Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 19\

Kiaren had set up at the gate of the encampment at the first sign of the arriving troops. The afternoon sun glinted off the metal weapons and armor carried by the horse-mounted soldiers. The Commander’s eyes focused on the leader of the pack, who steadily guided the group towards the gate.

The man peered down at Kiaren as he guided his horse under the gate structure. “About time.” The Commander prodded at the man whose identity was still hidden under the dull metal helmet. He quickly dismounted the horse and leaned in close to Kiaren, nearly meeting face to face.

“Is that how you talk to those who have come to your aid?” The man grumbled, sliding off his helmet.

Kiaren’s eyes went wide and she recoiled one footstep. “Silvus!” She stammered.
The man, only slightly taller than Kiaren, held out his hand as if expecting to shake. The Commander swatted away his hand and quickly turned around.

Slivus quickly faced his troops and waved for them to enter into the settlement through the gate. Before Kiaren could look back towards him, he grabbed at her arm and pulled her to the side, out of the way of the path. “You’re blocking the way.”

“Release me.” Kiaren snarled and pulled away. She paced towards the wall and silently leaned back against the thick timber, sulking.

Silvus approached and leaned in towards her once again. “Is that the welcome I get?” His eyes darted up and around her emotionless face, before turning back towards the encampment, still partially rubble and collapsed buildings. “Seems you do desperately need my help here, though. I figured things were settling down here on this front when your brother’s men returned to Tulefore City. The next thing I knew, they had already left before even hardly spending a night at home. It’s a shame. Where is he- your brother- by the way?”

Kiaren huffed loudly and picked herself up off the fence. “I apologize for this place being in such a state. You will join me in the old mess hall where we’ve set up post.” She ordered, refusing to make eye contact. “We must waste no time preparing.”

Silvus quickly marched after her as she took off in a quick stride up the hill.
The remainder of the troops had piled up inside the walls, tying their horses to rest, and beginning to set up tall, long tents made out of canvas. Carts of supplies had come with them, bringing provisions, fresh water, and bedding for the men.

Kiaren ushered Silvus through the open door and quickly followed after, slamming it and covering the window with the dull linen curtain. As he turned around to peer at her, she marched up to him and buried her face into the hard plating on his chest. He quickly placed his hand at the side of her face and ran his fingers up through her short brown hair.

“When did you return?” She said, her voice muffled by the armor plating in front of her face.

“Some of my men and I returned from across the sea about two weeks ago. The uprisings in Slana were quelled easily enough. Ha the chance to visit with my parents for a while before I heard word of the conflict still ongoing at the base of the mountain here. I never imagined that it would be this bad. I have to assume your brother is…”

“Killed.” Kiaren spat. “By Xiandol. They attacked in the middle of the night, unannounced, and burned half the settlement to the ground. Their warriors possess magical armaments and weapons. That treaty with the mage’s order is beginning to seem little more than a sham.”

“Then your mage… as well as that bodyguard of yours who never relents to following you around.” Silvus asked, grabbing at her slim shoulders. “What of them?”

“Arkyan.” Kiaren stated. “Up north. The mage is to be put on trial for his involvement in this whole situation.”

“I see. A traitor?”

“A deceiver.” Kiaren balled up her fist and tapped it against Silvus’s metal chest plate. “I’m just fortunate that it was you who passed through those gates today. Should it have been anyone else…”

“Should it have been anyone else…” Silvus interrupted. “You would have commanded them just the same. You are an apt leader who shouldn’t let misfortune cloud your judgment.”

“But in order for me to lead, I must be supported by those I can trust.” Kiaren stomped backwards and kicked at one of the flimsily wooden chairs. “With my brother gone, the mage whom I relied on gone, how long will it be until the rest of the men see me, a woman, sitting atop a crumbling corner of the Tuleforian Empire.”

“The corner most close to home.” Silvus rebutted. “Our people know Xiandol were always the most pigheaded of barbarians. The Emperor placed you here because he knew you are an immovable force once your mind is set.”

Kiaren straightened herself up and turned to the door to look out past the curtain outside the tiny window. “Perhaps.” Her voice wavered. “Retreating from this place is the one thing that has never crossed my mind.”

“The storm your reported in your request for reinforcements seems to have let up.” Silvus said, approaching Kiaren from behind. He placed his hand gently on her shoulder and looked out the window in the direction of her gaze. “It seems to me if something were to break, it would be now.”

Kiaren turned around to face Silvus, his body centimeters from hers. “Scouts early this morning reported unusual movement in the Xiandolan settlement. You know, the sun always hits that far face of the mountain before coming over to warm our lands. It’s how they acted out their surprise attack so efficiently, but this time it’s worked a little in our favor.”

Sivlus stepped back slowly, his eyes locked to Kiaren’s the whole time as he perched himself at the edge of the table at the middle of the room. “My men are willing to act upon your orders at any time. Just give the word.”

“I suspect Xiandol may make a move if we don’t act first.” Kiaren smirked. “At least your reinforcements won’t have time to get too comfortable here.”

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