For two days, Owain had lain in a field hospital unconscious. After Arthwyn’s disastrous second assault, the Talfar army was in such disarray that it took that long for a healer to actually examine the Prince’s injuries and determine that he no longer needed to be sedated—and, in fact, never needed to be in the first place.
As the Talfar Prince slowly regained consciousness, a quarter of the two dozen remaining Warrior-Chiefs were huddled around his bed, waiting on the only leader they had left to come back to himself. For a few moments after opening his eyes, Owain had no idea what was going on. His memory of the past few weeks had faded away, but as the seconds passed, more and more of the haze that filled his mind cleared, and more and more of what had transpired returned to him.
By the time he recalled Gwen relaying Andraste’s orders to stand down and Arthwyn subsequently attacking him, Owain was sitting up and staring at the surrounding Warrior-Chiefs.
“What’s… going on?” he asked in a hoarse voice. The healers had already finished their work and left him alone with the Warrior-Chiefs in a private section of the field hospital.
The Warrior-Chiefs all looked at each other, unsure of how to respond. They were all of equal rank and each was roughly on par with the others in terms of magical ability—in other words, there was no clear leader among them who could take charge. This also meant that there was no single person whose responsibility it was to answer the Prince’s question, and none of the Chiefs even wanted to in the first place.
The seconds dragged on in silence, and Owain quickly lost his patience. He glared at the nearest Warrior-Chief and repeated, “What is our current situation?!”
The Chief looked dismayed to be called out like this, but he reluctantly began to explain everything that had happened while Owain was unconscious.
“… and after the Marshal was subdued, the army retreated, but not before suffering horrendous casualties,” the Chief finished.
“And where’s Arthwyn now?” Owain asked, having gotten the full picture of what Arthwyn had done and how he had justified it.
“We’ve confined him to his tent until Your Highness could figure how to handle the situation,” the Warrior-Chief replied. He was clearly nervous as to what Owain would do, especially since he and the other Warrior-Chiefs had technically committed a mutiny against their commander.
Or at least, that’s how he understood what had gone down.
“Arthwyn is no longer a Marshal, he was stripped of that rank by my older sister,” Owain said in a tone that clearly conveyed his exhaustion and resignation. He’s suffered too many blows to fight for the throne now, and the least he could do was to act with as much dignity as he could muster. “Ensure that he’s securely imprisoned, I’ll decide what to do with him later…”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the Chief replied.
“And have the rest of the Chiefs assemble for a meeting at once. We have things to go over,” Owain added as relief washed over the faces of the other Warrior-Chiefs when it became clear that they hadn’t actually committed treason.
Owain struggled out of bed; he was stiff from having been immobile for a couple days, but his fifth-tier strength made it not overly difficult for him to rise to his feet. Two of the Warrior-Chiefs left to fetch the others, while the remaining Chiefs accompanied Owain to the command tent.
On the way, the Prince observed the status of the warriors in the camp. Most were listless and without purpose, and few so much as glanced at the small procession of leaders as they passed. To say that the army was in dire straights would be to put it mildly, and with every step he took, Owain could feel any conviction he once had to seize the throne diminish further. This army was the last thing he had left, his final option to try and claim the crown, and it was thoroughly defeated; it would fight no more battles, and the Prince got the impression from the expressions of utter dejection of many of the warriors’ faces, if he tried to lead the ragged remnants into one last battle, he’d face mass desertion from the professional warriors.
Once they reached the command tent, Owain took a seat at the front of the meeting area and didn’t say another word until everyone else arrived half an hour later. No one else dared to break the silence he unintentionally imposed, either.
When Owain was ready to speak, he glanced at the two dozen Warrior-Chiefs that remained. A third of the sixth-tier mages in the army had been killed in battle, and a few more had been killed by Bran, leaving him with barely more than half of the commanders he’d had a month prior.
“Arthwyn?” Owain exhaustedly asked.
“Bound and imprisoned in his tent, as ordered,” one of the Chiefs replied.
“Good,” Owain murmured. With his dream of Kingship gone, he couldn’t even muster the energy to order the former-Marshal’s execution. “Status of the army?”
“Broken,” another Chief succinctly responded. “We left almost thirty thousand dead in the last battle, and the peasants have been deserting faster than we can stop. At this point, we have less than fifteen thousand levies remaining.”
“And the warriors?” Owain asked.
“Thirty thousand infantry, forty-five thousand cavalry,” the Chief informed.
“Then we’re likely outnumbered by now, assuming that the Bull’s reinforcements were more than just those knights…”
“Those knights were led by powerful mages, probably some of their Paladins,” a third Chief stated. “If they have seventh-tier mages, then we can’t even stay hunkered down in the camp and try to rely on our fortifications to survive.”
“You’re saying we ought to retreat?” Owain asked.
“I am, Your Highness,” the Chief shamelessly answered. “There can be no victory here, especially without the reinforcements we were hoping to receive from Marshal Gwen.
“Speaking of, where is she?” Owain asked.
“We don’t know, Your Highness. She left for Ariminium shortly after her arrival and she hasn’t been seen since.”
“Hmm,” Owain hummed in thought. “She told me she was going to try and secure a temporary truce so that we could retreat in safety, while our two Kingdoms worked on a more lasting peace, but then Arthwyn ordered the assault. I would hazard a guess that it looked like she was trying to distract the Bull’s Legions from the assault and was likely taken prisoner.”
Suddenly, a Warrior-Captain entered the tent. “Your Highness,” he said to Owain with a quick bow, “the Bull’s Legions are assembling outside of their fortress!”
To their west, three Legions were arrayed in their iconic checkerboard formation.
