Vrana was wroth.
“Where is he?” She hissed. Then, after a moment, she focused on her breathing.
As General Queen, it was beneath her to lose herself to such anger and passions. The fate of an entire nation rested squarely on her shoulders. At the moment though, due to actions taken by Vren and his ilk, the fate of several nations were now burdened upon her.
“Your Honor,” Ovila said, bowing low, “the one known as Vren has been sent for by no less than twenty of your guard. He will be brought here, whether he is escorted or whether he is dragged.”
“Yes, but I need him here now.” Vrana replied, “I needed him here yesterday.”
Ovila was a good soldier. She didn’t respond to those baits, she knew better than to say things which would only displease Vrana even more and Vrana loved her for it. She walked over to the black-haired knight and placed a hand on Ovila’s pauldrons.
“I’m sorry, Hyr Smith.” She offered gently, “the only one to blame here is me.”
“Your Honor-” Ovila began, but Vrana cut her off.
“Disobedience in the ranks is a reflection on their leadership. Betrayals cannot be wholly blamed on the leader, but if anyone has a responsibility for it, I do.”
Vrana walked back across the room over to the simple wooden throne that served as her chair, she sat down in it heavily, the ceremonial armor that she wore clinking and clanging with every step and the weight and force of her seating.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Your Honor?” Ovila asked, after walking over to stand by her side.
“No, no. You’ve done what you can. Just make sure someone notifies me once he has been captured. I know it will take a day or two for them to return, but I want to be ready.”
“Of course.” Ovila bowed and then departed.
As she left, Vrana caught a glimpse of the guard at her door. It was one of her older, more veteran guards, Nych. Despite his age, he was as good with a mace as any of her best swordswomen.
Under normal circumstances there would be two guards out there, but Vrana had sent her elite to arrest the Silver Sentinel. There had been some protest from Ovila at that, since it would leave her with a diminished guard. However, the Silverwood Sentinel was one of the most fearsome warriors in the realm and no one could question the wisdom of sending Vrana’s finest to apprehend him.
For now, she would merely have to wait.
In the end it took a week. Vren was as slippery as they came and it took nearly that whole time to track and capture him. When a messenger hawk arrived with the news, Vrana had learned that he’d slew three of her guards in the capture. Vrana mourned for them in her own way, but then she had to prepare for he would arrive no more than two days hence.
Which was how she found herself in the audience chamber once more on the simple throne, this time the room was lined with guards, as well as soldiers pulled from the ranks of her finest companies. Her generals and other officers attended as well, and so they had a full court when Vren was led into the room by collar and chain.
Vrana winced at that, it was a bad look especially for one of his kind to be chained in such a way. He was also manacled about the wrists and ankles though, which should have been more than enough.
“Please take off the collar. I find it highly inappropriate.” Vrana gestured to the two guards leading him forward.
Vren was haggard looking. His normally well-kept beard was tangled and matted. He was a balding gentleman, but the hair on the sides of his head was unwashed and dirty. But the blue eyes with which he gazed at her were piercing and bright.
“General…” He said in a gravelly voice that was both deeper and different than when last they spoke.
“You will refer to her as Your Honor or General Queen, Hyr Silverwood.” One of the knights escorting him said.
Vrana raised a hand to bring them to silence. She stepped closer and saw that Vren’s face was a mottle of half healed bruises, his bottom lip was swollen. They had given him very basic linens for clothing and stripped him of his armor and weapons.
“Vren…” She said softly, walking forward, “what did I do to make you betray me?”
At this there was some muttering amid the onlookers. Most knew of the incident in Deadwind Pass, but not its causes or the involvement of the Silverwood Sentinels.
“You call me a traitor?” Vren responded, his eyes narrowing. “I fight for my kin. Always have. Always will.”
His voice was growly, Vrana decided. That was the new sound to it, it was almost primal, it had an animalistic quality to it which chilled to the very bone within her.
“How does provoking war with Morland help your kin?” Vrana demanded, allowing some of the heat in her to rise, “you’ve doomed your kin, and the rest of our people to die in a pointless war!”
The murmuring was growing louder, as if to match the level of her voice. Vrana placed a hand over her face and shook her head, turning away in her disgust.
“Your people.” Vren spat, “not mine. My people have been slaves to yours for too long.”
“SLAVES!?” Vrana had to take a deep breath to keep from exploding further, she wheeled around and stomped up to Vren so that her face hovered mere inches from hers. “There are no slaves in Hal’la. Your people are free and have an entire swath of land for their very own.”
