Ascension

**Winner of Replica writing Comp** In the city of Eto, the life of a noble is worth the live of ten commoners. In order to keep the world balanced, each time a noble comes of age at the age of 16, they select 10 commoners to kill.

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8. Aliana- 3

 

I sat at one of the ornate tables in the dining hall of the palace, listening to Aaron recount stories of my brother’s bravery on the front. I listened with awe, glad that he was alive and doing well.

I did my best to pay close attention as Aaron told me dramatic stories of the battles my brother had fought in. However, my mind wandered, analyzing the battles he explained to me. At first I tried to blame my restlessness on the spirits, but finally I placed a hand on his arm, stopping him.

“Aaron?”

“Yes?”

“I have… a question,” I said carefully.

He nodded. “Ask, then.”

“The… battle you’re describing. This was the eastern front, correct?”

He nodded again, appearing pleased. That encouraged me, and I kept speaking.

“But, as everyone knows, the eastern front is an icy wasteland. To be engaging in open battle in such an area would be risking treacherous footing. The only possible place to stage a battle would be in the central plain, and that’s still rough, and would require many nights spent out in the open, vulnerable to attacks. What brought our army to such a place?”

Aaron’s smile grew, and I felt heat rising to my face. “It’s rare that a woman can analyze a battle so closely,” he commented. “It was Kezan’s idea, as a matter of fact. As I’m sure you know, Kezan is an aspect of water, which means the icy terrain-”

“Would be right in his element!” I finished eagerly. “He could turn the very ground against their foe! In the open plain, there would be no risk of hitting his own men, or harming them… He’d have to have a clear view of the enemy, but still be protected… maybe formation Omega? Or would it be Triumvate? Triumvate would work better with the terrain, but Omega would keep him safer…” I trailed off as I realized Aaron was staring at me. I flushed a deep red, dropping my eyes to the ground. I had been warned about this! Tarria had lectured me time and time again about speaking too much, sounding too smart. Why hadn’t I listened? He was going to think I was improper-

“Where did you learn all that?” he asked, sounding genuinely fascinated.

I looked down shyly. “When my brother first went off to war, he would often send letters describing the great battles he fought in detail. At first I did not understand them. The movements of troops that he described were foreign to me. And so I studied, in hopes of understanding where he was to a much better extent. I apologize for sounding too outspoken, your majesty.”

“A woman who studies battle tactics.” He sounded… impressed? “And you aren’t ashamed of it.”

“I’m sorry, your majesty-”

“Please, don’t be sorry.” He was smiling. That was good, right? I could feel my face flushing. I silently thanked whatever spirit was supplying my good fortune. Aaron, the crown prince, next in line to the throne, was speaking to me. He almost seemed to… admire me? No. That was just wishful thinking. I was below a crown prince’s notice. He was only speaking to me because of my recent choosing. He would forget soon.

But by the spirit of Aether, this was wonderful while it was lasting.

“Tell me, what do you know of troop formations?” He sounded genuinely curious. Could he actually be interested? What sort of miracle was this? My racing thoughts kept the wind spirits busy as I wondered why he was being so kind to me.

“Well, I know all the basic patterns,” I admitted shyly. “I know basic strategies, as well as the entire chain of command. I’ve looked at maps, and know most areas very well.”

“Impressive.” He sounded like he meant it. “As a matter of fact they used pattern Patriarch.”

“Patriarch?!” That came as a surprise to me. “That would leave him completely exposed! Patriarch is only used with a wind aspect commander, to draw fire away from the troops.”

“Exactly.” Aaron appeared very pleased. “The enemy suspected this, of course. They had not fought Kezan directly before, and perhaps assumed he was a wind aspect. They had bows designed specifically for that purpose. Therefore, they were caught off guard when Kezan was able to defend himself with ease.”

“That’s… brilliant,” I admitted, face flushing. Why hadn’t I thought of that? That would make the most tactical sense- confusing the enemy, who might have knowledge of our troop patterns. And yet it had sounded so daring, so dangerous… if Kezan were to fall, then our troops would be without a general. A gamble like that was ridiculously dangerous. But it seemed to have worked. Still, taking such risks on a battlefield? Men could die because of mistakes like that.

Aaron nodded. “Kezan is one of the most brilliant tacticians in this kingdom.”

Abruptly, our conversation was interrupted as a member of Aaron’s personal guard ran towards him. Aaron turned, expression irritated, as the guard murmured something to him.

He turned to me, a strained smile appearing on his face. “Forgive me, lady Aliana, but there are certain… matters I must deal with. I would gladly continue this conversation later. Where will I find you?”

Spirits of Aether, he actually wants to speak to me!

“In the library, I suppose,” I found myself saying.

“Wonderful. I will meet you there.” He kissed my hand lightly, before following the guard out.

I sat back, an overjoyed squeal rising inside of me. I had spoken to Aaron, the crown prince. The crown prince had spoken to me! Like an equal! He’d asked to meet me later, he’d seemed to enjoy talking to me… what did this mean?

Obviously, as a girl coming of age, I had hoped to marry into a wealthy family. I had fantasized about the crown princes- who hadn’t?- but I’d never expected to truly meet and speak to one of them! And to have him interested in speaking to me? That was too much.

Soft footsteps distracted me, and I turned, the spirits inside of me making me whip around much faster than I should have been able to. Tarria was approaching me, an odd expression on her face. I felt a surge of worry. Had I done something wrong.

“You were speaking to the crown prince,” she remarked as she reached me.

“Yes, I was. He’s wonderful!” I smiled. “We were discussing the front, and he told me how Eron was doing, and-”

“I have warned you multiple times that battle tactics are not a suitable topic for a young lady!” she said reproachfully. “Since your birth I’ve done my best to teach you better. Already you were drawing too much attention to yourself.”

“I was?”

She nodded. “Speaking so openly and freely with the crown prince… other noblewomen of stations much higher than yours may begin to percieve you as a threat. Many hope to marry Aaron, as he is not yet betrothed.”

“He isn’t?” That came as a surprise to me. Most male first born were betrothed at the moment of their birth!

“Your hopes are foolish, my dear,” Tarria sighed. “You must not speak to the crown prince any more. It is unseemly for a woman of your station. Your discussions should remain polite and public, else other women will worry that you intend to marry him. Or, worse, that he intends to marry you!”

“But why would that be so bad?” I protested, trying to keep the petulance out of my voice.

“Because, my dear, Aaron is the first son of the king himself. He must marry to a high ranking woman to maintain stability. Marrying a woman so low below his station?! It is unheard of!”

“But doesn’t prince Raphael meet with commoners every once in a while?” I protested. “Surely that-”

She cut me off. “You would not speak so disrespectfully of one of the crown princes! Prince Raphael is… odd, yes, but he has his reasons for what he does. You must not speak of him in such a way. And you must not meet with the crown prince again.”

“We were going to meet later…”

“You must find a polite reason not to go then. It is dangerous for him to be showing interest in you.”

“But-”

“No buts. You are a young woman now, and soon I will not be able to care for you. You must learn these things while you can.”

I let my head drop in embarrassment. “Yes Tarria.”

“Good girl. I only want what is the best for you. And it would be best if you avoided the prince from now on.”

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