When Nathaniel and Lithian entered the room, the people on the raised seats immediately saw them. The general sighed wearily, shaking his head. The visit did not seem to be unexpected, but he still appeared annoyed. Nathaniel walked closer to the general and saluted him.
"General Adonis, a pleasure to be in your company once again," Nathaniel said, "I do hope we can clear up all our misunderstandings."
"The pleasure is mine, Commander," Adonis replied stiffly, "But I don't recall sending for you to come here."
"I thought I'd discuss the matter of the re-assignment of the Xiphos with you in person," Nathaniel said, "I'd also love to know what this plan of yours is all about."
"The matter was settled. You got your orders did you not?" the general said, "And you would have been informed of the details of the plan along with the rest of the field commanders. Yet here you stand."
"I received my orders, and I followed them," Nathaniel said, "We both know my men and I are not common soldiers; why do you insist on treating us as if we were? You will need us for this plan, and you know it. Or do you think you can hope to match the Stormguard without us?
"I only wish to not be blindsided when we do, eventually, get our orders... Sir."
They both stared at each other for a few moments until the general finally said, "Very well then, you can join our planning session. We were just about to begin."
"Thank you, sir," Nathaniel said.
He smirked at the noble lady by the general's side; the woman looked away in response. It piqued Lithian's interest. As far as he knew, Nathaniel had barely any interaction with nobles. Yet these two clearly knew each other pretty well. But there would be plenty of time to solve this mystery. There was no need to rush.
Nathaniel took a seat to the left of the table, and Lithian stood behind him. Evidently, the planning session was just about to begin when they arrived. Some whispers arose from here and there at their arrival, but they all soon quieted down as the general stood up.
"Let me start by relaying the status of our relief force," the general began, "They are still tied down by the Fyniad army. In the last two weeks, they've barely made any progress at all. It would be best if we do not expect to be relieved of this siege any time soon."
Some officers groaned, and others cursed under their breaths. No one could blame them for being angry and frustrated. This siege had already lasted months; the relief force should have been here a long time ago.
"With that out of the way, let's get to the important issues at hand," the general continued, "Ever since the enemy fouled the water of the river, we've been carefully rationing our water supply. The good news is we shouldn't run out of water for another 3-4 months at the current rate."
"Courtesy of being downriver," the thin man at the general's side said.
"Food rations are not an issue either," Adonis said, "Before the encirclement was completed, we were being supplied with food to be used in case of a prolonged siege.
"The enemy has made two more attempts to out-flank us in the last two weeks. Much like the previous times, the two fortes were used to break the enemy lines and force them to retreat.
"They seem to have given up on out-flanking us and have instead begun to press the attack on all fronts, with particular focus on the central part of the city. We believe their objective is to gain control of the Riez Canal's main dams, which would allow them to advance across the entire length of the canal more easily.
"We plan to close the dams of the canal at the river and keep the ones on the wall open to drain it. Although the water is no longer drinkable, the basins will still be of use in draining the canal. We will proceed with the defense as normal even as we are forced to withdraw behind it. As is standard, we will dismantle the bridges as we retreat. After that, we will continue to give ground until the main bulk of their vanguard crosses across the canal.
"When the enemy has crossed the canal, we will launch many simultaneous night raids to blow all the bridges over the canal. This will effectively cut their vanguard off from the rest of their army. Cut off from their main force, and with no way to retreat, the enemy vanguard can only fight and be annihilated. Of course, the ones carrying out the night raids will be the elites of the military as well as the Xiphos.
"Even if we were to destroy all the bridges over the canal before retreating, they will simply use the bridging equipment to set up new ones. We must not only destroy the bridges they set up but also destroy the spare bridging equipment that will undoubtedly be kept across the canal. This will buy us a lot of time until they can bring over new equipment."
He surveyed the men and women gathered around the table carefully, gauging their reactions. There was an air of uncertainty among the officers. The general must have noticed it because he cleared his throat to gain everyone's attention.
"That is the plan. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to raise them now," Adonis said.
As the general concluded his explanation of the plan, silence reigned in the war room. The officers of the military all had thoughtful expressions; they were considering the pros and cons of such a plan. Finally, an officer cautiously looked around.
"Isn't this plan a bit too risky, sir?" he spoke up, "If we fail to blow all the bridges and the bridging equipment, this plan will fall apart."
"There will always be risks involved in every plan. This is war after all," the general answered, "Blowing the bridges should not pose a problem. And if we fail to destroy the equipment, it will only mean we have less time to press our attack. We would still inflict considerable losses on the enemy."
"What of the Stormguard?" another officer from the far end of the table said, "I doubt they will make this easy for us."
This time, the noblewoman replied, "That's what the Xiphos are there for. They will deal with the Stormguard and any other complications that might arise. They are not the Chosen of the Divine Light for nothing, after all."
"Thank you for your words of confidence, Lady Eleonora," Nathaniel said, bowing slightly, "Rest assured, the Xiphos will not fail you."
Lady Eleonora scoffed at his behavior, whispering, "Unbelievable."
Lithian mirrored that sentiment. Who the hell was this woman?! If she and Nathaniel knew each other so well, why had he never seen her before? After all, as his apprentice, Lithian followed Nathaniel almost everywhere he went. 'You've been holding out on me, Nathaniel,' Lithian thought, "If I knew you were this smooth, I would've asked you for romantic advice sooner." He chuckled at his own joke.
