An Army Unprepared
Trevalian sat at the head of the war table and all he could think about was his mug of coffee that was growing cold. He'd come in from the chill of the evening and now that same chill was revisiting him here. Instead of comfort, each sip brought a wince and labored swallow, bearing the cold bitterness for the sake of the stimulation it gave him.
In many ways his drink mirrored the room.
"We can't take a fight in our current state," Priya said. She was standing across the table from Trevalian, wearing her usual plate armor with her helmet under her arm. Come to think of it, had he ever seen her out of the armor? Did she sleep in it?
"She's right, Val," Lana said. "You've been away. You haven't seen the state of things around here."
Trevalian fixed his eyes on the table in front of him. The surface was decorated in an intricatly detailed tableau of the Nexus field, with his Red Hand banners strewn across one side and a generic white flag on the other. He took a sip out of his mug, winced again and replaced it on the table.
"May I remind you that if you were under the employ of any other magus, she or he could have you conscripted for this kind of talk."
Lana and Priya shared a look, then Priya spoke up. "You value honesty. That's why I'm still here. Others in the army would rather chase money and they can get more of that elsewhere."
"Right. This again." Trevalian rubbed at his temples, unsure of when this headache had started.
"If you paid them more--"
"Then the village would suffer," Trevalian said, cutting off Lana.
"I still don't understand why you don't just make more money," Lana said. "You can do that can't you?"
Trevalian fixed her with a hard stare and she immediately closed her mouth into a thin line, looking back over the table herself.
"All this aside," Trevalian said. "Can we get back to it?"
Priya nodded and motioned for a few of the men that were standing at attention behind her to come forward. Each of them was carrying a large tray full of miniature soldiers, detailed and painted with the most careful attention. These they deposited on a section of the war table that slid out from the base to create an empty platform, and Priya waved them away when they were done.
"We are effectively down an entire lane," she said, picking up one of the trays and dropping it on the floor. Trevalian shot out of his chair at the sight and threw out his arms in protest as the tray tumbled down and scattered the various minitatures around.
"Fog it all, Priya," Trevalian said. "I want to hear what you have to say, but do you have to destroy my stuff to say it?"
Priya hardly even slowed down at the protest. "That leaves us with two-thirds of what we need in each to be successful." As she spoke she started placing a few of the miniatures on the table, massing them in three groups inside the starting fortress, one for each lane. The lanes stretched out across the table and converged on one another again at the opposing fortress. The objective.
"We've discussed rotations," Lana said. "But it might not be feasible with such a force."
"Could a single champion hold the lane?"
Again, Lana and Priya shared a look. Lana shook her head. "Not likely. And they would be destroyed if any opposing champion showed up."
"How long could they last, assuming they mostly just limited losses and stalled for time?"
"I think I see what you're playing at," Priya said. She took the three groups of miniatures and amassed them into two groups, one on the top lane of the table map and one in the middle. She then took five different miniatures that were slightly larger than the others and decorated in more unique fashions and placed them around the map. "The champions would start like this, I think."
"Alone in a lane is no small feat," Trevalian said. "Would Kaz be a better choice?" He pointed at the champion miniature Priya had deposited in the empty lane, the one he thought indicated the champion that typically ran that lane, Drenna.
"If this is to work at all, we need Kaz to be as strong as possible," Priya said.
"That won't happen if he's all alone down there," Lana said.
Trevalian nodded. He turned his head to look at the others in the room who had mostly been disregarded during the entire meeting. "Drenna it is, then. Any questions?"
The question was more of a formality than anything. Priya would brief everyone else about what was happening, and they could ask her if they had any questions.
"Good. You're dismissed." Trevalian waved off the servants that looked ready to clear off the table. "I'd like a moment."
Slowly everyone filtered out, following after Priya who spared only a moment to nod in deference to Trevalian before hurrying away. She had work to do and he didn't envy her that. Then again, he had his own demons to address.
When everyone was gone he stood up and walked over to the toppled tray of miniatures and knelt down to pick them up.
Lana stooped down beside Trevalian and scooped up a miniature, depositing it on the tray with as much care as she could muster, which wasn't much. "Going into fighting season without a full army isn't something I'm familiar with."
"No one is familiar with it."
"I was busy."
Lana sighed and forcefully put another miniature onto the tray.
"Take it easy," Trevalian said. "These were time-consuming."
"No." Lana turned to him, eyes burning. "You know what's time consuming? This crusade you have to recover some mythical artifact from a civilization that was turned to *glass*." Another miniature on the tray with a smack that made Trevalian wince.
"It's not mythical. There are records. I told you all this."
"Yet here we are." Lana looked at her hands and surprised Trevalian by gingerly placing the next miniature she picked up onto the tray. Then she stood. "Will it be worth all this effort chasing something that might not exist when you lose the season? When you have to watch as our neighbors gobble up our land and leave us nothing?"
"What about when our borders are so compressed that you can't leave your castle without stepping on someone else's land?"
Trevalian scooped the rest of the miniatures up in his hands and put them on the tray.
"You say you're trying to protect us, but we have no army. You won't even stretch out your hand to use your power to save these toys. What are we--"
"I said that's enough." Trevalian heard his voice echoing through the large room. He stood and put the tray on the table. "I need sleep. We can talk about this later."
Lana stood there, just watching him for what felt like minutes before she turned and walked out of the room. The door resonated as it closed, matching his voice for echoes through the expanse of stone.
Why hadn't he caught the miniatures before they fell to the ground? It would have been so simple. A trifle of power to prevent a menial task. And yet he had stayed his hand, and not even intentionally. Something in him hadn't even registered that he could save the tray in the heat of the moment.
He focused on the tray, took a deep breath and lifted his hand out toward it. Slowly and steady as a rock it rose into the air following his gesture. Then he picked out each individual miniature from the tray, focusing on them and lifting each with the twitch of a finger so that they danced circles around the tray and bobbed up and down in an intricate pattern of weaves and twirls. After a moment he gathered them all together again and arranged them neatly once more on the tray, lowering it again to the table as his own hand lowered back to his side.
So it wasn't a question of whether or not he could have saved the miniatures, but whether or not he wanted to.
Trevalian stood in the empty room for a few minutes more, staring over the map on the table. It had felt like a long offseason, but apparently it hadn't been long enough. Spring thaw had come and gone, and the heat of summer was coming. He could almost taste the humidity on his tongue, and all the memories it brought with the feeling and smells and tastes were of war. Battle in the Nexus. The endless grind to move up the leaderboard, to stand victorious at the end with the winning army.
It was all so repetitive.
So many of the other magi lived for the battles. On the few occasions when Trevalian had invited a neighboring magus to dine at his castle the conversation always revolved around the fights. They discussed rotations or matchups or changes that the counsel was attempting to make to the rules. It was only after the second of such invites that Trevalian gave up on them altogether and opted instead to dine with local government officials and appointed dignitaries. They, at least, had new things to talk about.
Trevalian shook his head. He needed food and then rest. His trip had taken a toll and he hadn't fully processed all that had happened. It was all raw in his mind, churning around as he tried to make sense.
Not replenishing his army had been a mistake. A mistake that wasn't a matter of whether or not he could field an army, but whether or not he wanted to.
It weighed on him as he wandered into the kitchen and snatched a small loaf of bread to take up to his room. He made it only halfway through the loaf before collapsing onto his bed and falling into a fitful sleep.