The Red Dragon's Gold

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The Red Dragon's Gold

 Commander Kasimir Parten woke to a panicked knocking on the door to his quarters. The sky outside of his window was still dark and remains of a fire still smoldered in his hearth; it was the middle of the night.

"I'm awake!" Kasimir shouted. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, stood and stretched with a gaping yawn.

He pulled his robe on over his thin linen clothes and lit a candle from the embers of last night's fire. Flicking open his pocket watch, he frowned. It was hours yet before the sun would rise and there would be little so urgent that he needed to be woken.

"I'm coming!" Kasimir said when the knocking started again. The light from the candle did little to dispel the shadows in the corners of the room; the gray stone walls drank the light from the tiny flickers. "You'd think someone important had died."

"Commander!" Kasimir's steward, Karel Shor, said when he finally opened the broad oak door.

The man was shorter than Kasimir's six feet by several inches, but they shared the black hair and green eyes that were common among the people of Malkala. The steward wore a thick brown robe over his silver uniform. Sweat beaded on his shaved head and Kasimir saw fear in his green eyes. "Commander, a messenger just arrived from Aldris."

Kasimir frowned. The small village of Aldris sat on the border between the Sovereignty of Malkala and the Empire of Chesia and was home to a modest Malkalan fortress. The main highway from the Chesian capital of Yerik to the Malkalan capital, Cestmir, passed beside it.

Reports from the fortress had claimed that the Chesian Imperial Army had been performing more training exercises near the border than usual and merchant traffic had diverted to the north, along the secondary highway.

The fortress at Aldris had been designed to withstand siege and prevent the advance of any armies into the Malkalan Valley. If they had sent for help...

"Well, let's have it then," Kasimir said impatiently.

"Sir, the messenger reports that an Imperial army has crossed the border. Twenty thousand heavy cavalry ahead of more than one hundred thousand infantry and forty cannons."

"Ruler save us," Kasimir whispered. The whole of the Malkalan army only counted fifty thousand infantry and commanded less than fifty cannons. General Niklos Hollatz had less than five thousand men in the garrison at Aldris.

"The garrison at Aldris attempted to retreat," Karel reported as if he had been reading Kasimir's mind. "Two regiments were able to make it into the forest but the rest were ridden down by the Imperial cavalry."

"Sound the alarm," Kasimir ordered. "I want the whole garrison on the walls in thirty minutes and a platoon deployed as scouts. Send a rider to Cestimir as well; we'll need all of the help that we can get."

"Yes, sir." Karel saluted and hurried back up the hallway.

Kasimir closed the door to his quarters and started dressing. His battle uniform, silver trousers and jacket with brown stripes, had been cleaned and pressed the day before. His sabre had been sharpened and his revolvers were clean. The single action, six-shot pistols were made of solid Andivari iron and Malkalan red wood.

At least I'll die in clean clothes and with clean weapons, Kasimir thought to himself as he pulled on his black boots. They had been spit-shined less than a week ago. He realized now, too late, that he'd had far too much time to keep his clothes clean, and far too little to drill his soldiers.

The peace between Chesia and Malkala had always been contingent on Malkala's ability to placate its much larger neighbor with trade alliances, and on Chesia's lack of interest in their small neighbor. The Chesian Empire had always been satisfied with the trade subsidies that Malkala had offered on the iron ore and other raw materials extracted from the Malkalan mines. The internal conflict that raged amongst the Chesian districts had helped to secure Malkala's peace, but that had changed with the rise of Frederick Maximillian.

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