“A land to curl up and die on!” Vren spat back, his eyes widening.
Now Vrana could see the craziness that touched them. His eyes seemed to pop out like a bug.
What is going on here?
“That land has been set aside for over a hundred years to ensure the safety of your kin. Perhaps you need time to cool off and think about things.” Vrana waved her hand dismissively, changing her tone as she addressed the knights escorting her prisoner. “Go ahead and take him to one of the secured apartments. Make sure he is well-guarded. No one is to be in or out save me or to give him food or change his chamber pot.”
As the knights led Vren away, the murmurs broke out into actual shouts for her attention and a clamor of voices raising to a fever pitch. Vrana ignored them until she was seated once more on the simple throne. Ovila stepped up and raised her hand for silence.
“If you have issues to bring before the General Queen, you may queue up now to do so in an orderly fashion…”
It was late in the day when Vrana was finally able to escape her audience chambers. She went for a walk along the fortified walls of her castle so that she could look out at the surrounding city and lands. It was important to remind herself what she was doing all of it for.
A slight distance behind stood Ovila and two others of her personal guard, Fwain and Misara. Seeing them there comforted her, but what she could really use at the moment was a friend. Ovila she considered a friend, but Ovila was also a subordinate, and so that influenced their friendship in far too many ways for Vrana to indulge.
“Yes, Your Honor- I mean… did you want me to call you Vrana?” Ovila shifted a little, appearing awkward.
This was why she needed to maintain distance, but Vrana steeled herself and pushed through the moment.
“For a little while, at least.”
Ovila nodded, “what’s on your mind, ma’- …Vrana?”
“I think war is inevitable, it’s… coming.”
There was a poignant pause, the silence was filled with plenty of sounds. Even high up on the walls of her fort, they were in the middle of a city and the castle itself was bustling. There were the sounds of things moving, banging, scuffling, and the occasional raised voice above the pitch.
“Yes… but, m- Vrana… Hal’la has the strongest military in the history of Almos. You saw to that.”
She could hear the pride in Ovila’s voice, and that made her smile. Vrana had been the youngest General Queen in memory, but she was not so young now. The past ten years had been spent trying to break all the records, doing everything she could to not only be the best General Queen she could be, but to make the nation as strong as it had ever been.
Vrana was responsible for better organizing the storage of taxed grains and other foodstuff to protect against not only natural famine, but the possibility of becoming sieged by an enemy with burned farmlands to restore. She had instituted the national mandatory draft service. The measure had been unpopular at first, but she had ensured that a new military academy was installed and that those who put in their service would return home with new skills beyond just warfare.
It was a simple program, but it required significant investment, a lot of political talk with the wealthier peoples of Hal’la and wrangling with its nobles, who were also its generals. However, in the end it had proven an absolute success. The draft, rather than being a dreaded war-time fear was now a respected, established tradition that most of the populace looked to.
Even for those who didn’t make the military their career, gaining new skills to bring back to their towns and villages was extraordinarily helpful. However, it also allowed individual from an otherwise unknown village to rise up the ranks and contribute to Hal’la. Vrana had been one such, though no academy existed. For her, fate had intervened and sent the previous General Queen, Hadya through her small village.
Hadya was touring the countryside to check on the health of its citizens and attempting to weed out any corruption at the town/village level. It was just Vrana’s father raising her, her mother had died during childbirth. Being a single parent was hard, but her father saw opportunity when it presented itself. Vrana was already showing an aptitude for fighting, which he showed off to Hadya. She was suitably impressed and later a missive came bearing a royal invitation to the castle.
Since then, she’d only seen her father roughly once a year during the annual harvest holidays, sometimes twice a year the second time being around his birthday. She had been able to do that more after she had risen through the ranks of the Hallian military. He’d done his best to support her from afar, sending what money he could. However, when Vrana had offered to set him up in apartments in the city after becoming General Queen, he had declined, stating that the village he grew up in was his home and he was always happy to see her at home.
That had been hard, but it occurred to Vrana that if war broke out, she might need to retreat him to the city anyways. He would hate that, but could she live with herself if he died?
“We will win. We have to.” Vrana said, feeling a bit more conviction than before. She pounded a fist against the stone railing.
“Yes, m- … Yes, Vrana, we will.” Ovila smiled at her and it was as bright as the noonday sun.