To their south, another Legion had reoccupied Florentia, evicting the garrison left behind during the last assault—the garrison was light, barely more than a token force to prevent landings to the south while the assault was carried out. In the confusion and dejection following the assault, none of the Warrior-Chiefs reinforced the small garrison, leaving them vulnerable to the Legion counter-attack.
Finally, two more Legions were rapidly marching east from Florentia; it was clear that their aim was to swing around to the north and surround the camp on three sides, with the Border Mountains preventing escape to the north.
“Shit…” one of the Warrior-Chiefs whispered.
“We need to deploy the cavalry! Hit those marching Legions in the south-east and prevent ourselves from being cut off!” another Warrior-Chief shouted. “If we can delay them long enough, then we can still retreat back to Briga!”
“No,” Owain gently whispered, taking everyone around him completely by surprise. “No, don’t challenge the Bull in open battle, but be prepared to defend this camp with everything you have.”
“… Yes… Your Highness,” the bellicose Warrior-Chief hesitantly responded.
As he watched the Legions slowly encircle them, something had occurred to Owain. If he were to return to the Talfar Kingdom, he would more likely than not be put to death. Several of his other brothers had rebelled against Andraste, and she had shown them no mercy after defeating them in battle, remorselessly sending them to the headsman to be made a head shorter.
Owain suspected he would suffer a similar fate if he were to return home. He couldn’t even trust these Warrior-Chiefs’ loyalties; all it would take would be a message from Andraste promising them amnesty in exchange for handing him over and throwing down their weapons.
But in the Bull Kingdom, even if he were imprisoned, Owain suspected he wouldn’t be put to death.
“Ready my chariot, I will go out to parley with Prince Trajan,” Owain ordered.
“Your Highness! You can’t!” a Warrior-Chief shouted. “We can’t give in to them, even if we’ve lost so much!”
Unfortunately for this Chief, he found no support from his colleagues when he looked around at the other Warrior-Chiefs. They just wanted this whole thing to be over and to go home, no matter how it happened. They honestly didn’t care if the Prince surrendered himself to buy their freedom.
And so, not even ten minutes later, while the Legions were still getting into position, Owain drove out of the camp in his chariot with only a handful of bodyguards in three other chariots. He stopped about halfway to the Legions to the west—that was where the most Legions were concentrated, and he was certain that that’s where Trajan would be.
He wasn’t disappointed, as several minutes later, about twenty or twenty-five riders rode out from behind the Legions and toward Owain.
As the Legion riders closed the distance between them, Owain noticed his bodyguards getting restless. “Stay calm!” he ordered, and while they gave him strange looks, none of his guards drew their weapons.
Owain recognized a few of the riders—Trajan was hard to miss, as was the black-armored knight at his side, but there was also a sixth-tier mage with dark brown hair dressed in silver and red, a giant of a man in full bronze plate armor, and a thin man younger than Owain with dark blonde hair and tired brown eyes. Trajan and the latter rode side-by-side, and judging by his green and gold clothing that had the charging bull sigil of the Bull Kingdom’s Royal Family on the chest, Owain guessed that this was another Bull Prince.
“Prince Owain!” Trajan called out as he neared. “It’s surprising to see you out here, I would’ve thought that you’d fight to the end, given how your last assault went!”
Owain took a deep breath and, swallowing what little pride he had left, responded, “That attack was ordered by Marsh-… former Marshal Arthwyn. He led a mutiny against me and ordered the army to attack your walls, despite my order to stand down.”
“Is that so?” Trajan rhetorically asked with a confident smile.
“It is,” Owain responded, though he knew he wasn’t being quite honest. Still, he no longer wished to fight. “Before we speak any further, might you tell me what became of Marshal Gwen? I believe she was sent to negotiate a truce between us while a formal peace treaty was arranged.”
“She’s our… guest until we deal with your army,” the other Prince said. “Ah, allow me to introduce myself, Prince Owain, I am Orestes August Taurus, Prince and Regent of the Bull Kingdom.”
“A pleasure,” Owain replied, however his tone indicated that it was anything but.
“Where is the former Marshal now?” Trajan asked.
“He’s been imprisoned,” Owain responded. “As a matter of fact, I wish to broker terms of surrender.”
That threw everyone for a loop, and even both Trajan and August stared at him in disbelief. They hadn’t thought that it would be so easy.
“What…?” Trajan asked, not quite sure how to respond.
“I would allow myself to be imprisoned by you in exchange for allowing the rest of this army to return to Briga,” Owain explained. “It’s that simple. My army gets to go home while you end the war right now by capturing me.”
Trajan and August silently thought about it for a short period of time.
“I want Arthwyn as well,” Trajan said.
“Done,” Owain replied.
Again, August and Trajan glanced at each other. It was a good deal and would see every single one of the Legion soldiers deployed return to Ariminium safely, so Trajan was inclined to accept, but he was trying to figure out why Owain would so quickly propose this and so readily hand over Arthwyn.
“What are you getting at?” Trajan demanded.
“I don’t want to die,” Owain simply replied. “If I’m captured by you, then I have a reasonable expectation that I won’t be executed. The same cannot be said if I return to Briga.”
“We’ll be asking for more than just you for our official peace treaty,” August warned Owain.
“And that’s Andraste’s problem, not mine,” Owain said.
August and Trajan thought about it for a few more minutes, but in the end, they agreed. Owain was immediately taken prisoner, while his bodyguards delivered a chained and gagged Arthwyn about an hour later. Trajan upheld the deal and pulled the Legions back to Florentia and the walls of the Horns, and watched as the Talfar army abandoned the camp, leaving the walls, watchtowers, and their stables completely intact. They didn’t care about taking everything down, they just wanted to go home.
By sunset, the only Talfar warriors left in the vicinity of Ariminium were the several thousand prisoners taken during the short war, and their fortified camp was occupied by a Legion.
The war was effectively over—for now, at least.
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