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The war was far too quiet for Martin’s liking. He sat in meetings with the King and Queen, as well as the top generals as they discussed strategies and moved armies around, but Kiam was pulling away, and it could not be for a good reason. Indenuel would sit next to Martin, listening. He had attended many of these meetings, but he rarely spoke.

“We think they’re coming for the city herself,” King Ramiro said, when the breeze finally began to tempt them of a hot spring.

“Impossible,” Navir said. “Any way you come, you’d have to go through multiple cities before you reach Santollia City. That would take an incredibly large army.”

“Which they have,” King Ramiro said quietly. “If they pull back and regroup.”

“Do we have the manpower to hold them back?” Martin asked. “If that is indeed what they are trying to do?”

“We should, but just in case,” the General turned toward Indenuel. “How is your training going, Warrior?”

Indenuel glanced up, doing an excellent job of hiding the fear Martin knew he felt. “Good. It’s… good.”

Navir glanced at Martin, who had by far seen more of Indenuel than anyone in that room. Indenuel tapped a finger against his knee, almost a blur with how fast it was going.

“Sword fighting?” The general asked.

Indenuel nodded. “Yeah. I’m getting there.”

“Powers?”

He nodded again. “Growing stronger every day.”

Navir gave Martin a curious look, but Martin said and did nothing. Indenuel was speaking politically. At least in healing, yes, his powers had grown stronger, but his healing was sitting about average of what a normal person could do. Nowhere near what he once could do.

“I’ll be honest with you, Warrior Indenuel. The possibility of this war lasting another six months is unlikely. If what you said is all true, I’d like you to be ready at a moment’s notice to join the ranks when we call for you,” the General said.

Indenuel nodded. Martin saw it, the slight widening of his eyes, the way his finger relentlessly tapped against his knee, and the slight frown that tugged at his lips. “I’ll be ready, sir.”

Martin almost believed him.

***

It did not feel like winter to Indenuel. It was the strangest sensation to have people around him acknowledge how spring was on its way, when it felt like it was already here. People were getting ready for the weeklong celebration of the Spring Welcoming, but his body clearly said they were trying to get ready for summer. He had breakfast outside in the warm and inviting morning and went on walks in the evening around the garden, if he wasn’t spending time with the Oraminians.

Indenuel looked forward to the end of every week when Matteo and the twins would come visit. Honestly, if they didn’t come, he wouldn’t have attended Sabbath Worship at the Cathedral much longer. Every time he listened to the sermons about God, he would get deeply uncomfortable with the lies the High Elders continued to spread. After a while, Indenuel started to pick up on a pattern. Navir, Dalius, and Fadrique always preached as though God was alive and well. Martin didn’t. Indenuel hadn’t noticed it before. Granted, Martin never said God was dead, either, but many of his sermons were always about the love God had for His people, and the plan given to them. Whether God was dead or alive in that scenario was in the perspective of the congregation.

Matteo was still hesitant around him, but Indenuel expected that. It hurt, but he would let Matteo take his time. It was harder and more rewarding to work with Matteo than it was with the High Elders. Probably because he cared more about Matteo than he did about those old men.

Which is why Indenuel was far too distracted thinking about the children’s visit tomorrow to notice when he got knocked out a second time during combat training. It was so quick he didn’t even notice until he opened his eyes and Captain Luiz was leaning over him, smiling.

“Good attempt, Indenuel,” he said.

Indenuel sighed, closing his eyes again. “I actually thought I had him.”

“Close,” Captain Luiz said. “You weren’t focused, were you.”

Indenuel was on his back as other people around him were getting healed. “I’m sorry.”

“I get it. The start of the holiday is in a couple days.” He extended his hand out toward Indenuel. He grabbed it and pulled himself to his feet before they walked over to the chairs. He sat down, watching the soldiers fighting each other with skill he wished he possessed. “You’ve come a long way.”

“But will it be enough?” he asked.

“You are progressing fine for someone who only just picked up a sword almost half a year ago,” Captain Luiz said.

Indenuel shook his head. “Fine if I was any other recruit. Fine if I was just some other member of the militia who needed to pad the number in the military. Fine, in a desperate time when we just need as many people as possible to hold the line. Abysmal if I’m the Warrior.”

“You are being too hard on yourself,” Captain Luiz said.

“It’s the situation that’s making it hard,” Indenuel mumbled before taking a long drink.

“Oh, come now, Indenuel. God has a plan, and it involved you. With faith in Him, you will exceed all our expectations,” Captain Luiz said.

