“What do you mean by we are under attack?” I ask Paula.
“Our borders have been compromised, it was Commander Dre’s birthday, the men took a minute to pay their respects which gave them the chance to break through, we have spies everywhere as it seems. The Varcasas are not just savages, somehow they have also learnt to be cunning.” Paula sighs.
“Or they have one of our own giving them every information they need; they cannot just change in a day. How is the situation now?” I walk out of the room.
“They have managed to hold them off till the aisle of Brille, the gates have been closed and the borders blocked and armed to the teeth. We might have to fight much sooner than we anticipated.” Paula concludes.
I stop abruptly. “Wait, that doesn’t feel alright.”
“What doesn’t?” Paula asks.
“There is nothing there, why would they attack from the rear, even if they do claim the land, it won’t affect us completely. It’s a distraction. Send reinforcements there, take 500 men and come back to the city immediately they are no longer in danger.” I order but Paula looks at me strangely.
“I am not leaving you.” She declares.
“It wasn’t a request, Paula; it was an order.” I growl at her.
“You can punish me all you want but I am not leaving your side. Send someone else and not me.” Paula stands her ground.
I sigh. “Get me Ladda.”
I move to the barracks where the men are already at alert, everyone looks at me strangely. I can’t decide exactly what it is about the way they look at me and I remember, I am not with my mask today. An alarm rings out all through Roelum making them jump, more men move come into the open space, some of them just waking and others trying to decipher what is happening. I stand on the podium completely dressed in a princess attire.
“You have heard the rumors.” I say with a loud voice and there is total silence.
“They are true, I am a woman; I have led you all these years through battle and more. If any of you think that simply because my mask is off and you can finally see the face behind it makes me incompetent to lead the army, well… I have to say. You must be really daft. Mask or no mask, I am the same person, I have saved some of your lives and some of you have saved mine. I will not walk into battle with men who do not trust me or my decisions so I will give you one chance to go back home. If any of you here think that I am not good enough to lead, you can go back now, you will not be put on trial as runaways or traitors, this is your one chance.” The night guards stand beside me with Paula directly behind me.
The men murmur and talk to each other, I understand the indecision and confusion this must have caused.
“Silence!” Tiana says to the men.
She looks regal, pure and elegant with her rolled up and her white gown. The moon illuminates her fair skin as she looks directly at the men. The fact she has no make up on further enhances the beautiful widow look she has going on.
“What do you have to say? She has led you for more than seven years, she lived, breathed and experienced the woes you have or even more. In her hands, Roelum has been a safe place and that safety is being compromised thanks to my dead husband and his band of traitors. What do you have to live for? Look around you… If the Varcasas win this war, do you think that your children and wives can enjoy the peace they feel right now? There is no better time than for all of us to come together and fight for our land, our nation, our people and most of all… ourselves. Salem is the demon general; the demon general is Salem. Don’t take her kindness for weakness. How many of you can compare to her intellect and skills? You are welcome to challenge her, three men!!! If any of you can beat her at any weapon of your choice, then you get to be general.” Tiana looks at me and nods.
“We don’t have time for this, what is she trying to do?” Paula frowns.
“Humans forget easily, she’s telling me to remind them of who I am and this time without a mask. So that the mask and my face become one instead of two different people. Soldiers are different, while talking might be effective, they need reinforcements to believe in me again. About the time, don’t worry; this would only take a minute.” I remove my cloak and move to the arena.
The men follow as three men are chosen. I know them but they do not know that.
Fran is the first, he is big and strong. His talent is in his ability to take so much pain, I have secretly watched his street fights, he has no technique and he is slow even though he is strong.
“Your royal highness, forgive me but I remember you. You saved my life and the battle of the bones. I have seen you fight and I know I am no match for you. It is an honor to duel with you.” He bows and picks an axe as his weapon of choice.
“Interesting weapon. I won’t go easy on you.” I say to him.
“I don’t expect you to.” He attacks but he’s slow so I dodge and slap his neck with the edge of my hands.
The attack takes him unexpected and he chokes, letting go of the weapon. He coughs profusely and accepts defeat. The arena goes quiet as the next challenger comes up. He is Sid, he is small statured and fast. He is a smart fighter and skilled but not as skilled as I am. He picks a knife as his weapon which makes me take him more seriously. For him to do any damage with a knife, he has to be in close range.
“General….” He bows and waits for me to attack.
I chuckle and pick up my knife. I attack and he defends a few times, I feign an opening and he falls for it. He goes to stab my shoulders; I block it with my right hand and I raise my left hand with the knife to his neck and he surrenders.
“This was fun, we should do it again.” He grins and bows. He reminds me of Akka for some reason and I wonder if he is related to him.
The third challenger comes up and picks a sword. He is Ney, captain of the guards and the most dangerous of them all.
He bows and picks a sword. “I have always wanted to do this.”
“What?” I raise my brow.
“Duel with you. I need to know if you are really as good as they say.” He smirks.
The cocky ones are always the most difficult.
I sigh and pick up a sword.
He attacks and we fight, he is fast, strong and elegant. We defend and strike for a few minutes, I hit his sword out of his hand with a force he probably didn’t think I had, I catch it and hold both swords to his neck. He surrenders and looks at me with admiration.
The soldiers clap and hail, I stop them with a raise of my hands.
“This will be the first and the last time I’ll ever have to prove myself to you.” I leave the Arena.
Paula helps me with my armor.
“Why are we going to the capital borders if they are attacking Brille?” She asks.
“That is a distraction, we have to stop them before they get any closer.” I answer.
I help with her armor and she hugs me tight suddenly. I pat her back.
“We will be fine Paula.” I hug her back.
“I like the new armor, it’s light.” She says out of embarrassment.
I pick up my helmet with the mask.
“Why are you still wearing that?” she points at the mask.
“I am the demon general; they have to know who they are fighting against.” I grin at her as I put on the mask.
Paula wears her helmet and grins.
“Let’s go teach those Varcasas a lesson.” She picks up her arrow.
“I can’t believe you two were going to leave me here alone.” Elena glares at us.
“It is a dangerous place, I’d rather you stay here.” I reply.
“I am going with you. Who knows? You might need me.” I see that she is dressed in a man’s attire.
“I am coming with you too.” Luna says and Paula groans.