squinted and waited a short moment before replying to his question. “He has shared some insight into where the vanghouls reside. The captain confirms it as well. They’re holding up in an underground city just northwest of here.”

“Do you think he wants the truce?”

“Of course not. This is just an elaborate scheme to lower our guard. We’ve got to play our cards right, admiral.”

Stepping into the tent, a guardsman saluted his leaders and informed the general that a woman was here to see him. Allowing her access, Nathan asked Fowler for a moment of privacy, which he granted him as he left with the guard.

Walking inside, Fraya approached General Galeran and bowed her head formally before addressing him. “Thank you for letting me have an audience with you.”

“Of course. What can I do for you … pardon me, I didn’t quite catch your name?”

“It’s Fraya, my Lord.”

“A name of the north, huh? How long have you been living in Arkanvail, Lady Fraya?”

She kept eye contact with him and clearly understood he was digging for information. Galeran was a suspicious man by nature, he didn’t leave much up to chance.

Maintaining his stance of formality, Nathan continued, “well, how long has it been?”

“More than ten years as part of the upper-class nobility.”

“Yes, you do not seem like a peasant.” Looking at her long fingernails, her soft skin that hadn’t seen much combat or hard labor, but her attire was off. Her jacket was in the same teal color as the Arkanvail palette, but the markings and layout were foreign. He was walking around her as he studied every detail. Feeling quite uncomfortable by his constant stare and stern facial expression, Fraya tried to retain her confidence as she asked, “I wanted to know what you intend to do with Arthouras and Malisha.”

“Who? Oh, those beasts. Nothing you need to worry about.”

“You have them under strict guard even though they’re here to help you. If you try to listen to them, there is a real chance here to create a lasting peace between the two races.”

“Races? You speak about this as if it was a matter of ethnicity. These are not men, even calling them animals is too kind.”

Her eyes showed annoyance and sadness as she listened to him. Getting through to the general wasn’t anything like Captain Feregreth. Even though the captain had his doubts, he was at least willing to give it a shot, but Galeran was completely cold. There was no point in arguing with him any further, so she excused herself and turned around. However, as she was about to leave the tent, Nathan raised his voice and ordered the guards out front to block her path. As she halted, the general approached her and gazed into her blue eyes as she turned towards him.

Galeran got up in her face as he spoke in a low harsh tone of voice, “why are you sympathizing with these creatures?” Scrutinizing her face as she answered.

“I don’t judge anyone based on what they look like.”

“Is that so? Appearances can be deceiving, that much is true.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“But also, those who look innocent, who walk and talk like us, who wear our colors can be the real enemy in disguise.”

Starting to see that he was turning the conversation against her, she began to prepare herself as she became nervous.

He walked around inside the tent for a bit before he glanced back at her, stating firmly. “Through struggle comes perseverance,” the Arkanvail coat of arms. You know what it means, don’t you?”

“I do, yes.”

“Who taught it to you?”

“My … father.”

Giving her a quick nod, he raised his hand and gestured for the guards to move out of the way. Watching as she left, Nathan stared out into the camp for a while before turning back inside. He walked over to a table and sat down in his chair, looking at a scroll before him. It contained details about the original mission, but what his eyes were locked on was the slogan below the symbol of Stormhold, which read, “Through struggle comes perseverance.”

Down the road from the commanders’ tent, Declan Lowe strolled alongside Feregreth on the muddy path through the camp. Despite all the recent tragedies, Declan seemed happy to have his young prodigy back. As they were looking at the men walking around, the former admiral continued on the conversation they were having about the future ahead. “I’m sure that once we return from this assignment, coming back to the city will make us long for a situation like this.”

Chuckling in good spirit, Feregreth shook his head at his mentor as he replied, “you really can’t stand a simple life, can you?”

“Oh, you know me, lad. The world is here for us to explore. You have to promise me that you’ll grab every opportunity to see what the world has to offer. Aewyth is a beautiful area, but what you see around you right now, what you experience, these are things that you’ll have with you for the rest of your life. And between you and I, you don’t find the exotic ladies back home in the city.

Laughing as he took his left arm around his back, Feregreth caught Fraya coming out of the commanders’ tent up the road. As he got lost in her for a moment, Declan smiled amusingly as he leaned over, stating in a joking manner.

“Perhaps you don’t need to travel any further, lad.”

Turning his sight away from her as Declan was chuckling to himself, Feregreth shook his head with a given smile on his face. As they continued their walk towards her, Lowe asked curiously as he glanced over at Fraya. “How did you find her?”

“She found me as a matter of fact, actually saved me, to be honest. I had stumbled into a situation I couldn’t get myself out of, and then she showed up, just like that.”

“Well, look at that. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is! Don’t you let this one slip through your hands.”

“We’re in a war, Declan. There is no time for such things.”

Placing his wrinkled hand onto the captain’s shoulder while looking into his eyes, the former Admiral replied in a serious, but calm voice, “there is always going to be a reason not to do something. The occupation we’ve chosen doesn’t come with a long-life guarantee. Every moment, no matter what the situation may be, there is always room for…”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it.” Feregreth interrupted. Looking over at his friend, he squinted and asked in an amused tone. “Why are you so soft all of a sudden? Don’t tell me you’re dying?”

“I’m just trying to knock some sense into that thick head of yours, lad.”

The two were chuckling as they saw Fraya coming up to them, seemingly annoyed. Leaning slightly over towards Feregreth, Declan stated quietly while scratching his ragged beard. “And that’s my cue, good luck, lad. M’lady.” He gave her quick nod as he walked past and left the two to speak privately.

Seeing the look in her eyes, the captain expressed concern as he asked gently, “what’s wrong?”

“The general won’t listen. He’s not going to let them go when he gets all the information he needs, and he is most certainly not going to fight for any type of union with them.”

“Ah … I did not imagine he would, no. Galeran is a proud man, his interest is to protect the kingdom at all costs.”

“Then why did we bring them here if there was no chance? We just marked them for death.” She was struggling a bit with the situation. Both annoyed and saddened, she stared into the captain’s eyes.

Placing his hand on her back, Feregreth spoke calmly as he tried to reassure her. “Listen, the general might not care what we have to say, but I’ll try to get through to Declan and Terrence. They have some leeway with him and also influence when it comes to decisions like this.”

“Thank you, Feregreth.”

“Of course. I do believe in what you’re trying to accomplish. Besides, if it weren’t for you, there wouldn’t even have been a discussion about this.”

A little smile appeared on her face as she asked if they could go and check on Arthouras and Malisha. She felt they deserved to know what could potentially happen in the coming days.

Agreeing, the captain began to walk with her through the camp towards where the vanghouls were being held as the sun peeked through the darkening clouds.

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