No! Marven pushes that thought out of his mind. Nothing is set in stone. We can win this. We can beat them, Marven thinks. He didn't have a clue where they came from or who built them. But Marven instinctively knows what their purpose is. To end mankind.
A war is coming, and it’s not a war to gain land or for power or for money. It will not be a war for the sake of honour or love or glory. This is going to be a war of extermination. One side will not rest until it has wiped out its opponents. And the only hope for the other side to win, to be victorious, is to wage a war for its very own survival.
Marven knows all these things because he had a teacher who taught him about war a long time ago during his time at the Whiteford Academy. The man was vile and despicable, and Marven would never admit to being a follower of his, but the man was master at the art of war, and Marven at least has to acknowledge him in that.
“Ahem.” Deek coughs as if to pull Marven out of his deep thought. “Well, we couldn't be sure about their exact numbers because no one’s been close enough to count them, sir.”
“Wait, close enough to count them? You sent boats out there to the Alvian Kingdom’s side?”
“Had to. General Frost’s orders.’
“Old Man Winter is here?”
“Yes, sir. He arrived a day after the battle. We showed him the creature, well what’s left of it anyway, and told him and this was the thing responsible for nearly crippling the forces at Fort Varen. Not the Alvian Kingdom forces, not a normal human army, but this thing. The general doesn't even bat an eyelid. He interrogated the refuges we had taken prisoners, and then gave orders for scout ships to be sent out. With strict instruction not to get too close to the other side.”
“Must have heard about how that thing jumped from the middle of the great river and nearly landed on top of my ass.”
“I'm just glad the General didn't* dismiss our story as ludicrous. At first I thought he wouldn't believe us when we told him the truth about what had happened. Hell, I saw it with my own eyes and I still have a hard time believing it.”
*I forgot to put the word didn't here
Old Man Winter has always had an open mind, Marven reminisces. Never too narrow-minded to deny information that would have been dismissed as crazy talk, and never too gullible to swallow it up entirely. Trust but verify.
Marven catches Deek watching him. There’s something that has been bothering the man, Marven could see it.
“What is it?” Marven asks him.
Deek looks like he is about to say something but catches himself at the last moment. “What’s your relationship with General Frost, sir?” he finally says.
Interesting, Marven thinks. That’s not the thing that’s been bothering Deek or the question that he’s been dying to ask. Whatever’s been eating his second-in-command, it’s got him beating around the bush and talking too much.
Which is another thing that has Marven puzzled. Deek has never talk this much before. Usually, anything that the man wants to say would be communicated through a sentence containing five words (more or less), a grunt, or a hand-signal. The only times Marven hears him speak something longer is when he’s trying to one-upped Marven in their little competition of trying to make the men laugh.
Deek being this chatty has Marven worried. There’s something Marven missed, and he couldn't put the finger on what’s wrong. It’s like watching a thing that usually doesn't talk a lot suddenly becomes very… talkative. Fuck. That sentence really got away from me. I have to think of a better example later, thinks Marvin quietly.
“Pardon me?” Marven asks his second in command again.
“It’s just that the day that he arrived, it was chaos everywhere. We were still reeling from the losses we took, most of our men were heavily injured, and half of them weren't going to last another night and see another sunrise. General Frost rides in with the reinforcements, they really thought the Alvian Kingdom was invading, and ask for you by name. We took him to the medic camp where we were treating you, well treat wasn't the right word because we already had given up trying to save you. You were so white and cold. It was like you were already at death’s door. Ardeth had even begun making funeral preparations. The general took one look at you and called for his personal army physician to attend to you, saying and I quote ‘The bastard’s too tough to die from something like this. Send him to me after he wakes up.’ ”
“Like a quiet, bookish school girl who talks your ear off in bed, right after you took her virginity!” shouts Marven excitedly.
“Huh, what?” asks Deek, alarmed by his captain’s strange outburst.
“No nothing, just a private joke. More importantly, Ardeth was here?”
“Still is, she’s been keeping watch over you for a couple of days now. I think its only last night that Ardeth finally slept, she wanted to sleep on the floor but I managed to convince her she needs her own bed. She’s now resting in the empty room next door. I sent word for Ardeth to come here after the battle was over, right after we fished you out of the river. Your children are being looked after by your parent-in-laws.”
“Exactly like Isidora Markell!” Marven shouts excitedly again. “Good gods, you wouldn't believe how long she could continue talking without waiting for the other people to answer, or even breathing. I had to kiss her and then some in order to get her to stop talking.”
“I… I don’t even-“ Deek is at a loss of words. Clearly his captain is suffering from some head trauma.
“Stories during my youth at school. More importantly, please get Ardeth in here. I need to talk to her immediately.”
Deek complies and goes to fetch Ardeth from the room next door. It looks like he still wanted to talk some more but decided to put it on hold for now.
Ardeth arrives a few minutes later. Marven half-expects her to either launch into an angry tirade about how he almost lost his life and nearly made their children grow up without a father. Or to leap into his arms (further aggravating his wounds), screaming and crying about how she nearly lost him.
But what she said next chills Marven to the bones, and made him wish he is across the Grand River of Kartank in the Alvian Kingdom (even though it is currently full with hundreds and hundreds of Razors).
“Who’s Isidora Markell?” asks Ardeth with a smile that doesn't look like a smile at all.