With a sigh, Godric pushed the map away and wearily pulled food toward him. “From what information the generals’ scouts have given us, the range of attack only seems to be a few kilometres along the border. Along here.” He dragged one finger along the dark, jagged line that marked where Syllan ended and the Fells began. “None of the scouts were able to actually reach the barbarian camps on the other side of this forested area before being caught or attacked, so we don’t know just how long the trees go until another clearing comes through. But from that, it seems that our camp is closer to the battleground than theirs.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it? Should we suggest moving back?”
“No. They have further to go to bring their wounded back, so I suppose that is a benefit. But as long as they do not penetrate the treeline and attack the camp itself, we should be all right here.” He rubbed his face and shovelled food into his mouth. “I sent a messenger back to Nallis, to fetch more of the army. We are greatly outnumbered here, and since Nallis is untouched by war at the moment, we can afford to steal away more men for ourselves.”
“How many were you proposing?”
“Fifty thousand. Another ten goes to Galenor to supplement those who are already there.”
“What about Loun?”
“We don’t have a navy.”
“No, but foot soldiers can help organize civilians and defend in case Henson’s blockade becomes a full assault,” Alistair pointed out as he reached for the decanter of wine.
Godric considered it for a moment as he chewed. “That is true,” he agreed. “And they will not need many, as it is Loun’s navy that keeps her safe. Five thousand?”
“One. Someone needs to stay behind and guard home, just in case the worst happens.”
“Very well. I’ll have another message sent out tomorrow morning. I was discussing this earlier with the generals,” Godric said, tone changing suddenly from tired to wary, “but I have a small proposition for you.”
Concerned by his father’s voice, Alistair lowered his cup and gave him a confused stare.
“You have had extensive training in military tactics and weaponry, ever since you were old enough to pull back a bowstring or heft a sword,” Godric said, with a small smile and some measure of pride in his voice. “I never spoke it aloud, but you were much better than your brother on that account. He cared more for politics and history.”
“A good thing he was born first, then.” It was a pitiful joke, and Godric’s flattened expression told Alistair that he hadn’t appreciated it.
“Hm, yes. I only plan to stay here until the tide is turned in our favour,” he said, lowering his voice to a soft murmur. “The generals and I agreed that this battle is an ideal time and place for you to put that training into use. We want you to lead action against the barbarians and crush them into submission by whatever means necessary. You know how to do it. You are a capable leader, son.”
Alistair couldn’t help but be surprised, and let it show on his face. After the contempt his father had shown him after he voiced his opinions in the war council at the Kelver Fortress, he had assumed there was no faith in the skills he had trained so hard to perfect all through his youth.
When he finally found his voice, he stammered, “The soldiers will never follow a mage into battle.”
Godric lifted his chin and leaned back in his chair until the wood creaked. “No? This will be where all Nallisians, whether soldiers or peasants, see what you are capable of. They will see their future king in his full glory, proving his worth and honour to House Wymer. You are their lord first, then a general, and a mage. You are their future, and if they do not care to see it, then they can spend a night in the castle dungeons for their impertinence.”
Startled by the passion in his father’s outburst, Alistair remained silent for several more beats. He trusted his father, but he doubted Nallis’ ability to suddenly cope with a king who could perform magic. Yes, he could control it and it wouldn’t randomly kill people in his court, but to undo nearly one thousand years of hatred and suspicion practically overnight? The only mages who had survived living not just in the castle or capital, but the whole country, without being discovered and executed were the ones who refused to practice their magic, lest someone visiting sense their spirit or someone notice something abnormal.
His father was handing him a revolution upon his death, without even realizing it.
There was no point in refusing. Godric was still king, and would be for many more years. If he wanted to abandon his final heir to war against barbarians, so be it.
“Thank you, Father,” Alistair whispered, lowering his head so his father couldn’t see the anxiety on his face. “I hope I do you and Nallis proud.”
“You will, son. Now go rest. We have a big day ahead of us.”
In silence, Alistair stood, stomach curdling, and left the tent.