Indenuel chewed on his cheek, keeping the comments inside. He always had a ton of questions whenever anyone talked about God, and nowhere to turn except the High Elders, which he never utilized because he wasn’t satisfied with their answers. Granted, he could talk about them with Nathaniel, but only if he did so by post, and he was still too nervous to talk about such sensitive topics in a letter.

Indenuel stood up. “Alright. I guess if God wants to dazzle you, who am I to stand in His way? But I want to fight you.”

Captain Luiz gave him a curious look. “Me?”

“You’ve fought the Kiam. You’ve been in battle before.”

“We already do fight each other,” Captain Luiz said.

“Not combat style.”

Captain Luiz frowned. “Are you sure, Indenuel?”

“Ah, there it is,” Indenuel said, pointing. “See, words of praise and promises don’t work on me. I’ve got to see it. The best way for me to see it is if I can actually do it. You’ve been in a lot of battles with the Kiam, so clearly if I can beat you, then God really does know what he’s doing and I can win this war. If I can’t, then I’m right, and I need people to stop pretending God’s going to swoop in and save me at the last minute.”

Captain Luiz raised an eyebrow at this. “That there is an Oraminian trickery if ever I’ve heard one.”

“What?” Indenuel asked.

“Oraminian trickery. Giving absolutes when there is no logical reason for it. If this happens, there’s obviously no way I can do that. If God wanted me to free the slaves, he would have stopped me, and since He didn’t, I’m going to keep doing it.” Captain Luiz unsheathed his sword. “I’ve heard you been around Oraminians.”

Indenuel shrugged. “Yeah. I have.”

Captain Luiz pointed toward the training circles. “If I knock you out, that means you have another opportunity to learn from your mistakes, so you don’t make them in battle. If you win, that means you have what it takes to survive if you ever find yourself separated from Tolomon on the battlefield. Honestly, do you think that man will simply let you face a hundred Kiam soldiers by yourself?”

Indenuel said nothing, realizing the root of his fears. He knew the prophecy. The High Elders kept it secret because they didn’t dare let it out. They didn’t want the Kiam to know Indenuel was going to face five hundred of them alone. But no one else did. Indenuel’s skill in the sword wasn’t nearly enough to battle three at a time, let alone five hundred.

They walked into a training circle, Indenuel saluting the people who were waiting in line. He was sure it must be obnoxious for someone like them to step in front when they waited for so long, but they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, the ones in the back began to circle around to see better. Indenuel unsheathed his sword, giving another resigned sigh as the recruits closed in. Captain Luiz and Indenuel bowed to each other before Indenuel lifted his sword to block the blow that was there almost immediately. There was a clang of metal, one that had intimidated him once, but now he got used to. It still didn’t stop his body from preparing to get hurt.

Captain Luiz kept going, and Indenuel kept blocking. He tried to focus, kept his mind clear except for what he needed to know in order to take out his opponent. Captain Luiz struck a hard blow that came close to Indenuel’s neck, but he blocked it. He threw all his weight against the sword to throw Captain Luiz off. As Captain Luiz stumbled, Indenuel went for a jab that was easily blocked. Undeterred he went for another. The swords danced, and Indenuel struggled to break through the blocks to knock Captain Luiz out.

Indenuel dodged an elbow to the face, feeling pretty good about himself until Captain Luiz broke his wrist. Indenuel didn’t even see how that could have happened. Captain Luiz came at him with another blow, and Indenuel instinctively blocked it before he forgot his wrist was broken and his sword easily dropped to the ground and his shoulder sliced bad. Captain Luiz whacked him across the head with his hilt and Indenuel found himself on his hands and knees, still not quite knocked out, but a sword at his throat.

Indenuel looked up, his wrist cradled to his chest. “I surrender.” He was breathing heavily, feeling the pain threatening to make him pass out anyway.

“You still have a chance. Your sword is right over there,” Captain Luiz said.

“I know when I’ve been beaten,” Indenuel said, grabbing his bleeding shoulder with his good hand as he struggled to his feet. Captain Luiz sheathed his sword before he helped Indenuel up. Captain Luiz was hardly breaking a sweat.

“Progress, Indenuel,” Captain Luiz said. “I must stress your pace is normal for someone who has never touched a sword before in their life.”

The circle broke, the recruits going back into lines as they continued their fights, many of them watching Indenuel curiously as he sat before the medical healers as they tended to his injuries. Tolomon walked up to them, having been completely healed but his blood covered self and splattered clothes told a different story.

“Good training?” Captain Luiz asked.

“Spectacular,” Tolomon said. “One of them accidentally sliced both my eyes, and it frightened everyone enough that I was able to get close to my personal best.”

