Aldrik cursed loudly, slamming the door behind them. “He knows we’re here.”
Vhalla was about to ask how, but the words stopped short. She remembered the Inquisitors in Paca and her foolishly proclaiming about where they were going. She’d wanted to spark inspiration in the people, she’d wanted to sway the men from Victor. But what if they hadn’t been swayed? The heat of betrayal flushed her cheeks.
“What’s going on?” Jax met them in the hall.
“Victor’s attacking,” Aldrik spoke without stopping.
“Vhal?” Fritz yawned, rubbing his eyes. He’d barely been roused by all the noise. The man might be able to sleep through the end of the world.
“We’re under attack,” Vhalla pulled her friend along.
The main entryway was already buzzing when the four of them entered. The senator was trying to pull threads of organization through the chaos, but it was proving a futile attempt. Aldrik cleared his throat.
“I need the fastest horse,” he announced, projecting the demand throughout the room. “And whatever armor is closest to my size.”
The room stilled.
“Any who are skilled in combat are to come with me. We will join with the Western forces outside the city to thwart this attempt from the false king.” Aldrik glanced at her and guilt clouded his eyes. Vhalla knew why instantly, and she wanted to hate him for it. “My lady will remain here. Her will is to be considered an extension of my own.”
He was leaving her behind. “Aldrik,” Vhalla whispered hastily. “I can carry a sword; I can fight.”
His eyes flicked to the rest of the room, the people watching their discourse. “You’re more valuable to me here. Keep things in order. Help me lead from within.”
“I’ll stay with the Lady Yarl,” Jax announced from her side.
“No, you will go with the Lord Solaris,” Vhalla demanded. “Fritz, you will go as well. Both of your skills will be of use on the field.”
Another screech interrupted any of Jax’s potential objections. The smell of smoke wafted in through the open doors of the government building, cries and shouts riding the wind along with it. The three men exchanged a look as Vhalla stood resolute.
“Go, the field needs leaders.”
They listened to her, and Vhalla swallowed her frantically beating heart as she watched the three leave with a handful of others. The room remained still as the world beyond devolved into chaos before their eyes. Vhalla clenched her fists.
Maybe there was more to Aldrik’s leaving her than Vhalla understood. Panic was a wildfire that was quickly growing out of control in the people around her. Vhalla realized that Aldrik’s words of her value may have been more than appeasement. They needed leadership here and now.
“Senator, how many civilians are currently within Hastan?”
“A couple hundred,” the woman replied.
“What stone buildings are there? Any basement cellars or storehouses for the city?”
A few others listed varying responses. Three or four seemed promising.
“We will move civilians into these locations,” Vhalla decreed. “As we do so, seek out any who have experience with healing or clerical skills. We will set up a triage here, central to all points. I need at least four runners to function as messengers.”
Men and women volunteered instantly. The room was quickly divided into those who would remain and those who would help move civilians. She trusted those who lived in Hastan to know their city and to be motivated to protect their kin without her help.
“Triage will be here,” she explained quickly to those who had remained. Her clerics ranged from old women who had seen every type of injury, to experienced veterans, to mothers, and a handful of those with formal training. She left the elderly in charge of the initial assessments.
“Those with the worst wounds send back into the hall, the least to the right. Take whatever you require and use whatever rooms you need.”
“These rooms are to be used for nobility, the Emperor’s guests,” someone spoke up.
“Pardon?” Vhalla stilled her instruction.
“We cannot take from the Emperor . . .” another added uncertainly.
“I am your future Empress,” she pointed out. “They’re just blankets and sheets and beds. The Emperor and I want to see them used as bandages, tourniquets, or comfort for the ailing.”
They were finally spurred to life. The most experienced clerics and veterans had the easiest time coming to terms with the fact that all bets were off when it came to warfare. Led by their example, everyone hastily began the process of setting up their clerical stations.
It couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Wounded were carried in with returning messengers. It only took an hour for the floor of the main entry to the Eastern government hall to be slick with blood.
“Report,” she demanded of the next messenger she saw.
“My lady,” the young woman began, “seven winged beasts brought nearly one hundred soldiers to our city.” Her voice wavered slightly with fear, but she persevered. “They landed to the north and quickly tore through the Western militia.”
“Is the army trying to flank them to recover the ground?”
“They’re trying,” she affirmed.
“Go out and make sure all the civilians on the northern side of the city have been moved to safe houses elsewhere, should any remain,” Vhalla ordered. “Then head south. Implore those who are in command there to split their forces and push through the city to defend and help those to the north.”