Nathaniel turned his head to glare at him as if he knew exactly what was going through his head. Lithian cleared his throat and turned his head to the side, doing his best to control his expression.
"With the Xiphos fully committed, this plan is risky but doable," an officer with dirty blonde hair said. In this room full of people with brown and dark brown hair, he really stood out.
Lithian nervously ran his hand through his hair. A few strands fell in front of his eyes. They were as dark brown as he expected. Pushing his hair out of his eyes, he looked towards the general, who had begun speaking again.
"That is all for this session. The details of the plan and specific instructions are in the papers given to you," he said, "Make sure your men are prepped, and ready to counterattack once the first part of the plan is complete. The details of this plan are strictly on a need-to-know basis. We don't want the information to leak or our soldier's performance to tip off the enemy in any way."
He eyed the officers around him sternly, his gaze lingering on Nathaniel for a few long seconds. Eventually, he clapped his hands together.
"Our orders have not changed. 'Hold the city for as long as possible at all costs,' " he said, "That is all. Dismissed."
The officers got up and formed their own groups, discussing the plan or personal matters. Some remained seated and scrutinized the plans and maps on the table for a bit longer. Lady Eleonora and the thin man had left the raised platform and were standing towards a side of the room, conversing. Nathaniel got up and went over to join them, with Lithian following behind him.
"Hey Matthaios, I don't even need to ask whether you've been taking care of yourself or not," Nathaniel said, "By the light, you look awful!"
"Unfortunately, the central garrison is being constantly pushed back," the thin man called Matthaios replied, "Any time you try to get some sleep, you have to get up and retreat again."
He sighed wearily, shaking his head. He was the head of the central command, and the past months of siege had been harsher on him than on others.
"If I look like this, you can only imagine the soldiers' situation," Matthaios said, "This plan is risky, but it's the best we can do. If it fails, you can forget about holding on until reinforcements arrive."
He put his hand on Nathaniel's shoulder as he spoke, looking at him meaningfully.
"At least the good news is we won't run out of food or water," Eleonora chimed in, "They will take the city long before that happens."
"If the plan fails," Nathaniel pointed out.
"If the plan fails," the other two both agreed.
"At least the Stormguard don't have an advantage over us at night," Lithian thought out loud, "If it was the Shadow Weavers or the Aqua Faeyora, we would have been screwed for sure."
Nathaniel and the other two turned towards him. Matthaios squinted his eyes at him until suddenly, he cracked a smile.
"Your protégé?" he asked, looking at Nathaniel, who nodded in response.
"This is Lithian?" Eleonora looked a little surprised, "I thought he would be... Wilder."
"I'm sorry to disappoint, my lady," Lithian jested, "Has Nathaniel told you much about me?"
Seeing Lithian probing the noble lady, Nathaniel immediately put a stop to it.
"Even the Eparch knows of your... Adventures," he said, "Your reputation is far from modest. No need to be so humble."
Nathaniel turned his head towards Lithian; the other two were behind him, and couldn't see his face. He gave Lithian a glare that said, 'Stop this.' Lithian was happy to comply for now, and in response, he tried his best to inject his thoughts into his gaze, 'I will hound you about this later.' Nathaniel sighed as he turned back around and continued conversing with the others.
It became clear to Lithian that these three had known each other for a long time. They made quite the peculiar group. Eleonora was a noble, Matthaios was a meritocrat, and Nathaniel was of the state. Yet despite their differences, they were good friends. 'Truly, this is what the revolutionaries must have been trying to achieve.'
Lithian excused himself from the group for a moment and wandered about the room. His hand caressed the papers on the table absentmindedly as he walked. His gaze traveled across the room until he caught sight of two officers who were standing to a side, clearly pointing and jeering at him.
His hand reached up to touch his hair subconsciously. From their attitudes, it was clear to Lithian that this was a pair of nobles. 'It wouldn't be a meeting with nobles without some mockery being thrown around,' he thought, turning around, 'And this is what the revolutionaries must have feared the most.'
He shook his head and returned to Nathaniel and the others. The two nobles had successfully ruined his great mood. The group was reminiscing about a time in the past when Nathaniel had lost a bet to Eleonora. Lithian was interested in knowing the full story, but sadly he had missed it. Matthaios and Eleonora were chuckling while Nathaniel was smiling sheepishly.
Apart from getting the answers he wanted, Nathaniel was clearly here to catch up with his friends. 'So much for annoying the nobles,' Lithian thought, smiling wryly, 'Although our presence alone annoyed plenty of them, including the general.'
Regardless of the reasons, they were here now. Lithian returned to listening to their conversation, chiming in with a comment here and there. 'I would not have expected such humility from a noble,' he looked at Eleonora, 'Babies with gilded pacifiers don't usually turn out very well, who would've thought?'
Having been born in the slums of an unremarkable city and raised in an orphanage, Lithian carried great resentment towards the vane and the wealthy. Nobles were generally both. Lithian observed that his prejudice towards the nobles often colored his thoughts. If this meeting had taught him anything, it was that he shouldn't be too quick to judge others.
I'll update this book regularly, although I don't have a rigid and defined schedule yet.
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