Indenuel blinked a few times, trying to erase the thought of having his eyes sliced and what that would feel like.

“I will see you two after the Spring Welcoming,” Captain Luiz said.

“Thank you. Have a good spring.”

Captain Luiz clapped Indenuel on the back before turning to go back to the recruits to watch the combat.

Once they both finished washing, they dressed and rode home in the carriage. Indenuel was quiet, watching the scenery pass. The perfect city with it’s beautiful streets and happy people. At least, that’s what they wanted everyone to think. He traveled between the beautiful, large homes of the rich to the destitute poor so often, yet it still felt jarring to him.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Pablo said as he opened the door with a bow. He held up a paper. “I have here all the staff who asked for the holiday off.”

“Isn’t it everyone?” Indenuel asked, taking the paper to see the list of names he mostly recognized. “I specifically suggested everyone take the week off to be with their families.”

“Which is noble of you, sir. Most of us will stay for the first day of the holiday to help clean and make sure things are ready for the new year.” The Spring Welcoming was a weeklong celebration, with each day dedicated to certain aspects of the new year. The first day was dedicated to cleaning, out with the old to prepare for the new. Indenuel always hated this part of the holiday growing up, but it was tradition.

“Some of the staff must remain behind to make sure the house stays in order and you and the children are fed. None of the marketplaces are open during the Spring Welcoming, and we don’t want you to starve,” Pablo said.

Indenuel let himself smile. “I doubt anyone would let that happen again. It is gracious of these members of the staff to keep working over the holidays. We’ll have to let them relax the week following the holiday, yes?”

“Of course, sir,” Pablo said.

“I see you’re going home to visit yourself?”

“I am. My family is in our sister city, and I haven’t seen them for some time,” Pablo said.

“Well, you enjoy yourself, Pablo. You work far too hard,” Indenuel said.

“I will try, sir. Be aware that the fourth day, the Day of Beseeching, you will undoubtably have people come to ask you for things. I have already arranged a few guards to give you added protection in case anything were to happen.”

“You truly know how to keep a house as grand as this,” Indenuel said.

“I’m quite proud of it, sir.”

***

Martin sat down at his desk; the night alive with insects while everyone else slept. He finished reading through the last few months of diagnostics before turning the page over and dipping his quill in the ink.

Tonight, unlike the last two nights where I just touched her forehead, I placed my hand over the uterus to sense the sperm hit the egg. It was successful in the connection, and I gave the egg a healthy dose of healing power and found nothing wrong with it. I have asked to check on it in the coming days, despite it being the Spring Holiday tomorrow. I will continue to write down my findings here. I will be quite surprised if she has her monthly cycle this time. She is a kind child, and her personality is one that God would certainly smile upon her with a baby. If she has her cycle next month, either God does not want her to have a child or –

Martin froze. He stared as the half-formed thought began to turn fully formed.

A knock came to the door. “Your bath is ready,” Derio said.

“Thank you,” Martin said, distracted. “I will be another few moments.”

“Yes Martin.”

Martin stared at the unfinished sentence that was starting to finish itself out in his mind.

Or Inessa herself is making sure she doesn’t.

Martin leaned back his mind racing. Was that even possible? Could Inessa be doing this herself? He heard of things to stop the sperm from fertilizing the egg, but he felt it himself. It was a healthy egg.

But what other reason could there be? He remembered when he went into her room, when he saw her sobbing before she quickly covered it up and pretended she hadn’t. He had been concerned with that careful display of emotions, how expertly she could hide them. If she could hide her emotions that well, certainly she could hide something else. Something just as big. Why wouldn’t she want a child, though? Was she possibly a spy? Sent to keep an eye on the High Elders? She couldn’t be. She was Adosina’s dear friend. But why else would she dare do something like this if she didn’t have a sinister, ulterior motive.

Martin’s quill had dripped a small puddle of ink on the paper. He placed it back in the bottle, distracted. He would have to think more on this while he washed himself.

By the time he climbed out of the bath, the water had turned cold.

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A note from Ellen Taylor

I will be completely honest. The only reason why Indenuel and Captain Luiz had their swordfight here is because I felt bad for the poor Captain. He's always fighting Tolomon, and I was afraid people might think he's a bad swordsman, so I had him finally win a fight in the book so people would remember there's a reason why he's in his position. Honestly, it's hard for anyone to feel like they're great swordsmen when they're up against Tolomon. 

And Indenuel needs to keep loosing, because he's only progressing at an average rate. 


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Ellen Taylor

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